Sunday, June 4th, 2023
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts Expositor's Dictionary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ edt/ 1-corinthians-1.html. 1910.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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Called to Be Saints
1 Corinthians 1:2
Many names are given to the followers of our Lord in the New Testament. But the name most frequently given is 'saint'. The word occurs sixty times in its pages, and it is plainly intended to describe the life which every Christian should earnestly seek after.
I. The idea of devotion devoted to Christ; that is the essence of the Christian life, that is the primary notion of sainthood. And really this is the basis of membership in the Church of Christ. This is the one thing to look for in every one who desires to join a Christian Church. The primary question to be asked is, What is Jesus Christ to you? Personal relation to Christ is the primary thing. I beg leave to say still further that this phrase, 'devoted to Christ,' expresses what every one of us professes who has been baptised. The pre-eminent idea in the ordinance is the absolute surrender of the life to Jesus Christ, that He may cleanse and use it. It is also the thing that we profess every time we come to the Lord's Table. We take again the vow of allegiance. This relation of devotion to Christ our Lord is the thing to watch and guard carefully and jealously.
II. And now comes the second idea clinging to the word saint, viz., that of goodness as a result of our contact with Christ and His influence on our lives. One of the most serious questions in connection with organised Christianity at this moment a question on which its future largely depends is, are the people who profess the Christian faith by Church membership better people than others? You know, if you know anything, that the most eloquent evangelistic preaching in the world will be far less potent than character, and can never prevail against an unchristian spirit in a Church or in individuals connected with it. If we, bearing the name of Christ, have manifestly no joy in Him, there is no reality in our profession. Our business is to realise our calling. Our chief business is to be good, true, pure, loving, holy. The future of the Church depends on the character of its members. The way to goodness is devotion to Him.
Charles Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXIII. p. 280.
References. 1. 2. R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 264. R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p 142. C. S. Horne, Christian World Pulpit vol. lii. p. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 434. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p 128. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 204; ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 159. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 1. I. 3. Expositor, vol. vii. p. 65. 1. 4-6. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 103. I. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1 No. 2875. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 268. I. 7. Bishop Creighton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 264. E. A. Askew, The Service of Perfect Freedom, p. 1. H. J, Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 193. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. pp. 104, 440. I. 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi No. 616, and vol. xliv. No. 2580. R. W. Dale, Fellowship with Christ, p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 426.
1 Corinthians 1:10-11
The average man or woman is always at open discord with some one; the great majority could not live without oft-recurrent squabble.... Verbal contention is, of course, commoner among the poor and vulgar than in the class of well-bred people living at their ease, but I doubt whether the lower ranks of society find personal association much more difficult than the refined minority above them. High cultivation may help to self-command, but it multiplies the chances of irritative contact. In mansion, as in hovel, the strain of life is perpetually felt between the married, between parents and children, between relatives of every degree, between employers and employed. They debate, they dispute, they wrangle, they explode their nerves are relieved, and they are ready to begin again.
George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, pp. 93, 94.
Reference. 1. 10. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 38.
1 Corinthians 1:12
In a letter Vinet remarks, apropos of Thomas Erskine: 'If I did not abjure on principle such expressions as "I am of Apollos, and of Cephas," I should gladly allow myself to say "I am of Erskine". He does not wrap up the Gospel in shadows. He makes us feel that if the how of the mysteries of religion is inconceivable, the why is perfectly accessible to our reason.'
References. 1.12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 73; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 79. I. 13. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 186. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 210. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 48. I. 14. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 82.
1 Corinthians 1:17
'Take eloquence,' said Paul Verlaine once, 'and wring its neck.'
References. 1.17. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 367; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. pp. 212, 366. I. 17, 18. Ibid. p. 29.
The Preaching of the Cross
1 Corinthians 1:18
Christianity is the religion of redemption; it is for that reason that the Apostle gives as the motto and the summary of the Gospel this little sentence in the text, 'The preaching of the cross'. For the cross is the symbol, as it once was the instrument, of our redemption. Whether it were to Galatia or to Corinth; to rude and barbarous rustics in their impetuosity and changefulness; or whether it were to the cultivated children of Greek wisdom, St Paul had one message, and that message was, 'The preaching of the cross'. What did he mean?
