1 Corinthians 3:1

These men were in a low state of Christian development, their growth in grace having been arrested by the jealousy and strife dominant in their midst. Under such circumstances, personal progress and Church progress were impossible. Individual self assertion and arrogance could net but lead to the depreciation of others, nor could envious rivalries tolerate merit and worth in those whom it sought to crush. On the other hand, looking at the Church as an organic body, its virtue was a common stock, to be cherished, honoured, and diligently maintained by every one of its members. Its zeal was not a solitary flame burning on an isolated altar, but the combined warmth of many hearts. Diversity, too, is God's law, diversity reaching down into temperament, diversity in the highest realm of gifts, diversity of insight and experience, and this factious temper was fatal to diversity. Agreeably to the Divine method, diversity was preliminary to unity, and men were allowed free action of individuality, that the strongest and best elements of character, and especially its latent qualities, might be brought out and incorporated in the totality of the Church. A very miscellaneous world environed these Corinthians; the Christian community itself was made up of Jews, Greeks, and Romans; and the reasons were, therefore, exceptionally stringent that they should, as brethren, be very closely banded together in one mind, "the mind of Christ." Had they been a homogeneous people, circumstantial motives, which have a very important part to play in the scheme of providence, would not have been so imperative. But these dissensions involved their national peculiarities, and hence the antecedents of blood, the residuum of former bitterness, would surely come in to aggravate their animosities. They were "babes in Christ," and furthermore, they were "carnal;" and this infantile and carnal state, in which all growth had been stopped, was due solely to intestine discord. Had they considered what a grievous evil it was? Paul and Apollos, Tarsian and Alexandrian, had been put by no choice of theirs in a position very unenviable, nay, in despite of their earnest remonstrance. Leaders they were, leaders they must be, leaders of the Church; and on this very account, nothing could be more ill timed, nothing more abhorrent to their personal feelings, nothing so little like "the mind of Christ," as the attempt to make them heads of factions. Alas for such unwise friends, blocking up their way and multiplying the hazards, already enormous, of their ministry in Achaia! If this audacious effort continued, how could they withstand their enemies? The heart of St. Paul is stirred, and, in this chapter, it swells to the full compass of his apostleship. Intellectual heroism is needed now, and in that, as in the other qualities of an habitual hero, he is never wanting. - L.

And I... could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal... babes in Christ.
I. THAT THE IGNORANCE AND SINFULNESS OF A PEOPLE ARE A JUST CAUSE WHY FAITHFUL AND WISE MINISTERS OF THE WORD DO NOT SOMETIMES PREACH OF THE MORE SUBLIME AND EXCELLENT POINTS IN CHRISTIANITY. Paul desired not only to lay a good foundation, but also to build an excellent superstructure, but the ignorance of his hearers restrained him. Even as the husbandman does not sow his best seed, wheat, and the like, because his ground is so barren that it will not bear it. As the schoolmaster teacheth not his choicest notions, because the scholar cannot receive them. To open the doctrine, consider that in Christianity, and so in our preaching, there is a twofold kind of matter.

1. That which is fundamental, plain, necessary, and easy, being the first principles of religion, the total ignorance whereof damneth.

2. There are admirable consequences and conclusions to be deduced from and improved out of these, unto which the godly are to grow, not resting in the former, but greedily desiring the latter. This is to show you that Christ's school hath many forms, and it is a sin and a shame to be always in the alphabet. For further prosecuting the doctrine, consider, first, how ignorance doth restrain the minister's abilities. And ignorance is an impediment to our preaching, in these particulars: first, the more eminent and sublime mysteries of the gospel about Christ and His righteousness we cannot so frequently preach upon, but these things which may be known of God by the natural light of conscience and by the works of creation. There are things known of God partly by natural light of conscience, especially if furthered with education, and things by supernatural revelation and authority of the Scripture merely; such is the old doctrine about Christ and His offices. Now this later sort of matter, which is the marrow end life of all preaching, many of our congregations, as they now stand corrupted with blindness and ignorance, are not prepared to receive it. Secondly, as those sublime mysteries cannot be often preached on (though sometimes we must, because we are debtors to the wise as well as the foolish, and there are spiritual as well as carnal in our congregations), so likewise that growth in knowledge, and increase more and more in heavenly light and knowledge, cannot be pressed where gross ignorance is. Can we expect any increase or fruit when men are not so much as plants planted by God? Alas! the ministers of God have far higher and larger degrees of knowledge and grace to press you to if once the foundation were laid. Thirdly, there are many choice and excellent duties in the exercise whereof a Christian would have much joy and bring much glory to God; but the ignorance of a people makes the minister not so frequently urge those, because other things must be done first. The duties are these: Let the Word of God dwell plentifully in you, teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:6). Fourthly, the ignorance of a people restraineth the ministers of God, that they cannot so powerfully press at first the pure and sincere worship of God, and the leaving of all superstitious and traditional ways of worship; but they must by degrees, here a little, and there a little, as they are able to bear it. Thus much for ignorance. Then the sinfulness of people makes them incapable of many precious truths in religion. As, first, the minister's labour is most spent in discovering the damnable nature of gross sins, taking them off from their brutish ways; and as for spiritual sins, unbelief, diffidence in the promises, carnal confidence in themselves, &c. These they cannot so much press against, because such auditors come far short of civility, and therefore much less reach to piety. Secondly, to a people living in gross sins we cannot so frequently and gloriously preach Jesus Christ in the offices of a Mediator. We cannot make it our work to set forth the promise of the gospel in its glory. We cannot preach of joy and peace in believing. Thirdly, the performing of duties in a spiritual and gracious manner, so as to have communion with God and to enjoy Him. This also is too high for wicked men. Use: To awaken people out of their ignorance and sinfulness. If Aristotle thought a young man no fit auditor for his morals because he was subject to unruly affections, how fit can people blind in mind, corrupt in affections, be to receive the truths of God! How much of the study, labour, parts, and godliness of a minister may be lost through the indocibleness of hearers! Though we preach not Latin, yet the matter we preach may be so spiritual, heavenly, that it may be as unintelligible as an unknown tongue.

