GIFTS AND WORKS OF CHRIST'S MEMBERS.
1. This lesson begins in a way that would seem to call for a portion
properly belonging to the epistle for the preceding Sunday, and terminates
short of its full connection. Evidently it was arranged by some unlearned
and thoughtless individual, with a view simply to making convenient reading
in the churches and not to its explanation to the people. It will be necessary
to a clear comprehension, therefore, to note its real connections.
2. In the epistle for last Sunday, the apostle teaches that as Christians
we are to renew our minds by sacrificing our bodies, thus preserving the
true character of faith; that we are not to regard ourselves as good or
perfect without faith, if we would avoid the rise of sects and conflicting
opinions among Christians; that each is to continue firm in the measure
of faith God has given him, whether it be weak or strong; that he shall
use his gifts to his neighbor's profit, and then they will not be regarded
special favors by the less gifted, and the common faith will be generally
prized as the highest and most precious treasure, the result being satisfaction
for all men. Paul next adds the simile: "For even as we have many members
in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are
many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another." Then
follows our selection for today, the connection being, "And having gifts
differing according to the grace that was given to us," etc. Paul likens
the various gifts to ourselves, the different members of the common body
It is an apt and beautiful simile, one he makes use of frequently; for
instance, I Cor 12, 12 and Eph 4, 16. It teaches directly and clearly the
equality of all Christians; that one common faith should satisfy all; that
gifts are not to be regarded as making one better, happier and more righteous
than another, in the eyes of God. The latter idea is certainly erroneous,
and destructive of faith, which alone avails with God.
WE ARE BORN MEMBERS OF CHRIST.
3. First, if we examine this simile, we shall find that all the members
perform certain functions of the body because they are members of it; and
no member has its place through its own efforts or its own merits. It was
born a member, before the exercise of office was possible. It acts by virtue
of being a member; it does not become a member by virtue of its action.
It derives existence and all its powers from the body, regardless of its
own exertions. The body, however, exercises its members as occasion requires.
The eye has not attained its place because of its power of seeing--not
because it has merited its office as an organ of sight for the body. In
the very beginning it derived its existence and its peculiar function of
sight from the body. It cannot, therefore, boast in the slightest degree
that by its independent power of seeing it has deserved its place as an
eye. It has the honor and right of its position solely through its birth,
not because of any effort on its part.
4. Similarly, no Christian can boast that his own efforts have made
him a member of Christ, with other Christians, in the common faith. Nor
can he by any work constitute himself a Christian. He performs good works
by virtue of having become a Christian, in the new birth, through faith,
regardless of any merit of his own. Clearly, then, good works do not make
Christians, but Christians bring forth good works. The fruit does not make
the tree, but the tree produces the fruit. Seeing does not make the eye,
but the eye produces vision. In short, cause ever precedes effect; effect
does not produce cause, but cause produces effect. Now, if good works do
not make a Christian, do not secure the grace of God and blot out our sins,
they do not merit heaven. No one but a Christian can enjoy heaven. One
cannot secure it by his works, but by being a member of Christ; an experience
effected through faith in the Word of God.
5. How, then, shall we regard those who teach us to exterminate our
sins, to secure grace, to merit heaven, all by our own works; who represent
their ecclesiastical orders as special highways to heaven? What is their
theory? They teach, as you observe, that cause is produced by effect. Just
as if mere muscular tissue that is not a tongue becomes a tongue by fluent
speaking, or becomes mouth and throat by virtue of much drinking; as if
running makes feet; keen hearing, an ear; smelling, a nose; nourishment
at the mother's breast, a child; suspension from the apple-tree, an apple.
Beautiful specimens, indeed, would these be--fine tongues, throats and
ears, fine children, fine apples.
6. What sort of foolish, perverted individuals are they who so teach?
Well might you exclaim: "What impossible undertakings, what useless burdens
and hardships, they assume!" Yes, what but burdens do they deserve who
pervert God's truth into falsehood; who change the gifts God designed for
man's benefit into acts of service rendered by man to God; who, unwilling
to abide in the common faith, aspire to exalted and peculiar place as priests
and beings superior to other Christians? They deserve to be overwhelmed
in astonishing folly and madness, and to be burdened with useless labors
and hardships in their attempts to do impossible things. They cheat the
world of its blessings while they fill themselves. It is said of them (Ps
14, 4-5): "Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my
people as they eat bread, and call not upon Jehovah?"--that is, they live
not in faith. And continuing "There were they in great fear"; meaning that
here and there they make that a matter of conscience which is not, because
they cling to works and not to faith.
EACH MEMBER CONTENT WITH ITS OWN POWERS.
7. In the second place, the simile teaches that each member of the body
is content with the other members, and rejoices in its powers, not being
solicitous as to whether any be superior to itself. For instance, the nose
is inferior in office to the eye, yet in the relation they sustain to each
other the former is not envious of the latter; rather, it rejoices in the
superior function the eye performs. On the other hand, the eye does not
despise the nose; it rejoices in all the powers of the other members. As
Paul says elsewhere (I Cor 12, 23): "Those parts of the body, which we
think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor.''
Thus we see that hand and eye, regardless of their superior office, labor
carefully to clothe and adorn the less honorable members. They make the
best use of their own distinction to remove the dishonor and shame of the
8. However unequal the capacities and distinction of the individual
members of the body, they are equal in that they are all parts of the same
body. The eye cannot claim any better right to a place in the body than
the least distinguished member has. Nor can it boast greater authority
over the body than any other member enjoys. And thus it does not essay
to do. It grants all members equal participation in the body. Likewise,
all Christians, whether strong in faith or weak, perfect or defective,
share equally in Christ and are equal in Christendom. Each may appropriate
the whole Christ unto himself. I may boast as much in Christ as Peter or
the mother of God may boast. Nor do I envy Peter because he is a more distinguished
member of the Christian Church than I. I am glad of it. On the other hand,
he does not despise me for being a less honored member. I am a part of
the same body to which he belongs, and I possess Christ as well as he does.
9. The self-righteous are unable to concede this equality. They must
stir up sects and distinctions among Christians. Priests aspire to be better
than laymen; monks better than priests; virgins than wives. The diligent,
in praying and fasting, would be better than the laborer; and they who
lead austere lives, more righteous than they of ordinary life. This is
the work of the devil, and productive of every form of evil. Opposed to
it is Christ's doctrine in our text. Under such conditions as mentioned,
faith and love are subverted. The unlearned are deluded, and led away from
faith to works and orders. Inequality is everywhere. The ecclesiasts desire
to sit in high places, to receive all honor, to have their feet kissed,
and will honor and respect none but themselves. Indeed, they would ultimately
intercede for poor Christians, would be mediators between them and God,
attaching no importance whatever to the stations in life occupied by these.
