Litigation before heathen courts forbidden.
Nor thieves, etc. (see Revelation 22:15 ).
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." Reformation of some kind or other is an object most earnestly pursued by all in every land who are alive to the woes and wrongs of life. Some of the reformations sought are of a questionable utility; none will prove of any essential and permanent service but that presented in the text. The reformation is—
I. A REFORMATION OF THE MORAL CHARACTER OF MANKIND . "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind," etc. Sin, which may be defined as self gratification, is here presented in a variety of forms—"fornication," idolatry, avarice, intemperance, etc. All these manifestations are hideous developments of the same ungodly principle, self gratification. The principle of sin, like holiness, is one and simple, but the forms are multifarious. Now, these morally corrupt classes we are here told were changed; they were "washed," and "sanctified," and "justified," which, stripped of figure, means, they were changed in the very root and fountain of their character. They were, to use Scripture phraseology, converted, regenerated, created anew in Christ Jesus to good works. The reformation was not doctrinal, ecclesiastical, or institutional, but moral.
II. A REFORMATION INDISPENSABLE TO A HAPPY DESTINY . What is the only happy destiny for man? To "inherit the kingdom of God." What is the "kingdom of God"? Righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost. It is the reign of truth, purity, light, harmony, and blessedness. To "inherit" that empire, to be in it, not as occasional visitors, but as permanent citizens, holding fellowship with its Sovereign, and mingling with the great and the good of all worlds,—this is our high destiny. For this we were made, and for nothing lower. Hence Christ urges us to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," which means come under the Divine reign of truth and right. Now, there is no getting into this kingdom without this moral reformation. All who have not undergone this reformation are excluded.
III. A REFORMATION EFFECTED BY THE REDEMPTIVE AGENCY OF CHRIST . "And such were some of you: but ye are [were] washed, but ye are [were] sanctified, but ye are [were] justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." This means that they had been cleansed from all moral foulness, "washed;" that they had been consecrated to holiness, "sanctified;" that they had been made right in their being and relationships, "justified." And all this, how? "In the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." This is the reformative measure, the gospel; nothing on this earth will effect this moral change but this. Not the enactments of legislations, not the creations of genius, not scientific systems. I disparage none of these, but they cannot effect this reformation of soul, the reformation which humanity wants, a reformation without which all other reformations are but reformations on parchment, a change in mere outward forms of life. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
Civil relations and Church membership; litigation before heathen courts.
The chapter opens abruptly. "Dare any of you"—a strong expression of disapproval—"having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust?" Judaism had taught the Jews not to go before Gentile judges with a lawsuit against their brethren; the Romans had accorded to the Jews the right to settle their disputes among themselves, and Christians at that time might avail themselves of this rule (Lunge). But St. Paul, true to his ruling method, views the matter from Christian ground and treats it solely on the principles of the gospel. The argument in the preceding chapter concerned social relations, the present argument applies to civil relations, and yet they are sympathetic in his mind. Emotion is an associative force, and often establishes or rather discloses connections of ideas not perceptible in the "dry light" of intellect. In both these arguments the underlying sentiment is the same, viz. the dignity of Christian character and the supremacy of its obligations over interest, custom, usage, and every form of self not compatible with the generous spirit of sacrifice "for Christ's sake." Bear in mind, then, in reading St. Paul's Epistles, that if at times you lose the compactness of logic and its tenacious unity, you are always sure to find that more interior tie which binds thought to sentiment and displaces order for the gain of a higher method. Method, rather than order, marks the thinker whose vocation is to instruct the mass of mankind. Saints, as saints exist in the ideal of Christianity, "shall judge the world." They are to rule with Christ, to share his glory, and be acknowledged by the universe as participants in the final triumph of his mediatorial authority. If so, the mediatorial honour in future prospect has a certain scope of present activity, since it could not be then unless it were now. Of the character of these functions and the circumstances incident to their display, what know we? They fall under that law of reserve which the Lord Jesus spoke of when he said, "Of the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power," we are kept ignorant, and are the better for the ignorance. Details of great facts may intensify the intellect of sense, and work damage to the higher mind. If Christ was the Son of man, and as such filled the sphere of humanity, while admitting as such the limitation of his knowledge in one direction, viz. "of that day and hour knoweth no man," surely we need not perplex ourselves as to specific theories bearing on this