1 Corinthians 11:17-22
Now in this that I declare to you I praise you not, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse.…
I. THE ASSERTION — "there must be heresies" — is made in the same sense as "It must needs be that offences come" (Matthew 18:7). Not that he is excusable who introduces heresies, or occasions offences; for "woe unto him by whom they come." But in the natural course of things, such evils will happen.
1. Could no external cause be assigned, our common frailties and corruptions may prepare us to expect them in a society composed of men. Of all parts of our knowledge, we are inclined to be fondest of those in which we differ from other men. It appears dull and undistinguishing to tread on in the common road, and think and believe as other men do. And if we observe how deeply this is rooted in our nature, and how difficult it is even for good men to restrain it within due bounds; and if we take farther into our reflection that envy, resentment, and almost every other passion may accidentally concur in producing heresies, we must confess that these evils are, humanly speaking, unavoidable. And accordingly the Scriptures prepare us for them, as natural effects of the corrupt passions of mankind (Acts 20:30; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; 2 Peter 2:1).
2. From false teachers and seducers, then, the Church must never hope to be perfectly free in this world. Nor shall we be surprised at their success if we reflect that there will be hearers — light and unstable men with itching ears — strongly inclined to hearken after new discoveries.
II. THE PROVIDENTIAL END ASSIGNED FOR GOD'S PERMISSION OF THESE EVILS — the trial and manifestation of these who are approved (see Deuteronomy 13:1; Luke 21:13). This manifestation may be understood —
1. With respect to ourselves. It is a comfort unspeakable to a good man to find his graces of strength to endure this trial. Unless our constancy has been tried, we know not how far an esteem for the virtues and abilities of any man may prevail on us to desert the faith. If upon experiment we find ourselves equal to the trial, we may then hope well of our integrity, and that we shall "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end."
2. With respect to the Church. Known unto God only are they who are His, by an internal inspection into their hearts. To the Church, however, this character can only appear by outward evidences; and, therefore, professions of faith have been always required, as terms of admission into its society. But these cautions are not always sufficient to reach the heart and discover the sincerity of the man. But he who has stood firm in the day of temptation has given an evidence of his integrity which cannot be suspected; and if to his faith he has added knowledge, and is able to convince gainsayers and defeat the craft of those who lie in wait to deceive, we must distinguish him in our esteem, not only as a sincere member, but as a light and ornament of the Church.
III. THE ADVANTAGES DERIVED TO THE CHURCH FROM THESE MANIFESTATIONS.
1. It is hereby enabled better to exercise its discipline, to separate the sound from the corrupted members of the body.
2. Hereby its enemies are discovered in their proper character.
3. Hereby Church governors are enabled to choose fit persons to serve in the sacred office.
4. By occasions of inquiry into heresy, the doctrines of the Church become more attentively considered and more firmly established. To the early heresies we owe many of the writings of the primitive fathers, and several parts of the Scriptures themselves.
5. By the appearance of these dangers, pastors are quickened to a more diligent attendance on the duties of their station, and at the same time carefully to examine their own lives, and, by an unblamable conduct, to keep up the dignity and influence of their ministry, that the enemy may have no occasion to blaspheme.Conclusion:
1. It may hence appear with how little reason Rome reproaches us with those schisms and heresies which God has permitted to vex our Church, and to use them as an argument of our rejection by Christ. It may as reasonably be objected that it is composed of men, and has enemies. And least of all can this objection become those who are well known to have been the authors of these evils to us.
2. If, as the apostle affirms, the providential end of these heresies is that they who are approved by God may be made manifest, then it follows —
(1) That they who under these trials persist in the faith and communion of the Church are thereby manifested to be approved by God.
(2) That they who introduce heresies into the Church, or follow those who introduce them, are thereby manifested to be disapproved by God; and therefore that the Church may, and ought, to treat them in its discipline as sufficiently discovered under that character.
(J. Rogers, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.