They proceed as if they alone were members of Christ, and as if their relation
to him could not be closer. Then they presume by their works to constitute
others members of Christ, being careful, however, to demand adequate financial
return for the service. They are members of the devil; not of Christ.
EACH MEMBER SERVES ALL THE OTHERS.
10. In the third place, according to the simile each member of the body
conducts itself in a manner to profit the others--the whole body. The eye
prepares the way for hand and foot. The foot, in its carriage of the body,
safeguards the eye. Each member ever cares for and serves the others. More
beautiful figures of love and good works are not to be found than those
derived from the body with its members. In the members we daily bear about
with us, and with which we are continually familiar, God has described
the law of love in a living and forcible manner. Upon the principle there
illustrated, the Christian should act, conducting himself in a way to profit
not himself but others, and having a sincere interest in them. Under such
conditions, schisms and sects could not spring up among us.
11. But we are blind; we neither see nor read the beautiful lesson taught
us in our own bodies. We proceed to invent good works as a means of improving
our condition and bringing ourselves into a saved state. This error is
attributable to our lack of faith and of heart knowledge of Christ. Hence
we are restless in soul, seeking to be liberated from sin and to become
righteous. The heart in its ignorance of the sufficiency of common faith,
engages in these abnormal, special works. There is where foolish individuals
begin to disregard faith and love, imagining such works true ways to heaven.
One takes up one thing, and another something else, and so it goes, until
there is nothing but sects. One sect condemns and rejects the other. Each,
exalting itself beyond measure, claims superiority.
EACH MEMBER SUFFERS AND REJOICES WITH ALL.
12. In the fourth place, "whether one member suffereth, all the members
suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with
it," as Paul says, I Cor 12, 26. In short, no member lives and acts for
itself; all obey and serve one another, and the more honored members serve
most. Each seems to say: "I desire not to be otherwise than as I am. I
am satisfied to be a member of the same body with the others, and to have
equal rights and honors therein. It is unnecessary for me to exert myself
to share in that body, for I am already a member of it, and content. My
efforts I direct to serving the body--all the members, my beloved brothers
and partners. I assume no peculiarities. I would not cause discord and
13. Observe, this is the way all true, righteous Christians do, as we
have frequently said. They who conduct themselves otherwise cannot be true
Christians; they are worse--more pernicious--than heathen. They cannot
refrain from instigating sects; from assuming some peculiarity, some special
doctrine, wherein they proudly exalt themselves above other men. Thus they
lure to themselves the hearts of the unlearned. Against this class Paul
here, as everywhere, faithfully warns us.
14. See, then, that you become a member of Christ. This is to be accomplished
through faith alone, regardless of works. And having become a member, if
God has appointed you a duty according to your capacity, abide in it. Let
no one allure you away from it. Esteem not yourself better than others,
but serve them rejoicing in their works and their offices as you do in
your own, even if they are less important. Faith renders you equal with
others, and others equal with you, and so on.
CHRISTIAN EQUALITY AND CHRISTIAN GIFTS.
Paul's design in this epistle is to teach equality. He would have no
one "think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think
as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure
of faith." Or, to express it differently: "Let each one regard that his
work for which he has a gift, and let him perform it. But he is not consequently
to esteem himself superior to others differently gifted. He should delight
in their works, justly recognizing those works as of God's grace, and knowing
that God distributes the measure of faith and this his grace not in one
way, but in many ways." Paul's peculiar choice of words here, referring
to all gifts as the grace of God and the measure of faith, is meant to
teach that no man may regard his individual gift as a peculiar instance
in that respect, as do they who are not of the common faith. It is the
one same God, Spirit and Lord, the apostle tells us (I Cor 12, 5-11), who
effects in this work and that, whether small or great, in you or in me,
in the one same faith, love and hope.
15. The importance, the nobleness and helpfulness of this doctrine is
beyond our power of expression. The wretched condition of all Christendom,
divided as it is into innumerable sects, is, alas, plain testimony that
no body nor member, no faith nor love, seems longer to exist anywhere.
Unity of mind in relation to the various gifts of God cannot exist in connection
with human doctrines. Hence it is impossible for the orders and the doctrines
of our ecclesiastical lords to stand with unity of mind; one or the other
16. "Measure of faith" may be understood as implying that God imparts
to some more of faith itself; and to others, less. But I presume Paul's
thought in employing the expression is that faith brings gifts, which are
its chief blessing. These are said to be according to the measure of our
faith, and not to the measure of our will or our merit. We have not merited
our gifts. Where faith exists, God honors it with certain gifts, apportioned,
or committed, according to his will. As we have it in First Corinthians
12, 11, "dividing to each one severally even as he will"; and in Ephesians
4,16, "to each member according to his measure." The same reason may be
assigned for Paul's words, "Having gifts differing according to the grace
that was given to us," not "differing according to our merits." Grace as
well as faith brings these noble jewels--our gifts--to each one according
to his measure. It excludes in every respect our works and our merits,
and directs us to make our works minister only to our neighbors.
"Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our
17. The apostle enumerates several gifts, or works of Christian members,
mentioning prophecy first. Prophecy is of two kinds: One is the foretelling
of future events, a gift or power possessed by all the prophets under the
Old Testament dispensation, and by the apostles; the other is the explanation
of the Scriptures. "Greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh
with tongues." 1 Cor 14,5.
Now, the Gospel being the last prophetic message to be delivered previous
to the time of the judgment, and to predict the events of that period,
I presume Paul has reference here simply to that form of prophecy he mentions
in the fourteenth of First Corinthians--explanation of the Scriptures.
This form is common, ever prevails, and is profitable to Christians; the
other form is rare. That reference is to this form, Paul implies in his
words, "Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith." Doubtless
he means the Christian faith then arising. No other faith, no other doctrine,
is to be introduced. Now, when he says prophecy must be according to the
proportion of faith, it is plain enough he does not refer to the foretelling
of future events.