subject. Christianity lays the stress on intelligence rather than on information, and, in fact, assures us that restraint is essential in our condition to equable development. St. Paul argues from the future to the present; thus, "shall judge the world,… shall judge angels;" and the conclusion is emphasized,—"how much more things that pertain to this life!" On this ground of the spiritual superiority of the saints in Christ, he claims that the judgment of believers may now be most advantageously exercised. It is a training in the school of Christ, and the discipline, while varied, is adapted to the highest good. Does St. Paul mean to put earthly tribunals under the ban? By no means. Again and again he sought their protection against Jews and Gentiles, and, if Roman law had not befriended him, his apostleship as men reason would have had a speedy termination. Who was more explicit and earnest than he in urging the doctrine that human government was a Divine ordinance, and as such to be obeyed and honoured? And who among statesmen and philosophers ever saw as deeply into the nature and functions of sovereignty as an essential element of the idea of man in the scheme of the universe? In law, in its administration of justice, in its protection of persons and property, in its power to verify and conserve the multitudinous interests of society, he recognized the right arm of Providence. The sense of providence must be social no less than individual, must transcend geographical bounds, and embrace the human family as a family of "one blood," or it failed of its office. So, then, he has no issue with law and its adjudications as such. But the uses of the law by Christians; the common and facile resort to it in order to gratify covetousness, pride, ambition, revenge, and any and every form of selfishness;—that is the grave matter before his mind. "There is utterly a fault among you," a weakness, a repudiation of noble sentiment, a departure from the idea of the true self in Christ, "because ye go to law one with another" before unbelievers; brother arrayed against brother; and this exposure of a mutilated unity, with its accompanying evils, made in the presence of men whose criticisms would be only too eager to detect and magnify your imperfections. This is one aspect of the matter. But you gain your rights. Ay, and rights may be purchased too dearly. Go to law and get your rights; and then, as you retire from the seat of judgment, think of what you leave behind you—what losses of sentiment, trust in others, hope of humanity, brotherliness of heart, perchance even integrity and honour. Right and rights, how often they part company, and the one is the burlesque, the shame, the bitter contempt of the other! "Rather take wrong;" it is altogether a manlier thing, if done for Christ's sake. Lord Erskine, when at the bar, once said to Dr. Parr, "Accommodate the difference amicably.… I can scarcely figure to myself a situation in which a lawsuit is not, if possible, to be avoided." This is another aspect of the matter. Alas! there is an aspect yet sadder. Law is used as a means to inflict a wrong. "Ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren." What gigantic wrongs have been perpetrated under the name of law, we all know; but who can tell how far this spirit, which uses justice to accomplish injustice, has gone forth into all the relationships of men, and vitiated life among the sacred retreats of home and the Church? The depravity of man's lower nature is fearful, not because it is cruel and brutal, but because it is continually reinforced and invigorated by the depravity of his higher nature. What is true of the individual in this respect is true also of society. History and our own observation warrant the statement that the grossest perverters of law and justice have been found among those who were wealthy, or in high office, or otherwise influential. Their example, in very many instances, has worked downward, just as certain poisonous gases, too heavy to ascend, have infected the air on a level with us. Then follows a question containing its own answer: "Know ye not that the unjust shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" His impassioned formula, "Be not deceived," introduces a catalogue of immoralities that shut out men from God's kingdom, in which we have a startling revelation, common with St. Paul, of bodily sins. Such were some of you. But how different now! —washed, sanctified, justified, in the Name of Christ, and by the Spirit. Would they fall back into their heathenish practices? Within the compass of a few verses, St. Paul gives us principles that permeate civil society no less than religious. If carried out, we should have much less law and much more equity, and both law and equity would be immense gainers by the change. The tendency of the argument is the thing to notice. That tendency is to give men a true spiritual conception of themselves, and to develop their thought of self in accordance with God's thought of them. The sense of public justice may compel us to resort to law, but this will not conflict with St. Paul's idea. 'On the other hand, any abuse of an institution, whether governmental or domestic, whether ecclesiastical or earthly, is an abuse of manhood, and on this truth he expends the force of his reasoning. In these verses, as in the previous chapters, arguing, denouncing, exhorting, pleading,—it is the voice of a grand doctrine and a lofty trust and a sublime hope that we hear. And we hear it in the midst of strife and turbulence, out of the depths of a heart most sorrowful and yet "always rejoicing," and able to command itself and its faculties and resources whenever and wherever needed.—L.
