The Pulpit Commentaries
1 Corinthians 1
The oldest superscription was probably, "To the Corinthians, the first ( πρὸς κορινθίους πρώτη)." This is found in א, A, B, C, D.
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
The greeting. An opening salutation is found in all the Epistles of St. Paul, and in every Epistle of the New Testament except the Epistle to the Hebrews and the first Epistle of St. John, both of which were more in the nature of treatises than letters.
1 Corinthians 1:1
Paul. After the beginning of the first missionary journey (A.D. 45) he seems to have finally abandoned his Hebrew name of Saul. Called. The word "called" is absent from A, D, E, and other manuscripts, but may have been omitted as superfluous. It occurs in the greeting of Romans 1:1, but not in any other Epistle. The words might also be rendered "a called or chosen apostle." To be an apostle. He uses this title in every letter except the private one to Philemon, the peculiarly friendly and informal one to the Philippians, and the two to the Thessalonians, which were written before the Judaizers had challenged his claim to this title in its more special sense. The Epistle to the Romans is the first in which he calls himself "a slave of Jesus Christ" (comp. Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jud 1). It was necessary for him to assert his right to the apostolate in the highest sense of the word, as one who had received from Christ himself an authority equal to that of the twelve (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:11, 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:1-19, etc.). Of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels the word "Christ" is all but invariably "the Christ," i.e. the Anointed, the Messiah. It is the designation of the office of Jesus as the promised Deliverer. We trace in the New Testament the gradual transition of the word from a title into a proper name. In the two names together our Lord is represented as "the Saviour," and the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King, first of the chosen people and then of all mankind. Through the will of God. This special call to the apostleship is emphatically expanded in Galatians 1:1. The vindication of the Divine and independent claim was essential to St. Paul's work. It was not due to any personal considerations, but to the necessity of proving that no human authority could be quoted to overthrow the gospel which was peculiarly "his gospel" (see Galatians 1:11; Ephesians 3:8), of which one main feature was the freedom of the Gentiles from the yoke of Judaic bondage. And Soathenes. The association of one or more brethren with himself in the greeting of his letters is peculiar to St. Paul. Silas and Timothy are associated with him in 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and Timothy, though so much his junior, in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; doubtless he would have been associated with St. Paul in this Epistle had he not been absent (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10). The practice arose partly from St. Paul's exquisite courtesy and consideration towards his companions, partly from his shrinking from mere personal prominence. It is owing to the same reasons that in the earlier Epistles he constantly uses "we" for "I," and sometimes when he can only be speaking of himself (1 Thessalonians 2:18). But even in the Epistles to the Thessalonians he sometimes relapses from "we" into "I" (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Our brother; literally, the brother; i.e. one of "the brethren". Of Sosthenes nothing whatever is known. He may possibly be the amanuensis whom St. Paul employed for this letter. Later tradition, which in such matters is perfectly valueless, spoke of him as" one of the seventy disciples, and Bishop of Colophon" (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' Ecclesiastes 1:12). There is a Jewish Sosthenes, a ruler of the synagogue, in Acts 18:17; but it is only a vague conjecture that he may have been subsequently converted, and may have joined St. Paul at Ephesus. It is obvious that the persons named in the greetings of the Epistles were not in any way supposed to be responsible for their contents, lot St. Paul begins with "I" in Acts 18:4. Brother. At this time there was no recognized title for Christians. In the Acts they are vaguely spoken of as "those of this way." Among themselves they were known as "the saints," "the faithful," "the elect." The name "Christians" was originally a nickname devised by the Antiochenes. In the New Testament it only occurs as a designation used by enemies (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16).
1 Corinthians 1:2
Unto the Church. This form of address is used in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. In St. Paul's later Epistles, for some unknown reason, he prefers the address "to the saints." These forms of address show the absence of any fixed ecclesiastical government. He does not in this Epistle address any "bishops" or "presbyters" whom he might regard as responsible for the growing disorders which prevailed at Corinth, but he appeals to the whole Church. The word ecclesia—signifying those who were "called out of the world," and so primarily applied to "the congregation of Israel"—came ultimately to mean "a congregation." The only apostle who uses the word "synagogue" of the Christian assemblies is St. James (James 2:2). Of God. Not the Church of this or that party leader. Some commentators give to these words an emphasis and importance which does not seem to belong to them. Which is at Corinth. So in 2 Corinthians 1:2. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians he prefers the form, "the Church of the Thessalonians." "The Church at Corinth" was an expression which involved the sharpest of contrasts. It brought into juxtaposition the holiest ideal of the new faith and the vilest degradations of the old paganism. It was "a glad and great paradox" (Bengel). The condition of society at Corinth, at once depraved and sophistical, throws light on many parts of the Epistle. Cicero describes the city as "illustrious a like for wantonness, opulence, and the study of philosophy." Even them that are sanctified. The apostles could only write to Churches as being really Churches, and to Christians as being true Christians. In all general addresses they could only assume that the actual resembled the ideal. They never conceal the immense chasm which separated the real condition of many members of their Churches from the vocation which they professed. They knew also that it is (as Calvin says) "a perilous temptation to refuse the name of Church to every Church in which there is not perfect purity." Ideally even the Corinthian Christians were redeemed by Christ's expiation, consecrated and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. They could only be addressed in accordance with their ostensible position (see Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' Ecclesiastes 3:1; Ecclesiastes 5:1-20 :68). Our Prayer book is constructed on the same principle. The harvest is still a harvest, though amongst the corn there may be many tares. In Christ Jesus. The words, "in Christ," constitute what has been happily called "the monogram of St. Paul." The life of the true Christian is no longer his own. The Christ for him has become the Christ in him. His natural life is merged into a higher spiritual life. Baptized into Christ, he has become one with Christ. Called to be saints. (On this Christian calling, see Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10.) They are called to be united saints, not schismatic partisans or members of antagonistic cliques. The description of what they were ideally is the more emphatic because he feels how much they had fallen away. With all that… in every place. Perhaps this may mean the same as 2 Corinthians 1:1, "With all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia;" or the words may imply that St. Paul's exhortations are applicable to all Christians, wherever they may be and (as is expressed in the next clause) whatever may be their varying shades of individual opinion. It was well in any case to remind the Corinthians that they formed but a fraction of the Christian communities. Catholicity, not provincialism, makes the true Church of God. Call upon the Name. The Greek verb is here in the middle voice, not "who are called by the Name"(comp. James 2:7; Amos 9:12, LXX.). It means, therefore, all who reverence the Name of Christ, all who adore their one "Lord" in the fulness of his nature (see Joel 3:5; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:1-21 :24; 2 Timothy 2:22, etc.); in other words, "all who profess and call themselves Christians" (comp. Acts 25:11). Their Lord and ours. I connect these words, not with "place," as in the Vulgate, In omni loco ipsorum et nostro—which, however it may be twisted, can give no good sense—but with "Jesus Christ." It has been in all ages a fatal temptation of party Christians to claim a monopoly of Christ for themselves and their own sects, as though they only taught the gospel, and were the only Christians or the only "Evangelicals." But Christ cannot thus be "parcelled into fragments" (see 2 Corinthians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 1:13), nor has any party a right to boast exclusively, "I am of Christ." The addition, "and ours," could not be regarded as super fluous in writing to a Church of which one section wanted to assert an exclusive right in Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:3
Grace to you and peace. This is St. Paul's greeting in all the Epistles except the pastoral Epistles, in which he beautifully adds the word "mercy." It is a remarkable blending of the Greek and Jewish salutations. The Greeks said χαίρειν, and to them the word "grace" involved the notions of joy and brightness and prosperity. The calmer and more solemn greeting of the East was, "Peace be to thee." The Church unites both forms of greeting—"grace," the beginning of every blessing; "peace," the end of all blessings; and into both she infuses a deeper meaning, that of a "joy" which defied all tribulations, and a" peace which passeth all understanding." From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Source of "every good gift and every perfect gift." God is our Father as our Creator, and as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we become, in a higher sense, his children. Christ, in his mediatorial kingdom, is specially and immediately "our Lord," though that phrase, now so universal, only occurs (in its isolated form) in Hebrews 7:14. Jesus Christ. One of St. Paul's peculiarities of style is the constant reiteration of one dominant word. In the first nine verses of this Epistle, the Name "Jesus Christ" is repeated no less than nine times. "Observe," says St. Chrysostom, "how he nails them down to the Name of Christ, not mentioning any man, either apostle or teacher, but continually mentioning him for whom they yearn, as men preparing to awaken those who are drowsy after a debauch. For nowhere in any other Epistle is the Name of Christ so continually introduced By means of it he weaves together almost his whole exordium."
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
The thanksgiving. The thanksgiving is a feature in almost every Epistle of St. Paul, except the Epistle to the Galatians, in which he plunges at once into severe reprobation.
1 Corinthians 1:4
I thank my God. It is probable, from papyrus rolls in the British Museum, that the general form and outline of letters was more or less conventional. In St. Paul, however, this thanksgiving is the natural overflow of a full heart. It was no mere compliment or rhetorical artifice like the captatio benevolentiae, or endeavouring to win the hearers by flattery, which we find in most ancient speeches. My God (Romans 1:8). Always; that is, constantly; on all occasions of special prayer. He could still thank God for them, though his letter was written "with many tears" (2 Corinthians 2:4). For the grace of God. The grace ( χάρις) of spiritual life showing itself in many special spiritual gifts ( χαρίσματα), such as "the gift of tongues." Which was given you. This is one of St. Paul's "baptismal aorists." He always regards and speaks of the life of the soul as summed up potentially in one supreme moment and crisis—namely, the moment of conversion and baptism. The grace given once was given for ever, and was continually manifested. In Christ Jesus. St. Paul regarded the life of the Christian as "hid with Christ in God," and of Christ as being the Christian's life (see Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 4:10, 2 Corinthians 4:11; Colossians 3:3, Colossians 3:4; 2 Timothy 1:1; 1 John 5:11, etc.).
1 Corinthians 1:5
In everything; i.e. of course, every gift which belongs specially to the Christian life. In all utterance; i.e. in all "eloquence'' ( λόγῳ), or perhaps "in all doctrine" (so Luther, Calvin, Meyer, etc.). The word for" utterance" is rhema; loges means "discourse" and "reason". Knowledge. From the word guests is derived the name Gnostic, which was applied to so many forms of ancient heresy. There was danger to the Corinthian Christians in the exaggerated estimate of what they took for gnosis, and many of them were tempted to pride themselves on purely intellectual attainments, which were valueless for the spiritual life. St. Clement of Rome also, in writing to them ('Ep. ad Corinthians 1.') speaks of their "mature and established knowledge."
1 Corinthians 1:6
Even as; i.e. "inasmuch as." The testimony of Christ. The testimony borne to Christ by the apostle. The genitive is thus objective (about Christ), not subjective (" the testimony borne by Christ"). In reality, however, the meaning' would be the same in either case, for if the apostles testified concerning Christ, so, too, Christ spoke in the apostles. Was confirmed in you. This does not merely mean "that the truth of Christianity was established among them," but that they were living confirmations of the apostolic testimony.
1 Corinthians 1:7
So that ye come behind in no gift. The "gifts" are here the charismata, graces, such as powers of healing, etc., which were the result of the outpouring of the Spirit. The sequel shows that they were rather outward than inward; they were splendid endowments rather than spiritual fruits. Yet even these were not wholly wanting, as we see from 2 Corinthians 8:7. The Greek may also mean "causing you not to be conscious of inferiority." Waiting; expecting, not fearing it, This was the constant attitude of the early Christians (Romans 8:19-25; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 9:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Colossians 3:4; Titus 2:13). Love for Christ's manifestation was a Christian characteristic (2 Timothy 4:8). The revelation. Three words are used to express the second advent: apokalypsis (as here and in 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13); parousia (as in Matthew 24:3, Matthew 24:27, etc.; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; James 5:7, James 5:8, etc.); and epiphaneia, in the pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Titus 2:13). St. Paul, however, only uses parousia six times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and once in 1 Corinthians 15:23. All Christians alike expected the return of Christ very soon, and possibly in their own lifetime (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, etc.; 1 Corinthians 15:51; James 5:8, James 5:9; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 22:20, etc.). Their expectation was founded on the great eschatological discourse of our Lord (Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:34), and on his express promise that that generation should not pass away before his predictions were fulfilled. They were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem and the close of the old dispensation, though they await a stilt more universal fulfilment.
1 Corinthians 1:8
Who; clearly Christ, though his Name is again repeated in the next clause. Shall also confirm you. This natural expression of the apostle's yearning hope for them must not be overpressed into any such doctrine as "the indefectibility of grace." All honest and earnest students must resist the tendency to strain the meaning of Scripture texts into endless logical inferences which were never intended to be deduced from them. Unto the end; namely, to the end of "this age," and to the coming of Christ (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 3:6, Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 6:11). That ye be unreprovable; rather, unimpeached (anenkletous), as in Colossians 1:22; 1 Timothy 3:1-16 :18; Titus 1:6. It is not the word rendered "blameless" (amemptos) in Philippianws Titus 2:15 or in 2 Peter 3:14. A Christian can only be "blameless," not as being sinless, but as having been forgiven, renewed, sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 8:30). In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the same as the apokalypsis or parousia. It is sometimes called simply "the day".
1 Corinthians 1:9
God is faithful. He will not leave his promises unfulfilled or his work unfinished (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 10:23; Romans 8:28-30). Through whom. By whom, as the moving cause and agent in your salvation. Ye were called. The calling was a pledge of the final blessing (Romans 8:30). Into the fellowship of his Son. Union (koinonia, communion) with Christ is the sole means of spiritual life (John 15:4; Galatians 2:20). Through the Son we also have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3). The perfect sincerity of the apostle is observable in this thanksgiving. He speaks of the Church in general in terms of gratitude and hopefulness, and dwells on its rich spiritual endowments; but he has not a word of praise for any moral advance such as that which he so lovingly recognized in the Thessalonians and Philippians.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Party spirit at Corinth. This subject is pursued in various forms to 1 Corinthians 4:21.
1 Corinthians 1:10
Now. The particle implies the transition from thanksgiving to reproof. Brethren. This very title involves an appeal to them to aim at unity among themselves; and St. Paul, like St. James (v. 10), uses it to soften any austerity which might seem to exist in his language (1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20, etc.). Through the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, by the whole idea of Christ's being and office—the strongest bond of union between true Christians (see the powerful appeal in Ephesians 4:1-6). That ye all speak the same thing; that is, "that ye may all with one mind and one mouth glorify God" (Romans 15:6). They were doing the very reverse—each glorifying himself and his party (verse 12). Divisions ( σχίσματα); "schisms" used of bodies within the Church, not of separatists from it (1 Corinthians 11:18). The word is only used in this special sense in this Epistle. In Matthew 9:16 and Mark 2:21 schisma means "a rent;" in John (John 7:43; John 9:16; John 10:16), "a division of opinion." There would be little or no harm in the schismata so far as they affected unessential points, if it was not their fatal tendency to end in "contentions" (erides) and "factions" (haireseis, 1 Corinthians 11:19). Corinth was a place where such divisions would be likely to spring up, partly from the disputatious vivacity and intellectual conceits of the inhabitants, partly from the multitudes of strangers who constantly visited the port, partly from the numerous diversities of previous training through which the various sections of converts had passed. Perfected together; literally, repaired, reunited. In the same mind and in the same judgment; that is, in what they think and believe ( νοΐ̀), and in what they assert and do ( γνώμῃ). The exhortation, "be of one mind," in every sense of the word, was as necessary in the ancient as in the modern Church (Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8).
1 Corinthians 1:11
It hath been signified unto me. He had heard these saddening rumours towards the close of his stay in Ephesus. By them which are of the household of Chloe. The Greek only has "by them of Chloe. St. Paul wisely and kindly mentions his authority for these reports. Nothing is known of Chloe or her household. It has been conjectured that Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, Corinthians who were now with St. Paul at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:16), may have been Chloe's slaves or freedmen. Contentions. These are the works of the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; 1 Timothy 6:4). The condition of the Church was the same when St. Clement of Rome wrote to them. He had still to complain of the "strange and alien and, for the elect of God, detest able and unholy spirit of faction which a few rash and self willed persons kindled to such a pitch of dementation" ('Ep. ad Corinthians 1.').
1 Corinthians 1:12
Now this I mean; in other words, "what I mean is this." Their "contentions" are defined to be equivalent to "religious partisanships; "antagonistic adoption of the names and views of special teachers. Each one of you saith. That party spirit ran so high that they were all listed on one side or another. None of them were wise enough and spiritual minded enough to hold aloof from parties altogether. They prided themselves on being "uncompromising" and "party men." Saith; in a self-assertive way (1 Corinthians 3:21). I am of Paul. He shows his indignation at their partisanship by first rebuking those who had used his own name as a party watchward. He disliked Paulinism as much as Petrinism (Bengel). All the Corinthians would probably have been in this sense Paulinists but for the visits of subsequent teachers. At present the Paul party consisted of those who adhered to his views about Gentile freedom, and who liked the simple spirituality of his teaching. St. Paul rose above the temptation of considering that party spirit is excusable in our own partisans. He reproves factiousness even in the party of freedom. And I of Apollos. Apollos personally was absolutely loyal and honourable, but his visit to Corinth had done mischief. His impassioned oratory, his Alexandrian refinements, his allegorizing exegesis, the culture and polish of his style, had charmed the fickle Corinthians. The Apollonians were the party of culture. They had, as we see from later parts of the Epistle, exaggerated St. Paul's views, as expounded by Apollos, into extravagance. Puffed up with the conceit of knowledge, they had fallen into moral inconsistency. The egotism of oratorical rivals, the contemptuous tone to wards weaker brethren, the sophistical condonations of vice, were probably due to them. Apollos, as we see by his noble refusal to visit Corinth under present circumstances (1 Corinthians 16:12), was as indignant as St. Paul himself at the perversion of his name into an engine of party warfare. (On Apollos, see Acts 18:24-28; Acts 19:1, Titus 3:13.) Nothing further is known respecting him, but he is the almost undoubted author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which proves that he was of the school of St. Paul, while at the same time he showed a splendid originality in his way of arriving at the same conclusion as his teacher. I of Cephas. The use of the Aramaic name (1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Galatians 2:9), perhaps, shows that these Petrinists were Judaizers (though it should be added that St. Paul only uses the name "Peter" in Galatians 2:7, Galatians 2:8). They personally disliked St. Paul, and questioned his apostolical authority. Perhaps the extravagances of the "speaking with tongues" arose in this party, who recalled the effects of the outpouring of the Spirit after Peter's great sermon on the day of Pentecost. And I of Christ. We trace the origin of this party to one man in particular (2 Corinthians 2:7), who was, or professed to be, an adherent of James, and therefore one of the more rigid Judaizers. He may have been one from the circle of Christ's earthly relatives—one of the Desposyni (see 1 Corinthians 9:5), and, like St. James, may have had views resembling those of the Essenes and Ebionites. If so, he was probably the author of the questions about celibacy and marriage; and perhaps he prided himself on having seen "Christ in the flesh." This party at any rate, like some modern sects, was not ashamed to degrade into a party watchword even the sacred name of Christ, and to claim for a miserable clique an exclusive interest in the Lord of the whole Church. It is the privilege of every Christian to say, "Christianus sum;" but if he says it in a haughty, loveless, and exclusive spirit, he forfeits his own claim to the title. This exclusive Christ party is, perhaps, specially alluded to in 2 Corinthians 10:7-11. The view of Chrysostom, which takes these words to be St. Paul's remark—"But I belong.to Christ," is untenable, and would make trim guilty of the very self-assertiveness which he is reprobating.
1 Corinthians 1:13
Is Christ divided? Has Christ been parcelled into fragments? "Is there a Pauline, a Petrine, an Apollonian, a Christian Christ?" Whether you call yourselves Liberals, or Intellectualists, or Catholics, or Bible Christians, your party spirit is a sin, and all the worse a sin because it pranks itself out in the guise of pure religious zeal. This is more forcible than to take the clause affirmatively:" Christ has been parcelled into fragments." In either ease we see" the tragic result of party spirit." Was Paul crucified for you? Again he rebukes the partisanship which attached itself to his own name. This showed a splendid courage and honesty. The introduction of the question by the negative μὴ expresses astonished indignation: "Can you possibly make a watchword of the name of a mere man, as though he had been crucified for you?" This outburst of feeling is very important, as proving the immeasurable distance which, in Paul's own view, separated him from his Lord. It is also instructive to see how St. Paul at once denounces the spirit of party without deigning to enter into the question as to which party of these wrangling "theologians" was most or least in the right. He did not choose to pander to their sectarian spirit by deciding between their various forms of aggressive orthodoxy. Into the name (comp. Matthew 28:19).
1 Corinthians 1:14
I thank God that I baptized none of you. St. Paul, in his characteristic manner, "goes off at the word" baptize. He thanked God, not by way of any disparagement to baptism, but because he had thus given no excuse to the undue exaltation of his own name. Compare the practice of our Lord himself, in leaving his disciples to baptize (John 4:2). The apostles would not have approved the system of wholesale baptisms of the heathen which has prevailed in some Romanist missions. Save Crispus. The ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:8). Doubtless there were some strong special reasons why, in these instances, St. Paul departed from his general rule of not personally baptizing his converts. And Gaius. Gaius of Corinth (Romans 16:23). It was one of the commonest of names. There was another Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4), and another known to St. John (3 John 1:1).
1 Corinthians 1:15
I had baptized. The better reading, followed by the Revised Version, is, Ye were baptized unto my name; א, A, B, C.
1 Corinthians 1:16
And I baptized also. This he recalls by an afterthought being, perhaps, reminded of it by Stephanas himself. The household of Stephanas. Stephanas and his house were the first converts in Achaia (1 Corinthians 16:5). When converts became more numerous, St. Paul ceased to baptize them personally (comp. Acts 10:48). I know not. The inspiration of the apostles involved none of the mechanical infallibility ascribed to them by popular dogma, He forgot whether he had baptized any one else or not, but this made no difference as regards his main argument.
1 Corinthians 1:17
Sent me not to baptize, but; that is, according to Semitic idiom, "not so much to baptize, as" (Matthew 28:19). The word "sent" (apesteilen) involves the meaning "made me an apostle" (apostolos). The primary function of the apostles was "to bear witness" (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8, etc.). To preach the gospel. St. Paul again "goes off" at this word, and dwells for eight verses on the character of his preaching. Not in wisdom of words; not, that is, in a philosophic and oratorical style. The simplicity of the style and teaching of the apostles awoke the sneers of philosophers like Celsus and Porphyry. The cross of Christ. The central doctrine of Christianity, the preaching of a crucified Redeemer. Should be made void. The rendering of the Authorized Version is too strong; the cross cannot "be made of none effect." The word means "should be emptied"; made void of its special and independent power. The words, "the cross of Christ," form the emphatic end of the sentence in the Greek.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
The nature of true Christian preaching.
1 Corinthians 1:18
For the preaching of the cross; rather, the word of the cross. To them that are perishing; rather, to the perishing; to all those who are now walking in the paths that lead to destruction (2 Corinthians 2:15). To them it was foolishness, because it requires spiritual discernment (1 Corinthians 2:14); and, on the other hand, human wisdom is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:19). Foolishness. It shows the heroic character of the faith of St. Paul that he deliberately preached the doctrine of the cross because he felt that therein lay the conversion and salvation of the world, although he was well aware that he could preach no truth so certain at first to revolt the unregenerate hearts of his hearers. To the Jews "the cross" was the tree of shame and horror; and a crucified person was "accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). To the Greeks the cross was the gibbet of a slave's infamy and a murderer's punishment. There was not a single association connected with it except those of shame and agony. The thought of "a crucified Messiah" seemed to the Jews a revolting folly; the worship of a crucified malefactor seemed to the Greeks "an execrable superstition" (Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 1 Corinthians 15:44; Pliny, 'Epp.' 10:97); yet so little did St. Paul seek for popularity or immediate success, that this was the very doctrine which he put in the forefront, even at a city so refined and so voluptuous as Corinth. And the result proved his inspired wisdom. That very cross became the recognized badge of Christianity, and when three centuries had elapsed it was woven in gold upon the banners and set in jewels on the diadems of the Roman empire. For had not Christ prophesied, And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me"? Unto us which are being saved; who are on the way of salvation. The same present participle is used in Luke 13:23; Acts 2:47; 2 Corinthians 2:15; Revelation 21:24. It is the power of God. Because the cross is at the heart of that gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Romans 1:16; Romans 8:3), though many were tempted to be ashamed of it. It could never be a carnal weapon of warfare, and yet was mighty for every purpose (2 Corinthians 10:4, 2 Corinthians 10:5).
