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1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1. Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

1. Sic nos aestimet homo ut ministros Christi, et dispensatores arcanorum Dei.

2. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

2. Caeterum in ministris hoc quaeritur, ut fidelis aliquis reperiatur.

3. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

3. Mihi viro pro minimo est, a vobis diiudicari, aut ab humano die: 206206     “De iour humain — c’est a dire, de iugement d’homme;” — “Of man’s day — that is to say, of man’s judgment.” imo nec me ipsum diiudico.

4. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

4. Nullius enim rei mihi sum conscius: sed non in hoc sum justificatus. Porro qui me diiudicat, Dominus est.

5. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

5. Itaque ne ante tempus quicquam iudicetis, donec venerit Dominus, qui et illustrabit abscondita tenebrarum, et manifestabit consilia cordium; et tunc laus erit cuique a Deo.

 

1. Let a man so account of us As it was a matter of no little importance to see the Church in this manner torn by corrupt factions, from the likings or dislikings that were entertained towards individuals, he enters into a still more lengthened discussion as to the ministry of the word. Here there are three things to be considered in their order. In the first place, Paul describes the office of a pastor of the Church. Secondly, he shows, that it is not enough for any one to produce a title, or even to undertake the duty — a faithful administration of the office being requisite. Thirdly, as the judgment formed of him by the Corinthians was preposterous, 207207     “Pource que les Corinthiens iugeoyent de luy d’vne mauuaise sorte, et bien inconsidereement;” — “As the Corinthians judged of him in an unfavorable way, and very rashly.” he calls both himself and them to the judgment-seat of Christ. In the first place, then, he teaches in what estimation every teacher in the Church ought to be held. In this department he modifies his discourse in such a manner as neither, on the one hand, to lower the credit of the ministry, nor, on the other, to assign to man more than is expedient. For both of these things are exceedingly dangerous, because, when ministers are lowered, contempt of the word arises, 208208     “Facilement on viendra a mespriser la parole de Dieu;” — “They will readily come to despise the word of God.” while, on the other hand, if they are extolled beyond measure, they abuse liberty, and become “wanton against the Lord.” (1 Timothy 5:11.) Now the medium observed by Paul consists in this, that he calls them ministers of Christ; by which he intimates, that they ought to apply themselves not to their own work but to that of the Lord, who has hired them as his servants, and that they are not appointed to bear rule in an authoritative manner in the Church, but are subject to Christ’s authority 209209     “Ils sont eux-mesmes comme les autres sous la domination de Christ;” — “They are themselves, in common with others, under the dominion of Christ.” — in short, that they are servants, not masters.

As to what he adds — stewards of the mysteries of God, he expresses hereby the kind of service. By this he intimates, that their office extends no farther than this, that they are stewards of the mysteries of God In other words, what the Lord has committed to their charge they deliver over to men from hand to hand — as the expression is 210210     Our Author makes use of the same expression when commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:23, and 1 Corinthians 15:3. — Ed. — not what they themselves might choose. “For this purpose has God chosen them as ministers of his Son, that he might through them communicate to men his heavenly wisdom, and hence they ought not to move a step beyond this.” He appears, at the same time, to give a stroke indirectly to the Corinthians, who, leaving in the background the heavenly mysteries, had begun to hunt with excessive eagerness after strange inventions, and hence they valued their teachers for nothing but profane learning. It is an honorable distinction that he confers upon the gospel when he terms its contents the mysteries of God. But as the sacraments are connected with these mysteries as appendages, it follows, that those who have the charge of administering the word are the authorized stewards of them also.

2. But it is required in ministers 211211     “Entre les dispensateurs;” — “Among stewards.” It is as though he had said, it is not enough to be a steward if there be not an upright stewardship. Now the rule of an upright stewardship, is to conduct one’s self in it with fidelity. It is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, for we see how haughtily 212212     “Et d’une facon magistrale;” — “And with a magisterial air.” Papists require that everything that they do and teach should have the authority of law, simply on the ground of their being called pastors. On the other hand, Paul is so far from being satisfied with the mere title, that, in his view, it is not even enough that there is a legitimate call, unless the person who is called conducts himself in the office with fidelity. On every occasion, therefore, on which Papists hold up before us the mask of a name, for the purpose of maintaining the tyranny of their idol, let our answer be, that Paul requires more than this from the ministers of Christ, though, at the same time, the Pope and his attendant train are wanting not merely in fidelity in the discharge of the office, but also in the ministry itself, if everything is duly considered.

This passage, however, militates, not merely against wicked teachers, but also against all that have any other object in view than the glory of Christ and the edification of the Church. For every one that teaches the truth is not necessarily faithful, but, only he who desires from the heart to serve the Lord and advance Christ’s kingdom. Nor is it without good reason that Augustine assigns to hirelings, (John 10:12,) a middle place between the wolves and the good teachers. As to Christ’s requiring wisdom also on the part of the good steward, (Luke 12:42,) he speaks, it is true, in that passage with greater clearness than Paul, but the meaning is the same. For the faithfulness of which Christ speaks is uprightness of conscience, which must be accompanied with sound and prudent counsel. By a faithful minister Paul means one who, with knowledge as well as uprightness, 213213     “Auec science et bonne discretion, et d’vn coeur droit;” — “With knowledge and good discretion, as well as with an upright heart.” discharges the office of a good and faithful minister.