II. THAT EVEN AMONG THOSE WHO ARE TRULY AND INDEED OF THE VISIBLE CHURCH OF GOD, THERE IS A VAST DIFFERENCE; SOME ARE SPIRITUAL, SOME ARE CARNAL, SOME ARE MEN, SOME ARE BABES. Though God created Adam and Eve in their full perfection, :yet He doth not regenerate us into a full stature in Christ. The apostle in the text speaks of two degrees only amongst the godly — the spiritual and the carnal, the men and the babes. These Corinthians are said to abound in all utterance, and they came behind no Church in any gift; yet no Church so carnal. Here were gross heresies, divisions, and several gross practices; so that a spiritual people is not a people of parts and knowledge and abilities only, but of grace and raised sanctification also. Now as there are these degrees in the truly godly, so there are peculiar duties required of them. The spiritual man is, first, to be charitable and indulgent to those that are weaker, not to despise them. Secondly, the spiritual man is to walk humbly, and to be always in an holy fear and trembling. Thirdly, the spiritual man is to consider God requireth mere of him than of others; his account will be the more terrible. Then as for the carnal or babes, two things belong to them. First, that they be not dejected, or quite out of hopes, because they are babes. Fathers have naturally tender affections to those children that are most infirm and weak. Secondly, take heed of resting in low things. To be always weak, to be always carnal, doth highly provoke God and grieve a faithful ministry; to grow in grace and bring forth much fruit are made necessary to our continuance in the state of grace.Use 1. To confute that proud and arrogant doctrine that will have none members of a Church but who are perfect, and those also who arrogate perfection to themselves. Where can such be found?Use 2. If those that are truly godly, yet imperfect, retaining some ignorance and some infirmities on them, are such a trouble unto the godly ministers, how unsufferable then are such as are altogether carnal! If wheat, because of some blemish in it, be to be blamed, what then is cockle and plain weeds? If imperfect fruit displease the gardener, what then do brambles and weeds?

(A. Burgess.)

I. CHRISTIANS ARE DECIDEDLY, THOUGH NOT WHOLLY, SPIRITUAL. The marks of their spirituality are these: —

1. A freedom from wilful and habitual subjection to any sin.

2. The measurement of their obedience by the perfect law.

3. The ascribing of all the excellences attained by them to a Divine source.

4. Union among themselves.


1. They bear not affliction well.

2. Their behaviour in the Church is not good; they quarrel and contend.

3. They pay too much attention to the pomp of this world. This state must be altered. Be no longer carnal, but walk ye in the Spirit.

(J. Leifchild, D. D.)

I. THE GRADUATING METHOD OF TEACHING (vers. 1, 2). Truth is to be administered with regard to the receptive powers of the student, just as the administration of bodily food must have regard to the digestive capacities of those who need it. Though men might live on milk, strong meat would kill children. There are truths in the gospel of such an elevated character, requiring so much intellect and culture to appreciate them, that to enforce them on the attention of mental and moral children would be positively to injure them. Christ practised this method of teaching. He had many things to say which His disciples could not bear. This method of teaching shows —

1. That a minister that may be useful to one class of men may be unprofitable to another.

2. The necessity of all who would enjoy the higher teaching to cultivate their mental and moral powers.

II. THE CARNALITY OF CHURCHISMS (vers. 3, 4). By churchisms I mean sectarianisms, denominationalisms, &c. Paul says this is "carnal." Carnal because it engrosses the soul —

1. In the human rather than the Divine.

2. In the personal rather than in the universal.

3. In the selfish rather than in the self-denying.

4. In the transitory rather than in the permanent.


1. One, notwithstanding the diversity of talents and kinds of labour.

2. One in grand practical aim. What were they working for? The spiritual cultivation of mankind. One planting, another watering, &c. Different kinds of labour, but still one.

3. One in their connection with God.

(1)Whilst all depended on God for success, God gave the "increase."

(2)All were co-workers with Him. "Labourers together with God."

4. One in their ultimate reward (ver. 8). Each from the same God, each according to his work.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Note —

I. HIS ECONOMIC MANAGEMENT OF TRUTH. Economy in a household means frugality in opposition to extravagance. In the dispensation of truth it means that prudent distribution which does not squander it uselessly, but which apportions to each age and capacity the amount it can turn to good account. For different ages, different kinds of food. For childhood, or "babes in Christ," milk, &c.; but reverse this, and what is strength to the man is injury to the child — it cannot bear it.

1. The doctrine which the apostle calls "strong meat," if taught at first, would deter from further discipleship. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth into an old garment, &c. Now "strong meat" does not mean high doctrine, such as election, regeneration, justification by faith, but strong demands on self, a severe, noble life. St. Paul taught the Corinthians all the doctrine he had to teach, but not all the conceptions of the blessed life which he knew of. He showed them that, leaving the principles of doctrine, they were to grow up unto Christ in all things, but by degrees. From a child we must not ask sublime forgiveness of injuries. That which would be glorious in a man might be pusillanimity in a boy. You must content yourself at first with prohibiting tyranny. Do not ask of your child to sacrifice all enjoyment for the sake of others; but let him learn first not to enjoy at the expense of another.

2. Another reason for this is the danger of familiarising the mind with high spiritual doctrines to which the heart is a stranger, and thus engendering hypocrisy — e.g., self-sacrifice, self-denial, are words easily got by rote; and while fluently talking of these high-sounding words, and of man's or woman's mission and influence, it never occurs to us that as yet we have not power to live them out. Let us avoid such language, and avoid supposing that we have attained such states. It is good to be temperate; but if you are temperate, do not mistake that for self-sacrifice. It is good to be honest; but when you are simply doing your duty, do not talk of a noble life. The danger of extreme demands made on hearts unprepared for such is seen in the ease of Ananias. These demands were not, as we see, made by the apostles; but public opinion, which had made sacrifice fashionable, demanded it. And it was a demand like strong meat to the weak, for Ananias was "unable to bear it."