1 Corinthians 1:19
It is written. This formula (1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 8:15) is chiefly used in letters to Churches in which there were many Jews. This is a free citation from the LXX. of Isaiah 29:14 (the same thought is found in Job 5:12, Job 5:13; see too Matthew 11:25). The original passage refers to penal judgments from the Assyrians, which would test the false prophets of Israel.
1 Corinthians 1:20
Where is the wise? etc. (Isaiah 33:18); rather, Where is a wise man? i.e. a scribe, etc., which is even more incisive. These questions are triumphant, like the "Where is the King of Hamath and of Arpad?" The same impassioned form of speech recurs in 1 Corinthians 15:55 and in Romans 3:27. The questions would come home to the Jews, who regarded their rabbis and the "pupils of the wise as exalted beings who could look down on all poor ignorant persons (amharatsim, or "people of the land"); and to the Greeks, who regarded none but the philosophers as "wise." The scribe. With the Jews of that day" the scribe" was" the theologian," the ideal of dignified learning and orthodoxy, though for the most part he mistook elaborate ignorance for profound knowledge. The disputer. The word would specially suit the disputatious Greeks, clever dialecticians. The verb from which this word is derived occurs in Mark 8:11, and the abstract substantive ("an eager discussion") in Acts 28:29. If St. Paul has Isaiah 33:18 in his mind, the word "disputer" corresponds to "the counter of the towers" (comp. Psalms 48:12). Even the rabbis say that when Messiah comes human wisdom is to become needless. Of the world; rather, of this age, or aeon. The old dispensation, then so rapidly waning to its close, was called "this age" (olam hazzeh); the next or Messianic age was called "the age to come" (olam habba). The Messianic age had dawned at the birth of Christ, but the old covenant was not finally annulled till his second coming at the fall of Jerusalem. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? rather, Did not God (by the cross) stultify the wisdom, etc.? The oxymoron, or sharp contrast of terms—a figure of which St. Paul is fond (see 1 Timothy 5:6; Romans 1:20, etc.; and my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:628)—is here clearly marked in the Greek. The thought was as familiar to the old prophets (Isaiah 44:25) as to St. Paul (Romans 1:22); and even Horace saw that heathen philosophy was sometimes no better than insaniens sapientia (Horace, 'Od.,' 1.34, 2).
1 Corinthians 1:21
In the wisdom of God; that is, as a part of his Divine economy. The world through its wisdom knew not God. These words might be written as an epitaph on the tomb of ancient philosophy, and of modern philosophy and science so far as it assumes an anti-Christian form (Luke 10:21). Human wisdom, when it relies solely on itself, may "feel after God," but hardly find him (Acts 17:26, Acts 17:27). Through the foolishness of the preaching. This is a mis-translation. It would require keruxeos, not kerugmatos. It should be by the foolishness (as men esteemed it) of the thing preached.
1 Corinthians 1:22
Jews ask for signs; rather, Jews demand signs. This had been their incessant demand during our Lord's ministry; nor would they be content with any sign short of a sign from heaven (Matthew 12:38 : Matthew 16:1; John 2:18; John 4:48, etc.). This had been steadily refused them by Christ, who wished them rather to see spiritual signs (Luke 17:20, Luke 17:21). Greeks seek after wisdom. St. Paul at Athens had found himself surrounded with Stoics and Epicureans, and the same new thing which every one was looking for mainly took the shape of philosophic novelties (Acts 17:21).
1 Corinthians 1:23
Christ crucified; rather perhaps, a crucified Messiah. It was only by slow degrees that the title "the Christ," i.e. the Anointed, the Messiah, passed into the name Christ. A stumbling block. They had for centuries been looking for a regal and victorious Messiah, who should exalt their special privileges. The notion of a suffering and humiliated Messiah, who reduced them to the level of all God's other children, was to them "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" (Romans 9:33; comp. Isaiah 8:14). These two verses, translated into Syriac, furnish a marked play on words (miscol, stumbling block; mashcal, folly; seed, cross); and some have seen in this a sign that St. Paul thought in Syriac. Unto the Greeks; rather, unto Gentiles; א, A, B, C, I). Unto the Jews… unto the Greeks. Both alike had failed. The Jew had not attained ease of conscience or moral perfectness; the Greek had. not unriddled the secret of philosophy; yet both alike rejected the peace and the enlightenment which they had professed to seek. Foolishness. The accent of profound contempt is discernible in all the early allusions of Greeks and Romans to Christianity. The only epithets which they could find for it were "execrable," "malefic," "depraved," "damnable" (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, etc.). The milder term is "excessive superstition." The heroic constancy of martyrs appeared even to M. Aurelius only under the aspect of a "bare obstinacy." The word used to express the scorn of the Athenian philosophers for St. Paul's "strange doctrine" is one of the coarsest disdain ( ἐχλεύαζον), and they called him "a seed pecker" (Acts 17:18, Acts 17:32), i.e. a mere picker up of "learning's crumbs."
1 Corinthians 1:24
Unto them that are called (see Ram. 8:28); literally, to the called themselves. Both Jews and Greeks. Henceforth the middle wall of partition between them is thrown down, and there is no difference (Ram. 1 Corinthians 9:24). Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. These words are a summary of the gospel. St. Paul is the best commentator on himself. He speaks elsewhere of "the exceeding greatness of God's power to usward who believe which he wrought in Christ" (Ephesians 1:17-20), and of "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" as being "hid in Christ" (Colossians 2:3). And the world, once so scornful, has learnt that Christ is indeed the Power of God. When Rudolph of Hapsburgh was being crowned, and in the hurry no sceptre could be found, he seized a crucifix, and swore that that should be his only sceptre. When St. Thomas of Aquinum asked St. Bonaventura what was the source of his immense learning, he pointed in silence to his crucifix.
1 Corinthians 1:25
The foolishness of God… the weakness of God; the method, that is, whereby God works, and which men take to be foolish and weak, because with arrogant presumption they look upon themselves as the measure of all things. But God achieves the mightiest ends by the humblest means, and the gospel of Christ allied itself from the first, not with the world's strength and splendour, but with all which the world despised as mean and feeble—with fishermen and tax gatherers, with slaves, and women, and artizans. The lesson was specially needful to the Corinthians, whom Cicero describes ('De Leg. Age,' 2:32) as "famous, not only for their luxuriousness, but also for their wealth and philosophic culture."
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
The method of God in the spread of the gospel.
1 Corinthians 1:26
For behold; or, consider (imperative, as in 1 Corinthians 10:15; Philippians 3:2). Your calling; the nature and method of your heavenly calling; the "principle God has followed in calling you" (Beza); see Ephesians 4:1; Hebrews 3:1. Not many wise after the flesh. Those who hear the calling arc alone the truly wise; but they are net wise with a carnal wisdom, not wise as men count wisdom; they have but little of the wisdom of the serpent and the wisdom of "this age." The Sanhedrin looked down on the apostles as "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). "God," says St. Augustine, "caught orators by fishermen, not fishermen by orators." Not many mighty; i.e. not many persons of power and influence. Almost the first avowed Gentile Christian of the highest rank was the consul Flavius Clemens, uncle of the Emperor Domitian. This was the more marked because the Jews won many rich and noble proselytes, such as the Queen Helena and the royal family of Adiabene, Poppaea the wife of Nero, and others. The only illustrious converts mentioned in the New Testament are Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus, Sergius Paulus, and Dionysius the Areopagitc. Not many noble. All this was a frequent taunt against Christians, but they made it their boast. Christianity came to redeem and elevate, not the few, but the many, and the many must ever be the weak and the humble. Hence Christ called fishermen as his apostles, and was known as "the Friend of publicans and sinners." None of the rulers believed on him (John 7:48). It must, however, be borne in mind that these words apply mainly and primarily to the first age of Christianity. It was essential that its victory should be due to Divine weapons only, and that it should shake the world "by the irresistible might of weakness." After a time, the wisest and the noblest and the most powerful were called. Kings became the nursing fathers of the gospel, and queens its nursing mothers. Yet the ideal truth remains, and human power shows utter weakness, and human wisdom is capable of sinking into the depths of folly.
1 Corinthians 1:27
God chose; not, hath chosen out. We may remark, once for all, that there was no reason why the translators of 1611 should thus have turned the Greek aorists of the New Testament into perfects. In this and in many instances the change of tense is unimportant, but sometimes it materially and injuriously affects the sense. The foolish things… the weak things. So, too, the psalmist, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength" (Psalms 8:2); and St. James, "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?" (James 2:5).
1 Corinthians 1:28
And the base things; literally, low-born, unborn; "those who are sprung kern no one in particular"—nullo patre, nullis majoribus. Nothing could be more ignoble in the eyes of the world than a cross of wood upheld by feeble hands, and yet before it "kings and their armies did flee and were discomfited, and they of the household divided the spoil." And the things that are not. The not is the Greek subjective negative ( μὴ); things of which men conceived as not existing—"nonentities." It is like the expression of Clement of Rome, "Things accounted as nothing." Christianity was "the little stone, cut without hands," which God called into existence. We find the same thought in St. John the Baptist's sermon (Matthew 3:9).
1 Corinthians 1:29
That no flesh should glory. For the weak instruments of God's triumphs are so weak that it was impossible for them to ascribe any power or merit to themselves. In contemplating the victory of the cross, the world could only exclaim, "This hath God wrought." "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."
1 Corinthians 1:30
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus. Ye do not belong to the wise and noble. Your strength will consist in acknowledged weakness; for it is solely derived from your fellowship with God by your unity with Christ. Who was made unto us, etc. These words rather mean, "Who was made unto us wisdom from God—both righteousness and sanctification and redemption.'' The text is a singularly full statement of the whole result of the work of Christ. as the source of "all spiritual blessings in things heavenly" (Ephesians 1:3), in whom we are complete (Colossians 2:10). Righteousness (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). "Jehovah-tsidkenu—the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:1-40. 5). This is the theme of Romans 3:7. Sanctification (see especially 1 Corinthians 6:11 and Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:26). Redemption. One of the four main metaphors by which the atonement is described is this of ransom ( λύτρον ἀπολύτρωσις). The meaning and nature of the act, as regards God, lie in regions above our comprehension; so that all speculations as to the person to whom the ransom was paid, and the reason why it was indispensable, have only led to centuries of mistaken theology. But the meaning and nature of it, as regards man, is our deliverance from bondage, and the payment of the debt which we had incurred (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18; Matthew 20:28; Romans 8:21-23). In all these cases, as Stanley well observes, the words have a double meaning—both of an inward act and of an outward result.
1 Corinthians 1:31
As it is written. A compressed quotation from the Septuagint Version of Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24; 1 Samuel 2:10. Let him glory in the Lord. The word rendered "glory" is more literally, boast. The reference is to Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24; 1 Samuel 2:10 (LXX.). The prevalence of "boasting" among the Corinthians and their teachers drove St. Paul to dwell much on this word—from which he so greatly shrinks—in 2 Corinthians 10:12. (where the word occurs twenty times), and to insist that the only true object in which a Christian can glory is the cross (Galatians 6:14), not in himself, or in the world, or in men.
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
To feel, to be, and to desire.
"Paul, called to be an apostle," etc. This salutation of Paul suggests
I. WHAT ALL MINISTERS SHOULD FEEL. They should feel:
1. That they have a call to their mission. Paul did so. "Called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God." No man will do his work effectively in any sphere unless he is assured in his own mind that he is called to it. The inner evidence of this call is sympathy with the work and aptitude for it.
2. That their call is Divine. Paul felt called "through the will of God." It is one thing to feel you have a call to a mission, and another thing to feel that call is Divine. The predominence of the sympathy and the pre-eminence of the aptitude will give this assurance. No man succeeds in any mission unless he feels called to it.
II. WHAT ALL MEN SHOULD BE. The description given of the persons addressed suggests what all men should be. What?
1. Religiously social. They should be identified with a religious community. "The Church of God which is at Corinth." All men should be in fellowship with the good, not isolated.
2. Consecrated to Christ. "Sanctified in Christ Jesus." Set apart to him, devoted to him, and thus "called to be saints." Called to live holy lives. "In every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord." A reverent, conscious dependence on him everywhere.
3. A catholic participation in Christ. "Both theirs and ours." There are those who feel that Christ is their special property, they would monopolize him. An un-Christly feeling this. The feeling should be our Christ. "Our Father which art in heaven." There is no personal Christianity that is not catholic in spirit.
III. WHAT ALL MEN SHOULD DESIRE. "Grace he unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." In this we have the highest philanthropy—a philanthropy that desires for man:
1. The highest good. "Grace and peace." If men have these they have all.
2. The highest good from the highest Source. "God the Father." Men need this good; Heaven only can bestow it.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Exemplary gratitude and precious confidence.
"I thank my God always on your behalf," etc. Here we have two blessed states of mind—
I. EXEMPLARY GRATITUDE. "I thank my God always on your behalf." The gratitude here was:
1. Unselfish. "On your behalf." It is right and well to praise God for what he has done for us, but it is a higher and nobler thing to praise him for what he has done for others. No man rightly appreciates a blessing who does not desire others to participate in it. The sublimity of a landscape is more than doubly enjoyed when one or more stand by your side to share your admiration.
2. For spiritual good. "For the grace of God."
3. An habitual state of mind. "I thank my God always." It was not an occasional sentiment; it was a settled attitude of heart.
II. PRECIOUS CONFIDENCE. The apostle seems to have had confidence in three things in relation to Christ.
1. In his perfecting character. "Who shall also confirm you unto the end." So perfecting it that it shall be "blameless." All moral imperfections removed.
2. In his appearing again. "In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." The day—when he will appear. This day is the day of days for humanity.
3. In his granting them companionship. "Unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." "Where I am there ye shall be also." Unshaken confidence in these things, how precious!
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
The importance of spiritual unity.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Name of our Lord," etc. Here the apostle comes to the grand object of writing this letter: it was to put an end to that party spirit that had riven the Church at Corinth into conflicting divisions. His remarks on this subject continue to 1 Corinthians 4:20. There are two things here which show the transcendent importance which he attached to spiritual unity—
I. HIS SOLEMN EXHORTATION. "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing," etc. What union does he seek? Not ecclesiastical union, conformity to the same system of worship. Not theological union, conformity to the same scheme of doctrine. Such unions cannot touch hearts, cannot weld souls. They are the union of the various parts of the machine, not the union of the branches of a tree.
1. The unity he seeks is that of spiritual utterance. "That ye all speak the same thing." Not the same thing in letter, but in life. Let the utterances be as varied as all the notes in the gamut, but let love, like the keynote, tune them into music.
2. The unity he seeks is that of unity of soul. "That ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." These include unity of the supreme sympathy and aim. Of such unity Christ alone is the Centre. Creeds divide; Christ unites. According to the laws of mind, all that love Christ supremely, though separated in person by distances immeasurable, are one in heart, one as planets are one, revolving round the same centre. This is the union that Paul sought; this is Divine socialism. No wonder that he was solemn in his entreaties. "In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ" he asks it.
II. HIS EARNEST EXPOSTULATION. Divisions or schisms were rife and rampant in the Church at Corinth at this time. Some person of the name of Chloe, unknown to us, but evidently well known to Paul and his contemporaries of the Corinthian Church, brought these divisions under Paul's notice, told him of the contentions. We must, I suppose, assume that this Chloe was a good character, although, as a rule, the most unamiable persons are the most ready to parade the imperfections of others. Now, what were the divisions against which he protests? "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ," etc. Their divisions consisted in rabid preferences for certain ministers. One party set up Paul as pre-eminent; another party set up Apollos as unapproached in excellence; others Cephas, or Peter; and others gave Christ the pre-eminence, and they were right. Now, to put down these divisions, these schisms, Paul expostulates with great vehemence. "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" Party spirit has been the greatest curse to Christianity; it has filled Christendom with conflicting sects. Alas! that any professed minister of the gospel should defend the existence of separate sects and Churches. How often have I heard preachers on platforms compare the different denominations to regiments in the same army! Do regiments in an army fight one with another, and do they misinterpret the grand purpose of the campaign? However, so long as men have vested interests in sects, and live by denominations, I fear nothing but the crash of doom will destroy sectarianism.
1 Corinthians 1:17
The world's greatest blessing and its greatest evil.
"Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." Here we have -
I. The greatest BLESSING in the world. "The cross of Christ." By "the cross of Christ" the apostle did not mean, of course, the timber on which Christ was crucified, or any imitation of that in wood, brass, marble, gold, silver, or paint. He uses the word as a symbol, as we use the words "crown," "court," "bench," etc. He meant the eternal principles of which the cross of Christ was at once the effect, evidence, and expression—he meant, in one word, all that we mean by the gospel. And this, we say, is the greatest blessing in the world today. The human world lives under a system of mercy, and mercy pours on it every hour blessings innumerable. But no blessing has come to it, has ever been found in it, or will ever come to it, equal to the cross or the gospel. Look at it, for example, in only three of its many aspects, and you will be impressed with its incomparable worth.
1. As a revealer. The chief value of the material universe is, that it reveals the spiritual and the eternal; but the gospel reveals all that the material does of God and the universe with much greater fulness and effect. It presents the "image of the invisible God." All true theological doctrine and ethical science come to us through the cross. It is the moral light of the world.
2. As an educator. That in human life which is the most successful in quickening, evolving, and strengthening all the powers of the human mind is its chief blessing. The "cross of Christ" has done this a thousand times more effectively than any other agency. Art, government, science, poetry, philosophy, owe infinitely more to it than to any other agent in the world. The cross is to the human soul what the vernal sunbeam is to the seed; it penetrates, warms, quickens, and brings all its latent powers out to perfection.
3. As a deliverer. The cross is more than a revealer or an educator; it is a deliverer. The human soul is condemned, diseased, enthralled; everywhere it groans under the sentence of its own conscience. It languishes under a moral malady; it is fettered by lusts, prejudices, evil habits, and social influences; its deepest cry is, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" The cross bears a pen to cancel the sentence, a balm to heal the wound, a weapon to break the fettering chain. Such, and infinitely more, is the cross. What would human life be without it? A voyage without a compass, chart, or star.
II. The greatest EVIL in the world. What is the evil? Making this cross of "none effect." That is "none effect" so far as its grand mission is concerned. Some effect it must have; it will deepen the damnation where it does not save. "We are unto God a sweet savour," etc. We offer three remarks concerning this tremendous evil.
1. It is painfully manifest. The fact is patent to all, that the cross has not to any great extent in Christendom produced its true effect. Though it has been in the world upwards of eighteen hundred years, not one-tenth of the human population know anything about it, and not one-hundredth of those who know something of it, experience its true effect. Intellectually, socially, politically, it has confessedly done wonders for mankind; but morally, how little! How little genuine holiness, disinterested philanthropy, self-sacrificing devotion to truth and God! How little Christliness of life! In all moral features, England is well-nigh as hideous as heathendom.£
2. It is easily explained. How is it done? The apostle in this verse indicates one way in which it could be done, that is, by "wisdom of words," by which we understand him to mean gorgeous rhetoric. What is called the Church has done it; that is, the assembly of men who profess to be its disciples, representatives, ministers, and promoters. The Church has done it:
3. It is terribly criminal. It is wonderful that man has the power thus to pervert Divine institutions and blessings; but such perverting power he has, and he uses it every day even in natural things. He forges metals into weapons for murder, he turns bread corn into liquids to blight the reason and to damn the souls of men. Wonderful power this! and terrible is the crime in employing it for perverting the cross of Christ. A greater crime than this you cannot conceive of. Were you to turn all bread into poison, make the flowing rivers pestiferous, quench the light of the sun, mantle the stars in sackcloth, you would not perpetrate a crime half so enormous as that of making the cross of Christ of" none effect."
CONCLUSION. Two questions.
1. What is the spiritual influence of the cross on us? Has it crucified unto us the world; destroyed in us the worldly spirit—the spirit of practical atheism, materialism, and selfishness?
2. What are we doing with the cross? Are we abusing it or rightly employing it?
1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 1:19
Two classes of gospel hearers.
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Instead of the "preaching of the cross," the New Version reads, the "word of the cross," and the word of the cross stands in contrast to the word of worldly wisdom. How great is the contrast! We have here two classes of gospel bearers.
I. The one is gradually PERISHING, the other is gradually BEING SAVED. The perishing and the saving are gradual.
1. There is a class in every congregation, perhaps, gradually perishing. They are gradually losing moral sensibility—contracting fresh guilt, etc. They are not damned at once.
2. There is a class in every congregation, perhaps, gradually being saved. Salvation is not an instantaneous thing, as some suppose.
II. To the one class the gospel is FOOLISHNESS, to the other the POWER OF GOD.
1. It is "foolishness" to them that are perishing, because it has no meaning, no reality.
2. It is a Divine "power" to them that are being saved. Enlightening, renovating, purifying, ennobling. The power of God stands in contrast with mere philosophy and eloquence.
1 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 1:21
Philosophy and the gospel.
"Where is the wise?" etc. The "wise" ( σοφός) here refers specially to the sages of Greece. They were called at first "wise men," and afterwards assumed a more modest title, "lovers of wisdom," philosophers. The "scribe" refers to the learned among the Jews. The appeal of the text, therefore, is to the wisdom or the philosophy of the world, including that of the Greek or Jew. Here we have—
I. Philosophy CHALLENGED by the gospel. The apostle here challenges the wise men of the world to accomplish the end which the gospel had in view. That end was the impartation to men of the saving knowledge of God. Where, unaided, had it ever succeeded in accomplishing this? Who amongst the wise will come forward to give one single instance?
II. Philosophy CONFOUNDED by the gospel. "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"
1. By doing what philosophy could not do. "The world by wisdom knew not God." Though the pages of nature lay open to the eye, with God's signature on the whole, man failed to discover him.
2. By doing by the simplest instrumentality what philosophy could not do. The proclamation of the history of Jesus of Nazareth, and that by a few simple men regarded as the offscouring of all things, did the work. Hath not God in this way "made foolish the wisdom of the world"?
III. Philosophy SUPERSEDED by the gospel. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." The preaching is not foolish in itself, only in the estimation of the would be wise men. The great want of men is salvation—the restoration of the soul to the knowledge, the likeness, the fellowship of God. This want philosophy cannot supply; but the gospel does. It has done so, it is doing so, and it will continue to do so.
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Christianity viewed in three aspects.
"For the Jews require a sign," etc. Our subject is Christianity; and here we see it in three aspects.
I. As associated with a GREAT FACT. "Christ crucified." This fact may be looked at:
1. Historically. As an historical fact, it is the most famous, influential, and best authenticated in the annals of time.
2. Theologically. It unfolds the Divine, it rends the veil in the great temple of theological truth, and exposes the inmost and holiest sanctuary; it is a mighty expression of God's idea, government, and heart.
3. Morally. It is fraught with the most quickening, elevating, and sanctifying suggestions.
II. As associated with POPULAR OPINION. It was a "stumbling block" to the Jew; it was "foolishness" to the Greek. It had not sufficient of the gorgeous philosophical ritualism for the speculative and pedantic Greek, nor sufficient of the gorgeous religious ritualism for the sensuous and bigoted Jew. What is it in popular sentiment now? To the millions it is nothing. They have formed no idea of it; they do not think about it. To the sceptic it is a fable; to the formalist it is a creed to be repeated, and a ceremony to be attended to on certain occasions, and nothing more.