I. Well, first of all, the Apostle announced an historical reality. The Apostle rejoiced in an historical redemption. Not in ideas, but in facts; not in a code, but a Person; not in impulses and sentiments, but in the flesh and blood reality of the dire struggle of our Lord with human guilt, wretchedness, and wrong. He rejoiced in an historical redemption when he preached the Gospel of the cross; and if ever there was a doleful and desperate reality in this world, it was the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul spoke of this reality as a great thing effected here in this world, and on its dusty surface. He spoke upon events that transpired in a known place, under a known government, in known circumstances, on which eyes had been riveted, over which hearts had been broken. He spoke of Christ in Jerusalem nailed to the cross, placed in the tomb, and risen from the dead. Never forget that Christianity rests upon the great obdurate facts of human history.
II. Secondly, St. Paul, when he spoke of this preaching of the cross, meant an inward experience. He said, 'I am crucified with Christ'. 'The life I live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.' 'God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Very personal, very inward, even mystical is the language, and it is the preaching of the cross that carries that message home into the living experiences of men and women.
III. Thirdly, the Apostle referred to 'the preaching of the cross' as a vivid and graphic description of Christ in His unseen power working among men. Do you recall those words from the letter to the Galatians? So powerful was the portraiture which Paul drew before the spiritual eyes of the Galatian hearers, that for a moment they seemed to have seen the extended arms, the bleeding brow, and pierced side of the crucified Jesus.
Now this, in brief, is what he meant by 'the preaching of the cross'; he meant the historical redemption, he meant the inward experience, he meant the vivid portraiture and living presentation of an exalted but still potent Saviour, so as to reach the inward vision of the soul; and such should be the preaching of the Gospel today.
References. I. 18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1611. T. D. Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 66. R. H. Conwell, Baptist Times, vol. liv. p. 396. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 296. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 17. W. M. Clow, The Gross in Christian Experience, p. 193. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 201; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 372. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 10. I. 18-24. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 276.
1 Corinthians 1:19
It is for the punishment of our temeritie and instruction of our misery and incapacity, that God caused the trouble, downfall and confusion, of Babels Tower. What course soever man taketh of himself, it is God's permission that he ever commeth to that confusion whose image he so lively representeth unto us by the just punishment, wherewith he framed the presumptuous overweening of Nembroth, and brought to nothin' the frivolous enterprises of the building of his high-towering Pyramis or Heaven-menacing tower. 'I will destroy the wisdome of the wise, and refuse the praidence of them that are most prudent'. The diversitie of tongues and languages wherewith he disturbed that worke and overthrew that proudly-raised Pile; what else is it but this infinit altercation and perpetual discord of opinions and reason which accompanieth and entangleth the frivolous frame of man's learning, or vaine building of human science?
Montaigne, vol. II. p. 12.
References. I. 20. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 31. I. 20, 21. T. D. Bernard, The Exclusion of Wisdom, p. 1. I. 21. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 37. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 372.
Christ Meets Every Need
1 Corinthians 1:22-23
I. Note the testimony of heathenism to men's religious wants, or what men desire.
II. Note that Christianity seems to neglect and contradict many of men's ideas and wants. (1) We preach. Not we do opposition to all requirements for signs, to all sacramentarianism and ritualistic notions. (2) We preach Christ. We deal with a Person. (3) We preach Christ crucified. The cross is the centre of His work.
III. Note that Christianity really meets and satisfies them all. (1) Christ crucified is Power. No other sign half as strong. (2) Christ crucified is Wisdom. Christ crucified meets the real wants of every age and of every man.
Reference. I. 22, 23. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 232.
The Power of the Cross
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
'The Jews ask for signs,' a request which is not necessarily indicative of a thirst. That is the bane and peril of all externalism. It may gratify a feverish curiosity without awakening the energies of a holy life.
'And the Greeks seek after wisdom.' They are the epicures in philosophies, the dainty tasters of intellectual subtilties. 'The Jews ask for signs,' and their religion degenerates into a despiritualised system of magic. 'The Greeks seek after wisdom,' and their religion becomes the domain of the disciplinist theorist, the heritage of a cultured and exclusive aristocracy.
'We preach Christ crucified,' says Paul, and we are not going to be diverted by the hunger for mere sensation; 'we preach Christ crucified,' and we are not going to be disengaged from our high calling, and tempted to submit our Gospel as a piece of subtle and mincing controversy.
