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Give To SermonIndex : Christian Books : LECTURE VII. CORINTHIANS iii. 21-23.

The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold


CORINTHIANS iii.21-23.

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.

It is very possible, that all may not distinctly understand the force of the several clauses of this passage, yet, all, I suppose, would derive a general impression from it, that it spoke of the condition of Christians in very exalted language, and made it to extend to things in this world, as well as to things in the world to come. But can it be good for us to dwell on our exaltation? And if we do, may we not dread lest such language might be used towards us as that which St. Paul uses in the very next chapter to the Corinthians, |Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us; and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.| It would seem, however, that it would be good for us to dwell on the greatness of our condition and privileges, because St. Paul, who thus upbraids the Corinthians with their pride, had yet himself immediately before laid the picture of their high privileges, in the words of the text, in full detail before them, as if he wished them carefully to consider it. And so indeed it is. It feeds pride to dwell upon our good qualities or advantages, as individuals, or as a class in society, or as a nation, or as a sect or party; but, to speak generally, our advantages and privileges, as Christians, have not a tendency to excite pride; for some reasons in the nature of the case; for this reason amongst ourselves particularly, because the very essence of pride consists in contrast; we are proud that we are, in some one or more points, superior to others who come immediately under our observation. Now, we have so little to do with any who are not Christians, that the contrast is in this case wanting; we have none over whom to be proud; none whom we can glory in surpassing; and, therefore, a consideration of our Christian advantages, in the absence of that one element which might feed pride, is likely with us to work in a better manner, and to lead rather to thankfulness and increased exertion.

I say to increased exertion; for what would stop exertion is pride. It is the turning back, and pausing to look with satisfaction on what is below us, rather than the looking upward to the summit, and thinking how much our actual elevation has brought us on the way towards it. And, further, there is coupled with every consideration of Christian privileges, the thought of what it must be to leave such privileges unimproved. In this respect, how well does the language of the two lessons from Deuteronomy suit the lesson from the Epistle to the Corinthians. We heard the description of the beauty and richness of the land which God gave to his people, -- there were their advantages and privileges, -- we heard also, the declaration of their unworthiness, and the solemn threatening of vengeance if, after having received good, they did evil. And as the vengeance has fallen upon them to the utmost, so we are taught expressly to apply their example to ourselves. |If God spared not the natural branches,| such was St. Paul's language to the church at Rome, |take heed lest he also spare not thee.|

Let us not fear, then, to consider more nearly the high privileges which, as Christians, we enjoy: let us endeavour to understand, not merely generally, but in detail, the exalted language of the text, where it is said, that all things are ours; Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, the world, and life, and death, the things of time, and the things of eternity. These are ours because we are Christ's, and Christ is God's; they are ours so long as we are Christ's, and so far as we are his truly. They are not ours so far as we are not his: they are ours in no degree whatever the moment that he shall declare that we are his no longer.

|Paul, and Apollos, and Peter, are ours.| This, perhaps, is the expression which we should understand least distinctly of any. It is an expression, however, of deep importance, though perhaps less so here than in congregations of a different sort. I need not, therefore, dwell on it long now. But the Corinthians, as many Christians have done since, were apt to think more of their being Christians of a certain sort, than of being Christians simply: some said, |We have Paul's view of Christianity, the true and sound view of it, free from superstition:| others said, |But we have Peter's view of Christianity, one of Christ's own apostles, who were with him on earth; ours is the true and earliest view of it, free from all innovations:| and others, again, said, |Nay, but we have been taught by Apollos, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures; one who best understands how to unite the law and the gospel; one who has given us the full perfection of Christianity.| No doubt there were some differences of views even between Paul, and Peter, and Apollos; for while, on the one hand, they were all enlightened by the Spirit of God, yet, on the other hand, they retained still their human differences of character and disposition, which must on several occasions have been manifest. But St. Paul does not tell us what these were, nor how far they extended, nor to what degree they had been exaggerated by those who heard them. He does not insist upon the truth of his own view, nor wish the Corinthians to lay aside their divisions, after the manner so zealously enforced by some persons now, namely, that those who said they were of Peter, or of Apollos, should confess that they had been in error, and declare themselves to be now only of Paul. Such a condemnation of schism he would have held to be in itself in the highest degree schismatical. But St. Paul was earnest, that schism should be ended after another way than this, by all parties remembering, that whatever became of the truth or falsehood of their own particular views of Christianity, yet, that Christianity according to any of their views was the one great thing which was their glory and their salvation. |Paul, and Apollos, and Peter, are all yours: but you are Christ's.| You should not glory in men; that you belong to a purer church than other Christians; but that you belong to the church of Christ; that church, which, in its most pure particular branches, has never been free from some mixture of human infirmity and error; nor yet, in its worst branches, has ever lost altogether the seal of Christ's Spirit, nor ceased to believe in Christ crucified.