III. As associated with CHRISTIAN CONSCIOUSNESS. "But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God." The Christian sees the highest wisdom in a system which, in saving the sinner, does four things.
1. Manifests the righteousness of the insulted Sovereign.
2. Augments the influence of moral government.
3. Maintains intact all the principles of moral freedom.
4. Develops, strengthens, and perfects all the original powers of the individual soul.
He sees, too, the highest power in the difficulties it surmounts, the revolutions it effects, the deeds to which it stimulates, the hopes it inspires, and the deep fountains of pleasure which it opens up. He feels it is both wise and powerful. What is Christianity to us? As a fact, there it is in the archives of humanity, for ever independent of us; nothing will ever blot it out from the page of history. As a fact, though centuries old, it is more influential than ever. It will be a fact eternally. What is it to us? Is it folly and weakness; or is it wisdom and power? This is the question.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
God destroying the conventionally great by the conventionally contemptible.
"For ye see your calling, brethren," etc. These verses remind us of two facts.
I. EVIL EXISTS HERE UNDER CONVENTIONALLY RESPECTABLE FORMS, Evil is spoken of in these verses as the "wise" and the "mighty." In Corinth dangerous errors wore the costume of wisdom. Power was also on their side. Sages, poets, artists, statesmen, wealth, and influence stood by them, and they appeared "mighty." Men in England, as in Corinth, have robed evils in attractive costumes, and labelled them with brilliant names. Often, indeed, has religion itself been used as a means of covering vices, and of raising the vilest passions of the human heart into the spheres of worship. Everywhere evil assumes a respectable garb.
1. Infidelity. This great evil writes and speaks in the stately formularies of philosophy and science; borrows its sanctions from astronomy, chronology, criticism, and metaphysics. It is a "wise" thing of the world.
2. Licentiousness. This evil, which involves the utter neglect of all social obligations, and the unrestrained development of the base and vicious lusts of the soul, passes under the grand name of liberty. The vaunted religious liberty of England's population means often only power to neglect sacred ordinances, profane the holy sabbath, etc.
3. Social injustice. This is a demon which works in every sphere of life, leading the crafty to take advantage of the ignorant, the strong of the weak, the rich of the poor; and this does most of its fiendish work in the name of law.
4. Selfishness. This goes under the name of prudence. The man whose heart knows no throb of sympathy for another passes through life with the reputation of a prudent man.
5. Bigotry. This, which leads men to brand all who differ from them as heretics and doom them to perdition, wears the sacred name of religion.
6. War. This, which by the common consent of all Christian philosophers is the pandemonium where all evil passions of the human heart run riot in their most fiendish forms, is called glory. Thus here and now, as everywhere and ever, evil appears as the "wise" and the "mighty." That errors and evils should appear in respectable forms is one of the most unfavourable symptoms in all the history of man. Could we but take from sin the mantle of respectability that society has thrown over it, we should do much towards its annihilation.
II. GOD IS DETERMINED TO OVERTHROW EVIL BY CONVENTIONALLY CONTEMPTIBLE MEANS. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise," etc. The "wise" and the "mighty" cannot protect evil. The agency to sweep evil away is here represented as "foolish," "weak," "base," "despised," and "things which are not." What does this language mean?
1. It does not mean that the gospel is an inferior thing. The gospel is no mean thing. It has proved itself the wisdom of God and the power of God.
2. It does not mean that tile men appointed as its ministers are to be inferior. There are several things to show that the gospel ministry requires the highest order of mind.
3. What, then, do they mean?
From this subject we may infer:
1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 1:31
The union of the genuine disciple with his Master.
"But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." Concerning this union—
I. It is MOST VITAL. "In Christ," not merely in his dispensation, in his school, in his character, but in himself, as the branches are in the vine, He is their life,
II. It is DIVINELY FORMED. "Of him are ye in Christ." Whom? Of God. It is the eternal Spirit that brings the soul into vital connection with Christ. "My Father is the Husbandman."
III. It is BLESSEDLY PRODUCTIVE. "Wisdom," "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption" come out of this union. What transcendent blessings are these!
IV. It is EXULTINGLY ADORING. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." It inspires the highest worship, it causes the soul to triumph in God himself.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
St. Paul and the apostleship.
First of all, HE ASSERTS THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF HIS OFFICE, to which he was "called though the will of God." This pro found sense of the dignity belonging to his vocation, as one sent of God, was a supreme principle of his nature; not an opinion, but a conviction, and a conviction too strong to be dislodged from its central seat in his mind by any assault of adverse circumstances. It must needs be subjected to manifold and severe tests, since in this way alone can a conviction be made available for the highest moral uses. Owing to his exceptional position, St. Paul underwent, in this respect, a series of peculiar trials which distinguish him from the other apostles, so that, while he shared with them the persecution incident to the apostolate in itself, he had an experience of its perplexities and sorrows, personal to himself, in the distinctive and supplementary attitude he was ordained to maintain. Like all men, he had fluctuant moods, the ebb and flow of emotion with its reflex influence on intellect and volition. His natural temperament was extremely sensitive, and it was aggravated by hardship and disease. The blood that warmed and the nerves that thrilled under the touch of outward agencies, had their counterpart in the sensibility of his spiritual life, and, accordingly, body and soul were in singularly close partnership in his nature, and acted and interacted very powerfully on each other. Yet, in spite of this liability to the moods of subjective sensations and internal impressions, the conviction of his call to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus, and to exercise his Divine endowments in a specific way, stood altogether apart from the variations of ordinary thought and feeling, and held its strength of consciousness unimpaired throughout his career. So strong and yet so beautiful; humility the ornament of its energetic vigour, so that while he starts with "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ," he loses not a moment, but in the opening verse of the Epistle introduces "Sosthenes our brother." Not a trace of Sosthenes appears in the Epistle; the production is Pauline to the core; and yet St. Paul would associate with him "Sosthenes our brother." If St. Paul is about to rebuke intellectual pride and vanity, and condemn the evil partisanship that grows out of selfishness and disguises an inflated personality under the mask of homage to a great leader, what more fitting words can he utter on the threshold of his letter than "Sosthenes our brother," whose name was no battle cry of faction? Naturally enough, this sense of unity in St. Paul's mind with all Christians finds immediate vent in addressing "the Church of God" at Corinth, "with all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord," adding with touching expressiveness, "both theirs and ours." A true sense of manhood is always known by its prompt and hearty identification with the manhood of the race. All growth and culture advance from the individual and the personal towards the universal, until at last—the providential work of development on earth accomplished—the narrow horizon that was quite sufficient for youth and early manhood, widens to the reach of the world. When we find this circumference, we find our real centre. Not otherwise can a man attain genuine individuality. For the light that blesses his eyes, for the air that feeds his lungs, for the food nourishing bodily strength, he is a debtor to the universe. And it is the aim of Christianity to call out and perfect the latent vigour of this instinct of race, and, but for its Divine office, the sentiment were impossible as a spiritual actuality. No wonder, then, that St. Paul announces to the mixed population of Corinth—to Romans, Greeks, Asiatics, in the Corinthian Church—the doctrine of grace for all, and emphasizes the gift as "both theirs and ours" The formative thought of the first chapter is thus intimated. To prepare for its enlargement, he reminds the Corinthians that it was as a Church arid in their organic capacity they were "saints;" that, as members of Christ's body, they had been "enriched by him in all utterance, and in all knowledge;" and then proceeds to show that the faithfulness of God was pledged to their continued progress in this selfsame line of direction, viz. fellowship in Christ Jesus as the Son of God and Lord of humanity. Here, as everywhere in St. Paul's writings, the two ideas of the Divine and the human in Christ are assumed as the ground of our fellowship in him and with one another; brethren because disciples, one below because one above, the strength and purity and permanence of the tie between man and man in this fellowship being determined solely by our union in him. On no other basis could the word "fellowship" have taken its specialized place in the vocabulary of Christianity. The contents of the term outreach what we ordinarily mean by respect, confidence, intercourse, and like expressions, and signify a deep sense of equality, of the recognition of common rights and privileges, and of a sympathy that has its roots, not in the shallow soil of races and their latitude and longitude as geographical facts, but in One who was the Representative in a peculiar and exclusive manner of the human race. Fellowship is an acknowledgment of redemption. It is not union alone, but a vital unity, a communion of man with man, and as man by means of communion with God in Christ—a bond that exists between spirit and spirit through the common grace of the Holy Ghost, as the Executive of the Father and the Son in the heart of every believer. Who knew more of the intensity of race-blood, of its subtle force, of its open and virulent activity in all the practical questions of the age, of its perpetuated and unyielding traditions, of its frantic emergence on every occasion unless repressed by the arm of authority,—who understood this better than St. Paul, himself a notable example for years of its power to blind common sense and stupefy common instincts? And where was there a city of such miscellaneous activity of mind and such collisions of inherited beliefs and such ill-adjusted public life as this same Corinth—a huge reservoir for all the tributary streams of civilization that had washed down into its bosom whatever had survived of the degeneracy in Asia Minor, in Egypt, in Italy? Yet this St. Paul is the man to speak of fellowship, and this Corinth is the community to which he would address himself in behalf of the grace "both theirs and ours."—L.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Divisions in the Church condemned.
The formative idea of the chapter is now brought into full view, viz. "There are contentions among you," and it is prefaced by the statement of a principle, to which St. Paul earnestly directs the attention of the Corinthians, viz. "that they be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment," or "perfected together," the stress being laid, as before, on their corporate or organic character as a Church. These warring divisions were not matters merely or chiefly personal, but they involved the very heart and soul of the Christian community. No doubt their partisanship in the supposed interest of Paul, Apollos, and Peter, ay, of Christ himself, was very hurtful to them as individuals. But the point he urges is that their partisanship was a disjunction of their unity, and hence that this unity, which was designed to grow into perfection, was arrested by strife. And just here St. Paul strikes the great fact that men of the outside world judge of Christianity much more by the Church in its totality than by instances of individual character in the Church. History is full of exemplifications of this truth, from the times of Julian and Coleus to the age of Voltaire and Rousseau. Nor should this surprise us; for evidently there is a philosophy in it, however much the philosophy is abused by the wit and devices of men. Individuals are "members one of another," members of the body; but the body is the Church, and the organic life of the Church is the Divine witness to the glory of Christ made visible through the Church to the world. How quickly the apostle rises into fervid utterance, and how compact his words! "Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" If his services to the Corinthian Church are to be perverted in this way, St. Paul can only thank God that he baptized but a few of them. At the moment, St. Paul hastens to assert his own high manhood by an utter refusal to be made an object of partisanship, and he does this in the only method possible to his argument, by confessing his obligations to Christ who had sent him "to preach the gospel."—L.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
How St. Paul regarded the preaching of the gospel.
By an easy movement he advances to the gospel, to the mode of preaching it as essential to its Divine success, and thus reaches the climax of his reasoning in the first chapter. Other functions of his apostleship will come hereafter into view—the resolute disciplinarian, the firm, administrator, the tender but unyielding executive of the Head of the Church. At present, however, one thing absorbs him, namely, the Divine institution of preaching. What is his foremost relation to these Corinthians? It is that of a preacher of Christ's gospel. And how had he preached it? "Not with wisdom of words"—not as a speculative thinker, not as a Greek rhetorician, not in the spirit of worldly eloquence—"lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." Two things are prominently set forth—the gospel and its manner of presentation; and Christ is in each of them, and in each of them alike, so that not only the substance of the gospel, but the mode of its exhibition, must conform to his sovereignty as the Head of the Church. All preaching of the gospel is not gospel preaching. Looking at the character in the light St. Paul viewed it, the preacher was an original creation of Christ, a new force ordained and anointed of him, and introduced by him for the proclamation of the gospel. It dated no further back than Pentecost; it was of universal adaptation; it was to command all languages, and speak to the simplest instincts, not of men, but of man as man; and this original creation, this new force, was to continue through all time, and never surrender its rights and prerogatives to any successor. And the spirit and matter of fulfilling this grand office were thoroughly unworldly, so much so, indeed, that, it would strike the Greek as "foolishness," and prove to the Jew "a stumbling block." But in contrast with the Greek and his search after wisdom, and with the Jew in his love of national signs as the elect race of Jehovah, Christ was preached as "the power of God and the wisdom of God." The word "power" is not used except in connection with the preaching of "Christ crucified," and its value in the argument is assured by its specialty of application. All the aid of contrast and comparison is given to this one word. Power, God's power, is the designation of preaching Christ crucified. Over against it are put "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," and the array of dissimilarity is lengthened out by "foolish things," "weak things," "base things," and "things despised." But what bearing has this condensed energy of a single idea and its rapid accumulation of phraseological forms on the partisanship of these Corinthians? Has not the apostle wandered from the main idea of the chapter—the "contentions among you"? Nay, this very partisanship is the exact opposite of Paul, Peter, Apollos, in preaching the gospel, and they can never consent to this abuse of their position. Nay, further, it is in downright antagonism to "Christ crucified." There is no "power" in it, no "wisdom." It is the idolatry of the senses. It is the intellect of the senses repeating the folly of Greek and Jew in another but equally fatal shape. It is mere seeking to find themselves and their glory in man. Directly opposite to this, St. Paul argues, we preach "Christ crucified," so that "no flesh should glory in his presence." A great lesson it is in the true spirituality of Christianity as the only strength and safeguard of the Church. If Christ is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;" if Christ become "the power of God" to our hearts in this fourfold form of the "riches of grace;" the root of all worldliness is destroyed, partisanship is at an end, because self-seeking is ended, and henceforth that Scripture has a very real import to us, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." A man may admire others for their own sakes, and this admiration may be very helpful. To admire others because our image is projected upon them can only augment our own weakness. Our praise in such cases is but the echo of our self admiration, and echoes are dying sounds.—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
1 Corinthians 1:2
"Called to be sailors."
The term "saint" is, in common use, limited to certain classes of holy men. It is applied to the inspired evangelists and apostles; to the great doctors and martyrs of the early Church, especially to such as were "canonized;" and to the glorified in heaven. But the New Testament usage is more general. In the Acts and in the Epistles, Christians generally, otherwise designated "disciples" and "brethren," are also called "saints." In all except two of St. Paul's Epistles, the Christians to whom he writes are thus designated in the opening salutations. The appellation is one very significant and very instructive.
I. THIS DESIGINATION REMINDS CHRISTIANS OF WHAT THEY EITHER ONCE WERE OR WOULD HAVE BEEN BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD. Properly and literally, a saint is one separated and consecrated, made holy by being called out of a sinful society and set apart and dedicated to God. In the case of most of those first thus addressed, it was literally the case that they had been "plucked as brands from the burning." Inhabitants of one of the most luxurious, voluptuous, and debased cities of the ancient world, these members of the Corinthian Church had been rescued and saved by the gospel of God's grace. If the case seems different with hearers of Divine truth in our own land and in our own day, still it must be borne in mind that Christianity alone has brought about such a result that God alone has made us differ.
II. THIS DESIGNATION REMINDS CHRISTIANS OF WHAT THEY ARE.
1. They are the creation, the "new creation" of God's Holy Spirit. His cleansing and regenerating power, symbolized in the purifying waters of baptism, has effected this great change.
2. They are accordingly consecrated unto God. In the Corinthian temple of Aphrodite, a thousand priestesses were "consecrated" as prostitutes, to the impure worship of the goddess of lust. In the Christian Church all members are devoted to the holy service of a holy God.
3. They are sanctified in character. Negatively, Christians are represented by this language as being freed from the bondage and service of sin. Positively, they are arrayed in the white garments of spiritual purity. Outward, ceremonial purity is insufficient; for Christ looks for and values the purity of the heart.
4. They are associated with a holy fellowship. The Church is a holy body, and an unholy member would be out of sympathy with the body to which it professedly belongs. Holiness is a "note" of the spiritual brotherhood.
III. THIS DESIGNATION REMINDS CHRISTIANS OF WHAT THEY WILL BE. They are inheritors of a holy kingdom. They look forward to immortal citizenship in that city into Which entereth nothing that defileth, where holiness reigns perfectly and for ever, whose occupations of service and of praise are suited to holy beings and to a holy place. A prospect such as this is inspiring as well as delightful. The future casts its influence upon the present. "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure."—T.
1 Corinthians 1:5
Enrichment in Christ.
Paul's view of the dignity of the Christian calling, of the privileges and honours of the Christian life, was both just and instructive, and may well assist us in our endeavour to live clear of and above the false and worldly standard with which we often meet. How could the grandeur and sacredness of our religious position be more effectively set before us than by this inspiriting language addressed by the apostle to the members of the Christian community at Corinth: "In everything ye were enriched in Christ"?
I. A PARADOX, WHEN WE REGARD THOSE WHO WERE THUS ADDRESSED. In the house of one Justus, a proselyte to Judaism, who had become a Christian—a house close by the Hebrew synagogue, in the wealthy, commercial, pleasure seeking city of Corinth, there assembled in a large apartment a company of disciples of the Nazarene. Some were of Jewish, some of Gentile race. Most, though not all, of the brotherhood were poor, and few were learned or of high station. Perhaps the families of Crispus the president, of Justus himself, and of Chloe from Cenchrea, were the persons in the assembly of most consideration; for Aquila, Apollos, and Sosthenes were absent. Some of those assembled to hear the letter of the apostle, who was the founder of the Church at Corinth, were Bondsmen, and few were persons of any note. When Titus and Trophimus, bearers of Paul's Epistle, accompanied by the Corinthians—Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who had also just come from the apostle then labouring at Ephesus—when these looked round upon the gathering of Corinthian Christians, they may well have started with astonishment as the language of the Epistle was read out, which described the abundant enrichment of these lowly, poor, unlettered disciples. Here was a company, including "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," but composed of the ignorant, the weak, the base, the despised of the world. A few Jewish merchants, a few handicraftsmen, a few slaves, a few industrious women, and perhaps a scholar or two, were declared to be "enriched in all things." It was a paradox; and it was a paradox which has been repeated again and again during the past nineteen centuries.
II. A POSSIBILITY, WHEN WE THINK IN WHOM THIS ENRICHMENT TOOK PLACE. Nothing but the consciousness of a new life breathed into humanity, a new hope dawning upon the world, could account for these Corinthians being thus addressed by a teacher like Paul. The language is so sweeping and unqualified, and the statement is made with so much confidence, that we feel that something very remarkable must have occurred to account for Paul addressing such persons in such language. The explanation is to be found here—"In him" ye were enriched. It is in Christ that the wealth of God is placed at the disposal of the destitute children of men.
1. His Divine nature is a storehouse, a treasury of true wealth; in him all fulness dwells.
2. His ministry was an earnest of the greater blessings which should follow; for he was ever freely giving.
3. His death and sacrifice were the means of securing to us the fulness of God; he unlocked the treasury: "Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich."
4. His ascension, so far from impoverishing the race he came to save, was the occasion of its enrichment. "He received gifts for men;" he poured out spiritual blessings from on high.
III. A FACT, WHEN WE CONSIDER THE ACTUAL SPIRITUAL POSSESSIONS ENJOYED BY MANKIND THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. As the sun enriches the earth with luxuriant fruitfulness, as great men enrich a nation by their heroic deeds and saintly self sacrifice, so does Christ actually bestow untold blessings upon this race. Referring to the Epistle, we observe that wisdom and knowledge, faith and healing, miracles and prophecy, tongues and interpretation, were among the special instances of wealth with which the early Church was dowered. Yet the same Epistle assures us that love is a greater gift than all these. "See that ye abound in this grace also." The fruits of the Spirit are the riches of the Church. The unsearchable riches of Christ are made over to his redeemed and renewed people. To them it was said, "All things are yours."
APPLICATION. There is nothing in the resources or the purposes of God, nothing in the heart of Christ, to limit the extent to which this spiritual wealth may be diffused.—T.
1 Corinthians 1:9
"The fellowship of his Son."
Social ties are inevitable either for good or for evil; some are made for us and others are made by us. All religions have made use of the social tendency, the social necessity, which distinguish human nature. Christianity adapts itself to the highest form of the tendency. The Divine Christ has made himself the Associate, the Friend, the Brother of mankind.
I. THE FELLOWSHIP OF FAITH IN CHRIST'S REDEMPTION. The work of Christ was perfect in itself, but its benefits are only to be enjoyed through spiritual association and affinity with Christ. Union of heart and soul with Christ is the condition of true salvation. Christians are built on Christ as the foundation, grafted into Christ as into the vine, joined to Christ as to the body, partakers of Christ as of spiritual bread, friends with Christ as by a congenial attachment.
II. THE FELLOWSHIP OF SPIRIT WITH CHRIST'S CHARACTER. The frequent expression, "in Christ," shows what was the view of the Lord himself and of his apostles concerning the identification of the people of Jesus with their Lord. It is their aspiration to be like him, to have the mind which was in him. They are followers, disciples, imitators, representatives of him whose name they bear. Sympathizing with Christ's obedience and submission to the Father, they are practically and powerfully and beneficially affected by this sympathy.
III. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE ACTIVE LIFE WITH THE WORK OF CHRIST. Christians recognize their Master's devotion to the highest interests of men, his unwearied efforts, his unflinching sacrifice. In communion with him they make their life one of service, of consecration. In motive the Christian life is service to Christ; in result it is service to man. How many a life has been rescued by the cross from selfishness and from sin, and made a life of devoted and successful benevolence!
IV. THE FELLOWSHIP OF HEART AND OF ACTION WITH CHRIST'S PEOPLE. Union with the Head is the basis of communion with the members; yet by this last the former is fostered and perfected. Congeniality and sympathy of disposition and aim, worship and ordinances in common, mutual aid, conjoined endeavours and testimony,—these are the results, and, at the same time, the means of communion with Christ.
V. FELLOWSHIP PROSPECTIVELY IN CHRIST'S INHERITANCE. The Lord ever encouraged his disciples, who shared his humiliation, with the prospect that they should share his exaltation. It was his promise, "Because I live, ye shall live also;" it was his prayer, "Where I am, there may also my people be." Fellowship with such a Being cannot be for a season, it must be imperishable. To be "ever with the Lord" is the bright and joyous expectation of all who honour and who love his appearing. This shall be the crown of communion. Then in the fullest sense shall his disciples and friends be truly "partakers of Christ."—T.
1 Corinthians 1:17
The mission to preach.
No man did so much as Paul to prevent Christianity degenerating into form. He had himself been galled by the bondage of the old dispensation, and he the more rejoiced in the liberty of the new. He upheld the spirit against the letter, the life against the ceremony. He did not depreciate baptism, for it would not have been easy to depreciate the ordinance and at the same time to honour the spiritual reality it symbolized. But others could and might administer the rite of purification; he was at liberty to leave this to them, in order to give himself the more devotedly to his own special and appointed work, the preaching of the gospel.
I. THE LANGUAGE EXPRESSES THE CONVICTION OF A DIVINE MISSION.
1. The Christian, and emphatically the Christian preacher, does not go his own way and do his own work in the world. He does not claim to direct his own steps.
2. Christ is the sender. To Paul he had said, "Unto whom now I send thee;" and Paul acknowledged concerning his commission, "I received it not of men." It is a high and sacred truth that we are sent men. The soul that awakens to a sense of the reality of life and hears the voice of God, proves its vitality by exclaiming, "Here am I send me." Every Christian is, in a sense, a missionary, an apostle of Christ.
II. THE LANGUAGE ASSERTS THE VAST IMPORTANCE OF PREACHING. It is common amongst worldly men to undervalue this spiritual agency; they think more of political or physical power than of moral influence. What is preaching? It is the use of moral means towards a moral end. It is the presentation of truth to the understanding, of authority to the conscience, of persuasion to the heart. Above all, it is the use of a Divine weapon, though with an arm weak and ill adapted for a service so high. Our Lord himself was a preacher, Paul was a preacher, and preachers have been among the greatest moral factors in the history of all Christian nations. Preaching is the vehicle of a Divine blessing, the means towards a Divine and immortal result.
III. THE LANGUAGE LAYS STRESS UPON THE SUBSTANCE OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING. Paul felt himself called and qualified to preach the gospel.