I. We preach Christ crucified, because it is the doctrine which incomparably preserves for us the sense of the holiness of God. The sense of the holiness of God is an element that is conspicuously lacking in our modern religious life. The idea of Fatherhood does not exclude or obscure the idea of holiness: it includes and intensifies it.
II. We preach Christ crucified, because it is the doctrine which incomparably creates and preserves the sense of the nature of sin. Any doctrine which unveils the holiness of God reveals also the horrible-ness of sin; any doctrine which obscures God's holiness veneers man's sin. All true forgiveness throws a most lurid illumination on the sin that is forgiven. The cross is the place of great awakening for sinners.
III. We preach Christ crucified, because it is a doctrine in the experience of which we incomparably discern the realities of grace.
IV. We preach Christ crucified, because it is the doctrine in whose heart we find ample resources for the attainment of moral and spiritual health.
For ethical revivals we must first of all have evangelical revivals. We must first of all have the doctrine of the cross before we can hope for moral elevation.
J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 68.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
I. Let us note the desire of Jew and Greek. 'The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom. A sign! Had not the Jew received signs sufficient? He had seen the leper cleansed, he had seen the dead raised from their graves, and yet the Jews required a sign. This is quite explicable in consistency with the nature of men. If you look for external things you will never be satisfied with them. 'And the Greeks seek after wisdom.' There was nothing wrong in that. But the Corinthian Greek babbled of wisdom when he had nothing but the name left. And yet they were not willing to accept the message of eternal truth, because they preferred their own little puppets to the Gospel, just as a child prefers the little ragged doll it has made for itself to the best products of the market.
II. What does Paul do? What is his message in the face of this? Will he manufacture signs? I believe Paul could have done so had he chosen. Did Paul dazzle the Greek by a display of wisdom? No. 'We preach Christ.' And that is not all. 'We preach Christ crucified.' That is the gist of the matter; that is where the difficulty comes in. The cross must be taken into account, and not only that, but the cross is the centre and secret of all Christian life and power. Of course, Paul does not mean that he remains constantly with the cross, that he has nothing further to say; he does not mean that he never varies his discourse. What he means is, that all is built upon that, and though he may soar into the sunlight of the eternal glory, and tell men of all the vast expansion of God's purpose and kingdom in the future, he starts from the cross and comes back to it again.
III. Notice the various estimates here formed of this preaching. 'Unto the Jews a stumbling-block.' Shall we remove the cross that people may not stumble? If you do you remove the world's redemption at the same time. 'Unto the Greeks foolishness.' Man redeemed by blood! It is vulgar. So shouts the modern Greek in his polished frenzy. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men. The world is saved by blood. Those who know themselves and God, those who find themselves in Christ, understand the cross; for its power has entered into their life. And because it is the power of God it is also the wisdom of God, for wisdom and power go together.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. III. p. 99.
References. I. 22. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 265. I. 22-24. Archbishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 3. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 54.
1 Corinthians 1:23
We preach Christ crucified. The phrase may be described as a watershed, and I will illustrate its different uses from a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
Behold the rocky wall
That down its sloping sides
Pours the swift rain-drops, blending, as they fall
In rushing river-tides!
Yon stream, whose sources run
Turned by a pebble's edge,
Is Athabasca, rolling toward the sun
Through the cleft mountain-ledge.
The slender rill had strayed,
But for the slanting stone
To evening's ocean, with the tangled braid
Of foam-flecked Oregon.
So from the heights of will
Life's parting stream descends,
And, as a moment turns its slender rill,
Each widening torrent bends,
From the same cradle's side,
From the same mother's knee,
One to long darkness and the frozen tide,
One to the Peaceful Sea!
Let me trace briefly the courses of the two streams. 'We preach Christ crucified' on one side, and on the other 'We, risen and crucified, preach Christ Divine, crucified, risen'.
I. It is the word Divine which turns the course. The essence of heresy is the assertion that Christ is a creature. No matter how loftily He may be conceived of, if His Deity is denied the end is the long darkness and the frozen tide.
(1) We begin with Arianism, which seems at first sight, to grant so much that it is barely distinguishable from Christianity. It affirms that Christ existed before Ho became Incarnate, that by Him God made the worlds, that He is, in a manner, to be worshipped, that He wrought miracles, and that He rose from the dead. But it affirms also that He had a beginning of existence, that He was created by God, that, being created by God, He could be annihilated by God. This conception of Christ was held at one time by many powerful intellects, and has at least one living representative who must be regarded with deep respect Yet it is fair to say that it has practically no place in the actual world of thought.