3. But with me it is a very small thing It remained that he should bring before their view his faithfulness, that the Corinthians might judge of him from this, but, as their judgment was corrupted, he throws it aside and appeals to the judgment-seat of Christ. The Corinthians erred in this, that they looked with amazement at foreign masks, and gave no heed to the true and proper marks of distinction. 214214     “Ils estoyent rauis en admiration de ces masques externes, comme gens tout transportez, et ne regardoyent point a discerner vrayement ne proprement;” — “They were ravished with admiration of those foreign masks, as persons quite transported, and were not careful to distinguish truly or properly.” He, accordingly, declares with great confidence, that he despises a perverted and blind judgment of this sort. In this way, too, he, on the one hand, admirably exposes the vanity of the false Apostles who made the mere applause of men their aim, and reckoned themselves happy if they were held in admiration; and, on the other hand, he severely chastises the arrogance 215215     “Et orgueil;” — “And pride.” of the Corinthians, which was the reason why they were so much blinded in their judgment.

But, it is asked, on what ground it was allowable for Paul, not merely to set aside the censure of one Church, but to set himself above the judgment of men? for this is a condition common to all pastors — to be judged of by the Church. I answer, that it is the part of a good pastor to submit both his doctrine and his life for examination to the judgment of the Church, and that it is the sign of a good conscience not to shun the light of careful inspection. In this respect Paul, without doubt, was prepared for submitting himself to the judgment of the Corinthian Church, and for being called to render an account both of his life and of his doctrine, had there been among them a proper scrutiny, 216216     “Si entr’eux fi y eust eu vne legitime et droite facon de iuger;” — “If there had been among them a lawful and right method of judging.” as he often assigns them this power, and of his own accord entreats them to be prepared to judge aright. But when a faithful pastor sees that he is borne down by unreasonable and perverse affections, and that justice and truth have no place, he ought to appeal to God, and betake himself to his judgment-seat, regardless of human opinion, especially when he cannot secure that a true and proper knowledge of matters shall be arrived at.

If, then, the Lord’s servants would bear in mind that they must act in this manner, let them allow their doctrine and life to be brought to the test, nay more, let them voluntarily present themselves for this purpose; and if anything is objected against them, let them not decline to answer. But if they see that they are condemned without being heard in their own defense, and that judgment is passed upon them without their being allowed a hearing, let them raise up their minds to such a pitch of magnanimity, as that, despising the opinions of men, they will fearlessly wait for God as their judge. In this manner the Prophets of old, having to do with refractory persons, 217217     “Ils auoyent affaire a des gens opiniastres et pleins de rebellion;” — “They had to do with persons that were obstinate, and full of rebellion.” and such as had the audacity to despise the word of God in their administration of it, required to raise themselves aloft, in order to tread under foot that diabolical obstinacy, which manifestly tended to overthrow at once the authority of God and the light of truth. Should any one, however, when opportunity is given for defending himself, or at least when he has need to clear himself, appeal to God by way of subterfuge, he will not thereby make good his innocence, but will rather discover his consummate impudence. 218218     “Se demonstrera estre merueilleusement impudent;” — “He will show himself to be marvellously impudent.”

Or of man’s day. While others explain it in another manner, the simpler way, in my opinion, is to understand the word day as used metaphorically to mean judgment, because there are stated days for administering justice, and the accused are summoned to appear on a certain day He calls it man’s day 219219     The word day, which is the literal rendering of the original word (ἡμέρας) is made use of in some of the old English versions. Thus in Wiclif’s version, (1380,) the rendering is: “of mannes daie;” in Tyndale’s, (1534,) “of man’s daye;” and in the Rheims version, (1582,) “of man’s day.” — Ed when judgment is pronounced, not according to truth, or in accordance with the word of the Lord, but according to the humor or rashness of men, 220220     “Selon les sottes affections, ou les mouuemens temeraires des hommes;” — “According to the foolish affections, or rash impulses of men.” and in short, when God does not preside. “Let men,” says he, “sit for judgment as they please: it is enough for me that God will annul whatever they have pronounced.”

Nay, I judge not mine own self. The meaning is: “I do not venture to judge myself, though I know myself best; how then will you judge me, to whom I am less intimately known?” Now he proves that he does not venture to judge himself by this, that though he is not conscious to himself of anything wrong, he is not thereby acquitted in the sight of God. Hence he concludes, that what the Corinthians assume to themselves, belongs exclusively to God. “As for me,” says he, “when I have carefully examined myself, I perceive that I am not so clear-sighted as to discern thoroughly my true character; and hence I leave this to the judgment of God, who alone can judge, and to whom this authority exclusively belongs. As for you, then, on what ground will you make pretensions to something more?”