1. This was good news. An argument may be reasoned, an oration may be declaimed, a poem may be sung, but that which has to be preached is good news.
2. It was good news from God. From any inferior source good tidings could scarcely have deserved the name. Man needed pardon, the principle and power of a new life, hope for the future; and these were blessings God alone could bestow.
3. It was good news concerning Christ. Thus to preach Christ and to preach the gospel were one and the same thing. For Christ was to man the wisdom, the power, and the love of God.
4. It was good news for all men. It brought liberty to the Jew and light to the Gentile, truth to the inquiring, comfort to the sorrowful, peace to the sinful penitent, and hope to the downtrodden and the slave.
1. The preacher may be reminded of his true vocation.
2. The hearer of the gospel may be reminded of his precious privilege and of his sacred responsibility.—T.
1 Corinthians 1:18
The doctrine of the cross.
There is a holy zeal of indignation in the spirit animating this passage. Paul, the rabbinical scholar, not untinctured with Hellenic culture, must have felt it hard that the life he had voluntarily adopted often brought him into disrepute even amongst his intellectual inferiors. But he had chosen deliberately and in the sight of God, and no power on earth could make him swerve from his course. His own mind was satisfied that the gospel could do for man what no other power could effect, and his daily observation convinced him that in this judgment he was right. He could afford, then, to endure the scorn of men, for the doctrine he was promulgating was attested as the power of God.
I. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE, OR WORD, OF THE CROSS.
1. The cross had to Paul no merely material and superstitious meaning. In after ages men heard much of "the true cross," and even now relics (supposed) of the instrument of our Saviour's sufferings are treasured and revered. The cross may be reproduced in shape, in ornament, in architecture, in posture, and there may all the time be no spiritual understanding of the cross.
2. Nor did a merely sentimental meaning attach itself in Paul's mind to the cross. Suffering, and especially the suffering of innocence, awakens sympathy, and people talk about the cross they carry, with no other apprehension of the meaning of the phrase.
3. But it was a symbol of Christ's sacrifice. Jesus bare the cress before he set out for Calvary; its shadow had been for years upon his soul. In his death upon the cross he bore our sins, and secured that his people should with him be crucified unto the world. Thus the tree of death became the sign of redemption and the law of life.
II. THE OFFENCE OF THE DOCTRINE, OR WORD, OF THE CROSS.
1. In itself. The cross was associated in men's minds with slavery, with guilt and crime, with suffering, with shame, with reviling, and with death.
2. In its position in the Christian scheme. To hope to convert the world by preaching seemed to many the vainest folly; by preaching a person, ridiculous; by preaching a person judicially put to death, insanity; by preaching one crucified, a moral obliquity and infamy.
3. There was a special reason why the Jews should resent this doctrine. They cherished a carnal love of splendour and power of a manifest and impressive kind, and the word of the cross outraged their sentiments. They looked for a temporal deliverer in the Messiah, and this expectation was disappointed in the gospel of the Crucified.
4. There was a special reason why the Gentiles, especially those of education and philosophical tastes, should take offence at the word of the cross. They disdained the barbarian and despised the Jew, and they contemned the form in which Christianity was proclaimed. They loved health, beauty and power, and had no sympathy with a religion which gloried in the Crucified, and appealed to the sinful and the wretched. Their taste for speculation and for novelty was not gratified by Christian doctrine, and the cross would fit into none of their schemes of the universe.
III. THE POWER OF THE DOCTRINE, OR WORD, OF THE CROSS.
1. The source of this power. It is Divine. The word of the cross expresses the Divine mind, shows God's estimate of human sin, exhibits the Divine righteousness, reveals the Divine love, and does all this on a human platform, so that we are enabled to appreciate the mystery of heavenly counsels.
2. The sphere of this power. Unbelievers cannot recognize it; they cannot but regard it as folly, for they are perishing in the sin from which it might deliver them. But all who are "in course of salvation" are living witnesses to the efficacy of the gospel. In a free moral nature, truth and love must be received in order that they may operate.
3. The proofs of this power. Compare it with any other power, and its superiority is manifest. What else can awaken the selfish, the sensual, and the obdurate to a sense of sin; can impel the low minded and earthly to the pursuit of holiness; can guide and graciously constrain to a life of consecrated service; can enter a corrupt society as leaven, and can purify it as salt?—T.
1 Corinthians 1:31
Glorying in the Lord.
The one condition of spiritual blessing, upon which Scripture universally insists, is humility. The lowly are assured of acceptance, and the proud and self confident are condemned to rejection. The terms of Christianity correspond with the teaching of the Old Testament; for it is to the poor in spirit and to the meek, to the child like in character and disposition, that the blessings of the new covenant are assigned. The same spirit which is a means of obtaining the blessings of Christianity is distinctive of those who possess these blessings. They have received all they enjoy from the free grace of God, and it is their delight to abase themselves and to exalt him from whom they have derived their spiritual privileges and prospects. They may glory, but it is not in anything which is their own; it is in him of whom and to whom are all things.
I. CHRISTIANS REPUDIATE ALL GLORYING IN SELF.
1. In their own possessions anal powers. There is a natural tendency to think highly of self, and to depreciate our fellow men and their gifts, and to forget our God the Giver of all. But the very fact that we are Christians is conclusive against the lawfulness of such moral habits. God has made us; Christ has redeemed us, and we are not our own.
2. In the gifts of God's providence. To boast of wealth, or nationality, or family, is to overlook the great question, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?"
3. In their privileges. This the Jews were constantly in the habit of doing; they boasted that they were Abraham's children, and Moses' disciples, etc. If highly favoured by Christian privilege, let Christ s people be upon their watch lest they claim credit for what they owe to the free grace of God.
4. In their attainments. The Corinthians seem to have been in special danger of falling into this snare. Human learning and philosophy may very possibly become an occasion of stumbling and reproach.
5. In their virtues. This was the Pharisaic spirit, and should be checked by the remembrance that "we are unprofitable servants."
II. CHRISTIANS CULTIVATE THE HABIT OF GLORYING IN THEIR LORD.
1. This is a just and reasonable habit. Reflection assures every true and spiritual Christian that he is indebted to the mercy of God in Christ, first for his redemption from sin, and then for every grace, all help, all counsel, all comfort, through which he is what he is. Therefore in the Author of salvation and life he is bound to rejoice.
2. This is a profitable habit. To glory in the Lord is a sure preservative against ingratitude and murmuring, and will help in maintaining a cheerful and happy tone and temper of mind. It is, moreover, an evident and beautiful preparation for the employments of heaven.
3. This is a habit for which we have the apostolic example and precedent. It was the habit of Paul's mind to glory, not in man, but in God. He could glory in his own infirmities; he could glory in the blessing God bestowed upon his labours, though then he "became a fool in glorying." But this was the prevailing sentiment of his spirit: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ Jesus my Lord!"—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
I. CHRISTIAN SALUTATION SHOULD BE COURTEOUS. Christianity teaches the truest politeness. It seeks to eradicate the harsh and the brutal. Life is rough enough without our making it rougher; Christianity tends to smooth the ruggedness of life and to make it more kindly. Courtesy in others towards ourselves we greatly value; we have to be towards others what we would have them to be towards us. Paul's courtesy is evidently of the right type—it is heart-courtesy. Surface courtesy is of little worth. Besides which it is a lie.
II. CHRISTIAN SALUTATION SHOULD BE GENEROUS. Paul's is not conceived in a carping spirit. There is a disposition to look upon the better side. The Corinthian Church afforded plenty of inducement to severity in an exordium. The apostle declined the temptation. He knew the way to the human heart, and, whilst reserving needed rebuke, he saluted his Corinthian friends (and enemies) in a manner certain to impress them as charitable and large-hearted. Whilst strictly adhering to truth, we must, if we would win men, manifest a spirit of generosity. We are sometimes so terribly afraid of saying too much, that we say altogether too little. We are severely anxious to be just, and become really unjust. Large heartedness is attractive, and wins; stinginess in sentiment is repulsive, and loses. Insistance upon the dark side often makes it darker. Men need encouragement as well as lecturing, and the exhibition of a noble, sympathetic, generous spirit is one of the most encouraging spectacles that men who are erring and imperfect can be called to look upon.
III. CHRISTIAN SALUTATION SHOULD BE CHEERFUL. Many burdens pressed upon the apostle's heart, but he nevertheless gives a cheery greeting to the Corinthians. To start with a groan is not propitious. We have sometimes cause for sorrow; we have always cause for joy if we are in Christ. To wave the black flag is to give but poor welcome. We are to rejoice in the Lord always, and in saluting our brethren we may well let this joy beam forth. Glumness and dismalness are not the chief of the Christian graces, though some seem to think they are. We are not looking forward to a funeral, but to a wedding—"the marriage supper of the Lamb." In Christian intercourse a little more brightness and gladness would not be out of place.
IV. CHRISTIAN SALUTATION MAY WELL BE EXTENSIVE. We are one family, and all the members have a claim upon our good wishes. Paul's greeting, is not too selective; his sympathies go out to all who call upon the Name of the Lord. Some are very fond of saluting the rich, and have no fondness for saluting the poor. One might suppose that a serious mistake had been made in the non-calling of many wise and mighty and noble, for some of God's people seem to care for no others. Paul sent an equal greeting to the Corinthian believers; his sentiment was unaffected by poverty, ignorance, feebleness, or obscurity. Our love is apt to become cramped. The very best of us tend to love the lovely Christian, and to give the cold shoulder to the unlovely. We need more of the Spirit of the One who came to help the sinful and the unattractive, and who "loved the world."
V. CHRISTIAN SALUTATION SHOULD NOT BE EMPTY. Much salutation says nothing and means it. Paul's salutation is very ample and full of significance. He desires for the Corinthians the grace or favour of God and Christ—the Divine love to be manifested towards them. "In his favour is life" (Psalms 30:5). All blessing from God to be their portion. And peace as the result of this—the inward assurance of the friendship of God, that sin is pardoned, that "all things are yours." Under the terms of the apostolic greeting all good, whether providential or spiritual, temporal or eternal, is included.
VI. CHRISTIAN SALUTATION SHOULD SAVOUR MUCH OF CHRIST.
1. Here Christ is frequently named; but in no affected or canting way. It is a pity that when men talk of Christ in friendly intercourse they so often become intensely unnatural. The holy naturalness of Paul when talking of his Master is refreshing.
2. Here is much of the spirit of Christ. The salutation breathes forth love, tenderness, unselfishness, great heartedness, and intense sympathy.—H.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The approach to rebuke.
The occasion of this letter was largely furnished by the need of rebuke. The Corinthian Church had erred grievously. To rebuke is frequently painful, but when called for it should not be shrunk from; not to rebuke under such circumstances is unalloyed cruelty. To rebuke, often painful, is always perilous. By maladroitness we may easily drive men from the right instead of drawing them to it. Unwise rebuke adds to the ill. We need to prepare for rebuke if when we reach it we would not deserve its infliction, Note the apostolic procedure. We have here one of the finest examples of preparing men's minds for well deserved censure.
I. REMARK SOME GENERAL FEATURES OF THIS PREPARATORY ADDRESS. We find in it:
1. Courtesy. A graceful and gracious salutation. The apostle does not rush into harsh words. He shows no eagerness to condemn. Roughness and rudeness add no strength to admonition.
2. Affection. This pervades every sentence, and culminates in the opening of the tenth verse, "Now I beseech you," etc. Love keeps in cheek apostolic authority and righteous indignation. We shall not injure delinquents by loving them very much. Nothing can make rebuke more telling than administering before and after and with it, unaffected love. If men see that we are unwilling to rebuke them, they will be very much more likely to accept our rebuke. To enjoy rebuking is to demonstrate our total unfitness for it.
3. Candour. The condemnation is not to be wholesale. Some can see nothing but fault in those who err, but the apostle perceives excellences. tie generously acknowledges spiritual attaimnent and endowment. To blind our eyes to the good is to make ourselves powerless to remove the bad. Many rebukes have worse than failed through lack of strict honesty in the rebuker. The "candid friend" has often proved very uncandid.
5. Absence of pomposity and of assumption of superiority. It is not the great man speaking to the infinitesimal; nor the spotless to the utterly depraved. Paul gets as near to the Corinthians as he can. He seems to remember that his Master was made "in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). "Come not near to me, for I am holier than thou," is likely to make people keep their distance and have nothing to do with us or our words. Not without wise humility has "Sosthenes our brother "a place in the salutation.
6. Yet the apostolic authority is not lost sight of. It may be well to show that we are entitled to rebuke—that we are not assuming an office to which we have no claim. Rebukes should come from proper quarters. Paul was the "apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God." It was manifestly within his province to point out blemishes in the Christian Church and to reprove evil doers.
II. NOTE HOW EARNESTLY HE STRIVES TO TURN THEIR THOUGHTS TO GOD AND TO CHRIST. This is, perhaps, the most striking feature of these introductory verses. Read the passage and note the extraordinary number of times mention is made of God and of Christ. The connection of this with the coming rebuke is apparent. The Corinthians have forgotten God, and therefore they have gone astray. Christ has become less and less to them, and so they have sinned more and more. We quarrel with one another very easily when we get away from our Master. We grow carnal swiftly when God begins to pass out of our thoughts. With heavenly wisdom the apostle floods the minds of the Corinthians with thoughts of God and of Christ. If they can be brought into the light of the Divine presence they will see their corruption, and standing once again before Jehovah they will be made ready to receive and not to resent a deserved and much needed rebuke. If they can be brought again well within the attractive influence of the marvellous self sacrifice and love of their Lord, self will will become crucified, pride humbled, and grateful life and service compelled. Note more particularly:
1. The apostle traces his apostleship to Christ and God. He stands before the Corinthians as the appointed representative of their Lord. The position he assumes was given to him by Christ through the will of God. We are what Christ makes us.
2. They are the Church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, and their oneness with all other Christians is through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2).
3. All that they have received, and in which they glory so much, has come from God and from Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4-6).
4. Their right position is one of waiting for the revelation of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7).
5. Their continuance in the faith and their perfection at last are made to depend upon Christ.
6. At first they were called by God into the fellowship of Christ. Memories of conversion time are potent. Paul thus strives in every way to take the Corinthians to their Father and to their Lord. The battle of Christian rebuke is half won when gracious thoughts of God and Christ are revived. Erring Christians are likely to be brought to their senses when they are brought to their Master.
III. THE APOSTLE REMINDS HIS READERS OF CERTAIN THINGS, AND IN THIS WAY PREPARES THEM FOR WHAT IS TO FOLLOW.
1. Their Christian profession. They are sanctified or supposed to be. They are known as "saints," and therefore should live as such.
2. Past mercies, privileges, honours. (1 Corinthians 1:4-7.) These are so many arguments to seek the Divine pleasure and not their own. And this can be done only by renouncing the evil and cleaving to the good. All the redeemed are laid under infinite obligation to live unto the Lord.
3. God's faithfulness to them. (1 Corinthians 1:9.) A great argument that they should be exemplary towards him and his kingdom.
4. What they are looking forward to. (1 Corinthians 1:7.) Soon they will be in the visible presence of Christ. We are not far from the judgment. Well may we bear rebuke here, that we may escape rebuke there.—H.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Divisions in the Church.
How numerous these have been since Paul wrote! How many of them springing directly from human weakness, folly, or wickedness! How alien to the true spirit of Christianity, and to the prayer of Christ—"That they all may be one"!
I. A GREAT EVIL. Cause of:
1. Weakness. Cooperation hindered. Strength expended in opposing each other instead of sin and Satan. Great opportunity offered for Satanic attack. Unity is strength; division is weakness.
2. Scandal. The contempt of the world is not only experienced, but largely deserved. The Head of the Church is dishonoured. The renovator of society shows its own need of renovation. Satan has achieved a triumph in the very Church founded to overthrow him.
3. Unchristian feeling. Unity begets more love; division more hate. Church quarrels have often proved most bitter. A united Church is an Elim, a divided Church a Marah.
4. Hindrance to unbelievers. Conversions are stayed by Church divisions. Men seeking peace hesitate to cast in their lot with those who are flying at one another's throats. The strait gate is sometimes quite blocked up by bickering, quarrelling Christians. A crucified Christ invites, and a divided Church repels, the sinner. Men can find plenty of division, estrangement, hate, and fight in the world, without troubling to enter the Church. Church division is a serious stumbling block to the unbeliever, and often causes him to continue an unbeliever.
II. ARISE FROM VARIOUS CAUSES.
1. Frequently, as among some at Corinth, from favouritism towards leaders in the Church. This favouritism may be:
2. Sometimes, as with one section at Corinth, from repudiation of all earthly leaders. "We are not of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas; we are of Christ." This position has been assumed in later times. It possesses not a little plausibility, but investigation discloses its true character. One has well said of the Corinthian section, "It was in no Christian spirit that they set up their claim to be of Christ." That love to Christ is more than suspicious which ignores his accredited servants. It is no great compliment to a king to reject his ambassador. The apostle could say, "We are ambassadors for Christ." Christ has a ministry which is not to be ignored. As Christ's servants are never to be put in Christ's place, so the place of Christ's servants is not to be made void. Not improbably these who claimed to be "of Christ" claimed to be the only Christians in Corinth. It is possible to cry, "Lord, Lord!" very loudly, and to have none of the Spirit of Christ. That man could know nothing truly of Christ who failed to recognize in the Apostle Paul a true servant of the great Master.
III. HOW TO BE DEALT WITH.
1. In a spirit of meekness. "I beseech you "—not "I command you." Assumption and arrogance widen the breach.
2. In love. "Brethren"—not reprobates, outcasts, heretics. Hard words make hard hearts.
3. With discretion,. Paul shows discretion in not mentioning Cephas or Apollos after 1 Corinthians 1:12. He does not object more to the parties under their names than to the one under his own. It is most suggestive that he appears to castigate his own party chiefly. He objected to all parties. For himself, he wanted only his legitimate position. To rebuke our own followers for following us unduly and factiously is indeed a sign of grace in the heart, and of heavenly wisdom too.
4. With candour. "Concealment and mystery sow distrust and destroy love."
5. By turning thoughts towards Christ. A hidden Christ makes a divided Church. If we saw the Master more clearly, we should see the right place of the servants better. Paul beseeches, not for his own sake, but for Christ's sake. He did not fear that this would encourage those who said, "We are of Christ." He showed them the real Christ. This was the best medicine for their spiritual ailment. They had been making a Christ to go before them. Many false Christs are worshipped and served.
6. By argument. The reasonableness of unity. Paul urges that Christ is not and cannot be divided, and that if the Corinthians are Christ's, they should not be divided either. As there is only one Head of the Church, there should be only one body. By divisions Christ will seem to be rent asunder. Teachers are not centres of unity; for perfect unity there can be but one centre—that is, Christ.
7. By taking a blameless course one's self. Paul will do nothing to foster division. In his condemnation, as we have seen, he sacrifices his own party first, and ridicules the idea of the undue exaltation of himself: "Was Paul crucified for you?" Many try to heal Church divisions by abasing their opponents and exalting themselves. Paul is singularly clear in this matter; he sharply rebukes those who would transform Paul into Pope. Avoiding every occasion of increasing the evil, he rejoices that he has not baptized many Corinthians, lest this should be wrested into an attempt to acquire pre-eminence, and consequently dishonour fall upon the pre-eminent Christ. Some Church divisions may seem necessary: for example, when professors walk disorderly or embrace erroneous views. It may be then our duty to separate; yet we should preserve the spirit of charity, and seek to be most loyal to Christ. But how many Church divisions are more or less after the Corinthian type!—H.
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
The preaching of the cross.
I. THE CROSS IS TO BE PREACHED. The gospel cannot be preached unless the cross is. The cross is the central fact. The con, verging point of the Scriptures is found in "Christ crucified." Without the cross Christianity becomes meaningless and powerless. Salvation and the cross are indissolubly linked: the cross speaks of the shedding of blood, "and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).
II. THE CROSS IS TO BE PLAINLY PREACHED. As "not many wise" are called, it is but reasonable that the unwise and simple minded should be specially borne in mind. The offence of the cross is not to be lessened by "wisdom of words." Knowledge of the meaning of the cross is the deepest need of the world; all things should be subordinated to conveying that knowledge with utmost clearness and fulness. Men cannot be saved by eloquence, or philosophy, or learning; they can by the cross. "The great preachers have been natural orators, not rhetoricians or actors." The greatest care is necessary lest, by the character of our preaching, the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Some preaching seems designed for the very purpose, and succeeds deplorably.
III. THE CROSS IS TO BE PREACHED, NOTWITHSTANDING ITS UNFAVOURABLE RECEPTION Some, indeed, receive it with all gladness, but our obligation to preach it is not dependent upon its reception. We may always remember that the cross is what men want, though it may not be what they wish.
1. To the Jew the cross was a stumbling block, He looked rather for a military than for a martyr Messiah—one who would deliver by sound of trumpet and sword, not by ignominy and death. If he is to believe, he must have signs from heaven (1 Corinthians 1:22), miraculous interventions, and not a reiteration of the event which was the greatest scandal to his mind, and most grievously shocked his prejudices and anticipations. The Jew put the cross very low down. We can make anything into a stumbling block if we will only put it low enough.
2. To the Greek the cross seemed foolishness. That the great revelation for which he and the world had been looking so long should come through a crucified Jew, and be most closely associated with that crucifixion itself, appeared to him too absurd, he would have welcomed a philosopher with a new philosophy, he sought after wisdom—that is, his wisdom. In the cross there was too profound a wisdom for even his keen eye to discern, and so he called it folly. He thought the cross was shallow, because he was shallow himself, though he little suspected it. Further, he desired philosophic demonstration about matters of religion, and had a great horror of "faith." And his pride was wounded (and that which wounds our pride is always folly). That all must come to God by the same way, making a similar confession of sin and impotence, was in conflict with his most cherished ideas. The approach of barbarians to the cross made it a way of foolishness to the Greek. There are many "Greeks" now.
IV. THE CROSS IS TO BE PREACHED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT OPERATES AS A GREAT TEST OF CONDITION. The character of its reception indicates the condition of those who hear. To some it is foolishness—but only to those that are perishing. Only to them! They are so utterly blind that the brightness of the cross is blackness. To others it is the power of God and the wisdom of God—and they are the saved. They are "both Jews and Greeks" (1 Corinthians 1:24). The new nature has conquered the old. All is changed when the heart is. These Jews sought for power; these Greeks sought for wisdom; and here both were found when Jew and Greek responded to the Divine call.
1. We may well ask ourselves—What is the cross to us? The answer will indicate whether we are perishing or being saved. The preaching of the cross to us is a personal test.
2. In preaching the cross, we should strive and pray that it may not be foolishness to our hearers, knowing what this would indicate.
3. In preaching the cross, we must not be too disconcerted if men receive our message as one of foolishness. This will not indicate faultiness in the cross, but in those who hear its story, though of course there may be faultiness in our mode of telling that story.
V. THE CROSS IS TO BE PREACHED WITH THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE FAILURE OF EARTHLY WISDOM. Ancient schemes of philosophers having some external indication of wisdom, what has become of them? "Where is the wise?" etc. Where are the scribes and their improvements upon the Divine Law? God has made in the course of the ages all such "wisdom" to become folly—recognized folly. "The world by wisdom knew not God." Human wisdom gave the world no more piety, but much more pride. Human wisdom has failed most egregiously all along the line to redeem and regenerate men. Calvin bluntly says, "We must here carefully notice these two things—that the knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke where the heavenly science is wanting, and man with all his acuteness is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies." If the cross fails, failure is universal.—H.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
The humble status of the Church.
I. THE FACT. Not many wise after the flesh, mighty, noble, numbered amongst the adherents of Christianity. This was true in apostolic days; it is largely true in our own. Christianity was not established by world power. The Founder and his disciples were poor and of humble social position, and in the ranks of the early Christians were comparatively few possessing means, learning, or rank. Christianity has not been preserved or promulgated by world power. This has sometimes been called to its aid, but the "call" has often been of man rather than of God. The "aid" has frequently been injury. The "arm of flesh" has hindered rather than helped. The Church should not snatch at world power; this is not her strength. Sanctified learning, influence, and position are of great service; but these things in themselves, unsanctified, whilst to carnal judgment promising most signal advantage, often operate as an unmitigated curse.—We may require into the cause of the exclusion as arising from free will. And we may be sure that no calling by God violates human responsibility.
