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1 Corinthians 1:1. Called (to be) an apostle.—Only here and in Romans 1:1. For exact force choose between, (a) one of Christ’s “called” ones, who am also, in point of fact, an apostle; and (b) called specially to this, that I might be one of Christ’s apostles [q.d. perhaps, “Though at Corinth there are some who say that I was not so called”]. Both are true; the latter here more likely. The external call and ordination of the Church (Acts 13:1-2) coinciding with, and following upon, the internal and primary call of Christ Himself (Acts 22:17-21). By the will of God.—Shutting out, (a) man’s authority, (b) any personal merit in Paul. Sosthenes.—Not certainly he of Acts 18:17, though Bengel believes the beating had the happy effect of making him a Christian; as, similarly, the impressment of Simon of Cyrene may have made him and his wife and sons Christians (Mark 15:21; Romans 16:13).
1 Corinthians 1:2. Church of God.—So he calls it (but query the reading?) a little later (Acts 20:28). New Testament equivalent of Old Testament “congregation of Jehovah” (e.g. Numbers 16:3; Deuteronomy 23:2). In Corinth.—In Corinth, of all unlikely places! (see Homily). Sanctified.—Note the perfect tense. A sanctification of relation to God (as 1 Corinthians 7:14), established at a definite date in the past, continuing into the present. Called (to be) saints.—Parallel to Paul’s call to office (1 Corinthians 1:1). Call upon the name.—As Ananias bade Paul do, when he was becoming a Christian (Acts 22:16) [N. B. reading]. As Paul had heard Stephen do (Acts 7:59) [cf. Paul’s “I appeal (same word) unto Cæsar” (Acts 25:11). But this only illustrates a special case of the “calling upon.” Word covers whole range of Prayer, as in the Old Testament equivalent and LXX. parallels]. With all, etc.—Q.d. “I am not writing to you only, though to you primarily and immediately, i.e. my letter to you is also for all who invoke Christ in their prayers, everywhere and in all ages” [cf. Revelation 2:7, where what Christ says to Ephesus the Spirit says to the Churches]. Theirs and ours.—Most probably, “Their (Lord) and ours.”
1 Corinthians 1:3.—Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), and even James (1 Corinthians 1:1) and the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:23), begin with “Greeting,” the ordinary secular phrase. Here enlarged and ennobled by the Gospel into “grace,” joined with the Old Testament “peace.” Note how, as matter of course, Paul makes Christ a concurrent and co-ordinate source of grace with the Father.
1 Corinthians 1:4.—Dean Howson (Hulsean Lectures, Character of St. Paul, iv.) remarks upon this and many similar incidental indications of Paul’s tendency to break out into praise or prayer. “Pray without ceasing; in everything [even for the good in a Church so full of evils as the Corinthian] give thanks.”
1 Corinthians 1:4. My God.—“My,” q.d. not only, “Whose I am, and whom I serve” (Acts 27:23), but also, “Whom I know, and call, and claim Mine!” (Philippians 4:19). “We belong to each other! I am His; He is mine. Note, “was given,” “were enriched” (R.V.).
1 Corinthians 1:5.—“The grace,” namely this, that “ye were enriched.” Note, in Him” (R.V.). Cf. Colossians 2:9, “In Him dwelleth all the fullness, … and in Him ye are made full.” All utterance, all knowledge.—How glorious and serviceable, but rare, a combination of gifts! How “enriched” the man, the Church, who can speak in all needed modes of expression, all needed, or possible, phases of divine knowledge!
1 Corinthians 1:6. Even as.—Q.d. your enrichment is after the glorious measure and fulness of the confirmation. The testimony.—Whose great, central subject and burden is Christ. Was confirmed.—A special instance of Mark 16:20. Other cases: Acts 2:4 (tongues), Acts 2:43 (wonders and signs), Acts 10:44; Acts 10:46 (Cornelius), Acts 19:1-6 (Baptist’s converts at Ephesus).
1 Corinthians 1:7.—Q.d. “Whilst ye are, as the normal attitude of the Christian life, waiting for” (cf. 2 Peter 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 9:28).
1 Corinthians 1:8.—It was confirmed; you shall be. Everybody and everything connected with the kingdom of God is “in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Note, “unreproveable” (R.V.).
“Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?”
(Romans 8:33). “Shall not come into condemnation” (John 5:24).