As, however, it were very absurd to reject all kinds of judgment, whether of individuals respecting themselves, or of one individual respecting his brother, or of all together respecting their pastor, let it be understood that Paul speaks here not of the actions of men, which may be reckoned good or bad according to the word of the Lord, but of the eminence of each individual, which ought not to be estimated according to men’s humors. It belongs to God alone to determine what distinction every one holds, and what honor he deserves. The Corinthians, however, despising Paul, groundlessly extolled others to the skies, as though they had at their command that knowledge which belonged exclusively to God. This is what he previously made mention of as mans day — when men mount the throne of judgment, and, as if they were gods, anticipate the day of Christ, who alone is appointed by the Father as judge, allot to every one his station of honor, assign to some a high place, and degrade others to the lowest seats. But what rule of distinction do they observe? They look merely to what appears openly; and thus what in their view is high and honorable, is in many instances an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15.) If any one farther objects, that the ministers of the word may in this world be distinguished by their works, as trees by their fruits, (Matthew 7:16,) I admit that this is true, but we must consider with whom Paul had to deal. It was with persons who, in judging, looked to nothing but show and pomp, and arrogated to themselves a power which Christ., while in this world, refrained from using — that of assigning to every one his seat in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 20:23.) He does not, therefore, prohibit us from esteeming those whom we have found to be faithful workmen, and pronouncing them to be such; nor, on the other hand, from judging persons to be bad workmen according to the word of God, but he condemns that rashness which is practiced, when some are preferred above others in a spirit of ambition — not according to their merits, but without examination of the case. 221221     “Comme on dit;” — “As they say.”

4. I am not conscious to myself of anything faulty. Let us observe that Paul speaks here not of his whole life, but simply of the office of apostleship. For if he had been altogether unconscious to himself of anything wrong, 222222     “Si nihil prorsus sibi consciret;” — our author most probably had in his eye a well-known passage in Horace, (Ep. I. 1. 61,) “Nil conscire sibi;” — “To be conscious to one’s self of nothing wrong.” — Ed. that would have been a groundless complaint which he makes in Romans 7:15, where he laments that the evil which he would not, that he does, and that he is by sin kept back from giving himself up entirely to God. Paul, therefore, felt sin dwelling in him, and confessed it; but as to his apostleship, (which is the subject that is here treated of,) he had conducted himself with so much integrity and fidelity, that his conscience did not accuse him as to anything. This is a protestation of no common character, and of such a nature as clearly shows the piety and sanctity of his breast; 223223     “Combien sa conscience estoit pure et nette;” — “How pure and clean his conscience was.” and yet he says that he is not thereby justified, that is, pure, and altogether free from guilt in the sight of God. Why? Assuredly, because God sees much more distinctly than we; and hence, what appears to us cleanest, is filthy in his eyes. Here we have a beautiful and singularly profitable admonition, not to measure the strictness of God’s judgment by our own opinion; for we are dim-sighted, but God is preeminently discerning. We think of ourselves too indulgently, but God is a judge of the utmost strictness. Hence the truth of what Solomon says —

“Every man’s ways appear right his own eyes, but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2.)

Papists abuse this passage for the purpose of shaking the assurance of faith, and truly, I confess, that if their doctrine were admitted, we could do nothing but tremble in wretchedness during our whole life. For what tranquillity could our minds enjoy if it were to be determined from our works whether we are well-pleasing to God? I confess, therefore, that from the main foundation of Papists there follows nothing but continual disquietude for consciences; and, accordingly, we teach that we must have recourse to the free promise of mercy, which is offered to us in Christ, that we may be fully assured that we are accounted righteous by God.

5. Therefore judge nothing before the time From this conclusion it is manifest, that Paul did not mean to reprove every kind of judgment without exception, but only what is hasty and rash, without examination of the case. For the Corinthians did not mark with unjaundiced eye the character of each individual, but, blinded by ambition, groundlessly extolled one and depreciated another, and took upon themselves to mark out the dignity of each individual beyond what is lawful for men. Let us know, then, how much is allowed us, what is now within the sphere of our knowledge, and what is deferred until the day of Christ, and let us not attempt to go beyond these limits. For there are some things that are now seen openly, while there are others that lie buried in obscurity until the day of Christ.

Who will bring to light. If this is affirmed truly and properly respecting the day of Christ, it follows that matters are never so well regulated in this world but that many things are involved in darkness, and that there is never so much light, but that many things remain in obscurity. I speak of the life of men, and their actions. He explains in the second clause, what is the cause of the obscurity and confusion, so that all things are not now manifest. It is because there are wonderful recesses and deepest lurking-places in the hearts of men. Hence, until the thoughts of the hearts are brought to light, there will always be darkness.

And then shall every one have praise It is as though he had said, “You now, O Corinthians, as if you had the adjudging of the prizes, 224224     “Tanquam agonothetos The allusion is to the presiding officers or umpires (αγωνοθέται) who adjudged the prizes in the Grecian games. (See Herod. 6. 127.) — Ed crown some, and send away others with disgrace, but this right and office belong exclusively to Christ. You do that before the time — before it has become manifest who is worthy to be crowned, but the Lord has appointed a day on which he will make it manifest.” This statement takes its rise from the assurance of a good conscience, which brings us also this advantage, that committing our praises into the hands of God, we disregard the empty breath of human applause.


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