8For bodily exercise is of little profit. By the exercise “ the body,” he does not mean that which lies in hunting, or in the race-course, or in wrestling, or in digging, or in the mechanical occupations; but he gives that name to all the outward actions that are undertaken, for the sake of religion, such as watchings, long fasts, lying on the earth, and such like. Yet he does not here censure the superstitious observance of those things; otherwise he would totally condemn them, as he does in the Epistle to the Colossians, (Col_2:21,) but at present he only speaks slightingly of them, and says that they are of little advantage. So, then though the heart be altogether upright, and the object proper, yet, in outward actions, Paul finds nothing that he can value highly.
This is a very necessary warning; for the world will always lean to the side of wishing to worship God by outward services; which is an exceedingly dangerous imagination. But — to say nothing about the wicked opinion of merit — our nature always disposes us strongly to attribute more than we ought to austerity of life; as if it were no ordinary portion of Christian holiness. A clearer view of this cannot be adduced, than the fact, that, shortly after the publication of this command, the whole world was ravished with immoderate admiration of the empty form of bodily exercises. Hence arose the order of monks and nuns, and nearly all the most excellent discipline of the ancient Church, or, at least, that part of it which was most highly esteemed by the common people. If the ancient monks had not dreamed that there was some indescribably divine or angelical perfection in their austere manner of living, they would never have pursued it with so much ardor. In like manner, if pastors had not attached undue value to the ceremonies which were then observed for the mortification of the flesh, they would never have been so rigid in exacting them. And what does Paul say on the other hand? That, when any one shall have labored much and long in those exercises, the profit will be small and inconsiderable; for they are nothing but the rudiments of childish discipline.
But godliness is profitable for all things That is, he who has godliness wants nothing, though he has not those little aids; for godliness alone is able to conduct a man to complete perfection. It is the beginning, the middle, and the end, of Christian life; and, therefore, where that is entire, nothing is imperfect. Christ did not lead so austere a manner of life as John the Baptist; was he, therefore, any whit inferior? Let the meaning be thus summed up. “ ought to apply ourselves altogether to piety alone; because when we have once attained it, God asks nothing more from us; and we ought to give attention to bodily exercises in such a manner as not to hinder or retard the practice of godliness.”
Which hath the promises It is a very great consolation, that God does not wish the godly to be in want of anything; for, having made our perfection to consist in godliness, he now makes it the perfection of all happiness. As it is the beginning of happiness in this life, so he likewise extends to it the promise of divine grace, which alone makes us happy, and without which we are very miserable; for God testifies that, even in this life, he will be our Father.
But let us remember to distinguish between the good things of the present and of the future life; for God bestows kindness on us in this world, in order that he may give us only a taste of his goodness, and by such a taste may allure us to the desire of heavenly benefits, that in them we may find satisfaction. The consequence is, that the good things of the present life are not only mingled with very many afflictions, but, we may almost say, overwhelmed by them; for it is not expedient for us to have abundance in this world, lest we should indulge in luxury. Again, lest any one should found on this passage the merits of works, we ought to keep in mind what we have already said, that godliness includes not only a good conscience toward men, and the fear of God, but likewise faith and calling upon him.