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exclaim, Though you, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto us than that, which we have received, let him be accursed! Gal. i. 8, 9. Do we always keep in sight, while we are working in the building of the church, the pattern shewed to us in the mount, Heb. viii. 5. you ought to be attentive, diligent and teachable. Do we make an odious mixture of truth and error, Christ and Belial, light and darkness : you ought, to exercise your senses to discern good from evil. It is this inseparable connection of your duty with ouss, which determined me to explain the text. It directly regards the various methods of the preachers of the gospel : but as the terms are metaphorical and obscure, it will be necessary to develop the meaning of the apostle in the following manner.
First we will examine what gave occasion for the words--next we will observe the design of the apostle in writing them in the third place we will explain the several figures made use of—and lastly we will apply the subject to practice.
I. The occasion of the text will appear by a little attention to the connection in which it stands, St. Paul had been endeavoring to put an end to the divisions of the church at Corinth, and to destroy the party spirit of the Corinthians. Ought we to be astonished, that churches are so little una. nimous now, when we see the diversity often among apostles and primitive christians ? If peace, left by Jesus Christ as an inheritance to his apostles, could not be maintained in churches gathered by these blessed men, where must we look for it? Perhaps, division was partly owing to the imprudence of some preachers in their primative churches: but certainly their hearers had a chief hand in fo
Inenting them. The teachers had different gifts, and their hearers divided into parties under their ininistry. It is always allowable to distinguish men, who have received great talents from God, from such as have received abilities not so great ; but these Corinthian christians affected to exalt those of their ministers, who, they thought, were men of the most eminent abilities, to the depression and discouragement of the rest, and under pretence of paying homage to God the giver of these talents, they very indiscreetly idolized the men who had received them. Moreover, they made as many different religions, as God had given different commissions, and different abilities to ministers to execute them. Each party at Corinth chose out of these pretended religions that, which appeared most conformable to its prejudices. The converted pagans were for St. Paul, to whom the conversion of the gentiles had been committed, and who brought them to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and they said, for our parts, we are of Paul. Such as had a taste for eloquence were for Apollos, who was an eloqueni man, and mighty in the scriptures, and they said, we are of Apollos. The converted Jews were for Peter, who discovered a great deal of moderation toward their ceremonies, and who had even compelled the Gentiles , to live as the Jews did, that is to mix the simple worship of the new testament with the ceremonial observances of the law, and they said, as for us, we are of Cephas. And those Jews, who obstinately continued the ceremony of circumcision, pretended that they had no need of the authority either of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas, for the example of Jesus Christ, who had himself been circumcised, was sufficient for them, and for their parts, they were of Christ.
St. Paul tells these Corinthians, that, as long as they should continue in this disposition, he should consider them as novices in the christian religion, able at most only to understand the first principles, not to comprehend the whole design. He tells them, that there were in this religion treasures of wisdom and knowledge, but into which men could never enter, who mixed their passions with truths intended to mortify them; and that this defect in them prevented him from attempting to lay before them these riches. I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat : for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet cornal, for whereas there is among you envying and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men, 1 Cor. iii. 1-3. that is, as men of the world ?
Having reproved the folly, and repeated the descriptive censure, he leads them to the true motive, that should induce them to avoid it. Although, as if he had said, the talents of your ministers are not all equal, yet they all received them from the same source, that is, from the grace of God; and how amply soever any of them may be endowed with abilities, they can have no success, except the same grace bestows it. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, as the Lord gave to every man, ver. 5. that is, 'as the blessing of God accompanied their ministry? I have planted, Apollos watered : but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase, ver. 8. A great lesson for those, to whom God hath given gifts to preach the gospel! A fine example of humility, which they
ought always to have before their eyes ! And what were the gifts, with which God enriched the first heralds of the gospel? What is a little vivacity of imagination, a little grace of elocution, a little reading, a little justness of reasoning? What are these talents in comparison with the gifts of men, who spoke several foreign languages, who understood all mysteries, who altered the laws of nature, who were dispensers of the divine power, who raised the dead, who slew the wicked with the breath of their lips, who struck dead at their feet Ananias and Sapphira, and to say more still, who were immediately conducted by the Spirit of God in their ministry? Yet behold the man, who was first in this class of extraordinary men, behold this chosen dessel, behold the man, who could say, I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles, 2 Cor. xi. 5. behold him, doing homage for all his own talents, and all those of his colleagues to that grace, from which they came, and which blessed the administration of them. Who is Paul? Who is Apollos ? He that planteth is nothing, he that watereth is nothing, but God that giveth the increase.
II. It was to be feared (we proceed to the design of the text) it was to be feared, that under pretence that all the ministers of the gospel were united in one point of equality; under pretence that none of them were any more than servants of God, and canals by which he communicated himself to the church; I say it was hazardous, and much to be suspected, whether teachers themselves would not abuse this equality by applying what the apostle meant only of the abilities of preachers to the very doctrines themselves, which they taught.
If this were doubtful in regard to the preachers, it was no less so in regard to the hearers. People have, I think, a natural bias to superstition. They easily shew that respect, which is due only to the character of a minister of the living God, to all that put it on, even to such as use it only for the perverting of the gospel, yea to those who endeavor to subvert it entirely. Because we ought not to hear the gospel in a spirit of chicanery and sophistry, it is supposed we ought to lay aside a spirit of discernment. Hence this way of speaking, so superstitious, and at the same time so common among us, that is, that whatever difference there may be in preachers, yet they all preach the word of God. But is it not impossible, that from a text, which is the word of God, explications may be given, which are only the word of man. Not impossible, did I say, I believe it seldom, if ever happens, that two ministers treat of one subject without at least one of them mixing with the word of God some expressions which are only the word of man. Why? Because the conformity of their sentiments can never be so perfect, but they will differ in some questions. Now, of two men, one of whom takes the affirmative side of a question, and the other the negative, one of them must of necessity, in this respect, preach the word of God, and the other the word of man. You should not, therefore, pay a superstitious attention to our discourses. You should not, under pretence that all your ministers thus preach the word of God confound the word of God with the word of man. Whatever patience you may be obliged to have. with our imperfections, you ought not equally to esteem two discourses, the greatest part of one of which you call, and have reason to call, the word of God, and the greatest part of the other the word of man.