1. In all periods of great social activity there is a tendency to exalt persons and means of progress. Hence, in turn, kings, statesmen, parliaments: and then education, science, machinery, and the press. Here, at Corinth, was "minister-worship."

2. St. Paul's remedy was to point out God's part and ours. "Ye are God's husbandry," we are only labourers. We execute a plan which we only slightly understand — nay, not at all, till it is completed, like workmen in a tubular bridge, or men employed in Gobelin tapestry, who cannot see the pattern of their work until the whole is executed. Conceive the labourer saying of some glorious piece of architecture: "Behold my work!" or some poet, king, or priest, in view of some progress of the race: "See what I have done!" Who is Paul, but a servant of higher plans than he knows?

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

As their dissensions had reference to their religious teachers, the apostle endeavours to correct the evil by presenting the ministerial office in its true light.

I. MINISTERS WERE NOT HEADS OF SCHOOLS or rival sects, as were the Grecian philosophers, BUT MERE SERVANTS, without any authority or power of their own. One may plant, and another water, but the whole increase is of God (vers. 5-7).

II. MINISTERS ARE ONE. They have one Master and one work. They may have different departments in that great work, but they are like fellow-labourers on the same farm, or fellow-builders on the same temple (vers. 8, 9).

III. IN THE DISCHARGE OF THEIR RESPECTIVE DUTIES THEY INCUR A GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. If they attempt to build up the temple of God with the rubbish of their own wisdom, they will be severely punished. If they employ the materials which God has furnished, they will be rewarded (vers. 10-15). The Church is the temple of God, and ministers will be held to strict account for the doctrines which they preach and for the way in which they execute their office (vers. 16, 17).

IV. NO MINISTER NEED DECEIVE HIMSELF IN THIS MATTER. He cannot preach a higher wisdom than the wisdom of God; and to learn that wisdom he must renounce his own (vers. 18-20).

V. THEREFORE THE PEOPLE SHOULD NOT PLACE THEIR CONFIDENCE IN MINISTERS, who belong to the Church, and not the Church to them. To the interests and consummation of the Church all things, visible and invisible, are made subservient (vers. 21-23).

(C. Hodge, D. D.)


1. He discriminates the spiritual condition of his charge.

2. Unfolds it.

3. Adapts himself to it.


1. He repudiates all the glory of his success.

2. Claims no superiority over his brethren.

3. Ascribes all honour to God.


1. Co-operation with God.

2. God's husbandry.

3. God's building.


1. He would build on the right foundation.

2. With solid material.

3. Under the solemn conviction that his work must be tried by fire.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

I have fed you with milk and not with meat.
This second verse is a further amplification of Paul's complaint: they were babes, and not strong men. Wherein did this appear? By the meat he did provide for them. He compareth himself to a nurse, who does not provide strong meat, but milk for babes; for that were to kill them rather than to nourish them. Now this action of Paul's does denote the great skill and prudence which the apostle used, considering what was fit for his hearers, and condescending thereunto. He that was rapt up into the third heavens, what sublime mysteries might he have preached upon! But he preaches not to show his learning, but to do good to them.

I. THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF PRUDENCE AND WISDOM REQUIRED IN THE MINISTERS OF GOD SO TO PREACH AS THAT IT, MAY BE PROFITABLE TO THE HEARERS. The nurse is carefully to observe what meat the child may eat; the shepherd, what are the fit pastures for to lead his sheep into; the husbandman, what is the proper seed for such ground; the physician, what is the proper physic for such constitutions. To open this doctrine, consider that a minister's duty of feeding his flock lies in two things — his teaching of them and his governing of them — and both these require great prudence. If Solomon, above all things, prayed for wisdom to govern the people in civil things, how much more have we cause to pray for wisdom in the administration of spiritual things? How easily may we give you poison for bread without wisdom I

1. For information. There is required judgment and a sound mind to separate truth from falsehood; to know which is gold and precious stone, and which is hay and stubble; to winnow the chaff from the wheat.

2. As wisdom is required to choose out true and sound matter, so to proportion it to the capacity of the hearers.(1) To preach the nature of God and His attributes; of original sin, of conversion, of justification; as also about Christ and His offices.(2) To preach comfort, and dispense the grace of God in the gospel. But here is much wisdom required that he doth it not to impenitent sinners.(3) To rebuke and reprove for sin. Now how great a skill is it wisely to reprove, to have zeal and knowledge together! Some must be reproved sharply (Titus 1:13), cuttingly. We must not spare. Thus John called some a generation of vipers (Matthew 3:7), and our Saviour, "Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites," many times repeating that, upbraiding of them. Others, again, are tender, tractable; meekness will do more than austerity. As for Church government, the wise management of that is far more difficult than political. Let us consider the reason why this doctrinal feeding requireth such skill and prudence. First, because Divine truths are not to be managed by human, worldly wisdom, but by spiritual wisdom. As it is God that teacheth people to profit (Isaiah 48:17), so it is God that teacheth the minister to preach profitably. Secondly, therefore, is wisdom necessary in our preaching of Divine things, because the miscarriage of these precious truths is a far greater loss than any earthly loss. It is pity for want of skill in any calling to miscarry in a man's worldly affairs, but much more in heavenly; there needs not only faithfulness, but wisdom. Thirdly, therefore is wisdom necessary, because of the untowardness and unteachableness of people which have sundry humours, sundry appetites, sundry affections and desires. Use: To show people's duty, how much they are to pray unto God for their teachers, that they may be directed into all good thoughts for their soul's good. The second doctrine remaineth to be amplified, which is —

II. THAT IT IS VERY NECESSARY TO HAVE A PEOPLE INSTRUCTED WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF RELIGION BEFORE THEY MAKE FURTHER PROGRESS IN RELIGION. Consider, first, and bewail the miserable atheism, ignorance, and blindness that every man naturally is born in about religion and Divine truths. Darkness covers our congregations, as it did the chaos at first. Secondly, as people are thins naturally ignorant of Divine truths, so also their wilful slothfulness about them is much more damnable. Thirdly, because naturally we are thus like a wilderness full of briars, therefore God hath strictly commanded this duty of instructing and informing those that are rude and ignorant in the ways of God. Fourthly, the two principles of religion are reduced to several heads, and are both short and easy, but necessary to be known. The doctrine about God, and Christ, and ourselves, which is the Credendum; the doctrine about faith and repentance, which is the Agendum; and about things to come, which is the Sperandum. But now, when we say these Divine principles are easy, you must take heed of two mistakes.

