Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on First Corinthians. These excerpts from the first ten chapters represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes and given with no modification (except for minimal punctuation changes and updated spelling).
As to those worthless persons, however, who had disturbed the Corinthian Church, it is not without good ground that I conclude that they were not open enemies of the truth. We see that Paul nowhere else spares false doctrines. The Epistles to the Galatians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and to Timothy, are short; yet in all of them he does not merely censure the false apostles, but also points out at the same time in what respects they injured the Church. Nor is it without good reason; for believers must not merely be admonished as to the persons whom they ought to shun, they must also be shown the evil against which they should be on their guard. I cannot therefore believe that in this comparatively long Epistle he was prepared to pass over in silence what he carefully insists upon in others that are much shorter. In addition to this, he makes mention of many faults of the Corinthians, and even some that are apparently trivial, so that he appears to have had no intention of passing over anything in them that was deserving of reproof. Besides he must, in any other view, be regarded as wasting many words in disputing against those absurd teachers and prating orators. He censures their ambition, he reproves them for transforming the gospel into human philosophy, he shows that they are destitute of the efficacy of the Spirit inasmuch as they are taken up with mere ornaments of speech and seek after a mere dead letter; but not a word is there as to a single false doctrine. Hence I conclude that they were persons who did not openly take away anything from the substance of the gospel, but as they burned with a misdirected eagerness for distinction, I am of opinion that, with the view of making themselves admired, they contrived a new method of teaching at variance with the simplicity of Christ.
Hitherto he has handled the Corinthians mildly, because he knew that they were much too sensitive. Now, however, after preparing their minds for receiving correction, acting the part of a good and skillful surgeon who soothes the wound when about to apply a painful remedy, he begins to handle them with more severity. Even here, however, as we shall still farther see, he uses great moderation. The sum is this: "It is my hope that the Lord has not in vain conferred upon you so many gifts, so as not to have it in view to bring you to salvation, but you ought at the same time to take heed lest graces so distinguished be polluted by your vices. See, then, that you be agreed among yourselves; and it is not without good reason that I call for agreement among yourselves, for I have been informed that you are in a state of disagreement, amounting even to hostility, and that there are parties and contentions raging among you, by which true unity of faith is torn asunder." As, however, they might not perhaps be sufficiently aroused by mere exhortation, he uses earnest entreaty, for he adjures them by the name of Christ, that as they loved him they should aim at promoting harmony
That ye all speak the same thing. In exhorting them to harmony, he employs three different forms of expression: for, in the first place, he requires such agreement among them that all shall have one voice; secondly, he takes away the evil by which unity is broken and torn asunder; and, thirdly, he unfolds the nature of true harmony, which is, that they be agreed among themselves in mind and will. What he has placed second is first in order--that we beware of strifes. For from this a second thing will naturally follow--that we be in harmony; and then at length a third thing will follow, which is here mentioned first--that we all speak, as it were, with one mouth; a thing exceedingly desirable as a fruit of Christian harmony. Let us then observe that nothing is more inconsistent on the part of Christians than to be at variance among themselves, for it is the main article of our religion that we be in harmony among ourselves; and farther, on such agreement the safety of the Church rests and is dependent.
By two powerful considerations he shows how base a thing it is to rob Christ of the honor of being the sole Head of the Church, the sole Teacher, the sole Master; or to draw away from him any part of that honor with the view of transferring it to men. The first is, that we have been redeemed by Christ on this footing, that we are not our own masters. This very argument Paul makes use of in his Epistle to the Romans (14:9) when he says, "For this end Christ died and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the living and the dead." To him, therefore, let us live and die, because we are always his. Also in this same Epistle (7:23), "Ye are bought with a price: be not ye the servants of men." As the Corinthians, therefore, had been purchased with the blood of Christ, they in a manner renounced the benefit of redemption when they attached themselves to other leaders. Here is a doctrine that is deserving of special notice--that we are not at liberty to put ourselves under bondage to men, because we are the Lord's heritage. Here, therefore, he accuses the Corinthians of the basest ingratitude in estranging themselves from that Leader by whose blood they had been redeemed, however they might have done so unwittingly.
Farther, this passage militates against the wicked contrivance of Papists by which they attempt to bolster up their system of indulgences. For it is from the blood of Christ and the martyrs that they make up that imaginary treasure of the Church, which they tell us is dealt out by means of indulgences. Thus they pretend that the martyrs by their death merited something for us in the sight of God, that we may seek help from this source for obtaining the pardon of our sins. They will deny, indeed, that they are on that account our redeemers, but nothing is more manifest than that the one thing follows from the other. The question is as to the reconciling of sinners to God; the question is as to the obtaining of forgiveness; the question is as to the appeasing of the Lord's anger; the question is as to redemption from our iniquities. This they boast is accomplished partly by the blood of Christ and partly by that of the martrys. They make, therefore, the martyrs partners with Christ in procuring our salvation. Here, however, Paul in strong terms denies that anyone but Christ has been crucified for us. The martyrs, it is true, died for our benefit, but (as Leo observes) it was to furnish an example of perseverance, not to procure for us the gift of righteousness.