1. The wise after the flesh. These, like the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:22), are often so filled with human wisdom as not to care for Divine—so absorbed by seeking to know earthly things as to have little leisure for heavenly. Pride is fostered, and pride bars the way to Christ and to God. It is difficult for a very "wise" man to become "as a little child" (Luke 18:17). "Heaven's gates are not so highly arched as princes' palaces; they who enter there must go upon their knees." The wise after the flesh are apt to have stiff legs. When we seek earthly wisdom we should have a care of its tendency. Human knowledge is good, but it need be kept in its proper place, and that is not the first place.
2. The mighty. Often subjects of adulation; have so many at their feet that they find it difficult to sit at the feet of Jesus. Excessive self reliance does not encourage Christ reliance. A sense of sufficiency is very antagonistic to "God be merciful to me a sinner." The mighty are wont to be too mighty, so that they can do without Christ. The mighty know their might, whereas what men need is to know their weakness.
3. The noble. High places are slippery. The command of temptations is great. Wealth, which often accompanies position, multiplies snares. Lofty station often begets a sense of excellence; but to enter the kingdom we need to feel our lack of excellence. It is easy to be great among men and very little before God. Earthly nobility and heavenly are two orders often in startling contrast, Note: Men strive eagerly to be wise after the flesh, mighty, noble, wealthy—and all the while they way be building barriers between themselves and God. How well to commit our ways to the guidance of the unerring wisdom of God; to ask him to "choose our inheritance for us" (Psalms 47:4); to give or withhold as he sees best!
II. THE PURPOSE. Regarding the Church as weak and uninfluential, we might feel some despondency as to its future. "How is Christianity to get on?" might escape our lips. So men are often very anxious to take care of Christianity instead of being very anxious that Christianity should take care of them. There is a sense in which the idea of our defending the faith is monstrous and absurd—it is not we who defend the faith, it is the faith that defends us. The matter is cleared by the revelation of a Divine purpose. God designed:
1. To show his power. He would prove that feeble agencies in his hands are infinitely more mighty than the greatest and most influential not so placed. A "bruised reed" in his hand is more than a sword in another's. Men think that "things seen" are powerful; that which is unseen is much more so. The foolish things confounded the wise, the weak things the mighty, the base and despised things the highly esteemed,—because God was in the former and not in the latter. How this was illustrated in the early Church!—the foolishness of preaching breaking down everywhere the "wise" philosophic systems; the weak disciples triumphing over the marshalled might of Rome; a Church, boasting as its Founder a crucified peasant, and possessing little wealth, influence, or human learning, spreading on all hands, and destroying idolatries venerable in age and powerful in adherents. "God moves in a mysterious way." It is God moving. A Church is made, not by the men who come into it, but by the God who comes into it. The Church needs more divinity. Here is solace for the consciously weak. We cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?" There is but one answer—God!
2. To humble human pride. "That no flesh should glory in his presence." The pride of man budded at the Fall. The all successful stratagem took this form: "Ye shall be as gods." This pride has been the curse of man's existence—it has separated him from God, and led to a fearful multiplication of transgression. When God works in man, a first effect is the abasement of pride. The pride of man which is altogether of the devil, has persuaded man that he is God. God, in the formation and continuance of his Church on earth, dealt a deadly blow against human pride, and showed how powerless were the mightiest things of man when confronted with Divine power working through the weakest. The lesson is that henceforth we are not to glory in men—neither in ourselves nor in others, but we are to glory in the Lord. When we are humbled at his feet, we are in our right posture; when we acknowledge that with him alone are might and dominion and true wisdom, we are in our right minds.—H.
1 Corinthians 1:30
What Christ is to the believer.
What is Christ to us? This is a great, an all important question. The answer to it is an answer to all vital questions respecting our present and future. To God, Christ is much; to the angels, much; to many men, nothing—a mere "root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2). What to us? To the believer Christ is—
I. WISDOM. This is the supply of a great want, for though in the world there is much talk of wisdom, there is but little possession. Every philosopher has come with the promise of wisdom, but how few with the fulfilment! The great questions of life have found no satisfactory answers in even the profoundest human systems. But Christ is made to us the truest wisdom. From him we learn what to choose, reject, pursue, enjoy, in daily life. He teaches how to live. He is the Revealer of God. We have glimmerings of the Divine Being, but we know him not until we know him through Christ. "Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him" (Matthew 11:27). He makes us wise in a true knowledge of God. Through him we are made wise unto salvation. He discloses to us the future, and at the same time he instructs us in the fitting preparation for it. The closer our union with Christ, the wiser shall we become; the more of Christ we have, the more of wisdom we have. When the union is complete, we shall know even as we are known. This is a wisdom which will not come to nought (1 Corinthians 2:6).
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS. Our natural state is sinful; our righteousnesses as "filthy rags," that is, complete unrighteousness. But when we receive Christ, his righteousness is imputed to us; as our Representative, the second Adam, he was righteous for us in his obedience to the Divine Law, and satisfied the claims of Divine justice in his death. So we cry, "The Lord our Righteousness." He took our sins and gave us his righteousness. This righteousness is
III. SANCTIFICATION. We need not only righteousness imputed, but righteousness realized; not only justification, but purification, regeneration; not only a vital alteration in our relation to God, but a vital alteration in ourselves. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Through Christ we receive the Divine Spirit, who renews us and conforms us to Christ. He transforms us into the likeness of Christ, and when our sanctification is complete, we shall be "like him." "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
IV. REDEMPTION. Christ redeems us from the curse of sin, but here reference is to the final redemption from corruption, pain, peril, sorrow, death, the fruits of sin, which we shall experience at last if we are Christ's. This redemption includes the redemption of the body. How bright is the believer's prospect! Well may he "glory in the Lord." Note:
1. Christ is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, only to those who are in him. To be in Christ is to believe in him, to love him, to serve him, to follow him.
2. It is through God, of Divine grace alone, that we can be in Christ: "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus." God gave Christ; God calls us to find salvation and all blessing in Christ; and faith itself is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). As no man cometh unto the Father but by the Son (John 14:6), so no man cometh unto the Son but by the Father (John 6:44). All the praise of our salvation must be rendered to God: "According as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."—H.
HOMILIES BY E. BREMNER
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
As usual in Paul's Epistles, this preface contains the name of the writer, the persons addressed, and a prayer for blessing. We have—
I. APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY. Paul's authority as an apostle was disparaged by some at Corinth, who regarded him as inferior to the twelve. Each of the opposing factions had its favourite teacher (1 Corinthians 1:12), and party spirit led them to decry all but their own. In opposition to this, the apostle opens his letter by presenting his credentials. As an apostle, he was:
1. Called. He had not taken this office of himself.
2. Called by Jesus Christ. He had not been elected by the Church, nor commissioned by any of the twelve, but had been directly appointed and consecrated by the Lord himself. "Not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father" (Galatians 1:1).
3. Called through the will of God. This is the ultimate ground. His apostleship rests on Divine authority. In thus magnifying his office (Romans 11:13), Paul shows his own humility. Learn:
II. MARKS OF THE CHURCH. The description of those to whom Paul writes gives us some notes of the Church of Christ. Its members are:
1. Called. This designation is implied in the word translated "Church" ( ἐκκλησία), which is the body of those that have been called out from the world. There is an outer and an inner call—the invitation of the gospel addressed to all, and the effectual call of the Holy Spirit in compliance with which the sinner arises and comes to Christ. This last is the call referred to here. Every believer has come out from his old position in obedience to a Divine summons. The work of grace in the heart is not a thing of constraint. It is a call addressed to men with such sweetly persuasive power that they cannot but come to him who calls.
2. Consecrated. This is the root thought in the words "sanctify" and "saints." The believer is separated from the world by the Divine call and set apart for God. Israel was the people of Jehovah, sacred to him. Animals devoted in sacrifice could never be turned to any common use. Even so Christians are "not their own" (1 Corinthians 5:1-13 :19, 20), but "living sacrifices" unto God (Romans 12:1). They are "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter 2:9). What a powerful factor in Christian life should this thought of consecration be! Devoted in Christ Jesus unto God!
3. Holy. This follows naturally from the foregoing mark. Consecration and holiness are the elements of sanctification. Believers are called to holiness (1 Peter 1:15). They are separated from the world in standing that they may be separated from it in character (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). The Church at Corinth existed in the midst of a community that was fearfully corrupt. How significant for them these marks of consecration and holiness! Their Christian life could not be safe if they did not hold themselves aloof from the evil around them, and regard themselves as holy unto the Lord. Believers now, as then, must keep themselves" unspotted from the world," for the sake of their spiritual health and their mission as the "salt of the earth."
4. Prayerful. They "call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." They worship him as Lord. This is the distinguishing mark of Christians everywhere. They "honour the Son even as they honour the Father" (John 5:23). The believer is a man of prayer. Jesus Christ is to him a living Presence, near to hear and help. He worships him in the manifested glory of his person and perfection of his work. A prayerless Christian is a contradiction in terms.
5. One in a common Lord. The Church Catholic is one in Christ. True unity does not consist in anything outward, as in a visible head, an identical creed, a uniform government; but in spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence geographical divisions, denominational differences, do not destroy the Church's unity. All believers are branches of the same vine (John 15:5), members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:12). The diverging radii of the circle find their point of union in the centre. A rebuke to the spirit of faction so strong in the Corinthian Church. A warning against the narrowing influence of country or sect. The Church is not a mere club. The communion of saints is fellowship "with all that call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." These marks suggest:
III. THE APOSTOLIC BENEDICTION. "Grace to you and peace." This is the usual form of the apostolic blessing (Romans 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:2, etc.). Sometimes there is added "mercy" (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2); and in Jude 1:2 we have "mercy, peace, and love." Grace and peace include all the blessings of salvation.
1. Grace. The grace of God is a manifestation of love. It is the free kindness of God towards the guilty and ill deserving. Grace and Mercy are twin sisters sent forth by Love to bless sinful men. They come to us hand in hand, alike, yet different. Grace looks upon the guilty and speaks words of pardon; Mercy looks upon the miserable and stretches out the hand of pity. The idea of grace runs through the whole work of redemption from beginning to end. In purpose, plan, progress, perfection,—all is of grace. The prayer that grace may be to a Christian means that he may realize and make his own the grace of God in all the fulness of its manifestation. Grace as a principle in the heart, the inner working of the Holy Spirit, enables us to appropriate the grace of God in Christ. The apostolic wish covers the whole of the Christian life, more particularly:
(a) In service (Philippians 4:13).
(b) In temptation (Hebrews 2:18).
(c) In trouble (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(d) In death (Psalms 23:1-6. 4; 1 Corinthians 15:57).
2. Peace. Peace is the fruit of grace. It may be regarded as covering all the blessings which grace bestows. The angels sang of "Peace on earth" (Luke 2:14), as the sum of the good things to be brought by the Prince of Peace. It includes:
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Thanksgiving on account of their gifts.
Paul, as is his wont, begins by congratulating the Corinthian Church on all that is good and praiseworthy in their character, and by expressing a confident hope for the future. This is just in itself,—tell a man his good points as well as his bad; and it is wise, for thus the good among them will be encouraged, and the evil will be the more disposed to listen to rebuke. Consider—
I. THEIR GIFTS ( χαρίσματα).
1. They had the gift of "all utterance," as appeared in their highly gifted teachers and preachers; and they had "all knowledge," i.e. an intelligent apprehension of the truth. These two gifts are closely connected. There may be knowledge without utterance, in which case it is of profit only to the individual; and there is too often utterance without knowledge, to the hurt of speaker and hearer. This last is the plague of our time. Whoso feeds on empty words becomes lean. But how blessed is the union of thought and speech! Happy the Church that possesses spiritual insight into the mind of God, and the power of communicating this to the edification of others!
2. The other gift is that of "waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Faith rests on the first advent; hope looks onward to the second. The time of that great apocalypse has been left indefinite, even the Son being ignorant of it (Matthew 24:36). Sometimes it is represented as very near ("at hand," James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7); while hints are dropped that this nearness is not to be taken according to our time measurement (2 Peter 3:8). The purpose of this uncertainty is that we may watch and wait, look for and earnestly desire the day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:12). The apostles maintained this attitude of expectancy, and exhorted others to maintain it. It is noted here as a mark of true spirituality, and elsewhere the crown of righteousness is promised to all them that "love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). Apart from all points of dispute, the coming of the Lord a second time should exercise a powerful influence on the Christian's life. What a motive to holiness, a stimulus to work, a strength to endure affliction, is the thought, "The Lord is at hand"! "Amen: come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). These gifts are:
II. ASSURANCE OF HOPE. These gifts of grace are pledges of future blessings.
1. Confirmation unto the end. (1 Corinthians 1:8.) He who begins the good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). God does nothing by halves. He not only brings up the sinner out of the horrible pit and sets his feet upon a rock, but he also establishes his goings (Psalms 40:2). The Holy Spirit is the "earnest of our inheritance'' (Ephesians 1:14), the first instalment of the full heritage. "The God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ,... shall himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you" (1 Peter 5:10). Observe the links of the chain in Romans 8:29, 80. All through life, onwards to the end of the world, will God deliver our feet from falling (Psalms 56:13). "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job 17:9). This confirmation is effected by the continued impartation of his grace to the believer.
2. The object in view—"that ye be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Comp. Colossians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:23.) God will not stop short in his work of grace till it be fully completed. Meanwhile believers are unreprovable in Christ; no charge can be brought against them which he does not meet. Who shall impeach the perfection of his work for us? But we are not morally blameless in ourselves. Personal holiness is far from being perfect. In the day of Christ, however, this work shall be complete. The challenge, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" (Romans 8:33), will then apply to character as well as standing. God's ideal will be realized in us when we are holy as he is holy. What a comfort, amid conscious imperfection and sinfulness, to know that we shall one day be "set before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy (Jude 1:24)!
3. The security for this. "God is faithful." Not our faithfulness to him, but his faithfulness to us, is the ground of our assurance. Having called us into the fellowship of his Son, all else will follow (Romans 8:30). (See next homily.)
Learn the duty of giving thanks for the blessing bestowed upon others. Our own joy shall thus be multiplied.—B.
1 Corinthians 1:9
The faithfulness of God.
To be faithful is to be true to what one has promised or engaged to do. God has come into relation with the universe and the creatures he has made. He has revealed himself to us in various ways, declaring his will, and hence we can speak of his faithfulness. As the unchanging One, ever consistent with himself, he is true to all he has spoken. In all the departments of his working this great principle may be traced.
I. THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD IS EXEMPLIFIED IN NATURE. What we call "the laws of nature" are not mere blind forces, beyond which we cannot see; they are simply the modes of the Almighty's working, the impress of his will upon creation. On what does the fixity of these laws rest but just the faithfulness of God? The movements of the heavenly bodies, the succession of the seasons, the production of like effects by like causes,—these have been uniform since the present course of things began. Upon this uniformity all human activity depends. The husbandman sows his seed, relying on the laws of growth. The sailor launches his vessel, believing that the waters will bear it up, and that the breeze will fill his sails. The chemist mixes his materials, knowing that they will combine according to the laws of chemical affinity. To the materialist these are ultimate facts, of which he has no explanation to offer; to the Christian they are so many evidences of the truth that God is faithful.
II. THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE MORAL GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. On what principles does that government rest? Are the ten words of Sinai still in force as the statute book of the world? Is that old announcement as true today as when it was uttered by the prophet (Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11)?—"Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him." Good and evil seem to us inextricably confused in this world. Bad men frequently get the best of life, while good men as often go to the wall. Is God faithful? Amid all apparent anomalies there is enough to show that he is on the side of righteousness, and that all his laws are working for that end. But we must not forget that he does not promise to strike the balance between good and evil in this life. Things are meanwhile in process, and the full result can be judged of only hereafter.
When the mists have rolled away from this world's ongoings, and everything is seen in its naked reality, the faithfulness of God will stand out in clear relief.
III. THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE SPHERE OF RACE. Here it shines with conspicuous lustre. All round the circle you may trace it; but a few illustrations will suffice. God is faithful:
1. In regard to his promises. They are "precious and exceeding great" (2 Peter 1:4), because "he is faithful that promised" (Hebrews 10:23). Not one of them shall fail of fulfilment. The great promise contained in the protevangel (Genesis 3:15) took long centuries to reach its development, bat the fulness of the time came at last, and the seed of the woman blossomed into the Christ. Similarly, every promise of God shall be fulfilled in its season. What Joshua said to Israel may be said to us when we have entered on the promised inheritance: "Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you" (Joshua 23:14).
2. In regard to the pardon of sin. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). A frank and full confession will always bring forgiveness, because God has pledged himself to this. What an encouragement to keep nothing back from him! His faithfulness and righteousness demand the pardon of the penitent child.
3. In regard to temptation. "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able," etc.. There is no promise to exempt believers from trial. Temptation will surely come to us, as it came to our Saviour; and in that hour our security does not lie in our own watchfulness or strength, but in the faithfulness of God. True to his word, true to the obligation implied in our effectual calling, he will always "deliver us from the evil."
4. In regard to perfect holiness. It is introduced in this connection here (verses 8, 9) and in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it." Having called us, he will complete the work thus begun. The faithfulness of God is the pledge that we shall at last be "holy as he is holy."
1. To Christians, as a ground of comfort. His faithfulness will carry you through every valley of death shade, and bring you home at last.
2. To the ungodly, as a ground of warning. God is faithful to his threatenings as well as his promises.—B.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
The factions at Corinth.
The word translated "divisions" is the original of our word "schism," which means a "rent" as in a garment, and then a division in a society or a separation from it. These internal divisions had begun to show themselves at Corinth, if not in the form of regularly defined parties, at least as forces that were moving in that direction, and which, if not checked, might soon lead to open rupture. On what principles these divisions rested, we are left to gather from the watchwords of each.
1. The Paul party would consist for the most part of those who were the firstfruits of the apostle's labours at Corinth, and who asserted his full apostolic authority. Not content with this, they had ranged themselves under his name in opposition to others. They seem to have boasted of their liberty in respect of some things which gave offence to more scrupulous consciences, such as eating things sacrificed to idols, and to have treated uncharitably the more contracted views of the Jewish Christians.
2. The Apollos party is named after Apollos, who came to Corinth shortly after Paul's departure. He was "a Jew, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24); and from his education in his native city he was probably well acquainted with Greek philosophy and literature. Hence his style of teaching was more learned and rhetorical than Paul's, and it attracted the more cultured among the Corinthians, who began to contrast it with the simple, unadorned style of the apostle. Agreeing in doctrine and spirit, the two teachers differed only in gifts and manner of teaching; but this did not prevent the would be philosophers and rhetoricians of Corinth from using the eloquent Alexandrian's name as a party watchword.
3. The Cephas party was mainly composed of Jewish converts, unlike the two previous parties, which were made up of Gentiles. In it we recognize the representatives of that Judaizing tendency which Paul had so frequently to combat. Bringing with them their notions of Jewish prerogative, they sought to impose the Law of Moses even on Gentile converts, and to bind about the neck of Christianity the yoke of legalism. It was natural for this party to call themselves after the apostle of the circumcision, and to contrast his eminence among the twelve with the position of Paul; while they sought to make compulsory the stricter practice of their favourite apostle, in opposition to the greater freedom allowed by the apostle of the Gentiles.
4. The precise character of the Christ party is more difficult to determine. The most likely view is that they rejected all human authority, refusing to acknowledge Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or any other eminent teacher, and calling themselves simply by the name of Christ. They did this, however, in such a way as to degrade that Name to the shibboleth of a sect, and were thus as guilty as the others whom the apostle here condemns. Among the parties of our own day there are not wanting those who disparage an accredited ministry, and call themselves simply "Christians." In view of these factions consider—
I. THE EVIL OF PARTY SPIRIT. The existence of parties and differing schools of thought in the apostolic Churches leads us to search for some root in human nature whence they spring, and this we find in the limitations and varieties of mental constitution. No single mind can take in the whole of Divine truth so as to hold it in proper balance. There is sure to be a projection of one portion to the comparative obscuring of others,—a looking only at one side of the sphere while the other is out of view. Witness the variety to be found among the apostles. While there is no contradiction in the views of truth presented in their writings—all teaching the same fundamental doctrines—we cannot read them without observing that each lays stress on a different portion of the truth from the others. The difference between Paul and James, e.g., is so evident that not a few shallow readers have pronounced them irreconcilable; while a comparison of both with John reveals other characteristics equally peculiar. And what is true of these inspired teachers is true of the Church in all ages. Christianity does not obliterate individuality. The Holy Spirit works on the lines already laid in nature, and thus the foundation is prepared for varying types of doctrine and life. This diversity is not a thing to be deplored, but rather to be rejoiced in. How high a purpose it is fitted to serve, our Lord showed in selecting apostles, each one of whom was different from his fellows. It needed minds of different hues to transmit the different rays of which the pure light is composed. And God still makes use of the many types of mind to hold up before the Church the many aspects of truth, thus enriching the general body of Christ and preventing it from becoming narrow and one sided. This is the use of different schools and parties in the Church. They serve to give expression to the many sidedness of the Christian faith and life. But how readily does this natural and useful diversity give rise to hurtful divisions in the body of Christ! We must not confound the factious spirit which Paul denounces with an enlightened attachment to one particular branch of the Church. We may prefer that branch to others because it appears to us the most scriptural in doctrine, government, and worship, without denying to other branches the marks of a true Church, or overlooking the part they play as members of the one body. Party spirit consists in elevating that which is peculiar to our own sect above that which is common to us with others, and thereby unchurching them. The progress of the kingdom of God in the earth is made subordinate to the success of our own denomination or faction. The spirit that wrought such mischief at Corinth has been busy in the Church ever since. The divisions of Christendom are the scandal of Christianity. It is not merely that the Church is everywhere split up into sections, but that this has led to party strife and jealousy. How much bitterness of feeling has it engendered! how much unchristian speaking! Men glory in their distinctive shibboleths more than in the great doctrines of grace which are our common heritage. The guns of one division of Christ's army are too often directed against another division, instead of being turned against the foe.
II. ARGUMENTS AGAINST IT.
1. The Head of the Church is One. "Is Christ divided?" There is no schism in Christ the Head; why should there be in the body? Why rend asunder that which was intended to be one? The members of the human body have different functions to discharge, but the one does not deny to the other its due place in the body (1 Corinthians 12:12, etc.). So with the members of Christ's Church; all belong to the same body, which owns the same Head. The spirit of faction breaks up this unity into a monster of many bodies and many heads. There is but one Head and one body—one Christ and one Church.
2. Salvation is not due to human teachers. "Was Paul crucified for you?" Do you owe your redemption to him? If not, why should you call yourselves by his name? Party spirit raises the party name above that of the common Lord, thus putting the servant in the Master's place. It gives undue prominence to men, and virtually leads to idolatry. He who died for us must have no other put by his side, and no name but his own called over his chosen and ransomed Church.
3. Party spirit is opposed to the true significance of baptism. "Were ye baptized into the name of Paul?" The baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19) implies that all thus baptized are to be regarded as devoted to him whose sacred Name is pronounced over them. It involves a vow of perpetual allegiance. The administrator of the ordinance, even though he is an apostle, is of no consequence in the case. Paul thanks God that it was so ordered that he baptized only a few persons at Corinth, and that thus no pretext was afforded for calling themselves by his name. His mission was not to baptize, but to evangelize. Baptism, therefore, is hostile to party spirit, since we are not baptized into the name of man, but into the Name of the Three One. Hence, like the sister sacrament, it is a symbol and pledge and expression of the unity of the Church. That brother, from whom you differ so widely, was baptized into the same thrice holy Name as yourself. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).
