And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an inncorruptible.
The text is a comparison between the worldly combatant and the spiritual,--between the wrestler of this world and the wrestler with it,--between him that strives for the "mastery" over others, and him that strives for the "mastery" over himself,--between the contenders in the Olympic games and the contender in the Christian race.
And it is an apt and fit comparison. Olympus in the heathen poets is commonly used for heaven; so the Olympic exercises may well be used to resemble those for heaven, and the heavenly crown likened to the Olympic garland, without any offence, though with all advantage.
And it is as seasonable as fit This holy time of Lent is a time of striving for the "mastery" with our corruptions, with our "corruptible" for God's "incorruptible;" a time of holy exercises upon the "corruptible" earth to obtain a crown "incorruptible" in the heavens.
And it; is somewhat more accommodate and easy to our natures, as much as temperance is than fasting, as partial abstitience from inordinacy and excess than abstaining altogether.
[1/2] Which makes me hope it will be as profitable as either fit, or seasonable, or accommodate; to teach us by comparing ourselves with the wrestlers of the world, our work with theirs, our reward with theirs, to do as much as they. Indeed, it should be more, as our work is more honourable than theirs, more honourable to master ourselves than others, our own unruly, beastly passions, than any man or beast what-ever; and our "crown" more worth than theirs, "incorrupt-ible" than "corruptible," and the obtaining it every way as easy, if we would but think it so, or set seriously to think of it: what they do, and what they do it for; how much they do, and how little they do it for; what we do, and for what we do it; how little we do, and for how much we do it; how little they get for so much, how much we may get for so little.
This is the sum of the text and the intent is to persuade us to be as industrious and careful for a crown of glory, as they are for a crown of grass; to take as much pains in the praise of God, as they did for the applause of men; to do and suffer as much for heaven, as they for less than earth, for a few leaves that grow out of it. And both the one is the better to he understood, the other the more likely to be persuaded, if I keep the parts of the comparison together, and do not sunder them, but compare then as we go.
The two combatants. The two strivings. The two directions. The two crowns.
The two combatants--the temporal and spiritual: The temporal, "he that striveth for the mastery," qui in agone contendit; the spiritual, "we "--S. Paul, and we Christians.
The two strivings: Theirs express, ours understood; they strive for masteries, yet not they only, but "we" also.
The diet or preparing for it much alike: "they are temperate in all things;" yet not "they" alone, but "we" must too; they do it, but we do it too, or should so, by the Apostle's similitude.
The two crowns: The one "corruptible," that is theirs; the other "incorruptible," that is ours; both expressly mentioned and compared.
And by comparing them together, we shall see the great obligation that lies upon us, to be "temperate in all things;" [2/3] that is, as you shall see anon, to do all things whereby we may come at last to obtain this "incorruptible "crown of glory.
I begin with the two combatants:--The one, is any man; the other, any Christian. The first is a man and no more, the other has a relation to Christ added to him.
That man, that "every man, striveth for the mastery," to outgo his fellow some way or other, is from his very nature; there is a kind of natural contention thence in every body to be somebody more than ordinary. If this contention were placed upon good things, or things worth the striving for, it were happy for us. But if we have no better assistance than from nature, we fix it upon games and sports, vanities and trifles; it is them we only strive about; there lies our busi-ness and our study. P©j ¶gwnix"menoj every one of us is no better, strive and study for nothing else; and yet vain men that we are, we trouble and toil ourselves as much about such nothings, as if they were all we could desire, all we could do.
It being then so natural and necessary a condition to every one of us, to be striving for somewhat or other, to aim at some excellence or other, to be better than our neighbours in some way or other; it were to be desired that this desire and earnest pursuit were pitched right. It is so in the other of the two combatants, the Christian.
