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‘For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.’
1 Corinthians 2:2
With St. Paul everything else but ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ was a matter of secondary importance, and in this resolution of his we see a striking proof of the influence of the sufferings of Christ upon His first disciples.
I. It was not that St. Paul despised learning, or thought there was ‘nought else worth the knowing.’ He was an educated man, as education was understood in his age and country. A student of Gamaliel, versed in rabbinic lore; a soldier; a politician; a great traveller, familiar with the life and customs of the greater portion of the civilised world; a philosopher and a poet. In becoming a Christian he could not annihilate his manifold education or the world of fact with which he had become acquainted. Christianity, whatever it does, does not place a premium upon ignorance or stupidity. But it is a mark of mental greatness and earnestness to single out matters of chief consequence from others less noteworthy, and to concentrate attention upon them. It was this that he meant.
II. For him the central object of Divine revelation was the Cross, and no more splendid homage could he have rendered it than this, that he should behave as if nothing else were worth thinking or speaking about. The Corinthians were vain of their spiritual gifts and their theosophies; he sought to correct their aberrations and to humble them. It is thus the Cross has still to thrust everything else into the background. It is the joy of the Christian’s heart, the theme of his conversation, the glory of his life.
III. The Cross of Christ is of chief consequence in the reconciliation of sinners to God, and therefore it ought to receive the closest and most earnest attention.
THE RELATION OF THE SEEN TO THE UNSEEN
‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.’
1 Corinthians 2:9-2 Samuel :
We belong to two worlds, which are, in very truth, one world. We cannot escape from this necessity of our constitution; but our joy and our strength, our confidence and our inspiration is to know that we do belong to both.
I wish, therefore, to suggest only two thoughts on the relation of the Unseen to the Seen.
I. The Seen is the revelation of the Unseen.—In quieter moments we all look forward to the future, and perhaps we ask, ‘Where shall I go hereafter? Shall I be happy?’ when we ought rather to ask, ‘Where am I now? What is my idea of happiness?’ Happiness, we can see at once, involves a harmony between a man’s capacities and desires and his environment. As Christians, we believe that man was made to know God, and that, in Christ, this knowledge can be gained. Happiness for man, therefore, lies absolutely in conformity to God, and this conformity is in effort, in aim, in inception, in essence, not future, but present. ‘This is,’ the Lord said, not ‘This will be,’ or ‘This leads to,’ or ‘This assures,’ but ‘This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only true God, and Him Whom Thou didst send.’ This is eternal life, sovereign in its conquering power, invincible in its sustaining energy, now while the conflict is to be waged, now while the lesson is to be learned, no less than when we know even as we are known. Holiness is, in other words, the necessary foundation of happiness here and hereafter—now when we see through a mirror in a riddle, and then when we see face to face, it is clear, then, how the present is for us individually the expression of the future, the Seen and the Unseen, because it is the expression of the Eternal in the terms of human life. We are, indeed, wholly unable to give shape to being in another order, and in this respect the reserve of Scripture is in striking contrast with the boldness of human imaginings. But still we can perceive that when our earthly life ceases we are that which we have become.
II. The Unseen which is our future is prepared by the present; the Unseen which is our faith is shown by the present. No reproach has been more frequently brought against Christianity than that it teaches men to disregard the claims of to-day in the contemplation of some distant heaven. So far as the reproach is just, it applies not to our creed, but to the perversion of it. For us, as Christians, our faith is that which is the spring of our life; it brings home to us our immortality, it teaches us that we have already entered on the privileges and powers of the future. ‘Ye are come,’ and not ‘Ye shall come,’ ‘unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.’ Ye are fellow-citizens of the household of God, and not ‘Ye shall be’; and even now ‘We have,’ and not simply ‘We shall have’ hereafter, ‘a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.’ Just so far, then, as we use this spiritual endowment which is given us, we shall use it with the conditions of our outward state. When the Lord bade the Pharisees ‘render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,’ He did not, as we commonly suppose, make a division between the obligations of man: He declared their real unity. He is no Christian who can pass by on the other side, busied with his own aims, where humanity lies before him naked and wounded and half dead; he is no Christian who thinks that any part of his daily work lies outside the transforming influence of his Master’s presence. Every human action must assume for the Christian fresh importance, and the same principle which enriches his view of life ennobles, as we have seen before, his view of nature. The sense of the Eternal in the present gives to things transitory a power of meaning for the believer which they cannot otherwise have. God has revealed to him that which ‘eye saw not and ear heard not.’ For him the ‘kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,’ and he confidently demands the attributes of its service. He does not look away from the things of earth, but he looks through them to their Maker.