III. EXHORTATION TO UNITY. The apostle is not content with a negative, but sets before them the positive duty of unity.
1. Unity of mind. "That ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (verse 10). Oneness of disposition and oneness of view, in opposition to the division that prevailed. This is to be cultivated by all Christians. It was a characteristic of the early Church: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). When the same Spirit is dwelling in men's hearts, it will appear in unity of sentiment, opinion, and purpose with regard to religion.
2. Unity of utterance. "That ye all speak the same thing." The inner unity should find an outward expression. Hence the utility of confessions of faith as a testimony to the truth held in common, and an evidence of unity in the faith. Short of this, however, there is implied harmony in the utterances of the Church as opposed to the party cries that were heard at Corinth. Men that are at heart one should take care lest their public statements convey an opposite impression. In every free and healthy Church there will be more or less discussion, in which difference of opinion on matters non essential will be revealed; but this should be conducted in such a way as "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). There may be a saying the same thing in Paul's sense, while there is no mechanical uniformity of expression.
3. A powerful motive to unity. "I beseech you through the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." That Name is dear to all Christians, whatever other titles they may give themselves, and a regard to it is the strongest reason that can be urged for any course of conduct. If we love Christ and seek his glory, let us cease from strife, and regard all believers as our brethren. What Christian heart can resist such pleading?—B.
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
Man's wisdom and God's.
The mention of baptism leads the apostle to speak of his preaching at Corinth. His mission was "not to baptize, but to preach the gospel," and he proceeds to vindicate his discharge of that mission as against those who preferred the "wisdom of this world."
I. THE THEME OF EVANGELICAL PREACHING. He calls it "the word of the cross;" "Christ crucified". Here at Corinth, even more than elsewhere, Paul felt the necessity of adhering to the simplicity of the gospel and disclaiming the "wisdom of words" upon which others laid stress. The central point in his teaching was that which he delighted to sum up in the expression, "the cross of Christ." He did not keep the Crucifixion out of sight as a thing to be ashamed of, but gloried in it as the distinguishing feature of the good news he proclaimed. The humiliation and death of the Saviour of men, his "becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), is the very kernel of the gospel, the key which unlocks the mystery of his work. Paul might have told them of a purer morality than their moralists had taught, and a sublimer philosophy than Socrates or Plato had imagined; but this would at best have stirred only a few minds to new thought, and made a few earnest hearts feel that perfection was further off than ever. It was otherwise when he could speak to them of the cross of Christ, with all that it implied; for in this is the Divine answer to the great life query which men had striven in vain to answer—How can man be just with God? Here is the One dying for the many, the Son of God suffering as a substitute for sinners, and thus salvation actually accomplished. To preach this was truly to bring glad tidings. The example of the apostle is a pattern for all preachers. Let us not think to recommend Christianity by hiding the cross or reducing it to a figure of speech, as if the death of Christ were merely a testimony to the sincerity of his life. Christianity without the cross is no real evangel to men. You may admire the spotless life of Jesus, rejoice in his wonderful teaching, bless him for his Divine philanthropy, and weep over his undeserved fate; but this would simply make him a greater Socrates or a greater Paul. It is his atoning death above all that makes him more to us than any of the illustrious teachers or martyrs of history. But while this is true, we must not suppose that preaching Christ means nothing more than a simple recital of the way of salvation. Paul's letters are virtually summaries of his oral teaching; and in them we see how the one theme expands into the whole circle of Christian truth, how Christ appears as Prophet, Priest, and King, and how the gospel is applied to the trials and duties of actual life. Let us not make narrow what God has made so broad. Let us not stunt and deform our spiritual life by feeding only on one kind of nourishment, and refusing the large provision he has made for us. We shall preach Christ aright only by exhibiting the fulness that dwells in him.
II. THE METHOD OF EVANGELICAL PREACHING. Whilst the main reference in this passage is to the theme of the preacher, there is also a reference to the manner in which that theme is presented. "Not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void." We may preach Christ in such a way as to neutralize the gospel's peculiar power.
1. We may do this by merely speculating about the death of Christ. Philosophical essays on the work of Christ, and disquisitions on Christian doctrine, have their place and value; but they must not usurp the place of simple preaching. They appeal only to the intellect, whereas the sermon appeals to the heart and conscience as well. As a matter of experience, it is found that the style of preaching here condemned is productive of little spiritual fruit.
2. We may do this by a rhetoric which hides the cross. The gospel may be so adorned that men's attention is drawn to the gaudy trappings or to the preacher himself, instead of being fixed on the truth; and in so far as this is the case its influence is lost. The flowers with which we bedeck the cross too often hide it. The right idea of preaching may be gathered from the two words translated "preach" in this passage. The first means "to bring glad tidings"—the good news of a Saviour for sinners ( εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, 1 Corinthians 1:17); the second signifies "to proclaim as a herald" the facts of salvation and the invitations and promises founded upon them ( κηρύσειν, 1 Corinthians 1:23). Evangelical preaching is a publication of the good news to men, a direct setting forth of Christ in all his offices. Thus presented, the cross is full of power to draw men to the Saviour (John 12:32).
III. HOW THE GOSPEL ARREARS TO THOSE THAT REJECT IT. The preaching of the cross affects men according to their prepossessions. Bent of mind, education, surroundings, largely determine their attitude towards Christ. Two classes are mentioned by the apostle who rejected the gospel for two different reasons.
1. The Jews. "Jews ask for signs," i.e. they crave for some outward miraculous exhibition to call forth their wonder. "Master, we would see a sign from thee" (Matthew 12:38) was their constant demand of Jesus; and, in so far as the demand was a legitimate one, it was complied with. Peter on the day of Pentecost could speak of Jesus of Nazareth as "a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22). The chief sign of all was the cross; but the Jews did not understand it. They stumbled at it as a "scandal," which they could not get over, and which seemed to them to say the opposite of what God intended. The cross was in their eyes the token of humiliation and shame. They looked for a Messiah attended by far different manifestations, and they would not believe in One who had been crucified. There are still those among us who, like the Jews, seek after signs. They crave for the outward, the visible, the sensational—for something to dazzle and startle. The Roman Catholic will go hundreds of miles to visit the spot where "our Lady" is supposed to have appeared, will gaze with devout reverence on the curdled blood of Januarius turning liquid before his eyes, and will touch with awe the relics of some saint, believing that they will cure his diseases. The Protestant, disdaining these superstitions, shows the same spirit in other ways. He may love the sensuous in worship and the sensational in preaching. He may run after the man who is an adept in oratorical jugglery, who knows the day and the hour when the world is to end, etc. Whatever is novel, unusual, popular, is sure to find such sign seekers among its ardent supporters. To men of this temper the cross of Christ is still a "stumbling block." For it speaks of humiliation, of obedience unto death, of a quiet unostentatious doing of the will of God; and this is the very thing such people feel to be distasteful. To go with Jesus into the garden, and there drink the cup God puts to our lips; to endure with him the contradiction of sinners, and be exposed to shame and hissing; to go after him, denying ourselves and bearing our cross;—this is the meaning of the sign. Is it any wonder if men stumble at it?
2. The Greeks. "Greeks seek after wisdom." The idea of a crucified Saviour was to them foolishness. Accustomed to the speculations of their own philosophers, set forth with learning and subtlety, these lovers of wisdom applied to the doctrine of the cross a purely intellectual test. It was in their eyes a new philosophy, and Jesus of Nazareth was to be tried by the same rules as the founders of their own schools. To these critical Greeks Paul had nothing to offer but the story of him who was crucified (compare our Lord's words to the Greeks, John 12:23, etc.). The cross for them, as for the Jews, had but one language—it spoke of the lowest infamy; and to preach salvation by a cross would be in their view the sheerest absurdity. These Greeks have still their representatives in modern life. There are those who glorify human intellect, and think themselves capable of solving all mysteries. How many of our men of science seem to lose their heads when they come to speak of Christianity! They have nothing but a sneer for a "theology of blood;" and their quarrel with Jesus is that, after giving the world such splendid precepts, he should have imagined that he could save men by letting them crucify him. In forms less extreme than this the same spirit may be traced. Many hearers of the Word have more regard to the mental grasp of the preacher, the literary finish of the discourse, or the manner in which it is delivered, than to the scriptural and edifying character of the truth preached. The simple preaching of Christ crucified is to their thinking comparative folly. Let us not be carried away by this craving for wisdom. "When once the idolatry of talent enters the Church, then farewell to spirituality; when men ask their teachers, not for that which will make them more bumble and Godlike, but for the excitement of an intellectual banquet, then farewell to Christian progress" (F. W. Robertson). Observe the apostle's statement with regard to these despisers of the cross: "In the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God." Men groped after him, but could not find him. It was part of the Divine scheme that the wisdom of the world should have free scope to work; and only when it had exhausted itself was the world ripe for the bringing in of the gospel. This was a part of the preparation for Christ. Human wisdom is still inadequate. It cannot save a single soul. Men perish as they speculate; men die as they frame theories of life. In God's view, man's wisdom is folly; in man's view, God's wisdom is folly. Which is the wiser?
IV. HOW THE GOSPEL APPEARS TO THOSE THAT RECEIVE IT. They are described as "called" (1 Corinthians 1:24), as "believers" (1 Corinthians 1:21), as "being saved" (1 Corinthians 1:18); each term presenting a different aspect of their condition. They are called by God out of the world into the fellowship of Christ; being called, they believe in him; and believing, they are in the way of salvation. There is no salvation without faith, and no faith without the calling of God by his Word and Spirit. Now, to all such Christ is "the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God." The Jew stumbled at the cross as a thing of weakness; the believer rejoices in it as a thing of power. It has done for him what all other appliances failed to accomplish. It has made him a new creature, bringing him out of darkness and death into light and life. Every one who has been cured by a particular medicine is a witness to the efficacy of that medicine; so every saved sinner bears testimony to the power of the cross. And there is wisdom here as well as power—"the wisdom of God." Christ crucified is not a philosophy, but a fact; yet through this fact there shines the highest wisdom. We can well understand how the Greek mind, once brought to the obedience of faith, would revel in this view of the cross. He would learn to see in Christ "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). In him "God is just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). In him we have the highest exemplification of that great law of the kingdom: "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:1-39. 12). All that the ancient philosophies had been striving after—the knowledge of God, the nature of man, and the meaning of human life—is to be found in Christ and him crucified. Here is the centre of all knowledge, round which all else revolves in order and beauty. Here is the shrine where the wise men of the earth must fall down and worship—the touchstone by which their speculations must be tried. Here is "the wisdom of God," outshining every other manifestation in creation and providence—that wisdom by which we become wise unto salvation.—B.
1 Corinthians 1:24
Christ the Power of God.
The power of God is seen in nature and in providence, but here we have a new conception of it. Jesus Christ is that Power. In his person, as God manifest in flesh, there resides the potency of the Highest; but the apostle is here thinking mainly of him as crucified. In that cross, which seems to us the culmination of weakness, he sees the very power of God. Consider—
I. THE ELEMENTS OF DIVINE POWER TO BE FOUND IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
1. The death of Christ manifests the power of God's love. As soon as we understand the meaning of the cross, we cannot help exclaiming," Herein is love!" Nor is it merely the fact of his love to men which it reveals, for this might be learned elsewhere; but it is the greatness of his love. It is the "commendation" of it (Romans 5:8)—the presenting of it in such a way as to powerfully impress us with its wonderful character. Here is the Son of God dying for sinners; and on whichever part of this statement we fix attention, it casts light on this marvellous love.
2. The death of Christ manifests the power of his justice. No reading of the cross that leaves this element out of account can explain the mystery. In a work the professed design of which is to restore men to righteousness, there must surely be no breach of righteousness; yet it is here put to a severe test. Is the Law impartial? Will it punish sin wherever it is found? What if the Son of God himself should be found with sin upon him? Shall the sword awake and smite the man that is God's Fellow (Zechariah 13:7)? Yes; for he dies there as one "bruised for our iniquities." Surely justice must be mighty when it lays its hand on such a victim. If that modern description of God as a "power making for righteousness" is applicable anywhere, it is so here; for nowhere is he so severely righteous as in the working out of salvation for men. Nothing can more powerfully appeal to conscience than his treatment of the sinner's Surety; and nothing can more thoroughly assure us that the pardon which comes to us through the cross is righteous.
II. THE POWER OF GOD IN THE CROSS AS SEEN IN ITS PRACTICAL EFFECTS, Our readiest measure of any force in nature is the effect it produces, and in this way we may gauge the power of the cross. Take it:
1. In regard to the powers of darkness. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:15; comp. Hebrews 2:14). The execution of this purpose is intimated in Colossians 2:16, "Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it [the cross]." It is as if ten thousand fiendish arms were stretched out to pluck him from that cross; but he strips them off him, and hurls them back into the abyss. It cost him much to win that victory, even "strong crying and tears" and an agony of soul beyond all human experience; but the triumph was complete.
2. In regard to the actual salvation of sinners. To deliver a man from sin in all respects, undo its direful effects, and fit him to take his place among God's sons,—what power is adequate to this? Take Paul's own conversion, on which apologists have been willing to stake the supernatural character of Christianity. And every conversion presents substantially the same features. It is nothing less than a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—a calling of light out of darkness, order out of chaos, life out of death; and this is a more wonderful exercise of power than that which gave existence to the universe. The fair temple of God in the soul has to be built, not out of fresh hewn stones, but out of the ruins of our former selves. A poor weak man is rescued from corruption, defended "against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12), and presented at last without blemish before God,—what but Divine power can accomplish this? Add to this the exercise of this power in a countless number of instances. From the steps of the throne survey that radiant multitude, beautiful with the beauty of God and noble with the nobility of Christ, and the might of the cross will need no other proof.
3. In regard to what he enables his people to do and suffer for his sake. Take an active missionary life like that of Paul. Read such a catalogue of afflictions as he gives us in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, and ask why a man should voluntarily undergo all these. Thousands have followed his example, meeting toil, privation, death, for their Lord's sake. Nor does the power of the cross shine less conspicuously in the sick chamber. How many a Christian invalid exhibits a patience, a meekness, a cheerfulness, which can be found nowhere else!—B.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Salvation all of God.
The apostle has shown, in the previous section, flint the cross of Christ, which men count foolish and weak, is really the wisdom and the power of God. In proof of this he now calls their attention to the social status of the converts at Corinth. For the most part they were of no account in the world's esteem; but, though nobodies according to the flesh, they were raised to true dignity in Christ.
I. THE CHRISTIAN CALLING DOES NOT PROCEED ON THE PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD. "For behold your calling, brethren," etc. The Church at Corinth was composed chiefly of the poor and the illiterate. The philosophers and the rich merchants, the high born and those who occupied positions of influence, had but few representatives among the disciples of Jesus. They were drawn in great part from those whom the world reckoned foolish, weak, base, and of no importance. And the case of Corinth was not singular. It is characteristic of Christianity to begin low down. The Lord Jesus himself was not born in a royal palace or nursed among the lordly of the earth. His birthplace was a stable, his home the simple dwelling of Joseph, his training school the carpenter's workshop, his disciples were derived mainly from the labouring classes. One or two of the twelve may have been in easy circumstances, but none of them appears to have been of high birth; and outside this circle his followers, with the exception of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, were almost entirely of the same class. From the beginning, therefore, the gospel found acceptance, not in the high places of the land, nor among the representatives of the learning and religion of the time, but among the plain, unschooled, unsophisticated people. "The poor have good tidings preached to them" (Luke 7:22). Beyond the bounds of Palestine it was the same. The pride of wisdom and station closed the ear against the story of the cross. It did not flatter the wise or the great. It spoke to all alike as sinners needing a common salvation, and summoned all to repentance and faith. The result may be illustrated by comparing the reception of the gospel at Athens and at Corinth. In the metropolis of philosophy and art only a few were converted (Acts 17:16-34); in the capital of trade a large Church was formed. So also at Rome. The first and chief successes of the gospel were among the lower classes of society; and this was urged as an objection against it. Celsus jeers at the fact that "wool workers, cobblers, leather dressers, the most illiterate and clownish of men, were zealous preachers of the gospel, and particularly that they addressed themselves, in the first instance, to women and children." The rend Roman could not understand a religion which treated the slave as a man, and addressed itself equally to all. But the leaven thus put into the mass spread not only outwards but upwards. From slave to master, from plebeian to patrician, did the blessed influence pass, till at last the emperor himself was constrained to do homage to Jesus Christ. To a large extent the course of the gospel is the same still. In our own country the profession of Christianity is not confined to any class in society; but a living godliness is a plant of rarer growth. Among our men of science, our philosophers and poets, and our hereditary nobility, there are to be found eminent Christians, whose lives evince the power of the gospel over the finest intellects and the most exalted station; yet it is mainly among those less privileged that the Church is strongest. The greatest number of her members are to be found among the humbler classes, especially among those who have neither riches nor poverty, and who know the meaning of honest work. Illustrate also from the history of modern missions to the heathen.
II. REASONS FOR THE DIVINE METHOD. When men inaugurate any new scheme or system, they seek the patronage of great names in order to recommend it to the people; but the gospel of salvation was not proclaimed to the world under the auspices of kings and philosophers. This is referred to the purpose of God (1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:28), according to which all things proceed. More particularly the end in view is:
1. The humiliation of human pride. "That no flesh should glory before God" (1 Corinthians 1:29). Human wisdom and power are of small account in this matter. Salvation is all of God. Had he chosen the wise and the great, pride might have boasted itself before him; but in choosing the foolish and the weak, all ground of glorying is removed. This does not imply that the one class is of more value in God's sight than the other; nor does it put a premium upon ignorance and weakness. It means that the wise man will not be saved because of his wisdom, nor the nobleman because of his high birth, nor the rich man because of his wealth. All trust in these things must be put to shame, as is done when they that are destitute of them enter the kingdom of heaven more readily. In the eye of the gospel all men arc equal, which means that some must be humbled, while others are exalted. It is always our Father's way to "hide these things from the wise and understanding, and to reveal them unto babes" (Matthew 11:25). Pride is at once insulting to God and hurtful to man; and it is in mercy that he requires us to "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3). In like manner, the advance of the gospel in the earth is not to be promoted by an arm of flesh ("not by might, nor by power," etc., Zechariah 4:6). Christian work must not be undertaken for the aggrandizement of persons, or parties, or sects. The flesh must not be elevated to the dishonour of God.
2. The advancement of the Divine glory. Human pride is to be humbled, that the honour of salvation may belong to God alone. It is the prerogative of the Almighty to make his own glory the chief end of all he does. No created being can do so. For man and angel, happiness consists in seeking the glory of our Father in heaven. A life with self as the centre, self as the aim, must be a life of misery. Does not this explain the misery of Satan? "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven!" It is otherwise with the Most High. To seek his own glory is simply to desire truth and reality. In the nature of things all praise is due to him alone who is the Alpha and the Omega of existence. Hence the glory of God coincides with the greatest happiness of men, in the matter of salvation as in other things. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
III. THE RICHES IN CHRIST. Salvation is due entirely to God. It is of him that we are in Christ Jesus. The believer's union with Christ has been brought about by God Himself, who has given us all things in his Son.
1. Wisdom. "In him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden" (Colossians 2:3). He reveals to us God—his nature and his will, his purpose and plan of grace. In the person and work of Christ; in his incarnation, life, teaching, atonement,—the wisdom of God shines out conspicuously. And in union with Christ we become truly wise. In him we have the key which opens all mysteries. We learn to know God and to know ourselves; and in him the broken fellowship between God and us is restored. The quest for wisdom, alike in its speculative and in its practical form, is satisfied only in him.
2. Righteousness. He is "Jehovah our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). To be righteous is to be in entire consistence with the mind and Law of God; and this Jesus, as our Representative, was. He bore the penalty of our sins, and met the positive requirements of the Law; and thus wrought out a righteousness for us (2 Corinthians 5:12; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). When by faith we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, his work is reckoned to us, and we are received as righteous for his sake.
3. Sanctification. This includes the whole of the process by which we are restored to the image of God. Not only is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, the character of Christ must also be reproduced in us; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is his to illuminate, regenerate, purify; and the whole man thus renewed is consecrated to God. Every part of the nature—spirit, soul, body; every activity of thought, affection, desire, purpose; all are transformed and devoted to the noblest service. Justification and sanctification are the two sides of one whole, never to be separated.
4. Redemption. This denotes deliverance from all evil, enemies, afflictions, death. Soul and body shall be completely emancipated, and presented at last without blemish (Romans 8:23; Ephesians 5:26, Ephesians 5:27).
1. To be emptied of self is a necessary condition of God's working in us and by us.
2. Give God all the glory of salvation.
3. Christ is the Source of all blessings. "In him ye are made full" (Colossians 2:10).—B.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
1 Corinthians 1:6
"The testimony of Christ."
There are two kinds of testimony—the external and the internal; the revelation without and the revelation within; the written historical testimony that God has given us of his Son, and that which consists in the facts of Christian consciousness, the consciousness of one in whom he dwells. These are not to be regarded as separate and independent. The external record is vain until graven on the living heart; while there could be no such inward realization apart from the outward record, with all that helps to attest and substantiate it. The one is to the other as the river is to the bed in which it flows, as the echo to the voice that awakens it, as the musical harmony to the instrument by which it is produced. The revealed truth is made the instrument and channel of a hidden life. The written record becomes a vital experience. The testimony finds its answer in the living heart. Thus was the gospel word "confirmed" in the Corinthians, as in all who savingly receive it. Consider—
I. THE TESTIMONY. It is the truth about Christ which formed the sum and substance of the apostolic message. The truth "as it is in Jesus."
1. The message contains two elements—the historical and the doctrinal. An unwarrantable separation is sometimes made between these. The attempt to sever the historic fact from some form of dogmatic teaching by which that fact is linked with the spiritual interests and needs of men, as the Divine answer to them, is irrational and vain. The fact contains within itself the doctrine. It is not a meaningless incident. What is the doctrine but just the articulate expression of its meaning? Take any of the recorded apostolic discourses—Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47.), Paul's sermon in the synagogue at Antioch (Acts 13:1-52.), or his summary of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)—they are none of them bare statements of historic fact. They glow with the living force of words that carry the historic fact home to the consciences and hearts of men as God's condemnation of sin and pledge of forgiveness and promise of the life everlasting.
2. The authority of this message of mingled fact and doctrine lies in its divinity. It is the testimony that "God has given us of his Son." The reason men disregard the appeals of the gospel is that they do not believe or feel this. Their diviner sensibility is so deadened by other than Divine influences, that they fail to recognize the approach of God to their souls. If they know that God is speaking to them how can they resist? "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." We readily receive the witness of men. Our whole social existence proceeds on the principle of faith in the general veracity of those with whom we have to do. Why can we not carry up into the higher region a principle of action that in the lower we feel to be so salutary and necessary? Habitual distrust of one's fellow creatures would be a dishonour done to our common nature, would poison the very springs of human life, and turn some of our purest joys to bitterness. And yet men cherish on the heavenward side of their being a cold, repellent spirit of unbelief that gives the lie to a God of infinite truth and righteousness and love. "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true" (John 3:33); "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar," etc. (1 John 5:10).
II. THE CONFIRMATION For the testimony to assert its authority in a way that cannot be gainsaid is one thing; for it to be practically and savingly efficacious is another, No man to whom the message has intelligibly come can escape the special responsibility under which it places him. His whole position as an accountable being is henceforth changed. He may affect to disown the claim, but the sovereign authority of that claim is over him still, and he must answer for his neglect (John 12:47). The testimony accomplishes its end only when the Spirit of God writes it in living characters on the "fleshy table of the heart." How important a transition of thought to pass from the region of words, ideas, outward revelations, to that of the perceptions, affections, and energies of a personal life! Consider the confirmation:
1. As regards its effect on the believer himself. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). It has become emphatically his own. The Christ revealed to him is now "in him," a quickening, sanctifying power, "the hope of glory," "a well of water springing up unto everlasting life." All life is self asserting, self assuring. It proves and verifies itself. We don't question the reality of our physical life. We know that we live in living. We think, feel, breathe, move, act—therefore we live. So spiritually; in the sensibilities and energies that accompany Christian faith we have sufficient proof of the power of Christ "to give eternal life to as many as believe in him." And as no external evidence can supply the place of this, so no outward assault of the forces of unbelief can have any real power against it. "We know that the Son of God is come," etc. (1 John 5:20). This is what is wanted to give firmness to men in these days of restless thought and unsettled opinion; not mere doctrinal safeguards, not theological rigidity, but the deep inward consciousness of the life giving power of Christ.
