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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Corinthians 3



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Verse 1


(1) And I.—Again, as in 1 Corinthians 2:6, the Apostle shows how general principles which he has just explained were exemplified in his own conduct. In the closing verses of 1 Corinthians 2 St. Paul has enunciated the general method of teaching spiritual truth as being dependent upon the receptive powers of those who are being taught. He now proceeds to point out to them that their own character, as being wanting in spirituality, was the real hindrance to his teaching them the higher spiritual truth which may be called “the wisdom” of the gospel.

As unto carnal.—Better, as being carnal. Our version may seem to imply that the Apostle spoke to them as if they were carnal, though they really were not so; but the force of the passage is that they were indeed carnal, and that the Apostle taught them not as if they were such, but as being such. “Carnal” is here the opposite of “spiritual,” and does not involve any reference to what we would commonly speak of as carnal sin.

Babes in Christ.—This is the opposite of the “full grown” in 1 Corinthians 2:6, to whom the “wisdom” could be taught. (See also Colossians 1:28, “full grown in Christ.”) It may be an interesting indication of the “manliness” of St. Paul’s character and his high estimate of it in others, that he constantly uses the words “babe” and “childhood” in a depreciatory sense. (See Romans 2:20, Galatians 4:3, Ephesians 4:14.)

Verse 2

(2) Milk . . . meat.—The use of the word “infant” naturally suggests these two images for the higher wisdom and for the simpler truths of the gospel respectively.

Hitherto ye were not able.—Better, for ye were not yet able. Up to this point the Apostle has been speaking of the condition in which he found the Corinthians when he came first to Corinth, and he proceeds from this to rebuke them for continuing in this condition. He does not blame them for having been “babes” at the outset, but he does in the following passage blame them for not having yet grown up out of infancy.

Verse 2-3

(2, 3) Neither yet now are ye able, for ye are yet carnal.—Better, but not even now are ye able, for ye are still carnal. It is for this absence of growth—for their continuing up to this time in the same condition—that the Apostle reproaches them; and he shows that the fault which they find with him for not having given them more advanced teaching really lies at their own door.

Verse 3

(3) For whereas.—Better, For since there is.

As men.—Better, after the manner of man—i.e., after a merely human and not after a spiritually enlightened manner. In Romans 3:5, Galatians 1:2, also Romans 15:5, the opposite condition is expressed by the same Greek particle used with our Lord’s name, “according to Jesus Christ.”

Verse 4

(4) One saith, I am of Paul.—These and the following words explain exactly what the Apostle means by their being “carnal,” and walking after a merely human manner. Only two of the factions—those of Paul and of Apollos—are mentioned as types of the rest. The factious spirit was in each and all the “parties” the same, but the particular difference between the teaching of the higher wisdom and the simpler truths of the gospel was best illustrated by these two.

The selection for rebuke of those who called them selves by the Apostle’s own name was, no doubt, intended by him to show that it was no matter of personal jealousy on his part. He specially condemns those who magnified his name. It is for his Master alone that he is jealous.

Are ye not carnal?—Better, are ye not only men? carrying on the idea expressed in 1 Corinthians 3:3.

Verse 5

(5) The Apostle now proceeds to explain (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) what is the true position and work of Christian ministers. He asserts that all alike—both those who teach the simpler truths, and those who build up upon that primary knowledge—are only instruments in God’s hand; and in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (replying to those who sneered at and despised his simple teaching as compared to the higher instruction of Apollos) he points out that though all are only instruments used by God, yet that if there be any difference of honour or utility in the various kinds of work for which God so uses His ministers, the greater work is the planting the seed, or the laying the foundation. There can be only one foundation—it is alike necessary and unvarying—many others may build upon it, with varied material and with different results.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos.—Better, What then is Apollos? what is Paul? and to these abrupt and startling questions the answer is, “Merely those whom Christ used, according as He gave to each his own peculiar powers as the means of your conversion.” (Such is the force of the word “believed” here as in Romans 13:11). It is therefore absurd that you should exalt them into heads of parties. They are only instruments—each used as the great Master thought best.

Verse 6

(6) I have planted, Apollos watered.—By an image borrowed from the processes of agriculture the Apostle explains the relation in which his teaching stood to that of Apollos—and how all the results were from God. This indication of St. Paul having been the founder, and Apollos the subsequent instructor, of the Corinthian Church, is in complete harmony with what we read of the early history of that Church in Acts 18:27; Acts 19:1. After St. Paul had been at Corinth (Acts 18:1), Apollos, who had been taught by Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, came there and “helped them much which had already believed.”

Verse 7

(7) Any thing—i.e., “anything worth mentioning” (1 Corinthians 10:19; Galatians 2:6; Galatians 6:3).

Verse 8

(8) Are one.—The planter and the waterer are one in that they are both working in the same cause. “But,” says the Apostle (not “and,” as in our version), “each man shall receive his own reward from God, not from man, according to his labour.” There is an individuality as well as a unity in the work of the ministry. This is, however, not a thing to be noticed by men, but it will be recognised by the great Master.

Verse 9

(9) Thrice in this verse the Apostle repeats the name of God with emphasis, to explain and to impress the assertion of the previous verse, that men are to recognise the unity, and God alone the diversity, in the ministerial work and office. “We are GOD’S fellow-labourers; you are GOD’S field—GOD’S house.” The image is thus suddenly altered from agriculture to architecture, as the latter can be more amplified, and will better illustrate the great variety of work of which the Apostle proceeds subsequently to speak. This sudden change of metaphor is a characteristic of St. Paul’s style; a similar instance is to be found in 2 Corinthians 10:4-8, where the illustration given from architecture is used instead of the military metaphor which is employed in the earlier verses of that passage. See also 1 Corinthians 9:7, and Ephesians 3:17, and Colossians 2:6-7, where there is the introduction of three distinct images in rapid succession in so many sentences. It has been suggested that possibly the use of the word “field,” in the Greek “Georgion,” was the cause of the Christian name “George” becoming so popular in the Church.

Verse 10

(10) According to the grace of God.—The Apostle being about to speak of himself as “a wise masterbuilder,” takes care by commencing his statement with these words to show that he is not indulging in self-laudation, but merely pointing out what God had given him the grace to do. (See Romans 1:5; Romans 12:3.)

Wise—i.e., skilful or judicious.

Another buildeth thereon.—The sequence of the work here is the same as in the planting and watering of the previous illustration. The use of the indefinite word “another” avoids what might be considered the invidiously frequent repetition of the name of Apollos, and also indicates that there were others also who came after Paul, as is evident from 1 Corinthians 4:15. (See Romans 15:20.)

But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.—Better, But let each one see in what manner he buildeth thereon. The argument in this and the following verse is that there can be only one foundation in the spiritual building—namely, the personal Jesus Christ. That foundation the Apostle has laid. None can alter it or add to it as a foundation; but there may be an immense variety in the materials with which those who come after the laying of the foundation may build up the superstructure. Therefore their own work and “how” they build (i.e., with what materials), and not the one foundation once for all and unalterably laid, should be the subject of their thought and care.

Verses 11-13

The Teacher’s Great text

For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is.—1 Corinthians 3:11-13.

1. The vivid imagination of St. Paul puts before us here an important truth in a picturesque form. Two workmen are building side by side. One builds a palace, the other a hovel. The materials which one uses are gold and silver, for decoration; and for solidity costly stones, by which is not meant diamonds and emeralds and the like, but valuable building material, such as marbles and granites and alabaster. The other employs timber, dry reeds, straw. No doubt in Corinth, as in all ancient cities, side by side with the temples shining in marble and Corinthian brass were the huts of the poor and of slaves built of such flimsy materials as these. Suddenly there plays around both buildings a great fire, the fire of the Lord coming to Judgment. The marbles gleam the whiter, and the gold and the silver flash the more resplendently, whilst the tongues of light leap about them; but the straw hovel goes up in a flare! The one man gets wages for work that lasts, the other man gets no pay for what perishes. He is dragged through the smoke, saved by a hair’s breadth, but sees all his toil lying there in white ashes at his feet.

The building, if it be really of gold, silver, and precious stones, is not destroyed. It becomes rather, in due course, the foundation on which the new superstructure is reared. Is not that the meaning of the somewhat difficult lines in Browning’s “Aristophanes’ Apology”?—

And what’s my teaching but—accept the old,

Contest the strange! acknowledge work that’s done,

Misdoubt men who have still their work to do!

Religions, laws and customs, poetries,

Are old? So much achieved victorious truth!

Each work was product of a lifetime, wrung

From each man by an adverse world: for why?

He worked, destroying other older work

Which the world loved and so was loth to lose.

Whom the world beat in battle—dust and ash!

Who beat the world, left work in evidence,

And wears its crown till new men live new lives,

And fight new fights, and triumph in their turn.1 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 200.]

2. The original application of these words is distinctly to Christian teachers. The whole section starts from a rebuke of the party spirit in the Corinthian Church which led them to swear by Paul or Peter or Apollos, and to despise all teachers but their own favourite. The Apostle reminds these jangling partisans that all teachers are but instruments in God’s hands, who is the true Worker, the true Husbandman, the true Builder. That word opens up a whole region of thought to his ardent mind. He goes on to speak of the foundation which God has laid, namely, the mission of Jesus Christ. That foundation laid once for all in actual reality, in the historical facts of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, had been laid in preaching by St. Paul when he founded the Corinthian Church. There cannot be two foundations. So all other teachers at Corinth have only to build on that foundation, that is, to carry on a course of Christian teaching which rests upon that fundamental truth. Let all such teachers take heed what sort of materials they build on that foundation, that is to say, what sort of teaching they offer; for there may be gold, and silver, and precious stones—solid and valuable instruction; or there may be timber, and hay, and straw—worthless and unsubstantial teaching. The materials with which the teachers build are evidently the instruction which they give, or the doctrines which they teach.

This, then, is the teacher’s Great Text. The teacher’s work is spoken of as building, with the certainty that one day the building will be tested by fire. Let us consider—

The Foundation.

The Building.

The Fire.


The Foundation

1. The Foundation is already laid.—“Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid.” It was laid in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was laid before St. Paul himself or any of the Apostles began to teach.

A paradox which found favour with some of the earlier moods of German Rationalism went to the effect that St. Paul and not Jesus Christ was the real founder of Christendom. How the writer of the indignant appeal to the Corinthians, “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” could ever have been seated, by the convictions of any intelligent readers of his Epistles, in his Master’s place, might well raise our wonder, if experience did not prove that of all credulity the easiest is that which is enjoined by unbelief, and of all theories, the wildest are those which are put forward in order to discredit the creed of Christendom. If the Church is built upon the labour of Apostles, as her foundation, the Apostles themselves rested on the Chief Corner-stone. And, indeed, since Schleiermacher, the paradox in question has been discredited well-nigh everywhere. It is one of that great man’s many claims to honour, that he did more than any other writer in his day and country to reassert Christ’s true historical relation to the Christian Church.

In a lecture, given in St. George’s, Edinburgh, Principal Rainy made this comparison between Jesus and Paul: “We can easily mark the tie between the two; we also easily feel the difference. In both, there is goodwill to men below; in both, a constant reference to One above. But in the true manhood of our Lord, we own something serener, more self-contained and sovereign. The love to His Father moves in great tides of even perpetual flow. The love to men is a pure compassion, whose perfect goodness delights in bringing its sympathy and its help to the neediest and the worst, does so with a perfect understanding and an unreserved self-communication. When He speaks, He speaks in the language of His time and land and circumstances, but He speaks like one who addresses human nature itself, finding the way to the common mind and common heart of every land and every age and every condition. When He reasons, it is not like one who is clearing his own thoughts, but like one who turns away from the perversity of the caviller, or who, for the perplexed inquirer, brings into view the elements of the spiritual world he was overlooking or forgetting. And with what resource—none the less His that He rejoiced to think of it as His Father’s—does He confront whatever comes to Him in life! As we watch Him, there grows upon us the strongest sense of a perfect inner harmony with Himself and with His Father that lives through all changes. Finally, standing in this world, He declares the order of another and a higher world. He does it as one who knew it, who speaks what He had seen.