He (1) indeed is the only "man that strives for the mas-tery." All others strive for that only which is but slavery when all is done; "we," we Christians, alone strive for that which is mastery and excellence. The more men strive for earthly things, the more are they brought under the dominion of them, the greater is their vassalage, and brings them no better but to cry out with Paul, in the person of the unregenerate man, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" It is God's service only that is perfect freedom; we are theme only free when we are free to righteousness, then only masters when we can command ourselves. For An ille mihi liber videatur eui cui mulier imperat? &c. says the Heathen orator, "Can you think him to have got the mastery whom vanity commands;" whom his lusts give law to; who can neither go nor come, eat nor drink, wake nor sleep, work [3/4] nor play, speak nor do, desire nor think, but what they would have him? Ego vero istum non modo servum sed nequissimum servo etiamsi in amplissima familoia natus sit, appellandum puto. "I truly," says he again, "think he is not only a servant, but a drudge, be he who he will, of never so honourable a family." I add, be his victory never so great and notable in lucre vain and corruptible things; they do but press him down the more, and subject him to vanity, and leave him groaning under the bondage of corruption. The master over these is the true Christian only, who by his faith and resignation conquers all his conquests, gets the better both when his overcomes and is overcome, both when his enemy oppresses him as well as when himself subdues him; who makes all things serve his triumph, every thing enhance his glory, also things work unto his good, advance his crown. All else are but the slaves of their conquests, mere drudges to an empty name,- an airy title.
And (2) if we take ¶gwnix"meuoj, for one that strives or fights, none so truly does it as the Christian. All else do but beat the air, fight with nothing in comparison; their combats are not only merely vain, vain scufflings with air and wind, to no purpose in the world; but the very things and enemies they encounter are, at the best, but men whose breath is in their nostrils, "lighter" than the very air, and "vanity itself," if we believe the Psalmist; and what great conquest over such? It is the Christian that fights indeed, that combats enemies indeed, "principalities and powers, and spiritual wickednesses in high places," enemies strong and mighty, that go invisible, and strike and wound us when we see them not, that fight with us out of high and almost inaccessible places of defence, that have all possible advantage over us. These are enemies, if we talk of enemies, to fight with indeed. The enemies worldly- men so tremble at, are but braggadocios to these; all their force and power but weakness if compared with the powers of hell and darkness. This is fighting, to fight with these, to fight with devils, and sins, and lusts; and thus the Christian is the only lighter, the p©j ¢gwnix"meuoj none but he.
And if I may have leave to expound ¢gwnix"meuoj,, one in an agony, as sometimes it is, none fight to agonies like Christians; [4/5] they come even to the fiery trial, even unto blood, even unto death. They did not so in the Olympic, Pythian, Nemæan, or Isthmian games; they were but games and sports to the Christian combat, that fights often to the death, must have always that intention not to give over for death itself, but continue constant to the end. So here we have in this first point, even the mastery amongst them that strive for mastery, that they strive for things not worth the striving for; that they strive indeed for slavery, not mastery; that they scarce do anything worth the name of striving or fighting; that theirs is but play and sport in comparison of the Christian combatant; and yet for all that, a great deal they do for the victory in these petty trifles; they wrestle, and cuff; and leap, and throw, and run, and try all their strength and power. And it is worth the while to see whether we strive and contend as much in our real Christian combat, in a case worthy of the while and labour. That we are now to do, secondly, to compare our strivings, theirs and ours, the Grecian and the Christian exercises.
Five several exercises, or kinds of striving for the mastery, there was in those Corinthian games,--wrestling, culling, quoiting, leaping, running. All these answered in our Christian course and exercise.
1. Wrestling. "Wrestling against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," says S. Paul. " Wrestling," secondly, with God in prayer, as Jacob did.
2. Cuffing and buffeting there is too. Buffeting ourselves, (i.) "keeping under our bodies, and bringing them into subjection," S. Paul's ÿpwpi£xein making our eyes and bodies, as it were, black and blue by watchings and fastings; cuffing or buffeting our eyes for looking after, our ears for listening to, our bodies for doing, punishing all our powers and senses for acting anything that is evil; a being "buffeted" too (ii.) "by Satan," when we forget to buffet ourselves. Cuffing and buffeting sufficient to be found in the Christian's exercise.
