We are not overstepping our bounds, as if we had not come to you. Indeed, we were the first to reach you with the gospel of Christ.
pulling down strongholds, and in demonstrating that the weapons were not carnal, but mighty through God. If he had reached Corinth as a place within the boundaries of his province, would he pause there? Was this the outer line of the vast battlefield? He hoped not. There he was only waiting till another territory had been marked out, and he should hear the signal to arise and possess the land. Was he looking across the sea of Adria and wondering when he should visit Rome? And when would that glad opportunity come? But one thing was clear to him just then, and this was that, if the faith of the Corinthians were increased, he would have his own heart enlarged, and be further endowed and qualified for apostolic labour. One moment, a glance at the Judaizers and their presumptuous occupancy of fields delegated of God to him (ver. 15), "not boasting of things without measure, that is, of other men's labours;" the next moment, a thought of new work so soon as the Church at Corinth should recover from its troubles and he should find it safe to leave them. Already his heart was burning to preach the gospel in the regions beyond Corinth, and "not to glory in another's province in regard to things ready to our hand." Observe how often this last idea recurs: ver. 13, "We will not boast of things without our measure;" ver. 14, "We stretch not ourselves beyond our measure;" ver. 15, "Not boasting of things without our measure;" ver. 16, "Not to boast in another man's line of things [see Revised Version, above] made ready to our hand." Two things here are noteworthy.
1. The apostle is willing and ready to wage the holy war in new territories. He is not tired of fighting the Lord's battles. Nor is he afraid of greater and more numerous enemies. Probably his eye was on Rome. If God will, he shall go further West. His weapons have been tried and proved. He himself has been tested. Grace has been sufficient. Cast down, he has not been destroyed. Dying, he has lived. The promises of God have been Yea and Amen to his soul, nor could any experience happen that would not bring the strength and consolation of Christ to his heart. How much he had lived and how rapidly! What years had been compressed into each year! Before the dilating eye of intellect, what vistas had spread afar in the light that brightened towards the perfect day! And then the blessed realizations, ability increasing perpetually, and capacity growing even faster so as to supply fully the expanding spheres of ability, consciousness of self enlarging as self in Christ, deep opening into deep, wonder springing afresh from wonder, and, with every victory gained by the weapons of his warfare, a larger assurance that, if he had been "mighty through God" at Ephesus and Corinth, he should be mightier still "in the regions beyond." Here is a most useful lesson to teach us what we are slow to learn, namely, that no natural endowments, no amount of culture, no inspiration of knowledge, no miracles wrought in his behalf, can set aside the necessity of Christian experience, a personal work of grace in the soul, a profound sense of that work as from the Holy Spirit, in the ease of one called to the highest office of ministration.
2. We see how we are, am Christians, "members one of another." Although St. Paul was so highly endowed and so remarkably successful in the apostleship, yet he depends on the Church at Corinth for his enlargement to the work opening before him in Europe. "We shall be enlarged by you." This was conditioned on their conduct. If their divisions were healed, their false teachers silenced, their energies set free from exhausting strife and concentrated on building up Christ's kingdom, would Corinth and Achaia be the only gainers? Nay; he himself would be liberated from restraints that clogged his feet. A fresh impulse would be given his apostleship. A new current of life would flow from their hearts into his heart, for it was not his working nor any other apostle's working, but the coworking, the hearty union of Church and apostles, the cooperation of the "diversities of gifts," the oneness of the mystical body of Christ, by which the world was to be evangelized. The schism that had been threatened between the Asiatic and European Churches was in a fair way to be arrested. Jewish and Gentile believers were getting reconciled to the peculiarities of each other; the collection for the mother Church at Jerusalem was doing much to effect this most important unity. Yet this is not before him now. Nor does he allude to the singular advantages of Corinth as to geographical location and commercial opportunities. Situated on a narrow strip of land between northern and southern Greece, and connected with two seas by its harbours of Lechaeum and Cenchreae, it was a great emporium of trade for the East and West, and hence offered extraordinary facilities for the diffusion of Christianity. No doubt St. Paul felt that it was a centre of commanding influence. But he was extremely cautious as to using local motives, and in the present case he made no allusion to them. What occupied his whole thought was the increase of grace among them as a Christian community, and to this he looked for a happy furtherance in his contemplated missionary, tour. If they were revived and consecrated anew to Christ, he knew well that, when obstacles were thrown in his future pathway, when persecutions even fiercer than those already undergone came upon him, they would afford him sympathy