1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man…
The contrast is very striking. "I spake as a child." When the child begins to speak, how broken the utterance is! The mother's ear, sharpened by love, is able to comprehend it; but the stranger finds the task too hard for him. "I understood as a child." How weak the understanding is — how uncertain — how liable to err! "I thought as a child." But what a poor illogical affair my reasoning was! What a marvel it is, the change of a little child into a man! The infant boy, Saul, in his nursery at Tarsus, and the man making Felix tremble, and Mars Hill ponder. But he uses this change in himself for the sake of illustration. Note —
I. THE ADVANCE FROM JUDAISM TO CHRISTIANITY. Judaism was the childhood of the Church. I do not say this to insinuate any doubt of its Divine origin. The child is as much the creature of God as the man: just so, it is as clear that He spake by Moses as by Christ. But still there is a marked difference between the two dispensations.
1. Judaism was adapted to those who, in religious knowledge and experience, were children. You teach the little ones chiefly through the eye: give them picture books, and assume pictorial attitudes. So the tabernacle was a picture-gallery, teaching precious truth — but to the senses mainly to reach the mind.
2. How different are the institutions of the gospel! Here are no altars, no priests. The Church has got out of the nursery into the study; and Christians are treated not as children, but as men. We are taught — especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews — that the ordinances of Judaism were merely figures for the time till Christ should come; but now what need of the type, when we have the antitype? Our sacraments are just the exceptions that prove the rule.
3. But see the tendency of the present day. It is to crush the manhood of the Church of Christ, and bring us back to a religion of ceremonies again. Ritualism is a second Judaising of the Church — a coming back to the nursery and babyhood again.
II. THE ADVANCE FROM EARLY PIETY TO MATURE.
1. Early piety is one of the loveliest things I know — like the blossoms of the apple-tree in spring, or the first faint light on the horizon. Yet it is a very imperfect thing. The blossoms are not the fruit — the dawning is not the day. The young Christian is only a little child in the family of God.
2. But let him become a man in Christ Jesus — what an advance! The blossoms have gone — but here is the tree filled with the fruits of righteousness; the dawning has disappeared — but it is only swallowed up in the sunrise. There was a time when Paul knew little more than that he bad been a great sinner, and lay wholly at the mercy of the Lord. But he lived "to comprehend with all saints the breadth and length," etc. Oh, to attain a full manhood of Christian character! to have the greatest peace, to do the greatest good, to bring God the greatest glory!
III. THE ADVANCE FROM THE EARTHLY STATE TO THE HEAVENLY. This was what the apostle had chiefly in his mind.
1. He describes the earthly state of Christians as imperfect. What a lesson of humility! This great gifted man acknowledges how much he cannot teach! "We know in part." And so with the very aptest of scholars. John Howe says, "Many of our conceits, which we thought wise, we shall then see cause to put away as common trash"; and Owen, "Notwithstanding all our confidence of our high attainments, all our notions of God are but childish in respect of His infinite perfections." Down, then, with our foolish pride, our arrogant assumption!
2. But what is there awaiting us? We are looking through a dim window now, and things outside are a riddle; but then the window will be thrown open, and we shall see face to face (ver. 12; 1 John 3:2), and the clear sight of Jesus shall complete our transformation. All that was dim in us shall become luminous, and we shall perfectly reflect the image of our Lord.
3. The change must begin here. We must be new-born babes on earth, if we are ever to reach maturity in heaven. "Except a man be born again," etc. Then we shall look down on this dim spot, and say, Then I was a child, but now I am a man.
(F. Tucker, B.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.