(2) The stream descends, and we find it next as Socinianism, or, as it is now called, Unitarianism. Those who have read Socinus may be astonished to find how exalted is the place he accords to Christ. He differs from Arius in holding that Christ had no pre-existence, that His life began with His mortal birth. But he maintains that Christ was born of a virgin, that He was the Immaculate Son of God, that in a sense He is worthy of our homage, that He wrought miracles in the world, and visibly conquered death. Within living memory Unitarians made similar affirmations.
(3) But this, so far as I am aware, can no longer be said. The disciples of Socinus began to maintain that Christ would be more powerful if He were freed from the bandages of the supernatural. So gradually miracle was denied. The truth of the Resurrection was volatilised, or openly rejected. Christ, it was said, shared the lot of the departed, and left His body to become Syrian dust Still, for a long time a strenuous effort was made to maintain His sinlessness. 'I know not,' said Channing, 'what can be added to the wonder, reverence, and love that belong to Jesus.' It was held that He towered over the rest of mankind in His moral and spiritual perfection, that He was the true Leader of faithful souls. I think it would be correct to say that this view is taken today by some representative Unitarians, including Stopford Brooke. But it has become clear to the majority that a sinless man is a miracle, and that if the order of the law is to remain inviolate, Christ must be, in another sense, numbered with the transgressors.
(4) So the stream still descends. When the miracles are denied, when the Resurrection becomes incredible, when the sinlessness is seen to be impossible, the question comes, How are we to estimate Christ's character? Francis Newman was tempted to call Him a conscious and wilful impostor. He could not recognise Him as really simple and straightforward, and put Fletcher of Madeley, Wesley's designated successor, far above Him in point of character. I confess that Renan's conclusion seems to me by far the most logical. His apologies for Christ are far more appalling than his accusation, but on his own premises he is compelled to recognise that Christ was a schemer as well as a dreamer. A certain shrinking holds most critics back, but it is significant enough that one declares that Jesus is no part of His own Gospel, while another finds the historical proof of His existence in what he evidently takes for tokens and acknowledgments of mortal frailty.
(5) Can the stream go lower? Yes. So desperate is the problem of the character of Christ as viewed by rationalistic criticism, that some have strenuously and ably argued that He has never existed at all. I cannot but think that this position will be much more widely adopted by the critics who deny the supernatural. Beside such a Christ as they conceive, the Christ of the Gospels is credible and simple.
One to long darkness and the frozen tide. II. The other stream turns another way, and ends in another rest. We, risen and crucified, preach Christ Divine, crucified, and risen. The Divinity, or, rather, the Deity, is the dividing line. Christ was uncreated, not only the Son of God, but God the Son. He was perfectly and purely God, and as truly and really man. The Church lives only as she holds fast to this fact, and she knows it. No definitions or descriptions, theological or other, can do more than touch the fringe of His splendour. But, if we are to understand the preaching of Christ crucified, we must fill every word and every thought with the full meaning of Deity which belongs to the name of Christ. The more we do this, the more gloriously the river will expand and end. I can but touch on one or two points.
(1) It is the Deity of Christ which gives meaning to His atonement We must not shrink from the strongest words that Scripture uses; rather we must glory in them. The Church of God has been purchased by the blood of God. Whenever we preach Christ, whenever we sit at His Table, we show forth the Lord's death. It is the Deity of Christ that gave His death its significance in regard to sin.
(2) Nor is the Deity of Christ less important when we consider the relation of His death to human suffering. The sense of sin may be weak, but the sense of pain was never stronger than it is now. The springs of sorrow are full to the very lips. Lightness of heart has gone out of us, and the monotone of sadness is to be heard in most of our noblest literature We are already far past the optimism of even thirty years ago. If you tell a man that Christ was the chief of the noble army of martyrs, he will answer that you have merely increased his difficulty and despair. The line of martyrs has stretched so long and so far that men demand from us the news of the Suffering that hallows all sufferings, the sacrifice which consecrates all sacrifices. The optimism of Browning's
God's in His heaven,
All's right with the world,
falls on deaf ears today. If God is merely in His heaven, all is wrong with the world. It is our business not to abandon but to expand the great truth that God in Christ suffered and died to take away our suffering and our death. The gospel to the generation of sufferers is that the sufferings of His people were the thorns in the crown which Christ wore as a fair mitre; and that these sufferings ended when they clasped the Sacred Head.