“We turn to Paul, and we perceive him also to be great; great thoughts, great affections, great efforts, great fruits are his. But he is not great in the manner of his Master. He goes through the world full of a noble self-censure that bows him willingly to the earth, and of a passionate gratitude that cannot speak its thanks but offers up its life. Like his Master, while he reverences the order of this world and of society as God has framed it, he is at the same time full of the relations of a world unseen. To that world unseen he already belongs; it determines for him, and for all who will listen to him, the whole manner of thought and life and feeling in this world; it holds him, it inspires him. But it is in the manner of faith rather than of knowledge, of earnest rather than of possession. Especially, the influence that has mastered him and is the secret of his power and nobleness, has not brought him to the final harmony of all his powers. It has, on the contrary, committed him to an inward conflict, a fight of faith, which he will never cease to wage till the final victory crowns him. This man knows the inward weakness and the inward disgrace of Sin. He knows forgiveness and repentance, and good hope through grace. The Lord received sinners and sat and ate with them; but this man was himself a sinner who was forgiven much and loved much. That was the Saviour: this, a pattern of them that should believe on Him to life everlasting.”1 [Note: The Life of Principal Rainy, i. 426.]

2. The Foundation is Jesus Christ.—“Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” What does the Apostle mean by “Jesus Christ”? The one thing fundamental, according to the teaching of St. Paul, and according to the teaching of Jesus Himself, is faith in Jesus as the Divine Redeemer of the world. In opposition to this faith there is a Religion of the Human Christ. If we look at the points in which the Religion of a Human Christ differs from the Christian faith we shall see what the Apostle means when he says that the foundation is Jesus Christ.

Two rival views are claiming the allegiance of the present generation. The one finds the basis of Christianity in the teaching of a man, inspired as Moses was inspired and more inspired, Divine as Shakespeare was Divine and more Divine, but now dead in the sense in which Moses is dead and Shakespeare is dead. The other finds the basis of Christianity in the ever-living Person of God for men made Man. Such are the views which, in some form or other, confront each one of us, and between which, sooner or later, we must make our solemn choice.1 [Note: F. Homes Dudden.]

(1) In the first place, the religion of a Human Christ as it is represented, for example, in Renan’s Life of Jesus or in Robert Elsmere, gives us as our leader, as the centre of our faith, as the object of our reverence, a human hero.

The last movement of Ruskin’s mind had been away from evangelical faith; it had coincided with his growing admiration of the great worldly, irreligious painters; his religion had become “the religion of humanity,” though “full of sacred colour and melancholy shade”; his teaching had been in such exhortations as may be based on intellectual scepticism. But while engaged on drawing Giotto’s frescoes, “I discovered,” he says, “the fallacy under which I had been tormented for sixteen years—the fallacy that Religious artists were weaker than Irreligious. I found that all Giotto’s ‘weaknesses’ (so called) were merely absences of material science. He did not know, and could not, in his day, so much of perspective as Titian—so much of the laws of light and shade, or so much of technical composition. But I found he was in the make of him, and contents, a very much stronger and greater man than Titian; that the things I had fancied easy in his work, because they were so unpretending and simple, were nevertheless entirely inimitable; that the Religion in him, instead of weakening, had solemnized and developed every faculty of his heart and hand; and finally, that his work, in all the innocence of it, was yet a human achievement and possession, quite above everything that Titian had ever done.” This “discovery” affected, first, Ruskin’s estimate of painters; and at Florence, presently, he set himself to write of Giotto and his works in Florence, as twenty years before, with a more reserved admiration for the master, he had written of Giotto and his Works in Padua.2 [Note: E. T. Cook, The Life of Ruskin, ii. 253.]

(2) In the second place, this Religion of a Human Christ blots the resurrection out of the Gospel and gives us but a cross and a tomb. Let us read Robert Elsmere’s speech to the working men of East London: “‘He laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.’ The ashes of Jesus of Nazareth mingled with the earth of Palestine—

Far hence he lies

In the lone Syrian town,

And on his grave, with shining eyes,

The Syrian stars look down.

“He stopped. The melancholy cadence of the verse died away. Then a gleam broke over the pale, exhausted face—a gleam of extraordinary sweetness. ‘And in the days and weeks that followed, the devout and passionate fancy of a few mourning Galileans begat the exquisite fable of the Resurrection. How natural, and amid all its falseness how true, is that naïve and contradictory story! The rapidity with which it spread is a measure of many things. It is, above all, a measure of the greatness of Jesus, of the force with which he had drawn to himself the hearts and imaginations of men.’”

If It may be true, as Mr. Nettleship has said, that “A Death in the Desert goes no single step in the direction of proving Christ’s divinity as a dogma”; but the poem itself is void of all meaning, unless, in spite of its dramatic form, it can be regarded as setting forth the deepest conviction of the poet’s own soul. Hence the verdict of the man who adds the final note is this:—

If Christ, as thou affirmest, be of men

Mere man, the first and best but nothing more—

Account Him, for reward of what He was,

Now and for ever, wretchedest of all.1 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 45.]

(3) Thirdly, the Religion of a Human Christ offers to us a law and an example—nothing more; the religion of Christian faith offers us a Divine power.

Mr. Gladstone has eloquently sketched in a few words the power of the Christian church: “Christianity both produced a type of character wholly new to the Roman world and it fundamentally altered the laws and institutions, the tone, temper, and tradition of that world. For example, it changed profoundly the relation of the poor to the rich, and the almost forgotten obligation of the rich to the poor. It abolished slavery, abolished human sacrifice, abolished gladiatorial shows, and a multitude of other horrors. It restored the position of woman in society. It prosecuted polygamy; and put down divorce, absolutely in the West, though not absolutely in the East. It made peace, instead of war, the normal and presumed relation between human societies. It exhibited life as a discipline, everywhere and in all its parts, and changed essentially the place and function of suffering in human experience. Accepting the ancient morality as far as it went, it not only enlarged but transfigured its teaching by the laws of humility and of forgiveness, and by a law of purity even more new and strange than these.”

(4) In the fourth place, this Religion of a Human Christ offers a temporal and local religion in place of one that is as eternal and as universal as its Divine Author. Let Robert Elsmere again explain his position: “If you wish, Catherine, I will wait—I will wait till you bid me speak; but I warn you there is something dead in me, something gone and broken. It can never live again except in forms which now it would only pain you more to think of. It is not that I think differently of this point or that point, but of life and religion altogether. I see God’s purposes in quite other proportions, as it were. Christianity seems to me something small and local. Behind it, around it, including it, I see the great drama of the world, sweeping on, led by God, from change to change, from act to act. It is not that Christianity is false, but that it is only an imperfect human reflection of a part of truth.”

It is a perfectly unique and very striking fact, that the views of Christ do not proceed from the concretely defined horizon of any age or any historical sphere, not even from His own. Mark the distinction in this respect between Christ and Socrates.1 [Note: R. Rothe, Still Hours, 213.]

3. The Foundation is the Person of Christ—Christ Himself.—This has been the teaching of the Church from the earliest day till now. In every age and in every land the Church has taught invariably that the one determining factor of the Christian religion is the Person of Jesus. That is the absolute, essential thing. The Christian religion is not a mere system of doctrine. It is not a mere ethical code. It is not merely a redemptive social force. It is above all dependence on a Person. And therein lies its peculiarity and its novelty. A Church Father of the second century, being pressed with the question, “What new thing did the Lord bring by His coming?” replied, “Know that He brought all newness in bringing us Himself.” The distinctive feature of the new religion is the Person of Jesus.

(1) It is Jesus Christ, and not doctrines about Jesus Christ. To say this is not to disparage the precious guidance of Scripture or Creeds or Councils. These Apostolic words, these later definitions, which furnish in our day the favourite topic for so much shallow declamation, are the voice of that Eternal Spirit by whom the whole Body is governed as well as sanctified. They guard and sustain in Christian thought the Divine Saviour’s peerless honour; they forbid, in tones of merciful severity, false and degrading beliefs about Him. Yet He, our living Lord, is the foundation; and no one can altogether rest upon the formulæ which uphold and regulate our estimate of His Glory. We prize both Scripture and the Creeds for His sake, not Him for theirs; and to rest upon them, as distinct from Him whom they keep before us, would be like building a wall upon a measuring rule, instead of upon the block of granite, of which it has given us the noble dimensions.

I do not agree with the saying imputed to some one, that God gave man religion, but the devil invented theology as a counterfeit. For theology is not the natural or proper antithesis to religion; still less its opposite or antagonist. It occupies a different sphere; and though dealing with the same subjects in great measure, yet its aim is, or should be, different; and it works by means of different faculties. Religion aims at the production of faith, hope and charity, and all the proper fruits of those graces. It would teach us to trust in God, and love Him, and to obey that second commandment, which is like unto the first both in its scope and in its importance and comprehensiveness—“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is that which brings the human soul consciously into relation with God, with an unseen world and a spiritual kingdom, and with a future state of retribution. Religion, therefore, is an appeal to faith and also to conscience, both of which it seeks to quicken and exercise; so that we may be godly towards God, and righteous towards our neighbour, performing all our duties from a principle of obligation and reverence to the great Father who made and loves us all, and requires us to love, pity, and help one another, because of this our common origin and family relation. Religion also requires us to be sober or temperate—regulating the appetites of our bodies and the emotions and affections of our minds, so that we be not carried away by them beside or beyond the purposes for which they were implanted, but that they may further us in attaining perfection in this world, and at last eternal felicity.

Now, though theology deals in great part with the same subjects with which religion is concerned, it differs from it in several respects. Religion deals with those subjects in a practical way, chiefly with reference to conduct or life; and it appeals to all parts of our nature, to the affections and emotions as well as to the understanding. It works through hope and fear, and seeks to influence, to restrain, to stimulate, and to regulate—in short, to make us wise, holy, good, in all manner of conversation, that we may be “perfect in all the will of God.” On the other hand, theology is wholly theoretical or speculative. Its object is to reconcile certain apparent contradictions or inconsistencies, not only between different parts, or passages, or expressions of Scripture, but between Scriptural statements or doctrines, and the phenomena of the physical and moral world. For it must deal not only with the Bible but with facts; regarding the facts of nature and providence, and of general history and experience, as being, no less than the histories, doctrines and teachings of Scripture, revelations or manifestations of the Maker and Governor of the world. These all, proceeding from the same Divine source, are and must be really consistent, however at first sight they may sometimes appear to conflict one with another. It is therefore the province of theology to point out the harmony which underlies seeming opposition and discordance in the Word or ways of God, so that we may discern a real and profound order where at first sight confusion or contradiction presents itself to our minds. Thus, in the natural world, the law of gravitation being demonstrated to be a law operating throughout the universe, it is available to explain and reconcile a multitude of facts or appearances which seemed, to minds not instructed in this law of gravitation, to be unrelated, or even opposed and contradictory, one to another.1 [Note: Robert Lee.]

(2) Still more true is it that it is Jesus Christ, and not feelings about Him. Feelings are great aids to devotion; they are often special gifts of God, the play of His Blessed Spirit upon our life of affection, raising it towards high and heavenly things. Yet what is so fugitive, so protean, so unreliable as a feeling? It comes and it is gone; it is intense, and forthwith it wanes; it promises much, and presently it yields nothing but a sense of moral languor and exhaustion that succeeds it. Feeling shouts “Hosanna” to-day, and to-morrow “Crucify”; it would pluck out its right eye for the apostle of its choice, and then suddenly he is become its enemy because he tells it the truth.

