"Everything is permissible for me," but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me," but I will not be mastered by anything.
power of any," for "all things are lawful unto me," which is to say, "all things are in my power," and I will exercise my power by imposing limitations on self indulgence. Of course, then, this restraint put on individual freedom is our own voluntary act. Such is the stress laid on personality that a man's Christian virtue must be specifically his own, and recognized by infallible signs as his own. Development is a common duty, self development segregates a man from his fellows that he may grow in a given way. Self denial is a common duty, but under this law of individuality in using our freedom, self denial assumes a variety of shapes, and becomes wonderfully potential in human affairs by the diversity it presents. In this view the self denial of A is no guide for B. The special form of your self denial may not commend itself to me, nay, it may be hurtful to me; and, assuredly, it will lose its virtue if I adopt it merely because it is yours. And hence the value of example in this respect is not to create a slavish imitation on the part of others, but to set forth the worth inherent in the spirit of self denial. If this principle, so boldly urged by St. Paul, had been faithfully adhered to, it would have saved the Church from many inconsistencies. Private opinion, while it is content to be such, may be over stringent, and yet do no great harm. But in many cases it exceeds the limits of individuality and takes shape as the tyranny of public opinion. Morbidness is rarely satisfied till it acquires notoriety before the eyes of men, and so it comes to pass that we have ecclesiastical agitation and legislation about many things - for instance, amusements - concerning which no exact standard can be set up foreverybody. If we could have an exact standard, it would not compensate for the loss of personal freedom, since this is precisely one of those matters in which self denial owes all its excellence to the restrictions that it imposes upon itself. St. Paul's emphatic "I" in this connection is the "I" of every redeemed man, and accordingly, as a universal prerogative, this exalted characteristic of individuality is most carefully guarded. And how is it guarded? To say nothing of what Christian freedom is in itself as delegated by God in Christ, and conditioned widely different from Adam's sovereignty in Eden; to say nothing of its original limitations by the Divine Law, and the fixed barriers over which it may not pass, and, if true to itself, cannot pass; what is this liberty but a glorious privilege to be made still more glorious by our own self enacted laws of restraint? It is a new limitation peculiar to man. It is a limitation which each man under the grace of the Spirit originates and executes in attestation of his own endowments as God's redeemed servant, It is sonship in its most beautiful and tender form - the "Abba, Father," which is not heard in the responses of the Church, nor in hymns of social worship, but is an utterance that rises to God in those hours when loneliness is a supreme joy. I have the power; I will not use it; I will deny myself its exercise, and I will do it because "all things are not expedient." What other eye save his own could penetrate those mysteries, from which he draws reasons and motives for particular acts of self denial? Mysteries, we say; for many an advanced believer yields in this phase of experience to half awakened instincts and undefined impulses. How can ministers of the gospel, how can Churches in their official capacity, get at the knowledge of what is wisest and best in those matters that belong to the very highest attributes of personality as the ground of individuality? "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." "Fully persuaded" he can never be unless he use his liberty untrammelled. If you dogmatize and legislate, the full persuasion cannot be the outcome of "his own mind." If God can trust him, why not you? The safeguard has been provided - it is expediency. And this sense of expediency or of fitness and propriety is a conservative and prudential force, which operates to check all excesses, and binds about the man the golden cestus of moderation. Expediency is never self willed and arbitrary. It presides over tastes and the minor moralities no less than over the more prominent virtues; nor does it trifle with trifles nor disdain the helps of look and tone and manner, but is cardinal to whatsoever reflects the man upon his associates. Keenly alive to discriminations, it educates us to know the best from the merely good, and, by its fine tact and subtle sagacity, goes on swift wing to the noblest objects. It considers, as though it were a part of itself, the welfare of others, and thus becomes a guarantee that a man's liberty shall not invade the rights of his fellow man. And remembering that "all things" are his only so far as he is Christ's, he realizes that it is "no more I that live, but Christ liveth in me." Then St. Paul proceeds to dwell on the sanctity of the human body - a favourite topic, on which he expends much thought. In the third chapter he had discussed it, and in subsequent passages, every one of them singularly clear and vivid, he recurs to this great topic. Here the leading idea is that our bodies "are the members" of Christ's body. "The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." And hence St. Paul, in his concrete method of thinking, refuses to separate, even in thought, body and soul, as they are connected with redemption, Matter and mind are perfectly unlike; they are known to us only by their infinite contrariety; and yet matter and mind meet and unite