1 Corinthians 7:29-40
But this I say, brothers, the time is short: it remains, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;…
Some minds are so organized as to be peculiarly open to those impressions which the local and circumstantial produce on thought and feeling. If these become excessive, they are almost sure to trench on principles. Such persons are devotees of sectionality; their prudence is shrewd, but not sagacious; intelligence is narrowed down to time, place, and immediate results; and expediency is with them "the previous question." St. Paul was not one of these men. Other minds, fond of abstractions and habituated to cloistered thinking, lose the helps of the senses and especially that very important culture, derived from contact with the open world, which teaches us to adjust principles to measures and measures to occasions. Expediency is seldom in their view. St. Paul was not one of these men. A marked fact about his conversion to Christianity was that he ceased to be an intellectual extremist; not only his opinions and convictions were radically changed, but likewise his method of looking at all things. We see in this chapter a man who adheres firmly to his ideal of the Christian Church, and, at the same time, a man who is thoroughly sensible of the uses of expediency. With him, nothing that Christ had settled could be unsettled. Nothing wrong could be expedient, and, in every case, expediency was to render homage to fundamental principles, so that the Spirit of Christ should manifest its purity and beauty. Such an expediency is always morally safe, because it rests, not on self gratification, but on self denial. This is the temper of his argument in the paragraph now under notice. "No commandment of the Lord;" and yet "my judgment" as an apostle is entitled to respect and confidence; the truth none the less a truth, and worthy of this consideration because the utterance of one who had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." That great transparency was not then glowing as in special hours with the resplendency behind it; but the same Divine illumination was there, and every line, touched by the almighty hand, faithfully represented the original. "Mercy to be faithful;" fidelity to truth just as much in advice and counsel as in direct and authoritative command; ay, this is "mercy" indeed, since it shows the dignity of spiritual intellect, and what importance men should attach to its daily offices in life. "The time is shortened:" here is his starting point; and this abridged time is applied instantly to a certain state of mind, which St. Paul would have his converts to cultivate with regard to the world and its relations. Future time is not ordinary future time. It has been narrowed, in order that you Corinthians and all other believers may have an intenser conception of opportunity, a deeper sense of Christ in time, and so learn to look upon human existence under this aspect of its solemnity. First of all, the domestic relation; this most beautiful, tender, and noble of all earthly relationships, whose spirit refuses to be limited by what its loving arms embrace, and is ever reaching towards a loftier ideal, and even when its arms are paralyzed still symbolizes alike in memory and hope the immortality of affection, - this holy relation must be made holier by the fact, the time is shortened. If true of this, it is true of all else. Sorrow may be, to some extent, pure and noble, and yet, unawares to ourselves, it may contain a selfish element, and, in the degree this is present, we mourn over ourselves as losers rather than over the object lost. A sorrow truly pure and noble hides its tears from the world, takes up the cross of daily work, feels its loneliness and bears it silently, and toils on with serene patience. To be a Divine discipline - the most purifying and exalting of which we are capable - it must loosen us from earthly things and raise our hearts to God. The death of others, even of our dearest friends, is thus overruled by Providence, as the death in some measure of our pleasure loving nature. "Perfect through suffering" was said of Christ, and in so far as we realize perfection, it is only attained in this way. Our joy must not engross us so as to impair our lively sense of things spiritual. Business must leave us free for meditation and devout exercises. And in whatever way we use the world, whether the world of home, of culture, of trade and commerce, or of professional activity, it must be used in moderation and with due regard to its moral significance. "The earth hath he given to the children of men," that they may be more than earthly. "All things are yours." that ye may thereby be richer in Christ Jesus. Viewed in this light, it may not be proper to say that these things are "means of grace," but they are helpers and auxiliaries to goodness, and give us no small furtherance in the life Divine. Much, very much, in this worm is capable of a most blessed utility. Much of it will live forever, not in itself, but taken into us and assimilated and glorified. Bodily, how much that is bodily, is ever becoming eternally mental and spiritual! It is the immortal soul, born of God, redeemed by Christ, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, that saves material nature from being a picturesque show and a deceptions sham. Plentifully, indeed, she meets our physical wants, quite as lavishly our wishes, generously too our tastes, and yet, while guaranteeing her economic and intellectual uses with a royal magnificence, she is looking beyond and a far, and her thought is of the blessings that are imperishable. "The