‘The Christian, even more surely than the poet, finds in the meanest flower that grows thoughts that often lie too deep for tears, just as he finds in the poorest outcast the throbbings of a brother’s pulse. In his estimate of the world he refuses to acquiesce in the surface of things, to disparage the least gift which God has made, to accept the verdict of a barren failure; he knows the conditions of life, the strength of life, and the end of life. “I saw,” St. John writes, after he had contemplated the Vision of Judgment, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” The heaven and the earth are new, and yet they are not like the former new creation. They always have been, but there is not in us the nature, the ability to behold their veiled beauty. But at last the veil shall be drawn aside, and things shall be seen as they are in the sight of God. This consummation the Apostle shadows forth, and shows how the eternal order follows the order of time, being at once its offspring and glory.’
THE FUTURE LIFE
The spiritual life is so ordered and arranged as to be the first stage of what we are accustomed to call the eternal life; and that consequently, if we are really following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are possessed of a gift of perception which enables us to penetrate, at least to a certain extent, into the mysteries of the eternal world, and to comprehend their nature.
I. It seems to be part of the scriptural idea of heaven that it is a region or locality in which is gathered together the vast multitude of those whom Christ hath drawn to Himself out of the world at large. They come from all ages, and from every nation, and people, and kindred, and tongue; even from those sections of the human family who have had no opportunity of hearing the Gospel. But whatever may have been their circumstances and antecedents, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Consciously or unconsciously, they have taken up the Cross to follow Christ. Consciously or unconsciously, they have gone about doing good as Christ did. They are fit for the society of the holy angels—nay, fit for association with God Himself—and they constitute the general assembly and Church of the firstborn which are written in heaven. The conception is a magnificent one. And when we are weary, as we sometimes are, of the conflict with evil which is ever going on in the world, our keenest feelings of brotherhood and our most earnest desires for the regeneration of humanity will not keep us from wishing that the conception may very speedily become an accomplished fact; for what a blessedness it would be to leave behind us the strife and the tumult and the discord, the vice and the crime, produced by the collision of the human with the Divine will, and to enter into the calm society of the pure and loving and noble; into intercourse with the great and good of all ages; into a state in which every eye beams with the lustre of a Divine intelligence.
II. What do we suppose will be the character of the inhabitants of heaven?—I mean, rather, what common characteristic may we expect to find in them all? You say, ‘God-likeness.’ Yes, ‘God-likeness.’ But can we not express ourselves more definitely than in this way? Doubtless there will be in the mysterious future state no obliteration of the individuality of the redeemed. Peter, the man of action, will remain Peter still. John, the man of contemplation, will be the man of contemplation for ever, and have his own special task to fulfil in heaven. The substratum of feeling will be, of course, the same in all. There will be devotion to God, and perfect and unsullied holiness; but the idiosyncrasies will abide. Is this not perfectly conceivable? Heaven’s occupations, for which you and I are training now—for this world is only a school from which we shall go forth at last to the real work of existence—can hardly be the same for all: let us say, for instance, for the grand poets who have passed away from amongst us, and now lie in the marble majesty of death; or for the great preachers whose voices, not long ago, were stilled into silence; or for the musicians, of whom we have lately heard, who built up a massive structure of tones to express the thoughts that were stirring in their souls; or for the scientists who toiled for man’s sake and for God’s sake at the discovery of the secrets of nature, and enlarged to an almost incalculable extent the boundaries of human knowledge. Possibly the service of these men in the hereafter will be, to a very great extent, a continuation of their service here. But in one respect these men will assuredly, all of them, resemble each other—in the spirit of love, which manifests itself in self-sacrifice. And this is God-likeness. The gift of Jesus Christ for us was a stupendous act of self-sacrifice on the part of God.