I will tell you of a want I am beginning to experience very distinctly. I perceive more than ever the necessity of devotional reading. I mean the works of eminent holy persons, whose tone was not merely uprightness of character and highmindedness, but communion—a strong sense of personal and ever-living communion—with God besides. I recollect how far more peaceful my mind used to be when I was in the regular habit of reading daily, with scrupulous adherence to a plan, works of this description. A strong shock threw me off the habit—partly the external circumstances of my life, partly the perception of a most important fact, that devotional feelings are very distinct from uprightness and purity of life—that they are often singularly allied to the animal nature, the result of a warm temperament—guides to hell under the form of angels of light, conducting the unconscious victim of feelings that appear Divine and seraphic, into a state of heart and life at which the very world stands aghast. Cases of this kind came under my immediate cognizance, disgusted me, made me suspect feelings which I had hitherto cherished as the holiest, and produced a reaction. Nevertheless, the only true use of such a discovery is this, that our basest feelings lie very near to our highest, and that they pass into one another by insensible transitions. It is not true to take the tone so fearfully sounded in Tennyson’s “Vision of Sin,” or that of Mephistopheles when he sneeringly predicts to Faust the mode of termination for his “sublime intuition,” after the soliloquy in the forest, when Gretchen’s image has elevated his soul. The true lesson is to watch, suspect, and guard aspirations after good, not to drown them as spurious. Wordsworth says—

True dignity abides with him alone

Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,

Can still suspect, and still revere himself,

In lowliness of heart.

I feel the need of works of this kind, and I shall begin them again.1 [Note: Robertson, in Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 263.]

(3) It is Jesus Christ Himself, and not His teaching or His work apart from His Person. His work, indeed, can be appreciated only in the light of His Person; His death is at best heroic self-devotion (if it be so much as that) unless His Person is superhuman. If Jesus is only man, or if His Person is left out of view, there is no more reason for reliance on His death than on the death of Socrates. His Sacraments are only picturesque unrealities, unless He who warranted their power lives and is mighty; apart from His Person, they have no more spiritual validity than an armorial bearing or a rosette. And His teaching cannot be represented as a “foundation” of Christian life, which may be substituted for His Person, and enable us to dispense with it, for the simple reason that the persistent drift of that teaching is directly and indirectly to centre thought, love, adoration upon Himself; as though in Him, as distinct from what He said and did, mankind was to find its true and lasting strength and peace.

This is the secret of Christ’s power over men. He does not come to discuss with them some empty conundrum, some wretched enigma, that challenges only the intellect; He sets Himself down in the heart, and trains that, brings that into the liberty of His blessed captivity, and out of the heart there comes His kingdom, which can never be moved.2 [Note: J. Parker.]

4. A comprehensive idea of Jesus Christ as the foundation may be found in the very old representation of Him as Prophet, Priest, and King.

(1) Prophet.—A Prophet is not merely one who foretells future events. That is but a small and, in some respects, an inferior part of the prophet’s work. The generic idea of a prophet is one who speaks of God, who reveals the thoughts and proclaims the truth of God. And in this regard Jesus Christ is the Prophet of God, who infinitely transcends all others.

(2) Priest.—In former times the priest stood between the sinner and God, and offered sacrifice on account of his sins. The Lord Jesus, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, was fitted to be the medium to stand between our sinful souls and the righteous God; and for sacrifice, He offered Himself without spot unto God. And “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.”

(3) King.—Christ is also our King. As such He claims our love, our loyal obedience, our grateful homage, and our reverent worship. Instead of obeying the maxims and customs of the world, instead of following our own inclinations, and the uncertain and fitful impulses of our own hearts, let us obey Him. Let His will be supreme.

It is a vain thought to flee from the work that God appoints us, for the sake of finding a greater blessing to our own souls, as if we could choose for ourselves where we shall find the fulness of the Divine Presence, instead of seeking it where alone it is to be found, in loving obedience.1 [Note: Dinah Morris, in Adam Bede.]

Close gently, weary eyes,

And let the closing day sing sweetly unto thee

A song of rest, that so the coming day may be

A glad surprise;

Close, weary eyes.

Rest now, oh wayward heart!

Rest in submission comes; then let the swaying trees,

Bending, obedient, at each breath of God’s light breeze

Show thee thy part;

Rest, wayward heart.

Peace, sweet peace, struggling soul!

Waves, hills and stars will say, “Seek not to walk by sight.

By faith take all thy stumbling steps, through day and night,

In God’s control.”

Peace, struggling soul.


The Building

1. Our attention is drawn to the materials used in the building rather than to the building itself. The materials are of two kinds—(1) “gold, silver, costly stones,” that is, those that will pass through fire unscathed; and (2) “wood, hay, stubble,”—materials which fire will consume. There is, therefore, good teaching and bad teaching. Good teaching is the showing forth of Christ Jesus in word and life.

We are, perhaps, beginning to recognize the need of special training, but hundreds of clergymen can be found who would acknowledge that they never had any kind of education in the two branches of their work—teaching and preaching. A young clergyman recently, in conversation with me, deplored this. “I did not know how to teach, and I have been obliged to try and gain some knowledge of the art by listening to the teachers in the elementary schools.” This is the example of a man wise enough to be aware of his deficiencies, and courageous enough to try and repair them. But here is a strange fact. Educated skill is demanded in some callings, and these not the most important; yet in some of the higher or more difficult callings educated skill is not demanded, and is not even deemed to be important. We do not allow our teeth to be pulled out except by a qualified practitioner, but we entrust grave moral responsibilities to untrained men. We require some evidence of practical skill from our cab-drivers, but we hand over the direction of vast national interests to men who have never learned even the rudiments of political and economic science. It is all very puzzling. It belongs to the noble faith of being able somehow to “muddle through.” The wonder is, not that things are done so well considering how much is given into untrained hands, but that things are done at all.1 [Note: W. Boyd Carpenter, Some Pages of my Life, 324.]

2. What is bad teaching?

(1) A man may interpret Scripture, and yet not bring Christ out of it. He may delight himself in the study; he may be skilful in comparing Scripture with Scripture; he may perceive with a marvellous insight the doctrinal contrasts and harmonies which fill the Bible; he may be wise in combining and reconciling where careless readers see only contradiction and confusion; he may attract listeners by the clearness of his exposition and the variety of his illustration; and yet in all this there may be no savour of Christ and no unction of the Spirit. Men may come and go, depart and return, week by week, where he ministers; they may find information, find instruction, but not find edification, because they find not Christ.

(2) Again, a man may be a sincere Christian, and even in a sense preach Christ, and yet his work may be but as the wood or the stubble because in the Divine he has lost the human; because, in other words, though he knows theology, he knows not man, and, though he understands something of the glory of the Saviour, he is ignorant of the application of that Gospel to the hearts and lives of men. His doctrinal statements are correct and ample; he can discourse with feeling and beauty upon the great revelations of grace; but there is no connecting link, in his preaching, between heaven and earth, between truth and life, between the Saviour of sinners and the sinner whom He came to save. Therefore the Gospel which he enforces floats above his hearers in a region cloudy and inaccessible; they hear the sound thereof, but the voice they hear not; the revelation of Christ is become again in his hands as the letter which kills, rather than as the spirit which gives life.

(3) It may be that all the energies of a ministry have been turned upon controversy; that a congregation which came together to be fed with “the sincere milk of the word” that it “might grow thereby,” has been occupied week by week and year after year with vehement declamation or laborious argument against some form of error, supposed to be the peril of the times, upon which the preacher would concentrate all the anxieties and all the efforts of souls given him to guide and lives entrusted to him to regulate.

We naturally look to our symbolical documents—the Creeds, Catechisms, and other standards of our several Churches, for guidance as to what constitutes the main matter or substance of the Christian religion. But we find upon inspection that the subjects which those books treat of are neither those which are in themselves most necessary and important, nor those which our Lord and His Apostles chiefly insisted on; but they are for the most part the points disputed between different Churches—between Romanists and Protestants, between Calvinists and Arminians, and between Trinitarians and Unitarians. So that the books in question set forth the differences which exist among Christians, not their agreements. Now, as a general rule, their agreement is both far greater and far more momentous than their disagreement. I say the things they agree about are far more numerous, and far more essential, than the things they disagree about. These last have often swelled out into magnitude simply by reason of the quarrels respecting them, as a barren island or a sandy waste has sometimes grown into a mighty matter by reason of the struggles of great nations respecting it. In itself it is worth little or nothing; it is great only because of the contest which is carried on.1 [Note: Robert Lee.]

(4) There is a fourth case in which a fatal deadness has fallen upon a ministry in the very attempt to communicate to it a vigorous life. The preacher gives himself to the one aim of making his sermons lively. He counts nothing below the level of pulpit gravity; nothing too secular or too mundane to be made the starting-point of Sunday exhortation. He speaks of giving “a healthy tone to common life,” and this, not by raising earth to heaven, but by bringing down the heavenly to the level of the earthly. He forgets that the Christian politician and the Christian student and the Christian man of business do not come together in the Lord’s house to hear their own subjects discussed by one far less fitted to do so than themselves, but rather to be reminded of a subject higher and nobler than their own, a subject in which they may rest altogether from week-day toils and cares, and realize a loftier aim and a deeper unity in things unseen, things heavenly, things Divine.

It is no part of my business to condemn this, that, and the other kind of teaching, but I will tell you what is evidently wood and hay and stubble. Misplaced learning; misplaced speculation; misplaced eloquence; sham philosophy; preaching one’s self; talking about temporary, trivial things; dealing with the externals of Christianity, its ceremonial and its ritual; dealing with the morals of Christianity apart from that one motive of love to a dying Saviour which makes morality a reality in human life. All that kind of Christian teaching, remote from daily life and from men’s deepest needs, however it may be admired, and thought to be “eloquent,” “original,” and “on a level with the growing culture of the age,” and so on, is flimsy stuff to build upon the foundation of a crucified Saviour. There is no solidity in such work. It will not stand the stress of a gale of wind while it is being built, or keep out the weather for those who house in it; and it will blaze at last like a thatched roof when “that day” puts a match to it.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]


The Fire

1. The flame plays round both the buildings. What fire is it? The text answers the question for us—“the day shall declare it.” The Apostle does not think that he needs to say what day. His readers know well enough what day he means. To him and to them there is one day so conspicuous and so often in their thoughts, that there is no need to name it more particularly. The day is the day when Christ shall come. And the fire is but the symbol that always attends the Divine appearance in the Old and in the New Testament.

Many of us who live in London have at some time watched that awful but fascinating sight, the progress of a great fire; we have marked how the devouring element masters first one and then another department of the building which is its victim; but especially we have noted what it consumes and what it is forced to spare, the resistless force with which it sweeps through and shrivels up all slighter materials, and pauses only before the solid barriers of stone or iron, thus trying, before our eyes, the builder’s work of what sort it is.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]

I felt begin

The Judgment-Day: to retrocede

Was too late now. “In very deed,”

(I uttered to myself) “that Day!”

The intuition burned away

All darkness from my spirit too:

There stood I, found and fixed, I knew,

Choosing the world. The choice was made;

And naked and disguiseless stayed,

And unevadable, the fact.2 [Note: Browning, Easter-Day.]

2. But He who at the end will judge us once for all, is now and always judging us; and His perpetual presence as the Judge who is constantly probing and sifting us is revealed by events and circumstances which have on our souls the effect of fire—they burn up what is frivolous and worthless, and they leave what is solid unscathed. There are many events and situations which act upon us as fire; it will be enough to consider one or two of them.

(1) There is the searching, testing power of a responsible and new position, of a situation forcing its occupant to make a critical choice, or to withstand a strong pressure. Such a new position discovers and burns up all that is weak in a man’s faith or character. In quiet times there is nothing to extort the discovery; but when a great effort of action or of resistance becomes necessary, it is soon seen what will and what will not stand the test. All that looks like a hold on solid principle, and is in reality only fancy, or sentiment, or speculation, is then seen to be unserviceable; and if a man’s religious mind is composed mainly of such material, a catastrophe is inevitable.

Take the Pope in Browning’s The Ring and the Book. The aged man, on the verge of the grave, has the responsibility laid upon him of deciding the fate of Count Guido. He holds the balance between life and death.

