A couple weeks ago in the middle of our sermon series going through the book of 1Corinthians, I was preaching on the last few verses of 1Corinthians 11 which include the loving explanation from the Apostle Paul of God's kindly discipline of His sons and daughters by causing many of them to become weak and sick, and a number of them to die. Preparing, I read this commentary by John Calvin:
1Corinthians 11:30: For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
After having treated in a general way of unworthy eating, and of the kind of punishment that awaits those who pollute this sacrament, he now instructs the Corinthians as to the chastisement which they were at that time enduring.
It is not known whether a pestilence was raging there at that time, or whether they were laboring under other kinds of disease. However it may have been as to this, we infer from Paul’s words that the Lord had sent some scourge upon them for their correction. Nor does Paul merely conjecture that it is on that account that they are punished, but he affirms it as a thing that was perfectly well known by him. He says, then, that many lay sick—that many were kept long in a languishing condition—and that many had died in consequence of that abuse of the Supper, because they had offended God.
By this he intimates, that by diseases and other chastisements from God, we are admonished to think of our sins; for God does not afflict us without good reason, for he takes no pleasure in our afflictions.
The subject is a copious and ample one; but let it suffice to advert to it here in a single word. If in Paul’s times an ordinary abuse of the Supper could kindle the wrath of God against the Corinthians so that he punished them thus severely, what ought we to think as to the state of matters at the present day?
We see, throughout the whole extent of Popery, not merely horrid profanations of the Supper, but even a sacrilegious abomination set up in its room. In the first place, it is prostituted to filthy lucre (1Timothy 3:8) and merchandise. Secondly, it is maimed, by taking away the use of the cup. Thirdly, it is changed into another aspect, by its having become customary for one to partake of his own feast separately, participation being done away. Fourthly, there is there no explanation of the meaning of the sacrament, but a mumbling that would accord better with a magical incantation, or the detestable sacrifices of the Gentiles, than with our Lord’s institution. Fifthly, there is an endless number of ceremonies, abounding partly with trifles, partly with superstition, and consequently manifest pollutions. Sixthly, there is the diabolical invention of sacrifice, which contains an impious blasphemy against the death of Christ. Seventhly, it is fitted to intoxicate miserable men with carnal confidence, while they present it to God as if it were an expiation, and think that by this charm they drive off everything hurtful, and that without faith and repentance. Nay more, while they trust that they are armed against the devil and death, and are fortified against God by a sure defense, they venture to sin with much more freedom, and become more obstinate. Eighthly, an idol is there adored in the room of Christ. In short, it is filled with all kinds of abomination.
Nay even among ourselves, who have the pure administration of the Supper restored to us, in virtue of a return, as it were, from captivity, how much irreverence! How much hypocrisy on the part of many! What a disgraceful mixture, while, without any discrimination, wicked and openly abandoned persons intrude themselves, such as no man of character and decency would admit to common intercourse!
And yet after all, we wonder how it comes that there are so many wars, so many pestilences, so many failures of the crop, so many disasters and calamities—as if the cause were not manifest! And assuredly, we must not expect a termination to our calamities, until we have removed the occasion of them, by correcting our faults.
1Corinthians 11:31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.
Here we have another remarkable statement—that God does not all of a sudden become enraged against us, so as to inflict punishment immediately upon our sinning, but that, for the most part, it is owing to our carelessness that he is in a manner constrained to punish us when he sees that we are in a careless and drowsy state and are flattering ourselves in our sins.
Hence we either avert or mitigate impending punishment if we first call ourselves to account and, actuated by a spirit of repentance, deprecate the anger of God by inflicting punishment voluntarily upon ourselves. In short, believers anticipate, by repentance, the judgment of God, and there is no other remedy by which they may obtain absolution in the sight of God but by voluntarily condemning themselves.
You must not, however, apprehend, as Papists are accustomed to do, that there is here a kind of transaction between us and God as if, by inflicting punishment upon ourselves of our own accord, we rendered satisfaction to him and did, in a manner, redeem ourselves from his hand. We do not, therefore, anticipate the judgment of God on the ground of our bringing any compensation to appease him. The reason is this—because God, when he chastises us, has it in view to shake us out of our drowsiness and arouse us to repentance.
If we do this of our own accord, there is no longer any reason why he should proceed to inflict his judgment upon us. If, however, anyone, after having begun to feel displeased with himself and meditate repentance is, nevertheless, still visited with God’s chastisements, let us know that his repentance is not so valid or sure as not to require some chastisement to be sent upon him, by which it may be helped forward to a fuller development. Mark how repentance wards off the judgment of God by a suitable remedy—not, however, by way of compensation.
1Corinthians 11:32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
Here we have a consolation that is exceedingly necessary; for if anyone in affliction thinks that God is angry with him, he will rather be discouraged than excited to repentance. Paul, accordingly, says, that God is angry with believers in such a way as not in the meantime to be forgetful of his mercy: nay more, that it is on this account particularly that he punishes them—that he may consult their welfare.
It is an inestimable consolation that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God’s anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation, for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.
When he says that we may not be condemned with the world, he intimates two things. The first is that the children of this world, while they sleep on quietly and securely in their delights, are fattened up, like hogs, for the day of slaughter. (Jeremiah 12:3.) For though the Lord sometimes invites the wicked, also, to repentance by his chastisements, yet he often passes them over as strangers and allows them to rush on with impunity until they have filled up the measure of their final condemnation. (Genesis 15:16.)
This privilege, therefore, belongs to believers exclusively—that by punishments they are called back from destruction.
The second thing is this—that chastisements are necessary remedies for believers, for otherwise they, too, would rush on to everlasting destruction were they not restrained by temporal punishment.
These considerations should lead us not merely to patience, so as to endure with equanimity the troubles that are assigned to us by God, but also to gratitude that, giving thanks to God our Father, we may resign ourselves to his discipline by a willing subjection.
They are also useful to us in various ways; for they cause our afflictions to be salutary to us, while they train us up for mortification of the flesh, and a pious abasement—they accustom us to obedience to God—they convince us of our own weakness—they kindle up in our minds fervency in prayer—they exercise hope, so that at length whatever there is of bitterness in them is all swallowed up in spiritual joy.
Now, honestly, we must see how opposite this Scripture and Calvin's commentary on it are to the Reformed church of our time—opposite in so many ways, it's hard to keep track.
Still, let's try; and here's an exercise: let each comment here open up one of Calvin's statements that strikes a strange (and maybe even, horrible) note to our Laodicean ears.