1. We do not mean that the Divine faith and belief of them is easy to flesh and blood. No; but they are easy supposing the grace of God in respect of other particulars in religion. The principles of religion are easy and plain to the mind enlightened, but they are either foolishness or absurdities to the greatest scholar, that is, if his heart be not opened.

2. We do not mean that the bare saying of the principles of religion by heart and rote is the true believing and knowing of them. As the child is not said to be fed with milk unless it swallow it down and be nourished by it, so neither can they be said to believe the principles of religion unless they do with understanding apply them and receive them into their hearts. Now the grounds for instruction in these principles are, first, because God accounts of no zeal nor devout affections if they be not the fruit of knowledge. Thus Christ told the woman that was so zealous for her Father's worship, "Ye worship ye know not what" (John 4:22). Secondly, the principles are foundations, and are the root. Now, he would be an unwise artificer that should intend to rear up a house and lay no foundation. So that, so long as we preach to a people ignorant of these, we have no bottom to stand upon. Thirdly, without this good foundation laid, no preaching or duties can have any spiritual effect. Fourthly, conversion cannot be wrought without some knowledge of the principles. We cannot believe in Him we do not know. We cannot love Him we do not know. Fifthly, the knowledge of these principles is necessary to salvation. You that are ignorant totally of them cannot upon any just grounds hope for salvation. "This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent (John 17:2). "They are a people of no understanding, therefore He that made them will not save them" (Isaiah 27:11). God would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). Sixthly, none can pretend excuses for their ignorance herein. That it is a great sin and just reproach to a people that have lived long under the means of grace if they have not got the true profit by it. The Word preached is commended in Scripture for several and Divine operations. Now if thou hast many years been under these droppings, and yet art a dry wilderness, how unsufferable is it! In other things of the world you think it not to be endured.

I. For opening this, let us consider WHAT ARE THOSE CHOICE AND NOBLE EFFECTS OF THE MINISTRY FOR THE DEFECT WHEREOF A PEOPLE MAY BE SEVERELY BLAMED. First, illumination and enlightening of the understanding to believe the first principles and foundations of religion. Every science, and so that of Divinity, hath its first principles, which are easy and plain. They shine with their own light, as the sunshineth with its own light; you need not another sun to see it. So, though the sun be never so visible, if the eye be not prepared all is in vain to a blind man. What do such bats and owls in the sunshine of the gospel? Oh, if thou hadst lived in Sodom or Egypt, it had not been such a wonder; but in Jerusalem to be so blind argueth thy case damnable! Secondly, the Word preached expects this effect, not only to lay a foundation, but to build upwards; not only to plant, but to grow. Thus Ephesians 4:13, the offices in the Church are to bring us to a full stature in Christ. Where God gives talents, He looks for increase. The ministry is a talent of which God will require a strict account. As Paul doth sharply reprove the Hebrews for this want of growth (Hebrews 6.). Oh, then, sit not down at the lower round in the ladder, stay not at the bottom of the hill! Christianity is a race. There is work, and work enough for thee. Let all the world see there is a vast difference between living under no ministry, or a negligent ministry, and an instructing one. If corn should grow no better in improved grounds than in the barren heath it would be very strange. To a blind man the day and night is all one; he seeth as well at one time as another. Oh, fear thyself in a state of blindness, to whom preaching and no preaching, the ministry and no ministry, is all one; for thou makest no more progress! Thirdly, a third effect of the ministry is to establish and settle in the truth, to give a sound mind. For through men's corruptions, pride, and vainglory, the ministry, as it may increase men's parts, so accidentally increase their errors. As April showers that make the flowers fresh and sweet, so cause many croaking frogs also. Lastly, it is a shame to a people living under the ministry of the gospel a long while if they are not thereby furnished with abilities for those several personal duties that God requireth of them. Oh, the many duties God looks for at your hands which will not be expected from others!

II. In the next place, LET US OBSERVE WHAT A SIN IT IS IF PEOPLE ARE NOT ABLE TO BEAR OR RECEIVE THE PRACTICAL OPERATIONS OF THE WORD. For all knowledge, if it be not after godliness, is a tinkling cymbal. The Word is not only the tree of knowledge, but the tree of life also. If ye would receive the Word in the light and efficacy of it, keep not any compliance with carnal lusts. The truth is above your natural understanding, and the duties above your corrupt lives and affections. Sore eyes cannot bear the light. Festered wounds cannot bear salt; and yet the ministry is both light and salt.

(A. Burgess.)

I. NEGATIVELY. This distinction is not —

1. That between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ, and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians.

2. Not that between the Disciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing beginners from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the Romish doctrine of reserve — inculcating a blind faith and keeping the people in ignorance.

3. That which prevailed in the early Church between truth as the object of faith and as the object of knowledge. This is a distinction true in itself, but, as then understood, it meant nothing less than the difference between the doctrines of the Bible and the speculations of men. Philosophers of our own and of every other age have been willing to allow the people the truth as presented in the Scriptures, provided they themselves were allowed to explain them away into philosophic formulas. The true nature of the distinction is to be learnt —


1. From the import of the figure, which leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather in the mode of instruction than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk, in another strong meat. "Christ," says Calvin, "is milk for babes, and strong meat for men." Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians is taught to children. We teach a child that God is a Spirit, everywhere present and knowing all things, and he understands it. We tell him that Christ is God and man in two distinct natures and one person for ever. This to the child is milk, but it contains food for angels. The truth expressed in these propositions may be expanded indefinitely, and furnish nourishment for the highest intellects to eternity. The difference between milk and strong meat, according to this view, is simply the difference between the more or less perfect development of the things taught.

