State Road, Del., May 1883
DEAR BRO. RESPESS: I have been requested to write a comment on a portion of Scripture and offer it for publication. The subject may be found in the first letter to the Corinthians, 9th chapter and some verses in the commencement of the chapter.
The apostle, when he felt that reproof was called for, was not exactly the affectionate and fatherly man that he was when dealing with those that he called babes. He could be quite stern when he felt that it was called for; hence he is sometimes challenged as to his authority. And he is thus driven to defend himself, and present to them the proofs of his apostleship. In his second letter to this church, he speaks particularly in self-defense, and of their seeking proof that Christ was speaking to them in him. And while he calls himself a fool for indulging in what might seem like boasting, he charges them with being the cause of it. I am become a fool in glorying. Ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you; for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles. No people anywhere had more evidence of the apostle s mission and authority than these same Corinthians; yet when he admonished them in regard to any faults among them, they seem to take offense and challenge his authority. So in the third verse of the last chapter we find the expression, “Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me,” etc. In the fifth verse he turns the challenge over to them – “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” If there were churches or brethren anywhere to whom he had nor been an apostle, or had not proved his apostleship, certainly it was not there, or with them. “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” He is satisfied, without looking further for proof, but returns the challenge upon their own heads, themselves in their position as a gospel church affording ample proof of his divine authority. He still hesitates to let up on them, but goes on. “Truly, the signs of an apostle were wrought among you; in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” (2 Cor. xii. 12.)
In accordance with all this, the chapter to which my attention was called commences: “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord”?” There need be no further question about his apostleship; certainly not with these Corinthians. But the inquiry was as to what the apostle intends by his being free. It is to be understood, as a feature of the apostolic office, that instead of being dependent upon the churches, as other ministers were, and as gospel ministers have been ever since, their gifts being subject to the judgment of the church and to her authority, the apostle claimed his commission from higher authority, and that he was indebted to no man, or set of men. He had seen the Lord Jesus Christ, and had been commissioned and sent by him; hence no man could restrict him. He did not hold his commission from them or anybody else. In that sense he was indebted to no men, or organization among men. The Gentiles might be prejudiced against the Jews and the Jews against the Gentiles, it was no matter to him; he was free from them all. Yet, though he was not indebted to them, nor dependent upon recognition by them, yet he served them; but it was because of a necessity that was laid upon him, yet not laid there by men or by churches. “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” So unto the Jews he became as a Jew. He presented gospel things from a Jewish standpoint. The priesthood, the sacrifices and offerings, and the furniture of the tabernacle, these things he could use to advantage with Jews, as they were familiar with them. To them that had not had the law he would show that they were, nevertheless, not without law to God. To the weak he would become as weak, that he might aid and comfort them, and all classes and conditions of men might find in him a friend and benefactor.
Although he informs them of the source of his authority, and that he is not subject to man”s judgment, yet he is as not a lord or master, but a humble, devoted servant. While he asserts that he had a right to forbear working, and argues at length, with great force, that he had not only a right to be supported at the expense of the churches, but a right to have a wife if he chose to do so, to be supported also. But though he had this right, he did not use it; and so he reminds them of what they already knew, that he was resolved not to be burdensome to them. He used none of these things. He indeed speaks of it as though, under the circumstances, it would have been an abuse of his power.
Gospel ministers, though ever so gifted and faithful, are not apostles; and they are subject to the authority of the church, and dependent upon her judgment and recognition as apostles were not. Yet the example set them by the apostle is well worthy of their attention and emulation. It is certainly a becoming spirit, and that which is calculated to commend the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, instead of aiming to burden the churches in order to fare sumptuously and live in base and indulgence, to show a disposition to bear as lightly as possible upon them, and show habits of industry and economy in order to provide to such extent as they can for their own necessities. There is good reason to doubt a man”s interest in the spiritual welfare of a people then there is a disposition to bear heavily upon them temporally, and no sympathy manifested for them when the demands are seen to be oppressive. A dispensation of the gospel, when and where it is committed, is pretty sure to be accompanied by its own spirit. “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The above is respectfully submitted.