as body and soul, and the union is human nature. These two substances grow each in its own way, the natural union at birth becoming closer and yet closer as years progress, and the body subordinating itself more and more to the mind's service, in the mature man - the mechanic, the accountant, the artist, the poet, the philosopher - a vast advance has occurred in i he nearness and adaptability of the corporeity to the wants, demands, and aspirations of the spirit. If the providential idea in education and culture be fulfilled, the cooperative activity constantly increases, each forward step a step for both, and the law of development taking effect in mutuality of advantage. Still more fully is this fact brought out in Christian experience. St. Paul's figures on this subject stand for facts. Bodily appetites cease to be mere animal instincts. They are elevated and purified. If Christ was raised from the dead, so too our bodies shall be raised, for the companionship of mind and matter as soul and body is not a transient but an eternal fact. One may speak of being "here in the body pent" and of the "body of humiliation" (vile body), but the idea of body as an investiture of spirit and an auxiliary to its functions is a part of the original scheme of humanity, and will have its complete development in the future life. Little do we realize that the resurrection man is now in a process of training as to his corporeal form. This training is double - mental and material - and hence, while it is true that certain physical functions will expire and be known no more, yet the effects of their experience will survive in the soul itself. "A spiritual body" is assured us by Christianity and confirmed to us by Christ's resurrection; and, agreeably to this doctrine, the present growth of body into the mind's service, the tuition of the senses, the reduction of the nerves to the will, the command which is acquired over the lower organs, all indicate that the resurrection man of body and spirit is now in process of formation. If this is true; if the resurrection is not only a prospective glory but a realization now going on by means of the present ennoblement and sanctification of the human body; and, furthermore, if Christ's education of his own body to the offices he filled as Teacher, Miracle Worker, Philanthropist, Redeemer, etc., as to the spirit actuating him, an example to his followers; - then surely we have the weightiest of reasons for regarding the body as the "temple of the Holy Ghost." Greek philosophy had abused the truth that all creatures are for man, and that he is the measure of all things. Professing Christians had followed a carnal philosophy in the application of this truth. And now that St. Paul has rescued it from its perversions and set it in its proper light, he may well urge the conclusion, "Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." Could anything more timely, more momentous, more significant of the aim of Christianity as it respected the social regeneration of mankind, have been said by St. Paul? The sin of the body; that one sin which surrenders the body to another and degrades it as nothing else can degrade; that sin of sins, which debauches the body where it ought to be purest, and sinks lowest that which should be highest; - could its wickedness be set forth in stronger language than when he speaks of the body as the tabernacle, in which not only the soul but the Holy Ghost dwells? "Which ye have of God," and therefore "not your own," but "bought with a price." And yet this redeemed possession, the purchase of Christ's blood, a member of his mystical body, a tabernacle of the Spirit, alienated, abused, prostituted to the most shameful and the most fatal of all vices. Of nothing is it so true as of this vice, that we become like that with which we associate. Association is assimilation, and, in this case, assimilation is the most dreadful form of desecration. These verses (18-20) contain, as has been suggested (Alford), the germ of the three weighty sections of the Epistle about to follow. And we do well to enter into their meaning and implore the grace of God to assist us, lest we fail to receive the profound impression sought to be made. It is useless to blink the fact that among Christian nations and in the nineteenth century this colossal vice of a desecrated human body is the Satanic citadel of iniquity. Take all the vices and sins on earth, aggregate them in one huge bulk, and the misfortunes, evils, catastrophes, tragic disasters, put together, would not outweigh the consequences morally and socially viewed of this enormity. Half of the man goes straight and quick into the hands of the devil, and the other half, unless God interpose, follows on in a fascination of blindness exceptional among illusions. God help us! For verily "vain," in this instance, "is the help of man." We need a much larger and bolder discussion of the religion of the human body; and if writers and preachers would study the art of doing this work, the Church and the world would be vast gainers. Any way, this is open to us all, viz. to lay a much greater stress than is commonly done on the dignity, worth, and glory of the human body as seen in the light of Christ's teaching. Full justice is not done this subject, not even approximative justice, and, therefore, no wonder the body is disparaged, vilified, tolerated by many as a nuisance, and immolated by thousands as a creature of appetite and lust. "Bought with a price," the blood of the Lord Jesus paid for it - a glorious thing to be bought and not too precious a ransom paid, and now sprinkled by that blood and hallowed by the indwelling Spirit. Oh what intenseness of soul should go into the pleading, "Glorify God in your body"! - L.