2. From parallel passages. In Hebrews 5:11-14 the reference is to the distinction between the simple doctrine of the priesthood of Christ and the full development of that doctrine. The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorised to keep back from the people. Everything which God has revealed is to be taught to every one just so fast and so far as he has the capacity to receive it.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

I. WHAT DOCTRINES THE APOSTLE PREACHED TO THE CORINTHIANS. In all teaching it is necessary to begin with essential and fundamental principles. The same holds good in preaching the gospel to those who never heard it, and 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 3:10 show that this was the apostle's practice in Corinth, and the contents of his two Epistles bear this out.

1. The moral depravity of man lies at the foundation of the gospel, otherwise he would not need that salvation which it offers. Accordingly we find the apostle bringing this into view (1 Corinthians 2:14).

2. This sentiment is intimately connected with regeneration. For if natural men are under the dominion of sin, then their hearts must be renewed before they can become heirs of the kingdom of heaven (2 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 5:5).

3. The immediate effect of regeneration is love, which is the essence of all true religion (chap. 1 Corinthians 13.). Love to God produces love to Christ; and love to Christ is the very essence of that faith, which is connected with eternal life. Accordingly the apostle exhorted the Corinthians to embrace Christ as the only ground of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

4. After men have become reconciled to God, they still need the Spirit of promise to carry on a work of sanctification in their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:18).

5. The doctrine of perseverance is a consequence of sanctification (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 5, 8).

6. As God begins and carries on a good work in whom He pleases, so Divine sovereignty is an essential doctrine of the gospel (ver. 6). Which leads up to the doctrine of the Trinity (2 Corinthians 13:14).

II. WHY HE CALLED THESE DOCTRINES MILK. Hebrews 5:12-14 throws light upon the metaphor. The doctrines which Paul preached to the Corinthians may properly be called milk, because —

1. They are easy to be understood. Milk is much easier to digest than meat. So the first principles of the oracles of God are plain to the lowest capacity. They require attention rather than deep penetration.

2. They are highly pleasing to the pious heart. Peter represents all Christians as "new born babes" who "desire the sincere milk of the word."

3. They are nourishing. The converts at Corinth made swift advances in knowledge and holiness, while they were fed by the doctrines according to godliness (1 Corinthians 1:4-7).


1. Their internal state required such plain preaching. They were Genthes who had never been favoured with the knowledge of Divine revelation (1 Corinthians 1:21).

2. Their external state required the same mode of preaching. The heathen philosophers opposed the pure truths of the gospel, and endeavoured to persuade the Christians to renounce them and return to their former superstition. Nor were they altogether unsuccessful, for they overthrew the faith of some. By clearly unfolding the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, the apostle took the best method to guard them against the plausible arguments of infidels.


1. If the metaphor of milk has been properly explained, then by meat Paul means some other sentiments less plain and necessary to be known by common Christians. Such as —(1) The rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation. We can hardly suppose that he would teach the Genthe Corinthians these dark things, because they were not prepared to understand them.(2) The types and predictions respecting the character and coming of Christ. It would have been very difficult to explain these things intelligibly to a people who were without the Old Testament.(3) The predictions in the New Testament concerning the great apostacy; the rise and fall of the man of sin; the calling in of the Jews; the millennium; and the state of things to the end of the world.

2. It appears from what has been said, that Paul's doctrines have been greatly misrepresented. How many ministers have quoted his own words against himself, and employed the text to justify themselves, not only in neglecting to preach the doctrines which he preached, but in stigmatising those doctrines!

3. This subject affords an infallible criterion, by which to determine who are the plainest preachers in point of sentiment. Those who preach the doctrines which Paul called milk are the plainest preachers, and the easiest to be understood by every class of hearers. There never was, and there never can be, any false scheme of religion so easy to explain and understand as that which Paul taught.

4. If the foregoing observations are just, then there is no reason to think that any people are unable to bear the doctrines which Paul preached to the Corinthians. The inability lies in the heart, and not in the understanding.

5. It also appears that now is a proper time for ministers to feed their people with milk, and not with meat. Our congregations, in general, are in a situation very similar to that of the Corinthians.

(N. Emmons, D. D.)For ye are yet carnal...and walk as men. —

The two ideas of the text are — Men, as men, are carnal; Christians, as Christians, ought not to be carnal. Note —


1. The word is of the same kindred as "flesh," "fleshly," &c. Flesh, however, is sometimes used in a good sense, as "the heart of flesh," and sometimes in an indifferent sense, as "all flesh is grass." Mostly, however, it expresses what is bad. Perhaps the terms "carnal" and "fleshly" have become the equivalents of depraved humanity from the fact of man's being in the body, and therefore from the evil in him being more openly manifested by the lustings and corruptions of the animal appetites. There might have been sin without the body, but in that case men would not have been stigmatised as carnal. Having thus got the identity of "carnal" and "fleshly," observe the kinds and gradations of their manifestation.(1) The first sphere is that known as "fleshly lusts" — irregular animal appetites. Everything that partakes of brute impulse; gluttony, drunkenness, lust.(2) "Fleshly wisdom," by which is meant not only falsehood and cunning to gain one's own ends, but thought which has no regard for God or duty, but which may be quite moral.(3) The "fleshly mind" — the actings of the intellect and heart in relation to truth and love which are irregular or defective. Note the forms in which it displays itself.(a) The form in which the intellect rejects truth altogether and turns away from God's revelations in nature and the Bible, to its own systems and philosophies.(b) Or the revelations may be admitted, but so corrupted by hypotheses as to make the Divine in nature and the Bible merely the occasion for filling the invisible with monstrous creations, turning the truth of God into a lie.(c) There may be a holding of the truth simply and uncorrupted; but they who hold it may be so little instructed in it as to know nothing but its first elements, and remain babes.