III.—And yet we should expect a close and intimate intercourse with Deity itself to be one of the distinguishing features of the future state of existence. The world in which we are placed is full of traces of moral and material beauty; and if we may judge of the workman by his workmanship, there must be something inexpressibly lovely and attractive about the Divine Artificer Who created all. We cannot, then, be satisfied with the profoundest investigation into the wonders of the universe. The universe is, after all, only the vestibule of the palace; and we long to press forward into the very presence of the King. Besides, a voice within perpetually reminds us that God made man for Himself; and a feeling within is equally explicit in its assurance that we shall be unquiet and restless until we have found our rest in the Heavenly Father’s love. It is not, let it be remembered, mere intellectual acquaintance with Deity, important as that is, that we require. But it is, if I may venture so to speak, personal contact; it is the knowledge which one being has of another where there is a mutual understanding; a true sympathy; a real interchange of loving thought and feeling between them.
Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.
‘Strange, very strange, is the indifference with which many a man regards his approaching entrance into the unseen world. He is, and cannot but be, under the circumstances, uncertain about the nature of his reception there; but the uncertainty does not trouble him. He does not shudder at the idea of what must be to him a leap in the dark. Strange, I say, very strange! But for us, if we be true disciples, there need be no uncertainty, no misgiving. The sights that will burst upon our view when we enter eternity may be startling, and even awful—who can tell? But there will certainly be one Person there with Whom we have already made acquaintance—One Whom we know, and know well, and have learnt to trust; One Whose voice we have heard in the Word; Whose face we have sought in prayer; on Whose arm we have leaned in the perilous journey of life; Whose example we have humbly endeavoured to follow; and He, the centre of all observation and the Lord of the whole domain, will recognise His servants, and bid them enter joyfully into their eternal home.’
THE SPIRIT OF PROMISE
‘Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.’
1 Corinthians 2:12
Lost by man’s sin, this blessed power of communion with the Father of spirits must be restored by the Spirit of God. It was to this our Lord referred when He spake of ‘the promise of the Father’ to be received soon after His ascension; and to the truth and reality of this most blessed gift all Scripture bears testimony.
I. Who they are who have received and do yet receive the Spirit.—‘We.’ In 1 Corinthians 12:7 the words are ‘every man,’ but this is necessarily explained in 1 Corinthians 2:12-1 Chronicles :, by all who are ‘members of the body of Christ’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:27). In Ephesians 1:13, ‘in whom after ye believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.’ In Galatians 4:4-Joshua :, ‘because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ In Acts 10:44-Romans :, and in many passages besides, the same truth is pressed on us that ‘all God’s children’ have received and do still receive this Holy Spirit, to ‘seal’ them as His children, and to edify and build them up ‘for an habitation of God through the Spirit’ ( Ephesians 2:21-Song of Solomon :). No child of God without His Spirit ( Romans 8:9); any one not having this Holy Spirit is not sealed, is not justified, is not safe, is ‘none of His’ ( 2 Corinthians 1:21).
II. For what purpose do we receive the Spirit?—‘That we may know the things which are freely given to us by God.’
( a) What they are: Pardon of sin through the blood of His Cross ( Colossians 1:20; Isaiah 1:18). ‘No condemnation to them who are in Christ’ ( Romans 8:1; Romans 5:1; Psalms 32:1-Exodus :; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22). Salvation ‘in all its fullness’ through His life ( Romans 5:9-2 Samuel :; 1 Peter 1:8; Php_2:11-12 ). The covering robe ‘of His spotless righteousness’ ( Isaiah 61:10; Hebrews 11:7; Php_3:9-10 ). An inheritance at last ‘among His saints’ ( Acts 26:18; 1 Peter 1:4-Deuteronomy :; John 14:1-Exodus :). These are some of the promised glories freely given to us by God ( 1 Corinthians 2:9).
( b) How we may prepare for them. By the Spirit of Truth ( John 14:26; John 15:26) guiding us into all truth ( John 17:17; John 17:19). By the Spirit of Prayer ( Romans 8:26) teaching us to pray ( Jude 1:20). By the Spirit of Holiness purifying our souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit ( 1 Peter 1:22), transforming us into His image ( 2 Corinthians 3:18).
( c) How we may see these unseen glories and ‘realise this preparedness.’ It is the Spirit alone who can ‘reveal the unseen’ and make it real ( 1 Corinthians 2:9; John 16:8-1 Samuel :; John 16:14-Ezra :).