3. Quoiting or casting. "Casting away any weight" that hinders us, any "sin that does beset us;" removing every stone of offence, "giving no offence" to any "in anything, that our ministry be not blamed;" that nothing we do, nothing [5/6] we omit, neither our doing or our not doing, be a stone of stumbling, whereby "our brother may justly stumble, or is offended, or is made weak." 'Throw all such stones out of the way, and strive who shall so come nearest that "great corner-stone Christ Jesus," or the " mark of your high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
4. Leaping also is to be found among the Christian's exer-cises. Skipping and leaping for joy at the glad tidings of the Gospel; "leaping and praising God" with the lame man that was healed; striving who dull leap farthest in it; leaping with Abraham, (for so the word signifies,) "to see the day" of Christ; leaping with holy David before the ark; "rejoicing and leaping for joy" in the day of our sufferings for Christ; making it one of our daily exercises and businesses to praise and magnify God, and rejoice in him, all his days, and ways, and dispensations; strive with one another who shall do it most, who shall go farthest in it.
5. Running, we every where meet in the Christian's course. Running "the race which is set before us;" "so running as we may obtain," in the verse before the text. Christianity itself is styled a race, the Christian law the law of it, the Christian the runner, his life the course, heaven the goal; nothing more ordinary.
Besides these five single exercises in the Grecian games, there as a sixth, mixed or compounded, of wrestling and culling both, pagkr£tiou they called it. But in Christianity all are joined, all are sometimes exercised together; the Christian must be skilled and well exercised in all; wrestle against the world, the flesh, and devil; wrestle with God, cuff and buffet himself, suffer the buffetings of Satan too sometimes, cast away all weights and stones of hinderance and offence, leap and "run" with joy and eagerness "the race which is set before us, looking unto Jesus," always, in all these, looking unto him that is both "the author and finisher of our faith."
And being thus wholly to be kept in exercise, it will b convenient, nay, necessary, now to fit and prepare ourselves, so to diet and order ourselves, that we may so perform theme as to obtain the day, to get the victory, to be temperate in all things, as well as any wrestler or runner of them all.
[6/7] There are four several interpretations of the word ôgkrateetai, which we here render "temperate."
1. The first is, what here we find it, to be temperate: to keep a certain set diet, whereby their bodies might be best strengthened and enabled, made nimble and active: so it signifieth to the wrestlers. To observe a spare and moderate diet, such as may most advantage the soul's business, best subdue the body and quicken the spirit, be it abstinence from some, or sometimes from all, kinds of meat and drink; So it signifies to the Christian. This the Christian's, as the other the wrestler's diet.
Very exact and punctual were they that strove for the masteries in their observances: kept their rules, and times, and kind of diet. I would the Christian now were but half so much to his rule and order. Indeed, I must confess, theirs was not sometimes a moral temperance,--it was sometimes to fulness; yet still, such as was prescribed and most conducible to their end. If we would observe as much those abstinences, which most make to the enabling us in our spiritual race or combat, I shall desire no more; there indeed fasting and all temperance will come in, will be the Christian's ôgkrateetai, the Christian's being temperate in all things. A timing so necessary, that S. Jerome says no less than, Difficile imo impossibile est, ut præsentibus quia et futuris fruatur bonis, ut hic ventrem et ibi mentem expleat, ut de deliciis transeat ad delicias, ut in utroque sæculo primus sit, ut in coela et in terra apparent gloriosus. "It is hard, nay impossible," no less says he, "to enjoy both present and future goods," our good things here and hereafter too; "to fill the belly here and the soul hereafter; to pass from pleasure into pleasure," from fulness into fulness; "to be first in earth and heaven too, glorious in both." He must feed spare here, that looks to be fed full there; be temperate in all earthly delights and satisfactions, that looks for heavenly either in the other world or in this either: for the full body stifles the soul; and we are not more unwieldy in body when the belly is over full, than the soul is their. Fulness oppresses even the natural spirits, makes us we cannot eyed breathe freely for the while; enough to show us our rational [7/8] spirits are not likely to be freer to breathe, or evaporate themselves to heaven or heavenwards whilst the very natural ones themselves are so oppressed. From temperance and moderation we cannot be excused, neither in meat, nor drink, nor any thing, whatever weakness may excuse from fasting; so necessary a disposing of us it is to all Christian piety and goodness; yea, and a Christian virtue too itself.