18. The apostle's meaning, then, is: "They who have the gift of Scripture
explanation must be careful to explain in conformity with the faith, and
not to teach contrary to its principles." "Other foundation can no man
lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." I Cor 3, 11. Let every
man be careful not to build upon this foundation with wood, hay, stubble-things
unsuited to such a foundation; let him build with gold, silver and precious
Every doctrine, every explanation of the Scriptures, then, which leads
us to rely upon our own works, and produces false Christians and self-righteous
individuals, in the name of faith, is emphatically condemned. Any doctrine
that teaches we are to exterminate our sins, to become happy and righteous
and to obtain peace of conscience before God, in any other way than through
faith alone--without works--is not in harmony with the Christian faith.
For instance, all monastic life, and the doctrine of racketing spirits
from purgatory, are in conflict with faith.
19. Paul, you will observe, does not attach so much importance to the
prediction of future events; for instance, the prophecies of Lichtenberger,
Joachim and others in these latter times. Such predictions, though they
may gratify the curiosity of men concerning the fate of kings, princes
and others of prominence in the world, are unnecessary prophecies under
the New Testament dispensation. They neither teach the Christian faith
nor contribute to its strength. Hence this form of prophecy may be regarded
as among the least of God's gifts. More, it sometimes proceeds from the
devil. But the ability to explain the Scriptures is the noblest, the best,
prophetic gift. The Old Testament prophets derived their title to the name
chiefly because they prophesied concerning Christ-- according to Peter
(Acts 4, 25 and I Pet 1, 10)--and because they led the people of their
day in the way of faith by explaining--giving the sense of the divine Word.
These things had much more to do with their title than the fact of their
making occasional predictions conceming earthly kings and temporal affairs.
In general, they did not make such predictions. But the first- mentioned
form of prophecy they daily delivered, without omission. The faith whereto
their prophecies conformed is perpetual.
20. It is of much significance that Paul recognizes faith as the controlling
judge and rule in all matters of doctrine and prophecy. To faith everything
must bow. By faith must all doctrine be judged and held. You see whom Paul
would constitute doctors of the holy Scriptures--men of faith and no others.
These should be the judges and deciders of all doctrines. Their decision
should prevail, even though it conflict with that of the Pope, of the councils,
of the whole world. Faith is and must be lord and God over all teachers.
Note, then, the conduct of the Church orders who failed to recognize faith's
right to judge, and assumed that prerogative themselves, accepting only
power, numbers and temporal rank. But you know Pope, councils and all the
world, with their doctrines, must yield authority to the most insignificant
Christian with faith, even though it be but a seven-year-old child, and
his decision of their doctrines and laws is to be accepted. Christ commands
us to take heed that we despise not one of these little ones that believe
in him. See Mt 18: 6, 10. Again, he says (Jn 6, 45), "They shall all be
taught of God." Now, it is inconsistent to reject the judgment of him whom
God himself teaches. Rather, let all men hearken to him.
"Or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry."
21. The office of the ministry is the second gift of God the apostle
enumerates. With the early Christians the duties of this office were to
serve poor widows and orphans, distributing to them temporal goods. Such
were the duties of Stephen and his associates (Acts 6, 5), and such should
be the duties of the stewards and provosts in monasteries today. Again,
this was the office of those who ministered unto the prophets and apostles,
the preachers and teachers: for instance, the women who followed Christ
and served him with their substance; and Onesimus, Titus, Timothy and others
of Paul's disciples. They made all necessary temporal provision, that the
apostles and the preachers might give themselves uninterruptedly to preaching,
teaching and prayer, and might be unencumbered with temporal affairs.
22. But things have changed, as we see. Now we have spiritual lords,
princes, kings, who neglect, not alone to preach and to pray, but also
to distribute temporal goods to the poor and the widow and the orphan.
Rather, they pervert the rightful substance of these to add to their own
pomp. They neither prophesy nor serve; yet they appropriate the position
and the name of minister, their purpose being to restrain and persecute
true preachers and servants, and to destroy Christianity everywhere and
spend its possessions to foster their own luxury.
"Or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his
23. We treated of these two gifts in the epistle lesson for Christmas
night. Titus 2. Teaching consists in instructing those unacquainted with
faith and the Christian life; exhortation, in inciting, arousing, impelling,
reproving and beseeching with all perseverance, those having knowledge
of the faith. We are enjoined (2 Tim 4, 2) to be urgent, to "reprove, rebuke
and exhort," that Christians may not grow weary, indolent and negligent,
as too often they do, knowing already what is required of them. But prophecy
must furnish the store of information for the teachers and exhorters. Scripture
expositors must supply these latter. Prophesying, then, is the source of
all doctrine and exhortation.
"He that giveth, let him do it with liberality."
24. The mention here made of giving has reference to the fund contributed
into a common treasury, in charge of servants and officers, for distribution
among teachers, prophets, widows, orphans and the poor generally, as before
stated. This was according to an Old Testament command. Beside the annual
tithes, designed for the Levites, special tithes were to be set aside every
third year for the poor, the widows and the orphans. There is no New Testament
law for specific giving, for this is the day of grace, wherein everyone
is admonished to give freely. Paul says (Gal 6, 6), "Let him that is taught
in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." Again
(verse 10), "Let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially
toward them that are of the household of faith."
25. But giving is to be done with liberality--freely and gratuitously,
to the honor of God alone, with no intent to secure favor, honor or profit;
none shall dictate in the matter; and preference shall not be shown in
giving much to the amiable and nothing to the uncongenial, as has been
the case in the past in relation to the prebends and fiefs. These were
distributed according to friendship and favor; for the sake of money, honor
and profit. The same is true of nearly all paid services in the matter
of purgatory and hell. Freely, freely, we are to give, being careful only
that it be well pleasing to God and bestowed according to necessity.
Paul, you will observe, frequently commends such liberality. It is rarely
manifest, however. True gifts are made beyond measure, but they are unprofitable
because not made with a free, liberal spirit; for instance, contributions
to Monasteries and other institutions. Not being given with liberality,
God does not permit these gifts to be used for Christian purposes. Given
in an unchristian manner, they must, in an unchristianlike way, be wasted;
as Micah says (ch. 1, 7): "Of the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them,
and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return." Reference is to spiritual
whoredom--unbelief--which never acts with liberality.
"He that ruleth, with diligence."
26. "Ruling," or overseeing, is to be understood as relating to the
common offices in the Christian Church. Paul is not speaking of temporal
rulers, as princes and heads of families, but of rulers in the Church.
