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1 Corinthians 3:10-15

10. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

10. Ut saplens architectus, secundum gratiam Dei mihi datam, fundamentum posui, alius autem superaedificat: porro unusquisque videat, quomodo superaedificet.

11. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

11. Fundamentum enim aliud nemo potest ponere, praeter id quod positum est, quod est Iesus Christus.

12. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

12. Si quis autem superstruat super fundamentum hoc aurum, argentum, lapides pretiosos, ligna, faenum, stipulam,

13. Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

13. Cuiuscunque opus manifestum fiet: dies enim manifestabit, quia in igne revelabitur, et cuiuscunque opus quale sit, ignis probabit.

14. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

14. Si cuius opus maneat quod superaedificaverit, mercedem accipiet.

15. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

15. Si cuius opus arserit, jacturam faciet: ipse autem salvus fiet, sic tamen tanquam per ignem. 170170     “Par feu, ou parmi le feu;” — “By fire, or amidst the fire.”

 

10. As a wise master-builder It is a most apt similitude, and accordingly it is frequently met with in the Scriptures, as we shall see ere long. Here, however, the Apostle declares his fidelity with great confidence and fearlessness, as it required to be asserted in opposition not merely to the calumnies of the wicked, but also to the pride of the Corinthians, who had already begun to despise his doctrine. The more, therefore, they lowered him, so much the higher does he raise himself up, and speaking as it were from a pulpit of vast height, he declares 171171     “I1 leur fait assavoir, et declare fort et ferme:” — “He gives them to know, and declares strongly and firmly.” that he had been the first master-builder of God among them in laying the foundation, and that he had with wisdom executed that department of duty, and that it remained that others should go forward in the same manner, regulating the superstructure in conformity with the rule of the foundation. Let us observe that these things are said by Paul first of all for the purpose of commending his doctrine, which he saw was despised by the Corinthians; and, secondly, for the purpose of repressing the insolence of others, who from a desire for distinction, affected a new method of teaching. These he accordingly admonishes to attempt nothing rashly in God’s building. Two things he prohibits them from doing: they must not venture to lay another foundation, and they must not raise a superstructure that will not be answerable to the foundation.

According to the grace He always takes diligent heed not to usurp to himself a single particle of the glory that belongs to God, for he refers all thing’s to God, and leaves nothing to himself, except his having been an instrument. While, however, he thus submits himself humbly to God, he indirectly reproves the arrogance of those who thought nothing of throwing the grace of God into the shade, 172172     “Ne faisoyent point de conscience d’amoindrir ou offusquer la grace de Dieu;” — “Made no scruple of disparaging or obscuring the grace of God.” provided only they were themselves held in estimation. He hints, too, that there was nothing of the grace of the Spirit in that empty show, for which they were held in esteem, while on the other hand he clears himself from contempt, on the ground of his having been under divine influence. 173173     “Monstrant, quant a luy qu’il a este pousse et conduit de Dieu, il se defend et maintient contre tout mepris;” — “Showing, as to himself, that he had been led on and conducted by God, he guards and defends himself against all contempt.”

11. For other foundation can no man lay This statement consists of two parts; first, that Christ is the only foundation of the Church; and secondly, that the Corinthians had been rightly founded upon Christ through Paul’s preaching. For it was necessary that they should be brought back to Christ alone, inasmuch as their ears were tickled with a fondness for novelty. It was, too, of no small importance that Paul should be recognized as the principal, and, so to speak, fundamental master-builder, from whose doctrine they could not draw back, without forsaking Christ himself. The sum is this — that the Church must by all means be founded upon Christ alone, and that Paul had executed this department of duty so faithfully that nothing could be found to be wanting in his ministry. Hence, whoever may come after him, can in no other way serve the Lord with a good conscience, or be listened to as ministers of Christ, than by studying to make their doctrine correspond with his, and retain the foundation which he has laid. Hence we infer, that those are not faithful workmen for building up the Church, but on the contrary are scatterers of it, (Matthew 12:30,) who succeed faithful ministers, but do not make it their aim to conform themselves to their doctrine, and carry forward what has been well commenced, so as to make it quite manifest 174174     “En sorte qu’on puisse voir a l’oeil;” — “So that one may see with the eye.” that they are attempting no new work. For what can be more pernicious than by a new manner of teaching to harass believers, who have been well instructed in pure doctrine, so that they stagger in uncertainty as to the true foundation. Now the fundamental doctrine, which it were unlawful to undermine, is, that we learn Christ, for Christ is the only foundation of the Church; but there are many who, while they make use of Christ’s name in pretense, tear up the whole truth of God by the roots. 175175     “Arrachent et renversent entierement;” — “They tear up and entirely overthrow”

