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BECOMING ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN.
BY REV. WILLIAM ADAMS, D. D.
PASTOR OF THE CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, BROOME STREET, NEW YORK.
...... "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."-1 Cor. Ix. 22.
If there be a passage in any language worthy to be compared, for the nobleness and sublimity of its sentiments, with the vindication which Paul has made of himself in this ninth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, we have not yet been fortunate enough to discover it.
We cannot be insensible to the magnanimous bearing of Aristides “the Just,” when defending his pure fame against the jealousy of his great rival Themistocles; deeply are our sympathies moved when we read of men like Galileo and Columbus, wronged and defrauded by those whom they had benefited, standing forth to repel aspersion, and vindicate their own names and achievements; infected with his own deep pathos are we all, when we read the words with which the Earl of Chatham stirred the British senate in defence of his life, spent in public service, against the attacks of men who could not, or would not, appreciate his motives; but not one of these signal passages in the history of forensic eloquence is equal to the chapter now before us, in which, under the necessity of self-defence, the Apostle to the Gentiles appeals to the principles and conduct of his disinterested and noble life.
He had been falsely accused by false men ; who, by misjudging his motives and degrading his official character, sought to impugn and degrade Christianity itself; and the occasion demanded that he should step forth from the modest retirement, in which the conscious uprightness of his motives was left' with God, and, by an explanation of his own principles, vindicate the spirit of Christianity as attacked in his person. Nor is that man to be envied, who can read this record of self-sacrificing benevolence, this devotion of oneself to hardship, and solitude, and toil, for the good of others, without the generous glow of enthusiastic admi. ration.
In the one verse which I have selected for my text, we have, PY
condensed into a few words, the object of his life, and the means by which he sought its attainment; which form of expression may serve to furnish the method to be pursued in the following discourse :
I. THE OBJECT AND END OF HIS LIFE: “ That I might by all means save some.”
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH HE SOUGHT TO ACCOMPLISH HIS OBJECT : " I am made all things to all men.”,
The object of the Apostle's life was the salvation of his fellowmen. It is plain that he looked at the human race from a particular point of view. He was convinced that they were in danger; and his desire was to rescue them.
There have been a great many ingenious representations of human life. The world has been described under a very great variety of images. Old Pythagoras, when he was asked what he thought of human life, compared it to the Olympic games, where some came to try their fortune for the prizes ; some as merchants to exchange their commodities; some to make good cheer and meet their friends ; and others, like himself, were simply lookers-on. Epictetus, another of the old philosophers, in a very striking paragraph, which has been confessedly employed by Mrs. Barbauld as the foundation of a very ingenious essay, compared the world to a great mart of commerce, where fortune exposes to our view many and various commodities, which we may procure by purchase or barter. Others have painted life as a voyage-the revolution of the seasons—a war-a racea school—and so on, through the whole range of metaphorical illustration. Far different was the view taken by the great Apostle. To his eye the world was a vast wreck, in danger of being broken up by the waters of a destroying deluge. Mankind were in imminent peril of being drowned in perdition; and he was running from point to point, making incredible exertions, if by all means he might save some. In the language employed by him at other times, the image, but not the idea, is somewhat varied. Instead of a drifting wreck, the world was as a house on fire, and its inmates in danger of being consumed in everlasting burnings. He shouts to the sleepers ; he wakes them out of their slumbers ; he rushes to the rescue, “pulling them out of the fire,” that by all means he might save some. It is evident that he was thoroughly convinced of the fact that all mankind are in danger of eternal ruin. He cherishes no notion akin to the universal salvation of "all his race. To him they do not appear to be floating quietly and securely towards a state of indiscriminate happiness. The sharp cry from his lips--If by all means I might save some-implies what he felt as to the exposure of all. He was like the wrecker pacing the shore, devising now this means, and
now that, if by all he might save a few out of the ship just ready to founder.