The word may yet be rendered continence; so it seems to be taken, where it is distinguished from sËfrwn, sober or temperate, and joined next to "sioj, holy, clean, or pure. A point observed by those agnothleæ, to abstain from wine and women for the time of their providing themselves against those games. So the poet, Qui capit optatam cursu contin-gere metam ... Abstinuit vino et venere. And our Apostle tells us of such a kind of temporary continence, very convenient for those Christians that more especially addict themselves to the Christian exercises, particularly of prayer and fasting. But no time but commands continence and chastity to all Christians whosoever that no uncleanness be "so much as named among then;" for it becomes not saints,--it becometh not the Gospel of Christ, which is a doctrine of all holiness and purity. Nothing more weakens and indisposes the body for vigorous and noble actions,--nothing more unfits the soul for the race of Christian piety,- nothing more blinds it from understanding, nothing more keeps it from desiring, nothing more disables it from performing it,-- than inordinate and sensual lusts, and indulging to them. To run, or wrestle, or combat well, we have as much need of continence, as any that ever strove for secular mastery.
3. A third notion of ôgkrateetai there is to signify a constancy of mind to abstain from all things that are hurtful. Suidas and Hesychius render it, to abstain from evil; and that not only things that are truly such, but those things also sometimes that may hinder the greater good. Thus S. Paul in this chapter, a little before the text, abstains from using his Christian liberty, that he may so with the greater profit and success fulfil the course of his ministry; will not use the power he had to live upon preaching of the Gospel, but voluntarily preaches to the Corinthians upon free cost, that [8/9] he might gain the more; becomes again "all things to all men," that by all means he might "gain some." He saw the Corinthians were close and covetous, foresaw it was like to hinder his preaching much if he put them to much charge; he therefore supersedes his power and liberty (though he convinces them, from the beginning of the chapter, that such he had, and just, and natural, and reasonable, and ordinary it was), lest he should not do so much upon them as he de-sired. But though we must not expect that all men should advance to this height, they must yet resolve to remove all real and faulty hinderances out of the way, abstain from all occasions and appearances of evil, which may at any time hinder or rob us of our crown, make us fall short of the goal of heaven and glory.
4. Lastly, it may signify his having all things in his power, p£nta ùn kr£tei úcwu, the getting the mastery over himself, getting the victory over one desire after another, denying himself first one liberty, then another, till at last he has mas-tered all, p£nta ôgkrateetai got all into his power. Thus strove those Grecian wrestlers and racers, ordered and tem-pered their bodies by degrees, first to this exercise, then another; first to this height, then a higher; first to this, then to a further, till they had gotten a perfect master and com-mand over all their powers and members, to use them to the greatest advantage and agility. This is the Christian's busi-ness too, to keep our soul and body in continual exercise, always doing, ever suffering somewhat, now striving against that sin, then a second; now mortifying that lust, then an-other; now moderating this passion, then sweetening that one while denying himself this liberty, then another; some-times attempting this difficulty, then some other; sometimes running after good, sometimes wrestling with evil, sometimes cuffing and crucifying an inordinate desire, sometimes throw-ing off such and such a habit, sometimes leaping away in fear from an occasion or opportunity of doing ill, sometimes leaping into a way or occasion of doing good, sometimes leap-ing for joy when it is done: whereby at length, by continual exercise and custom, we may happily come to a perfect temper in all our powers and faculties of soul and body, bring them all to aim exact obedience, to "the obedience of Christ," to [9/10] "run the race," to "fight the fight," that he has set before us.
Delicatus es miles, si putes te posse sine pugna vincere, sine certamine triumphare, &c. says S. Chrysostom: "Thou art too delicate a soldier for Christ, if thou thinkest thou canst overcome without striving, triumph without fighting." Exsere vires, &c.; put out thy strength, fight valiantly, contend fiercely, in the Christian warfare; remember thy covenant, think upon thy condition, consider thy warfare, the covenant that thou mayest, the condition thou undertookest, the war-fare thou gayest thy name to at thy baptism. The Chris-tian's life is but a continual warfaring against the world, the flesh, and the devil; thy Captain calls and leads thee to it, and thy crown expects thee, not a crown of corruptible leaves or flowers, but "an incorruptible crown of glory." Be "temperate" and sober, be chaste and continent, be vigilant and constant, be diligent and active in Christ's holy work and business, that thou mayest run without falling, wrestle without being thrown, cuff without being beaten, quoit all thy labours near the mark, out-leap all evil ways, perform all thy exercises, get happily at last to the end of thy way and labour, snatch and carry away the crown pre-pared for thee. That is the fourth and last point of the comparison between crown and crown, the one "corruptible," the other "incorruptible."'
