Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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mental and most fecund of other evils, was the
raging party spirit, which had arisen among them.
Greek-like, the Corinthians were not satisfied
with the matter of the simple Gospel, in whatever
form, but had begun to clothe its truths (and to
obscure them in the act) in philosophical garb
and rhetorical finery; and had split themselves



into factions, far from tolerant of one another,
rallying around special teachers and glorifying,
each, a special mode of presentation. So far
had this gone that the rival parties had long ago
broken the peace of the Church, and were threat-
ening its unity.

Paul devotes himself first of all to the sham-
ing of this spirit and the elimination of its results.
In doing so he cuts to the roots. He begins with
a rebuke of the violence of the Corinthians' party
spirit, sarcastically suggesting that they had made
Christ, who was the sole Redeemer of God's
Church and in whom were all, a share; and so par-
celled Him out to one faction — as if others had
had Paul to die for them and had been baptized in
his name, and so on. He then sets himself seri-
ously to refute the whole basis of their factions and
to place firmly under his readers' feet the elements
of the truth. To do this, he first elucidates the
relation of wisdom — philosophy and rhetoric, we
would say now — to the Gospel; pointing out that
the Gospel is not a product of human wisdom and
is not to be commended by it; although, no doubt,
it proclaims a Divine wisdom of its own to those
who are capable of receiving it. Thus he de-
stroys the very nerve of their strife. Then, with
our present passage, he turns to the parallel oc-
casion of their strife and explains the relation
of the human agents through which it is propa-
gated to the Gospel. This he declares to be none


other than the relation of hired servants to the
husbandry of the good-man of the farm. Pro-
ceeding to details, Paul and Apollos, he declares,
are alike but servants, each doing whatever work
is committed to him, work which may no doubt
differ, externally considered, in kind, though it is
exactly the same in this — that it is nothing but
hired service, while it is God that gives the in-
crease. There is no difference in this respect;
not that the work is not deserving of reward;
reward, however, not as if the increase was theirs
but only proportioned to the amount of their
work as labour. The harvest is God's; that har-
vest which they themselves are. They, the
labourers, are fellow-labourers only, working for
God. They, the Corinthians, do not belong to
them; they are God's husbandry, God's building.

Thus the Apostle not only intimates but em-
phatically asserts that the Church of God is not
the product of the ministry; no, nor is any indi-
vidual Christian. Every Christian and the Church
at large is God's gift. God sets workmen to labour
in His vineyard; and rewards them richly for
their labour, paying each all his wages. But these
labourers, it is not theirs to give the increase, nor
even to choose their work. It is theirs merely to
work and to do each the special work which God
appoints. The vineyard is God's and so is the
increase, — which God Himself gives.

Now, looking at this general teaching of the


passage in a broad and somewhat loose way, we
see that the following important truths are in-

(1) Christianity is a work which God accom-
plishes in the heart and in the world. It may even
be said to be the work of God : the work that God
has set Himself to do in this dispensation, and
hence the second creation.

(2) Shifting the emphasis a bit, we perceive
that the passage emphasizes the fact that Chris-
tianity is a work which is accomplished in the
heart and in the world directly by God.

(3) Men are but God's instruments, tools,
"agents" (ministers) in performing this work.
They do not act in it for God, that is, instead of
God; but God acts through them. It is He that
gives the increase.

(4) All men engaged in this work are in equally
honourable employment. If one plants and an-
other waters and another reaps, it is all "one."
They are all only fellow-labourers under God; equal
in His sight and to be rewarded, not according to
what they did, but according to how they did it.
This would not be true if man made the increase;
but the reaper no more makes the harvest than
the sower. Nor would it be true if the reaper had
the increase. But it is not the reaper's "field."
He is a hired labourer, not an owner. It is God's
field. Each gets his wages; little or much ac-
cording to the quality of his work. Wages are


measured fey labour, not results. And therefore it
is all one to you and me, as labourers in God's field,
whether He sets us to plough, plant, water or reap.