Was this a just and correct view of the world? Was it the fancy of a maddened brain, or the vivid conception of truth and soberness ? Whence did the Apostle acquire these peculiar sentiments ? Was he a misanthrope, soured and moping? Was he a disappointed man, taking revenge upon the world, by maledictions, for his losses ? When he first comes to our notice, a young man in high favor and popularity, a scholar trained in legal tactics, in repute with the priesthood and the people, he has none of those views of life which he subsequently possessed. He is first introduced in history as a persecutor, more intent on cruel slaughter than the salvation of his fellow-men. But a change passes over the whole spirit and tenor of his life. Scales fall from his eyes, and he is enlightened by the Spirit of God to discern new things concerning himself and the world. He feels that he is rescued from the bonds of iniquity and from the jaws of hell. Is he right in the judgment he now passes, that the world lieth in wickedness? Has he grown suddenly less pitiful, and more morose, than when he was hauling men and women to prison, compelling them to blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ? Has his theology just emerged from the cave, or descended in light from the skies? Here we are not left in doubt. The knowledge he had concerning God and his Christ came down from heaven ; and the commission given to him at his conversion was to “go among the nations, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in Christ." Here was his theology. The race in their sins, and for sin forgiveness through faith in Christ, the Saviour. This is Christian theology. This is its characteristic in distinction from all speculations of philosophy, ancient or modern. It furnishes relief from an universal calamity. Whenever we use the familiar words, Saviour or salvation, we do, in fact, admit all that is declared concerning the lost condition of the human race. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. Paul learned to view the world as it was contemplated by his Lord and Master. Nor did he view it as a Fatalist or as a Stoic. He was touched by a more than mortal tenderness towards his fellow-men. His heart's desire and prayer to God in their behalf was, that they might be saved. He who was once ready to persecute unto blood, was filled with the compassion of his Lord, and animated with the hope of saving, at least, some. This now becomes the motive of his life. To behold men ready to perish, without relief, would have tortured him to despair ; but there was a way of affording relief, and by the hope of success was he impelled to great exertions. No matter in whose presence he stood, whether the keeper of a jail, a soldier on guard, or a governor, king or emperor, his uppermost desire was to save that
man's soul. Of himself he was forgetful, as men always forget themselves in the excitement of great endeavors for others. “I seek not yours, but you," was the explanation of all his peculiar in. tercourse with men. To publish the Gospel was a necessity laid upon him. “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.” To preach the Gospel was his choice. He was impelled to it by the irresistible fervor of Christian love. Others might prefer other pursuits; one thing only remained for him. Preferment in church or state, wealth, learning; all which he himself, in common with others, had once counted as an excellency, seemed unto him now as the very filth of the earth; and were to be counted as loss, save as they bore upon the accomplishment of his grand purpose—the salvation of men. This is the key which explains the whole of his speeches, his travels, his self-denials, his remarkable life. He was an insane man, and nothing short of it, if there was not a reality and a reasonableness in the motive which governed him. It was not at Jerusalem only that men were exposed to the wrath of God; so he fled, as on angels' wings, to Arabia, to Ephesus, to. Athens, to Rome, to Spain, to announce the news of a Saviour's mercy. The barbarians of Malta heard him; the Areopagites listened to him with solemn awe; the mariners of the stormy Adriatic were his auditors; those of Cæsar's household were told the tidings from his lips; well nigh every land and every city, from Spain to Arabia, had seen and heard this extraordinary man, who by all means hoped to save some. A hero he was, a hero he meant to be, but not as the world counts heroism. Might he not, says he, in this chapter, have taken a wife, if he had chosen? Might he not have received support from those to whom he preached? Was not this the law of God? But if he chose to forego domestic ease, and the support to which he was entitled, that he might the better perform his heart's desire, in saving lost men, were his motives for this to be misunderstood and impugned ?
Do not suppose, dear brethren, that my purpose in this is to pronounce a panegyric upon the Apostle. I propose something far more practical than an encomium upon his noble conduct.
He has himself announced, in our text, what was the one end and motive of his life :-To save the souls of men. His whole life, as we have seen, subsequent to his conversion, was coincident with this motive. If he was sane and sober in this view of the world, and in this course of conduct, there is every reason why we should adopt and practise the same. No great change has passed of a sudden, upon the nature of man, to render obsolete and inappropriate the words of Jesus Christ: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And if the words of the Apostle, inspired by the Spirit of God, are to be received as a correct exponent of Christianity, then we too should look upon our fellow-men, as he did, in danger of being lost; and we too should be touched by the tender compassions of Christ, and animated by
apostolical fervor, if by all means we may save some. All other pursuits are to be held subordinate to this. Not that they are to be abandoned for the one employment of preaching the Gospel ; but that they are to be prosecuted in reference to the same end and object which filled the eye of the Apostle. There is a value in those very objects which many pursue for selfish ends, beyond all which concupiscence and ambition ever dreamed. There is a value in gold and silver, beyond all that the most sordid miser ever imagined, as he drops the shining ore into his bags and boxes. There is a value in learning and knowledge above all that was ever imagined by any one who, stimulated by the mere ambition of excelling, has grown gray in midnight study. So of station, power, or influence of any kind; seeing that they may, and ought to be applied to the grand purpose of saving a lost world.
II. But it is time that we pass to the next division of our subject, and consider the means by which the Apostle sought to accomplish the object which was his motive in life. He became all things to all men.
And here it will be necessary to make careful discrimination; seeing that what Paul here intended was instrumental in doing so great a service; while the words chosen to convey his meaning may be easily perverted, as indeed they have been by many, who wrest them to their own and others' destruction. Happily the discrimination is very easily made. What the Apostle actually intended is best understood from his own words. “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”-(Ver. 19-23.)
If there be a character in all the world which merits our unmitigated scorn and detestation, it is that of a man who, on important subjects, will trim and truckle in conformity with the company into which he happens to be thrown; who, in one position will give up his opinions, if he has any, to suit one class of people, and in another circle will maintain the very same, and that most strenuously, to suit others. Now, it is almost derogatory to the character of the noble-hearted Apostle to the Gentiles even to say, that his spirit and conduct bore no resemblance to such a mean and fawning sycophancy. Nor is there anything here in conformity with the doctrine of modern Jesuitism, that “the end justifies the means;" that because the object to be attained, to