The rights and the self denial of an apostle.
Exhortation to earnestness as a corollary from the principles here stated.
That striveth for the mastery; rather, that strives to win in a contest. St. Paul never allows his converts to dream of the indefectibility of grace, and so to slide into antinomian security. He often reminds them of the extreme severity and continuousness of the contest ( Ephesians 6:12 , 1 Timothy 6:12 ). Is temperate in all things. One good moral result which sprang from the ancient system of athleticism was the self denial and self mastery which it required. The candidate for a prize had to be pure, sober, and enduring, to obey orders, to eat sparely and simply and to bear effort and fatigue (Epict., 'Enchir.,' 35) for ten months before the contest. A corruptible crown. A fading garland of Isthmian pine, or Nemean parsley, or Pythian olive, or Olympian bay. An incorruptible; "unwithering" ( 1 Peter 2:4 ); "amaranthine" ( 1 Peter 5:4 ); "a crown of righteousness" ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ); "a crown of life" ( James 1:12 ; Revelation 2:10 ; comp. also 2 Timothy 2:5 ; Revelation 3:11 ).
The Christian race.
"Know ye not that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air." The Christian life is a race, and we are exhorted to run that the prize may be obtained. "So run." How?
I. Run in the PRESCRIBED COURSE . The course is marked out and measured. The starting place is at the foot of the cross, and the goal is planted in the grave.
II. Run WITHOUT INCUMBRANCE . "Lay aside every weight," all worldly cares, and inordinate sympathetic embarrassing prejudices, and fettering habits.
III. Run WITH ALL POSSIBLE CELERITY . Shake off sloth and languor, stretch every muscle and limb, throw the whole force of your being into the effort.
IV. Run WITH UNTIRING PERSISTENCY . Pause not, nor loiter a moment until the end is obtained. "So run, that ye may obtain."
Self denial urged in view of the heavenly crown.
Power is no self guiding instinct in itself. To be true power, it must be directed by something higher than its own nature. A vast fund of power is laid up within us, and of it two things may be said, viz. the amount of power abstractly considered is far greater than we can use; and, again, our available power must be held under check. As to the former, capacity in every man exceeds ability, and much of our education consists in converting capacity into actual ability. And this latency of power serves another purpose, inasmuch as it is a reserved fund held for an emergency. At times, sudden calls are made on our energies, drafts at sight, which demand extraordinary effort. Feats of physical strength are then performed which are amazing. The same is true of the mind; we witness its faculties, under some tremendous pressure, yielding a wisdom, a patience, a persistency, that surpass all expectation. On the other hand, our available power that can be brought any moment into play must be restrained, or injury results. The harm is manifold. It is pernicious to others. Power antagonizes the power of our fellow men much oftener than it conciliates, and, acting as a repellent instead of an attractive force it destroys unity, which is the great end of all existence, Nor is it less hurtful to the man himself, for, in pushing his power to extremes, he exhausts the very ability concerned in using the power. An undue use of power, therefore, overtaxes others and ourselves. And, accordingly, St. Paul takes both these facts into consideration, advancing from self denial for the sake of others to self denial for his own good, and in this way perfecting the argument. Was he not a philosopher of profound insight in this method of mental procedure? Dismiss, for an instant, the view of him as a Christian apostle, and look at him as an ethical thinker. To induce men to practise the self denial of power, he marshals all the social and sympathetic virtues to its aid; brings pity and compassion as humane instincts to its service, enlists the imagination and its sensibilities as a higher form of emotional energy, and crowns the ascending series of influences by conscience and moral affection in behalf of our fellow men. This is the first training of self denial. Thence it proceeds to its other task. It gathers up its strength and resources, and turns them to its self culture. Was this the method of Stoicism? Was not the method of Stoicism the precise opposite of this? If Seneca had observed this law of culture, would not his exile have presented a very different spectacle? If Marcus Aurelius had trained himself to discern the image of humanity in others, instead of looking into the mirror of Stoicism to see his own image, could he have been guilty, a man of such beautiful and noble virtues, of persecuting Christianity? Return to St. Paul as a Christian apostle. The true philosopher is here, but not complacently studying his own image in the glass that Stoicism held up before its disciples. What he first sees is the Christ of humanity in others, who, in a religious sense, are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. And there is an expression of pain on the brow, and of the sorrow of the heart in his fixed eye, as he