He says (1 Tim 3, 5): "If a man knoweth not how to rule his own house,
how shall he take care of the church of God?" He means those who have oversight
of Church officers generally; who take care that teachers be diligent,
that deacons and ministers make proper and careful distribution of the
finances, and that sinners are reproved and disciplined; in short, who
are responsible for the proper execution of all offices. Such are the duties
of a bishop. From their office they receive the title of bishops--superintendents
and "Antistrites," as Paul here terms them; that is, overseers and rulers.
27. It is the especial duty of these to be concerned about others, not
about themselves; the latter care is forbidden rather than enjoined. Mt
6, 25. Diligence in the connection in which it is used in the text, is
prompted by love and not by self-interest. It being the duty of a bishop
to readily assume oversight, to minister and control, and all things being
dependent upon him as the movements of team and wagon are dependent upon
the driver, the bishop has no time for indolence, drowsiness and negligence.
He must be attentive and diligent, even though all others be slothful and
careless. Were he inattentive and unfaithful, the official duties of all
the others would likewise be badly executed. The result would be similar
to that when the driver lies asleep and allows the team to move at will.
Under such circumstances, to hope for good results is useless, especially
considering the dangerous roads wherein Christians must travel here, among
devils who would, in every twinkling of the eye, overthrow and destroy
28. Why should Paul reverse the seemingly proper order? He does not
mention ruling first-- give it precedence. He rather assigns to prophecy
the first place, making ministering, teaching, exhorting and contributing
follow successively, while ruling he places last or sixth, among the common
offices. Undoubtedly, the Spirit designed such order in view of future
abominations that should follow the devil's establishment of tyranny and
worldly dominion among Christians. This is the case at present. Dominion
occupies chief place. Everything in Christendom must yield to the wantonness
of tyranny. Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, benevolence--all
must give way to tyranny. Nothing may interrupt its sway; it must not yield
to prophecy, teaching or any other office.
29. We must remember, however, that nothing takes precedence of the
Word of God. The preaching of it transcends all other offices. Dominion
is but a servant to arouse preaching to activity, like to the servant who
wakes his master from sleep, or in other ways reminds him of his office.
This principle confirms Christ's words (Lk 22, 26): "He that is the greater
among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that
doth serve." Teachers and prophets, however, are to be obedient to rulers
and continue subject to them; each Christian work and office must subserve
the others. Thus is carried out Paul's doctrine in this epistle: that one
should not esteem himself better than others; should not exalt himself
over men, thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think; though
one gift or office is more honorable than another, yet it must also subserve
that other. While the office of ruler is the lowest, yet every other appointment
is subject to it; on the other hand, in care and oversight the ruler serves
all others. Again, the prophet, who holds the highest office, submits to
the ruler, etc.
"He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness."
30. The six preceding obligations devolve upon the common governing
powers of the Christian Church--at present known as the ecclesiastical
order. Paul now proceeds to enumerate duties pertaining to every member
of the Church. The six first-mentioned obligations are not, however, to
be individualized to the extent of making but a single obligation devolve
upon one individual. He who prophesies may also teach, admonish, serve
and rule. And the same is true of each office. Let every man discover unto
how many offices he is called, and conduct himself accordingly. He must
not exalt himself over others, as if better than they, and create sects
from the common gifts of God; he must continue in the common faith of his
fellows, allowing mutual service and subjection in the gifts.
31. "Mercy" implies all good deeds or benefits conferred by neighbors
upon one another, aside from the regular contributions of which we have
spoken. The Hebrew word the apostle uses for "mercy" is "hesed." In Latin
it is "beneficium"; in Greek, "eleemosyna"; and in common parlance, "alms."
It is in this sense that Christ employs the term throughout the Gospel:
"When thou doest alms" (Mt 6, 2)--that is, thy good deeds, or favors; "I
desire mercy, and not sacrifice" (Mt 12, 27); "He that showed mercy on
him" (Lk 10, 37). And there are other similar passages where the word "mercy"
is equivalent to "benefit" or "favor"; for instance (Mt 5, 7), "Blessed
are the merciful."
32. Paul would say: "Let him who is himself so favored that he may confer
benefits upon others, do it cheerfully and with pleasure." He declares
(2 Cor 9, 7), "God loveth a cheerful giver." And he makes his meaning clear
by another portion of the same verse, "not grudgingly, or of necessity."
That is, the giver is not to twitter and tremble, not to be slow and tardy
in his giving, nor to seek everywhere for reasons to withhold his gift.
He is not to give in a way calculated to spoil the recipient's enjoyment
of the favor. Nor is he to delay until the gift loses its sweetness because
of the importunity required to secure it; rather he should be ready and
willing. Solomon says (Prov 3, 28): "Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and
come again, and to- morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee." "Bis
dat qui cito dat." He gives doubly who gives quickly. Again, "Tarda gratia
non est gratia," A tardy favor is no favor. The word "hilaris" in this
connection does not imply joyful giving, but free, cheerful, willing and
loving generosity, a generosity moved by slight entreaty.
THE WORKS OF CHRIST'S MEMBERS.
"Let love be without hypocrisy."
33. How aptly the apostle points out the danger of error in each obligation,
as well as the right course! Prophecy is carried beyond its proper sphere
when it does not accord with the faith. This is the danger-point in all
prophecy. The common error in ministering lies in the indolence manifested
therein, and the constant preference for some other occupation. Again,
the prevailing error in teaching and exhorting is in giving attention to
something besides those obligations; for instance, deceiving men with human
nonsense. The mistake in giving is that it is seldom done with liberality.
Rulers are prone to seek quiet and leisure, desiring to escape being burdened
with care and anxiety. Favors are seldom bestowed cheerfully and with a
willing heart. So, too, pure love is a rare thing on earth. Not that love
in itself is impure, but too often it is mere pretense. John implies as
much in his words (1 Jn 3, 18), "My little children, let us not love in
word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth."
34. Now, they who harbor hatred while pretending to love, or are guilty
of similar gross hypocrisies, fall far short of the spirit of this teaching.
But Paul refers to those of liberated conscience, who conduct themselves
like true Christians, well knowing how to teach concerning Christ; but
who are careless of their works, not realizing that they neglect their
neighbors and fail to assist the needy and to rebuke the wicked; who are
generally negligent, bringing forth none of the fruits of faith; among
whom the true Word of God is choked, like seed among thorns, as Christ
says. Mt 13, 22. But we have elsewhere explained the nature of pure love.