Here indeed first, properly, comes in the "but," the comparisons before have somewhat even; combatants, and exercises, and preparations much alike; but here nothing but the name, no comparison between mortal and immortal, vanity and reality, finite and infinite: yet let its a little compare them as we can.
The "crown" these gamesters strive for was but of leaves of pine or apple, of oak or olive, of laurel, nay, or even grass sometimes: corruptible these indeed, nay, and vain too, to do so much; Mulla tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit; to run, and sweat, and toil, and keep ado for such a toy as the pest of these, how- vain and foolish! The very heathen themselves, Anacharsis in Lucian, sufficiently deride it.
[10/11] Yet, as ridiculous as it seems, the greatest part even of the Christian world strive and labour for as little. What is the aim of all the great ones of the world, but leaves and grass? what get they by all their labours and pursuits, but some such business? Let them all have their desires, and it comes to no more. Let the one obtain his so much desired honour, another his beloved mistress, Pleasure, a third his darling wealth, (of one of which three kinds of leaves all their crowns are made,) and what get they but mere fading leaves?--neither fruit nor flower.
The crown of honour, what is it but a very leaf that withers presently? The worm of envy consumes it presently, the blast of jealousy nips it in its glory, the breath of malice deals it in a trice. The crown of pleasure has a woe upon it, a woe that will consume them: "Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty- is a fading flower." All that are drunk with an pleasure, their very crowns wither upon their heads; the intemperate heat that both produces and rises front their sensual pleasures, turns the colour of their beauty, and will make their garments ere long smell rank and stink with their own corruption. The crown of riches has a worm commonly that breeds in the leaf; this oaken garland in which we place so muck strength and stedfastness, has an oaken apple among the leaves that nurses a worm to consume it when we least think of it. Nay, though we had coronam militum, a crown, an army of men as thick as the spires of grass, to encompass and guard either our honours, wealth, or pleasures; yet they would all prove in a little time but as the grass: all men are nothing else, but particularly the rich man; so says that Apostle: "The rich man as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." He shall not stay for a storm to blast or blow him away--even the sun of prosperity shall do it: Mo1e ruit sua; his own weight and greatness shall throw him down. For the "sun is no sooner" (mark but that, "no sooner") "risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower of it falleth and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth; so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways." Mark that too, in his very "ways;" his own very "ways" shall bring him to ruin and destruction. It is so with the leaves of honour; it [11/12] is so with the leaves of pleasure; the very sun no sooner rises upon them, but it withers them; the very sunshine and favour of the prince ruins them; the burning heats of their pleasures waste them away, make their pleasures troublesome and burdensome in a little while, and a while after vanish and confound them with shame and reproach; leave then nothing upon their heads, but ill-coloured and ill-seated leaves, ignominy and dishonour; nothing in their Souls but dryness and discomfort; their estates too oftentimes drained dry, scarce anything but the Prodigal's husks to refresh them, or dry leaves to cover them.
But the Christian's crown is nothing such; it is a "flourish-ing crown," a "crown of pure gold," a "crown of precious stones," a "crown of righteousness," a "crown of life," a "crown of honour," a "crown of stars," a "crown of glory," "a crown of glory that fadeth not away," in the same verse, eternal, everlasting. A "flourishing," not a withering crown; a crown of "gold," not of grass; of "precious stones," not of leaves; of "righteousness," not unjustly gotten; of "life," not unto death; of "honour," not to be ashamed of; of "stars," not stubble; of "glory," not vanity; that never so much as alters colour, but continues fresh and flourishing, and splendid to all eternity: "An inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us," says S. Peter.