But the next words are of more particular concern to us here. |The world, and life, and death, and things present, and things to come, are all ours.| They are all ours, so far as we are Christ's. The world is ours; its manifold riches and delights, its various wisdom, all are ours. They are ours, not as a thing stolen, and which will be taken from us with a heavy over-payment of penalty, because we stole it when it did not belong to us; but they are ours by God's free gift, to minister to our comfort, and to our good. And this is the great difference; the good things of this world are stolen by many; but they belong, by God's gift, to those only who are Christ's: and there is the sure sign, generally, to be seen of their being stolen, -- an unwillingness that He to whom of right they belong should see them. What a man steals, he enjoys, as it were, in fear: if the owner of it finds him with it, then all his enjoyment is gone; he wishes that he had never touched it; it is no source of pleasure to him, but merely one of terror. And so it is often with our stolen pleasures, -- stolen, I mean, not in respect of man, but of God, -- stolen, because we do not feel them to be God's gift, nor receive them, as from him, with thankfulness. They may be very lawful pleasures, so far as other men are concerned; pleasures bought, it may be, with our own money, or given to us by our own friends, and enjoyed without any injury to any one. They may be the very simplest enjoyments of life, our health, the fresh air, our common food, our common amusements, our common society; things most permitted to us all, as far as man is concerned, but yet things which are constantly stolen by us, because we take them without God's leave, and enjoy them not as his gifts. They are all his, and he gives them freely to his children. If we are his children, he gives them to us; and delights in our enjoyment of them, as any human father loves to see the pleasure of his children in those things which it is good for them to enjoy. But then, is any child afraid of his father so seeing him? or is the thought of his father any interruption to his enjoyment? If it would be, we should be sure that there was something wrong; that the enjoyment, either in itself, or with respect to the particular case of that child, was a stolen one. And even as simple is the state of our dread of God, of our wish to keep his name and his thought away from us. It is the sure sign that our pleasures are stolen, either as being wrong in themselves, or much oftener, because we have taken them without being fit for them, have snatched them for ourselves, instead of receiving them at the hands of God. Two of us may be daily doing the very same thing in most respects, -- enjoying actually the very same pleasures, whether of body or of mind; the same exercises, the same studies, the same indulgences, the same society, -- and yet these very same things may belong rightfully to the one, and be stolen by the other. To the one they may come with a double blessing, as the assurance of God's greater love hereafter: to the other, they are but an addition to that sad account, when all good things enjoyed here, having been not our own rightly, but stolen, shall be paid for in over measure, by evil things to be suffered hereafter.

And what I have said of the world, will apply also to life and to death. Oh, the infinite difference whether life is ours, or but stolen for an instant; whether death is ours, our subject, ministering only to our good; or our fearful enemy, our ever keen pursuer, from whose grasp we have escaped for a few short years, but who is following fast after us, and when he has once caught us will hold us fast for ever! Have we ever seen his near approach -- has he ever forced himself upon our notice whether we would or no? But two days since he was amongst us, -- we were, as it were, forced to look upon him. Did we think that he was ours, or that we were his? If we are his, then indeed he is fearful: fearful to the mere consciousness of nature; a consciousness which no arguments can overcome; fearful if it be merely the parting from life, if it be merely the resigning that wonderful thing which we call our being. It is fearful to go from light to darkness, from all that we have ever known and loved, to that of which we know and love nothing. But if death, even thus stingless, is yet full of horror, what is he with his worst sting beside, the sting of our sins? What is he when he is taking us, not to nothingness, but to judgment? He is indeed so fearful then, that no words can paint him half so truly as our foreboding dread of him, and no arguments which the wit of man can furnish can strip him of his terrors.

But what if death too, as well as life, be ours? -- which he is, if we are Christ's; for Christ has conquered him. If he be ours, our servant, our minister, sent but to bring us into the presence of our Lord, then, indeed, his terrors, his merely natural terrors, the outside roughness of his aspect, are things which the merest child need not shrink from. Then disease and decay, however painful to living friends to look upon, have but little pain for him who is undergoing them. For it is not only amidst the tortures of actual martyrdom that Christians have been more than conquerors, -- in common life, on the quiet or lonely sick bed, under the grasp of fever or of consumption, the conquest has been witnessed as often and as completely. It is not a little thing when the faintest whisper of thought to which expiring nature can give utterance breathes of nothing but of peace and of forgiveness. It is not a little thing when the name of Christ possesses us wholly; not distinctly, it may be, for reason may be too weak for this; but with an indescribable power of support and comfort. Or even if there be a last conflict, -- a season of terror and of pain, a valley of the shadow of death, dark and gloomy, -- yet even there Christ is with his servants, and as their trial is so is his love. Thus it is, if death be ours; and death is ours, if we be Christ's. And are we not Christ's? We bear his name, we have his outward seal of belonging to his people, -- can we refuse to be his in heart and true obedience? Would we rather steal our pleasures than enjoy them as our own; steal life for an instant, rather than have it our sure possession for ever? Would we rather be fugitives from death, fugitives whom he will surely recover and hold fast, than be able to say and to feel that death, as well as life is ours, things to come, as well as things present, because we are truly Christ's?

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