2. To be carnal in any of these forms is characteristic of man as man. In illustration take —(1) The history of man as connected with civilisation. Begin with a nation in a state of barbarism and we see disgusting outbreaks of appetite and lust. Elevate them a stage. Let the nation rise into a really civilised society, and understand the nature of prosperity, social comforts, arts, arms, science and commerce; when all the energies look no further than the present life. You know what develops then — pride of prosperity, graspings of avarice, lust of power. Then, when things have advanced further, and minds appear with high spiritual capacity, they surround themselves with forms of beauty, and school themselves in philosophy. But speculation runs rampant, "professing themselves wise they become fools." They are as far from God as when given up to the gratification of animal passion.(2) Sacred history. Soon after the Fall, with abundant testimonies of God's character before it, the world got so corrupted that it had to be purified by the flood. The little church preserved in the ark had a fresh earth to begin upon, and erected its first altar to the true God. But in a very short time all was wrong again. Next, for the maintenance of the Divine idea, out of the mass of idolaters one man was taken, and Abraham's seed were separated from the world and shielded from corruption. Alas! their constant effort was to break away and get back to the carnal. And when by afflictions and successive revelations the national mind was improved carnality broke out in Sadduceeism and Pharisaism. Then, when Jesus appeared and revealed His truth and established His Church, came the man of sin, and all men worshipped him.(3) The history of the individual. He begins as the slave of his appetites. By and by he awakes as if another soul were given him, and becomes respectable; he now serves his passions instead of his appetites: a mere man instead of an animal. But some go farther. They get tired of their passions, as they did of their appetites, and take themselves to philosophy, taste, and science, vainly puffed up with their fleshly mind.(4) Society and literature for the last two hundred years. At the close of the seventeenth century English literature and manners were licentious in the extreme. The latter part of the eighteenth century was an improvement; people got prudent, calculating, and respectable. Their' understanding was developed; but there was a want of all high perception of the spiritual and the Divine. To come to the present day, men talk differently from the moralists of the last century. They speak of the Divine and of the vast things for which man was made, and there is a warmth and grandeur about their speculations. But, with all their grand thoughts, and their respect for Christianity and Christ, they have no idea of sitting at the feet of Jesus. It is just the worship of taste, beauty, and mind.


1. Christianity claims to be a system of supernatural dogmatic truth. The gospel meets man at the highest point in the development of the carnal mind, asking, "What am I, whence and whither?" and says, "I can tell you; I can discover to you the unseen and the eternal. Listen to me with unhesitating faith." All who will do this will find there is not a single question respecting God, man, wants, duties, prospects, which it cannot answer, and by answering put an end to the intrusions of the fleshly mind.

2. The truth thus revealed aims at the purification of our spiritual nature, and must necessarily counteract carnality. It is "the grace of God which bringeth salvation," and under it men "live soberly," putting away carnality from the body, the first sphere of its manifestation; "righteously," putting it away from social life — the second sphere; and "godly," putting it away from the spirit — the third sphere.

3. Christianity as a system of influence forbids it.(1) It is contained in a Book. I come to that Book that it may meet me in my spiritual condition as a sinner and teach me how to be reconciled to God; and if rightly studied it will be the instrument of constant development of intellectual and moral strength.(2) It employs, in addition, the preacher, whose office it is to cause men to grow in righteousness and true holiness.(3) It is a system of worship. Christians approach the Infinite. What an influence for purifying the heart, raising man above the carnal, inspiring him with the Divine.(4) And all are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

4. The opposite of this — the temper and habits of a spiritual life are essential to their character and preparation for a life to come.

5. They cannot give any other satisfactory evidence of their being Christians.

6. The work they have to do forbids it. They are "the light of the world," "the salt of the earth." The tendency of man as man is to darkness and corruption, which have to be counteracted by the strenuous efforts of the life of faith and spirituality.


1. Christianity, whether true or false, contains those things which, carried out, would care all the disorders of the world, and make society everywhere virtuous and healthy. There can be no question that carnality in its grosser forms is the enemy of all purity, health, and joy; and in its higher manifestation tends to degrade and disorganise humanity.

2. The nature of Christianity demonstrates its truth. It would be a greater miracle for "carnal" man to have been its creator, than for it to be the supernatural thing it is.

3. He that hath this hope purifies himself even as Christ is pure.

(T. Binney.)

I. THAT THE RELICS OF CORRUPTION, WHICH DO ABIDE IN THE GODLY, OUGHT TO BE A HEAVY BURDEN TO THEM, AGAINST WHICH THEY ARE DAILY TO STRIVE AND COMBAT. Though the tree be cut down, yet here is the stump and root in the godly. To open this, consider —

1. That even the most spiritual that are, the Christians of the first magnitude, even those that shine like suns in the world, have yet blemishes in them. But the best gold will have some dross; the best garden will have some weeds.

2. Yet there are other Christians who have sin more prevalent over them, and are easier overcome, and these deserve more to be called carnal than the former, their corruptions are more visible than their grace. Oh, take heed that thy life be not as the sluggard's field, all grown over with briers and thorns.

3. As corruption doth thus abide in all the godly, and worketh differently, so it doth sometimes flame out into open fire; so that it is no longer the lust and motions of sin within, but the gross operations without. In Peter you see what a leak there was ready to drown the whole ship.

II. WHENCE IT IS THAT THE GODLY DO NOT FULLY CONQUER SIN. For if you respect Christ He is greater than the devil; and if you respect grace, that is more efficacious than sin. How, then, should any lusts, passions, or motions abide in us? Now the efficient grounds are these: and then the final grounds shall be mentioned afterwards.

1. The efficient, because original corruption, which is the fountain of those streams, is not wholly dried up. So that there cannot but be those sinful affections and corrupt desires stirring in thee; these noisome vapours cannot but exhale as long as that filthy lake or bog is within thee.

2. The Spirit of God by which we come to mortify these corruptions doth not put forth its full power.

3. Therefore doth corruption remain, because the instrument of sanctification and mortification, that also is imperfect and weak. Faith purifieth the heart (Romans 11). So that if our faith be weak, the effects of it also will be weak. Lastly, therefore doth corruption abide in us, because the Law of God is spiritual, pure, and exact.This is not an efficient ground, so much as occasional, to discover and manifest that this sour leaven still is in us. In the next place, observe the final grounds.

1. Because God intends in this life to glorify evangelical grace, and the righteousness of the gospel by faith, as the Epistles of Paul abundantly witness. Take the advantage to glorify the grace of the gospel; say thou needest Christ's robes all the day long for thy nakedness.