"Abhor that which is evil."
35. While to abhor evil is one of the chief principles of love, it is
rare. The principle is too often lost sight of through hypocrisy and false
love. We ignore, wink at, even make light of and are undisturbed by the
evil deeds of our neighbor. We are unwilling to incur his displeasure by
manifesting indignation and offering rebuke for his wickedness, or by withdrawing
from his society. Especially do we hesitate when we thus must endanger
body or life; for instance, when the vices of those in high life demand
our censure. By such weakness on our part we merely dissimulate love. Paul
requires, not only a secret abhorrence of evil, but an open manifestation
of it in word and deed. True love is not influenced by the closeness of
the friend, by the advantage of his favors, or by the standing of his connections;
nor is it influenced by the perverseness of an enemy. It abhors evil, and
censures it or flees from it, whether in father or mother, brother or sister,
or in any other. Corrupt nature loves itself and does not abhor its own
evil; rather, it covers and adorns it. Anger is styled zeal; avarice is
called prudence; and deception, wisdom.
"Cleave to that which is good."
36. The second feature of real, true love is that it cleaves to the
good, even though found in the worst enemy, and though directly opposing
love's desire. Love is no respecter of persons. It is not intimidated by
the possible danger its expression might incur. But false love will dare,
even for the sake of honor, profit or advantage, to forsake the good in
its friend, particularly when danger threatens or persecution arises. Much
less, then, will he whose love is false cleave to the good in an enemy
and stand by and maintain it. And if it necessitated opposing his own interests,
he would not support his enemy's deed, however good. Briefly, the proverb,
"The world is false and full of infidelity," and that other saying, "Fair
but empty words," clearly express the fact that the love of our corrupt
human nature is false and hypocritical, and that where the Spirit of God
dwells not, there is no real, pure love. These two principles--abhorring
the evil and cleaving to the good--are clearly presented in Psalm 15, 4:
"In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honoreth them that fear
Jehovah"--in other words, "Who cleaves to the good, even though it be in
an enemy; and hates the evil, even though in a friend." Try men by these
two principles in their lending, their dealing and giving, reproving and
teaching, tolerating and suffering, and their dissimulation and hypocrisy
will be readily apparent.
"In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another."
37. Christians exhibit perfect love when, in addition to the love they
manifest toward all men, they are themselves united by a peculiar bond
of Christian affection. The term "tenderly affectioned" expresses the love
parents have for children, and brothers for each other. Paul would say:
"Christians are not simply to manifest a spirit of mutual love, but they
are to conduct themselves toward one another in a tender, parental and
brotherly way." Thus Paul boasts of doing in the case of the people of
Thessalonica. I Thes 1, 11. Isaiah declares (ch. 66, 13) that God will
so comfort the apostles: "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I
comfort you." And Peter says (I Pet 3, 8): "Loving as brethren, tenderhearted,
humbleminded." The nature of the brotherly love we owe our neighbors is
illustrated in the love of an affectionate mother for her child. Such love
Christ has shown, and still shows, toward us. He sustains us, frail, corrupt,
sinful beings that we are. So imperfect are we, we seem not Christians
at all. But the love of Christ makes us his, regardless of our imperfections.
"In honor preferring one another."
38. Christ's love and friendship for ourselves should lead us to esteem
one another precious. We should be dear to one another for the sake of
the Christ within us. We may not reject any because of his imperfections.
We must remember the Lord dwells in the weak vessel also, and honors him
with his presence. If Christ regards him worthy of kindness and affection,
and extends to him the same privilege in himself that we enjoy, we should
bow before that weak one, honoring him as the living temple of our Lord,
the seat of his presence. What matters to us the insignificance of the
seat the Lord chooses? If it is not too humble to be honored with his presence,
why should we his servants not honor it?
"In diligence not slothful."
39. "Diligence" here implies every form of righteous work and business
that occupies us. Paul requires us to be diligent, skillful and active.
We are not to proceed as do they who undertake one thing today, and tomorrow,
another, confining themselves to nothing and soon growing weary and indolent.
For instance, some readily and very zealously engage in a good work, such
as praying, reading, fasting, giving, serving, disciplining the body. But
after two or three attempts they become indolent and fail to accomplish
the undertaking. Their ardor subsides with the gratification of their curiosity.
Such people become unstable and weak. So Paul enjoins to be
"Fervent in spirit."
40. A weak and somewhat curious disposition may undertake with fervor,
being ready to accomplish everything at once; but in the very start it
becomes faint and weak, and voluntarily yields. It becomes silent when
opposition, disaffection and persecution must be encountered. The fervor
that does not persevere in spiritual matters is carnal. Spiritual fervor
increases with undertaking and effort. It is the nature of spirit not to
know weariness. Spirit grows faint and weary only by idleness. Laboring,
it increases in strength. Particularly does it gain in fervor through persecution
and opposition. So it perseveres, and accomplishes its projects, even though
the gates of hell oppose.
"Serving the Lord." (Adapt yourselves to the time.)
41. Some renderings read, "Serve the Lord," for in the Greek "Kairos"
and "Kyrios" sound much alike. One means "Time," the other "Lord." I am
undecided which is preferable. "Serve the time"--adapt yourselves to the
time"--would be apt. And "Serve the Lord" would not be a bad construction.
Let each choose for himself. To serve the Lord means to let all our acts
be done as unto the Lord himself, in the effort to serve him, not seeking
our own honor, and not neglecting our duty for fear of men or because of
their favors; it means to follow the spirit of Nehemiah's declaration when
the temple was being built (Neh 2, 20)--We are servants of the God of Heaven.
Such was the reply of the Jews to those who attempted to hinder them. Practically,
the Jews said: "We do not serve ourselves. Our service is not designed
for our own honor, but for the honor of the God of Heaven." I shall, however,
adhere to the rendering, "Adapt yourselves to the time." It is equivalent
to saying: Direct yourselves according to the time. That is, employ it
well; be seasonable, in keeping with Solomon's words (Ec 3, 3-4): "A time
to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh,"
etc. There is a time for everything. The thought is, Exercise your privileges,
confining yourself to no particular time; be able to do the duty that presents
itself, as Psalm 1, 3 suggests: "He shall be like a tree . . . that bringeth
forth its fruit in its season."