realizes that these men are not fully conscious of their relationship to Christ, and therefore very imperfect in their appreciation of others and themselves. But he comprehends them in Christ, and he can bear their infirmities since his love is no mere aesthetic sentiment. Now, then, he can show the extent of that self denial required to attain the reward of the gospel. Of course, this must be done by figurative language, images being the perfection of language and most necessary when spiritual things are to be made clear. Naturally enough, the Grecian games occurred to him; and as the pomp and splendour of these national shows passed before him, was it the gathered multitude, the high enthusiasm, the thrilling suspense, the heart of Achaia throbbing with pride and exultation, that enlisted his interest? What a sense it was to the senses, and even more than to the senses, as Greeks interpreted its meanings! The very landscape lent a charm to the contests, and conspired with the Corinthian citadel, the sloping hills, the marble seats, and the eager crowds, to perpetuate the historic memories of a vanished Greece. Even here, degenerate as the age was, moral elements were at work. A better past had not left itself without a witness in the present. Recollections of ancestry, traditions of virtue and heroism, honourable emulation, an energetic will, hard and continuous discipline for ten months, were associated with the occasion. But St. Paul's mind was engrossed by the symbolism of the Isthmian games. The metaphor of the racecourse attracts his attention. The preparatory training, the diet, the willing temperance and moderation, the regimen of the athlete, and the studious care to observe the conditions of success, furnish a forcible illustration of what was essential to those who would run the Christian race and win an immortal crown. Between the two there is a resemblance. Between the two there is a vast dissimilarity. "They do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.'' Once more, St. Paul introduces himself; he is an earnest athlete bent on victory; all his energies are in training and have long been in training; and, changing the figure at this point, the boxer is mentioned: "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air"—not as one who wastes strength in random strokes, but one whose blows are delivered with skill and an achieving purpose. And now, just as one who has toiled up to some mountain summit brings back to the plain a finer light of beauty in his eye and a larger play of strength in the muscle of the heart, so St. Paul returns from the figurative to the literal with his thought enhanced in vigour. "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection"—"buffet the body," "beat it," and "bring it into bondage." What! is the body a contestant against us? Is it an adversary to be bruised and beaten, made to know its place? So indeed St. Paul argues in respect to his own body, and the fact in his case is the fact in all cases. Ideally, the body is the soul's helper, furnishing the soul with very many true and lofty ideas, giving it much it could never have if disembodied or in an organization less sensuous, and securing it a grandeur of development not possible otherwise. Practically, the body is so sensitive to itself, so in love with its own enjoyments, so enslaved to its lusts and appetites, that it must be kept under and brought into subjection. The law is very plain. It has to be obeyed in some measure by. every one. If the epicure is nothing but an epicure and always an epicure, nature is soon in violent revolt. To be an epicure, he must have some prudence in his indulgence, and order times and seasons into the service of his pleasures. To be students, poets, artists, philosophers, ay, to be mechanics, tradesmen, farmers, we must put the body under by asserting, in a certain degree, the inherent superiority of the mind. For the most part, however, there are reactions, fearful in some, hazardous to all. Suppose, now, that the gross forms of sensuality or even the fascinating forms of sensuousness, are held under mastery. What then? Is the Divine ideal of the body realized? Nay; the body may be made a most efficient and admirable servant to the business man, to the student, to the artist, to the philosopher, and may answer all the earthly and social ends of the intellect and the natural affections, and yet be an undeveloped human body. Only in conforming to spiritual relations, only in sharing Christ's humanity, can it be developed. Faith, hope, love, Christian principles, Christian sentiments, Christian impulses, are just as requisite to form and shape the material body to the companionship of the redeemed spirit, as food, air, sleep, are necessary for its physical existence. The argument of St. Paul implies all this, nor could it imply less and be congruous with his purpose and aim. And, therefore, when he says, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection," he means to say," I am not making my body less a part of the universe, but more a part thereof, and I am lifting this lower nature towards the higher, and developing my body in the direction of the nature and functions of the resurrection body."—L.