In God’s name! Once more on this earth of God’s,

While twilight lasts and time wherein to work,

I take His staff with my uncertain hand,

And stay my six and fourscore years, my due

Labour and sorrow, on His judgment-seat,

And forthwith think, speak, act, in place of Him—

The Pope for Christ. Once more appeal is made

From man’s assize to mine: I sit and see

Another poor weak trembling human wretch

Pushed by his fellows, who pretend the right,

Up to the gulf which, where I gaze, begins

From this world to the next—gives way and way,

Just on the edge over the awful dark:

With nothing to arrest him but my feet.

And I am bound, the solitary judge,

To weigh the worth, decide upon the plea,

And either hold a hand out, or withdraw

A foot and let the wretch drift to the fall.

Ay, and while thus I dally, dare perchance

Put fancies for a comfort ’twixt this calm

And yonder passion that I have to bear,—

As if reprieve were possible for both

Prisoner and Pope—how easy were reprieve!

He weighs all the evidence, the reasons which might be urged in the name of mercy for flinching from the solemn decision.

Quis pro Domino?

“Who is upon the Lord’s side?” asked the Count.

I, who write—

And he signs the death-warrant.

For I may die this very night

And how should I dare die, this man let live?

(2) Sometimes men surprise us, when placed in a difficult position, by the sudden exhibition of qualities for which no one before had given them credit; the apparently thoughtless show foresight, and the timid courage, and the selfish disinterestedness; and the irresolute perseverance, of which there had been no evidence whatever. The quiet school-boy in an Italian village, whom his playmates name the “dumb ox,” becomes, almost in spite of himself, the first of the scholars, one of the few greatest thinkers in the world. The officer who has been distinguished for nothing but a punctual regard to duty is suddenly placed in a position to show that he has almost the genius and courage sufficient to roll back the course of history, and to save a falling empire from ruin. The youth whose life has been passed amidst scenes of frivolity, or perhaps of licentiousness, hears one day an appeal to his conscience, his sense of duty, his sense of failure, and wakes from a dream of sensual lethargy to show the world that he has in him the making of a man, aye, the making of a saint.

The sense of power which comes from self-development can only be fruitful for good if it be directed by the profound sense of responsibility, which the perpetual consciousness of life as lived in God’s sight alone can give.1 [Note: Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, i. 185.]

(3) But the Greeks had a stern proverb to the effect that a position of leadership shows what a man is. The real drift of the saying was that in practice it too often shows what he is not. It implies that too generally the discovery would be unfavourable; that the test of high office would, in a majority of cases, bring to light something weak or rotten in the character, which in private life might have escaped detection. History is strewn with illustrations of this truth; the virtuous though weak Emperor, who was floated to power on the surf of a revolution, is by no means the only man of whom it might be written that all men would have judged him capable of ruling others, had he only never been a ruler. How often does manhood open with so much that seems promising—intelligence, courage, attention to duty, good feeling, unselfishness, all that looks like high principle—and then a man is put into a position of authority. It is the fire which tests the work he has done in his character. Suddenly he betrays some one defect which ruins everything. It may be vanity; it may be envy; it may be untruthfulness; it may be some lower passion which emerges suddenly, and as if unbidden, from the depths of the soul, and gains over him a fatal mastery. All his good is turned to ill, all is distorted, discoloured; he might have died as a young man, amid general lamentations that so promising a life had been cut short. He does die, as did Nero or Henry VIII., amidst the loudly expressed or muttered thanksgiving of his generation that he has left the world. The fact was, that the position in which he found himself exposed him to a pressure which his character could not bear.

After the Council the King [George iv.] called me and talked to me about racehorses, which he cares more about than the welfare of Ireland or the peace of Europe.1 [Note: The Greville Memoirs, i. 144.]

You remember how the old Tay bridge, before that fatal winter night, was believed to be equal to its purpose; no one of us who had travelled by it high in the air, over what was practically an arm of the sea, thought that it could but do its work for many long years to come, in all winds and weathers. It needed, no doubt, a mighty impact, a terrific rush of wind from a particular quarter, to show that the genius and audacity of man had presumed too largely on the forbearance of the elements; but—the moment came. We, many of us, remember something of the sense of horror which that tragic catastrophe left on the, public mind—the gradual disappearance of the last train, as it moved along its wonted way into the darkness, the suddenly observed dislocation and flickering of the distant lights, the faint sound as of a crash, rising for a moment above the din of the storm, and then the utter darkness, as all—train and bridge together sank into the gulf of waters beneath, and one moment of supreme agony was followed by the silence of death.2 [Note: H. P. Liddon, 59.]

Not alone in pain and gloom

Does the abhorred tempter come;

Not in light alone and pleasure

Proffers he the poisoned measure.

When the soul doth rise

Nearest to its native skies,

There the exalted spirit finds,

Borne upon the heavenly winds,

Satan, in an angel’s guise,

With voice divine and innocent eyes.1 [Note: Richard Watson Gilder.]

The Teacher’s Great Text


Abbott (L.), Signs of Promise, 111.

Alexander (S. A.), The Christianity of St. Paul, 123.

Bell (C. D.), The Name above Every Name, 165.

Burrell (D. J.), The Morning Cometh, 67.

Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, iii. 9.

Clark (H. W.), Meanings and Methods of the Spiritual Life, 121.

Dawson (W. J.), The Comrade Christ, 261.

Dudden (F. H.), Christ and Christ’s Religion, 17.

Fraser (J.), Parochial Sermons, 259.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Image of God, 42.

Jenkinson (A.), A Modern Disciple, 49.

Jones (W. B.), The Peace of God, 243.

Lee (R.), Sermons, 464.

Liddon (H. P.), Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, 51.

Liddon (H. P.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 220.

Mabie (H. C.), The Meaning and Message of the Cross, 197.

Maclaren (A.), Christ in the Heart, 157.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 1 and 2 Corinthians, 39.

Maurice (F. D.), Lincoln’s Inn Sermons, v. 206.

Moore (E. W.), The Christ-Controlled Life, 207.

Palmer (J. R.), Burden-Bearing, 50.

Pusey (E. B.), Parochial and Cathedral Sermons, 103.

Raleigh (A.), Quiet Resting Places, 272.

Robertson (S.), The Rope of Hair, 71.

Scott (C. A.), Christian Character Building, 25.

Trench (R. C.), Shipwrecks of Faith, 62.

Van Dyke (H.), Manhood, Faith and Courage, 237.

Vaughan (C. J.), University Sermons, 170.

Westcott (B. F.), The Bible in the Church, 141.

Westcott (B. F.), Social Aspects of Christianity, 1.

Christian Age, xxviii. 146 (Beecher); xxxii. 114 (Fisher).

Christian World Pulpit, xv. 56 (Snell); xxv. 373 (M‘Cree); xxxvi. 385 (Liddon); xlviii. 68 (Varley); lxii. 86 (Banks).

Keswick Week, 1905, p. 164 (Moore).

Verse 12

(12) Now if any man . . .—Better, But if any man.

Precious stones.—Not gems, but grand and costly stones, such as marble. “Hay,” dried grass used to fill up chinks in the walls. “Stubble,” stalks with the ears of corn cut off, and used for making a roof of thatch.

Many ingenious attempts have been made to apply the imagery of this passage in detail to various doctrines or Christian virtues, but it seems best to regard it as broadly and in outline bringing before the reader the two great ideas of permanent and ephemeral work, and the striking contrast between them. The truth brought forward is primarily, if not exclusively, for teachers. The image is taken from what would have met the eye of a traveller in Ephesus where St. Paul now was, or in Corinth where his letter was to be first read. It is such a contrast as may be seen (though not in precisely the same striking form of difference) in London in our own day. The stately palaces of marble and of granite, with roof and column glittering with gold and silver decorations, and close by these the wretched hovels of the poor and outcast, the walls made of laths of wood, with the interstices stuffed with straw, and a thatched roof above. Then arose before the Apostle’s vision the thought of a city being visited by a mighty conflagration, such as desolated Corinth itself in the time of Mummius. The mean structures of perishable wood and straw would be utterly consumed, while, as was actually the case in Corinth, the mighty palaces and temples would stand after the fire had exhausted itself. Thus, says St. Paul, it will be with the work of Christian teachers when the “day of the Lord is revealed in fire.” The fire of that day will prove and test the quality of each work.

Verse 13

(13) Revealed by fire.—Better, revealed in fire. For the general scope of this passage, see 1 Corinthians 3:12 above. The day of the coming of the Lord is always thus represented as bursting suddenly with a rush of light and blaze of fire upon the earth. (See Malachi 3:1-3; Malachi 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:8.)

Verse 14

(14) This is the general application to Christian teachers of what has gone before. Those who have built well shall have their reward in their work having survived the trial of the fire; those who have built otherwise shall lose everything—their work, which should have remained as their reward, will perish in the fire—and they themselves will be as men who only make good their escape by rushing through a conflagration, leaving all that was theirs to be destroyed. (See Mark 9:49.)

Verse 15

(15) So as.—These words remind us that the whole passage, and especially the reference to fire, is to be regarded as metaphorical, and not to be understood in a literal and physical sense. Forgetting this, Roman divines have evolved from these words the doctrine of purgatory.

Verse 16

(16) The temple of God.—From the thought of grand edifices in general the Apostle goes on to the particular case of a building which is not only splendid but “holy”—the temple of God—thus reminding the reader that the rich and valuable metals and stones spoken of previously are to represent spiritual attainments. He introduces the passage with the words “Do ye not know,” implying that their conduct was such as could only be pursued by those who were either ignorant or forgetful of the truth of which he now reminds them.

Verse 17

(17) If any man defile.—Better, If any man destroy—the opposite of “building up,” which should be the work of the Christian teacher; the architectural image being still in view.

Which temple ye are.—Literally, the which are ye, “which” referring rather to holy than to the temple; the argument being that as they are “holy” by the indwelling of God’s Spirit, therefore they are the temple of God. As God commanded the punishment of death to be inflicted on whoever defiled the actual Temple (see Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 16:2), because it was holy unto the Lord, and His presence dwelt there; so they, having the same Spirit in them, were a temple also holy unto the Lord, and God would not leave him unpunished who destroyed or marred this spiritual temple.

Verse 18

(18) Passing from the difference between the work of one teacher and that of another, which has occupied him since 1 Corinthians 3:5, the Apostle now returns to the subject from which he branched off there (the magnifying of one teacher above another), and proceeds to show (1 Corinthians 3:18-21) that merely human wisdom is in itself worthless for spiritual purposes, and, therefore, that the possession of it alone is no reason for the exaltation of the teacher who is endowed with it. For the full meaning of the “wisdom” which the Apostle speaks of here, see 1 Corinthians 1:20.

Let him become a fool—i.e., in the sight of the world, in order that he may become “wise” in the sight of God.

Verse 19

(19) With God.—Better, in the sight of God (Romans 2:13).

For it is written.—By two passages, one from Job, and the other from the Psalms, St. Paul proves the truth of his previous assertion regarding God’s estimate of mere “worldly wisdom.” It may be noticed that with the exception of the reference in James 5:11 to the “proverbial patience” of Job, of which the writer says “ye have heard” (not read), this is the only allusion to the book of Job or to Job in the New Testament.

Verse 21

(21) Therefore.—Not because of what has been mentioned, but introducing what he is about to mention. Let party-spirit cease. Do not degrade yourselves by calling yourselves after the names of any man, for everything is yours—then teachers only exist for you. The enthusiasm of the Apostle, as he speaks of the privileges of Christians, leads him on beyond the bare assertion necessary to the logical conclusion of the argument, and enlarging the idea he dwells, in a few brief and impressive utterances, on the limitless possessions—in life and in death, in the present life and that which is future—which belong to those who are united with Christ. But they must remember that all this is theirs because they “are Christ’s.” They are possessors because possessed by Him. “His service is their perfect freedom” as the Collect in the English Prayer Book puts it, or, more strikingly, as it occurs in the Latin version, “Whom to serve, is to reign.”

Verses 21-23

Yet Possessing all Things

All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.—1 Corinthians 3:21-23.