(3) The Resurrection can only be understood as the Resurrection of the God-man. If Christ had been less than God, I could understand the force of many difficulties. If He was God, it was not possible that He should be holden of death. It was not possible that He should see corruption. He laid down His life of His own will, and of His own will He took His life again. Three days and three nights He was to lie in the grave, but for the elect's sake the days were shortened, and very early in the morning He burst the bonds of the tomb. Nor could the God-man rise for Himself alone
Among the sleeping dead alone He woke,
And blessed with outstretched hands the host around.
Did He hear them say in their slumber, 'Think of me, I pray Thee, when it shall be well with Thee, and speak for me unto the King, that He may bring me out of this prison'. 'Draw me; we will run after Thee.' He heard, understood, remembers, and at the voice of the Archangel these little hills in the churchyard will one day rejoice on every side. This is the end, then, of the stream
One to the Peaceful Sea.
III. But we must say a word on the preachers of this Gospel. We, risen and crucified, preach Christ Divine, crucified, risen. Note the order risen and crucified. It is the order of St. Paul: 'That I may know Him, and the power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings'. Not the fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His Resurrection, but first the power and then the fellowship. When we believe in the risen Christ there flows into us the strength and joy of His Spirit, the power of His Resurrection.
Our own difficulties of faith we are to meet in the power of His Resurrection. Our own frequent failures and humiliations and trials in work we are to meet in the power of His Resurrection. Our own personal griefs of missing faces and loosened hands we must bear in the power of His Resurrection. The unbelieving world we must confront in the power of His Resurrection. Whatever there may be of indifference, of hostility, of persecution, we have to meet them all in the power of His Resurrection, and be made more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Larrup of Sacrifice, p, 76.
Preaching Christ Crucified
1 Corinthians 1:23
Preaching is an agency, previously unknown, which Christianity has created to be its chosen mode of utterance. Jesus and His messengers are the only preachers. Notice:
I. The great pulpit theme: 'Christ crucified'. This is the sum of our message, the central regulative idea in the Gospel of God. The Gospel offers itself to us as a plan of restoration, it proceeds upon the fact of a fall. A Gospel based on the Incarnation of God cannot but be the final end of all God's other doings on this earth. The Christian scheme of salvation through God incarnate is thus the world's centre of gravity, but its own centre of gravity is the cross: it is not 'Christ' simply but 'Christ crucified' whom we preach. Modern thought is strong, because it recognises the Incarnation, but it is weak because it fails to see the necessary issue of the Advent in the work of the cross. The fact that our Divine Helper came in human form showed that there was a man's work to be done before God's help could be extended, and for the doing of that Christ was born. Christ bore His cross before He was fastened to it. He was born that He might die. Thus we reach the heart of Christianity. Such is the twofold Gospel fact: Christ the Incarnate Son; Christ crucified, our righteousness and ransom.
II. The utterance of the Divine message: 'We preach'. What is this peculiar instrument? Preaching is the announcement of the Saviour, with the offer of His salvation, in its widest sense; both being delivered as a message from God. So the Apostles preached; so have all great and honoured preachers; so must we. (1) As to matter; everything should serve the preacher's main drift, and illustrate or commend his message. (2) As to the form of the message: it must be in the main declarative.
Preaching is at once historical and personal. (1) All that concerns the life of Christ, with its historical foreshadowings, its self-manifestation in word and miracle must be prominent in the pulpit. (2) The Jesus of biography is now the glorified Christ, a Person present, though absent, whose spiritual power we feel; that ministry is best which leads straight to the living helping Saviour. Yet, even here, preaching will lose its savour unless it is sustained by a perpetual offer of the Saviour to men's hearts.
J. Oswald Dykes, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. XI. p. 229.
1 Corinthians 1:23
Compare the curious use of this passage by Hazlitt in his Winterslow: 'It has always been with me a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man. Of all the persons of this description that I have ever known, I never met with above one or two who would make this concession.... They did not know whom they had to contend with. The cornerstone, which the builders rejected, became the head-corner, though to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness; for, indeed, we cannot discover that he was much better understood by those of his own party, if we may judge from the little affinity there is between his mode of reasoning and theirs.'
References. I. 23. Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 119. H. S. Holland, Vital Values, p. 1. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 101. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 349; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 471.