2. As regards its effect on others. The testimony of Christ wins its victories in the world on the strength, not so much of historic or miraculous or argumentative proof, but of what it is and what it can do. The fruits of Christian character and deed are the mightiest of all arguments. Saintly, consecrated lives;—it is these that give convincing force to the doctrine. "Ye are our epistle," etc. (2 Corinthians 2:2, 2 Corinthians 2:3).—W.
1 Corinthians 1:13
The "contentions" in the Church at Corinth, the report of which had reached St. Paul, and which he here rebukes, were probably not the outgrowth of definite party divisions, but were individual differences as to who among the great Christian leaders should receive superior honour. They were individual strifes, however, that might develop into very serious divisions—schisms ( σχίσματα) that would utterly rend asunder the fellowship of the Church. It must have been deeply painful to the apostles that they should thus be set in rivalry with one another, as if they were seeking the ends of their own vain ambition, and still more that their names should be permitted in any way to obscure the glory of the Name of their Divine Master. "Is Christ divided?" The question suggests—
I. THE ESSENTIAL UNITY OF CHRIST. Consider different aspects of this unity. As it regards:
1. His own person. In him we see the blending of the Divine and human in one glorious personality, the balance and harmony of all conceivable forms of moral excellence. No discord in his being, no flaw in his character, no failure in his life; he stands before us in every light, on every side, a complete, symmetrical, and perfect whole.
2. His redeeming purpose and the means by which he effects it. He comes to deliver men from the power of evil, to turn them from their iniquities, to restore them to fellowship with God. The end he seeks is the same for all. "There is no distinction; for all have sinned," etc. (Romans 3:22-24). And as all human distinctions are lost in the common need of salvation, so in Christ the same possibility of good is placed within the reach of all: "As through one trespass the judgment came unto all men," etc. (Romans 5:18). There is but one gospel message, and it is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
3. The life with which he inspires those who receive him. In whomsoever it dwells this life is always one—one in its affections and energies, in the laws of its development, in the fruit it bears, in the ends to which it leads. The inspiration of a common spirit life is the grand uniting principle amid endless individual diversities. "By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body," etc. (1 Corinthians 12:13).
4. His authority as the sole Head of the Church. There can be no divided authority. In the very nature of things, Christ can own no rival. The body can have but one living head, the source of informing, guiding, and controlling power. Its own unity lies mainly in the recognition of this: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism," etc. (Ephesians 4:5, Ephesians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 12:5).
II. THE EVIL OF EVERYTHING THAT VIOLATES THIS UNITY. The divisions of the Church of Corinth were deprecated by the apostle as an offence against the fundamental principles and laws of the Christian fellowship. All such divisions have certain marked features of evil.
1. They exalt that which is subordinate and accidental at the expense of the vital and supreme. The form of truth is placed above the spirit, doctrine above life, the instrument above the power, appearances above realities, the shadow above the substance—creeds, systems, men, above Christ (1 Corinthians 3:4, 1 Corinthians 3:5). Examine them closely, and you find that all "contentions" in the Church mean this.
2. They engender mutual animosities which are destructive of the fellowship of a common life. Here lies the heart and core of the evil. Mere outward diversities are not so much to be dreaded. Schism is a thing of the spirit. It lies not in the formal separations that conscience may dictate, but in the fierce antagonisms that may unhappily, but not necessarily, grow out of them. Sectarianism consists not in the frank outspoken assertion of individual convictions, but in the bitterness and uncharitableness with which one conscience may assert itself against all other consciences. So that the very spirit of schism may inspire that passion for uniformity which would suppress individual liberty of thought and speech and action. The true schismatics are these who by their intolerance create divisions. Whatever tends to check the flow of spiritual fellowship violates the law of Christ. We do well carefully to watch against the estrangement of heart that difference of religious opinion and ecclesiastical practice too often generates, "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).
3. They bring public dishonour on the Name of Christ. That Name is the symbol of a Divine reconciliation—the reconciliation of man to man, as well as man to God. But in this case it is made the cause of separations. Christ came to bind men together in a true brotherhood; but thus he is made a "divider." "Where jealousy and faction are there is confusion and every evil work" (James 3:16). And thus the very essential principle and purpose of the Saviour's mission is falsified, and occasion is given to the enemy to blaspheme. Few things have a more disastrous effect in discrediting the Christian cause than the bitterness of contending parties in that Church which is "the pillar and ground of the truth."
4. They squander and dissipate energies that ought rather to be devoted to active service in the Lord's kingdom. Think of the waste of spiritual force these divisions involve! If half the enthusiasm mere partisanship has engendered had been expended on some real substantial work for the good of humanity and the glory of God, how blessed the results might have been! In one sense, of course, all zeal for truth, however subordinate the position of the particular truth may be, is for the good of humanity and the glory of God; but to be contending for the maintenance of comparatively trivial points of difference in violation of the spirit that ought to harmonize all differences, and of the grand responsibilities of the Christian calling, is to be guilty of "tithing the mint and the anise and the cummin, to the neglect of the weightier matters of the Law."
III. THE CURE FOR THESE EVILS. There is but one cure—to keep Christ in all the glory of his being and the supremacy of his claims habitually before our minds, and to open our hearts freely to the inspiration of his Spirit. This will raise us above the littleness and meanness of party strife. A lofty object of contemplation and a high moral purpose must needs have an elevating and ennobling influence on the whole man. It will subdue within us all base affections, will rebuke our personal vanity, will enlarge our sympathies, will chasten our lesser enthusiasms. We shall not be in much danger of helping by our influence to violate the unity of the great household of faith, when our souls are filled with the full orbed glory of the undivided Christ. The expansive Spirit he gives will teach us to say, "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."—W.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
It is difficult for us to realize the deep rooted strength of the prejudices the truth of Christ encountered on its first proclamation. One thing, however, is clear—while the apostles accommodated the mode of their teaching to those prejudices, they never so accommodated the teaching itself. Their doctrine was the same for all. They never thought of modifying it or softening down its essential peculiarities, to suit the taste of any. With reference to the form of his teaching, St. Paul says, "To the weak I became weak," etc. (1 Corinthians 9:22); with reference to the substance. "Though we or an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel," etc. (Galatians 1:8). Jews and Greeks are the two broad classes under which these varieties of prejudice might be grouped; and here are their prominent characteristics. "Jews ask for signs." It was so in the days of Christ. "An evil and adulterous generation," etc. (Matthew 12:39); "Except ye see signs and wonders," etc. (John 4:48). And in the apostolic age the race everywhere manifested the same mental tendency. They were sign seeking Jews. "Greeks seek after wisdom"—such wisdom as found a home for itself in their own philosophic schools. They knew no other. Thus each of these classes illustrated a particular aspect of the vanity of human nature; the one craving after that which would minister to the pride of sense, the other to the pride of intellect. For both Paul had but one message: "Christ and him crucified." Note—
I. THE THEME OF THE APOSTOLIC TEACHING. "We preach Christ crucified" (see also 1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 3:1). This is the sum and substance of evangelical doctrine, the idea that filled the foremost place in the apostle's thought and supplied the chief inspiration of his heroic life. Not a little of the emphasis falls on the word "crucified." He preached Christ as the personal Redeemer of men, and that not merely as the great miracle working Prophet of God, the moral Reformer, the Revealer of new truth, the Lawgiver of a new spiritual kingdom, the Example of a divinely perfect life, but as the Victim of death. It was in the death of Christ that the whole force and virtue of the apostolic testimony about him lay. What meaning did Paul attach to this death? The mere reiteration of the fact itself would be powerless apart from its doctrinal significance. If he had represented it simply as the crowning act of a life of devotion and self sacrifice in the cause of God and of humanity, he would have placed the Name of Christ on the level of many another name, and his death on a level with the death of many another witness for truth and righteousness; instead of which a virtue and a moral efficacy are everywhere imputed to it, which cannot be conceived of as belonging to any other death, and which alone explain the position it occupies in apostolic teaching (see 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:14,Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:21; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2). Forgiveness of sins, spiritual cleansing, moral freedom, practical righteousness, fellowship with God, the hope of eternal glory,—all are set forth here as fruits of the death of Christ and our faith in it. St. Paul made it the one grand theme of his ministry, because he knew that it would meet the deep and universal needs of humanity. No other word would bring rest to the troubled conscience and satisfaction to the longing, weary, distracted heart of man; no other voice could awaken the world to newness of life out of the dread shadow of despair and death in which it lay.
II. THE RECEPTION IT MET WITH, from "Jews," "Gentiles" and "them that are called."
1. "Unto Jews a stumbling block"—an offence, something "scandalous." O, several special grounds Christ was such an offence to them.
How could they recognize as their Messiah One who had died as the vilest of malefactors; died by the judgment of their rulers and amid the derision of the people; died by a death that above all others they abhorred? The cross, which Paul made the basis of human hope and the central glory of the universe, was to them "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence."
2. "Unto Gentiles foolishness." The Gentile world was pervaded by Greek sentiment. "Greece had now for more than a century been but a province of Rome; but the mind of Greece had mastered that of Rome." "The world in name and government was Roman, but in feeling and civilization Greek." Such a world scorned the "preaching of the cross" because:
3. "Unto them that are called," etc. The "called" are they who "are being saved" (verse 18). In the case of all such the Divine purpose in the gospel is answered. They are called, and they obey the call. The heavenly voice falls on their ears, penetrates the secrecy of their souls, and there is life for them in the sound, because, like the still, small voice that breathed in the hearing of Elijah at the mouth of the cave, "the Lord is in the voice." The proof they have that the gospel is the embodiment of the power and wisdom of God is the infallible seal of the Spirit, the unanswerable witness of a Divine and heavenly life. Is it a "sign" that you ask for? Believe in Christ, and you shall have within you that mightiest of all wonders, the miracle of grace by which a soul is translated from darkness into light, and from the death of sin to the life of holiness. Is it "wisdom" you seek after? Believe in Christ, and he will unlock for you the unsearchable riches of the mind and heart of God.—W.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Corinthians 1:7
The patience of hope.
"Waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Old Testament worthies waited for the advent of Messiah and the consolation of Israel. New Testament saints wait for the second coming of the Lord, the completion of the Church in holiness, and its entrance into his glory at his appearing. They already possess Christ by faith. He answers for them in order to their justification, and he dwells in them in order to their sanctification. They love him as their Saviour unseen, and therefore they long to see him as he is. Men who are afraid of judgment hope for acquittal; men who are weary and worn hope for rest; men whose earthly course has been disappointing hope for a better world; but none of these wishes or expectations come up to the blessed hope which is distinctively Christian. We look for the Saviour. We wait for the apocalypse of our Lord.
I. THE GROUND ON WHICH WE CHERISH THIS EXPECTATION. It is simply the word of promise. In parables, and in plain statements also, Jesus Christ assured his disciples that he would return in an unexpected hour. At his ascension the heavenly messengers, "men in white apparel," said explicitly to the "men of Galilee" that "this Jesus" would return from heaven. Accordingly the apostles infused this hope into the early Church; all the Epistles refer to it; and the last book of the Bible closes with a repetition of the Lord's promise: "Behold, I come quickly;" and the response of the Church: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" We do not entertain any question of probability. For Christians the matter rests on a sure word of prophecy and promise, pledging the truth of the Son of God. If any persons are capable of believing that the Son of God spoke at random or kindled by his words expectations that are never to be fulfilled, we cannot prove to them that Christ will come again. But all who reverence him as One in whose mouth no guile was ever found, are bound to believe that he will be revealed in his glory; and all who love him will look for his appearing.
II. REASONS FOR OUR WAITING FOR THE LORD.
1. "We see not yet all things put under him," and we long to do so. Promises of universal sovereignty and honour made to Christ in the Psalms wait for fulfilment. Prayers of many generations made "for him" as well as through him, wait for the answer. Therefore the Church, believing the promises and continuing the prayers, above all, loving him to whom such things are promised and the ardour of such prayers is devoted, cannot but wait for the Lord as night watchers wait for the morning. Ever since the Ascension, Christ… has had, by appointment of the Father "all authority in heaven and earth." The glory in heaven is hidden from us, but all may see that since the day of his ascension his Name has been rising continually above all other names known to mankind, and has so extended the area of its fame and influence that it is beyond question the mightiest name upon earth. Still Christ has many enemies. They are not yet made "his foot stool." And many of those who are called Christians are at heart indifferent to his cause, disobedient to his Word, apathetic about his kingdom and glory. Then the tribes and nations of the earth do not to any appreciable extent, even in Christendom, acknowledge or serve the Lord Jesus; and there are vast populations that have scarcely heard his Name. Even in our own country, one is struck with the avoidance of any express mention of him who is Lord of all, as Lord over us. In public documents, expressive of the national mind and will, there may be reference to "Almighty God," and to a superintending Providence—cold phrases of theism; but there is an apparent reluctance to name the Lord Jesus Christ, and to own submission to his Word. This is grievous to those who love him and know that he is the sole sufficient Healer of mankind. They take their part zealously in all movements to check injustice, to stay the foetid streams of vice, to relieve misery, and to spread virtue and peace; but they lament that Christ is so little sought and honoured in the efforts of philanthropy, and they often cry to him in their struggle, "Lord, how long? When wilt thou return from the far country? When wilt thou take thy great power, and reign?"
2. We have such correspondence now with the unseen Saviour as makes us long for his bright presence. It is not fair or reasonable to put the revelation of Christ to us now by the Holy Spirit against the personal revelation to his saints at his second coming, and to ask which of them is the more to be desired. Each is to be desired in its season, and the first whets the longing for the second. If I have had pleasant and profitable correspondence for years with one whom I have not seen, but who is known to me by his wisdom and kindness; if he has done me more good than all the men whom I have seen, taught me, helped me, and stamped the impression of himself on my mind and heart; do I not long to see him face to face, and eagerly wait for a day when I may be nearer to him who has become indispensable to me, the very life of my life? Surely it is so between Christians and Christ. They have heard his words, received his Spirit, had much correspondence with him in prayer and the Lord's Supper, got much help from him in time of need. Though unseen, he has been far more to them than all the teachers and friends whom they have seen; and for that very reason they long to behold him. Their hearts can never be quite satisfied till they see the Lord.
3. We are weary of ourselves and ashamed of our faults, and therefore long to be perfected at his coming. It is true that the life of faith has deep wells of comfort, and Christians ought to be happy. It is also true that the abiding Spirit of Christ is able to keep his servants from sin, and to sustain them in a course of holy obedience. But it is useless to dispute the fact that we are all imperfect in character and faulty in service. We fall short of our best aims, blunder in our well doing, spoil much good by faults of temper and even of manner, and are unprofitable servants. The best Christians, in whom perhaps we see no blemish, see in themselves sin and imperfection to the last. Now, we make no excuse for fault m inconsistency. We maintain that honest servants of Jesus Christ will aim daily and prayerfully at amendment, and endeavour to walk more closely with God. Still, there will always be some defect till the servants see their Lord. It is his coming that will give the signal for the perfecting of his people, and their complete transformation into his likeness. Such is the doctrine often taught by the Apostle Paul: "Unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 8); "Unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints" (1 Thessalonians 3:13); "Without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). There may here be added the prospect of the Lord's kind approval of diligent though imperfect service rendered to him, for which he will award a kingly recompense. But we do not much dwell on this, because the thought of getting anything from the King is not so dear to those who love him as the expectation of being made like him, purified as he is pure. Therefore the intense longing of the saints for the revelation of our Lord Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1:9
"Ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord."
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS FELLOWSHIP? It is something more than discipleship or even friendship. It is partnership. It is a form of the word which is used when the sons of Zebedee are described as "partners with Simon," and when the early Christians at Jerusalem are said to have "had all things common." St. Paul held that heathen worshippers of demons were sharers with the demons—made common cause with them; and that, on the other hand, the worshippers of God in Christ were sharers with Christ, and made common cause with him, having a common interest in the "day of grace," and destined to a common inheritance in the day of glory. He was theirs, and they were his. It was a partnership which God's purpose had contemplated from of old, which his Spirit had constituted, and which his faithfulness was pledged to maintain and defend. Fail not to observe the fulness of the designation—"his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Christians are made sons of God by adoption, and, "if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ." But the inheritance is not yet. This is the day of service, perhaps of suffering. Therefore let us consider the fellowship with the Father of which the Son Jesus Christ was conscious in the time of his service and sorrow on the earth; for the holy calling is into the fellowship of the Son. In the Gospel according to St. John it is shown that our Saviour had not only an unbroken communion of heart and purpose with the Father in heaven, but also a conscious participation with the Father. All things that the Father has were his. No practical line of division could be drawn between the Father's will and his will, the Father's works and his works. As in eternal essence, so also in operation, he and the Father were one. The Father was always with him. He spoke words which he had heard with his Father. He did works which were the Father's works, which indeed the Father dwelling in him performed. He received and kept men whom the Father had given to him out of the world. The very hatred which he encountered was the hatred of the world to the Father; and the glory for which he looked was glory with the Father above the reach of human scorn. Now, it is into participation with the Son as thus participating with the Father that Christians are admitted by adoption, in so far as it is possible for the human to share with the Divine. Made one with Christ through faith, they also have communion with him in the sense of having a common cause and interest with him. His Father is their Father, and his God their God. The same Spirit that rested on him is imparted to them. The same works that he did, they do also. The adversaries that they encounter hated him before they hated them. The path which he trod. is the path for them also. His cause is their concern; and their cause is his concern. Nay, the very love with which the Father loved the Son is in and on them also; and their hope of glory is the hope to be with him and. behold his glory. Thus the fellowship means more than friendship. It is participation with Christ. His disciples are in his work, waiting to enter into his rest; in his battle, looking to share his victory; and, if need be, co-suffering with him, long to be also co-glorified.
II. HOW IS THIS FELLOWSHIP CONSTITUTED? By the gracious call of God. The apostle spoke of the transfer of the Corinthian Christians from their old and sinful fellowships to a new and sacred one, proceeding on the true ideal and heavenly calling, of the Church, notwithstanding actual defects and faults which he saw and. reproved in the particular Christian community there, and in some of its individual members. Heathen society was in his view a region of darkness; Christian society a region of light. The one was a temple of idols; the other a temple of God. The one was the fellowship of Belial; the other the fellowship of Christ. The transition from the one to the other was by compliance with a call of God, which was a public call to all men in the mouths of preachers of the gospel, an effectual call of the Holy Spirit in all who believed and obeyed.
III. HOW IS THE FELLOWSHIP MANIFESTED, AND SO THE CALLING MADE SURE?
1. In resolutely breaking away from evil associations. Read in the Book of Proverbs how "the wicked join hand in hand," and young persons are ruined by casting in their lot with sinners who entice them. Read in this Epistle the homely saying that "bad company corrupts good manners." And depend on it that it is as needful as ever to shun the society of evil doers and scoffers. The tendency of the time is to obliterate sharp distinctions on moral grounds, to suggest pleasant compromises, and get rid of all that is difficult or stern in the obligations of Christian consistency. But those who really obey the call of God in Christ Jesus have no choice but to follow the direction of his Word, cost what it may, and therefore must decline intimacy with such as make light of that Word, and must not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of their minds.
2. In adherence to those who retain and obey the doctrine once for all delivered to the saints. No other conditions should be required. To confine fellowship to those of our own party and of our own way of thinking all round indicates sectarian zeal or self complacency rather than brotherly love, The Corinthians broke into parties and set up rival names. In their assemblies, and even at the Eucharistic Supper, individuals courted observation and scrambled for precedence over others. It was sadly inconsistent with the fact that God had called them to the fellowship of his Son. It is well to be warned in this matter, so as to have patience one with another, avoid party spirit, and cherish regard for all who, having the doctrine and Spirit of Jesus Christ, are and. must be in the holy fellowship.
3. In exhibiting the disposition and mind of Christ. They who have a new life in union and communion with Christ must feel, speak, and act accordingly, putting away evil passions and all deceit, and putting on a meek, compassionate, and honest heart. In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians St. Paul beautifully expounds this holy obligation, and imparts these two pregnant counsels: "Let the peace of Christ rule [arbitrate] in your hearts;" "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom."—F.
1 Corinthians 1:21
Wisdom and foolishness.
"Seeing that in the wisdom," etc.
I. THE CONTRAST AT CORINTH. The Greeks could no longer boast of great soldiers or statesmen, for military and political power had deserted them and centred at florae; but they had among them rhetoricians and philosophers, and still considered themselves intellectual leaders of the world. In this spirit they sat in judgment on the gospel. As to his treatment of the problems of sin and righteousness, they were not deeply concerned; but they were ready to weigh and measure it as a new philosophy, and thought it deficient in intellectual flavour, and quite inferior to the speculations of Greek teachers on the nature of God and of man, the order of the world, the beautiful and the good. St. Paul knew this feeling well, and felt the sting of such imputations, for he was an educated man; but with his usual frankness and manliness he faced this allegation of the supercilious Greeks, and with a sharp spear pricked the bubble of their self conscious wisdom. Nay, he boldly maintained that what they thought wise was foolish, and what they thought foolish was wise. At the same time, he was too wary and too kind hearted to irritate his readers by pointing the statement at Corinth, or even at Greece by name. He spoke of the wisdom of the world. Let all the wisdom to which the whole world had attained by human investigation into the things of God be gathered into a heap, and displayed in all the light that the world's best minds could cast upon it, and he would maintain that it was weak, dim, and futile as compared with that wisdom which he and other preachers of Christ could inculcate by the gospel. It was a large claim; but those who know "the wisdom of the ancients" best, and are most accurately acquainted with the ideas and usages of that old heathen world, will be the most ready to say that St. Paul had good ground for his assertion—that his claim was absolutely true.
II. THE CONTRAST TODAY. Contemptuous thoughts about the evangelical faith show themselves in many quarters, Men seem to forget that the intellectual advancement of modern society, of which they boast, and which they put forward as superseding old fashioned Christianity, is itself mainly due to Christianity; that the great schools and universities of Europe all had their roots in religion; and that the very ideas which give tone and breadth to our civilization, the appreciation of the force of truth, and the sense of human brotherhood as something far above mere enthusiasm for one race and antipathy to all others, all have been engendered and fostered by our holy faith Ungratefully overlooking this, men stand today on an eminence which Christianity has cast up, and thence decry Christianity. Religion is pronounced weak and quite unprovable. It is not good enough for these very knowing people and hard thinkers! Yet nothing is more certain than that men have urgent need of God, and of those moral helps and profound consolations which are bound up with a knowledge of God and friendship with him. And the heart at times has a passionate cry, "Where is my God?" Put aside the money bags, the clever schemes, the amusements, the newspapers, the scientific instruments, and the social engagements, and tell me this, O wisdom of the world! "Where is God my Maker? Is there not a Highest and Wisest and Best? And where is he? 'Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!'" What can the wisdom of this world reply? It does not deny Divine existence, though a good many persons are coldly doubtful and agnostic on the subject. But as in the first century any effective conception of the Divine was wearing out of thoughtful minds, and there was hardly any religious check on licentiousness and rapacity; so now there are mere vague and high sounding phrases about the Almighty current among the worldly wise, without as much real faith in God as may restrain one fit of passion or dry one bitter tear. He is a force—personal or impersonal, no one knows; where seated, why operative, how directed, none can tell. Or, he is a dream of ineffable beauty and a fountain of ineffable pity; but how to reconcile this with the more severe aspects of nature and life baffles all the wisdom of the world. The sages arc puzzled; the multitude know not what to think; and so the world by wisdom knows not God. But there is a better wisdom, and St. Paul has shows it to us. It may be well for some to watch the weary gropings and. struggles of the world's wisdom, and speak or write on the evidences of Biblical theology and the Christian faith when they find a fit occasion. Yet those to whom the gospel is committed ought not, as a general rule, to turn aside to such discussions. They ought to preach often and earnestly, trusting to God's vindication of the wisdom of that which men call foolishness. "What will this babbler say?" they cried against St. Paul in Greece. "What will this heretic say?" they cried against Wickliffe in England, and afterwards against Luther in Germany. "What will this tub thumper say?" they cried against Whitefield and Wesley—men who, under God, saved the moral and religious life of England. But however preachers may be mocked, the foolishness of preaching has abundantly shown itself to be wisdom by its results. Its seeming weakness covers real power. O wise babbler who says, "Christ crucified!"—F.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
St. Paul magnified the function of preaching. He could leave the baptism of converts and the details of Church business to others, but devoted himself to the proclamation and defence of the truth, No encounter of resistance or neglect could turn him away from preaching Christ, or make him ashamed of the gospel. His occupation gave him a deep and solemn joy.
