Forms Versus Character
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
But as God has distributed to every man, as the Lord has called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.…

(text, Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15): — The great controversy which embittered Paul's life turned upon the question whether a heathen could come into the Church by the door of faith, or of circumcision. Time, which settles all controversies, has settled that. But the principles are eternal, though the forms vary with every varying age. The Ritualist and the Puritan represent permanent tendencies of human nature. These three passages are Paul's deliverance on the question of the comparative value of external rites and spiritual character. Note —


1. Circumcision neither is anything nor does anything. Paul speaks about baptism, in chap. 1 Corinthians 1., in a precisely similar tone and for precisely the same reason.

(1) Forms have their value. A man prays all the better if he bow his head, &c. Forms help us to the realisation of the truths which they express. Music may waft our souls to the heavens, and pictures may stir deep thoughts.

(2) But then external rights tend to usurp more than belongs to them, and in our weakness we are apt, instead of using them as means to lift us higher, to stay in them, and to mistake the mere gratification of taste and the excitement of the sensibilities for worship, if there be as much form as will embody the spirit, that is all that we want. What is more is dangerous. All form in worship is like fire, it is a good servant but it is a bad master. Now, when men say about Christian rites that they are necessary, then it is needful to take up Paul's ground and to say, "No! they are nothing!" If you say that grace is miraculously conveyed through them, then it is needful to declare their nullity for the highest purpose, that of making that spiritual character which alone is essential.

2. Uncircumcision is nothing. It is very hard for a man who has been delivered from the dependence upon forms not to fancy that his formlessness is what the other people think that their forms are. The Puritan who does not believe that a man can be a good man because he is a Ritualist or a Roman Catholic, is committing the very same error as the Ritualist or the Roman Catholic. There may be as much idolatry in reliance upon the bare worship as the ornate; and many a Nonconformist who fancies that he has "never bowed the knee to Baal" is as true an idol-worshipper as the men who trust in Ritualism.


1. By "keeping the commandments" the apostle does not mean merely external obedience, but conformity to the will of God. That is the perfection of a man's nature, when his will fits on to God's like one of Euclid's triangles superimposed upon another, and line for line coincides. When his will allows a free passage to the will of God, without resistance or deflection, as light travels through transparent glass; when his will responds to the touch of God's fingers upon the keys, like the telegraphic needle to the operator's hand, then man has attained all that God and religion can do for him, all that his nature is capable of; and' far beneath his feet may be the ladders of ceremonies and forms and outward acts by which he climbed to that serene and blessed height.

2. But I can fancy a man saying, "That is all very well, but how can I attain to that? "Well, take Galatians 6:15. If we are ever to keep the will of God we must be made over again. Our own consciences and the history of all the efforts that ever we have made, tell us that there needs to be a stronger hand than ours to come into the fight if it is ever to be won by us. But in that word, "a new creature," lies a promise from God; for a creature implies a Creator. We may have our spirits moulded into His likeness, and new tastes, desires, and capacities infused into us, so as that we shall not be left with our own poor powers to try and force ourselves into obedience to God's will, but that submission and holiness, and love that keeps the commandments of God, will spring up in our renewed spirits as their natural product and growth.

3. And so we come to Galatians 5:6. If we are to be made over again, we must have faith in Christ. We have got to the root now. External rites cannot make men partakers of a new nature. He that trusts Christ opens his heart to Christ, who comes with His new-creating Spirit, and makes us willing in the day of His power to keep His commandments; and faith shows itself living, because it leads us to love, and through love it produces its effects upon conduct. The keeping of the commandments will be easy where there is love in the heart. The will will bow where there is love in the heart. Paul and James shake hands here.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.

WEB: Only, as the Lord has distributed to each man, as God has called each, so let him walk. So I command in all the assemblies.

Every Christian At His Post
Top of Page
Top of Page