and assistance while getting foothold in "the regions beyond." Obviously a prevailing idea in his mind was that Christianity must have a central home in every great section of country, and thence draw its human supplies during its conquests of outlying territory. And he longed for the Corinthian brethren to attain a richer experience of grace, so that they might magnify his office. Instead of being independent of their fraternal support, the stronger he felt himself the more he leaned on their sympathies. Heaven never gets so close to a man that earth does not get closer also. How the blessed Jesus leaned on his friends in the Passion week! How he needed the chosen among them to watch with him in the garden for one hour! The weary days of the apostle had not yet come, and his soul was having glorious visions of apostolic work, but amid it all, the pressure of uncertainty was upon his hope, and he would gladly hasten away from the present scene of anxiety just as soon as Providence permitted. We can enter into his solicitudes. We can imagine how Kirke White felt when he wrote the closing lines of the 'Christiad': -
"O thou who visitest the sons of men,
We will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us.I. THE FIELD MEASURED OUT FOR THE LABOURS OF THE PREACHERS OF THE GOSPEL.
1. The world. It was impossible for the apostle, with all his impulsive zeal, to go beyond his measure. Not that the world had been left without moral assistance from revelation. In the care of the Father of the spirits of all flesh, all nations have had an interest. The antediluvians enjoyed the benefits of all the revelations which were made in that first age. The long life of the patriarchs secured this. In the truths which were introduced by Noah into the new world, and the additional revelations, his sons were sharers; and that the whole might have been preserved is evident from the fact that many of them still exist. The vocation of Abraham was intended for the instruction of the world (Hebrews 11:10). The Jewish institute was designed for the benefit of the world (1 Kings 8:41-43). To all the world Christ sent His disciples; and to a great part they actually went. The continuance of the zeal of the first ages would have left no "regions beyond."
2. Why, then, do we wonder at the mysteries of Providence, in leaving so many of our race to live without the gospel? God has not left them, but they have been left by their more highly favoured fellow-men. It is a mystery, not of Divine reprobation, but of human unfeelingness. The Jewish and Christian Churches, in succession, have incurred the guilt of unfaithfulness. If any person say this only shifts the difficulty, we may allow it. But why should we single this out as a peculiar mystery? Has not God made man dependent upon man in everything? Christians are the light of the world; and if we refuse to hold forth the word of life, then are we verily guilty concerning our brother.
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH THOSE LABOURS WERE DIRECTED.
1. The "measure of the rule" refers to the line which marked out the racecourses, or that which was used in measuring land. The apostles were appointed to places by Him who knew where they might be best employed.(1) Sometimes the direction was supernatural, as when Peter was taught by a vision and Paul by a man of Macedonia. Sometimes the Spirit of God spoke in an audible voice (Acts 8:29).(2) In other cases —(a) A strong impression was made upon the mind, as when Paul was "pressed in the spirit" to preach Christ in Corinth.(b) They were directed by what appeared the most effectual means of promoting their great work. Thus Paul, in one of his journeys, purposed to return through Macedonia, and oftentimes to visit Rome.(c) The peculiar moral wretchedness and want of some particular people affected them (Acts 17:16).(d) They were led by the spirit of enterprise and experiment, and concluded from their success that the line had been stretched out.
2. These views are of importance from their connection with modern efforts. Too long have Christians dozed upon the pillow of lukewarmness, waiting to be roused to action by a miraculous summons.(1) Our duty is as extensive as theirs. The command, "Go ye into all the world," etc., has never been repealed.(2) Have we no men "pressed in spirit" as the apostles were? What about those Moravians who went into the West Indies, to sell themselves as slaves, that they might preach to them? Did not God then stretch out their line? What about Carey and Dr. Coke?(3) Did the first preachers meet with men like Gaius, zealous to encourage their labours? The revival of this disposition in the present day is another proof that our line is extending. Tens of thousands are ready to assist the mission work by their prayers and contributions.(4) Did the apostle consider the sight of the superstitions of Athens a call to preach Jesus? The circumstance that the state of the heathen world is brought before us is our call to the same work.(5) Did the apostles see in opportunities of access the hand of God stretching out their line? By what authority do we put a different construction upon the openings which are everywhere presented to us? Where have we no access? Does commerce see her lines extending in so many directions, and shall we be so blind as not to see that she marks the track which Christian zeal is to follow?(6) Did the apostles contemplate their successes as the proof that God had directed their progress and assigned them their work? Where have modern missionaries laboured without substantial proofs of this kind?