42. This valuable and excellent doctrine militates against the self-righteous,
who confine themselves to set times, to the extent of making the time conform
to them and adapt itself to their convenience. They observe particular
hours for praying, for eating, for drinking. Should you, in dire need of
aid, approach one of them, you might perish before he would disengage himself
to assist you.
Note, the self-righteous man does not adapt himself to the time--does
not rise to the occasion as he should. The opportunity to perform a work
of love, he permits to pass. The time must be suited to him--which will
never be. No opportunity to do good ever presents itself to this class,
for they are so absorbed in themselves as to permit every such occasion
to pass. Nor are they seasonable in things concerning themselves. They
laugh when they should weep; they are gloomy when they should rejoice;
they flatter when censure is due. All their efforts are untimely. It is
their fortune to miss every opportunity in consequence of confining their
endeavors to certain times. This is the way of the world.
"Rejoicing in hope."
43. Here is an occasion, truly, when we should be timely. The ungodly
rejoice when satiate with wealth, honor and ease, but are filled with gloom
at a change in the weather. Their joy is untimely as well as their grief.
They rejoice when they should grieve, and grieve when they should rejoice.
But Christians are capable of rejoicing, not in ease and temporal advantage,
but in God. They rejoice most when their worldly condition is worst. The
farther earthly advantages are removed, the nearer is God with his eternal
blessings. Paul enumerates joy among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5, 22);
the flesh knows not such pleasure. In Romans 14, 17, he speaks of "joy
in the Holy Spirit."
"Patient in tribulation."
44. Throughout the Gospel we are taught that Christians must endure
crosses and evil days. Hence the Gospel arms us with divine armor, and
that alone. That is, it teaches us, not how to avert temporal ills and
to enjoy peace, but how to endure and conquer these ills. We are not to
oppose and try to avert them, but patiently to endure them until they wear
themselves out upon us, and lose their power; as ocean waves, dashing against
the shore, recede and vanish of their own accord. Not yielding, but perseverance,
shall win here. But of this topic we have treated during the Advent season.
"Continuing stedfastly in prayer."
45. Prayer has been sufficiently defined in the third epistle for Advent.
Paul does not allude to babbling out of prayer-books, nor to bawling in
the Church. You will never offer true prayer from a book. To be sure, you
may, by reading a prayer, learn how and what to pray, and have your devotion
enkindled; but real prayer must proceed spontaneously from the heart, not
in prescribed words; the language must be dictated by the fervor of the
soul. Paul particularly specifies that we are to be "stedfast in prayer."
In other words, we should not become remiss, even though we do not immediately
receive what we ask. The chief thing in prayer is faith. Faith relies on
God's promise to hear its petition. It may not receive at once what it
is confident of receiving; but it waits, and though for a time there may
be indications of failure, yet the petition is granted. Christ gives striking
illustrations of such perseverance in the parable of the wicked judge (Lk
18), and in that of the friend's importunity (Lk 11). He everywhere teaches
the necessity of faith in prayer. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing,
ye shall receive," Mt 21, 22. And again, "Or what man is there of you,
who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?" Mt 7,
"Communicating to the necessities of the saints."
46. The meaning of this injunction is shamefully perverted. In our necessities
we daily seek the assistance of saints. Hence the numerous institutions,
altars and services to these, everywhere in the world. Paul's teaching,
however, is that we are to "communicate to the necessity of the saints."
Since we ignore the sanctified ones of this life who need our assistance,
we are well rewarded by having to go to the dead to solicit aid in our
necessities. Paul means the saints on earth--the Christians. He calls them
saints out of respect to the Word of God and his grace, which, in faith,
renders them holy without works.
47. It would be a great shame, a blasphemy, for a Christian to deny
that he is holy. It would be equivalent to denying the holiness of the
blood of Christ, of the Word, the Spirit, the grace of God, and of God
himself. And all these God has applied to or conferred upon the Christian
to render him holy. Paul does not hesitate to call himself a saint (Eph
3, 8): "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace
given." And (1 Tim 5, 10) he would relieve widows who washed the feet of
the saints. It is also said in Psalm 86, 2, "Preserve my soul; for I am
godly [holy]." Peter, too (1 Pet 1, 16), quoting from Moses, speaks God's
message, "Ye shall be holy; for I am holy." The word "holy" in the Scriptures
has reference only to the living.
But we have had books other than the Scriptures to read. Consequently
we have been led by our seducers into the humiliating wickedness of calling
holy only the dead, and regarding it the highest presumption to apply the
term to ourselves. At the same time we are all desirous of being called
"Christians," a sublimer title than "holy"; for Christ is perfect holiness,
and Christians are named after Christ--after perfect holiness. The shameful
abomination known as "the exaltation of saints" is responsible for the
deplorable error here. The Pope's influence has created the belief that
only they are holy who are dead, or whose works have exalted them to the
honor of the title. But how often is the devil exalted as a saint, and
how often we regard them saints who are of hell!
48. Paul's design in mentioning "the necessities of the saints" is to
teach and move us to do as much for Christians as we are inclined to do
for the saints of heaven; to regard such ministration as precious service,
for so it is. He commends to us the real saints--those in want; who are
of saintly character, though they may be forsaken, hungry, naked, imprisoned,
half- dead, regarded by the world as ungodly evil-doers deserving of every
form of misfortune; who, unable to help themselves, need assistance. They
differ much from those saints whose help we, staring heavenward, implore.
It is the poor Christians whom Christ will array on the last day, saying,
"Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least,
ye did it unto me." Mt 25, 40. Then they who so ostentatiously served the
blessed of heaven must stand shamed and afraid in the presence of those
whom in this life they scorned to respect as they should. Nor will the
saints whom they bound themselves to serve, and whom they worshiped, avail
"Given to hospitality."
49. Now, Paul specifies concerning the "necessities of the saints" and
names the treatment to be accorded them. Not only in word are we to remember
them, but in deed, extending hospitality as their necessities demand. "Hospitality"
stands for every form of physical aid when occasion calls for it--feeding
the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked. In the early
days of the Gospel, the apostles and disciples did not sit in palaces,
cloisters, institutions, and torture the people with edicts and commands
as do the idolatrous bishops today. Pilgrim-like, they went about the country,
having no house nor home, no kitchen nor cellar, no particular abiding-place.
It was necessary that every where hospitality be extended the saints, and
service rendered them, that the Gospel might be preached. This was as essential
as giving assistance in their distresses and sufferings.