The Christian race.
Nothing could be more natural, more effective, than an allusion of this kind, occurring as it does in a letter to residents at Corinth. The Isthmian games, celebrated in the neighbourhood of their own city, were to the inhabitants of this famous place a matter of the greatest concern and interest. The gathering of representatives from all parts of Greece to witness the athletic contests which took place in the stadium of the isthmus, gave dignity and solemnity to the occasion. And the honours accorded to the victors were so highly coveted that there could have been but few of the ambitious young men of Achaia, indeed, of the whole of Hellas, who were not fired with a desire to distinguish themselves in these contests. No wonder that Paul should stimulate his own zeal and that of his Christian friends and disciples by reminding himself and them of the efforts and the sacrifices which were willingly undertaken for the sake of a perishable crown.
I. THE COURSE . The marble stadium of the isthmus serves as a picture to us of the course to which Christians are summoned. The Christian course is one of faith and obedience, of love and patience, of devotion to God and benevolence toward men.
II. THE SPECTATORS . It was the presence of the illustrious from every part of Greece which gave such peculiar dignity to the Olympian and the Isthmian games. In the Christian race, they who run are encompassed by a "great cloud of witnesses" the Church militant and triumphant, the glorious angels, and the Divine Lord himself looking on with the deepest interest, and perhaps justifiable anxiety.
III. THE COMBATANTS . We are not to restrict these to apostles, to preachers, to public labourers for Christ. Every disciple is a spiritual athlete, is called upon to run the race, to maintain the struggle, No room in the course for the indolent and inactive.
IV. THE DISCIPLINE AND PREPARATION . It is well known that for many months the athletes who aspired to the victor's wreath were obliged to undergo severe discipline, under the guidance and care of a skilful trainer, who required them to deny themselves many pleasures, to endure much fatigue, hardship, and suffering. Paul reminds us of the necessity of being temperate in all things, of bringing under the body—buffeting it with many blows. The Christian life is not one of ease and self indulgence; it is one of strenuous effort and self denial. They who strive for masteries must strive lawfully, must accept and obey the Divine conditions of the course.
V. THE EFFORT . The "one" combatant who received the prize did so as the result of great effort, strenuous and persevering. For neither apathy nor weariness were compatible with success. "So run," says the apostle, meaning that we are to imitate, not those who fail, but him who succeeds and conquers. What need, in living unto Christ, is there of diligence, of watchfulness, and above all of endurance!
VI. THE PRIZE . At the isthmus this was a chaplet of pine leaves, which soon faded. Yet its possession was coveted, and was counted a reward for the training and the toil. How much more should the Christian be animated by the prospect of an eternal inheritance and an amaranthine crown!—T.
"An incorruptible crown."
There was an ardour of temperament, a resoluteness of purpose, in the constitution and moral life of Paul, which made the imagery of this passage peculiarly congenial to his soul. He was fired with a sacred ambition, and he sought to inspire his hearers and readers with something of his own enthusiasm. His glowing imagination could realize something of the glory gained by the successful athlete who was welcomed with honour in his native state, whose statue was shaped in marble by some illustrious sculptor, and whose praise was embalmed in verse deathless as that of Pindar. How much more must he, with his cleared moral perceptions, his elevated spiritual aims, have sympathized with the prospects which inspired all true Christian athletes, who endured an earthly strife and hoped to gain a heavenly diadem!
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.
Paul compares the Christian life to a foot race and to a boxing contest. These were familiar to the Corinthians, being conspicuous features of the celebrated Isthmian games. A wise teacher speaks through things known of things unknown. Christ spoke in parables. Passing events may be made the vehicles of abiding truths. The secular may often illustrate the sacred. There is no loss of dignity or impropriety in such modes of instruction. Some people are shocked by references to everyday life; but such people ought to be shocked. Homely garb sometimes wins the readier admittance. Note some points of resemblance.
I. CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A PASSAGE — FROM SIN TO HOLINESS , FROM EARTH TO HEAVEN . It is a daily movement. We need beware of stumbling blocks, of straying from the right course, of indulgence which may hinder, of violation of laws, of loitering, since the time is short.
II. CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A CONTEST WITH ENEMIES . The "race" does not fully illustrate it. We have opponents, many and resolute. We have a trinity against us as well as for us—the world, the flesh, and the devil. We have not only to "run," but to "fight."
III. FOR SUCCESS ARE NEEDED :
1. Preparation. For athletic contests how much "training" has to be undergone, often very painful and wearying! Our preparation for Christian life is arduous and long, but it does not commence before we enter upon Christian life, but as we enter, and continues until the close. We "train" as we ran and as we fight.
2. Earnestness. No indifferent competitor was likely to win in ancient races or boxing contests. Indifference kills Christian lift,. The half hearted go not far from the starting point. Many have only enough earnestness to "enter" for the race and fight; as soon as they have "entered," they think all is done.
3. Striving. To be amongst the runners is not enough; we must exert our powers; we must call into activity all our energies. We must not be as those who "beat the air," but as those who boat their enemies. Christian life is real, with issues of infinite importance. It is not for exhibition of skill, but for stern work. "Strive [agonize] to enter in at the strait gate." Paul would have each Christian to be as the winner, who "spent himself" in snatching the victory ( 1 Corinthians 9:24 ). We do not hinder others from attaining, and for this we may be not a little thankful; but we each need to use the utmost effort.
4. Patience. Christian life is not soon over. At first we may do well, but when difficulties arise we shall be tested. Some who run fastest at first run slowest at last. Our all wise Master spoke of "enduring to the end."
5. Watchfulness. Lest we trip. Lest our enemy gets an advantage. The great Preacher's text was often "Watch!"
6. Resolution. If we are to endure to the end, we shall need stern resolve. Fixedness of purpose is an essential for Christian life. We should determine in God's strength to go on, whatever may lie in our path: to fight on, no matter what enemies confront us. Christian life demands courage and fortitude; we must not be too easily frightened.
7. Concentration. "This one thing I do." The "whole man" must be given to religion. Some professors are "called off" from the race, and lose it. They lower their guard, for their hands must be about earthly things, and then their enemy overthrows them.
8. Continuity. This tries many. If religion were spasmodic, they could be religious. There are many "now and then" Christians. People like to be pious at intervals.
9. Mortification of the flesh. Ancient athletes knew, as their modern brethren do, what this means. The victor was "temperate in all things." A pampered body meant disappointment, disgrace, loss. Paul said, "I keep under [I buffet, I bruise] my body." Our lower nature must be dealt severely with. Indulgence is disaster; we must practise self control, self denial, sob sacrifice.
10. Confidence, but not excess of confidence. Confidence that will prompt to exertion, not confidence which kills effort. "Lest... I myself should be a castaway."
IV. SUCCESS MEETS WITH REWARD . Contrast the crowns of earth with the crown of heaven. Many do so much for a corruptible crown, and we so little for an incorruptible one. A garland of leaves and a day's popularity: paradise and life eternal.
V. MANY SPECTATORS WITNESS THE CONTEST . The eyes of the ungodly are upon us. Fellow Christians watch us closely. The angels behold us, and are "ministering spirits" to us. Perhaps victors of the past, perhaps those who have failed in race and fight, watch us. The King sees us—the Judge—he who holds "the crown of righteousness" for those who have "fought a good fight" and "finished the course." "Wherefore seeing," etc. ( Hebrews 12:1 , Hebrews 12:2 ). When we think of the race and fight, we should ponder Philippians 4:13 , "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."—H.
The race for the prize.