All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient.I. WHAT IS LAWFUL FOR US IN LIFE? All things indifferent, i.e., not evil in themselves. The Christian has the widest liberty. He is not under the restriction of the older economy. To him every creature of God is good (1 Timothy 4:4). He must abide within the limits of the lawful; nothing that seems expedient outside those limits must be touched by him.
II. WHAT IS EXPEDIENT WITHIN THE LIMITS OF THE LAWFUL.
1. The Christian must not use his liberty indiscriminately; he must consider probable results. The end does not justify the means, hut the end often determines whether means, justifiable in themselves, shall he used or not. Means good enough in themselves may under certain conditions lead to most undesirable ends. Those ends foreseen determine that those means should not be employed.
2. The Christian has to select the truly expedient out of the truly lawful. Unlawful means ruin thousands; lawful means, unlawfully used, tens of thousands. Nowhere does the devil build his chapels more cunningly than by the side of the temple of Christian liberty. A Christian, before availing himself of his liberty, had need ask what will be the effect —(1) On myself. Shall I be made less spiritual and useful?(2) On my liberty. Liberty may commit suicide. Undue indulgence of liberty results in slavery. Paul was anxious "not to he brought under the power of any," even lawful things.(3) On my fellows. Will it aid or hinder them? (1 Corinthians 8:13).(4) On God. Will it glorify Him?
(W. E. Hurndall, M. A.)
(R. S. McAll, LL. D.)
I. We will briefly glance at the first of these particulars. It may perhaps surprise some to hear that we regard the text AS PRESENTING AN ENLARGED AND NOBLE VIEW OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY. They may fear, from the comprehensiveness of the terms, lest we are about to loosen the obligations of all morality, and maintain the pernicious dogma that there is no sin to a believer in Christ; that his transgressions are so fully visited upon his Surety, in their guilt and punishment, that they no longer attach to himself. We go as far as any man in maintaining the extent and absoluteness of the imputation of our sins to the Redeemer. But far be from us the impiety of saying, that in their case morality and immorality cease to retain their opposite and immutable nature. "All things are lawful to them." Surely not such as are in their own nature criminal; but all that are usually regarded as indifferent. To be a Christian is to be delivered from the obligation of all that is ritual and secular in the ordinances of religion, and to be brought into the enjoyment of a faith the most pure, simple, spiritual. Further, the impositions of all authority which is merely human are contrary to the genius and spirit of the gospel. Again, a Christian is not to be subject to the scruples and superstitious fears that so often perplex the mind, when it has conceived, in an inadequate manner, of the boundaries of its obligations and duty. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, and the man who has that Spirit is to preserve himself from bondage, with relation to those groundless apprehensions that perpetually haunt the consciences of many among the disciples of Jesus. Niceties of phrase and of observance, of dress and manners and external circumstances, reaching not to the vitals of Christianity. Good men sometimes encumber themselves with an unnecessary yoke, by the excess of their suspicion as to the lawfulness of many things to which no law can apply, and which can, in the strict sense, constitute neither a fulfilment nor a violation of our duty. There is a sickly tenderness of conscience, an excessive and shrinking sensibility, which not only exposes us to a large amount of pain such as it was never the design of our Master that we should be called to endure, but which also incapacitates us for the vigorous and efficient discharge of our duty. We may go on, then, upon our way rejoicing; and let no unnecessary fears harass and distract us. There are many gratifications and indulgences which the law of Christ has not forbidden, and of them therefore His followers may freely and innocently partake. Yet they have been prohibited as sinful by the injudicious zeal and false prudence of some who call themselves His disciples. Christianity is not a system of restriction and oppression. There is nothing forbidden us but what is evil either in itself or in its influence.