body is... for the Lord," and through the pathways of the body, the gates of the senses, the "vaults," the galleries," and passage ways that physiology assures us exist beneath the grey matter of the upper brain; - through these as highways what vast processions are daily moving heavenwards! Beauty and sublimity have not terminated their offices when they have flashed to the canvas of the painter or breathed themselves into the marble of the sculptor. Poetry has not finished her task when she has found a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Milton. Music has not been exhausted in the act of creating Mozart and Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Every one of these influences is what it is in itself, because of man's immortality. The training we get in the body and through the body, such as the subjugation of the material organization to the organism of the man, the clear common sense won by experience from toil and enterprise, the swift energy, the mastering will of achievement, the patience of endeavour, the heroism that works and waits, and the discipline of the social and rational man, - all this complicated training, which suffers no constituent of manhood to evade its grasp, has a reference distinctly providential to the future man. The idea of a Christian probation as altogether different from other conceivable probations, and as standing specifically by itself in the dispensations of the universe, runs through all the economic arrangements of our world. And hence the words of St. Paul, "Use this world as not abusing it," using it not to the full of the senses and the intellect and the sensibilities as if it were all, but using it as a world even now moving from beneath your feet, and which has no permanency except in the moral and spiritual impressions left by it upon your souls. "The fashion of this world passeth away;" the whole structure, the modes of existence, the relations of existence in their variety and multiplicity, all present objects, the totality which no mind can compute, - all this is in motion, the duration has been shortened, and the end is near at hand. Reviewing this argument of the apostle, may we not claim that it presents time in a light altogether new, that its estimate of duration is something intrinsically different from that measured by the time keeper of the heavens, and that it inspires our sense of successional moments in a way peculiar to itself? Nothing in us is more closely connected with the external framework of the universe than our sensibility to time. Yet, while this natural capacity is subjected to an outward machinery, it is also dominant over that machinery, so that an instant may be expanded into an hour or an hour into days. In this respect, moods assert a mastering force, emotions are well nigh omnipotent, and the heavenly orbs take their motions from our pulses. If Christianity took no knowledge of this phenomenon of experience, it would be strangely exceptional to its method of operating on man, which allows no recess of his being to remain unvisited by its light and warmth. Its teaching is, "The time is shortened," and it makes its doctrine available to practise us in the highest moral wisdom, using the world without abusing its relations. Now, it is worthy of notice that the civilization of our century has advanced in no direction more remarkably than in victory over time. The era opened with the steam engine, and has progressed with the telegraph and telephone, and, in each case, the triumph has been in a fuller control of time. Time has been shortened and yet lengthened, so that we do in weeks what our grandfathers required years to accomplish. Time has been intensified. Today in Europe is today in the backwoods of America, and the yesterday of China and Egypt is a part of the breakfast table talk of this morning. Obviously, sensuous life, in its connections and sympathies, gets the most, at present, of this stimulation. One, however, who takes a broad view of providence, cannot think that the tendency of this increased sensuousness is necessarily downwards into sensualism. For, indeed, Christianity is often most active where we least suspect its presence, since the "kingdom of God," in civilization as in all else, "cometh not with observation." This enhanced sensuousness, if we read aright the signs of the times, is gathering together a vast fund of raw materials for transformation into a more capacious and robust Christian manhood. Within the realm of natural law, Christianity is signalizing its power more and more, and the day is not distant when "uniformity," "evolution," "homologies," will have a wider and profounder interpretation than they have now. "The earth helped the woman;" it still helps the woman; and age by age the apocalyptic wonder reveals fresh wonders. Silently, unobserved by the multitude, hidden even front scientific thinkers, God is reclaiming nature for his Son; and he who, eighteen hundred years age, multiplied bread for the hungry, healed diseases, and established his claim as the Lord of nature, is making ready to reaffirm that sovereignty in a manner more resplendent than by miracles. And as to this matter of shortened and intensified time, who but the Lord Jesus as Son of man was the first sublime instance of ascendancy over the limitations of time? Thirty years of seclusion, three years of work, young manhood cut short in its prime, and yet those three years giving birth to centuries which, amid manifold evils, have yet steadily progressed in the direction of a regenerated humanity.
Parallel VersesKJV: But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;