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St. Paul had a peculiar gift from God, the power of doing without those solaces which ordinary men require. But we should greatly mistake that noble heart, that rare nature, if we conceived of it as hard, stern, and incapable of tender human sympathies. Remember how, when anxious about these very Corinthians, “he felt no rest when he found not Titus his brother, at Troas." Recollect his gentle yearnings after the recovery of Epaphroditus. Such an one thrown alone upon a teeming, busy, commercial population, as he was at Corinth, would have felt crushed. Alone he had been left, for he had sent back his usual companions on several missions. His spirit had been pressed within him at Athens when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. But that was not so oppressive as the sight of human masses, crowding, hurrying, driving together, all engaged in the mere business of getting rich, or in the more degrading work of seeking mere sensual enjoyment. Nothing so depresses as that. In this crisis, Providential arrangements had prepared for him the assistance of Priscilla and Aquila. In their house he found a home: in their society, companionship. Altogether with them, he gained that refreshment for his spirit, without which it would have been perilous for him to have entered on his work in Corinth.
2. He was sustained by manual work. He wrought with his friends as a tent-maker. That was his “craft.” For by the rabbinical law, all Jews were taught a trade. One rabbi had said, that he who did not teach his son a trade, instructed him to steal. Another had declared that the study of theology along with a trade was good for the soul, and without it a temptation from the devil. So, too, it was the custom of the monastic institutions to compel every brother to work, not only for the purpose of supporting the monastery, but also to prevent the entrance of evil thoughts. A wise lesson! For in a life like that of Corinth, in gaiety, or a merely thoughtful existence, in that state of leisure to which so many minds are
exposed, woe and trial to the spirit that has nothing for the hands to do! Misery to him or her who emancipates himself or herself from the universal law, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” Evil thoughts, despondency, sensual feeling, sin in every shape is before him, to beset and madden, often to ruin him.
3. By the rich experience he had gained in Athens.
There the Apostle had met the philosophers on their own ground. He had shown them that there was a want in Human Nature to which the Gospel was adapted; he had spoken of their cravings after the Unknown; he had declared that he had to preach to them that which they unconsciously desired : he had stripped their worship of its anthropomorphism, and had manifested to them that the residuum was the germ
of Christianity. And his speech was triumphant as oratory, as logic, and as a specimen of philosophic thought; but in its bearing on conversion, it was unsuccessful. His work at Athens was a failure; Dionysius and a few women are all we read of as converted. There was no church at Athens.
Richly taught by this experience, he came to Corinth and preached no longer to the wise, the learned, or the rich. “Ye see your calling, brethren," he said, "how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” God had chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. St. Paul no longer confronted the philosopher on his own ground, or tried to accommodate the Gospel to his tastes : and then that memorable resolve is recorded, “I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Not the crucifixion of Christ; but Christ, and that Christ crucified. He preached Christ crucified, though the Greeks might mock and the Jews reject him with scorn-Christ as Christianity; Christ His own evidence. We know the result; the Church of Corinth, the largest and noblest harvest ever given to ministerial toil.
1 CORINTHIANS, i. 1-3. — June 8, 1851.
UR discourse last Sunday put us in possession of the state
of Corinth when the Apostle entered it. We know what Corinth was intellectually, politically, morally, and socially. We learnt that it contained a democratic population. We found it commercial, rich, and immoral from its being a trading seaport. We spoke of its Roman government, which on the whole acted fairly at that time toward Christianity; of its Greek inhabitants, of whom the richer were sceptics who had lost their religion, and the poorer still full of superstitions, as we discover from the notices of heathen sacrifices which pervade these Epistles. And the last element was the Jewish population, who were devoted to a religion of signs and ordinances.
Our subject for to-day comprises the first three verses of this chapter. From these we take three points for investigation
I. The designation of the writers.
I. The designation of the writers. Paul " an Apostle Sosthenes" our brother.” An apostle means one sent," a missionary to teach the truth committed to him; and the authority of this apostolic mission St. Paul substantiates in the words “called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God." There was a necessity for this vindication of his Apostleship. At the time of writing this Epistle he was at
Ephesus, having left Corinth after a stay of eighteen months. There he was informed of the state of the Church in Achaia by those of the house of Chloe, a Christian lady, and by letters from themselves. From this correspondence he learnt that his authority was questioned ;-and so St. Paul, unjustly treated and calumniated, opens his Epistle with these words, written partly in self-defence—“Called to be an apostle through the Will of God.”
In the firm conviction of that truth lay all his power. No man felt more strongly than St. Paul his own insignificance. He told his converts again and again that he “ was not meet to be called an Apostle ;" that he was “the least of all saints," that he was the “ chief of sinners." And yet, intensely as he felt all this, more deeply did he feel something above and beyond all this, that he was God's messenger, that his was a true Apostleship, that he had been truly commissioned by the King; and hence he speaks with courage and with freedom. His words were not his own, but His Who had sent him.
Imagine that conception dawning on his spirit-imagine, if you can, that light suddenly struck out of his own mind in the midst of his despondency--and then you will no longer wonder at the almost joyful boldness with which he stood firm, as on a rock, against the slander of his enemies, and the doubtfulness of his friends. Now unless this is felt by us, our life and work have lost their impulse. If we think of our profession or line of action, simply as arising from our own independent choice, or from chance, instantly we are paralyzed, and our energies refuse to act vigorously. But what was it which nerved the Apostle's soul to bear reproach and false witness? Was it not this? I have a mission: “I am called to be an Apostle through the will of God.”
Well, this should be our strength. Called to be a Carpenter, a Politician, a Tradesman, a Physician-is he irreverent who believes that? God sent me here to cut wood, to direct justly, to make shoes, to teach children :Why should not each and all of us feel that? It is one of the greatest truths on which we can rest our life, and by which we can invigorate our work. But we get rid of it by claiming it exclusively for St. Paul. We say that God called the Apostles, but does not speak to us. We say they were inspired and lifted above ordinary Humanity. But observe the modesty of the apostolic claim. St. Paul does not say, “I am infallible," but only that the Will of God has sent him as It had sent others. He did not wish that his people should receive his truth because he the Apostle had said it, but because it was truth. He did not seek to bind men, as if they were destitute of reasoning, to any aŭròc éon as is set up now by Evangelicalism or Popery, but throughout the whole of this Epistle he uses arguments, he appeals to reason and to sense. He convinces men that he was an Apostle, not by declarations that they must believe him, but by appealing to the truth he had taught—"by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.”
Further, we see in the fact of St. Paul's joining with himself Sosthenes, and calling him his brother, another proof of his desire to avoid erecting himself as the sole guide of the Church. He sends the Epistle from himself and Sosthenes. Is that like one who desired to be Lord alone over God's heritage? I am an Apostle—sent by the will of God; but Sosthenes is
Of Sosthenes himself, nothing certain is known, He is supposed by some to be the Sosthenes of Acts xviii., the persecutor, the ringleader of the Jews against the Christians, who was beaten before the judgment seat of Gallio. If so, see what a conqueror St. Paul, or rather Christianity, had become. Like the Apostle of the Gentiles, Sosthenes now built up the faith which once he destroyed. But in truth, we know nothing accurately, except that he was a Corinthian known to the persons addressed, and