Looking at these truths in turn:

What an encouragement it is to the Christian
worker to know that Christianity is, so to speak
(in the figure of the text), the crop which God the
great husbandman has set Himself to plant and to
raise in this "season" in which we live. There-
fore this dispensation is called "the year of sal-
vation." And therefore, when pleading a little
later with these same Corinthians to receive the
grace of God not in vain, Paul clinches the ap-
peal with the pointed declaration that now, this
dispensation, is that accepted time, that day of
salvation, at last come, to which all the prophets
pointed, for which all the saints of God had
longed from the beginning of the world. It is
therefore again, leaving the figure, that this same
Apostle declares that our Lord and Saviour has
for the whole length of this dispensation assumed
the post of the Ruler of the Universe, in order that
all things may be administered for the fulfilment
of His great redemptive purpose; in order that
all things may, in a word, be made to work to-
gether for good to those that love Him. Li a
word, God is a husbandman in this season which
we call the inter-adventual period; and the crop
that He is planting and watering and is to reap is
His Church.


No wonder our Saviour declared the Kingdom
of Heaven like unto a sower who went forth to
sow; who spread widely the golden grain, and
reaped it too, a harvest of many-fold yield. For
God's husbandry cannot fail. Other husband-
men are not in this wholly unlike their hired ser-
vants: they plant and water, — but they cannot
compel life; and what may be the results of their
labour they know not. The floods may come, the
winds may blow, the sun may parch the earth,
the enemy may destroy the grain. But God gives
the increase. It is therefore that the Redeemer
sits on the throne, that floods and rain and sun —
all the secret alchemy of nature — may be in His
control, that "all things shall work together for
good to them that love Him." There, I say, is
our encouragement. Christianity is the work of
God, the work He has set Himself to do in this
age in which we live. As we go forth as His ser-
vants to plant and water, we may go upheld by a
deathless hope. The harvest cannot fail. WTien
the sands of time run out and God sends forth
His reapers, the angels, there will be His harvest
thick on the ground — and the field is the world.
The purpose of God stands sure. We may not be
called to see the end from the beginning. But if
God calls you and me to plant or to water, it is
our blessed privilege to labour on in hope.

All this is just because the result is not ours to
produce or to withhold. It is God that gives


the increase. As Christianity is the work which
God has set before Himself to accompKsh in this
age; so Christianity in the world and in the heart
is a work which God alone can accomplish. It is
not in the power of any man to make a Christian,
much less to make the Church — that great or-
ganized body of Christ, every member of which is
a recreated man. Why, we cannot make our own
bodies; how much less the body of Christ! If
in this work Paul was nothing and Apollos noth-
ing, what are we, their weak and unworthy suc-
cessors! This is the second great lesson our pas-
sage has to teach us; or, rather, we may better
say this is the great lesson it teaches, for it was
just to teach this that it was written. The fault
of the Corinthians was that they had forgotten
who was the husbandman, who alone gave the in-
crease. Hence their divisions, making Christ only
the share of one party, while others looked to Paul
or Apollos or Cephas, just as if they stood related
to the harvest in something of the same way as
Christ. Nay, says Paul, Christ alone is Lord of
the harvest. It is God alone who can give the

Paul had reason to know this in his own
experience. He knew how he had been gath-
ered into the Kingdom. He was soon to ac-
quire new reason for acknowledging it, in that
journey of his from Ephesus to Macedonia, in
which, while his heart was elsewhere, all unknown


to himself God was leading him in triumph,
compelling ever-increasing accessions to his
train. Nor did he ever stint his declaration of it.
Thus, take that passage (Eph. 2:10), where he,
completing a long statement of God's gracious
dealings with Christians in quickening them into
newness of life, without obscurity or hesitation
outlines the whole process as a creative work of
God. " For it is by grace that ye are saved, through
faith: nor is this of yourselves, it is God's gift;
not of works, lest some one should boast. For
we are His workmanship — creatures — created in
Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath
afore prepared that we should walk in them."
This is Paul's teaching everywhere: that as it is
God who created us men, so it is God who has re-
created us Christians. And the one in as direct
and true a sense as the other. As He used agents
in the one case — our natural generation (for none
of us are born men without parents), so He may
use instruments in the other, our spiritual regen-
eration (for none of us are born Christians where
there is no Word). But in both cases, it is
God and God alone who gives the increase.