The thought introduced in 1 Corinthians 9:23 , that Paul's self denial had a reference to his own salvation as well as the salvation of others, is here carried on and applied generally to all Christians. The imagery is derived from the Isthmian games celebrated in the neighbourhood of Corinth, and therefore well known to his readers. These games occupied a place in the national life of Greece corresponding to that occupied by the great yearly festivals in the life of Israel There is no reference to them in the Gospels, as they were unknown in Palestine, but more than once they are used in the Epistles as a metaphorical representation of the Christian life (comp. Philippians 3:14 ; 2 Timothy 4:7 , 2 Timothy 4:8 ; Hebrews 12:1 ). Consider—
I. THE RACE . The stadium presented an animating spectacle. At this end stand the competing athletes, awaiting the signal to start; at the other end is the judge, holding in his hand the prize; whilst all around, rising tier upon tier, are the seats crowded with spectators. The Christian life is a race for the great prize offered by God to the successful runner. At conversion we take our place in the racecourse and have our names proclaimed by the herald. The leading ideas in the figure are:
1. Progress. "Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on," etc. ( Philippians 3:13 ).
2. Earnestness. The Christian life is one of strenuous effort—every muscle strung, every faculty called into exercise. No place for lukewarmness or indifference here.
3. Concentration. "One thing! do." The runner, with eye on the goal and all else out of view, bends his whole strength to this single effort. Dissipation of energy, the multa rather than the multum , is a source of weakness in spiritual life. "One thing is needful."
4. Endurance. "Let us run with patience" ( Hebrews 12:1 ). To faint or fall is to lose the prize. The cross must be borne to the end. Nothing but "patient continuance in well doing" will conduct us to the goal (comp. James 1:12 ).
II. CONDITIONS OF SUCCESS IN THE RACE . To run well we must run as the successful racer. The end in view must be clear: we must know what we are running for ("not uncertainly"). Here specially emphasize the preparatory condition— self restraint. The athlete under training was required to avoid excess in eating and drinking, and every form of fleshly indulgence. The Christian athlete must practise a like temperance if he would run his course with success. In this point of view the body is the antagonist with which we contend, and which must be buffeted and bruised rather than suffered to gain the mastery over us. How many Christians are hindered in their spiritual course by lack of self restraint! The worship of comfort, the love of luxury, not to speak of such indulgences as are clearly sinful, cause many to lag in the race. An intemperate use of, or affection for, things in themselves good, is a most insidious snare in the path of spiritual advancement. Bodily mortification is not spirituality, but it is often helpful towards its attainment. The Christian runner must lay aside every weight as well as every sin ( Hebrews 12:1 ).
II. THE PRIZE . This consisted of a chaplet of leaves—olive, parsley, pine. In addition, the name of the victor was celebrated in a triumphal ode and a statue was erected to his memory. It was a great honour—one of the greatest in a land where the gymnastic art was so highly appreciated; and even Roman emperors (Nero, e.g. ) did not hesitate to enter the lists. But at best it was, like all earthly honours, corruptible. These crowns would quickly fade, that applause would soon cease. The prize for which the Christian contends is an incorruptible crown. It is the "crown of righteousness" ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ), the "crown of life" ( James 1:12 ; Revelation 2:10 ), the "crown of glory" ( 1 Peter 5:4 ). To have righteousness and life in perfection is our true glory, and this is the very crown of cur being. A crown composed of such materials cannot fade away. All the trees in that country are evergreen. What an object to fill the eye and fire the soul! A proud moment when the successful runner had the chaplet of leaves put on his brow! A grandee moment for the Christian athlete when the pierced hand of Jesus places on his head the crown of glory! And if men endure so much and strive so earnestly for the corruptible, how much more should we endure and strive in order to obtain the incorruptible!
1. The human side of the Christian life is strongly emphasized in the figure of the race; but along with this we must take the other side of the truth. Without the grace of God we cannot run. Mark the striking combination in Philippians 2:12 , Philippians 2:13 .
2. Notice the apostle's self distrust. He is not ashamed to confess that he brings his body into subjection, "lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected." Compare such outbursts of confident assurance as Romans 8:38 , Romans 8:39 , and 2 Timothy 1:12 , and regard the one as the complement of the other. Self diffidence goes hand in hand with genuine assurance. A lesson for all Christians, and especially for all preachers.—B.
