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.…
1. It is important to put the local church in its right Christian setting. The single congregation is a unit in the great multiple of communions which constitute the Church of God.
2. It is necessary that the kingdom of God should be localised in separate churches. The strong emotions gather around definite objects. Men in battle look to their regimental colours for their rallying-point; yet those colours would be nothing of themselves, did they not belong to and represent the country. To follow the colours of a particular church for its own sake might prove to be treason to the Church of God.
I. THE CHURCH OF GOD IS A UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION FOR MAN.
1. If we listen to the gospel which Jesus preached we cannot fail to hear ringing in it this clear note of universality. It was not a gospel of individual election, nor of personal salvation simply, but the gospel of the Kingdom of a redeemed society organised in righteousness, and vital with the spirit of love.
2. His daily life was marked by the sign of universality. And so it was a constant surprise to His disciples. It was a larger humanity than Jerusalem could understand. Recall, e.g., that scene at which the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked, when Jesus sat at meat with publicans and sinners; and that scene at Jacob's well at which even the good disciples were surprised. He healed the impotent man, and restored the sight of the blind on the Sabbath day, and proclaimed that even an institution so sacred to God from the completion of the creation was made for man.
3. This note pervades also and harmonises all His doctrines. No teacher had ever used the universal adjectives in speaking to men. We cannot take "all," "any," "whosoever," etc. out of the speech of Jesus without taking all the music from it.
4. The Person also of Jesus is distinguished from all others by this. He has named Himself in His human place in history, "the Son of Man." When the disciples began to realise who and what manner of man the Son of man was, the other confession followed of itself, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And upon the man who confessed that whole truth Christ said the Church should be built.
5. The Church, therefore, whose promise was given in that moment should be characterised by the same note of universality. It is not to be a chosen school of disciples around their Teacher; it is not to be a national church — another temple in Jerusalem.
II. THREE DAYS OF THE SON OF MAN, AT LEAST, IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY HAVE PRECEDED OUR DAY.
1. The apostolic age, that day of glorious beginnings of Christianity. It was necessarily, however, an era of but partial applications of Christ's words to the life of the people. The apostles were called to liberate and set in motion the Christian ideas, but not to apply them universally to their world and its customs.
2. The age of the power of external law, and the era of the outward unity of the Church. The Roman age witnessed an external universality of the Church; but its method was the way of Caesar rather than the way of the Son of man.
3. A return from Roman Catholic supremacy to the authority of the Son of man followed next, in the Divine order of history, through the Reformation.
III. AND NOW WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP FORWARD?
1. What are the chief questions of life now the world over? How not only in this city, or this country, but how in the whole world shall men live together? All labour troubles, or wasteful competitions, or hurtful combinations, are symptoms and signs of this vital problem of society. No nation can live for itself alone. The fates of the modern nations are bound together. There is nothing so foreign that it may not become domestic to any country. The destiny of this world, it is increasingly evident, is to be one destiny.
2. To the Church of God providence is bringing home this one social question. How then are the churches to answer it?
(1) Not in the way of Rome. The Son of man will not be enthroned as Caesar. There is no way of legislation to the millennium.
(2) Neither shall the old man of Protestantism, shrunken in muscle, its separate members scarce hanging together, and living on the income of its capital laid up in other days, be the new man of the coming day.
(3) Verily, the days are coming — are they not now at hand? — when the Son of man will open His mouth, and bless the multitudes in our churches, and in the power of His Spirit our Christianity shall become as never before the Church of God for the world. The churches are becoming more deeply conscious that they exist not for themselves; but for some Divine blessing for all men. The Church belongs to you, whether you will belong to it or not. The Church is for the world, whether the world now be for or against it.
IV. TWO CONSEQUENCES OF GREAT MOMENT FOLLOW.
1. That we who belong to particular communions should be careful in our administration of them not to interfere with the Divine rights of any man in the Church of God. We must look carefully to it lest we exclude some souls from our churchly participation in the kingdom of God. All disciples have Divine rights to any table of communion which is spread in the name of Christ. The Divine rights of the world to the Church, and in the Church, impose upon us the present and urgent missionary obligation.
2. That men who are already in the Church have right to stay there, and to work out honestly and patiently within the Church any questions which may trouble them. The disciples of old were constantly going back to the Son of man with some new question, or from some fresh perplexity. Still, the Son of man dwells among the questionings of men. And there is no better place than within the communion of the Church for you to meet the questions of your lives. Thomas of old kept in the Church, although he doubted. And so Thomas, the honest sceptic, became an honest apostle. Conclusion: It follows from this truth that every man to whom the Church is presented has some corresponding obligation towards it. The world is redeemed in Christ, and it is a sin and a shame to live in it as though it were not redeemed. There is a Church of God forming, growing, having a glorious world-task committed to it; and it is ignoble not to have part in it and its work.
(N. Smyth, 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.