Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.
I. THE GIVER OF THE CROWN. Christ has himself contended, suffered, and overcome; on his head are many crowns. He is the Lord of the course and the conflict. Coming from such hands, the recompense must be infinitely precious. He sweetens the gift he bestows by words of gracious approval. He counts the crowns of his people as his own.
II. THE WEARER OF THE CROWN. He who is to partake the throne, the triumph, must first share the strife and bear the cross of Jesus. The crown of thorns comes before the crown of victory and empire. They who shall hereafter triumph are they who now and here strive and suffer, endure and hope. Their contest must be lawfully conducted and strenuously maintained. It is they who are "faithful unto death" to whom is promised the fair crown of life.
III. THE VALUE OF THE CROWN. It is a gift, and not a reward to which there is a just claim; there is no case of merit here. At the same time, it is an expression of satisfaction and approval, and coming from Christ has in consequence a peculiar value to his people. The Isthmian wreath was in itself of no worth; its value lay in the witness it bore to the wearer's prowess. But the Christian's crown is not only a token of Divine approbation; it is accompanied by substantial recompense, especially by promotion to rule and authority. He who is crowned is made "ruler over many things."
IV. THE IMPERISHABLENESS OF THE CROWN. It is not a material crown, like the wreath of fading leaves. It is a crown of righteousness and of life, and is consequently in its nature immortal. It is worn in the land of incorruption and of immortality. It blooms perennially in the atmosphere of heaven.
1. Here is an appeal to the aspiring. Why seek earthly distinctions which must pass away, when within your reach is the unfading crown of glory?
2. Here is an inspiration and stimulus to the Christian combatant. Why grow weary in the race, why sink faint hearted in the contest, when there is stretched forth, before and above you, the Divine and imperishable crown of life? - T.
Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.I. THE FACT THAT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A STRIVING AFTER AN END. This text is out of joint with much of the language of the present day. Such as "the rest of faith" — as if Christian life were inaction. This is not an exceptional experience, or merely true of babes in Christ. The language appears again and again as the constant state of the apostle.
II. THE MANNER OF THE STRIFE.
1. Lawfully. It must be in harmony with the Divine rule, not with our own impulses.
2. Certainly. Lawfulness secures certainty. Men guided by Christ are not in doubt as to what they ought to do, or as to the result.
III. THE OBJECT OF OUR STRIVING. "I keep under my body." We think there was little need of Paul to do this. His body was indeed subject; he had gone through peril, trial, persecution. He never indulged it.
IV. THE MOTIVES.
1. Not to be a castaway.
2. To gain a crown.
(W. Landell, D. D.)I. AS AN ELEMENT OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. There are many elements that constitute this; but there can be no full-rounded Christian life without temperance.
1. Observe the frequent references made to it in Scripture. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5.), and one step in the ladder of Christian graces (2 Peter 1.). In his address to Felix, Paul reasoned of it.
2. The word literally means the power of regulating one's self; hence it is synonymous with self-control; and as self-control is needed only when there is temptation to sinful indulgence, there is contained in it the further idea of self-sacrifice. So it lies at the foundation of the noblest of all lives. This is the principle that made the martyrs.
3. Let it not be supposed that it was unknown prior to the Christian era. It was practised, as we see, by the athletes; so that Christianity simply took hold of an existing principle and applied it to a new case. But formerly its end was selfish and secular; now it is exercised for a worthier end.
4. Self-denial, then, occupies no secondary place. He who is not able to practise it is not worthy to be a follower of Christ. But how can this be unless we possess something of His spirit? The highest type of man is he who is likest to Christ in consecration and self-denying service. This is what we should aim at; it is the perfection of character. "Shall Jesus bear the Cross alone, and all the world go free?" &c.