Let us not shrink from this teaching; it is the
basis of our hope. Though we be Pauls and Apol-
loses we cannot save a soul; though we be as elo-
quent as Demosthenes, as subtle as Aristotle, as
convincing as Plato, as persistent as Socrates, we
cannot save. And though we be none of these.


but a plain man with lisping lips, that can but let
fall the Gospel truth in broken phrases — we need
no eloquent Aaron for our prophet. We need
only God for our Master. It is not we who save,
it is God ; and our place is not due to our learning
or our rhetoric or our graces, it is due to the hon-
ouring of God, who has mercy on whom He will
have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens.

Hence we have the great consolation of knowing
that the responsibility of fruitage to our work does
not depend absolutely on us. We are not the
husbandman; the field is not ours; its fruitage is
not dependent on or limited by our ability to
produce it. All Christian ministers are but God's
"agents" (for that is the ultimate implication of
the term used), employed by Him to secure His
purposes; God's instruments, God's tools. It is
God who plans the cultivation, determines the
sowing and sends us to do it. Now this is to
lower our pride. Some ministers act as if they
owned the field; they lord it over God's heritage.
More feel as if they had produced all the results;
made, "created," the fruit. They pride them-
selves on the results of their work and compare
themselves to others' disadvantage with their
neighbours in the fruits granted to their ministry.
This is like a reaper boasting over the sower or
ploughman, as if he had made the crop it has been
allowed him to harvest. Others feel depressed,
cast down, at the smallness of the fruitage it has


been allowed them to see from their work, and
begin to suspect that they are not called to the
ministry at all, because the work given them
to do was not reaping. And herein is the con-
solation: just because we are not doing God's
work for Him, but He is doing His own work
through us; just because we do what work He
appoints to us; not we but He is responsible for
the harvest. All that is required of stewards is
that they be found faithful.

Hence — and this is the final and greatest con-
solation to us as ministers — it ought to be a mattei*
of indifference to us what work God gives us to
do in His husbandry. Reaping is no more honour-
able than sowing; watering no less honourable
than harvesting. Men disturb themselves too
much over the kind of work they are assigned to,
and can scarcely believe they are working for God
unless they are harvesting all the time. But in
the great organized body of labour it is as in
the organized body to which Paul compares the
Church later: if all were reapers, where were the
sowing, where were the cultivating, where the
watering? And if no sowing, and no watering,
where were the reaping .^^ It is not ours to deter-
mine what work we are to do. It is for us to de-
termine how we do it. For none of us will fail
of our wages and the wages are not proportioned
to the kind of work, as if the reaper because he
reaped would have all the reward. The field


is not liis, and the harvest is not his. He does
not get the crop because he reaped it. He gets
just what the planter and waterer get, his wages.
Wages, I say, not proportioned to the kind of
work, but to the labour he does. Each one, says
Paul, shall receive "his own reward" according
to his own labour. The amount of labour, not the
department of work, is the norm of our reward.
What a consolation this is to the obscure work-
man to whom God has given much labour and,
few results; reward is proportioned to the labour,
not the results ! And this for a very good reason.
God apportions the work on the one hand and
gives the increase on the other. But it is we that
do the labour. And, of course, we are rewarded
according to what is done by us, not God. Let
us then labour on in whatever sphere God gives
it to us to labom', content, happy, strenuous, un-
tiring, determined only to do God's work in God's
way; not seeking to intrude into work to which He
has not appointed us, and not repining because He
has given us this work and not that. Each one
to his own labour, and God the re warder of all!


1 Cor. 10:16, 17: — "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not
a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break,
is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Seeing that we,
who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the
one bread."