1. The Corinthian Christians seem to have carried into the Church some of the worst vices of Greek political life. They were split up into wrangling factions, each swearing by the name of some person. Paul was the battle-cry of one set; Apollos of another. Paul and Apollos were very good friends, their admirers bitter foes—according to a very common experience. The springs lie close together up in the hills, the rivers may be parted by half a continent.

These feuds were all the more detestable to the Apostle because his name was dragged into them; and so, in the first part of this letter, he sets himself, with all his might, to shame and to argue the Corinthian Christians out of their wrangling. This great text is one of the considerations which he adduces with that purpose. In effect he says, “To pin your faith to any one teacher is a wilful narrowing of the sources of your blessing and your wisdom. You say you are Paul’s men. Has Apollos got nothing hat he could teach you? and may you not get any good out of brave brother Cephas? Take them all; they were all meant for your good. Let no man glory in individuals.”

That is all that his argument required him to say. But in his impetuous way he goes on into regions far beyond. His thought, like some swiftly revolving wheel, catches fire of its own rapid motion; and he blazes up into this triumphant enumeration of all the things that serve the soul which serves Jesus Christ. “You are lords of men, of the world, of time, of death, of eternity; but you are not lords of yourselves. You belong to Jesus, and in the assure in which you belong to Him do all things belong to you.”

2. There is a fine wholesome exultation about the words, considering from whom they come and to whom they were addressed. We do not like to hear a rich man boasting of his wealth; but when a poor man tells us how rich he feels, that seems wholesome, and it gives us a glimpse into the deeper fact of what being “well off” really is. And that is what we have in this word of St. Paul’s to his Corinthian converts. Poor men they were, every one of them, with little enough of this world’s gear. What different ways of looking at things there are! If we could have gone to any one of the great merchants at Corinth, and asked him about the standing of the score or two of men who were beginning to be known as the followers of the new religion there, his answer would probably have been something like this: “Standing, my dear sir? They have not any! Why, there is hardly a man among them worth his fifty ounces of silver. You might buy up the whole lot of them for five talents of gold. The only man among them who has anything is that sailmaker, Agrippa, and he was almost ruined by having to break up and leave Rome on that edict of the emperor, expelling the Jews.” That was one way of looking at them. St. Paul looks at them differently. “You have everything,” he says. “I am yours, and Apollos is yours, and so is Cephas. And this world is yours, and the next world is yours, things present and things to come—‘all things are yours.’” It was a right royal setting forth of their position, if they could only feel it so. And they did feel it so in the main. Take that early Christian life as a whole; there is very little whining in it, very little about their poverty, or difficulties, or hardships. They rise up before us—St. Paul and his fellows, and those humble, nameless folk who gathered round them—they rise up before us out of the shadows of the past, not as weary and sorrow-laden men, treading painfully along, but as soldiers marching with firm ringing steps, and singing songs of triumph as they go.1 [Note: B. Herford, Courage and Cheer, 235.]

3. “All things are yours,” says St. Paul, and he goes on with an enumeration which has been called, not without reason, “the inventory of the possessions of the child of God,” and in which death itself figures. He sums up his enumeration by reproducing the bold paradox with which he had begun, “Yea, I tell you, all are yours.” Then he adds the ground or basis of this possession. “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” “All things are yours,” he says, “but ye are not your own, ye are Christ’s, and it is because ye belong to Christ and depend on Him that all things belong to you.”


All Things are Yours

There are days in the year when merchants take account of their stock. It is well sometimes for a Christian disciple likewise to stop and take an inventory of his possessions. The Apostle Paul here gives us such an inventory. “All things are yours.” There cannot be anything left when you have said “All things.” That is an expression which sweeps round the whole universe and takes in everything. “All things are yours.” And now the thought strikes the Apostle’s mind, “They will hardly understand how much that includes, unless I begin to specify,” and so he adds: “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas,” representing all that ministered in word and doctrine; but that is only one department of this great possession. “Or the world.” “The world” is one of the most universal terms of which we have any knowledge. It includes the whole human family; it includes the whole of human history; it includes the whole of the habitable earth. Yet even that will not do. “Or life.” That covers the term of our existence both in this world and in the hereafter; it is all yours with all its experiences. “Or death.” If there is anything that seems to have both “all seasons” and all men for its own, it is death. “Things present”; these include whatsoever is and whatsoever has been, because whatsoever has been belongs to the present as the property of memory, just as whatsoever is belongs to the present as the property of actual daily experience. But all this will not suffice. “And things to come.” That reaches into the illimitable ages of eternity. St. Paul has been trying to make specifications, to give the items in this stocktaking. But as though discouraged with the attempt to enumerate, he has only succeeded in giving a very few of the things possessed by the disciple, but those are the most comprehensive terms possible. And—like a man who has begun taking stock in a great manufactory, and has noted five or six great articles that one shelf contains, but, as he sees the vast accumulation of goods before him, gives up in despair in the effort to complete his work—St. Paul returns to the original sentence with which he began: “All things are yours.”

What does this statement of the Apostle mean?

1. It is worth our while first to recall something of what it does not mean. It does not mean licence, the parody and libel of liberty. It does not mean selfishness, the mind which grasps or which withholds at the dictate of self-will; this is not possession, but theft; this in its effect is nothing but the hard bondage and poverty of the being. It does not mean the faintest shadow of a slur over moral distinctions—the bad dream that you can be so spiritual as to be, even for one fraction of a moment, emancipated from conscience; the lying whisper that you shall not surely die of permitted sin, because Christ died for you.

2. It does not mean a relaxation of the Divine rule of self-sacrifice. It is not spoken in order to throw the halo of the Gospel over a life which, professing godliness, is yet secretly, perhaps almost unconsciously, making itself as comfortable as possible for its own sake. It is not spoken to help us to minimize the call to bear the cross, and to serve the Lord in others, while we multiply and magnify excuses for indulgences and enjoyments which, however cultivated and refined, terminate in ourselves. The words are not given us to insinuate that, if we will but say “Lord, Lord,” with a certain fervour, we may live as those who think that a man’s “life” does “consist in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

3. But then, most certainly, the words have a meaning, positive and beautiful—“All things are yours.” They are spoken indeed to those, and to those only, who are not their own but their Lord’s possession; but they do not merely restate that side of truth. They give its contrast and its complement; they turn the shield quite round, to show its other face—and it is another. “You are not your own”; be sure of that, it is an immovable fact. “All things are yours”; be sure of that also; it is meant to carry to you a magnificent message, affirmative, distinct ive altogether its own. Now as then, now and for ever, the man who belongs to Christ in truth is “a child of God.” And his Father will do anything for him. Nothing of his Father’s resources shall be grudged to him. Wisdom and love may, and will, sort and sift, and in that sense limit, the things which shall be put actually into the child’s hands. But the whole wealth of the great home is his, in the sense that he is the child for whom anything shall be done, on whom no resources are too great to spend. His utmost good is watched for, always and everywhere. His Father delights exceedingly to meet his wishes, and limits the meeting of them only by the interests of the child; and He has made those interests identical with His own.

Adolphe Monod, great saint, great teacher, great sufferer, lying on a premature couch of anguish and death at Paris, collected in his bedchamber, Sunday by Sunday, a little congregation of friends; Guizot was sometimes of the number. There he addressed them, like Standfast in the Pilgrim’s Progress, as from the very waters of the last river, speaking always on his life-long theme, Jesus Christ. The pathetic series of these Adieux à ses Amis et à l’Église was gathered after his death into a volume. Late in its pages comes a discourse with the title ‘All in Jesus Christ.’ From this let me quote a few sentences: “Be it wisdom, be it light, be it power, be it victory over sin, be it a matter of this world, or of the world to come, all is in Christ. Having Christ, we have all things; bereft of Christ, we have absolutely nothing. All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Well, then, what is the result for me? I am poor, it may be. Yet all the fortunes of this world are mine; for they are Christ’s, who Himself is God’s, and who could easily give them all to me, with Himself, if they would serve my interests. The whole world, with all its glories, with all its power, belongs to me; for it belongs to my Father, who will give it me to-morrow, and could give it me to-day, if that were good for me. I am very ill, it may be. Yet health is mine, strength is mine, comfort is mine, a perfect enjoyment of all the blessings of life is mine; for all this belongs to Christ, who belongs to God, and who disposes of it as He will. If He withholds these things from me to-day, for a fleeting moment, swift as the shuttle in the loom, and for reasons wholly of His own; it is because these pains and this bitterness conceal a benediction worth more to me than the health so precious, than the comfort so delightful.… I challenge you to find a thing of which I cannot say: This is my Father’s; therefore it is mine; if He withholds it to-day, He will give it me to-morrow. I trust myself to His love. All is mine, if I am His.”1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, The Secret of the Presence, 56]

A distinguished American politician in a heated campaign is said to have telegraphed to his friends: “Claim everything.” That, in a much profounder sense, is precisely the summons which Christianity makes on life.… All things are yours. The whole of life is holy. Religion is not a province but an empire. It comprehends both the church and the world, both life and death, both the present and the future. The world is one, and all of it is sacred, and it is all yours, if ye are Christ’s, as Christ is God’s.2 [Note: Peabody, Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 231.]

Amidst all my hurry, however, I had five minutes alone by my little Lena’s grave. The beautiful white coral was blackened, but the grass and shrubs had grown, and the lemon branches with their bright fruit were bending over and shading it beautifully. How naturally one looks up to the blue sky above, and wonders where the spirit is, or if she can see the mourning hearts below. She would have been running on her own little feet now, had she been on Earth; but though my heart aches for her still, I would not have it otherwise, for she was not sent in vain, and oh, what a little teacher she has been! When John took Dr. Steele to see the grave, he said: “You have thus taken possession”; and I felt we had taken possession of more through her than that little spot of ground on Aniwa.3 [Note: John G. Paton, ii. 296.]

O wealth of life beyond all bound!

Eternity each moment given!

What plummet may the Present sound?

Who promises a future heaven?

Or glad, or grieved,

Oppressed, relieved,

In blackest night, or brightest day

Still pours the flood

Of golden good,

And more than heartfull fills me aye.

My wealth is common; I possess

No petty province, but the whole

What’s mine alone is mine far less

Than treasure shared by every soul.

Talk not of store,

Millions or more—

Of values which the purse may hold—

But this divine!

I own the mine

Whose grains outweigh a planet’s gold.

I have a stake in every star,

In every beam that fills the day;

All hearts of men my coffers are,

My ores arterial tides convey;

The fields, the skies,

The sweet replies

Of thought to thought are my gold-dust;

The oaks; the brooks,

And speaking looks

Of lovers, faith and friendship’s trust.

Life’s youngest tides joy-brimming flow

For him who lives above all years,

Who all-immortal makes the Now,

And is not ta’en in Time’s arrears:

His life’s a hymn

The seraphim

Might hark to hear or help to sing,

And to his soul

The boundless whole

Its bounty all doth daily bring.

“All Mine is thine,” the Sky-Soul saith;

“The wealth I Am must thou become;

Richer and richer, breath by breath—

Immortal gain, immortal room!”

And since all His

Mine also is,

Life’s gift outruns my fancies far,

And drowns the dream

In larger stream,

As morning drinks the morning-star.1 [Note: David Atwood Wasson.]

i. Paul, Apollos, Cephas

1. Each of these names stands for a distinct species of teaching the argumentative, the eloquent, the hortatory. Let us not rely of them by; from those with whom we have least only we may glean something. Each disciple brings some bits of bread and fish. Each stone flashes some colour needed by the prism to effect the beam of perfect light. Each flower may furnish some ingredient for the common store of honey.