I. THE SUBJECT OF PREACHING. "We preach Christ crucified;" not Christianity, but Christ; not even the Crucifixion, but the Christ crucified. There are many topics on which we may discourse, many questions we may discuss; but we ought to preach Christ. Indeed, our discourses and discussions have spiritual freshness and force only as they start from or lead up to this central object and inexhaustible theme. And "Christ crucified"—not his life and character and example only, but his dying "for our sins according to the Scriptures;"—it is this that brings peace to troubled consciences of men, and the strongest and most persuasive appeal to their hearts. Little does he know the calling of a New Testament preacher, or the secret of success in proclaiming the Word of truth, who contents himself with occasional and distant allusions to the great Sacrifice. The preacher's place is over against the cross.
II. THE PREJUDICE WHICH THIS PREACHING PROVOKED AND ENCOUNTERED. The Jews required signs. Addicted as they were to much boasting over the signs and wonders wrought for their forefathers by the hand of Moses and other prophets, they demanded signs or prodigies in attestation of the gospel. It was a demand which our Lord always refused when it was urged on him, and one which the apostles did well to discourage. They were not thaumaturgists, but preachers of righteousness. Therefore the Jews believed not. To them Christ crucified was a stumbling block. A Man whom their council had condemned for blasphemy, and whom the Roman authorities had put to death,—how could he be a Saviour? how could he be the Messiah? Why did not God save him from a miserable death if he delighted in him? Why did he himself not come down from the cross? So the Jews stumbled and fell through unbelief. And to this day they blaspheme the Nazarene as the Man who was hanged upon a tree. A similar prejudice shows itself among Gentile hearers of the gospel also.
Men who have little sense of sin dislike any distinct doctrine of Christ suffering for our sins. And men who think chiefly of power as the sign of Deity stumble at the statement that One who died with nails through his hands and feet was the Son of God and is the Lord of all.
2. The Greeks sought after wisdom. And to them the preaching of the cross seemed to be mere folly. It appealed to the consciousness of sin, which did not much trouble them; and it said nothing to the speculative understanding, hardly noticed those problems over which the philosophical schools of Greece had tallied and disputed for generations. The same prejudice hinders many educated men at the present day from receiving the gospel. Is it high thought? What light can the fate of One who was unjustly crucified among the Jews long ago cast on the intellectual problems of today? The gospel seems to them unworthy of the serious attention of cultured persons. It may have its uses for the common people; but it has no philosophy, and so it is foolishness! But blessed are they who are not offended in Jesus. When the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it finds some receptive hearts. There are always some on whom the preaching is not wasted or lost.
III. THE GAIN WHICH ACCRUES TO BELIEVERS. They are described as "the called"—a phrase evidently not tantamount to "invited," for all are invited. By "them that arc called" are meant those in whom the gospel finds reverence and faith. These are the called according to God's purpose. And see what Christ crucified is to them.
1. Are they Jews, or do they resemble the Jews in looking for signs of heavenly power? Lo! they have in Christ a power far greater than ever dwelt in Moses or Elias. He is the Power of God; and that not merely in the outward sphere in which the Jews desired to see signs and wonders, but also in the inward or moral sphere, where he has strewn himself able to loose men from their sins, and to despoil evil principalities and powers, triumphing over them on the cross. Just because "crucified in weakness," he is mighty to save. And all believers of the gospel may know in themselves his sin vanquishing and burden bearing power. They need no further sign.
2. Are they disposed by nature, or education, or both, to seek after wisdom like the Greeks? Have they a restless, hungry mind? Here is the best provision for their want, if not for their curiosity. Christ is the Wisdom of God. The highest problems receive light from Christ crucified. Reconciliation of the claims of justice with the yearnings of mercy; justification of the transgressors of moral Law without detriment or dishonour to the Law itself; and the introduction of a new and better life through death, as wheat grows from seed that has died in the earth;—these are not small or easy problems, and they have no solution till we receive the gospel of Christ crucified. He who would make his own calling sure should seek the evidence in his own attitude of mind and heart towards Christ crucified. Is he in your eyes weakness or power? foolishness or wisdom? As the Power of God, has he subdued you to himself? As the Wisdom of God, is he the Light of life to you—the Wonderful, the Counsellor?—F.
1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 1:31
All sufficiency in Christ.
"But of him are ye," etc. Here is central truth well compacted. And plain sermons on such texts ought to be frequently given, in order to feed the Church of God, which grows lean on mere fine phrases, sounding periods, controversial janglings, and vapid exhortations.
I. THE WAY OF BLESSING. It is obtained from the grace of God, and by a twofold action of his grace.
1. "Of God are ye in Christ Jesus." This union to Christ, engrafting into Christ, enclosure in Christ, is the root secret of all spiritual blessing. And while we take action in fleeing to Christ, clinging to him, and making him our Refuge, this very action on our part is ultimately due to the drawing of the Father and the inward operation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore "of God" we are in Christ Jesus.
2. "Of God, Christ is made unto you" who believe, all sufficient. It is according to God's good pleasure that the merits, riches, and perfections of Christ are made available to you. It is at all events conceivable that one might be saved in and through Christ, and yet receive only in part and scantily out of his fulness. But such is not the will of God concerning us. It is his purpose that we should be, not merely rescued from destruction, but enriched with heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus.
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF BLESSING. What Christ is to his own, who are in him: Wisdom, for they are foolish; Righteousness, for they are unrighteous; Sanctification, for they are unholy; Redemption, for they are lost as other men.
1. Wisdom. The early Christians were made wise, not after the type of Jewish rabbis or Greek sages, but as cast into a higher mould - the mind of Christ. And so also now. It must be confessed that some who profess and call themselves Christians speak and act foolishly; but the more Christian at heart one becomes, the more does he gain of a wisdom far beyond the keenest penetration of worldly minds, for he makes his estimates in the light of God, and learns to look on earthly things as from "heavenly places." Christ in us is Wisdom from above.
2. Righteousness. "There is non righteous, no, not one." The world can show men of strength, skill, valour, shrewdness, eloquence, erudition, enterprise; but where is the righteous man? Alas! there is not one. Nay; but there is One righteous. Jesus Christ was and is that "Just One." And as the wisdom ascribed to him is "the wisdom of God," so also the righteousness attributed to him is "righteousness of God." This righteous One died for us, the just One for the unjust many. And in his restoration from the dead and return as the righteous One to the Father, there is the basis of acceptance for all who are " of God in him." So righteousness is imputed without works. Christ is made to us Righteousness.
3. Sanctification. "Holiness to the Lord" is not known, or even possible, without Christ. Yet "without holiness, no man shall se the Lord." Now, the apostle does not say that Christ is made to us Holiness; for this might seem to favour a doctrine of imputed holiness, which is full of peril. But he is made to us Consecration; so that in him we are constituted saints, separated from evil to the services of the holy God, and from him we derive purifying and sustaining grace for that newness of life to which we are called and pledged.
4. Redemption. There is no need to say "complete redemption," or "final redemption," as some menders of Scripture have been wont to do, because the thing in view is not "the redemption of the purchased possession," or the redemption of the body at the resurrection of the just; but the redemption which is now obtained by reason of the precious blood of Christ, because he gave himself a ransom for us. So we have decisive and conclusive quittance, both from guilt and from "the house of bondage." And here also Christ is all.
III. THE AIM AND ISSUE OF BLESSING SO CONFERRED. (1 Corinthians 1:31) That the saved may have confidence in the Lord, and ascribe to him all the praise and glory of their salvation. It is a good test of doctrine, whether it refers all sufficiency and renders all praise to God in Christ Jesus. It is a test of the heart, whether it delights to have it so. We mean not merely glory and thanks to God for sending the Savior into the world—for so much is common to all types of Christian doctrine; but also glory and praise to God for bringing men into union with the Savior, and so into personal possession of the blessings of salvation. It is reckoned a mark of a base spirit among men that it assumes credit to which it is not entitled, and ignores its obligations to others. But noble minds are the first to say that, for whatever they have accomplished, they were not sufficient of themselves, but had help of Divine providence, help of favouring circumstances, and help of their fellow men. When grace is received from Heaven, how base and unthankful would it be to boast as if one had not received it! Some cannot give glory to the Lord, because they really are not in Christ; and some because, though perhaps in him, they do not trust in him with steady faith. Some too are always trying to be saved. They spend their lives in the channel of the Red sea, sore afraid of the Egyptians. They never come up on the shore where the delivered sing to the Lord who has triumphed gloriously. - F.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul's claim to apostleship.
The personal appearance and characteristic disposition of Paul, with the particular circumstances which led to the writing of this letter, and roused intense personal feeling, form a fitting introduction. Paul blends Sosthenes with himself in the salutation, partly because of this man's connection with Corinth (see Acts 18:17), partly as an answer to those who charged him with making too much of himself and his apostolic rights. By associating this name in the address, Paul intimates that he did not desire to make himself the sole guide of the Church, nor would he put himself before Christ in the thought of the people. The general idea of apostleship is mission. An apostle is a sent one, or a commissioned one. It was applied to other than the twelve, or thirteen, usually so called; Barnabas and Silas coming under this classification. As applied to the "twelve" (either as including Judas or Matthias), the term involves personal knowledge of Christ and direct reception of the commission from him (Acts 1:21, Acts 1:22).
I. THE GROUND OF PAUL'S CLAIM. It could not rest on personal knowledge of Christ's ministry. We have no good reason for assuming that Paul ever saw Christ in the flesh. That, however, was not the more essential of the two qualifications. Paul had received a direct call to his office from the Lord himself. For the historical facts, see Acts 9:1-43.; Acts 13:2. Such a direct call did not involve infallibility; but it did form a ground for feeling personal confidence, for speaking with prophetic boldness, and for exercising measures of authority. More especially when we find the "call" was followed up with signs of the Divine presence and approval in the working of miracles. Paul ever makes much of the directness of his "call." This point he most emphatically insists on when writing to the Galatians (Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:11, Galatians 1:12). It is characteristic of Paul's training and habit of thought, as a Jew, that even this "call" from Christ should be conceived only as agency carrying out the sovereign and holy "will and purpose" of God the Father. It was, through all the ages, a characteristic of pious Jews that they traced everything to God's supreme will, and saw that will working through all. Compare and illustrate by the Mohammedan conception of Islam, or submission to the will of God.
II. THE SPECIAL FEATURES OF PAUL'S COMMISSION. It was in full harmony with, yet perfectly distinct from, that of the other apostles. Such distinction may be traced in its sphere. He was to go to the Gentiles, and find opportunities of labour among them. He was the pioneer of Christian missions to the Gentile world. But adaptation to this sphere and work involved a further distinction in the subject of his commission. There is a marked individuality in the form of Paul's presentation of the truth in Christ. We must give full recognition to that individuality, and its adaptation to the thought and life of the people among whom Paul laboured; but we should carefully guard against exaggerations which would set Paul's apprehension of the Christian truths out of harmony with that of the earlier apostles. Paul's leading subject may be thus stated: Christ is risen; then his life work is accepted by God; and he is living, prepared for direct saving relations with all who look to him in penitence and faith. To enter into direct, personal, living relations with Christ is to find perfect freedom from all other religious or ecclesiastical bondages, old or new.
Apply by showing what is the call to Christian office and ministry now. There is a selection of men by Divine endowment and Divine providence. These two go together, and the recognition of them may be made by other than the man himself. Such a "call" still involves teaching power, persuasive influence, and gracious authorities.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:2
What the Church is, and what the Church ought to be.
In introduction deal with the features of Christian life in towns and cities, as represented in Corinth, noticing its relation to complicated civilization, diversity of sects, class distinctions, society evils, and intellectual pride. Out of the population of such a town as Corinth Paul gathered what he calls a Church, and this body he regards ideally and practically. Here the full conception of what it should be is the prominent thing. His advice, given later on, applies to the Church as it actually was.
I. THE CHURCH IS A WHOLE, WITH A SPECIALITY. A whole, for it is the Church—the Church of God, who is One; and it includes "all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place." We fittingly call it the "one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." But it has a characteristic speciality. It can be localized. It can be the Church at Corinth or at any other place, but the localization does not break up the unity. It is but a condition of the earthly sphere which the Church must of necessity have, and need in no way destroy our sense of the complete oneness and wholeness of the Church. The tendency to sectarian division can best be checked by failer presentations of the essential, ideal "wholeness" of Christ's Church. And the same truth alone gives efficient place to the conception of Christ's living and universal rule, with its related fact, the unity and brotherhood of all believers.
II. THE CHURCH IS A BODY ACTUALLY SANCTIFIED. The two senses in which the term "sanctified" may be used need careful consideration. It may mean "made holy;" and it may mean "set apart," or "consecrated, ... devoted to one special object," and this latter is the more frequent and familiar use in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, where cities, lands, persons, and things were constantly "sanctified" in the sense of being devoted, or consecrated, to the Divine service. Manifestly the meaning "made actually holy" cannot be that required in our text, for this has never yet, in any age, been the fact concerning Christ's Church; and, indeed, the New Testament holds this forth only as the sublime attainment of the future. But it is true of each sincere member, and so of the whole Church, that they are sanctified in the sense of being "self dedicated,"" devoted to God," and so ideally a "holy people." A man is what he really wishes to be and endeavours to be; he is what he sets before himself as his highest attaimnent. Guard this truth against misrepresentation and misuse, and make it an incentive to the formation of high ambitions and patient effort for their attainment. Add that the pervading element, atmosphere, and tone of Christ's Church is holiness. Christ present brings the surroundings of the "holy," and we are "called unto holiness." So, ideally, Christ's Church is "sanctified."
III. THE CHURCH IS A BODY SEEKING TO BE PRACTICALLY WHAT IT IS MYSTICALLY. This opens the application of the subject. Our response to and acceptance of the call into Christ's Church puts us under a definite and distinct pledge and responsibility. We bind ourselves to win the personal holiness that will match our call and worthily follow it up. This involves due self watching and self mastery, as well as fitting use of the various "means of grace" provided for us. What we ought to be we shall be found every day striving to be, if we are true hearted and sincere.
In conclusion, revert to the practical bearings of the oneness and wholeness of Christ's Church. It involves a tender and helpful common brotherhood in rights, in sentiments, and in duties. Such brotherhood is "becoming to saints," to those "called to be saints."—R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:3
The Hebraic and the Christian salutations.
The formalities of politeness have deep meanings, and bear important relations to the social and moral life of cities and nations. The heathen benediction was Salve, or "Health to you." The modern salutation, "Good morning," or "Good day," is a brief assertion of national and individual faith in the one God; for it really means "God bless you today," and so is a perpetual witness against infidelity. The salutation in the text is a blending together of the characteristic points of the Hebrew and the Christian good wishes.
I. FROM THE HEBREW POINT OF VIEW, WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN WISHING "PEACE ONTO YOU"? "Peace" to the Hebrew was the word gathering up the blessings of the keeping of the Jehovah covenant. If faithful to the claims of that covenant and to the spirit of that covenant, they would realize peace in the heart, in the home, and in the state. And to an industrial and agricultural people, "peace" would appear the most desirable of all earthly blessings, and the condition of enjoying all others. It may be noticed how the unsettled years of later Jewish history intensified the common desire and prayer for "peace." As the prosperity of the whole land was bound up in the faithfulness of each member, it was befitting that each should wish for the other that "peace" which can alone attend on righteousness. So the formality of the salutation covered a real anxiety for brotherly faithfulness to Jehovah.
II. FROM THE CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN WISHING "GRACE AND PEACE UNTO YOU"? The addition is most characteristic, seeing that Christianity declares the "grace of God that bringeth salvation." Man discovers that the adequate keeping of covenant, and so securing "peace," is not within his own power. It is this discovery that prepares him to welcome the revelation of grace for his need. With the grace he can attain the righteousness which ensures the peace, and so he recognizes that both the grace and the peace come from God. Then the wish of the early Christian is that a special manifestation of Divine grace may be made to the individual. The salutation, in effect, is this: May you enter fully into the blessings of the gospel, into the grace brought unto men in Jesus Christ; and so may you know the gospel peace, which you will find a hallowing influence resting on all your life! How may we put into modern Christian language the Pauline benediction? And how should we so watch over even the formalities of every day speech that our common good wishes should be filled with rich and fervent Christian meanings?—R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:3
The Father and the Lord.
From the Gospels it may be efficiently set forth and illustrated that the Father name for God was a most marked feature in our Lord's life and teachings. He seldom or ever used any other name; and a candid reader cannot fail to realize that in this "Father name" must lie much of the secret of his mission. It may be further shown from the Epistles that his disciples caught his purpose; and, with great frequency, they use the names Father for God, and its correlate, Son, for the Lord Jesus. This appears in the text, but connected with a different name for the Lord Christ.
PAUL'S PREVAILING THOUGHT FOR GOD. The Father; our Father; the Church's Father. Towards realizing the aspects of the Divine Being that are gathered under this name, we gain help by considering the natural associations and duties of paternity; the idea of the tribal patriarch as found in the early ages; and the prophetic qualifications of the sterner and governmental conceptions of God which are found in the Mosaic system. If the Father name for God be an essential, and a foundation of Christianity, as set forth by the Apostle Paul, then we must expect to find the entire Christian revelation toned and conditioned by this primary conception of the Divine Being and relations. This may be worked out and illustrated in connection with either of the primary Christian truths. And it may be pointed out that the term "Father" is properly inclusive of all holy demands, all governmental authorities, all reverential relations; but it is new and infinitely precious to the race, because it brings home the possibility of God's individual and personal love to each member of it. In that lies a great part of the attractive and persuasive power of Christianity.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:4-7
Gifts are signs of grace.
The introduction will naturally deal with the fact, universally recognized, that talents and genius and particular endowments come from God. This was early declared in the call of Bezaleel and Aholiab, and was a familiar idea even to the heathen nations. It is one that needs fresh and frequent statement in our day. In the early Church there were both ordinary and special gifts, but the manifest Divine origin of the more special ones was designed to convince of the Divine source of all gifts, great and small.
I. THE GIFTS SPECIALLY ENTRUSTED TO THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH. They included everything that could be regarded as necessary to their maintenance and work as a Church. But only two things are mentioned here:
Both these were highly valued at Corinth, rhetoric and wisdom being eagerly pursued. Consequently, as the desire for these found expression and sphere within the Christian community, Paul properly leads them to recognize fully the source of such endowments. And to know the source is to recognize the responsibility of using the gifts only in the Divine spheres and in accordance with the Divine will. This may be pointedly applied to all the modern gifts and talents in Christ's Church; all are from God, all are for God's use, and all are to be used on God's conditions.
II. THE GRACE SEEN IN THE BESTOWMENT OF THE GIFTS. This may be recognized in the honour of receiving such trusts, and in the adaptation of the gifts to the various needs of the Church.
III. THE AGENT THROUGH WHOM THE GIFTS ARE BESTOWED. The living Lord Jesus Christ—"in Christ Jesus"—conceived as present with and presiding over the Church; dispensing to every man severally as he wills, for the general edification.
Apply by showing the importance of gifts in every age, the proper modesty of those who have the trust of gifts, and the thankfulness and hope we should cherish concerning those among us who are divinely endowed.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:7-9
Christ coming, and Christ here.
The early Church conceived that the Lord Jesus Christ would return, in some material manifestation, during their age. Inquire how far this idea rested on the view they held of Messiah as an earthly Deliverer and Patriot King. Their question, after our Lord's resurrection, "Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" indicated a bias and preoccupation of mind which even their Lord's ascension did. not correct; and possibly this lingering misconception helped to form the idea of Christ's speedy second coming. It may be further shown that our Lord's assurances about his coming again might have been taken literally, though he so carefully sought to impress the spiritual hearing of his promises, and their fulfilment, mainly in the abiding and indwelling of the Holy Ghost. With the conception of this speedy coming of Christ in their minds, the apostles regard the proper attitude of the Christian and the Church as being one of "waiting." Such waiting becomes a virtual "preparing;" it involves a care to have and hold all things ready, and this is a good sign of the faithful and diligent servant. "The attitude of expectation is thought of as the highest that can be attained here by the Christian. It implies a patient, humble spirit, one that is waiting for, one that is looking forward to, something nobler and better." The moral influence of a high and noble expectation may be pointed out. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also;" and it is certain that to fitness for it your life and conduct will be moulded. In these verses we find a double thought associated with the Lord's second coming.
I. PAUL'S THOUGHT OF CHRIST'S COMING TO REWARD. As he has been writing of "gifts" and their use in the Church, he must have in mind Christ's gracious reward of his faithful ones. Reward is proper from one occupying the position of Master. Rewards may be given for work that is far short of perfection, Rewards may be bestowed when no absolute claims can be made for them. Divine rewards can only be gifts of grace. The moral ends to be served by granting rewards are such as God may seek by such means. So it is rational and right that we should still watch, work, and use our gifts, in the full expectation of gracious recognition and reward in due season. Qualify, however, the expectation, by showing that the New Testament strives to impress on us that Divine and future rewards must be spiritual, not material; we are to have crowns, but they are crowns of life, righteousness, and, glory.
II. PAUL'S THOUGHT OF CHRIST'S PRESENCE TO CONFIRM. Too much attention to Christ's coming would lighten the conviction of his real, though spiritual, presence now with the individual and with the Church. That presence Paul conceives as the confirmation, the imspiration, and the security of Christ's servants. In it they have their only, but their all sufficient, guarantee that, amid. frailties, temptations, and perils, they shall hold out unto the end, attaining unto the coming of the Lord. Either of these thoughts of Christ may prove misleading if it stands alone. Each tempers and qualifies the other. Both together keep us wisely looking down on our work, beside us at our helper, and on to our reward. The thought of "reward" makes us wonder how the Divine One will ever be able to testify to our "blamelessness and unreprovableness." Illustrate by David's appeal to his "integrity." We may be genuine and sincere. A standard of consistency may be pressed on us as Church members; but nothing less than the standard of absolute purity must be pressed, on us as one clay to stand in the presence of the glorified Christ.—R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:11, 1 Corinthians 1:12
The spirit of faction.
Introduce by showing the various elements of which the Church at Corinth was composed. There are signs that some members wore wealthy and learned, many were certainly poor, and probably many were slaves. Those who suddenly become wealthy are always in peril of showing masterfulness, and claiming undue authority and. influence. Party feeling ran high in Corinth, and this, with the mixed character of the population, tended to break society into sects and schools. This affected the Church, and. Paul received reports of the disposition to make parties within it, and so destroy the unity of the Church in Christ; such reports greatly distressed him, and they are in part the immediate occasion of his writing this Epistle. The subject of the verses before us we may take to be Church unity—how it may be preserved and lost. Our Lord and his apostles manifest a peculiar anxiety for the conservation of the unity of the Church, and appear to regard that unity as essential to the Church's stability and growth and witness.
I. CHURCH UNITY PRESERVED BY MAKING EVERYTHING OF CHRIST. He is the one living Head, the only Master and Lord. The common life of the Chinch is the life in Christ. The Church is a whole vine, made up of many branches, but Christ is the uniting and quickening Life in the
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