In resuming our remarks on I Corinthians 4:15, we propose to treat more fully on the affirmative, in regard to the indispensable requisites which constitute relation of position of a father in the church of God, in the sense in which the word is used in our text. As a progenitor, or author of our spiritual life, or rightful claimant of our supreme devotion, filial love, reverential fear, and implicit obedience, the saints of God are forbidden to call any man on earth father: for One is their Father, even God. They are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. The life therefore developed in that birth must be ascribed to God alone. But in the illustration of the various gifts which God has given to his church, the apostle has, as he tells us in verse 6 of the same chapter, "In a figure transferred this to himself, and to Apollos." Not to exalt himself or Apollos by an assumption of titles applicable to God; but for the very opposite object. "That ye may learn in us not to think of men above that which is written; that no one of you be puffed up for one against another." The apostle in thus transferring the figures employed in this chapter to Apollos as well as to himself, gives us to understand that the term is applicable in the sense in which it is used to other ministers of the gospel besides the apostles, but not properly applied to all instructors, or there would be no disparity between instructors and fathers. We therefore may search for the marks of distinction by which we are to discriminate between those instructors which are, and those who are not fathers.
We infer from the manner in which the apostles John, Peter, Paul and others have used the term, that it is designed not only to signify seniority of membership in the church, but certain peculiar qualities bearing analogy to the patriarchal or fatherly relation to, and care for, the children.
In our former number we pointed out many of the opposite traits which some instructors have betrayed. We will now attempt to show what are some of the distinguishing qualities or characteristics of fathers in the church of God.
First. Those who from long experience, wholesome training, and spiritual gifts are especially qualified to be useful by their counsels, instructions and examples to the younger and less experienced members in the church.
Second. Those who from long and faithful deportment have secured the well-placed confidence of the saints.
Third. Those who are sound in the faith, and deep in their understanding of the scriptures: orderly in their walk, sober and grave, yet humble and courteous in their deportment.
Fourth. Those who are familiar with the laws and discipline of the church of God; and careful to observe and contend for the order of the house of God.
Fifth. It is highly important that fathers in the church should render themselves perfectly accessible to the veriest babe, the weakest and most trembling child in the church.
Sixth. Those who are qualified to be fathers in the church will show a father's affection, care, solicitude and untiring devotion to the spiritual welfare of all the family.
Seventh. As affectionate and faithful fathers feel a responsibility resting upon them to do all in their power, by diligent and indefatigable labor, or sacrifice of personal ease and comfort, for the benefit and well being of their family, so those who are to be regarded as fathers in the house of God will show a corresponding devotedness to the best interests of the children of God. Not only to those who have been enabled to come forward and openly profess the religion of Christ, but they will be quick to discover those lambs that may be bleating around the fold, trembling and diffident about making their trials known; giving to such wholesome instruction, comforting words, and fatherly instructions.
But the particular sense in which the apostle in our text claimed to be a father is that he had, in Christ Jesus, begotten them through the gospel. We presume it is on this form of expression that the Arminians and means-advocates cavil, and on which brother Osburn more especially desires our views.
Now the simple question is, in what sense does Paul claim to have begotten the Corinthians through the gospel? If, as Arminian cavilers contend, their regeneration, as subjects of saving grace, was effected by the efforts of Paul in preaching the gospel to them as a means of grace, it must then follow that they were as Christians begotten and born, not of the Spirit, but of Paul, and consequently not the children of God but of Paul; not heirs of God, but heirs of Paul. Very unlike those spoken of in John 1:12,13, to whom God gave power to become the sons of God, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Now let us see the inevitable bearing of this logic. Paul is admitted to be a son of God, for God himself called him when on his way to Damascus, without any intermediate agency. Well now, admitting the Corinthians were begotten by Paul, what is their relation to God? Can it be any nearer than that of grandchildren? If that relation is near enough to suit the means advocates, we are certain that nothing short of the relation of sons of God will suffice to make us joint heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ to an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. But Paul himself repudiates the absurdity, and denounces the theory as carnal. "For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Appolos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything; neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase (I Corinthians 3:5-7)."
Thus we see that the apostle repudiates the idea of his having power to beget children for the Lord. To be the children of God we must be begotten immediately of God himself, as the scriptures everywhere affirm. It never was so in nature, that one could beget children into a relationship to another: how absurd and ridiculous then to talk of Paul's having begotten the Corinthians into the relation of sons and heirs of God. It is not, it cannot possibly be, that Paul intended to express any such thing. But the question then will return, what did he mean by the words, "For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel?" The answer, to be in harmony with all that Paul himself has said upon the subject, and all that the scriptures teach, must be that Paul and these Corinthians addressed were in Christ Jesus; not out of him to be brought in by Paul or Apollos, or by anybody else; and in Christ Jesus they sustain certain relations to each other as fellow-members of Christ. The position of Paul in the body, on which he claims the relation of father, is that himself and Apollos were ministers of Christ, called, qualified and sent forth to preach the gospel, and to proclaim among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and that under their divine commission they were the ministers by whom these Corinthians believed; not by whom they were redeemed from hell or quickened from death. How did these brethren believe by Paul and Apollos? Let Paul himself explain. "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal." How as unto carnal? "Even as unto babes in Christ." Now, as babes in Christ, they were already begotten and born of God, or they would not have been babes in Christ. "I have fed you with milk," as a nursing father, in adapting his instructions to their weak condition, so that they could understand his language, comprehend his meaning, and digest the food ministered to them. Babes, to be susceptible of food, even of milk, must be living babes. Even milk cannot be fed to the unbegotton or the unborn babes, nor to any but living children. These, being babes in Christ, are babes in life, for Christ is the life of all his children. If they were not alive, feeding them with milk would not make them live; or if they were not babes in Christ they could not possibly be fed with the sincere milk of the word. This Paul has clearly proved in the preceding chapters of this epistle. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." How unnatural it would be for a father to attempt to feed either milk or meat to a dead child, especially when he knew and had declared positively that they could not possibly receive it. But when the children of God are born, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever, then, and not until then, can they desire the sincere milk of the word that they may grow thereby. By the ministry of Paul and Apollos, these brethren had been so instructed and fed, that they had grown and were still growing; and as transferring the figurative language to himself and Apollos, he speaks of having been with them from their early infancy, imparting to them that instruction which their heavenly birth and spiritual life had qualified them to receive with joy, and by which they were through Paul's ministry inducted, or figuratively born into the more full understanding of the gospel; the light and liberty of the children of God, who are taught and instructed by and through the gospel ministry. It was in this sense that Paul called Timothy his son, and the beloved John claimed all the scattered saints as his little children. In this application of the figure, Paul appealed to the members of the Galatian churches who had received the Spirit, and who had run well, saying, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you, etc. (Galatians 4:19)." If he travailed of them again, he had travailed of them before. As an anxious parent earnestly desiring that they might bear the image of Christ, to which end his former travail and labor had been successful; now that error, in the form of legality, meansism and Arminianism had bewitched them, again he travailed in birth, that their former beauty might be restored, and Christ, not Moses, be formed in them, so that they might again reflect his lovely image.
By his administration of the gospel, which is Christ to them, Christ was reflected or formed understandingly in their hearts, so that in the exhibitions of their faith they presented Christ, and not Moses or Old Testament doctrine.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
February 1, 1866.
Editorials Volume 6 - pgs 290-294