II. AS A CONDITION OF MORAL CONQUEST.
1. No one ever yet did anything great without making a sacrifice. The prize-wrestler deemed it indispensable to success. He had to forego everything that did not contribute to the end in view. It is the same all through life. Whatever be one's abilities, there is no royal road to proficiency; and of all things, the most difficult to master is one's self. If the prize-fighter, the soldier, the student, the merchant, can be self-denying to gain their ends, why cannot the Christian deny himself to gain his end? Think of the self-denial of Moses, Daniel, the three Hebrew children. Let their manly example impress on us the duty of total abstinence, when the alternative is sin.
2. Herein lies the guarantee of conquest. Let self be put down and Christ lifted up, and then not only will the life be itself a success, but it will be a power for the moral conquest of the world, for we can influence others only in proportion as we live under the power of the truth ourselves. The world will not readily be impressed with that spirit which makes self-interest its end, nor be struck with the excellence of that religion which makes no sacrifice.
III. AS A DUTY OF UNIVERSAL OBLIGATION.
1. We owe it to Christ. We owe our salvation to the practice of this principle on His part. Think what He gave up for us.
2. We owe it to ourselves. How many are there who, from protracted pandering to the cravings of their lower nature, have lost the power of self-control!
3. We owe it to our fellow-men. If Christ denied Himself for us, should we not also deny ourselves for the brethren, and, like the noble Apostle of the Gentiles, become all things to all men?
(D. Merson, M. A.)1. Paul, instructed in all the narrowness of his people, escaped entirely from it, and became as unconventional as you can well imagine a man to be. If he went past a heathen temple, he used that as an illustration of Divine truth.
2. The illustration of our text is one drawn from the conflicts where wrestlers or racers contended for the wreath. He declares that men who strove for these things were "temperate." Now temperance means self-control, and self-control, self-denial. This was much to say in Corinth.
I. SELF-CONTROL IS THE COMMON EXPERIENCE OF MEN, AND CHRISTIANITY APPEALS TO AN ACTIVE POSSIBILITY, FOR A PURPOSE FAR HIGHER THAN THAT FOR WHICH MEN USUALLY EMPLOY SELF-CONTROL.
1. If there is a class who are more than any other given up to the force of animal desires, it is the athletic class. And yet for the (to them) highest pleasure they persuade themselves to practise extraordinary self-control. If I were to preach to them a temperate life, for the sake of spiritual dignity, they would reply, "That will do very well for parsons, but it is impossible for men like us." And yet they practise far more than what would be necessary to make them eminent Christians. Did you ever read the history of the training of men for prize-fights? The system of exercises, if exerted in industry, would obtain for them a living during the whole year.
2. If there be anything in this world that men dislike, it is the unintermitted endurance of discomforts and disciplines; and yet how cheerfully do soldiers endure these things under the stimulus of various motives of ambition, patriotism, and esprit de corps. Well, if these men can do it, anybody can. The only question is, Will you?
3. There is no class that submit to so much inconvenience and self-denial as commercial men. The most disagreeable things are done by men, and men of sensitive nerve, if there be money in them. How patiently will they work in the tallow-chandler's shop, or a fish-shop, or in a mine, &c.; nay, cheerfully go to the tropics, and burn in Cuba. Ah! how sublime the life would be of an all-world-disturbing merchant, if only it were for a moral end.
4. Consider how patient men are with their fellow-men. The hardest thing to bear is men. A man that can bear cheerfully his fellow-men has little to learn. When men have no motive, how cross and uncharitable they are. But the moment they have an interest in others, see what perfect Christians they are — in a way! If a man owes you a debt, and you think you can get it by crushing him as a cluster is crushed, you will do it. But sometimes there is no cluster to crush, and then you tend this man, and take care of him. You do a world of work for the sake of helping him to bear clusters that by and by shall be pressed into your cup. Why, if you should take a man on Christian principles, and do as much as that for him, you would be canonised as a saint. And then, for the same reasons, see how men bear with disagreeable men. You have your wares for sale, and anybody that buys is welcome to your shop. And if the price is that you shall be "hail fellow well met" with him, you swallow down any reluctance, and say, "We must not do anything to offend him." During the days when colour was a virtue, in a famous church in New York a distinguished merchant had a coloured man in his pew, whose presence in the congregation had the same effect that a lump of salt would have in a cup of tea. And as they went out of the church, they gathered about the merchant, and said, "What possessed you to bring that into your pew?" He whispered, "He is a great planter, a millionaire." And then they said, "Introduce us to him." Then where was their fine taste? When mammon said, "Let it go," it was all right. But when Jesus said, "Let it go," that was detestable.