II. We proceed, then, to the second of the particulars, IN WHAT MANNER THAT CHRISTIAN LIBERTY OF WHICH WE HAVE SPOKEN IS TO BE PRACTICALLY SECURED; it is, in one word, by the exercise of Christian moderation. We are to say, with reference to every enjoyment, It is not unlawful, but it is inexpedient, and I will not be brought beneath its power. Are you solicited by gratifications that would consume your invaluable time, perhaps not in a very extensive degree in their single instances, but in their almost inevitable repetition; in their preparation and their consequences? Then stop; consider; calculate the results; ask yourselves whether you will gain or ultimately lose by such indulgence. Say if you have arrived at the conclusion that they will be hurtful in the end. They are lawful; I forswear them not. I could mingle, like others, delightfully in all the raptures they are fitted to impart; but I am a dying man; I know not how soon the frail thread of life may be cut off for ever; I must work while it is called to-day. Is the character of the delights you are tempted to participate, such as to excite, to undue and dangerous activity, any of the passions of our nature? Then they are inexpedient and hurtful. Let a Christian learn, in such things, to restrain his freedom that he may be truly free. There are forms of pleasure which, though innocent in themselves, yet place our conduct, in their ulterior consequences, injuriously in the power of others. They cannot be enjoyed alone, and hence they bring us into associations, the effect of which, though not immediately apparent, is to abridge our personal freedom by placing us in contact with the opposite sentiments and practice of those whom it is not safe to follow, in matters that even remotely affect religion and the concerns of the soul. But for such enjoyments, we might have remained in a happy separation from the ungodly. The recurring sight of what is evil, or even the habit of associating, without visible discrimination, with those who practise it, will tend to abate our positive disgust at its commission. In such instances, again, we behold the necessity of acting upon the salutary maxim presented in our text. It must be familiar to every serious and reflecting mind that there are many pleasures which, if they were in all other respects free from reproach, yet are on this account to be suspected; that they have a secret tendency to indispose and unfit us for the regular fulfilment of our duty. They exhaust the feelings; they impair our spirituality; they generate other and uncongenial habits; they are unfavourable to retirement; they produce a vagrancy of thought. I think it will be readily conceded by the candid hearer that our judgment, relative to the lawfulness or impropriety of many of our pleasures, is affected in a degree it would be very difficult to estimate, by our natural and constitutional temperament; by our tastes and aptitudes to the several diversities of sensitive or intellectual enjoyment. And hence arises a twofold fallacy. There are not a few who too severely condemn those whose gratifications they are themselves unable to participate. There are others who will at all hazards excuse and justify their own. Men of the former class need to be reminded that moroseness is not principle, and that a defective or a failing sense is a far different thing from Christian self-denial. And those of the latter must be warned that they extenuate not, in their own favourite department, what they would denounce with unmeasured condemnation in every other, that they do not substitute the impulses of natural feeling, or the pleasures of physical excitement for the joys of piety and the dictates of religion. Let them suppose the gratification in question to be one of another class, adapted to the indulgence of a different sense or a faculty which they have not cultivated, and then judge of their own as they would of that which their fancy has thus placed in its stead. Let the lover of music, for example, the man who professes himself exalted to the third heavens, while he listens to the deep and solemn strains of the pealing organ or the majestic choir; let him then, I say, while he feels the thrilling luxury of magic sound, and calls it worship and religion, imagine only that the lover of statuary or painting should, under the influence of the like excitement, describe the ecstasy of his enjoyments by the same appellation, and plead for the indulgences from whence they arise with the same earnestness, and on the same pretext. And, if he should plead by arguments like these for the introduction of objects calculated to afford him such delight in the same circumstances and on the same occasions, let the supposed devotee of music decide the question whether his plea were legitimate and his principles well founded; then let him transfer this judgment to himself, and he will perhaps discover that it is not his conscience but his taste, that has hitherto determined him with reference to those pleasures that he has accounted sacred; and he may thus be guided to a more just decision; and so in every case. We are not concerned, then, to maintain that no emotions of piety, no sense of sacredness and reverence, may be connected with such enjoyments as we should account unseemly for a Christian, and from which it would be our counsel that he should conscientiously abstain, lest they lead him into danger, or fetter him in mental vassalage. From the whole subject we would briefly deduce the following practical exhortations. Bear ever in mind the intimate connection between your general consistency and the satisfactory evidence of your Christian character. Forget not that such consistency has an equal and inseparable connection with your habitual preparation for heaven. Reflect seriously on the awful consequences of being involved, through our unwise and dangerous indulgences, in the ruin and final condemnation of our brethren. Does any man object that we make the way of piety gloomy and difficult? We reply, this is at least more desirable than to leave it insecure.