Let us observe, then, in what way the Church is rightly built upon Christ. It is when he alone is set forth for righteousness, redemption, sanctification, wisdom, satisfaction and cleansing; in short, for life and glory; or if you would have it stated more briefly, when he is proclaimed in such a manner that his office and influence are understood in accordance with what we found stated in the close of the first chapter. (1 Corinthians 1:30.) If, on the other hand, Christ is only in some degree acknowledged, and is called a Redeemer only in name, while in the meantime recourse is had to some other quarter for righteousness, sanctification and salvation, he is driven off from the foundation, and spurious 176176     “Et non eonvenantes;” — “And not suitable.” stones are substituted in his room. It is in this manner that Papists act, who rob him of almost all his ornaments, leaving him scarcely anything but the bare name. Such persons, then, are far from being founded on Christ. For as Christ is the foundation of the Church, because he is the only source of salvation and eternal life — because in him we come to know God the Father — because in him we have the source of every blessing; if he is not acknowledged as such he is no longer regarded as the foundation

But it is asked — “Is Christ only a part, or simply the commencement of the doctrine of salvation, as the foundation is merely a part of the building; for if it were so, believers would have only their commencement in Christ, and would be perfected without him. Now this Paul might seem to intimate.” I answer that this is not the meaning of the words; otherwise he would contradict himself when he says elsewhere, that “in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3.) He, then, who has learned Christ, (Ephesians 4:20,) is already complete in the whole system of heavenly doctrine. But as Paul’s ministry had contemplated rather the founding of the Corinthians than the raising up among them of the top-stone of the building, he merely shows here what he had done in respect of his having preached Christ in purity. With respect to himself therefore, he calls him the foundation, while at the same time he does not thereby exclude him from the rest of the building. In fine, Paul does not put any kind of doctrine in opposition to the knowledge of Christ, but on the contrary there is a comparison between himself and the ministers.

12. Now if any man build upon this foundation He pursues still farther the metaphor. It would not have been enough to have laid the foundation if the entire superstructure did not correspond; for as it were an absurd thing to raise a structure of vile materials on a foundation of gold, so it were greatly criminal to bury Christ under a mass of strange doctrines. 177177     “Ce seroit vne chose mal seante que Christ lust suffoque en mettant et meslant auec luy quelques doctrines estranges;” — “It were an unseemly thing that Christ should be choked by placing upon him and mixing up with him some strange doctrines.” By gold, then, and silver, and precious stones, he means doctrine worthy of Christ, and of such a nature as to be a superstructure corresponding to such a foundation. Let us not imagine, however, that this doctrine is apart from Christ, but on the contrary let us understand that we must continue to preach Christ until the very completion of the building. Only we must observe order, so as to begin with general doctrine, and more essential articles, as the foundations, and then go on to admonitions, exhortations, and everything that is requisite for perseverance, confirmation, and advancement.

As there is an agreement thus far as to Paul’s meaning, without any controversy, it follows on the other hand, that by wood, stubble and hay, is meant doctrine not answering to the foundation, such as is forged in men’s brain, and is thrust in upon us as though it were the oracles of God. 178178     “On vent a force faire receuoir pour oracles et reuelations procedees de Dieu;” — “They would force us to receive it as if it were oracles and revelations that have come forth from God.” For God will have his Church trained up by the pure preaching of his own word, not by the contrivances of men, of which sort also is that which has no tendency to edification, as for example curious questions, (1 Timothy 1:4,) which commonly contribute more to ostentation, or some foolish appetite, than to the salvation of men.

