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Sermon 15 - Human Characters determined only by Divine decision

By Andrew Lee


      1 Corinthians iv. 3, 4.

      "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment; yea I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord."

      Corinth was one of the principal cities of Greece. Enjoying every advantage of situation, it became rich and populous. Most cities in similar circumstances have become vicious. This became exceedingly so.

      The religion of Corinth was paganism, which naturally led to sundry vices. Bacchus and Venus had there their temples and their votaries; and luxury, the child of affluence, led to vice generally. From such a combination of circumstances, the inhabitants, like the men of Sodom, "were sinners before the Lord exceedingly." It might be justly stiled, like Pergamos, "The place where Satan's seat was."

      Yet God had much people in that city, which continue and labor in it, which he did for more than eighteen months. Nor did he labor in vain. He gathered there a large and flourishing church; which appears to have been enriched with a greater effusion of miraculous gifts, than any other of the primitive churches. The state of Corinth, where God had been unknown, and where superstition had reigned, might render this necessary in order to give success to the gospel. Miracles are adapted to arrest the attention of those who would be deaf to the voice of reason and regardless of proofs drawn from it. But those gifts were abused. They were made the occasion of pride, and of divisions: Which shews that there is nothing in the nature or miraculous gifts, which secures the proper use of them; that they are no evidence of renovation.

      Though the apostle labored to great and happy effect in that city of the Gentiles, after his departure, deceitful workers went among them, and availed themselves of his absence to make divisions, and alienate their affections from him. This seems to have occasioned his writing the epistles addressed to them, which constitutes a valuable part of the sacred volume.

      The calumnies of his enemies, and the effect which they had on the Corinthians, are alluded to in the text; which contains an expression of his feelings on the occasion.

      In discussing the subject, we shall just glance at these matters, and add a brief improvement.

      St. Paul's character, both as a Minister and as a Christian, was impeached by those enemies. They represented him as an unfaithful, or unskillful laborer in the gospel, and as one who was not a subject of divine grace.

      This appears from his statement in the beginning of the context, and from the text. Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful, "'But with me it is a very small thing, that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment, yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: But he that judgeth me is the Lord'."

      The apostle here professeth himself "a minister of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God," and directs the Corinthians to consider him in that light; or as one put in trust with the gospel to teach its mysteries, inculcate its truths, urge its duties, and tender its supports.

      The term 'mystery' is used in Scripture, to express things not discoverable by the light of reason, but knowable by revelation. It is also used to express incomprehensibles; which may be objects of faith on the credit of divine truth. The former is the more common sense of the term in the gospel, particularly in the passage before us, and generally in St. Paul's epistles. "We speak the wisdom of God in a 'mystery'--the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 'But God hath revealed them into us by his Spirit'."

      The gospel plan of salvation was a 'mystery', a hidden 'mystery', till the gospel day. It was hidden from the prophets who foretold it; and from the apostles, till after Christ's sufferings and resurrection. They understood very little of it; knew almost nothing about it till after the ascension, when the comforter was sent down "to teach them all things, and bring all things to their remembrance." To them it was then matter of wonder. They had not been made to understand that Christ was to bear the sins of men--"that he was to suffer and enter into his glory:" And when he did suffer, "they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead."

      Another gospel 'mystery' was the calling of the Gentiles--that salvation was intended for them, and to be offered to them, in Christ, equally as to the natural seed of Jacob. "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you ward; how that by revelation he made known unto me 'the mystery'--which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 'That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ, by the Gospel', whereof I am made a minister." *

      * Ephesian iii. 2-7.

      These were some of the mysteries dispensed by this steward of the mysteries of God; who "shunned not to declare all the counsel of God."

      He declared the deep things, which human reason could not have discovered; and those also which it cannot comprehend. These are to be found in Paul's teachings, as well as the plain things which are easy to be understood.

      But the principal business of this "steward o the mysteries of God," was to open the way of salvation through a Savior, and shew that provision is made in him for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, and offered alike to those of every nation; and to lead men to the knowledge of themselves and the Redeemer, and teach them how they might be benefited by divine grace in him.

      And while he acknowledged the obligations, of fidelity, he declared himself no way greatly affected by the judgment which might be passed upon him by his fellow mortals. 'But with me it is a small thing to be judged of you, or of man's judgment'. An intimation that he was judged and censured by some of them. This was, doubtless, matter of notoriety at Corinth; but he little regarded it. It made no change in him, or in the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office. He was chiefly concerned to obtain the approbation of an higher tribunal that of his divine matter, the------dge of all. The judgment of fellow mortals did not move him--'He that judgeth me is the Lord'.

      Not that he was wholly indifferent to the opinion entertained of him by his fellow men. Had be been so, he would not have undertaken his own defence as in these epistles, A measure of esteem was necessary to his usefulness in the ministry. Had all who heard him thought him the enemy of God, he could have done no good in it. Therefore his endeavor to rectify their mistakes. And the rather because he held the truth as it is in Jesus; so that in rejecting him, and the doctrines which he taught, they turned aside into errors which might fatally mislead them. But he did not wrong his conscience to please them, or depart from truth to gain their approbation--"Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Had Paul been chiefly concerned to please men, he would have continued a Pharisee.