The Message That Convinces
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
We preach Christ crucified... the power of God, and the wisdom of God! The words ring out, not in protest or defence, but as the summons of a herald. It is the message of an ambassador from his Royal Master. For this to St. Paul was the essence of His Gospel, so vital, so essential, so comprehensive that, as he adds presently, he had deliberately resolved to exclude from his teaching whatever was not directly concerned with the person and the work of His Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. The declaration, as you remember, is the climax of a natural argument. There had been divisions in the Corinthian Church, divisions that after their manner had grown to contentions. Incidents, perhaps trivial, had roused the party spirit. Sharply the Apostle calls the Christians back to first principles. What meant this ranging of themselves some under one name, some under another? Was Christ divided? Had Paul been crucified for them? Had they been baptised in his name? Nay, his only office had been the ministry of the good news, and to declare it with such definite-ness and simplicity that its appeal to their consciences might come through no distorting medium, and that their faith should stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
I. This very plainness of speech, this absence of philosophy and rhetoric, were resented by a Church where the eloquent Apollos had just been labouring. Offence had been taken and on various grounds. The Apostle's preaching had come into conflict with the prejudices of one class of men, and not less with the postulates of another class. The pride of religion and the pride of reason both refused their assent. The man who sought for merit in some sterile series of acts, who based his hopes on national or ecclesiastical birthright, whose ethics were the practice of rules rather than the exercise of principles such a man could have little sympathy with the message that offered life to the lost and grace to the guilty. And to the other man, who had allowed reason to usurp the place of faith, whose range of research rose no higher than the plane of human thought, who measured the supernatural by the natural to such a man the story of redemption would seem unreal and foolish. The cross, indeed, had its answer for each. It could tell them of forces far beyond their vision, of wisdom compared with which their own was as naked ignorance; for to those who will receive it in God's own way, it will reveal secrets for which ages have laboured in vain. So comes the fourfold experience which apart from Christ no human mind has ever conceived 'Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption'. World-wisdom, or, to borrow an alien but familiar word, Zeitgeist the spirit of the times, knows not God, nor the things of God. It may talk about Him, and it may criticise them, but it knows not either. That knowledge, as the Apostle has reminded us, comes not by world-wisdom, but by the exercise of spiritual and God-given faculties.
II. The story of modern missions in this respect is the same as the story of the Apostolic day and the story of the living Church in every age. Conditions differ, of course, but the same causes are producing like results. The signs that follow the missionary today are just as much evidence of a Divine presence and of Divine forces at work with him as those seen by the early Church. When we hear, as, thank God, we so often hear, of some bitter Moslem turning to worship the Son of God, or some proud Brahmin counting all things lost for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, or some poor pagan cleansed from loathsome vice and superstition, are we not face to face with facts which are just as truly 'signs and wonders' as those which were wrought in Apostolic times? And they can only be explained in the same way. They are also to be seen not only in separate instances but on a wider scale. The Cross draws men together still as it did then; it influences communities as well as individuals. In the ordered growth of Christian Churches, in the promotion of higher standards of social duty, in a new sense of brotherhood, in the elevation of home life, and not least in a wider outlook and in service for them that are without; in such facts as these, and many others of the same kind, must we not devoutly and gratefully recognise tokens of superhuman wisdom and supernatural power at work on the consciences and lives of men?
III. And we are still far from the end of the message. We have been thinking only of the manifestation of Christ with regard to ourselves for us men and our salvation. We know, we think we know, what Christ did for us on the cross, and we speak of 'the innumerable benefits which by His precious blood-shedding He hath obtained for us': but there is another side on which I fancy few ponder. What is the Cross but Jesus Himself? Are the redemption and reconciliation of fallen man, marvellous, indeed, beyond all human thought, the final object of the Incarnation and the death and the Resurrection of the Lord? But may not reverent faith, led by the teaching of the Spirit, show us that an even greater purpose lies beyond? There is a profound saying of Jonathan Edwards, which runs thus: 'The emanation of His own infinite fulness was aimed at by God as the end of His creation'. How much more, then, of His creation restored in Christ? In one of those sublime glimpses of the other world which are given in the closing pages of the Bible, the occupants of the new heaven and the new earth are seen engaged in the highest acts of which created beings are capable; and there rises the united offering of angelic and human adoration before the throne of the eternal God, 'Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
H. G. Fox, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxix. p. 312.
References. I. 23-24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. Nos. 7 and 8. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1551, p. 41. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 18. I. 24. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, pp. 33 and 41. J. Oswald Dykes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 373. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 132.