III. THE COMPASSIONATE REGARD OF THE APOSTLE FOR THOSE NATIONS WHICH WERE NOT VISITED BY THE LIGHT OF CHRISTIANITY. His line had stretched as far as Corinth; and he now looks with anticipation into larger fields. And why? Because he knew their moral condition and subsequent danger, and that the gospel would save thousands who would not be saved without it. This is the case in regard to heathen nations now. What they were in the apostolic age they are now, and they ought to excite equal regards, They are regions of —
1. Darkness. That is so dense that the plainest morals are confounded, and the only way of reconciliation hidden.
2. Vain, inefficient superstitions. Many are ridiculous, but they have been laughed at too long, and we ought now to weep over them. They offer sacrifices which leave sin unatoned; they call on Baal, but he hears them not; they purify the body, but the polluted spirit retains all its foulness (Isaiah 44:20). Do we laugh at the ravings of lunacy? Do we scoff at the stumbles of the blind? Who, then, would not give light to them that sit in moral darkness, and wisdom to those who have no spiritual understanding?
3. Diabolical dominion (Romans 1:29-31).
4. Misery. "Happy is the people that have the Lord for their God." Change the God and you reverse the effect.
IV. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE APOSTLE CONNECTS HIS MISSIONARY ENTERPRISES WITH THE CO-OPERATION OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES (ver. 15).
1. The apostle supposes that the Corinthians were equally bound with him to the duty of enlarging the sphere of evangelical labour. We collect from this that as soon as a church is established in the faith, it is to become co-operative in exertions to spread the kingdom of Christ. As soon as its own lamp is trimmed, it is to be held forth to direct the steps of others.
2. But by what means can this enlargement be granted by you?(1) By your friendly and affectionate feelings towards Christian missionaries. The word "enlarged" also signifies to extol, to praise. The missionary spirit ought to be held in high esteem. Can we more effectually damp the holy ardour by which it is characterised than by treating it with lightness and coldness?(2) By considering the cause your own. You should identify yourselves with it.(3) By your prayers.(4) By your counsels and contributions. In these respects the first Christians were "fellow-helpers to the truth"; and they have left us an example.
For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measureI. THE TRUE SPHERE OF HUMAN USEFULNESS.
1. It is a sphere in which we are placed by Divine appointment. Paul teaches that his sphere of labour at Corinth was according to God's will (ver. 14). "I am not come to Corinth merely by my own inclinations, or as a matter of impulse or caprice, or as an intruder. I am licensed by God to this sphere."
2. The consciousness that we are in this sphere is a just reason for exultation. "Not boasting of things without our measure." Paul's opponents boasted of their influence in the Church which he had founded, whereas his rejoicing was that he was doing the work of God in the sphere to which he had been sent.
3. It is a sphere which widens with our usefulness. The increase of their faith would lead to an enlargement of his sphere of labour. The true method of extending the sphere of labour to which we have been sent is by the multiplication of our converts.
II. THE TRUE SOURCE OF HUMAN EXULTATION. Paul boasted —
1. Not in crediting himself with the labours of other men. He did not "boast in another man's line (province) of things made ready to our hand." How common it is for men to credit themselves with the labours of others! In literature there are plagiarists, in scientific discoveries and artistic inventions there are unjust claimants, and even in religion one minister is often found to claim the good that others have accomplished. Paul was above this. The genius of Christianity condemns this mean and miserable dishonesty.
2. Not in self-commendation. "For not he that commendeth himself is approved." That conscience approves of our conduct, though at all times a source of pleasure is not a true source of exultation; for conscience is not infallible.
3. But "in the Lord" (ver. 17). "God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross."
(D. Thomas, D. D.).
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