There are few injunctions as to methods
of interpretation more necessary or more fruitful
than the simple one. Interpret historically.
That is to say, read your text in the light of the
historical circumstances in which it was written,
and not according to the surroundings in which,
after say two thousand years, you may find your-
self. And there is no better illustration of the
importance of this injunction than the interpre-
tations which have been put on the passages in
the New Testament which speak of the Lord's
Supper. Little will be hazarded in saying that
each expositor brings his own point of view to the
interpretation of these passages, and seems in-
capable of putting himself in the point of sight
of the New Testament writers themselves. He
who reads the several comments of the chief
commentators, for instance, on our present pas-
sage, quickly feels himself in atmospheres of very
varied compositions, which have nothing in com-
mon except their absolute dissimilarity to that



which Paul's own passage breathes. If we are
ever to understand what the Lord's Supper was
intended by the founder of Christianity to be, we
must manage somehow to escape from the com-
mentators back to Paul and Paul's Master. Here
then is a specially pressing necessity for inter-
preting according to the historical circumstances.

The allusion to the Lord's Supper in our pres-
ent passage, it will be noted, is purely incidental.
The Apostle is reasoning with the Corinthians on
a totally different matter; on a question of casu-
istry which affected their every-day life. Im-
mersed in a heathen society, intertwined with
every act of the life of which was some heathen
ordinance, the early Christian was exposed at
every step to the danger of participating in idol-
atrous worship. One of the places at which he
was thus menaced with what we may call con-
structive apostacy was in the very provision for
meeting his need of daily food. The victims of-
fered in sacrifice to heathen divinities provided
the common meat-supply of the community. If
one were invited to a social meal with a friend, it
was to an idol's feast that he was bidden. If he
even bought meat in the markets, it was a por-
tion of the idol sacrifice alone that he could pur-
chase. How, in such circumstances, was he to
avoid idolatry.^

The Apostle devotes a number of paragraphs in
the first Epistle to the Corinthians to solving this


pressing question. The wisdom and moderation
with which he deals with it are striking. His
fmidamental proposition is that an idol is nothing
in the world, and meats offered to idols are noth-
ing after all but meats, good or bad as the case
may be, and are to be used simply as such, on the
principle that the earth is the Lord's and the full-
ness thereof. But. side by side with this, he lays
a second proposition, that any involvement in
idol worship is idolatry and must be shunned by
all who would be servants of the One True God
and His Son. ^Miether any special act of par-
taking of meats offered to idols involves sharing
an idol worship or not, will depend mainly on the
subjective state of the participant: and his free-
dom with respect to it is conditioned only by his
debt of love to his fellow Christians, who may or
may not be as enlightened as he is. The Corin-
thians appear to have been a heady set and the
Apostle evidently feels it to be the more pressing
need to restrain them from hasty and unguarded
use of their new-foimd freedom. He does not
urge them to treat the idols as nothing. He urges
them to avoid entanglement with idolatrous acts.
And our passage is a part of his argument to se-
cure their avoidance of such idolatrous acts.

The argument here turns on a matter of fact
which would be entirely lucid to the readers for
whom it was first intended, but can be fathomed
by us only by placing ourselves in their historical


position. Its whole force depends on the readers'
ready understanding of the nature and signifi-
cance of a sacrificial feast. This was essentially
the same under all sacrificial systems. The eat-
ing of the victim offered whether by the IsraeUte
in obedience to the Di\Tne ordinances of the Old
Covenant, or by the heathen in Corinth, meant
essentially the same thing to the participant.
Therefore the Apostle begins the passage by ap-
pealing to the intelligence of his former heathen
readers and submitting the matter to their natural
judgment. He asks them themselves to judge
whether it is consistent to partake in the sacri-
ficial feasts of both heathen and Christian. This
is the gist of the whole passage.