1 Corinthians 1:25
The philosopher aspires to explain away all mysteries, to dissolve them into light. It is mystery, on the other hand, which the religious instinct demands and pursues: it is mystery which constitutes the essence of worship, the power of proselytism. When the cross became the 'foolishness' of the cross, it took possession of the masses. And in our own day, those who wish to get rid of the supernatural, to enlighten religion, to economise faith, find themselves deserted, like poets who should declaim against poetry, or women who should decry love.
Amiel's Journal (June, 1870).
References. I. 25. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 265. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 214.
1 Corinthians 1:26
'Saturday, 17th November (London). I spent an hour,' writes Wesley in his Journal for 1759, 'agreeably and profitably with Lady G H and Sir C H . It is well a few of the rich and noble are called. O that God would increase their number! But I should rejoice (were it the will of God) if it were done by the ministry of others. If I might choose, I should still (as I have done hitherto), preach the Gospel to the poor.'
Not many wise, rich, noble, or profound
In science, win one inch of heavenly ground.
And is it not a mortifying thought
The poor should gain it, and the rich should not?
No: the voluptuaries, who ne'er forget
One pleasure lost, lose heaven without regret;
Regret would rouse them, and give birth to prayer,
Prayer would add faith, and faith would fix them there.
Cowper, Truth (337 f.).
References. I. 26. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 275; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 98. I. 26, 27. J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 54. 1. 26-28. E. M. Geldart, Faith and Freedom, p. 15. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 113. I. 26-29. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 587.
1 Corinthians 1:27
Sir John Hooker has pointed out a very remarkable illustration of this, in showing that... the English fly soon supersedes entirely the disgusting and enormous blue-bottle of New Zealand. The English rat drives out the Maori rat. The little clover competes successfully even with the phormium tenax, the sword-flax, 'a plant of the coarsest, hardest, and toughest description, that forms huge matted patches of woody rhizomes, which send up tufts of sword-like leaves six to ten feet high, and inconceivably strong in texture and fibre'. This is 'the weak things of the world confounding the mighty' over again, though in a purely physical sense.
R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, p. 53.
1 Corinthians 1:27-28
In his essay on George Eliot's Life and Letters, Mr. R. H. Hutton declares 'that her ambition always took an intellectual form, that she despised the moral judgment of those who were not intellectual, and never shared a trace of sympathy with the Christian principle "embodied in the above verses". George Eliot had absolutely none of this feeling.'
In modern Christendom it is not merely our theories of life but the facts of life that have changed. 'Weak things of the world and things that are despised hath God called.' With the recognition of rights in human beings as such, there comes a new realisation of human capacities, not only for the emancipated multitude, but for those whom Aristotle would have allowed to be previously sharers in the βιός πρακτικός . The problems of life become for them far more difficult indeed, but first on account of their greater range and complication, they become of such a kind as to elicit powers previously unused.
T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics (III. 5).
Reference. I. 27. J. B. Johnston, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 252.
1 Corinthians 1:30
All early Christians taught in the same manner. They never cared to expound the nature of this or that virtue; for they knew that the believer who had Christ had all. Did he need fortitude? Christ was his rock: Equity? Christ was his righteousness: Holiness? Christ was his sanctification: Liberty? Christ was his redemption: Temperance? Christ was his ruler: Wisdom? Christ was his light: Truthfulness? Christ was the Truth: Charity? Christ was love.
Ruskin, Stones of Venice, vol. II. chap. VIII.
References. I. 30. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 211. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, pp. 213, 223, 234. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 282. W. B. Selbie, The Servant of God, p. 201. I. 30, 31. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 991.
1 Corinthians 1:31
'Religion,' says Butler in his thirteenth sermon, 'does not demand new affections, but only claims the direction of those you already have, those affections you daily feel.... We only represent to you the higher, the adequate objects of those very faculties and affections. Let the man of ambition go on still to consider disgrace as the greatest evil; honour, as his chief good. But disgrace, in whose estimation? Honour, in whose judgment? This is the only question.'
Reference. I. 31. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1178.
1 Corinthians 1:31
The first text chosen by R. W. Dale as co-pastor at Carr's Lane Meeting, Birmingham.
Reference. II. 1, 2. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 187.