Chapter 68.—The True Sense of the Passage (1 Cor. 3.11-15) About Those Who are Saved, Yet So as by Fire.
But as these most plain and unmistakeable declarations of the apostles cannot be false, that obscure saying about those who build upon the foundation, Christ, not gold, silver, and precious stones, but wood, hay, and stubble (for it is these who, it is said, shall be saved, yet so as by fire, the merit of the foundation saving them 1221 ), must be so interpreted as not to conflict with the plain statements quoted above. Now wood, hay, and stubble may, without incongruity, be understood to signify such an attachment to worldly things, however lawful these may be in themselves, that they cannot be lost without grief of mind. And though this grief burns, yet if Christ hold the place of foundation in the heart,—that is, if nothing be preferred to Him, and if the man, though burning with grief, is yet more willing to lose the things he loves so much than to lose Christ,—he is saved by fire. If, however, in time of temptation, he prefer to hold by temporal and earthly things rather than by Christ, he has not Christ as his foundation; for he puts earthly things in the first place, and in a building nothing comes before the foundation. Again, the fire of which the apostle speaks in this place must be such a fire as both men are made to pass through, that is, both the man who builds upon the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, and the man who builds wood, hay, stubble. For he immediately adds: “The fire shall try every mans work, of what sort it is. If any mans work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any mans work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” 1222 The fire then shall prove, not the work of one of them only, but of both. Now the trial of adversity is a kind of fire which is plainly spoken of in another place: “The furnace proveth the potters vessels: and the furnace of adversity just men.” 1223 And this fire does in the course of this life act exactly in the way the apostle says. If it come into contact with two believers, one “caring for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord,” 1224 that is, building upon Christ the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones; the other “caring for the things that are of the p. 260 world, how he may please his wife,” 1225 that is, building upon the same foundation wood, hay, stubble,—the work of the former is not burned, because he has not given his love to things whose loss can cause him grief; but the work of the latter is burned, because things that are enjoyed with desire cannot be lost without pain. But since, by our supposition, even the latter prefers to lose these things rather than to lose Christ, and since he does not desert Christ out of fear of losing them, though he is grieved when he does lose them, he is saved, but it is so as by fire; because the grief for what he loved and has lost burns him. But it does not subvert nor consume him; for he is protected by his immoveable and incorruptible foundation.