As God has said, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’ ( Ephesians 5:18), should we not all seek more of His blessed influences to show us how much we yet need, and how real the coming glory for which we should be preparing?
—Rev. Canon Linton.
‘In the fourteenth verse of this chapter the Apostle lays down as a fundamental truth that “ the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God”; “neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Since this is so, the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit to enable him to receive them and know them must be indispensable and indisputable. As no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost ( 1 Corinthians 12:3), then the Holy Ghost alone can lead him to eternal salvation, and to the manifestation of a true life here. God has given us senses by which to communicate with the world around, but He has given no bodily or mental organs by which to hold communion with Himself. We can hear the voice of a friend, but we have no avenue by which the natural man, in mind or body, can receive and recognise the voice of his God.’
‘But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.’
1 Corinthians 2:15
It is sometimes said that the evidence for the revelation made to man by our heavenly Father must be in all reason and justice precisely the same as the evidence on which we accept any other truth. Yet we find the revelation which we have received distinctly declining to submit its claims for recognition to these conditions. It appeals to a distinct faculty from those which decide on the truth or falsehood of assertions concerning the laws of nature. It insists that the spiritual man who accepts its teaching, while still keeping all his natural faculties and capable as ever of judging all questions which those natural faculties can handle and determine, has in him a faculty of judging of spiritual truth which is either wanting or dormant or possibly dead in others.
I. The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness sees truths which are not seen by men who have no such hunger or thirst.—He not only knows better what is meant by the beauty of self-sacrifice, of holiness, of unearthliness, but he knows too and sees as others do not see the eternity and supremacy of these things. And he has this within him, facts which are clear to him, and as time goes on become ever clearer, which are not perceived and cannot be perceived by others that are unlike him as he perceives them, perhaps are not perceived and cannot be perceived at all. And the perception of these facts makes an enormous difference in the inferences which he perpetually draws from the sum total of the facts before him. He draws different inferences because he takes into account different premises. He sees that the inferences drawn from the partial premises which alone are within the reach of bodily observation are of necessity incomplete, and he cannot be content with them. When it is seen that religious men decide differently from other men questions which have to be decided on evidence, there is nothing in this that is contrary to reasonable expectation. They are, of course, liable to make mistakes in the inferences, just as all men are liable to make mistakes. But the difference in their conclusion is not due to the fact that they reason differently from others, and set aside the ordinary canons of inference.
II. The revelation was never intended to work mechanically without any demand on the moral action of those to whom it was made. It was intended to be effectual on those who were willing to use it, and, therefore, it was made to be appreciated in accordance with that willingness. It was offered to all, but it was offered without relieving or being intended to relieve any from responsibility for his own life. The responsibility of every individual moral being is a fundamental religious truth never to be set aside. And in order that this responsibility may be complete, it must extend not only to action in obedience to revelation when accepted, but to the act of acceptance itself. Men shall not be prevented from accepting it because they have sinned; not the blackest sin shall shut out the sinner from the power of believing, provided there still remain the power of longing for higher things, even though that longing be of the faintest and feeblest. But if that be absolutely gone, and cannot be revived, of what value would any revelation be to the soul? The revelation of God matches and meets the aspiration of man.
III. If now it be asked what judgment can be formed of those who notwithstanding have come to the conclusion the revelation is not true, the answer is plain: no judgment can be formed by us. We are speaking all this time not of the application of the laws of the spiritual world to individual men, but of the laws as they are in themselves. It is conceivable that a man’s spiritual faculty may be palsied by the concentration of his mind on the phenomena of sensible things. It is conceivable that it may still be alive and yet have lost its power to apply itself to such questions as these. It is conceivable that the circumstances of life may have allowed it to remain dormant in the soul. It is strange, but yet it seems to be true, that sometimes the absence of all grave temptation, and consequently of all need for serious spiritual conflict, has a tendency to lull the highest of all faculties to sleep. The possibilities travel beyond our conceptions, and leave us unable to say what exceptions to His general rules our Heavenly Father may make. Of this we are sure, to begin with, that His justice is absolute, and we are told expressly that when all secrets are revealed this also shall be plainly seen. But until that day we must be content, in spite of apparent contradictions, to leave all judgment on men’s souls absolutely to Him.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34