He forewarns them that every man’s work will one day be made manifest of what sort it is, however it may be for a time concealed, as though he had said: “It may indeed happen, that unprincipled workmen may for a time deceive, so that the world does not perceive how far each one has labored faithfully or fraudulently, but what is now as it were buried in darkness must of necessity come to light, and what is now glorious in the eyes of men, must before the face of God fall down, and be regarded as worthless.”

13. For the day will declare it In the old translation it is the day of the Lord, 179179     It is so in two of the old English versions. In Wiclif’s version (1380) the rendering is as follows: For the dai of the Lord schal declare. The Rheims version (1582) reads thus: For the day of our Lord will declare. — Ed. but it is probable that the words of the Lord were added by some one by way of explanation. The meaning unquestionably is complete without that addition. For with propriety we give the name of day to the time when darkness and obscurity are dispelled, and the truth is brought to light. Hence the Apostle forewarns us, that it cannot always remain a secret who have acted fraudulently in the work of the Lord, or who have conducted themselves with fidelity, as though he had said: “The darkness will not always remain: the light will one day break forth; which will make all things manifest.” That day, I own, is God’s — not man’s, but the metaphor is more elegant if you read simply — the day, because Paul in this way conveys the idea, that the Lord’s true servants cannot always be accurately distinguished from false workmen, inasmuch as virtues and vices are concealed by the darkness of the night. That night, however, will not always continue. For ambition is blind — man’s favor is blind — the world’s applause is blind, but this darkness God afterwards dispels in his own time. Take notice, that he always discovers the assurance of a good conscience, and with an unconquerable magnanimity despises perverse judgments; first, in order that he may call back the Corinthians from popular applause to a right rule of judgment; and secondly, for the purpose of confirming the authority of his ministry.

Because it will be revealed by fire. Paul having spoken of doctrine metaphorically, now also applies metaphorically the name of fire to the very touchstone of doctrine, that the corresponding parts of the comparison may harmonize with each other. The fire, then, here meant is the Spirit of the Lord, who tries by his touchstone what doctrine resembles gold and what resembles stubble The nearer the doctrine of God is brought to this fire, so much the brighter will be its luster. On the other hand, what has had its origin in man’s head will quickly vanish, 180180     “Celle, qui aura este forgee au cerveau des hommes s’esuanouira tout incontinent, et s’en ira en fumee;” — “That which has been forged in man’s brain, will quickly vanish, and go off in smoke.” as stubble is consumed in the fire. There seems also to be an allusion to the day of which he makes mention: “Not only will those things which vain ambition, like a dark night, concealed among the Corinthians, be brought to light by the brightness of the sun, but there will also be a strength of heat, not merely for drying up and cleansing away the refuse, but also for burning up everything wrong.” For however men may look upon themselves, as forming acute judgments, their discernment, notwithstanding, reaches no farther than appearance, which, for the most part, has no solidity. There is nothing but that day to which the Apostle appeals, that tests everything to the quick, not merely by its brightness, but also by its fiery flame.

14. If any man’s work remains, he will receive a reward. His meaning is, that those are fools who depend on man’s estimation, so as to reckon it enough to be approved by men, for then only will the work have praise and recompense — when it has stood the test of the day of the Lord Hence he exhorts His true ministers to have an eye to that day. For by the word remains, he intimates that doctrines fly about as it were in an unsettled state, nay more, like empty bubbles, they glitter for the moment, until they have come to be thoroughly tested. Hence it follows, that we must reckon as nothing all the applauses of the world, the emptiness of which will in a very little be exposed by heaven’s judgment.