Participation in a sacrificial feast bore such a
meaning, stood in such a relation to the act of
sacrifice itself, that it was ob^-ious to the meanest
intelligence that no one could properly partake
both of the \'ictims offered to idols and of that
One Victim offered at Calvary to God. To feel
this as the Corinthians were expected to feel it,
we must put ourselves in their historical position.
They were heathen, lived in a sacrificial system,
and knew by nature what participation in the
victim offered in sacrifice meant. We may put
ourselves most readily in their place by attending
to what Paul says here of the Jewish sacrificial
feasts, which he adduces as altogether parallel,
so far, with the significance of the same act


on heathen ground. "Consider Israel after the
flesh," he says, "are not those that eat the sac-
rifices, communicants in the altar?" Here it is
all in a nut-shell. All those who partake of the
victim offered in sacrifice were by that act made
sharers in the act of sacrifice itself. They — this
body of participants — were technically the offerers
of the sacrifice, to whose benefit it inured, and
whose responsible act it was. Whether a Greek,
sharing in the victim offered to Artemis or Aphro-
dite, or a Jew sharing in the victim offered to Je-
hovah, or a Christian sharing in that One Vic-
tim who offered Himself up without spot to God,
the principle was the same; he who partook of
the victim shared in the altar — in the sacrificial
act, in its religious import and in its benefits.
Is it not capable of being left to any man's judg-
ment in these premises, whether one who shared in
the One Offering of Christ to God could inno-
cently take part in the offerings which had been
dedicated to Artemis .^^

The point of interest for us to-day in all this
turns on the implication of this argument as to
the nature of the Lord's Supper in the view of
Paul and of his readers in the infant Christian
community at Corinth. Clearly to Paul and the
Corinthians, the Lord's Supper was just a sacri-
ficial feast. As such — as the Christians' sacri-
ficial feast — it is put in comparison here with the
sacrificial feasts of the Jews and the heathen. The


whole pith of the argument is that it is a sacrificial
feast. And if we wish to know what the Lord's
Supper is, here is our proper starting point. It is
the sacrificial feast of Christians, and bears the
same relation to the sacrifice of Christ that the
heathen sacrificial feasts did to their sacrifices
and that the Jewish sacrificial feasts did to their
sacrifices. It is a sacrificial feast, offering the
victim, in symbols of bread and wine, to our par-
ticipation, and signifying that all those who par-
take of the victim in these symbols, are sharers in
the altar, are of those for whom the sacrifice was
o£Pered and to whose benefit it inures.

Are we then to ask, what is the nature of the
Lord's Supper .f^ A Babel of voices may rise about
us. One will say. It is the badge of a Christian
man's profession. Another, It is the bloodless
sacrifice continuously offered up by the vested
priest to God in behalf of the sins of men. His-
tory says, briefly and pointedly, it is the Christian
passover. And, so saying, it will carry tis back
to that upper room where we shall see Jesus and
His disciples gathered about the passover meal,
the typical sacrificial feast. There lay the lamb
before Him; the lamb which represented Himself
who was the Lamb slain before the foundation
of the world. And there was the company of
those for whom this particular lamb was offered
and who now, by partaking of its flesh, were to
claim their part in the sacrifice. And there


stood the Antitype, who had for centuries been
represented year after year by lambs like this.
And He is now about to offer Himself up in ful-
filment of the type, for the sins of the world!
No longer will it be possible to eat this typical
sacrifice; typical sacrifices were now to cease, in
their fulfilment in the Antitype. And so our
Lord, in the presence of the last typical lamb,
passes it by and taking a loaf, when He had given
thanks, broke it and said. This — I hope the em-
phasis will not be missed that falls on this word,
this — no longer the lamb but this loaf — is my
body which is broken for you; this do in remem-
brance of me. And in like manner also the cup
after supper, saying, This cup is the New Cove-
nant in my blood; this do in remembrance of me;
for as often as ye eat this bread and drink this
cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death, until He come.
How simple, how significant, the whole is, when
once it is approached from the historical point of
view. The Lord's Supper is the continuation of
the passover feast. The symbol only being
changed, it is the passover feast. And the eating
of the bread and drinking of the wine mean pre-
cisely what partaking of the lamb did then. It is

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 13 of 27)