The Prophet [Isaiah] in that passage, when mentioning how signally God had on all occasions befriended his people in their emergencies, exclaims that his acts of kindness to the pious surpass the comprehension of human intellect. "But what has this to do," someone will say, "with spiritual doctrine and the promises of eternal life, as to which Paul is here arguing?" There are three ways in which this question may be answered. There were no inconsistency in affirming that the Prophet, having made mention of earthly blessings, was in consequence of this led on to make a general statement, and even to extol that spiritual blessedness which is laid up in heaven for believers. I prefer, however, to understand him simply as referring to those gifts of God's grace that are daily conferred upon believers. In this it becomes us always to observe their source and not to confine our views to their present aspect. Now their source is that unmerited goodness of God by which he has adopted us into the number of his sons. He, therefore, who would estimate these things aright, will not contemplate them in their naked aspect but will clothe them with God's fatherly love, as with a robe, and will thus be led forward from temporal favors to eternal life. It might be maintained that the argument is from the less to the greater; for if man's intellect is not competent to measure God's earthly gifts, how much less will it reach the height of heaven? (John 3:12).
He [Paul] unfolds more clearly the nature of that ministry by a similitude in which the nature of the word and the use of preaching are most appropriately depicted. That the earth may bring forth fruit, there is need of plowing and sowing and other means of culture. But after all this has been carefully done, the husbandman's labor would be of no avail did not the Lord from heaven give the increase by the breaking forth of the sun, and still more by his wonderful and secret influence. Hence, although the diligence of the husbandman is not in vain, nor the seed that he throws in useless, yet it is only by the blessing of God that they are made to prosper; for what is more wonderful than that the seed, after it has rotted, springs up again! In like manner, the word of the Lord is seed that is in its own nature fruitful: ministers are as it were husbandmen, that plow and sow. Then follow other helps, as for example, irrigation. Ministers, too, act a corresponding part when, after casting the seed into the ground, they give help to the earth as much as is in their power until it bring forth what it has conceived. But as for making their labor actually productive, that is a miracle of divine grace, not a work of human industry.
Observe, however, in this passage, how necessary the preaching of the word is and how necessary the continuance of it. It were undoubtedly as easy a thing for God to bless the earth without diligence on the part of men so as to make it bring forth fruit of its own accord, as to draw out (or rather press out) its increase at the expense of much assiduity on the part of men and much sweat and sorrow. But as the Lord hath so ordained (1 Cor. 9:14) that man should labor and that the earth on its part yield a return to his culture, let us take care to act accordingly. In like manner, it were perfectly in the power of God without the aid of men, if it so pleased him, to produce faith in persons while asleep. But he has appointed it otherwise so that faith is produced by hearing (Rom. 10:17). That man, then, who in the neglect of this means expects to attain faith, acts just like the husbandman who, throwing aside the plow, taking no care to sow, and leaving off all the labor of husbandry, opens his mouth expecting food to drop into it from heaven.
The meaning is: "I do not venture to judge myself, though I know myself best. How then will you judge me, to whom I am less intimately known?" Now he proves that he does not venture to judge himself by this--that though he is not conscious to himself of anything wrong, he is not thereby acquitted in the sight of God. Hence he concludes that what the Corinthians assume to themselves belongs exclusively to God. "As for me," says he, "when I have carefully examined myself, I perceive that I am not so clear-sighted as to discern thoroughly my true character; and hence I leave this to the judgment of God who alone can judge, and to whom this authority exclusively belongs. As for you, then, on what ground will you make pretensions to something more?"
As, however, it were very absurd to reject all kinds of judgment, whether of individuals respecting themselves, or of one individual respecting his brother, or of all together respecting their pastor, let it be understood that Paul speaks here not of the actions of men, which may be reckoned good or bad according to the word of the Lord, but of the eminence of each individual, which ought not to be estimated according to men's humors. It belongs to God alone to determine what distinction everyone holds and what honor he deserves. The Corinthians, however, despising Paul, groundlessly extolled others to the skies, as though they had at their command that knowledge which belonged exclusively to God. This is what he previously made mention of as man's day--when men mount the throne of judgment and (as if they were gods, anticipate the day of Christ, who alone is appointed by the Father as judge) allot to everyone his station of honor, assign to some a high place and degrade others to the lowest seats. But what rule of distinction do they observe? They look merely to what appears openly; and thus what in their view is high and honorable is in many instances an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15). If anyone farther objects that the ministers of the word may in this world be distinguished by their works, as trees by their fruits (Matt. 7:16), I admit that this is true. But we must consider with whom Paul had to deal. It was with persons who, in judging, looked to nothing but show and pomp, and arrogated to themselves a power which Christ, while in this world, refrained from using--that of assigning to everyone his seat in the kingdom of God (Matt. 20:23). He does not, therefore, prohibit us from esteeming those whom we have found to be faithful workmen and pronouncing them to be such, nor on the other hand from judging persons to be bad workmen according to the word of God, but he condemns that rashness which is practiced when some are preferred above others in a spirit of ambition--not according to their merits but without examination of the case.