Running and fighting.
The crown of eternal life is here set forth as the issue of successful conflict with difficulties and foes. It would seem as if all Divine excellence must needs present itself to our minds as the negation of opposite forms of evil. We cannot think of God but as the "Light" that contends with our darkness, the "Fire" that consumes our corruption. God's Law is but the Divine restraint of our wayward propensities, the Divine rebuke of our trangressions. The Divine life in the soul is an energy that reveals itself in ceaseless struggle with forces that would otherwise destroy it, a perpetual battle with the powers of death. Heaven is victory, the rising up of the soul out of the region of trial and strife and suffering to its true destiny and inheritance in the glorious presence of God. Look at this passage as suggesting certain conditions of success in this spiritual conflict.
I. CONCENTRATION OF THOUGHT ON THE PRIZE AS A MATTER OF INTENSE PERSONAL INTEREST . "All run, but one receiveth," etc. The analogy here instituted is not complete, inasmuch as in the Christian race all who "run with patience" will attain. But it serves to enforce the need of great fixedness of thought and purpose, as if each runner felt that only one could win, and he would be that one. There is nothing narrow, envious, selfish, in this. A great difference ties here between the heavenly and the earthly striving. He must be a man of very elevated spirit who is able to rise entirely above the narrowing influence of secular rivalry. In urging his way to success along the crowded thoroughfares of the world, a man almost inevitably thrusts some one else aside. The gigantic system of commercial competition means this. And it is an important problem of social life to determine how one may claim as he ought that personal inheritance in the world that God has placed within his reach, and yet not fall into the sin of a selfish violation of the rights of others. There is no room, however, for anything of this kind in the spiritual race and warfare. Mutual emulation is mutual profit. The success of each one is to the advantage and the joy of all. Strive to win the heavenly crown as if you alone could wear it, and the more intensely earnest you are in your striving, the more does your example inspire your fellow combatant, the more do you become a fount of healthful influence, a source of enrichment and blessing to all around you.
II. SELF RESTRAINT AND SELF DISCIPLINE . The severe physical discipline to which the athletes subjected themselves was gladly borne for the sake of the "corruptible crown" they sought to win. Not that the perishable wreath of wild olive encircling the victor's brow was in itself the thing he cared for. It was but the symbol of something else. To be conscious of the mastery, to have his name proclaimed by the herald before the assembled multitude as one who had conferred honour and renown on his family, his tribe, his country,—that was his reward. So that the very ephemeral character of the crown made it the more striking witness to the nobility of man's nature, to the truth that he can never find his satisfactions in the region of sense; they belong, after all, to the super sensible, the ideal world. Every form of ambition greater than the apparent object will account for or warrant, is proof of this. The enthusiasm that magnifies its objects beyond their real dimensions, and invests them with a fictitious charm, is always a significant memorial of man's relation to a higher and a better world. At the same time, this striving for the corruptible crown reminds us how vain often are the rewards of earthly ambition, and how the price men pay often for their successes is a very costly one. They surrender that which is far more precious than the thing they gain. They "spend their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfieth not." In "seeking to save their life, they lose it." The law of the heavenly race is the reverse of this. As the unsubstantial, the delusive, the perishable, is relinquished, the soul wins for itself the "inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." You lose the lower life to gain the higher. "Temperate in all things." Let not the word "temperance" have to our minds a limited and exclusive meaning, one which, however important, does not cover the whole field of the Scripture applications. The Christian is called to be temperate alike in all his thoughts, emotions, words, and ways; in his joys and sorrows, his schemes and activities, his personal indulgences and personal mortifications; in his worldly ambitions, and even in the zeal of his religious life. But "the flesh" must needs be the chief occasion for the exercise of this self regulating grace. "I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage." Nothing could be more expressive of that subjugation of our lower nature by which we can alone win the crown of the spirit. Not that there is any essential virtue in mere physical austerities and mortifications.