      The person who would please Christ, while paying such deference to the opinions of men as fairly to weigh every objection against his faith or practice, and try them by the divine rule, must be careful to conform to that rule, whatever opinions may be entertained of him. Of the meaning of the rule he must judge for himself before God--"calling no man master." The reasons of his faith and practice, and his construction of the divine rule, he may lay before his fellow men, to remove the grounds of prejudice; but he must rise so far above their frowns a------atteries, as not to be influenced by them to disguise his sentiments, or counteract his own judgment of the law of God, of the gospel of Christ, or of the duties incumbent on him.

      It is not by human judgments that we are to stand or fall. It is happy that this is the case; that the good man hath a judge more just and candid than his fellow servants; one who knows and pities his weakness, though he hath none of his own: "Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man."

      But the apostle did not stop with a declaration that the judgment of others did not move him; he brought it home to himself: 'Yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord'. St. Paul had a witness in himself that he was sincere and upright before God--"Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity, and Godly sincerity, not by fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly toward you."

      The same is the import of his declaration in the text--"'I know nothing by myself'--am conscious of no allowed wickedness--of no willful error, either in profession or practice." But he dared not to assert that he had made no mistakes--'yet am I not hereby justified'. He knew himself liable to error--did not "trust his own heart". 'He that judgeth me is the Lord'--"his judgment is according to truth-- that will determine my character, and fix my doom."

      The apostle could remember a time in which he had conscientiously done wrong. He had persecuted the church; killed Christ's disciples, and thought he was doing right; verily believed that he was doing God service!--Now he acted conscientiously in "preaching the faith he had once destroyed"--in the manner of his preaching it; and discharging every ministerial and Christian duty; though he was censured and calumniated by some, and suspected by others. He followed the light of his own mind, and determined to follow it; so to act as not to be condemned of himself. But he knew that the standard of rectitude did not follow his views, and vary with his judgment. "If his heart did not condemn him, he had confidence toward God; yet he knew God to be greater than his heart," and possessed of all knowledge; dared not therefore affirm that his judge would approve of all which he approved--'Yet am I not hereby justified--he that judgeth me is the Lord'.

      IMPROVEMENT.

      I. We See that censure may be incurred without neglect of duty, When Paul converted to Christianity, he was made an apostle, and ordered of the Redeemer to preach the gospel. He obeyed. He was guided in his work by the spirit of God; yet he was blamed by some, and suspected by others.

      That Christ's faithful servants are slandered and reproached is not a new thing under the sun. It hath been common among men. And herein they are only made like their Lord. And shall they think it strange? "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord. If they call the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household?"

      When opposition and reproaches come from those who profess friendship to Christ they wound the deeper. This however, hath often happened. It happened to the apostle at Corinth, and elsewhere. If we witness that which is similar, we need not be surprized, as though some strange thing had happened.

      II. Are we unjustly censured by our fellow servants, or reproached while in the way of our duty? We have here an example worthy our imitation. St. Paul was chiefly concerned to approve himself to God. We should be so too--should study to acquaint ourselves with the divine rule, and to conform to it; not disobeying God to please men.

      Great care is requisite to know our duty. Enveloped in darkness, and biassed to error, it is often difficult to find out the right way. But we are not left without instruction. A rule is given us by which we may "judge of ourselves, what is right." Of that role we must judge for ourselves, and by it try ourselves. "To our own master we stand or fall." To obtain his approbation should be our chief concern. "If God be with us, who can be against us?"

      III. Knowing ourselves fallible, it becomes us to maintain a jealousy over ourselves, and be constantly on our guard. We should consider, that though we do not sin wilfully, and our own hearts do not condemn us, 'yet we are not hereby justified'. We are conscious that we have often, erred, and made wrong conclusions, when we did not design to leave the right way. We are liable to do the same again. Our eye should therefore be to God for direction and guidance--"That which I know not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more."

      This is the more necessary, because "the light which is in us may have become darkness." For there are those who "put darkness for light and light for darkness." Those with whom this is the case know it not; they flatter themselves and cry peace. "To the pure, all things are pure; but to them that are defiled, and unbelieving, is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." This often happens to those who for a time yield to temptation and go in to the ways of sin; they contract false principles, and judge by them, and probably sometimes live and die under the deceptive influence of their darkening power. None would dare to plead before the bar of Christ, that they were his disciples, "and had eat and drank in his presence," had they not been deceived into false views of duty, and mistaken apprehensions of the conditions of acceptance with him.

      Judging well of ourselves doth not ensure justification at the bar of heaven. Our judgments of ourselves may be erroneous. If they are so, they will be reversed. We shall "be judged out of the books, according to our works;" not according to our false and deceitful views. 'I know nothing by myself, yet, am I not hereby justified. For not he that commandeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth'.

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