"Bless them that persecute you."
50. Incidental to the subject of the saints' necessities, the apostle
reminds us we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner toward our
persecutors, who, to great extent, are to blame for the distresses of the
saints. It is well to observe here that we are not merely advised, but
commanded, to love our enemies, to do them good and to speak well of them;
such conduct is the fruit of the Spirit. We must not believe what we have
heretofore been taught--that the admonition comes only to the perfect,
and that they are merely counseled to bless their persecutors. Christ teaches
(Mt 5, 44) that all Christians are commanded so to do. And to "bless" our
persecutors means to desire for them only good in body and soul. For instance,
if an enemy detracts from our honor, we should respond, "God honor you
and keep you from disgrace." Or if one infringe upon our rights, we ought
to say, "May God bless and prosper you." On this wise should we do.
"Bless, and curse not."
51. This is to be our attitude toward mankind generally, whether persecutors
or otherwise. The meaning is: "Not only bless your persecutors, but live
without curses for any, with blessings for all; wishing no one evil, but
everyone only good." For we are children of blessing; as Peter says: "Hereunto
were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing." I Pet 3, 9. In our
blessing, all the world is blessed--through Christ. "In thy seed shall
all the nations of the earth be blessed." Gen 22, 18. It is inconsistent
for a Christian to curse even his most bitter enemy and an evil-doer; for
he is commanded to bear upon his lips the Gospel. The dove did not bring
to Noah in the ark a poisonous branch or a thistle sprig; she brought an
olive-leaf in her mouth. Gen 8, 11. The Gospel likewise is simply a gracious,
blessed, glad and healing word. It brings only blessing and grace to the
whole world. No curse, but pure blessing, goes with the Gospel. The Christian's
lips, then, must be lips of blessing, not of cursing. If they curse, they
are not the lips of a Christian.
52. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between cursing and censuring
or reproving. Reproof and punishment greatly differ from cursing and malediction.
To curse means to invoke evil, while censuring carries the thought of displeasure
at existing evil, and an effort to remove it. In fact, cursing and censuring
are opposed. Cursing invokes evil and misfortune; censure aims to remove
them. Christ himself censured, or reproved. He called the Jews a generation
of vipers, children of the devil, hypocrites, blind dolts, liars, and so
on. He did not curse them to perpetuate their evils; rather he desired
the evils removed. Paul does similarly. He says of the sorcerer that he
is a child of the devil and full of subtilty. Acts 13, 10. Again, the Spirit
reproves the world of sin. Jn 16, 8.
53. But the strong argument is here urged that the saints of the Scriptures
not only censured, but cursed. Jacob, the patriarch, cursed his sons Reuben,
Simeon and Levi. Gen 49, 7. A great part of the Law of Moses is made up
of curses, especially Deut 28, 15. Open cursing is commanded to be pronounced
by the people, on Mount Ebal. Deut 27, 13. How much cursing we find in
the Psalms, particularly Psalm 109. Again, how David cursed Joab, captain
of his host! 2 Sam 3, 29. How bitterly Peter curses Simon (Acts 8, 20):
"Thy silver perish with thee." Paul curses the seducers of the Galatians
(Gal 5, 12), "I would they were even cut off." And he says (I Cor 16, 22),
"If any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema." Christ cursed the
innocent fig-tree. Mt 21, 19. And Elisha cursed the children of Bethel.
2 Kings 2, 24. What shall we say to these things?
54. I answer: We must distinguish between love and faith. Love must
not curse; it must always bless. But faith has power to curse. Faith makes
us children of God, and is to us in God's place. Love makes us servants
of men, and occupies the place of a servant. Without the Spirit's direction,
no one can rightly understand and imitate such examples of cursing. Cursing
stands opposed to cursing--the curses of God to the curses of the devil.
When the devil, through his followers, resists, destroys, obstructs, the
Word of God--the channel of the blessing--the blessing is impeded, and
in God's sight a curse rests upon the blessing. Then it is the office of
faith to come out with a curse, desiring the removal of the obstruction
that God's blessing may be unhindered.
55. Were one, with imprecation, to invoke God to root out and destroy
popery--the order of priests, monks and nuns, together with the cloisters
and other institutions, the whole world might well say, Amen. For these
the devil's devices curse, condemn and impede everywhere God's Word and
his blessing. These things are evils so pernicious, so diabolical, they
do not merit our love. The more we serve the ecclesiasts and the more we
yield to them, the more obdurate they become. They rant and rage against
the Word of God and the Spirit, against faith and love. Such conduct Christ
calls blasphemy--sin--against the Holy Spirit-- unpardonable sin. Mt. 12,
31. And John says (I Jn. 5, 16), "There is a sin unto death; not concerning
this do I say that he should make request." With the ecclesiasts all is
lost. They will not accept any love or assistance which does not leave
them in their wickedness, does not strengthen and help--even honor and
exalt--them in it. Any effort you may make otherwise will but cause them
to rage against the Holy Spirit, to blaspheme and curse your teaching,
declaring -- "It proceeds not from love and fidelity to God, but from the
hate, the malice, of the devil. It is not the Word of God, but falsehood.
It is the devil's heresy and error."
56. In fact, cursing which contributes only to the service of God is
a work of the Holy Spirit. It is enjoined in the first commandment, and
is independent of and superior to love. Until God commands us to do a certain
good work or obligation so to do. His will transcends all the good works
to manifest our love toward our neighbor, we are under no we can do, all
the love we can show our neighbor. Even if I could save the entire
world in a single day and it were not God's will I should, I would have
no right to do it. Therefore, I should not bless, should not perform a
good work, should not manifest my love to any, unless it be consistent
with the will and command of God. The measure of our love to our neighbors
is the Word of God. Likewise, by the first commandment all other commandments
are to be measured. We might, in direct violation of the commandments of
the second table, were it consistent with God's will and promotive of his
honor, obey the first commandment in killing, robbing, taking captive women
and children and disobeying father and mother, as did the children of Israel
in the case of their heathen enemies. Likewise the Holy Spirit is able
to, and does at times, perform works seemingly opposed to all the commandments
of God. While apparently there is violation in some respects, it is in
reality only of the commandments of the second table, concerning our neighbor.
The Spirit's works are in conformity with the first three commandments
of the first table, relating to God. Therefore, if you first become a Peter,
a Paul, a Jacob, a David, an Elisha, you too may curse in God's name, and
with exalted merit in his sight.
"Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep."
57. There may be a direct connection between these two commands and
the injunction about "communicating to the necessities of the saints" upon
which Paul has been expatiating, teaching how we are to treat our persecutors,
who are largely to blame for the "necessities" of Christians. Yet I am
inclined to think he speaks here in an unrelated way, of our duty to make
ourselves agreeable to all men, to adapt ourselves to their circumstances,
whether good or ill, whether or no they are in want. As common servants,
we should minister to mankind in their every condition, that we may persuade
them to accept the Gospel. Paul speaks further on this point.
58. Now, if a fellow-man have reason to rejoice, it is not for us to
put on a stern countenance, as do the hypocrites, who assume to be somewhat
peculiar. Their unnatural seriousness is meant to be indicative of their
unrivaled wisdom and holiness, and of the fact that men who rejoice instead
of wearing, as they do, a stern look, are fools and sinners. But no, we
are to participate in the joy of our fellow-man when that joy is not inconsistent
with the will of God. For instance, we should rejoice with the father who
joys in the piety and sweetness of his wife, in her health and fruitfulness,
and in the obedience and intelligence of his children; and when he is as
well off as we are so far as soul, body and character, family and property,
are concerned. These are gifts of God. According to Paul (Acts 14, 17),
they are given that God may fill our hearts "with food and gladness." Though
many such gifts and pleasures are improperly used, they are nevertheless
the gifts of God and not to be rejected with a gloomy face as if we dare
not, or should not, enjoy them. On the other hand, we ought to weep with
our fellow-man when he is in sad circumstances, as we would weep over our
own unhappy condition. We read (2 Sam 1, 17; 3, 33) that David lamented
for Saul, Jonathan and Abner, and (Phil 2, 27) that Paul was filled with
sorrow over the illness of Epaphroditus and grieved as if the affliction
were his own.
"Be of the same mind one toward another."
59. The apostle has previously (verse 10) spoken concerning unity of
mind in relation to God- ordained spiritual gifts, counseling that everyone
should be content as to the offices and gifts of his fellows. Now Paul
speaks of the temporal affairs of men, teaching likewise mutual appreciation
of one another's calling and character, offices and works, and that none
is to esteem himself better than another because of these. The shoemaker's
apprentice has the same Christ with the prince or the king; the woman,
the same Christ the man has. While there are various occupations and external
distinctions among men, there is but one faith and one Spirit.
60. But this doctrine of Paul has long been dishonored. Princes,
lords, nobles, the rich and the powerful, reflect themselves in themselves,
thinking they are the only men on earth. Even among their own ranks, one
aspires to be more exalted, more noble and upright, than another. Their
notions and opinions are almost as diverse as the clouds of heaven. They
are not of the same mind concerning external distinctions. One does not
esteem another's condition and occupation as significant and as honorable
as his own. The individual sentiment apparently is: "My station is the
best; all others are revolting."
The clumsy, booted peasant enters the strife. The baker aspires to be
better than the barber; the shoemaker, than the bath-keeper. Should one
happen to be illegitimately born, he is not eligible to a trade, though
he even be holy. Certificates of legitimate birth must be produced, and
such is the complex state of society, there are as many beliefs as masters
and servants. How can there be unity of mind concerning spiritual offices
and blessings with people so at variance upon trivial, contemptible worldly
matters? True, there must be the various earthly stations, characters and
employments; but it is heathenish, unchristian and worldly for one to entertain
the absurd idea that God regards a certain individual a better Christian
than another upon the contemptible grounds of his temporal station, and
not to perceive that in God's sight these conditions make no inner difference.
61. Indeed, it is not only unchristian, but effeminate and childish,
to hold such a view. A woman will win distinction for herself by handling
the spindle or the needle more deftly than another, or by adjusting her
bonnet more becomingly than her neighbor can; in fact, she may secure prominence
by things even more insignificant. To say the least, no woman thinks herself
less a woman than any other. The same is true of children; each is best
satisfied with its own bread and butter, and thinks its own toy the prettiest;
if it does not, it will cry until it gets its prettiest.
And so it is with the world: one has more power, another is a better
Christian, another is more illustrious; one has more learning, another
is more respectable; one is of this lineage, another that. These distinctions
are the source of hatred, murder and every form of evil, so tenaciously
does each individual adhere to his own notions. Yet, despite their separate
and dissimilar opinions, men call themselves Christians.
"Set not your mind on high things."
62. Here Paul makes clear the preceding injunction. He would restrain
men from their unholy conceits. As before stated, every man is best pleased
with his own ideas. Hence foolishness pervades the land. One, seeing another
honored above himself, is restlessly ambitious to emulate that other. But
he acts contrary to both teachings of Paul: Comparing himself to his inferiors
or to his equals, he thinks he is far above them, and his own station most
honorable. Comparing himself with his superiors, he sees his pretended
rank fail; hence he strives to rival them, devoting all his energies to
attain the enviable position. Clinging to external distinctions, his changing
notions and unstable heart impel him to such ambition and render him dissatisfied
with the Christ whom all men possess alike.
But what does Paul teach? Not so. He says, "Set not your mind on what
the world values." His meaning is: "Distinctions truly must there be in
this life--one thing high, another low. Everything cannot be gold, nor
can all things be straw. Nevertheless, among men there should be unity
of mind in this relation." God treats men alike. He gives his Word and
his Spirit to the lowly as well as to the high. Paul does not use the little
word "mind" undesignedly. "High things" have their place and they are not
pernicious. But to "mind" them, to be absorbed in them with the whole heart,
to be puffed up with conceit because of our relation to them, enjoying
them to the disadvantage of the less favored--this is heathenish.
"But condescend to things that are lowly."
63. In other words: Despise not lowly stations and characters. Say not,
they must either be exalted or removed. God uses them; indeed, the world
cannot dispense with them. Where would the wealthy and powerful be if there
were no poor and humble? As the feet support the body, so the low support
the high. The higher class, then, should conduct themselves toward the
lowly as the body holds itself with relation to the feet; not "minding,"
or regarding, their lofty station, but conforming to and recognizing with
favor the station of the lowly. Legal equality is here made a figure of
spiritual things--concerning the aspirations of the heart. Christ conducted
himself with humility. He did not deny his own exaltation, but neither
was he haughty toward us by reason of it. He did not despise us, but stooped
to our wretched condition and raised us by means of his own exalted position.