on 1-corinthians 3 :15
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss - If he have preached the necessity of incorporating the law with the Gospel, or proclaimed as a doctrine of God any thing which did not proceed from heaven, he shall suffer loss - all his time and labor will be found to be uselessly employed and spent. Some refer the loss to the work, not to the man; and understand the passage thus: If any man's work be burned, It shall suffer loss - much shall be taken away from it; nothing shall he left but the measure of truth and uprightness which it may have contained.
But he himself shall be saved - If he have sincerely and conscientiously believed what he preached, and yet preached what was wrong, not through malice or opposition to the Gospel, but through mere ignorance, he shall be saved; God in his mercy will pass by his errors; and he shall not suffer punishment because he was mistaken. Yet, as in most erroneous teachings there is generally a portion of wilful and obstinate ignorance, the salvation of such erroneous teachers is very rare; and is expressed here, yet so as by fire, i.e. with great difficulty; a mere escape; a hair's breadth deliverance; he shall be like a brand plucked out of the fire.
The apostle obviously refers to the case of a man, who, having builded a house, and begun to dwell in it, the house happens to be set on fire, and he has warning of it just in time to escape with his life, losing at the same time his house, his goods, his labor, and almost his own life. So he who, while he holds the doctrine of Christ crucified as the only foundation on which a soul can rest its hopes of salvation, builds at the same time, on that foundation, Antinomianism, or any other erroneous or destructive doctrine, he shall lose all his labor, and his own soul scarcely escape everlasting perdition; nor even this unless sheer ignorance and inveterate prejudice, connected with much sincerity, be found in his case.
The popish writers have applied what is here spoken to the fire of purgatory; and they might with equal propriety have applied it to the discovery of the longitude, the perpetual motion, or the philosopher's stone; because it speaks just as much of the former as it does of any of the latter. The fire mentioned here is to try the man's work, not to purify his soul; but the dream of purgatory refers to the purging in another state what left this impure; not the work of the man, but the man himself; but here the fire is said to try the work: ergo, purgatory is not meant even if such a place as purgatory could be proved to exist; which remains yet to be demonstrated.
on 1-corinthians 3 :15
If any man's work shall be burned - If it shall not be found to hear the test of the investigation of that Day - as a cottage of wood, hay, and stubble would not bear the application of fire. If his doctrines have not been true; if he has had mistaken views of piety; if he has nourished feelings which he thought were those of religion; and inculcated practices which, however well meant, are not such as the gospel produces; if he has fallen into error of opinion, feeling, practice, however conscientious, yet he shall suffer loss.
He shall suffer loss - :
(1) He shall not be elevated to as high a rank and to as high happiness as he otherwise would. That which he supposed would be regarded as acceptable by the Judge, and rewarded accordingly, shall be stripped away, and shown to be unfounded and false; and in consequence, he shall not obtain those elevated rewards which he anticipated. This, compared with what he expected, may be regarded as a loss.
(2) he shall be injuriously affected by this forever. It shall be a detriment to him to all eternity. The effects shall be felt in all his residence in heaven - not producing misery but attending him with the consciousness that he might have been raised to superior bliss in the eternal abode - The phrase here literally means, "he shall be mulcted." The word is a legal term, and means that he shall be fined, that is, he shall suffer detriment.
But he himself shall be saved - The apostle all along has supposed that the true foundation was laid 1 Corinthians 3:11, and if that is laid, and the edifice is reared upon that, the person who does it shall be safe. There may be much error, and many false views of religion, and much imperfection, still the man that is building on the true foundation shall be safe. His errors and imperfections shall be removed, and he may occupy a lower place in heaven, but he shall be safe.
Yet so as by fire - ὡς διὰ πυρός hōs dia puros. This passage has greatly perplexed commentators; but probably without any good reason. The apostle does not say that Christians will be doomed to the fires of purgatory; nor that they will pass through fire; nor that they will be exposed to pains and punishment at all; but he "simply carries out the figure" which he commenced, and says that they will be saved, as if the action of fire had been felt on the edifice on which he is speaking. That is, as fire would consume the wood, hay, and stubble, so on the great Day everything that is erroneous and imperfect in Christiana shall be removed, and that which is true and genuine shall be preserved as if it had passed through fire. Their whole character and opinions shall be investigated; and that which is good shall be approved; and that which is false and erroneous be removed.
The idea is not that of a man whose house is burnt over his head and who escapes through the flames, nor that of a man who is subjected to the pains and fires of purgatory; but that of a man who had been spending his time and strength to little purpose; who had built, indeed, on the true foundation, but who had reared so much on it which was unsound, and erroneous, and false, that he himself would be saved with great difficulty, and with the loss of much of that reward which he had expected, as if the fire had passed over him and his works. The simple idea, therefore, is, that that which is genuine and valuable in his doctrines and works, shall be rewarded, and the man shall be saved; that which is not sound and genuine, shall be removed, and he shall suffer loss. Some of the fathers, indeed, admitted that this passage taught that all people would be subjected to the action of fire in the great conflagration with which the world shall close; that the wicked shall be consumed; and that the righteous are to suffer, some more and some less, according to their character. On passages like this, the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory is based. But we may observe:
(1) That this passage does not necessarily or naturally give any such idea. The interpretation stated above is the natural interpretation, and one which the passage will not only bear, but which it demands.
(2) If this passage would give any countenance to the absurd and unscriptural idea that the souls of the righteous at the Day of Judgment are to be re-united to their bodies, in order to be subjected to the action of intense heat, to be brought from the abodes of bliss and compelled to undergo the burning fires of the last conflagration, still it would give no countenance to the still more absurd and unscriptural opinion that those fires have been and are still burning; that all souls are to be subjected to them; and that they can be removed only by masses offered for the dead, and by the prayers of the living. The idea of danger and peril is, indeed, in this text; but the idea of personal salvation is retained and conveyed.
on 1-corinthians 3 :15
3:15 He shall suffer loss - The loss of that peculiar degree of glory.