1 Corinthians 1:9.—Same connection of thought as 1 Thessalonians 5:24, viz. “Because He is faithful, He cannot but finish, by confirming you unto the end, what He began when He called you into the fellowship.” Fellowship of.—Your common sharing in and with (Romans 8:17) Him. So of and with are both in Hebrews 3:14. Note the solemn enumeration, at full length, of the names and titles of Christ. Paul a herald proclaiming the names and style of the King his Master.
1 Corinthians 1:10. “Fellowship?”—Then what is this I hear about “divisions”? Divisions.—Schisms. Not yet four mountains; as yet one mountain with four summits (Evans). Joined together.—Medical word (“restore,” Galatians 6:1), as if suggesting, Not yet cut off from the body, but dislocated in the body. “Let the displacement be reduced, and all brought back to ease and peace.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Observe (I.) The Twofold Call: (A) Paul’s to Apostleship; (B) Theirs to Saintship.
Observe (II.) The Twofold Holiness: (A) a. Ideal, b. Relative; (B) Real.
Observe (III.) The Twofold Bond of Fellowship: (A) “Our Brother”; (B) “That call upon … theirs and ours.”
Observe (IV.) The Twofold Blessing, with a Twofold Source: (A) “Grace and Peace”; (B) Father; Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:1-3. Observe (I.) The twofold call: (A) Paul’s to Apostleship; (B) Theirs to Saintship.—A.
1. He was “separated, even from his mother’s womb, and called through God’s grace” (Galatians 1:15). “No man taketh,” wisely, “this honour unto himself,” any more than did even the Great Apostle of our profession His Priesthood (Hebrews 5:4). How should he run, to any purpose, unless he be sent?
2. As we speak, conceiving of God’s thoughts and purposes and work with “before” and “after” and “after the manner of men,” this call to take up and fulfil Office is a thing more nearly depending upon “the will of God” alone than is the other call to assume and realize and exhibit Character. He seems to give no account of His ways, e.g., in an analogous case, in selecting, using, blessing, and perhaps thus setting aside, one Nation rather than another for some special purpose in His government of the world; or (e.g. Romans 9:0) in choosing to make the Life of the world depend upon the line of Isaac rather than of Ishmael, or of Jacob rather than of the elder Esau; or why, of all the fishermen in Galilee, Peter, of all the publicans, Matthew, or of all Saul’s family circle, himself, should have been selected for pre-eminent apostolate. It often looks as if such call were precedent to all qualification or grace.
3. And yet, not irrespective of natural qualification or grace. (But the “natural” is the ordering of the Author of Nature and the Creator of the individual Man.) Paul was a suitable vessel, as well as “a chosen vessel.” Are we to say “chosen” because “suitable”? In natural endowment, as well as by providential training, he was the very man to carry the “grace” (Romans 1:5), and to do the work of an apostle. A thorough Israelite, in mind, and education, and sympathy; and yet from Tarsus, a Gentile city, where he escaped something of the rigidity and narrowness of Palestinian Judaism, such as would have entirely disqualified him for approaching the Gentile mind and heart; a noble personal character even before his conversion; he was made for the work, and was only waiting the conversion and the call and the qualifying Holy Spirit.
4. A call to the ministry always presupposes: (a) Gifts. Without these natural points of fitness, not even grace can make the best man a successful minister. Given these, the rest is a question of prayer and hard work. Grace may always be had for the asking (James 1:5 : “If any man lack, … let him ask,” etc.). Conversely, the possession of the gifts may set up a fair presumption that their possessor is designed for their complementary work. He should hold himself in readiness for the definite “call.” (b) Grace. Grace may fail to get married to gifts; they may be divorced through unfaithfulness, sloth, or sin. May not even an apostle fall from his grace? Is there only one Judas, an apostle who never fairly began his special work? The unfathomable mystery of the twin problems of Evil and of Free-will of course lies all around and beneath. But as matter of practical conduct, are there no men designed by natural equipment for apostleship, for the ministry, for honourable and blessed Church office who have turned aside from the “call,” or by early giving up self to sin or the world have barred the call which might else have come? Or, short of this, are there none in the Church designed for higher service than what they actually fulfil; who are blessed in their business, but were meant for the ministry; who honour God, and are honoured by Him, but who hold only a second-best place, and receive only a second-best blessing? (c) Fruit. Have they, upon experiment made, found the natural equipment and the added grace fruitful in “turning (Acts 26:18) some from darkness to light”? If this never follows—though “fruit” is hard to judge of, it is so many-sided, and sometimes so obscure a thing—then there has been a mistake somewhere. A physician of souls, who never heals anybody—however he may be diplomaed—has missed his “calling.” (d) Happy for the “apostle” if there be the concomitant, complementary, independent, clear calls, within from the Master, and without from the God-directed Church. (See Critical Notes, 1 Corinthians 1:1, supra.) Happy, if he can say to many, “The seal of my apostleship are ye” (chap. 1 Corinthians 9:2). Happy, if the “call” never become to an unfaithful steward of it (chap. 1 Corinthians 4:2) a condemnation and a torturing memory.