And having now compared our crowns, and finding so vast, so infinite a difference between them, can we think much to do as much for this "incorruptible crown of glory," as the others do for their vain and "corruptible" one? Shall they that strive for petty masteries, for toys and trifles, for ribands and garlands, be so exact in their observances, so strict in their diet, so painful in their exercises, so vigilant in their advantages, so diligent in providing, strengthening, and en-abling themselves for their several sports and undertakings; and shall we, that arc to strive for no less than heaven itself, be so loose in our performances, so intemperate in meat and drink, so sluggish in our business, so careless of advantages, so negligent in all things that make towards it? Are leaves worth so much, amid the fruit of eternal peace so little? Is a little air, the vain breath of a mortal man, to be so sought for; [12/13] and is the whole heaven itself, and the whole host and God of it, the praise of God, and saints, and angels, that stand looking on us, to be so slighted as not worth so doing, doing no more than they? Where is that man, Die mihi. musa virum, show me the man that can, that takes the pains for eternal glory, that these vain souls do for I know not how little enough to style it?
But if we compare the pains the ambitious man takes for honour, the voluptuous for his pleasure, the covetous man for wealth--mere leaves of Tantalus's tree, that do but gull, not satisfy them; the late nights, the early mornings, the broken sleeps, the unquiet slumbers, the many watches, the innume-rable steps, the troublesome journeys, the short meals, the strange restraints, the often checks, the common counter-buffs, the vexatious troubles, the multitude of affronts, neglects, refusals, denials, the eager pursuits, the dangerous ways, the costly expenses, the fruitless travels, the tortured minds, the wearied bodies, the unsatisfied desires when all is done, that these men suffer and run through; the one for an honour that sometimes nobody thinks so but he that pursues it; the other for a pleasure base oftentimes, and villainous; the third for an estate not far from ruin; nay oftentimes, to ruin his house and posterity;--if, I say, we compare these men's pains and sufferings, with what we do for Christ, and God, and heaven, and happiness--true, real, immovable happiness and glory, good Lord! how infinitely short do we come of them. Shall not they rise up against us in judgment and condemn us; nay, shall not we ourselves rise up against our-selves in judgment, who have done many of thee things, suffered many for a little profit, vain-glory, or vain hope, which we thought much to do for eternal glory? This we do: we strive, and labour, and take pains for vanity; we are "temperate in all things," restrain and keep in ourselves, for the obtaining sometimes a little credit, sometimes a little affection, or good opinion, from some whose love or good opinion is worth nothing; or if it be, is as easily lost, as soon removed and changed from us, is commonly both corrupt and "corruptible," without ground, and to little purpose. But for God's judgment, Christ's affection, the Holy Spirit's good love to us, for the praise of good men, of saints, and [13/14] angels, the whole choir of heaven rejoicing over us; nay, for heaven itself; and blessedness, and glory, all which we might obtain with the same pains, and lesser trouble, and in the same time, it is so little that we do, so far from all, that I may, without injury, style it nothing.
But for God's sake, for Christ's sake, for our own sake, let it not be so for ever; let us not always prefer glass before diamonds; barleycorns before pearls; pleasure, or profit, or honour, before heaven, and happiness, and glory. There are in heaven unspeakable pleasures, whole rivers of them there. There are in heaven infinite and eternal riches, which we can neither fathom nor number; there is glory, and honour, and immortality, and eternal life. There are all these crowns made "incorruptible" and everlasting; all running round, encircling one another like crowns, encircling our souls and bodies too like crowns, without end, without period. If we would have any crowns, honour, or riches, or pleasure, let us there seek them where they are advanced to au incorrupti-bility, made "incorruptible," where the leaves are turned into everlasting fruit, incorruptible honour, incorruptible pleasure, incorruptible riches, incorruptible all. Let us but do for them, thus advanced and heightened, as we do for them when they are but fading and withering, and unsatisfying, and I say no more, but you will with as much ease obtain this incorruptible and immortal, as that mortal and corrupt-ible. God grant us grace to do so, to strive "for the mas-tery" over ourselves, and lusts, and sins; so to be temperate, abstemious, vigilant, and industrious in the pursuit of heaven, as we are or have been of the earth; that we may at last be crowned, not with "a corruptible" but "an incorruptible crown of glory" and everlasting life.