2. Not in vain have martyrs suffered, and fathers taught, and saints prayed, and philanthropists laboured, and reformers preached. All these too are ours. It is ours to note the martyr Ignatius weighed down with years but undaunted in heart, with a spirit soaring higher than the courage of a hero and bowing lower than the humility of a child, not daring yet to count himself a disciple, but setting his face stedfastly towards the Roman amphitheatre, thirsting to become food for the wild beasts, that haply while finding them he might also find Christ. It is ours to observe the kingly spirit of Athanasius, who through nearly half a century, resolute and unswerving, defied obloquy and persecution, maintaining with no less clearness of vision than stedfastness of purpose the faith of Christ alone against the world. It is ours also to take to heart the example of Francis of Assisi, the most gentle and loving of saints, who delighted to claim kindred with all the works of creation and all the dispensations of providence, as the sons and daughters of the one beneficent father, greeting even fire as a brother and death as a sister; who preached to a literal age in the only language which that age could understand, by a literal obedience to the precept of Christ, and went out into the world taking with him absolutely nothing, casting in his lot with the poor whom men despised, and the leper whom they abhorred! So we may go on through all the ages, feeding the fires that are within us with the fuel of these bright examples of Christian faith and heroism and love. And we shall do this without fear. We shall use these examples without abusing them. We shall not say, I am of Martin Luther, or I am of Francis Xavier, or I am of John Wesley; for Luther and Xavier and Wesley are all ours. Brilliant though their lives may have been, they are after all only broken lights of Him who is the full and perfect light.

3. Not only are all Christian teachers ours to serve us after their own kind, but the whole world of men is ours to do the same. If there is a man anywhere with a thought in his mind worth having, whether he be a historian, or a poet, or a romancer; if there is a man anywhere who has a practical idea to communicate, whether he be a statesman, or a political economist, or a sanitarian; if there is a man anywhere who knows something valuable about the earth or the heavens, we should listen to that man with all gratitude. For the whole world of such men is ours—men of thought, men of imagination, men of inventive genius men of character; all are ours, and we should not despise any one of them. They have all their place in the economy of human nature. We should not favour the historian and neglect the poet, or welcome the scientist and spurn the romancer; we should look upon each as a valuable servant ready to render us a service peculiar to himself.

Literature may almost be called the last stronghold of paganism for the cultivated classes all over the Empire. It is hard for us to sympathize with the feelings of Christians in the fifth century for whom cultivated paganism was a living reality possessed of a seductive power; who could not separate classical literature from the religious atmosphere in which it had been produced; and who regarded the masterpieces of the Augustan age as beautiful horrors from which they might hardly escape. Jerome had fears for his soul’s salvation because he could not conquer his admiration for Cicero’s Latin prose, and Augustine shrank within himself when he thought on his love for the poems of Vergil. Had not his classical tastes driven him in youth from the uncouth latinity of the copies of the Holy Scriptures when he tried to read them? Christianity had mastered their heart, mind and conscience, but it could not stifle fond recollection nor tame the imagination.1 [Note: Cambridge Medieval History, i. 115.]

ii. The World

By “the world” St. Paul here means the existing order of material things, the world we live in, the physical universe. “The world,” he says, “is yours.” The world, the cosmos, the Divine order of the created universe, with all its intricate harmonies and all its manifold glories, is ours. Our Lord is not only the Head of the Church, the spiritual creation; He is also the Centre of the Universe, the material creation. This He is, as the Eternal Word of God by whom all things came into being, in whom they are sustained, through whom they are governed. In our modern theology we almost wholly lose sight of this aspect of Christ’s Person; and the loss to ourselves is inestimable. Science and religion, in the Apostle’s teaching, have their meeting-point in Christ. There is no antagonism between them; they are the twofold expression of the same Divine energy. And therefore science, not less than theology, is the inheritance of the Christian. It is ours to roam through the boundless realms of space with the astronomer, and to plunge into the countless ages of the past with the geologist: ours to enter into the vast laboratory of nature, and to analyse her subtle processes and record her manifold results. It will be no intrusion into an alien sphere. It is a right which we can claim as Christians. It is ours because we are Christ’s.

This is our school, hung with maps and diagrams and simple lessons. There is not a single flower, not a distant star, not a murmuring brooklet, not a sound sweet or shrill; there is not a living creature, or a natural process, that may not serve us; not only by meeting some appetite of sense, but by teaching us such deep lessons as those which Jesus drew from the scenes around Him, saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like.”1 [Note: F. B. Meyer.]

1. That man owns the world who remains its master. There are rich men who say they possess so many thousand pounds. Turn the sentence about and it would be a great deal truer—the thousands of pounds possess them. They are the slaves of their own possessions, and every man who counts any material thing as indispensable to his well-being, and regards it as the chiefest good, is the slave-servant of that thing.

My friends, do you remember that old Scythian custom, when the head of a house died? How he was dressed in his finest dress, and set in his chariot, and carried about to his friends’ houses; and each of them placed him at his table’s head, and all feasted in his presence? Suppose it were offered to you in plain words, as it is offered to you in dire facts, that you should gain this Scythian honour, gradually, while you yet thought yourself alive. Suppose the offer were this: You shall die slowly; your blood shall daily grow cold, your flesh petrify, your heart beat at last only as a rusted group of iron valves. Your life shall fade from you, and sink through the earth into the ice of Caina; but, day by day, your body shall be dressed more gaily, and set in higher chariots, and have more orders on its breast—crowns on its head, if you will. Men shall bow before it, stare and shout round it, crowd after it up and down the streets; build palaces for it, feast with it at their tables’ heads all the night long; your soul shall stay enough within it to know what they do, and feel the weight of the golden dress on its shoulders, and the furrow of the crown-edge on the skull;—no more. Would you take the offer, verbally made by the death-angel? Would the meanest among us take it, think you? Yet practically and verily we grasp at it, every one of us, in a measure; many of us grasp at it in its fulness of horror. Every man accepts it, who desires to advance in life without knowing what life is; who means only that he is to get more horses, and more footmen, and more fortune, and more public honour, and—not more personal soul. He only is advancing in life, whose heart is getting softer, whose blood warmer, whose brain quicker, whose spirit is entering into living peace. And the men who have this life in them are the true lords or kings of the earth—they, and they only.1 [Note: Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (Works, xviii. 99).]

We shall never learn from our Lord to look with an unloving and cynical eye upon the common sights and ordinary ways of nature and of men. Who, if not He, has enabled us to read Divine philosophy in the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, in the transactions of the market, in the work of the farm, in the casting of a net, and the sweeping of a room? Where, if not in His school, have we been taught that it was a good God who made the world, and sent us into it, not to withdraw ourselves from it, not to feel scorn for it, but to study it, toil in it, and help one another to profit by our stay in it? Are they not His lessons which have redeemed the life of the peasant from dulness, as they have deepened the insight of the artist, and strengthened the heart of the philanthropist? It is inconceivable, wholly inconceivable, that He who lived and taught thus, could have meant us to understand that His truest followers were to be those who should pass through this earthly life unoccupied, uninterested, unstirred spectators, unfriendly critics, or active foes of its development and progress.2 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 109.]

2. He owns the world who turns it to the highest use of spiritual nourishment. All material things are given, and were created, for the growth of men; or at all events their highest purpose is that men should, by them, grow. And therefore, as the scaffolding is swept away when the building is finished, so God will sweep away this material universe, with all its wonders of beauty and of contrivance, when men have grown by means of it. The material is less than the soul, and he is master of the world, and owns it, who has got thoughts out of it, truth out of it, impulses out of it, visions of God out of it, who has by it been led nearer to his Divine Master. If I look out upon a fair landscape, and the man who draws the rents of it is standing by my side, and I draw more sweetness, and deeper impulses, and larger and loftier thoughts out of it than he does, it belongs to me far more than it does to him.

Hazlitt, relating in one of his essays how he went on foot from one great man’s house to another’s in search of works of art, begins suddenly to triumph over these noble and wealthy owners, because he was more capable of enjoying their costly possessions than they were; because they had paid the money and he had received the pleasure. And the occasion is a fair one for self-complacency. While the one man was working to be able to buy the picture, the other was working to be able to enjoy the picture. An inherited aptitude will have been diligently improved in either case; only the one man has made for himself a fortune, and the other has made for himself a living spirit. It is a fair occasion for self-complacency, I repeat, when the event shows a man to have chosen the better part, and laid out his life more wisely, in the long-run, than those who have credit for most Wisdom 1 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Ordered South.]

Read that touching book, The Story of a Scotch Naturalist; or the life of Hugh Miller—only a workman in the Cromarty stone quarries, yet to whom that “Old Red Sandstone” belonged more than ever it did to the men for whom he worked. Or think of Thoreau, one of that little group, with Emerson at their head, who made Concord famous—Thoreau, in his little shanty in the Walden woods, cultivating just enough for life’s barest needs, and meanwhile making the wisdom and beauty of Nature and of books and men his own; loving everything around him and loved by all—the birds perching upon him as he hoed his garden, the squirrels nestling up to him as he sat reading in his woodland nooks; taking all that country-side into his mind and heart, and making it curiously his own. So that to-day, as people drive by it, they say “that is Thoreau’s wood”!2 [Note: B. Herford.]

3. He owns the world who uses it as the arena, or wrestling ground, on which, by labour, he may gain strength, and in which he may do service. Antagonism helps to develop muscle, and the best use of the outward frame of things is that we shall take it as the field upon which we can serve God.

First, then, behold the world as thine, and well

Note that where thou dost dwell:

See all the beauty of the spacious case;

Lift up thy pleased and ravisht eyes;

Admire the glory of this Heavenly place,

And all its blessings prize.

That sight well seen thy spirit shall prepare

To make all other things more rare.

Men’s woes shall be but foils unto thy bliss:

Thou once enjoying this:

Trades shall adorn and beautify the earth;

Their ignorance shall make thee bright:

Were not their griefs Democritus’s mirth?

Their slips shall keep thee right;

All shall be thine advantage; all conspire

To make thy bliss and virtue higher.1 [Note: Thomas Traherne.]

iii. Life, Death

Of the powers acting, in the world there are two, of formidable and mysterious greatness, which seem to decide the course of the universe—life and death. The first comprehends all phenomena which are characterized by force, health, productiveness; the second, all those which betray weakness, sickness, decay. From the one or the other of these two forces proceed all the hostile influences of which the believer feels himself the object. But he knows also that he is not their puppet; for it is Christ his Lord who guides and tempers their action.

1. “Life is yours.” Life is a very inclusive term. Think of the vastness of its meaning. It means here, as always, more than existence. Life has its dimensions: length and breadth, and depth and height. It is not enough to count the years that you live if you would measure your life. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” That is simply a line from the cradle to the grave, reaching over seventy years of length. A man may broaden out his life by broadening out his sympathy, his love, by taking into the embrace of his thought and his affection things that are outside the narrow line of self-interest. As he thinks of his neighbour; of a dying world; of the destitute and the widowed and the orphan and the oppressed; as he thinks of the Kingdom of God in all its vast out-reachings, the little narrow line of self-interest is crossed, and the territory of life broadens out to cover a vast continent of affection and of thought. When a man begins to cultivate his own nature, when he goes down into the depths of his own soul to find out what is there of sin, and by the grace of God expel it; what is there of weakness, and by the grace of God strengthen it; and what is there of selfishness, and by the grace of God displace it; when he learns, like a man who occupies uncultivated land on a farm, to plough it up, and subsoil it, and enrich the ground, so that he may yet get out of his own being the utmost possible yield for himself and his family and humanity—that man is discovering the depth that is possible to life. And when he looks beyond the present and the transient and the temporal, when he casts his eyes upward to God, when he reaches up after God, His likeness, His honour, His glory, then he is learning the height that is possible to life.

How is this abundant life ours?