5. Nay, more. We see how willingly and cheerfully great men, great natures, for the sake of an ignoble ambition, that is not very high, after all, will sacrifice their lives, their multiform faculties and enjoyments. There are those living that are to be revered for many excellences, who, adopting the apostle's form of expression, could say, "I count all things but dung, that I may win the Presidency."
II. NOW THE LORD JESUS, CALLING US TO HONOUR AND GLORY AND IMMORTALITY, SAYS ONLY WHAT THE WORLD SAYS OF ITS POOR, GROVELLING, AND MISERABLE THINGS — "Take up your cross and follow me." Lust says so: why should not love say so? Earthly glory that fades like the laurel wreath says so: why should not that crown of gold that never grows dim say so? When we urge such considerations upon the young, and young men are fired thereby; when truly noble natures hear the call, and accept it, and yield themselves to it, and enter upon a religious life with fervour, and deny themselves in all things in furtherance of its commands, how strangely the world fails to recognise its own redeeming qualities! And how are these men called enthusiasts! Now, enthusiasm in religion is the only good sense. There is not a father who does not say to his child, going out into life, "If you are to succeed as a lawyer, my son, you must give yourself to it." And I say to every man that is going out as a Christian, "If you are going to succeed as a Christian, you must give yourself to it."
(H. W. Beecher.)
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
I. THE WORLD'S SAD FOLLY IN ITS ORDINARY AIMS. The wreath was, of course, not what the racer ran for. It was only a symbol, and its entirely valueless character made it all the more valuable. It expressed simply honour and the joy of success. In front of the temple that presided over the games was a long avenue, on either side of which stood ranged the statues of the victors; and the hope that flushed many a man's face was that his image, with his name on its pedestal, should stand there. And where are they all? Their names forgotten, the marble likenesses buried beneath the greensward, over which the shepherd to-day pastures his quiet flocks. And all our pursuits, unless they be linked with eternity and God, are as evanescent and disproportioned as was the wreath for which months of discipline, and moments of almost superhuman effort, were considered but a small price to pay. Business, providing for a family, &c., necessarily demand attention. You may so use them as to secure the remoter aims of growing like your Master and fit for the inheritance, or to construct out of them a barrier between you and your eternal wealth. In the one case you are wise, in the other case your epitaph will be "Thou fool!" A poet has put in homely words the lesson for us: "What good came of it at last?" asks the little child, when the old man is telling him of the great victory. "They do it to obtain a corruptible crown" — two pennyworth of parsley. It is a symbol of what some of you are living for.
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S WISDOM IN HIS AIM. "But we an incorruptible."
1. The emblem stands for a symbol of dominion, of victory, and of festivity. It is the crown of the king, or the wreath of the victor, or the garlands on the guests at the feast. It is a "crown of life." The true life of the spirit which partakes of the immortal life of Jesus is the crown. It is a "crown of glory" — the radiant lustre of a manifestly God-glorified spirit. The garland that adorns those who sit at the feast is no mere external adornment, but the lustre of a perfect character which is the outcome of a Christ-given life. It is the "crown of righteousness." Only pure brows can wear it. It would burn like a circlet of fire if it were placed on other heads. Righteousness is the condition of obtaining it.
2. This, then, is the aim which the apostle asserts to be the aim of every person that has the right to call himself a Christian. There is a sharp test for you. Do you live to win it? Does it gleam before you with a brightness that makes all other and nearer objects insignificant and pale? If you can answer them in the affirmative you are a happy man.