15. If any man’s work shall be burned. It is as though he had said: Let no man flatter himself on the ground that, in the opinion of men, he is reckoned among the most eminent master-builders, for as soon as the day breaks in, his whole work must go utterly to nothing, if it is not approved of by the Lord. This, then, is the rule to which every one’s ministry requires to be conformed. Some explain this of doctrine, so that ζημιουσθαι 181181     “Le mot Grec suyuant, qui signifie souffrir perte ou dommage;” — “The Greek word following, which signifies to suffer loss or damage.” means simply to perish, and then what immediately follows they view as referring to the foundation, because in the Greek θεμελιος (foundation) is in the masculine gender. They do not, however, sufficiently attend to the entire context. For Paul in this passage subjects to trial, not his own doctrine, but that of others. 182182     “Car ce n’est pas sa doctrine, mais celle des autres que Sainct Paul dit, qui viendra a l’examen;” — “For it is not his own doctrine, but that of others, that St. Paul says will come to be tested.” Hence it were out of place to make mention at present of the foundation. He has stated a little before, that every man’s work will be tried by fire. He comes afterwards to state an alternative, which ought not to be extended beyond that general observation. Now it is certain that Paul spoke there simply of the structure which had been erected upon the foundation. He has already in the first clause promised a reward to good master-builders, 183183     “Et fideles ouuriers;” — “And faithful workmen.” whose labor shall have been approved of. Hence the contrast in the second clause suits admirably well — that those who have mixed stubble, or wood, or straw, will be disappointed of the commendation which they had expected.

He himself will be saved, etc. It is certain that Paul speaks of those who, while always retaining the foundations, mix hay with gold, stubble with silver, and wood with precious stones — that is, those who build upon Christ, but in consequence of the weakness of the flesh, admit something that is man’s, or through ignorance turn aside to some extent from the strict purity of God’s word. Such were many of the saints, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, and the like. Add to these, if you choose, from those of later times, Gregory and Bernard, and others of that stamp, who, while they had it as their object to build upon Christ, did nevertheless often deviate from the right system of building. Such persons, Paul says, could be saved, but on this condition — if the Lord wiped away their ignorance, and purged them from all dross.

This is the meaning of the clause so as by fire. He means, therefore, to intimate, that he does not take away from them the hope of salvation, provided they willingly submit to the loss of their labor, and are purged by the mercy of God, as gold is refined in the furnace. Farther, although God sometimes purges his own people by afflictions, yet here by the name of fire, I understand the touchstone of the Spirit, by which the Lord corrects and removes the ignorance of his people, by which they were for a time held captive. I am aware, indeed, that, many refer this to the cross, 184184     “Et affliction;” — “And affliction.” but I am confident that my interpretation will please all that are of sound judgment.

It remains, that we give an answer in passing to the Papists, who endeavor from this passage to prop up Purgatory. “The sinners 185185     “Les pecheurs, (disent-ils);” — “The sinners, (say they).” whom God forgives, pass through the fire, that they may be saved.” Hence they in this way suffer punishment in the presence of God, so as to afford satisfaction to his justice I pass over their endless fictions in reference to the measure of punishment, and the means of redemption from them, but I ask, who they are that pass through the fire? Paul assuredly speaks of ministers alone. “There is the same reason,” they say, “as to all.” It is not for us 186186     “Je respon, que ce n’est pas a nous;” — “I answer, that it is not for us.” but for God to judge as to this matter. But even granting them this, how childishly they stumble at the term fire. For to what purpose is this fire, 187187     “Car a quel propos est-il yci parle du feu?” — “For to what purpose does he speak here of fire?” but for burning up the hay and straw, and on the other hand, for proving the gold and silver. Do they mean to say that doctrines are discerned by the fire of their purgatory? Who has ever learned from that, what difference there is between truth and falsehood? Farther, when will that day come that will shine forth so as to discover every one’s work? Did it begin at the beginning of the world, and will it continue without interruption to the end? If the terms stubble, hay, gold, and silver are figurative, as they must necessarily allow, what correspondence will there be between the different clauses, if there is nothing figurative in the term fire? Away, then, with such silly trifles, which carry their absurdity in their forehead, for the Apostle’s true meaning is, I think, sufficiently manifest.


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