2. God suffers these relics in us, that there may be daily exercise for faith, patience, and other graces, so that these are left to increase the crown of glory, not to diminish it. Tempests and winds discover the skill of the mariner. Thou mayest turn these clods of earth into chains of pearl.

3. That we might not he puffed up in ourselves, nor others lift up by admiration. Lastly, These thorns are still in thy side, that heaven may be the sweeter. Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.

(A. Burgess.)

For whereas there is among you envying, strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal?
The apostle generally declared the ground of their incapacity of heavenly truths. Now he enumerates the particulars, whereof envy stands in the front.

I. THAT ENVYING, WHERESOEVER IT IS, IS A FRUIT OF THE FLESH, AND SUCH A SIN THAT A GODLY MAN SHOULD ESPECIALLY WATCH AGAINST. Are ye not carnal because of this envying? To open this doctrine, consider —

1. That the original and fountain of this envy is the same with the other great impieties that are committed in the world, viz., the flesh, or corrupt part in a man. So Galatians 5. and James 4.

2. This sin of envy may either be in the full predominancy of it, or only in motions and combats; or if breaking out into act, bewailed and repented of. In the former manner it is in wicked men; in the latter sort it may be even in the godly. The Church of God would always abide like an ark, compacted so close together that no waters could enter in; did not envyings and evil eyes upon one another dissolve the cement and soldering whereby they are united. We shall find the disciples of John and of Christ, even those sweet roses, to have these worms breed in them.

3. Consider that envy is accompanied with a grief and a trouble, that others are indeed, or in an apprehension, in a better condition than themselves.Now, the good that is in others, for which this envy may work, may be of several natures. As —

1. Because of the riches, power, greatness, and outward prosperity of others. And shalt thou be bad to thy own soul because God is good to others?

2. It may be because of the applause and honour, or esteem others have.

3. It may be still higher because of the parts and abilities that others have better than theirs. And it is a greater sin to envy others because of their religious parts and abilities than for any outward mercy, because these are the free gift of God's Spirit. Now for this were the great envyings amongst the Corinthians. It is far more happy to have sanctifying graces than enlarged gifts; far more glorious to have love than large knowledge. Lastly, that is the highest wickedness that can be in envy, viz., when it is for the graces and godliness of others. How many men are reproached, envied by their neighbours and others, merely for their godliness!Thus much for the object of envy. In the next place let us consider the subject, who are prone to it and —

1. Those that are of weak, ignorant, and narrow spirits (Job 5:21). Envy slayeth the silly one. It is the fruit of weakness in a man, his very envy betrayeth his thoughts, that he thinks others are above him.

2. Those are subject to this sin of envy, who are in a similitude of condition, estate, trade, or profession, or where there is any competition for one thing, and both cannot have it. One tradesman envieth another of the same trade. These were teachers, and they thought Paul like themselves, ambitious of glory.

3. Such are subject to envy who, because they cannot abide the good of others, they therefore study all the ways to disparage, and obscure the name and excellency of such. Thus where charity covereth a multitude of sin envy covereth a multitude of graces.(1) Of all envyings take heed of that which is against men, because they are godly, because they live more holily than thou dost.(2) You that are godly especially take heed of this. How contrary is this spirit of envy to that love Christ hath put into you! Let us, in the next place, consider the aggravation of this sin.

1. The wickedness of this sin may be excellently illustrated by that admirable good it is opposite to; for this is a rule, that privation is the worst whose habit is the best, that is the greatest evil which is opposite to the greatest good.

2. It opposeth that admirable goodness in Christ. Oh, come with admiration, and read, and consider the life of Christ and His death, and you will see envy is as direct contrary to Him as the serpent to the dove.

1. The grace of love and charity is often prayed for, and that by Christ Himself, that His people might have it. He prayeth for nothing so earnestly as that. It is made the sign of Christ's disciples, not by miracles, not by prophecies, but by love, shall all men know Christ's disciples.

2. There is still further abomination in this sin; for it is the very lively image of the devil.

3. This sin of envy is a mother-sin, a fountain-sin. There is no wickedness in the world but this sin will conceive it and bring it forth.

4. This sin is a just torment to him that commits it.

5. This sin of envy doth deprive Christians of all exercise and comfort of common graces. Lastly, it is a tenacious inbred sin. These worms will breed in the sweetest roses; these moths in the finest garments. So that the more contumacious and inherent this sin is, the greater cause to be afraid of it. Well, if it be so dangerous a sin, what remedies may be used against it?

1. Turn envy into pity; and this is an excellent cure. Nothing breaketh envy so soon as pity. He hath received more talents, and so greater increase is expected; so that he is more to be prayed for. He having a greater treasure is more obnoxious to thefts and dangers.

2. Consider that if instead of envy thou wouldst bless and praise God for the gifts and graces bestowed upon others, they would thereby be made thine. Lastly, be contented with thy condition. Envy commonly comes from discontent at what is ours.

(A. Burgess.)

We are come to the second sign specified. This thorn argued them to be brambles, not figs. In a great measure carnal, not spiritual. Observe that strifes and quarrelling contentions among Christians argue them to be so far carnal. Consider —

1. That the true ground of all love and peace, all concord ,and agreement, can only be upon a motive of godliness and honesty. Only godly men can truly love one another, because the motive of it is the image of God. The cause of it is God's command, and the end of it is to do good, temporal and spiritual, to one another. Hence this is called love in the faith (Titus 3:15), and in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). And therefore, if the people of God at any time quarrel, and strive with one another, there is so much manifestation that their love was not because they were godly, but for other ends. In the second place, take notice there is a twofold striving or contention.

1. That which is good and laudable. Thus Jude commands to contend for the faith once delivered. To be in an agony for it (ver. 4).