(1) The world of human life is most his who knows it best, and loves it best. How shall we appropriate this world of man to ourselves and make it ours? The common idea has been to get some kind of lordship or kingship or mastership over it, or over as much of it as we can. In the old feudal times, the vassal used to kneel at the feet of the lord of the manor and swear to be “his man.” But that is a poor notion. Let us go forth into the busy world and love it; interest ourselves in its life; mingle kindly with its joys and sorrows; try what we can do for men rather than what we can make them do for us, and we shall know what it is to have men ours, better than if we were their king or master. If we look through history, whose, most of all, is the world? Not Alexander’s or Napoleon’s, but Christ’s, who made men His because He knew them and loved them. He whom we bind to ourselves by love becomes, as far as it is possible, ours. A friendship is more truly a possession than a slave. Shakespeare’s plays become ours not by our owning a handsome copy of them, but by our knowing them and loving them. Beethoven and Mendelssohn are theirs who love and understand them. So true is this, that Ruskin has pleaded that in works of art it is wrong to claim any private property or ownership. Such things belong to humanity. Would we allow that any money purchase could give a man any real right to make a bonfire of Raphael’s pictures or to break up the Laocoon into paperweights? So of character and the deep qualities of life itself. We cannot buy these things; we cannot pay a master even to teach us goodness, or uprightness, or purity. This does not mean that the teacher can do nothing—knowing here too goes for something, but it is loving that does infinitely the most. The quality we love becomes a part of us. Our friend’s nobleness, if that is what we really love in him, gives us also some touch of nobleness. We may never have much opportunity for heroism; but if, as we read of some brave, heroic deed, our heart throbs with deep loving admiration, that love by subtle chemistry transmutes the deed into our character; not the whole of it, but some touch of it, becomes a part of what we are.

(2) Life in its pleasures is ours; there is no bright or helpful pleasure that is not ours. There is no place on earth which a Christian man cannot transform and transfigure to be the very gateway of heaven. All mirth is ours, all laughter is ours, all amusements are ours. Amusement in our hands will turn to spiritual help, and to the making of manhood and womanhood. All music is ours, all poetry is ours, the drama is ours. Pleasure in its noblest, best, sweetest, truest sense belongs only to the Christian. It is only when we are really armed in Christ for the shocks and storms of life that we are safe to remember that we are made fit in Christ for a double enjoyment of its joys.

Life is really so wondrous; this fibrine, iron, sinew, bone, flesh, and colouring substance is so miraculous when alive, walking about and thinking, and the eye is so expressive, the tone so eloquent, the brain so active, and the heart so full of love and feeling, that the mere gift of life is a largess so grand and utterly magnificent that the dry bones breathed on should indeed rejoice. Man is king of the world, monarch of the air, which is his circumambient servant and puts colour in his cheeks and brightness in his eye; of the earth, which on her brown bosom bears him corn and wine and oil of gladness; of the sea, which scatters its treasures at his feet and conveys him from land to land; of the sky, which is peopled with winged servants of his; of the caverns and hollows under the earth, which yield iron and copper and lead and gold to serve him, and give him precious stones to glitter in his sight, and the treasures of antediluvian woods, laid up as coal to warm him in the winter. Of the other inferior life that shares the earth he too is master. Yoked to his chariot the swift steed bears him; and all animals, from the lion to the lamb, minister to his recreations, sports, desires, or wants.1 [Note: J. H. Friswell, This Wicked World, 269.]

(3) Life in its disciplines is ours. To say that life is pleasurable is also to say that life is sad. To say that life is full of beauty is also to say that life is full of sorrow. There are minor as well as major chords in our life. There are none of us without our struggles, none of us without our failures, none of us without disappointments, none of us without bereavements, none without our sorrows. The old theologians and prophets used to look upon life as a probation. Life is not a probation; life is something nobler than that, it is an education. If we struggle, if we fight, if we are foiled, if we are down, let us not call it our sad destiny—let us call it God’s educating force to make us perfect men or women in Christ Jesus.

Blaspheme not thou thy sacred Life, nor turn,

O’er joys that God hath for a season lent—

(Perchance to try thy spirit and its bent,

Effeminate soul and base!)—weakly to mourn!

There lies no desert in the land of Life;

For e’en that tract that barrenest doth seem,

Laboured of thee in faith and hope, shall teem

With heavenly harvests and rich gatherings rife.2 [Note: Frances Kemble.]

(4) Life in its possibilities is ours. John Stuart Mill once said that no man could think of the heights of feeling that were possible to him. Do we not believe that; do we not believe with all the future before us, and with all the love of God on our side, there are scarcely any stages which we cannot reach? There are heights of purity to climb, valleys of humility to go through, all the magnificent possibilities of service, of self-sacrifice, and of life for others, a new start, and prospects which the grace of God alone can give. When we look back upon our life, the saddest thing is not that we have been dishonest, not that we have been impure, perhaps; but the saddest thing is that our life has been so meagre when it might have been so grand, that it has been so petty when it might have been so sublime, so poor when it might have been so rich.

From the first Christianity had proclaimed that the whole life of man belonged to it. This meant everything that made man’s life wider, deeper, fuller; whatever made it more joyous or contented; whatever sharpened the brain, strengthened and taught the muscles, gave full play to man’s energies, could be taken up into and become part of the Christian life. Sin and foulness were sternly excluded; but, that done, there was no element of the Græco-Roman civilization which could not be appropriated by Christianity. So it assimilated Hellenism or the fine flower and fruit of Greek thought and feeling; it appropriated Roman law and institutions; it made its own the simple festivals of the common people. All were theirs; and they were Christ’s; and Christ was God’s.1 [Note: Cambridge Medieval History, i. 96.]

Thank God for life: life is not sweet always,

Hands may be heavy-laden, hearts care full,

Unwelcome nights follow unwelcome days,

And dreams divine end in awakenings dull.

Still it is life, and life is cause for praise,

This ache, this restlessness, this quickening sting,

Prove me no torpid and inanimate thing,

Prove me of Him who is of life the Spring,

I am alive!—and that is beautiful.2 [Note: Susan Coolidge.]

2. “Death is yours.” We had forgotten that; or we had not realized it. We had thought that we belonged to death, not death to us. We knew that we had some feeble hold upon life, but death was not thought to be a possession, desirable or undesirable. We had not added that to the catalogue of our wealth. We had never reckoned it among our treasures—among our resources. We had not realized that death is one of our opportunities.

The writers of the Epistles make little or nothing of physical death. They bear two great points in mind, (1) our present standing, and (2) our ultimate standing in the day of the Lord. We persist in walking by sight and esteeming this existence Life, and the end of this existence Death; whereas, rightly viewed, this existence is but a stage in mortality, and so-called Death a step onwards to the fulness of immortality. Each one of us is, as it were, a limb of God, with the potentiality of perfection, and gradually, through the experience of multiform error, to be developed into the full exercise of spontaneous and joyous activity.1 [Note: R. W. Corbet, Letters from a Mystic of the Present Day, 20.]

There are two very striking engravings by a great, though somewhat unknown, artist, representing Death as the Destroyer, and Death as the Friend. In the one case he comes into a scene of wild revelry, and there at his feet lie stark and stiff corpses in their gay clothing and with garlands on their brows, and feasters and musicians are flying in terror from the cowled Skeleton. In the other he comes into a quiet church belfry, where an aged saint sits with folded arms and closed eyes, and an open Bible by his side, and endless peace upon the wearied face. The window is flung wide to the sunrise, and on its sill perches a bird that gives forth its morning song. The cowled figure has brought rest to the weary, and the glad dawning of a new life to the aged, and is a friend.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

Lo! all thy glory gone!

God’s masterpiece undone!

The last created and the first to fall;

The noblest, frailest, godliest of all.

Death seems the conqueror now,

And yet his victor thou:

The fatal shaft, its venom quench’d in thee,

A mortal raised to immortality.

Child of the humble sod,

Wed with the breath of God,

Descend! for with the lowest thou must lie—

Arise! thou hast inherited the sky.3 [Note: John Banister Tabb.]

(1) To the believer death is not a step into the dim unknown, but a step into a region lighted by Jesus. Death is not the end of something; it is not an enemy that crushes us; it is not a loss, a defeat, a calamity; it is a possession, a weapon in our armoury, an opportunity, a resource. It is not a putting off, but a putting on.

At end of Love, at end of Life,

At end of Hope, at end of Strife,

At end of all we cling to so—

The sun is setting—must we go?

At dawn of Love, at dawn of Life,

At dawn of Peace that follows Strife,

At dawn of all we long for so—

The sun is rising—let us go.1 [Note: Louise Chandler Moulton.]

(2) Death is not the cessation of activity, but the introduction to nobler opportunities, and the endowment with nobler capacities of service. To become dead is an experience which is part of life. It is an experience in life’s upgrowth and development. There are many whom we know, who always seem to have been thwarted; who seem to be disinherited; who do not seem to have come into their rightful place or possession. If we look at their lives, from the cradle to the certain grave, we cannot understand them. There seems no accomplishment; there seems no real purpose; there seems no achievement worth the travail. But we are not to look at any one, viewing him merely from the cradle to the grave. Death is our interpreter. It alone gives the true perspective; and when death comes to such as we have spoken of, it is seen to be the endowment of the disinherited. Life, its meaning, its purpose, its wealth, is for them beyond the grave. It is beyond the grave for all of us; but it is clearly seen to be so for them. Death is the endowment of the disinherited.

The shutters are drawn and the people talk in whispers and walk softly, an immortal soul is passing out of time into eternity. His has been a commonplace life, but he has been faithful, and now he has reached the end of the journey. The sunset has come and the shadows of evening are thickening. Between two worlds hangs the veil which separates time from eternity. On this side the veil it is a house of sorrow. Loved ones are in tears and speak to each other in broken sobs and cry out to God for comfort.

But on the other side of that thin veil the scene is far different. It is the hour of coronation. There are no tears, no sobbing grief and heart-broken prayers, but the chant of victory, for a faithful soul is coming to its own. All the pomp and circumstance of heaven centre there. The face of the pilgrim has lost its death pallor and the eyes shine with the light of expectant immortality. God is once more placing the crown of life on the brow of death.1 [Note: J. I. Vance, Tendency, 229, 233.]

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—

He hath awakened from the dream of life—

’Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep

With phantoms an unprofitable strife,

And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife

Invulnerable nothings.2 [Note: Shelley, Adonais, xxxix.]

(3) Death does not separate and isolate us, but unites us to Jesus and all His lovers. Those we have lost—we have not lost them. Death is the guardian of our treasures. Here they would have faded, faded, faded. Do we ever think, that if friendship were to last for ever on this earth of frailty, the last horror would come—the hearts even of friends would get worn out? This mortal must put on immortality before life can stand its own strain and the glory of its meaning; the life we learn on earth is too high for earth; death alone can release it to its fit dominion. And death is the guardian of your hidden treasures and the keeper of your secret wealth, of all the unknown that lies beyond the veil for us—not only those whom we have let go, but those we have never known, whom God has made and is keeping for us. Our treasures, some of them, are here; but we will not know how rich we are till we have passed beyond.

I cannot think of them as dead

Who walk with me no more;

Along the path of life I tread

They have but gone before.

The father’s house is mansioned fair

Beyond my vision dim;

All souls are His, and, here or there,

Are living unto Him.

And still their silent ministry

Within my heart hath place,

As when on earth they walked with me,

And met me face to face.

Their lives are made forever mine;

What they to me have been

Hath left henceforth its seal and sign

Engraven deep within.

Mine are they by an ownership

Nor time nor death can free;

For God hath given to Love to keep

Its own eternally.1 [Note: Frederick Lucian Hosmer.]

I have no fear lest my Saints should be far from me in their upper heaven; God’s hierarchy is the hierarchy of conjoining love, and His great ones have their place in power to draw near even to the very least. The heights of heaven must be close to every lower place, as close as heart and heart may be.2 [Note: A Modern Mystic’s Way.]

iv. Things Present, Things to Come

All things are yours, says the Apostle, in the spiritual order (whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas) and in the terrestrial order (the world); the great powers of the world are yours (life and death); now he adds a third pair in relation to time (things present, and things to come). “Things present” comprehends all that can happen to us in the present state of things, and as long as we form part of it; while “things to come” denotes the great expected transformation, with its eternal consequences.