The meaning is: "Let that man come forward, whosoever he be, that is desirous of distinction and troubles the Church by his ambition. I will demand of him who it is that makes him superior to others, that is, who it is that has conferred upon him the privilege of being taken out of the rank of the others and made superior to others." Now this whole reasoning depends on the order which the Lord has appointed in his Church--that the members of Christ's body may be united together and that everyone of them may rest satisfied with his own place, his own rank, his own office, and his own honor. If one member is desirous to quit his place that he may leap over into the place of another and invade his office, what will become of the entire body? Let us know, then, that the Lord has so placed us in the Church, and has in such a manner assigned to everyone his own station, that being under one head we may be mutually helpful to each other. Let us know, besides, that we have been endowed with a diversity of gifts in order that we may serve the Lord with modesty and humility, and may endeavor to promote the glory of him who has conferred upon us everything that we have. This, then, was the best remedy for correcting the ambition of those who were desirous of distinction--to call them back to God in order that they might acknowledge that it was not according to anyone's pleasure that he was placed in a high or a low state, but that this belonged to God alone. And farther, that God does not confer so much upon anyone as to elevate him to the place of the Head but distributes his gifts in such a manner that He alone is glorified in all things.
And what hast thou? This is a confirmation of the preceding statement, for that man cannot on good ground extol himself who has no superiority above others. For what greater vanity is there than that of boasting without any ground for it? Now, there is no man that has anything of excellency from himself. Therefore the man that extols himself is a fool and an idiot. The true foundation of Christian modesty is this--not to be self-complacent [smug], but knowing that we are empty and void of everything good; and that if God has implanted in us anything that is good, we are so much the more debtors to his grace.
[This] is an appropriate expression for denoting excommunication. For as Christ reigns in the Church, so Satan reigns out of the Church. As, then, we are received into the communion of the Church, and remain in it on this condition that we are under the protection and guardianship of Christ, I say that he who is cast out of the Church is in a manner delivered over to the power of Satan, for he becomes an alien and is cast out of Christ's kingdom.
The clause that follows, for the destruction of the flesh, is made use of for the purpose of softening. For Paul's meaning is not that the person who is chastised is given over to Satan to be utterly ruined, or so as to be given up to the devil in perpetual bondage, but that it is a temporary condemnation, and not only so, but of such a nature as will be salutary. For as the salvation equally with the condemnation of the spirit is eternal, he takes the condemnation of the flesh as meaning temporal condemnation. "We will condemn him in this world for a time, that the Lord may preserve him in his kingdom." This furnishes an answer to the objection by which some endeavor to set aside this exposition, for as the sentence of excommunication is directed rather against the soul than against the outward man, they inquire how it can be called the destruction of the flesh. My answer, then, is that the destruction of the flesh is opposed to the salvation of the spirit, simply because the former is temporal and the latter is eternal. In this sense the Apostle in Heb. 5:7 uses the expression the days of Christ's flesh to mean the course of his mortal life. Now the Church in chastising offenders with severity spares them not in this world, in order that God may spare them.
Here he begins to reprove another fault among the Corinthians--an excessive fondness for litigation, which took its rise from avarice. Now this reproof consists of two parts. The first is, that by bringing their disputes before the tribunals of the wicked, they by this means made the gospel contemptible and exposed it to derision. The second is, that while Christians ought to endure injuries with patience, they inflicted injury on others rather than allow themselves to be subjected to any inconvenience. Thus, the first part is particular, the other is general.
The ungodly, at the instigation of Satan, are always eagerly on the watch for opportunities of finding occasion of calumny against the doctrine of godliness. Now believers, when they make them parties in their disputes, seem as though they did on set purpose furnish them with a handle for reviling. A second reason may be added--that we treat our brethren disdainfully when we of our own accord subject them to the decisions of unbelievers.
But here it may be objected: "As it belongs to the office of the magistrate, and as it is peculiarly his province to administer justice to all and to decide upon matters in dispute, why should not even unbelievers, who are in the office of magistrate, have this authority; and if they have it, why are we prevented from maintaining our rights before their tribunals?" I answer, that Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, as when a person is summoned to a court, but those who of their own accord bring their brethren into this situation and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers while it is in their power to employ another remedy. It is wrong, therefore, to institute of one's own accord a lawsuit against brethren before unbelieving judges. If, on the other hand, you are summoned to a court, there is no harm in appearing there and maintaining your cause.