3. And more than that, all these nearer objects will become even more blessed, and your whole life nobler than it otherwise would be. The green of the lower slopes of the Alps never looks so vivid, their flowers never so lovely or so bright as when the eye rises from them to the glaciers. And so all the lower levels of life look fairer, because our eyes pass beyond them and fix on the great white throne that towers above them all.
III. THE WORLD'S NOBLE WISDOM IN THE CHOICE OF ITS MEANS,
1. This poor racer had ten months of hard abstinence and exercise before there was even a chance for him to succeed. And then there was a short spurt of tremendous effort before he came in at the goal. These things are conditions of success in the would, and no matter for what the man is doing it, it is better for him to be braced into self-control, and stirred into energetic activity, than to be rotting like a fat weed in the pestilential marshes of self-indulgence, and losing all pith and manhood in the languid dissolution of indolence.
2. And so one cannot but look with admiration at a great deal of the toil and effort that the world puts forth, even for its own shabby ends. Why, a man will spend twenty times as long in making himself a good conjurer, who can balance feathers and twirl plates upon a table, as some of us ever spent in trying to make ourselves good Christians.
IV. THE FOLLY OF SO MANY PROFESSING CHRISTIANS IN THEIR WAY OF PURSUING THEIR AIMS.
1. A languid runner had no chance, and he knew it. The phrase was almost a contradiction in terms. What about a languid Christian? Is that a more consistent idea? If I let my desire and affections go flowing vagrantly over the whole low plain of material things, they will be like a river that is lost in the swamp. If I set out on the race without having girt up my loins by resolute self-denial, what can I expect but that before I have run half-a-dozen yards my ungirt robes will trip me up or get caught in the thorns and keep me back? No Christian progress is possible to-day, or ever was, or will be, except on the condition — "Take up your cross, and deny yourself, and then come after Me." Learn from the world this lesson, that if a man wants to succeed in any course he must shut out other, even legitimate ones.
2. And then the runner that did not put all his powers into the five minutes of his race had no chance of coming in at the goal. And there is no different law in regard to Christian people. Conclusion: God be thanked! We are crowned not because we are good, but because Christ died. But the teaching of my text, that a Christian man must labour to win the prize, is by no means contradictory to, hut complementary and confirmatory of the earlier truth. The laws of the race are — "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"; and the second is, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE CROWN. Recall the other places where the same metaphor is employed. It is extremely unlikely that all these instances of the occurrence of the emblem carry with them reference, such as that in my text to the prize at the athletic festivals. For Peter and James, intense Jews as they were, had probably never seen, and possibly never heard of, the struggles at the Isthmus and at Olympus and elsewhere. The book of the Revelation draws its metaphors almost exclusively from the circle of Jewish practices and things. So that we have to look in other directions than the arena or the racecourse to explain these other uses of the image. It is also extremely unlikely that in these other passages the reference is to a crown as the emblem of sovereignty, for that idea is expressed, is a rule, by another word in Scripture, which we have Anglicised as "diadem." The "crown" in all these passages is a garland twisted out of some growth of the field. The "crown" which is the Christian's aim is a state of triumphant repose and of festal enjoyment. There are other aspects of that great and dim future which correspond to other necessities of our nature. That future is other and more than a festival; it is other and more than repose. There are larger fields there for the operation of powers that have been trained and evolved here. The faithfulness of the steward is exchanged, according to Christ's great words, for the authority of the ruler over many cities. But still, do we not all know enough of the worry and turbulence and strained effort of the conflict here below, to feel that to some of our deepest and not ignoble needs and desires that image appeals? So the satisfaction of all desires, the accompaniments of a feast in abundance, rejoicing and companionship, and conclusive conquest over all foes, are promised us in this great symbol. The crown is described in three ways. It is the crown of "life," of "glory," and of "righteousness." And I venture to think that these three epithets describe the material, so to speak, of which the wreath is composed. The everlasting flower of life, the radiant, blossoms of