Our inheritance in peril
I. WHAT OUR INHERITANCE IS . "The kingdom of God:" present, but chiefly future. Of which Peter speaks ( 2 Peter 3:13 ), "We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Heaven, and the heavenly life, and the heavenly joys; the "rest that remaineth for the people of God;" the nightless, sinless, curseless, painless land; the "many mansions" of the Father's house; the eternal home, where we "shall see his face." This inheritance is in a certain sense the inheritance of all, since Christ died for the sins of the world. The gospel invitation is addressed to all. We disinherit ourselves.
II. SINS WHICH HINDER US FROM INHERITING THE KINGDOM OF GOD .
1. Sins of sensuality. Brutal lusts; unholy indulgence. Amongst the ancients (and also amongst the moderns too) vices existed which must not be so much as named amongst the decent and pure.
2. Idolatry. If we serve false gods, how can we expect a reward from the true God? Some have keen eyes for injuries done to men; idolatry is a preeminent sin against God. And we may be thorough idolaters whilst we are professed Christians. What is that which occupies the throne of our heart and of our life? Is it an idol or is it God?
3. Theft, covetousness, extortion. These may be grouped together. They do not seem so heinous as the foregoing, but they are associated with them—and through them, equally with the others, may the inheritance be lost. Such sin shows that our heart is not right either towards man or God. And the three are much upon a par. Yet many a man would be horrified at the thought of being a thief who is not at all horrified at being undoubtedly covetous and extortionate. How names betray us! Why, what is covetousness but theft in the bud? And extortion is theft—unmitigated theft—in the blossom! Many a man steals mentally, and is as guilty as if he stole actually; for nothing but the restraints of society and the dock keep his hands still. And he passes for an honest man! Many a theft is committed in a court of justice before the very eyes of judge and jury, and sometimes with the assistance of a bewigged counsel; for example, when a man is striving to get more than his due.
4. Drunkenness. This curse of our land—what men lose by it! Health, respect, friends, position, home, wealth—and the kingdom of God.
5. Foul language. Reviling, railing, sins of the tongue. Foul lips which speak of a foul heart, for the sweet fountain sends not forth bitter waters. Sins such as these entail the forfeiture of the great inheritance. Plainly are we here taught that a nominal faith can never save us. All the profession in the world cannot carry us an inch towards the promised land. It is the old pagan notion that religion consists in outward observances and not in heart and life.
III. THESE HINDRANCES MAY BE REMOVED . Here is consolation for great sinners—and who are small ones? When a man is deeply convinced of sin he is often tempted to despair. Can I, the unclean, the immoral, the foul mouthed, the foul hearted, enter into the kingdom of ineffable holiness? It seems impossible. But after detailing some of the vilest acts of which humanity can be guilty, the apostle turns upon the Corinthians and says, "And such were some of you." Of greatest sinners God has sometimes made greatest saints. If the heart be contrite, there is no cause for the abandonment of hope. The barriers which are insuperable to man can be cast down by the might of God. In our sin we need look to God, for none besides can aid us. Our sickness is beyond all skill save that of the great Physician.