Know ye not that the saints. Here we have an argument from the less to the greater. For Paul, being desirous to show that injury is done to the Church of God when judgments on matters of dispute connected with earthly things are carried before unbelievers, as if there were no one in the society of the godly that was qualified to judge, reasons in this strain: "Since God has reckoned the saints worthy of such honor as to have appointed them to be judges of the whole world, it is unreasonable that they should be shut out from judging as to small matters, as persons not qualified for it." Hence it follows that the Corinthians inflict injury upon themselves in resigning into the hands of unbelievers the honor that has been conferred upon them by God.
As he had spoken of fornication, he now appropriately proceeds to speak of marriage, which is the remedy for avoiding fornication. Now it appears that, notwithstanding the greatly scattered state of the Corinthian Church, they still retained some respect for Paul, inasmuch as they consulted him on doubtful points. What their questions had been is uncertain, except insofar as we may gather them from his reply. This, however, is perfectly well known--that immediately after the first rise of the Church there crept into it, through Satan's artifice, a superstition of such a kind that a large proportion of them, through a foolish admiration of celibacy, despised the sacred connection of marriage; nay more, many regarded it with abhorrence as a profane thing. This contagion had perhaps spread itself among the Corinthians also; or at least there were idly-disposed spirits who by immoderately extolling celibacy endeavored to alienate the minds of the pious from marriage.
It is good for a man. The answer consists of two parts. In the first, he teaches that it were good for everyone to abstain from connection with a woman provided it was in his power to do so. In the second, he subjoins a correction to this effect-- that as many cannot do this, in consequence of the weakness of their flesh, these persons must not neglect the remedy which they have in their power as appointed for them by the Lord. Now we must observe what he means by the word good when he declares that it is good to abstain from marriage, [in order] that we may not conclude, on the other hand, that the marriage connection is therefore evil--a mistake which Jerome has fallen into. . . . The inference then which he [Jerome] draws is this: "It is good not to touch a woman: it is therefore wrong to do so." Paul, however, does not make use of the word good here in such a signification as to be opposed to what is evil or vicious, but simply points out what is expedient on account of there being so many troubles, vexations, and anxieties that are incident to married persons. Besides, we must always keep in view the limitation which he subjoins. Nothing farther, therefore, can be elicited from Paul's words than this--that it is indeed expedient and profitable for a man not to be bound to a wife provided he can do otherwise. Let us explain this by a comparison. Should anyone speak in this way, "It were good for a man not to eat, or to drink, or to sleep," he would not thereby condemn eating, or drinking, or sleeping as things that were wrong. But as the time that is devoted to these things is just so much taken from the soul, his meaning would be that we would be happier if we could be free from these hindrances and devote ourselves wholly to meditation on heavenly things. Hence, as there are in married life many impediments which keep a man entangled, it were on that account good not to be connected in marriage.
But here another question presents itself, for these words of Paul have some appearance of inconsistency with the words of the Lord in Gen. 2:18, where he declares that it is not good for a man to be without a wife. What the Lord there pronounces to be evil Paul here declares to be good. I answer, that insofar as a wife is a help to her husband so as to make his life happy, that is in accordance with God's institution, for in the beginning God appointed it so that the man without the woman was, as it were, but half a man and felt himself destitute of special and necessary assistance; and the wife is, as it were, the completing of the man. Sin afterwards came in to corrupt that institution of God, for in place of so great a blessing there has been substituted a grievous punishment so that marriage is the source and occasion of many miseries. Hence, whatever evil or inconvenience there is in marriage arises from the corruption of the divine institution. Now, although there are in the meantime some remains still existing of the original blessing, so that a single life is often much more unhappy than the married life, yet as married persons are involved in many inconveniences, it is with good reason that Paul teaches that it would be good for a man to abstain. In this way there is no concealment of the troubles that are attendant upon marriage, and yet in the meantime there is no countenance given to those profane jests which are commonly in vogue with a view to bring it into discredit . . . these have come from Satan's workshop and have a direct tendency to brand with disgrace God's holy institution, and farther, to lead men to regard marriage with abhorrence as though it were a deadly evil and pest.
The sum is this, that we must remember to distinguish between the pure ordinance of God and the punishment of sin, which came in subsequently. According to this distinction, it was in the beginning good for a man, without any exception, to be joined to a wife; and even yet it is good in such a way that there is in the meantime a mixture of bitter and sweet in consequence of the curse of God. To those, however, who have not the gift of continency, it is a necessary and salutary remedy in accordance with what follows.
But to avoid fornication. He now commands that those who are liable to the vice of incontinency should have recourse to the remedy. For though it may seem that the statement is universal, it ought nevertheless to be restricted to those who feel themselves urged by necessity. As to this, everyone must judge for himself. Whatever difficulty, therefore, is perceived to be in marriage, let all that cannot resist the promptings of their flesh know that this commandment has been enjoined upon them by the Lord. But it is asked, "Is this the only reason for entering into matrimony, that we may cure incontinency?" I answer, that this is not Paul's meaning; for as for those that have the gift of abstinence from marriage, he leaves them at liberty, while he commands others to provide against their infirmity by marrying.