(R. S. McAll, LL. D.)I. IN THE ABSTRACT ALL THINGS ARE LAWFUL. Because —
1. Every creature of God is good.
2. May be used with thanksgiving.
II. IN PRACTICE ALL THINGS ARE NOT EXPEDIENT.
1. It may rob us of influence, &c.
2. It may become a stumbling-block to another.
III. IN GENERAL ALL THINGS MUST BE UNDER CONTROL.
1. Otherwise we become slaves.
2. Which is to degrade and imperil Christian character.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. THE RIGHTS OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY. Their watchword was, "All things are lawful." It is easy to understand how this exaggeration came about. Men suddenly finding themselves freed from the restrictions of Jewish law naturally went very far in their Dew principles. St. Paul met this by declaring that Christian liberty is limited —
1. By Christian expediency. There are two kinds of "best." It is absolutely best that war should cease. Relatively, it is best under present circumstances that a country should be ready to defend itself. A defensive fleet is expedient, and relatively best, but not the absolutely Christian best. Now that which limits this liberty is the profit of others.
2. By its own nature. "I will not be brought under the power of any." It is that free self-determination which rules all things, which can enjoy or abstain at will. This liberty can manifest itself under outward restrictions. A Christian, as Christ's freed man, had a right to be free; but if by circumstances he is obliged to remain a slave, he is not troubled. He can wear a chain or not with equal spiritual freedom. Now upon this the apostle makes this subtle and exquisitely fine remark: — To be forced to use liberty is actually a surrender of liberty. If I turn "I may" into "I must," I am in bondage again. For observe, there are two kinds of bondage. I am not free if I am under sentence of exile, and must leave my country. But also I am not free if I am under arrest, and must not leave it. So too, if I think I must not touch meat on Friday, or that I must not read any but a religious book on a Sunday, I am in bondage. But again, if I am tormented with a scrupulous feeling that I did wrong in fasting, or if I feel that I must read secular books on Sunday to prove my freedom, then my liberty has become slavery again. It is a blessed liberation to know that natural inclinations are not necessarily sinful. But if I say all natural and innocent inclinations must be obeyed at all times, then I enter into bondage once more. He alone is free who can use outward things with conscientious freedom as circumstances vary; who can either do without a form or ritual, or can use it.
II. THE RIGHTS OF NATURE. There is some difficulty in the exposition of this chapter, because the apostle mixes together the pleas of his opponents with his own answers.
1. The first part of ver. 13 contains two of these pleas.(1) "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats" — a natural correspondency. "Nature," said they, "herself says, 'Enjoy!'"(2) The transitoriness of this enjoyment. "God shall bring to an end both it and them." They do not belong to eternity, therefore indulgence is a matter of indifference. It is folly to think that these are sins, any more than the appetites of the brutes which perish.
2. To these two pleas St. Paul makes two answers.(1) "The body is not for self-indulgence, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body," He tells of a more exact mutual correspondency. He reveals a true and higher nature. There is much confusion and dispute about this word "nature." The nature of a watch is correspondence with the sun, perfect harmony of wheels and balance. But suppose that the regulator was removed, and the mainspring unchecked ran down, throwing all into confusion. Then two things might be said. One might say, It is the nature of that watch to err. But would it not be a higher truth to say, Its nature is to go rightly, and it is just because it has departed from its nature that it errs? So speaks the apostle. To be governed by the springs of impulse only — your appetites and passions — this is not your nature. For the nature is the whole man; the passions are but a part of the man. And therefore our redemption must consist in a reminder of what we are — what our true nature is.(2) To the other plea he replies, The body will not perish. It is the outward form of the body alone which is transitory. Itself shall be renewed — a nobler, more glorious form, fitted for a higher and spiritual existence. Now here is the importance of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and an awful argument against sin. Our bodies, which are "members of Christ," to be ruled by His Spirit, become by sensuality unfit for immortality with Christ.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
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