"Pride may be pampered while the flesh grows lean."
Asceticism is no natural outgrowth of Christianity, but rather of its unnatural alliance with that pagan philosophy which regarded matter and spirit as essentially antagonistic principles. Christ teaches us to honour the body that God's wonder working hand has framed, and that he makes the temple of his Spirit. But then do we most honour the body when we make it most thoroughly the submissive servant of the soul's diviner purposes, confronting it, meeting it full in the face, as it were, with the swift violence of our holy purpose, when it dares to obstruct the spirit in its path to the heavenly crown.
III. THE CONFIDENCE THAT SPRINGS FROM FAITH . "Not as uncertainly, not as beating the air." Vivid realization, unwavering assurance,—this was the secret of Paul's strength. The prize of his high calling stood out clear and luminous to his view. He had no misgivings as to the reality of it. It filled the whole field of his vision with its glory, and the whole energy of his nature was consecrated to its pursuit. We must rise above the chilling, paralyzing mists of doubt, and see the heavenly crown clearly before us, if we would have there to be any real vigour in our spiritual striving. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."—W.
The laws of the Christian race.
The illustration used in these verses is one which St. Paul frequently employs, and we cannot but think that he must have actually seen some of these games, for the impression made by them on his mind is that which comes from personal observation and impression rather than from knowledge through books. There is special force in his allusions to the games in writing to the Corinthians, because the set of games known as the Isthmian were held in the isthmus on which Corinth stood. For details of the games, reference may be made to the exegetical portion of this Commentary, and to the articles in classical and Biblical cyclopaedias. They cannot be precisely compared with anything that we have in modern times, because they were regarded by the Greeks as great national and religious festivals. Dean Stanley, writing of these Isthmian games, says, "This was one of the festivals which exercised so great an influence over the Grecian mind, which were, in fact, to their imaginations what the temple was to the Jews and the triumph to the Romans." St. Paul refers to the game in order to enforce his exhortation to self restraint, and we may find three great practical laws commended by him.
I. THE LAW OF TRAINING . "For thirty days previous to the conflicts the candidates had to attend the exercises of the gymnasium, and only after the fulfilment of these conditions were they allowed, when the time arrived, to contend in the sight of assembled Greece." The training was very severe, conducted upon carefully prescribed rules, and designed to nourish vigorous physical power and precise skill for the kind of contest in which the man was to engage. We are to apply the illustration to moral and religious culture. Observing:
1. How God applies the law of training in the preparation of his servants for their work; as by sending Joseph into bondage; Moses to the Egyptian court and the Horeb desert; David into the wilderness of Judah; our Lord into the scenes of temptation; and St. Paul into Arabia. The providential dealings with men are meant to afford opportunities of training for their life work.
2. How men are required to meet the "law of training" by making personal efforts to secure fitness for the work to which they are called, such training taking the general form of soul culture, and the specific forms of adaptation to work. Anything that is worth our doing is worth our preparing to do well.
II. THE LAW OF TEMPERATENESS . (Verse 25.) We are wont to associate this law only with drinking. It applies to all the passions of the body, indulgences of the appetite, and relationships of the life. The Grecian philosopher says, "Wouldest thou conquer at the games? Thou must be orderly, spare in food, must abstain from confections, exercise at a fixed hour whether in heat or cold, and drink not cold water nor wine." Applied to moral and religious life, the law requires us
III. THE LAW OF SELF MASTERY . (Verse 27.) This reminds us that training means trial, and temperateness means severe and painful dealings with sell. "The Christian career is not merely a race, but a conflict; and a conflict, not only with others, but with one's self. St. Paul had to contend with the fleshly lusts of the body, the love especially of ease, the indisposition to hardship and toil so natural to humanity." The contest of life is between the regenerate will and the enslaved and corrupt body with its inclinations and motions (see Romans 7:1-25 .). St. Paul says that the renewed will must hold the body in subjection and service. But such complete self mastery is the product of long struggle. He who fully gains it has won the moral race, and may receive the "incorruptible crown."—R.T.