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7 In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?


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7. Now indeed there is utterly a fault. Here we have the second part of the reproof, which contains a general doctrine; for he now reproves them, not on the ground of their exposing the gospel to derision and disgrace, but on the ground of their going to law with each other. This, he says, is a fault We must, however, observe the propriety of the term which he employs. For ἥττημα in Greek signifies weakness of mind, as when one is easily broken down 332332     “Aiseement abbatu et irrite;” — “Easily hurt and irritated.” by injuries, and cannot bear anything it comes afterward to be applied to vices of any kind, as they all arise from weakness and deficiency in fortitude. 333333     The Greek term ἥττημα is supposed by some to be derived originally from the Hebrew verb חתת to be broken, (which is rendered by ἡτταομαι, in various instances in the Septuagint.) Our author had probably an eye to this when stating the original meaning of the term to be “weakness of mind, as when one is easily broken down by injuries.” The term properly denotes defect It is instructive to observe, that a disposition to “go to law with brethren,” rather than “suffer wrong,” is represented by the Apostle as indicative of a defect, that is, in Christian meekness or brotherly love; while the opposite disposition, recommended by the Apostle, would, according to the standard of the world’s morality, discover defect, in respect of want of spirit. — Ed What Paul, then, condemns in the Corinthians is this — that they harassed one another with law-suits. He states the reason of it — that they were not prepared to bear injuries patiently. And, assuredly, as the Lord commands us (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:21) not to be overcome by evils, but on the contrary to overcome injuries by acts of kindness, it is certain, that those who cannot control themselves so as to suffer injuries patiently, commit sin by their impatience. If contention in law-suits among believers is a token of that impatience, it follows that it is faulty

In this way, however, he seems to discard entirely judgments as to the affairs of individuals. “Those are altogether in the wrong who go to law. Hence it will not be allowable in any one to maintain his rights by having recourse to a magistrate.” There are some that answer this objection in this way — that the Apostle declares that where there are law-suits there is utterly a fault, because, of necessity, the one or the other has a bad cause. They do not, however, escape by this sophistry, because he says that they are in fault, not merely when they inflict injury, but also when they do not patiently endure it. For my own part, my answer is simply this — having a little before given permission to have recourse to arbiters, he has in this shown, with sufficient clearness, that, Christians are not prohibited from prosecuting their rights moderately, and without any breach of love. Hence we may very readily infer, that his being so severe was owing to his taking particularly into view the circumstances of the case. And, undoubtedly, wherever there is frequent recourse to law-suits, or where the parties contend with each other pertinaciously with rigor of law, 334334     “Et qu’ils veulent veoir le bout du proces; (comme on dit;)“ — “And are desirous to see the issue of the case, (as the expression is.)” it is in that case abundantly plain, that their minds are immoderately inflamed with wrong dispositions, and are not prepared for equity and endurance of wrongs, according to the commandment of Christ. To speak more plainly, the reason why Paul condemns law-suits is, that we ought to suffer injuries with patience. Let us now see whether any one can carry on a law-suit without impatience; for if it is so, to go to law will not be wrong in all cases, but only ἐπὶ τὸ πολύ — for the most part. I confess, however, that as men’s manners are corrupt, impatience, or lack of patience (as they speak) is an almost inseparable attendant on lawsuits. This, however, does not hinder your distinguishing between the thing itself and the improper accompaniment. Let us therefore bear in mind, that Paul does not condemn law-suits on the ground of its being a wrong thing in itself to maintain a good cause by having recourse to a magistrate, but because it is almost invariably accompanied with corrupt dispositions; as, for example, violence, desire of revenge, enmities, obstinacy, and the like.

It is surprising that this question has not been more carefully handled by ecclesiastical writers. Augustine has bestowed more pains upon it than the others, and has come nearer the mark; 335335     Our Author, when treating at some length of the same subject in the Institutes, (volume 3, p. 543,) makes a particular reference to Augustine. (Ep. 5. ad Marcell.) — Ed. but even he is somewhat obscure, though there is truth in what he states. Those who aim at greater clearness in their statements tell us that we must distinguish between public and private revenge; for while the magistrate’s vengeance is appointed by God, those who have recourse to it do not rashly take vengeance at their own hand, but have recourse to God as an Avenger. 336336     “Se retirent a Dieu comme a celuy a qui appartient la vengeance;” — “They have recourse to God, as to him to whom vengeance belongeth.” (Psalm 94:1.) This, it is true, is said judiciously and appropriately; but we must go a step farther; for if it be not allowable even to desire vengeance from God, then, on the same principle, it were not allowable to have recourse to the magistrate for vengeance.

I acknowledge, then, that a Christian man is altogether prohibited from revenge, so that he must not exercise it, either by himself, or by means of the magistrate, nor even desire it. If, therefore, a Christian man wishes to prosecute his rights at law, so as not to offend God, he must, above all things, take heed that he does not bring into court any desire of revenge, any corrupt affection of the mind, or anger, or, in fine, any other poison. In this matter love will be the best regulator. 337337     “Pour estre bien gouuerne en ceci, il faut estre gaeni d’vne vraye charite;” — “To be properly regulated in this, we must be adorned with true love.”

If it is objected, that it very rarely happens that any one carries on a law-suit entirely free and exempt from every corrupt affection, I acknowledge that it is so, and I say farther, that it is rare to find a single instance of an upright litigant; but it is useful for many reasons to show that the thing is not evil in itself, but is rendered corrupt by abuse: First, that it may not seem as if God had to no purpose appointed courts of justice; Secondly, that the pious may know how far their liberties extend, that they may not take anything in hand against the dictates of conscience. For it is owing to this that many rush on to open contempt of God, when they have once begun to transgress those limits; 338338     “Plusieurs tombent en ceste malediction, de mepriser Dieu ouuertement;” — “Many fall into that curse of openly contemning God.” (Psalm 10:13.) Thirdly, that they may be admonished, that they must always keep within bounds, so as not to pollute by their own misconduct the remedy which the Lord has permitted them to employ; Lastly, that the audacity of the wicked may be repressed by a pure and uncorrupted zeal, which could not be effected, if we were not allowed to subject them to legal punishments.




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