He now treats of another condition of marriage--its being an indissoluble tie. Accordingly, he condemns all those divorces that were of daily occurrence among the heathens, and were not punished among the Jews by the law of Moses. Let not, says he, the husband put away his wife, and let not the wife depart from her husband. Why? Because they are joined together by an indissoluble bond. It is surprising, however, that he does not make an exception, at least in case of adultery; for it is not likely that he designed to curtail in anything the doctrine of Christ. To me it appears clear that the reason why he has made no mention of this is, that as he is discoursing of these things only in passing, he chose rather to send back the Corinthians to the Lord's permission or prohibition than to go over everything in detail. For when persons intend to teach anything in short compass, they content themselves with a general statement. Exceptions are reserved for a minuter and more extended and particular discussion.
But as to what he subjoins--not I, but the Lord--he intimates by this correction that what he teaches here is taken from the law of God. For other things that he taught he had also from the revelation of the Spirit, but he declares that God is the author of this in respect of its being expressly taken from the law of God. If you inquire as to the particular passage, you will nowhere find it in so many words; but Moses in the beginning testifies that the connection between a husband and wife is so sacred that for the sake of it a man ought to leave his father and mother (Gen. 2:24). It is easy to gather from this how inviolable a connection it is. For by right of nature a son is bound to his father and mother, and cannot shake off that yoke. As the connection of marriage is preferred to that bond, much less ought it to be dissolved.
But if she depart. That this is not to be understood of those who have been put away for adultery is evident from the punishment that followed in that case, for it was a capital crime even by the Roman laws and almost by the common law of nations. But as husbands frequently divorced their wives either because their manners were not congenial, or because their personal appearance did not please them, or because of some offense, and as wives too sometimes deserted their husbands on account of their cruelty or excessively harsh and dishonorable treatment, he says that marriage is not dissolved by divorces or dissensions of that nature. For it is an agreement that is consecrated by the name of God, which does not stand or fall according to the inclination of men so as to be made void whenever we may choose. The sum is this: Other contracts, as they depend on the mere inclination of men, are in like manner dissolved by that same inclination. But those who are connected by marriage are no longer free, so as to be at liberty if they change their mind to break in pieces the pledge and go each of them elsewhere in quest of a new connection. For if the rights of nature cannot be dissolved, much less can this, which as we have said already is preferred before the principal tie of nature.
But as to his commanding the wife who is separated from her husband to remain unmarried, he does not mean by this that separation is allowable, nor does he give permission to the wife to live apart from her husband. But if she has been expelled from the house or has been put away, she must not think that even in that case she is set free from his power, for it is not in the power of a husband to dissolve marriage. He does not therefore give permission here to wives to withdraw of their own accord from their husbands, or to live away from their husband's establishment as if they were in a state of widowhood, but declares that even those who are not received by their husbands continue to be bound so that they cannot take other husbands.
But what if a wife is wanton or otherwise incontinent? Would it not be inhuman to refuse her the remedy when constantly burning with desire? I answer, that when we are prompted by the infirmity of our flesh, we must have recourse to the remedy; after which it is the Lord's part to bridle and restrain our affections by his Spirit though matters should not succeed according to our desire. For if a wife should fall into a protracted illness, the husband would nevertheless not be justified in going to seek another wife. In like manner, if a husband should, after marriage, begin to labor under some distemper, it would not be allowable for his wife to change her condition of life. The sum is this: God having prescribed lawful marriage as a remedy for our incontinency, let us make use of it that we may not, by tempting him, pay the penalty of our rashness. Having discharged this duty, let us hope that he will give us aid should matters go contrary to our expectations.
By the rest he means those who are exceptions, so that the law common to others is not applicable to them. For an unequal marriage is on a different footing when married persons differ among themselves in respect of religion. Now this question he solves in two clauses. The first is, that the believing party ought not to withdraw from the unbelieving party, and ought not to seek divorce, unless she is put away. The second is, that if an unbeliever put away his wife on account of religion, a brother or a sister is, by such rejection, freed from the bond of marriage. But why is it that Paul speaks of himself as the author of these regulations, while they appear to be somewhat at variance with what he had a little before brought forward as from the Lord? He does not mean that they are from himself in such a way as not to be derived from the Spirit of God; but as there was nowhere in the law or in the Prophets any definite or explicit statement on this subject, he anticipates in this way the calumnies [slander] of the wicked, in claiming as his own what he was about to state. At the same time, lest all this should be despised as the offspring of man's brain, we shall find him afterwards declaring that his statements are not the contrivances of his own understanding. There is, however, nothing inconsistent with what goes before. For as the obligation and sanctity of the marriage engagement depend upon God, what connection can a pious woman any longer maintain with an unbelieving husband after she has been driven away through hatred of God?
