« PreviousContinue »
OF ST. PAUL'S FIRST
EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.
Of the Time of St. Paul's Arrival at Corinth. We are told, Acts xvii. 15. That after Paul was driven by the unbelieving Jews, from Thessalonica, and Berea, he went to Athens, the most celebrated city in Greece, intending to make the gospel known to the learned there. But the contempt in which the Athenian philosophers held his doctrine and man. ner of preaching, convincing him that it would be to no purpose to stay long among them, he left Athens soon and went to Co. rinth, now become the metropolis of the province of Achaia, and of equal fame for the sciences and the arts with Athens itself.
On his arrival in Corinth, he found Aquila and his wife Priscilla, two Jewish Christians, who had lately come from Italy, because Claudius had commanded all Jews to deparı from Rome, Acts xviii. 2. According to the best chronologers, Claudius's edict against the Jews, was published in the with year of his reign, answering to A. D. 51. Claudius began his reign on the 24th of January. Wherefore, notwithstanding his edict against the Jews might come forth early in the xith year of his reign, yet, as the Jews would be allowed a reasonable time to settle their
affairs, and take themselves away, we cannot suppose that Aquila and Priscilla arrived at Corinth, sooner than the end of the spring in the year 51. And seeing they were settled in Corinth, and carrying on their business of tent-making, when the apostle arrived, his arrival cannot be fixed sooner than the summer of that year. This epoch of St. Paul's arrival at Corinth merits attention, because it will be of use in fixing the dates of other occurrences, which happened both before and after that event.
Being come to Corinth, the apostle immediately preached in the synagogue. But the greatest part of the Jews opposing themselves and blaspheming, he told them he would go to the Gentiles, Acts xviii. 6. Knowing, however, the temper, and learning of the Gentiles in Corinth, and their extreme profligacy of manners, he was in great fear when he first preached to them, 1 Cor. ii. 3. But the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a vision, and bude him not be afraid, but speak boldly, because he had much people in that city, Acts xviii. 9, 10. In obedience to Christ's command, Paul preached almost two years in Corinth, (ver. 11. 18.) and gathered a very flourishing church, in which there were some Jews of note, ver. 8. But the greatest part were idolatrous Gentiles, 1 Cor. xii. 2-The members of this church being very numerous, were so much the object of the apostle's attention, that he wrote to them two long and excellent letters, not only for establishing them in the belief of his apostleship, which a false teacher, who came among them after his departure, had presumed to call in question, but to correct certain irregularities, into which many of them had fallen in his absence, and for other purposes which shall be mentioned in sect. iv. of this preface.
Of the Character and Manners of the Corinthians in their Heathen State.
Before Corinth was destroyed by the Romans, it was famous for the magnificence of its buildings, the extent of its commerce, and the number, the learning and the ingenuity of its inhabitants, who carried the arts and sciences to such perfection, that it was called by Cicero, totius Græciæ lumin, the light of all Greece: and by Florus, Græciæ decus, the ornament of Greece. The lustre, however, which Corinth derived from the number and genius of its inhabitants, was tarnished by their debauched manners. Strabo, Lib. viii. p. 581, tells us, that in the temple of Venus at Corinth, “ there were more than a thousand harlots, “the slaves of the temple, who, in honour of the Goddess, prosstituted themselves to all comers for hire, and through these “ the city was crowded, and became wealthy." From an insti. tution of this kind, which, under the pretext of religion, furnished an opportunity to the debauched to gratify their lusts, it is easy to see what corruption of manners must have flowed. Accordingly it is known, that lasciviousness was carried to such a pitch in Corinth, that in the language of these times, the appellation of a Corinthian, given to a woman, imported that she was a prostitute, and Kogov.tocestiv, to behave as a Corinthian, spoken of a man, was the same as Etuigeverv, to commit whoredom.
In the Achæan war, Corinth was utterly destroyed by the Roman Consul Mummius. But being rebuilt by Julius Cæsar, and peopled with a Roman colony, it was made the residence of the Proconsul who governed the province of Achaia, (See 1 Thess. i. 7. note,) and soon regained its ancient splendour. For its inhabitants increasing exceedingly, they carried on, by means of its two sea-ports, an extensive commerce, which brought them great wealth. From that time forth, the arts which minister to the conveniences and luxuries of life, were carried on at Corinth in as great perfection as formerly; schools were opened, in which philosophy and rhetoric were publicly taught by able masters; and strangers from all quarters crowded to Corinth, to be instructed in the sciences and in the arts. So that Corinth, during this latter period, was filled with philosophers, rhetoricians, and artists of all kinds, and abounded in wealth. These advantages, however, were counterbalanced, as before, by the effects which wealth and luxury never fail to produce. In a word, an universal corruption of manners soon prevailed: so that Corinth, in its second state, became as debauched as it had been in any former period whatever. The apostle, therefore, had good reason in this epistle, to exhort the Corinthian brethren to flee fornication : and after giving them a catalogue of the unrighteous who shall not inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. he was well entitled to add, and such were some of you. In short, the Corinthians had carried vice of every kind to such a pitch, that their city was more debauched than any of the other cities of Greece.
Of the Conversion of the Corinthians to the Christian Faith.
After the apostle left the synagogue, he frequented the house of one Justus, a religious proselyte whom he had converted. Here the idolatrous inhabitants of the city, prompted by curiosity, came to him from time to time, in great numbers, to hear his discourses. And having themselves seen, or having been credibly informed by others of the miracles which Paul wrought, and of the spiritual gifts which he conferred on them who believed, they were so impressed by his discourses and miracles, that many of them renounced their ancient superstition. So Luke tells us, Acts xviii. 8. And many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized.
Of all the miracles wrought in confirmation of the gospel, that which seems to have affected the Greeks most, was the gift of tongues. For as they esteemed eloquence more than any other human attainment, that gift, by raising the common people to an equality with the learned, greatly recommended the gospel to persons in the middle and lower ranks of life. Hence numbers of the inhabitants of Corinth, of that description, were early converted. But with persons in higher stations, the gospel was not so generally successful. By their attachment to some one or other of the schemes of philosophy which then prevailed, the men of rank and learning had rendered themselves incapable, or at least unwilling, to embrace the gospel. At that time, the philosophers were divided into many sects, and each sect having nothing in view, but to confute the tenets of the other sects, the disquisitions of philosophy among the Greeks, had introduced an universal scepticism which destroyed all rational belief. This pernicious effect appeared conspicuously in their statesmen, who, through their philosophical disputations, having lost all ideas of truth and virtue, regarded nothing in their politics but utility. And therefore, in the persuasion that idolatry was the only proper religion for the vulgar, they would hear nothing that had the least tendency to make the people sensible of its absurdity. On persons of this description, the arguments in behalf of the gospel, advanced by the apostle, made no impression ; as was seen in the Athenian magistrates and philosophers, before whom Paul reasoned in the most forcible