IV. THE MANNER OF REMOVAL . The apostle speaks of "washing"—the great need of the defiled—and then directs attention to its twofold character. That the impure may enter into the all pure kingdom of God, two things are necessary.
1. Justification— which we receive through Christ ( 1 Corinthians 6:11 ). He took our place; he bore our sins; he made atonement for us. Our sins are imputed to him; his righteousness is imputed to us. Through him God can be just and yet the Justifier of the ungodly. "With his stripes we are healed; The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" ( 1 John 1:7 ); he is able to save "to the uttermost;" "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" ( Isaiah 1:18 ).
2. Sanctification —which we receive through the operation of "the Spirit of our God" ( 1 Corinthians 6:11 ), the Holy Ghost. Justification is that which is done for us; sanctification is that which is done in us. Yet one is not without the other. By the Divine Spirit we become "born again," "born of the Spirit," made pure inwardly; our affections purged, our desires corrected, our spiritual being controlled and purified (see John 3:3 ).
V. A CAUTION IMPLIED . "And such were some of you." Are ye becoming so again? We need beware of "going back" to those things which once barred our access to the kingdom of God, and which will do so again if indulged in. Our great inheritance may be lost after all! It will be, unless we "endure to the end." How earnest anxious, prayerful, watchful should we be lest we "come short"! There is One who is "able to keep us from falling" ( Jude 1:24 ). "Cleave unto the Lord your God" ( Joshua 23:8 ).—H.
Before and after: two pictures.
The apostle reminds them that wrong doing of every kind excludes from the kingdom of God, and that consequently their quarrels and litigation are bringing them into danger. They are forgetting the meaning of their conversion.
I. OUR ORIGINAL CONDITION . Though this dark picture is meant to represent sinners at Corinth, its general features are universally applicable.
1. Sin is various, yet one. The branches are many, but they grow out of the same root. "For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders," etc. ( Matthew 15:19 ). They are all "works of the flesh" ( Galatians 5:19-21 ), conceived in the heart and brought forth in the life. Some are sins directly against God; some against our neighbour's person, estate, good name; some against ourselves. Let us not excuse ourselves by looking on another's sin, and thanking God we are free from that. In some other form it besets us, and "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all" ( James 2:10 , James 2:11 ). How awful a thing is sin! Let it work its way, and it will utterly corrupt soul and body, the family and society. Every man has in him by nature the seed whence these fruits of Sodom grow.
2. The practice of sin excludes from the kingdom of God. Between such sins and the kingdom there is an absolute contradiction. The kingdom is righteousness ( Romans 14:17 ), and these are forms of unrighteousness. Religion and morality, faith and works, creed and conduct, go together. "Regenerate thieves! regenerate libertines! regenerate extortioners! There is a horrible contradiction in the very thought" (F. W. Robertson). Let us guard against deception here. No amount of outward observance can atone for an immoral life. "Without are the dogs" ( Revelation 22:15 ).
II. OUR CHANGED CONDITION , At conversion all this is changed. We become new creatures, the old things passing away ( 2 Corinthians 5:17 ). Three aspects of this change are mentioned.
1. Washing. Sin is pollution, and from this we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus ( 1 John 1:7 ), "Through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" ( Titus 3:5 ). This is set forth in baptism, and it was a prominent idea in the Old Testament ritual ( Exodus 40:30-32 ; Psalms 51:7 ).
2. Sanctification. Devoted to sin once, we arc now consecrated to God. We are separated from the world and devoted to the service of Christ.
3. Justification. The guilt of sin is removed, and we are accepted as righteous in Christ on the ground of what he has done for us. And this many sided blessing of salvation is procured for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and applied to us by the Spirit of our God.
Compare these two pictures and:
1. Ask which of them represents you. Have you been washed, sanctified, justified? Is there a "but" in your spiritual history, dividing the new from the old?
2. Learn your indebtedness to saving grace, and be humble and grateful.
3. Have done with sin in every form. It is a return to the condition from which you have been delivered. "Put off the old man with his doings."—B.