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified. He obviates [anticipates] an objection, which might occasion anxiety to believers. The relationship of marriage is singularly close so that the wife is the half of the man, so that they two are one flesh (1 Cor. 6:16), so that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), and she is her husband's partner in everything. Hence it seems impossible that a believing husband should live with an ungodly wife, or the converse of this, without being polluted by so close a connection. Paul therefore declares here that marriage is, nevertheless, sacred and pure, and that we must not be apprehensive of contagion, as if the wife would contaminate the husband. Let us, however, bear in mind that he speaks here not of contracting marriages, but of maintaining those that have been already contracted. For where the matter under consideration is whether one should marry an unbelieving wife, or whether one should marry an unbelieving husband, then that exhortation is in point--Be not yoked with unbelievers, for there is no agreement between Christ and Belial (2 Cor. 6:14). But he that is already bound has no longer liberty of choice; hence the advice given is different.
While this sanctification is taken in various senses, I refer it simply to marriage in this sense: It might seem (judging from appearance) as if a believing wife contracted infection from an unbelieving husband so as to make the connection unlawful; but it is otherwise, for the piety of the one has more effect in sanctifying marriage than the impiety of the other in polluting it. Hence a believer may, with a pure conscience, live with an unbeliever, for in respect of the use and intercourse of the marriage bed, and of life generally, he is sanctified, so as not to infect the believing party with his impurity. Meanwhile this sanctification is of no benefit to the unbelieving party; it only serves thus far, that the believing party is not contaminated by intercourse with him, and marriage itself is not profaned.
Else were your children. It is an argument taken from the effect, "If your marriage were impure, then the children that are the fruit of it would be impure; but they are holy, hence the marriage also is holy. As, then, the ungodliness of one of the parents does not hinder the children that are born from being holy, so neither does it hinder the marriage from being pure." Some grammarians explain this passage as referring to a civil sanctity, in respect of the children being reckoned legitimate. But in this respect the condition of unbelievers is in no degree worse. That exposition, therefore, cannot stand. Besides, it is certain that Paul designed here to remove scruples of conscience, lest anyone should think that he had contracted defilement. The passage, then, is a remarkable one, and drawn from the depths of theology; for it teaches that the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.
All things that are connected with the enjoyment of the present life are sacred gifts of God, but we pollute them when we abuse them. If the reason is asked, we shall find it to be this--that we always dream of continuance in the world; for it is owing to this that those things which ought to be helps in passing through it become hindrances to hold us fast. Hence, it is not without good reason that the Apostle, with the view of arousing us from this stupidity, calls us to consider the shortness of this life, and infers from this that we ought to use all the things of this world as if we did not use them. For the man who considers that he is a stranger in the world uses the things of this world as if they were another's--that is, as things that are lent us for a single day. The sum is this, that the mind of a Christian ought not to be taken up with earthly things or to repose in them. For we ought to live as if we were every moment about to depart from this life. By weeping and rejoicing he means adversity and prosperity; for it is customary to denote causes by their effects. The Apostle, however, does not here command Christians to part with their possessions, but simply requires that their minds be not engrossed in their possessions.
Now, therefore, he at length follows out what he had touched upon as to things intermediate--how we ought to restrain our liberty in intermediate things. By intermediate things I mean those that are neither good nor bad in themselves, but indifferent; which God has put in our power, but in the use of which we ought to observe moderation, that there may be a difference between liberty and licentiousness.
He begins with a concession in which he voluntarily grants and allows to them everything that they were prepared to demand or object. "I see what your pretext is: you make Christian liberty your pretext. You hold out that you have knowledge, and there is not one of you that is so ignorant as not to know that there is but one God. I grant all this to be true, but of what avail is that knowledge which is ruinous to the brethren?" Thus, then, he grants them what they demand, but it is in such a way as to show that their excuses are empty and of no avail.
Knowledge puffs up. He shows, from the effects, how frivolous a thing it is to boast of knowledge when love is wanting [lacking]. "Of what avail is knowledge, that is of such a kind as puffs us up and elates us, while it is the part of love to edify?" This passage, which otherwise is somewhat obscure in consequence of its brevity, may easily be understood in this way: "Whatever is devoid of love is of no account in the sight of God. Nay more, it is displeasing to him, and much more so what is openly at variance with love. Now that knowledge of which you boast, O ye Corinthians, is altogether opposed to love, for it puffs up men with pride and leads to contempt of the brethren, while love is concerned for the welfare of brethren and exhorts us to edify them. Accursed, then, be that knowledge which makes men proud, and is not regulated by a desire of edifying."