glory, the white flower of righteousness; these arc its components. Here we have the promise of life, that fuller life which men want. Here we live a living death; there we shall live indeed; and that will be the crown, not only in regard of physical, but in regard of spiritual, powers and consciousness. But remember that all this full tide of life is Christ's gift. All being, from the lowest creature up to the loftiest created spirit, exists by one law, the continual impartation of life from the fountain of life, to it, according to its capacities. "I will give him a crown of life." It is a crown of "glory," and that means a lustrousness of character imparted by radiation and reflection from the central light of the glory of God. "Then shall the righteous blaze out like the sun, in the kingdom of My Father." We all shall be changed into the "likeness of the body of His glory." It is a crown of "righteousness." Though that phrase may mean the wreath that rewards righteousness, it seems more in accordance with the other similar expressions to which I have referred to regard it, too, as the material of which the crown is composed. It is not enough that there should be festal gladness, not enough that there should be calm repose, not enough that there should be flashing glory, not enough that there should be fulness of life. To accord with the intense moral earnestness of the Christian system there must be, emphatically, in the Christian hope cessation of all sin and investiture with all purity. "Thy people shall be all righteous." "They shall walk with Me in white." And it sets the very climax and culmination on the other hopes. These, then, are the elements, and on them all is stamped the signature of perpetuity. The crown of life is incorruptible.
II. Now look, secondly, AT THE DISCIPLINE BY WHICH THE CROWN IS WON. Observe, first of all, that in more than one Of the passages to which we have already referred, great emphasis is laid upon Christ as giving the crown. That is to say, that blessed future is not won by effort, but is bestowed as a free gift. It is given from the hands which have procured it, and, as I may say, twined it for us. Jesus provides the sole means, by His work, by which any man can enter into that inheritance. It remains for ever the gift of His love. Whilst, then, this must be laid as the basis of all, there must also, with equal earnestness, be set forth the other thought that Christ's gift has conditions, which conditions these passages plainly set forth. In the one which I have read as a text we have these conditions declared as being twofold, protracted discipline and continuous effort. James declares that it is given to the man who endures temptation. Peter asserts that it is the reward of self-denying discharge of duty. And the Lord from heaven lays down the condition of faithfulness unto death as the necessary pre-requisite of His gift of the crown of life. Eternal life is the gift of God, on condition of our diligence and earnestness. It is not all the same whether you are a lazy Christian or not.
III. And now, lastly, note THE POWER OF THE REWARD AS MOTIVE FOR LIFE. Paul says roundly in our text, that the desire to obtain the incorruptible crown is a legitimate spring of Christian action. Now, I do not need to waste your time and my own in defending Christian morality from the fantastic objection that it is low and selfish, because it encourages itself to efforts by the prospect of the crown. If there are any men who are Christians only because of what they hope to gain thereby in another world, they will not get what they hope for; and they would not like it if they did. I do not believe that there are any such people; and sure I am, if there are, that it is not Christianity that has made them so. But a thing that we must not set as the supreme motive, we may rightly accept as a subsidiary encouragement. We are not Christians unless the dominant motive of our lives be the love of the Lord Jesus Christ; and unless we feel a necessity, because of loving Him, to aim to be like Him. But, that being so, who shall hinder me from quickening my flagging energies, and stimulating my torpid faith, and encouraging my cowardice, by the thought that yonder there remain rest, victory, the fulness of life, the flashing of glory, and the purity of perfect righteousness? Now it seems to me that this spring of action is not as strong in the Christians of this day as it used to be, and as it should be. You do not hear much about heaven in ordinary preaching. And I believe, for my part, that we suffer terribly by the comparative neglect into which this side of Christian truth has fallen. Do you not think that it would make a difference to you if you really believed, and carried always with you in your thoughts, the thrilling consciousness that every act of the present was registered, and would tell on the far side yonder?
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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