2. There is a sinful and ungodly striving, And that may be about a twofold object. Either in civil worldly things quarrelling and wrangling about them, or in religious matters.(1) Show the sinfulness of the causes.(2) The effects wherein they manifest themselves, and —(3) The aggravation of the sin. The cause in the general is that bitter poisonous fountain of corruption within every man. Man by nature is a spider, a toad. He can spit nothing but venom. He is a bramble that tears every one that cometh near him. Thus Galatians 5.; strifes and contentions are made the manifest works of the flesh.But the particular lusts are —

1. Pride. Where pride is there is contention (Proverbs 13:10). A proud man, he cannot but strive, no more than fire cannot but set all on a flame where it is. The chimney that is higher than other parts of the house, puts out all the smoke and dark vapours; and those sometimes that would exalt themselves above others, they must needs evaporate their loathsome stomach against others.

2. Ambition and vain-glory, which comes near to pride. Absalom's ambition for the kingdom, what a terrible shake did it make in Israel!

3. Malicious froward dispositions. There are some of that rancorous, turbulent nature that they cannot be quiet but in the disturbing of others. Salamanders that can live nowhere but in tire, never at rest but when they are in brawlings or contentions.

4. Covetousness and sinful love to the things of the world that makes men quarrel and brawl. Lastly, impatience, when men know not how with patience and godly wisdom to pass by many injuries and wrongs.Now the sinful effects —

1. Of striving about worldly things is discovered —(1) In passionate and railing speeches. Let all clamour and evil speaking be laid aside (Ephesians 4:31; Matthew 5:22).(2) It is seen in backbiting, slandering, inventing of lies against others, whispering, and secretly reproaching of others where they are not present to justify themselves.(3) A delight to go to law, and to implead others at the courts of judicature (chap. 1 Corinthians 6.).(4) Lastly, this civil or uncivil contention, rather, is seen in the procuring of all that hurt and mischief to others we can, either in name or estate.

2. As for striving in religious matters, that is seen two ways.(1) When men are given to cavil and contradict the truth, though never so evidently discovered, especially because of the purity of it, because it convinceth and arraigneth thy lusts, greatly condemning them.(2) When men dote about questions and disputes that have no profit, or if profit, yet attend not to them in their place (Titus 3:9).

3. I come to the aggravation of this sin of contention.(1) This striving temper is directly opposite to many commands that vehemently press love, brotherly kindness, peaceableness (Romans 12:18; 1 Peter 3:8).(2) These strifes and quarrellings make all our prayers and religion in vain.(3) The relation we are in commands peace and unity. There is one God, one Christ, one Spirit, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

(A. Burgess.)

That divisions and factions do quickly creep into the best and purest Churches. This Church of Corinth was a garden planted by Paul, and, notwithstanding all his care, his constant inspection, yet these weeds grow up in it.

1. Divisions or factions may be either —(1) Civil or ecclesiastical. Civil are all those rents and ruptures that are made by the lusts of men in a commonwealth. Thus Jeroboam made a division, he rent ten tribes from the other two. The other divisions are in the Church, and they are of two sorts, either when different doctrines or opinions are maintained, and these are called heresies. Or when there is a soundness of doctrine, yet men break the bonds of love, and live in malice and uncharitableness, and this is called schism.(2) Factions or divisions are either personal, between godly men particularly, or more public between societies and societies, Churches and Churches. Between persons. Thus Paul and Barnabas, they were in a bitter dissention one with another (Acts 15:39). So Paul and Peter; Paul reproved Peter, and withstood him to the face (Galatians 1.). Or more public. Thus many Jews that believed raised great dissensions about circumcision, and the retaining of the customs of the law.

2. In the next place, what makes division or faction? And —(1) That is, when men promote any false or wicked way against truth and godliness.(2) Faction and division is seen when though the matter be true or good they strive for, yet they do it not in a godly, orderly way. A good intention, even in a good matter without good order, is not warrantable.(3) A third thing in division is when men do not keep to their proper places, to their offices.(4) Thus it is division and faction when the affections and passions of men are embittered with any carnal distempers; so that this sin doth affect the heart and spirit of a man, and then it breaks out into actions.

3. In the next place, what are the causes that make these the efficient causes?(1) The ignorance of men, as long as men know but in part, have not perfection in the understanding; and this breedeth difference of opinions, and difference of opinions difference of affections.(2) Self-confidence and arrogancy.(3) The last efficient are worldly hopes and desires of carnal advantages.(4) Lastly, there is an occasional cause, but not efficient, and that hath been the tyranny and scandalous lives of Church officers. This hath many times made sad rents.

(A. Burgess.)

And walk as men.
The apostle in this phrase, "To live as men," or, "According to man," may imply these things.

1. Mere men have no Divine faith in the matters of religion, wrought in them by the Spirit of God, but walk according to the natural dictates of conscience and education, and so are for that religion which they have been brought up in and accustomed to, whether it be right or wrong, whether good or bad. This our Saviour cleareth, when Peter made that excellent confession of faith, that Christ was the Son of God. Our Saviour graciously accepts of it, and tells him, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed this to him" (Matthew 16:17).

2. To walk as a mere man is to propound some outward inferior comforts as the ultimate end and chief felicity of our souls. Take a man, as a mere man, and the utmost end for which he labours and strives in this world is some earthly advantages. Oh, but what saith the apostle of true Christians? "We walk not by sense, but by faith" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

3. To walk as mere men is to put confidence and hope only in second causes and visible instruments, not trusting the promise of God or believing His power, that He reigneth and ruleth in heaven and earth, doing what He pleaseth.

4. To walk like men is to be full of falsehood, deceitfulness, or hypocrisy, to have no truth in heart or word one to another.

5. To walk as men is here in the text to be in anger, hatred, and revengeful thoughts one against another; whereas all beasts agree among themselves, even the savage bears and tigers, yea, the devils are not divided one against another. Man naturally finds nothing so sweet as revenge upon others.

6. To walk as men is to make a man's self the Alpha and Omega, the centre wherein all the lines must meet. "All seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:21).

7. Lastly, to walk as man is to commit any sin rather than to be persecuted for the truth of God. To swear, or foreswear, to turn into all shapes, to avoid danger. How are all our congregations? How live they? How walk they? Do they not live as men? Yea, how many like brute beasts?

(A. Burgess.)

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