Paul, however, did not mean that this is to be reckoned as a fault attributable to learning; that those who are learned are often self-complacent [smug] and have admiration of themselves accompanied with contempt of others. Nor did he understand this to be the natural tendency of learning--to produce arrogance--but simply meant to show what effect knowledge has in an individual who has not the fear of God and love of the brethren; for the wicked abuse all the gifts of God so as to exalt themselves. Thus riches, honors, dignities, nobility, beauty, and other things of that nature puff up, because men elated through a mistaken confidence in these things very frequently become insolent. Nor is it always so, for we see that many who are rich and beautiful, and abounding in honors, and distinguished for dignity and nobility, are nevertheless of a modest disposition and not at all tainted with pride. And even when it does happen to be so, it is, nevertheless, not proper that we should put the blame upon what we know to be gifts of God. For in the first place, that would be unfair and unreasonable. And farther, by putting the blame upon things that are not blameworthy we would exempt the persons themselves from blame, who alone are in fault. My meaning is this: If riches naturally tend to make men proud, then a rich man, if proud, is free from blame; for the evil arises from riches.
We must therefore lay it down as a settled principle that knowledge is good in itself. But as piety is its only foundation, it becomes empty and useless in wicked men; as love is its true seasoning, where that is lacking it is tasteless. And truly, where there is not that thorough knowledge of God which humbles us and teaches us to do good to the brethren, it is not so much knowledge as an empty notion of it, even in those that are reckoned the most learned. At the same time knowledge is not by any means to be blamed for this, any more than a sword if it falls into the hands of a madman. Let this be considered as said with a view to certain fanatics who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life. How those very persons who defame them in this style are ready to burst with pride, to such an extent as to verify the old proverb, "Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance."
When he said above, We know that we all have knowledge, he referred to those whom he reproved for abusing their liberty. Now, on the other hand, he calls them to consider that there are many weak and ignorant persons associated with them to whom they ought to accommodate themselves. "You have, it is true, a correct judgment in the sight of God, and if you were alone in the world it would be as lawful for you to eat of things offered to idols as of any other kinds of food. But consider your brethren, to whom you are debtors. You have knowledge; they are ignorant. Your actions ought to be regulated not merely according to your knowledge, but also according to their ignorance." This reply is particularly deserving of notice, for there is nothing to which we are more prone than this--that everyone follows his own advantage to the neglect of that of others. Hence we feel prepared to rest in our own judgment, and do not consider that the propriety of those works that we do in the sight of men depends not merely on our own conscience but also on that of our brethren.
Some with conscience of the idol. This is their ignorance, that they were still under the influence of some superstitious notion, as if there were some virtue in the idol or some virtue in a wicked and idolatrous consecration. Paul, however, does not speak of idolaters, who were entire strangers to pure religion, but of ignorant persons who had not been sufficiently instructed to understand that an idol is nothing, and therefore that the consecration which was gone through in the name of the idol is of no importance. Their idea, therefore, was this: "As an idol is something, the consecration which is gone through in its name is not altogether vain, and hence those meats are not pure that have been once dedicated to idols." Hence they thought that if they ate of them, they contracted some degree of pollution and were, in a manner, partakers with the idol. This is the kind of offense that Paul reproves in the Corinthians--when we induce weak brethren, by our example, to venture upon anything against their conscience.
And their conscience. God would have us try or attempt nothing but what we know for certain is agreeable to him. Whatever, therefore, is done with a doubting conscience is, in consequence of doubts of that kind, faulty in the sight of God. And this is what he says (Rom. 14:23): Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Hence the truth of the common saying, that "those build for hell who build against their conscience." For as the excellence of actions depends on the fear of God and integrity of conscience, so, on the other hand, there is no action that is so good in appearance as not to be polluted by a corrupt affection of the mind. For the man who ventures upon anything in opposition to conscience does thereby discover some contempt of God; for it is a token that we fear God when we have respect to his will in all things. Hence you are not without contempt of God if you so much as move a finger while uncertain whether it may not be displeasing to him.
What he had previously taught by two similitudes he now confirms by examples. The Corinthians grew wanton and gloried as if they had served out their time, or at least had finished their course, when they had scarcely left the starting-point. This vain exultation and confidence he represses in this manner: "As I see that you are quietly taking your ease at the very outset of your course, I would not have you ignorant of what befell the people of Israel in consequence of this, that their example may arouse you." As, however, on examples being adduced any point of difference destroys the force of the comparison, Paul premises that there is no such dissimilarity between us and the Israelites as to make our condition different from theirs.
All were under the cloud. The Apostle's object is to show that the Israelites were no less the people of God than we are, that we may know that we will not escape with impunity the hand of God which punished them with so much severity. For the sum is this: "If God spared not them, neither will he spare you; for your condition is similar." That similarity he proves from this--that they had been honored with the same tokens of God's grace, for the sacraments are badges by which the Church of God is distinguished. He treats first of baptism and teaches that the cloud which protected the Israelites in the desert from the heat of the sun, and directed their course, also their passage through the sea, was to them as a baptism. He says also that in the manna and the water flowing from the rock there was a sacrament which corresponded with the sacred Supper.