“Or things present, or things to come.” How quickly the incidents of daily life are gliding over us! and as they pass, to our weak gaze they steal from us so much that we hold dear—the elastic step, the clear vision, the strong nerve, the beloved friend, the hard-earned gold. Sometimes they manifestly enrich us. For the young there is a constant sense of acquisition. One good and perfect gift follows swiftly on the heels of another. But when we have crossed the summit of life’s hill there is an incessant consciousness of loss. Yet in God’s sight, and in the spiritual realm, these distinctions vanish and pass away as mists under the touch of the sun: and we find that all incidents come to bless us; all winds waft us to our haven; all tribes bring their tribute into the throne-room of our inner being. We are not the creatures of circumstances, but their masters, their kings, their lords. All these things are the servants and tutors appointed by our Father, to wait on and minister to us, His heirs.

1. “Things present.”—Our present lot is one of the “all things” which belong to us. We may not like it; we may greatly desire to be quit of it; we may be looking forward with intensest eagerness to a happier day, when our griefs or our difficulties shall no longer be with us. But these, remember, are from God to us, and God’s love is in them. Let us not be anxious merely to rid ourselves of them. Let us dig in them, and we shall find treasure.

We read some time ago, in an Australian paper, of a nugget worth a thousand pounds. In its picture a very ungainly block it looked. Most of us might have fallen in with it and heedlessly passed it by, or cast it aside as something in the way. The “digger” knew better, and he and his “mate” made a little fortune in a day.1 [Note: J. Walker of Carnwath, Essays, Sermons, and Memoir, 318.]

We can be only in the present, but not in the present without a past, nor in the present without a future. We need a present stretching from an eternal past to an eternal future. In Jehovah alone is such a past, present, and future found (Psalms 90:1-2). Jehovah hath created the heavens and the earth. We are here, and here as an integral part of them. “Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul.” We are connected in that verse with all places of His dominion—everything, everywhere, my soul. Yet the foundations of our being, of our eternity, are in God—our possibility in His omnipotence—our futurition in the purpose of His will, as our actuality in our generic creation, and our individuality from Him who calls the generations from the beginning. So of men—so of our salvation, omnipotence, purpose, creation in Christ. There’s something there that I’ll no’ spin out; it could be spun out into a long thread.2 [Note: “Rabbi” Duncan, in Memoir of John Duncan, 498.]

2. “Things to come.”—The dim, vague future shall be for each of us like some sunlit ocean stretching shoreless to the horizon; every little ripple flashing with its own bright sunshine, and all bearing us onwards to the great Throne that stands on the sea of glass mingled with fire.

(1) All the future that hope anticipates or fear apprehends is ours, and we can safely leave it with Him. We are like a cathedral that has been building through ages; the scaffolding is round about it, obscuring its beauty and symmetry, but essential to the erection of the towering spires. But, when the whole thing is completed, the scaffolding will be torn down and burnt up, and the grand building will appear in perfection.

(2) The Hebrew youth who, eager and buoyant, full of joyous young life and aspiration, left his father’s home to seek his brethren in the distant pasture-lands, had no dream of “things to come” for him—no dream of his sale as a bondsman, of his exile, of Potiphar’s house, of the false accusation, of the fetters and the dungeon, of the hope deferred and the sudden release, of the unexpected exaltation, of the reunion to his family in circumstances baffling all human calculation, and fraught with a history so grand, with an influence stretching down through all time and abroad over all lands. Not in his wildest imaginings did that future of wonders ever open up before him. But as you see the roll of his destiny unwind, as event follows event in the marvellous career, you recognize how truly all that came to him was his, and for his sake—chastening, sifting, humbling, purifying, preparing him alike for an earthly or a heavenly future. So is it for us all, if we are truly of the seed of Jacob.

To-morrow is the Gorgon; a man must only see it mirrored in the shining shield of yesterday. If he sees it directly he is turned to stone. This has been the fate of all those who have really seen fate and futurity as clear and inevitable. The Calvinists, with their perfect creed of predestination, were turned to stone; the modern sociological scientists (with their excruciating Eugenics) are turned to stone. The only difference is that the Puritans make dignified, and the Eugenists somewhat amusing, statues.1 [Note: Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World.]

The man who believes in God and in His loving providence need not darken his days by fretful cares and dread of evil to come. Believing in God’s purpose of love with him, he knows that the future cannot bring anything contrary to that. If there are any trials and sorrows in that time to come, he knows that the Father’s grace is sufficient for him through them all. If there are temptations, he knows he will not be tempted above what he can bear. His times are in God’s hands. If his days are to be long, the more time to worship and to witness. If they are to be few, the greater need to redeem the time now. If they are to be lived through much tribulation with darkness and storm, with a long stretch through the valley of the shadow, the Shepherd of his soul is ever with him. He will ask to see the heart of good in every evil that touches his life, the joy that slumbers in every pain, and in the hour of the final passion will commit his soul to God.1 [Note: Hugh Black, Comfort, 179.]

“Why wilt thou be concerned beyond to-day,” asks Luther, “and take upon thyself the misfortunes of two days?” Put thus, with Luther’s sanctified common sense, it is foolish from any point of view, but it is more than foolish from the point of view of faith.2 [Note: Ibid. 191.]


Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s

All things are yours, says St. Paul—with one exception. That exception is a very startling one. All things are ours—but ourselves! That is really what the Apostle means when he says, “All are yours, and ye are Christ’s.” And in this matter we are in precisely the same position as the Lord Jesus Christ. While all things are His, He is not His own any more than we are. “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” There is no one in this universe his own but God the Father. He is the only absolute Being; all the rest of us belong to some one else. Christ is God’s and we are Christ’s. Christ belongs to God by right of generation. “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” We belong to Christ by right of purchase. “Ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price.”

1. It is because we are not our own, but Christ’s, that all things are ours. How should we, poor creatures of yesterday, have all things if it were not for our connection with Christ? Has not God given all things to Christ? As the Word has it, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” And how should we have all things, if they were not given us by Christ, whose we are?

2. We are truly our own only when we are Christ’s. The highest truth ever lies in the completest paradox. There are many things that we never truly possess till we give them up. It is only when we relinquish the world that we possess it. It is only when we let pleasure go that we obtain it. It is only when we give money away that we enjoy it. It is only when we lose our life that we find it. And it is only when we become Christ’s that we become our own.

Lord, Thou art mine, and I am Thine,

If mine I am; and Thine much more

Than I or ought or can be mine.

Yet to be Thine doth me restore,

So that again I now am mine,

And with advantage mine the more,

Since this being mine brings with it Thine,

And Thou with me dost Thee restore:

If I without Thee would be mine,

I neither should be mine nor Thine.

Lord, I am Thine, and Thou art mine;

So mine Thou art, that something more

I may presume Thee mine than Thine,

For Thou didst suffer to restore

Not Thee, but me, and to be mine:

And with advantage mine the more,

Since Thou in death wast none of Thine,

Yet then as mine didst me restore:

O, be mine still; still make me Thine;

Or rather make no Thine and mine.1 [Note: George Herbert.]

3. All things are ours to serve us, and we are Christ’s to serve Him. Service is the golden thread that runs through all creation, making it one. The ancient fable told that all things were bound by golden chains about the feet of God: and surely the real deep connection of which the fable spoke is to be found in the service which each lower order of creation renders to the one above, the service becoming rarer and more refined as the pyramid of existence tapers to a point.

Our Lord was also the servant of God, and we are His servants. We are, of course, His, in the sense of being owned by Him: He made us; He bought us; He claims us. But how many of us resemble Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon!—who probably bore the brand of his master, and had certainly been purchased by his gold, but who withheld from him his service, following the bent of his own wayward will, and herding with the most abandoned of the populace that rotted in the criminal quarters of ancient Home. We too have been bought by the Lord, at priceless cost; but we are far from serving Him with the same sort of loyal and whole-hearted ministry as that with which He, in His unwearied solicitude for us, serves the Father.

4. Whenever we get into this right attitude towards our Lord Jesus, we shall find that all things begin to minister to us in a constant round of holy service. Each event or circumstance in life becomes an angel, laden with blessed helpfulness, bringing to us the gifts of our beloved Master. That title, “Rabboni, Master,” the sweetest name by which the prostrate soul can address its Saviour, does not degrade or demean it; but enables it, like the babe Christ, to be the recipient of costly presents sent from afar—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If we have been chafing at our lot, thinking that time and things are robbing us, we may be sure that we are not as we should be towards Christ; and the true cure will be to get as a slave to His feet. Then all things will be ours in this deep sense.

5. “And Christ is God’s.” If Christ is at the right hand of God, then the world is ours. The world is transformed from a prison into a home, and life from a dream into a reality. All that we know and love and strive for is given permanence and worth.

To see the glorious fountain and the end,

To see all creatures tend

To thy advancement, and so sweetly close

In thy repose: to see them shine

In serviceable worth; and even foes,

Among the rest, made thine:

To see all these at once unite in thee

Is to behold felicity.

To see the fountain is a blessed thing,

It is to see the King

Of Glory face to face: but yet the end,

The deep and wondrous end, is more;

In that the Fount we also comprehend,

The spring we there adore:

For in the end the fountain is best shewn,

As by effects the cause is known.

From one, to one, in one, to see all things,

Perceive the King of Kings

My God and portion; to see His treasures

Made all mine own, myself the end

Of His great labours! ’Tis the life of pleasures

To see myself His friend!

Who all things finds convey’d to Him alone,

Must needs adore the Holy One.1 [Note: Thomas Traherne.]

Yet Possessing all Things


Alexander (W. L.), Sermons, 122.

Arnold (T.), Sermons, iv. 39.

Caird (J.), Aspects of Life, 205.

Carr (A.), Horœ Biblicœ, 193.

Clark (H. W.), Meanings and Methods of the Spiritual Life, 200.

Cox (S.), The Genesis of Evil, 91, 106.

Duncan (J.), In the Pulpit and at the Communion Table, 221.

Evans (R. W.), Parochial Sermons, 301.

Greer (D. H.), From Things to God, 1.

Herford (B.), Courage and Cheer, 235.

Hodge (C), Princeton Sermons, 197.

Horder (W. G.), The Other-World, 3, 111.

Jeffrey (G.), The Believer’s Privilege, 57.

Kennedy (J. D.), Sermons, 83.

King (D.), Memoir and Sermons, 403.

Lewis (F. W.), The Work of Christ, 33.

Lightfoot (J. B.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 1.

Lockyer (T. F.), Inspirations of the Christian Life, 189.

Maclaren (A.), Creed and Conduct, 56.

Meyer (F. B.), Present Tenses, 123.

Moule (H. C. G.), The Secret of the Presence, 33, 48.

Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 229.

Pope (W. B.), Discourses on the Lordship of the Incarnate Redeemer, 325.

Talmage (T. de W.), Sermons, vi. 404.

Vaughan (C. J.), Temple Sermons, 485.

Walker (J.), Memoir and Sermons, 311.

Watkinson (W. L.), Noonday Addresses, 1 ff.

British Congregationalist, Nov. 11, 1909, p. 418 (Shepherd).

Cambridge Review, ii. Supplement No. 45 (Ince).

Christian Age, xlii. 68 (Talmage).

Christian World Pulpit, xi. 408 (Beecher); xiii. 65 (Duckworth) xv. 312 (Pulsford); xviii. 145 (Duckworth); xxi. 337 (Edwards) xxxvii. 90 (Smith), 104 (Clarke); xxxviii. 179 (Duckworth xl. 58 (Hobbs); xli. 154 (Garrett Horder); xlvi. 307 (Phillips xlviii. 121 (Goodspeed).

Verse 23

(23) And Christ is God’s.—Probably these words were added, not only as being the great climax of the gradual ascent up which the Apostle’s thoughts and language have gone in the whole passage, but as avoiding any danger of the party who called themselves by the name of Christ, arrogating anything to themselves from the previous words, “Ye are Christ’s,” if the passage had concluded with them. Christ is God’s as being Mediator (as John 14:28; John 17:3.) There was no danger, in that early age of the Church, of these words being misunderstood (as some have endeavoured to misunderstand them since) as in the least implying a want of absolute identity between the Son, in regard of His Divine Nature, and the Father.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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