They were, says he, baptized in Moses, that is, under the ministry of guidance of Moses. How? In the cloud and in the sea. "They were, then, baptized twice," someone will say. I answer, that there are two signs made mention of, making, however, but one baptism, corresponding to ours.
Here, however, a more difficult question presents itself. For it is certain that the advantage of those gifts, which Paul makes mention of, was temporal. The cloud protected them from the heat of the sun and showed them the way. These are outward advantages of the present life. In like manner, their passage through the sea was attended with this effect, that they got clear off from Pharaoh's cruelty and escaped from imminent hazard of death. The advantage of our baptism, on the other hand, is spiritual. Why then does Paul turn earthly benefits into sacraments and seek to find some spiritual mystery in them? I answer, that it was not without good reason that Paul sought in miracles of this nature something more than the mere outward advantage of the flesh. For though God designed to promote his people's advantage in respect of the present life, what he had mainly in view was to declare and manifest himself to be their God, and under that, eternal salvation is comprehended.
The cloud, in various instances, is called the symbol of his presence. As, therefore, he declared by means of it that he was present with them as his peculiar and chosen people, there can be no doubt that in addition to an earthly advantage, they had in it besides a token of spiritual life. Thus its use was twofold, as was also that of the passage through the sea; for a way was opened up for them through the midst of the sea that they might escape from the hand of Pharaoh. But to what was this owing but to the circumstance that the Lord, having taken them under his guardianship and protection, determined by every means to defend them? Hence, they concluded from this that they were the objects of God's care, and that he had their salvation in charge. Hence, too, the Passover, which was instituted to celebrate the remembrance of their deliverance, was nevertheless at the same time a sacrament of Christ. How so? Because God had, under a temporal benefit, manifested himself as a Saviour. Anyone that will attentively consider these things will find that there is no absurdity in Paul's words. Nay more, he will perceive both in the spiritual substance and in the visible sign a most striking correspondence between the baptism of the Jews and ours.
It is however objected again that we do not find a word of all this in the Scriptures. This I admit, but there is no doubt that God by his Spirit supplied the want of outward preaching, as we may see in the instance of the brazen serpent, which was, as Christ himself testifies, a spiritual sacrament (John 3:14); and yet we have not a single word of it in the whole of Scripture. But the Lord revealed to believers of that age, in the manner he thought fit, the secret which would otherwise have remained hid.
This part of the exhortation refers to the history that is recorded in Num. 21:6. For the people, having become weary of the length of time, began to complain of their condition and to expostulate with God--"Why has God deceived us," &c. This murmuring of the people Paul speaks of as a tempting, and not without good reason; for tempting is opposed to patience. What reason was there at that time why the people should rise up against God except this, that under the influence of base desire they could not wait in patience [for] the arrival of the time appointed by the Lord? Let us, therefore, take notice that the fountain of that evil against which Paul here warns us is impatience, when we wish to go before God and do not give ourselves up to be ruled by Him, but rather wish to bind him to our inclination and laws. This evil God severely punished in the Israelitish people. Now he remains always like himself--a just Judge. Let us therefore not tempt him if we would not have experience of the same punishment.
He now requires them not merely to abstain from all professions of idolatry, but also to avoid carefully all occasions of offense, which are wont to arise from the indiscriminate use of things indifferent. For although there was but one kind of offense on the part of the Corinthians, there were at the same time different degrees of it. Now as to the eating of food, he makes, in the first place, this general statement--that it is lawful to eat with a safe conscience any kind of food because the Lord permits it. In the second place, he restricts this liberty as to the use of it lest weak consciences should in injured. Thus this conclusion is divided into two parts: the first relates to liberty and power as to things indifferent, the second to a limitation of it, that the use of it may be regulated in accordance with the rule of love.
For conscience sake. That is to say, before the judgment-seat of God. "Insofar as you have to do with God, there is no occasion for your disputing with yourself whether it be lawful or not. For I allow you to eat freely of all kinds of meat, because the Lord allows you everything without exception."
Why am I evil spoken of? "As it is owing to the kindness of God that all things are lawful for me, why should I act in such a manner that it should be reckoned to my account as a vice?" We cannot, it is true, prevent the wicked from reviling us, nor even the weak from being sometimes displeased with us. But Paul here reproves the forwardness of those who of their own accord give occasion of offense and hurt weak consciences when neither necessity or expediency calls for it. He would have us, then, make a good use of our benefits that the weak may not have occasion of reviling from our inconsiderate use of liberty.
Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink. Lest they should think that in so small a matter they should not be so careful to avoid blame, he teaches that there is no part of our life and no action so minute that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God, and that we must take care that even in eating and drinking we may aim at the advancement of it. This statement is connected with what goes before. For if we are eagerly desirous of the glory of God, as it becomes us to be, we will never allow, so far as we can prevent it, his benefits to lie under reproach. . . . our food will be in a manner sacred to God inasmuch as it will be set apart for his service.
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