1. Every call involves in the response to it both Responsibility and Blessing. The call to Office throws up most prominently the Responsibility; the call to Saintship the Blessing. It is a perpetual invitation. Observe in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He that—not called, but—calleth you, who also will do it,” viz. “will sanctify you wholly,” etc.
2. The call to take up the life of the Christian has always this at the heart of it: “Be ye holy” [“Ye shall be holy”]. But it comes in many shapes, according as the ear and heart are ready, or not, to catch and respond to this, its truest meaning and purpose. To the weary, sin-sick, world-sick, unsatisfied life: “Come to Me; I will give you Rest!” To many a God-fearing Israelite, bound under a yoke of multiplied and vexatious prescriptions, “a yoke which neither he nor his fathers were able to bear” (Acts 15:10), the Gospel came as a call “to liberty” (Galatians 5:13). And such have their sympathising analogues in every generation. To souls at lower levels and of duller ear the call has to come, thundering, “Escape for thy life! There is ‘wrath to come.’ ”
3. And, as many forms, so many methods, of the call. A friend stricken down by the side of a Luther “calls.” The invisible seems suddenly to break in upon a sense-bound, world-narrowed man, he hardly knows how or why. He is looking into an open grave, and finds himself gazing into eternity; he is gazing blankly, stunned, at a letter lying upon his office desk, telling him of a great loss, and even the letter and the immediate loss fade away and disappear; he finds himself, “very inconsequently,” pondering, “What shall it profit a man?” etc. He is having one of many, oft-repeated calls. As before a worldling, man or woman, in the very whirl of the world’s life, there suddenly rises up a fair and lovely Ideal of a holy life; strangely the heart goes out, approvingly, longingly, toward it. Not always responded to, but there is the call. And even the man who responds only to the call of his fears of wrath and hell, finds when he enters upon the new life [and there is no “seeing” the kingdom of God” without “entering” it, John 3:3, compared with 5] that he has begun to “follow” not chiefly after safety and heaven, but “after holiness” (Hebrews 12:14).
4. Every man “had his calling” (chap.1 Corinthians 7:20; 1 Corinthians 7:20). The secular station and business is by the call of God, and therefore holy. And conversely, holiness is the calling, the business, of the spiritual life. “A Christian? Yes; but he is not working much at it,” is the reason of so many ineffective, unsatisfied Christian lives. They “grieve the Holy Spirit” who calls them, and would help them, to holiness. It is an interest of their lives, but should be the main interest and business. They are called to be saints; but being saints wants attending to, seriously and diligently, as a holy “vocation.” [The preacher may notice and use: (a) The distinction between κεκλημένος, e.g. Matthew 22:3-4; Matthew 22:8, the Supper parable, and the κλητοί, here and in the similar passage, Romans 1:0, ad init. The κλητοί are the new people of God, the new Israel; their calling being ideally complete. In κεκλημένος (perf. part.) we see the actual, historical calling of individuals being carried on. (b) The calling is in the root of ἐκκλησία=Church.]
Observe (II.) The twofold holiness: (A) a. Ideal, b. Relative; (B) Real.—(A) They are sanctified in Christ Jesus; (B) They are called to be saints. A.
1. Every great, leading Idea of Revelation, that of Holiness, like the rest, was revealed “in divers portions and in divers manners.” [So God, in the ordering of the historical, physical unfolding of His mind and purpose in creation, led up to Man by preluding hints and anticipatory forms, revealing Man “in divers portions and in divers manners,” until at last Adam stood forth the complete utterance of His thought, toward which He had been working all through the ages. Yet He had a still grander Word to speak forth, which is heard, seen, in His Incarnate Son. Perfect, ideal human nature and human life are there (Hebrews 2:8-9); a sinless Humanity in perfect fellowship with the Divine. All such subsidiary, partial revelations of God’s thoughts, as that about Holiness, follow on the same lines, obey the same law of disclosure, because they are really sub-sections of the greater disclosure. Their progressive unfolding is part of the greater progression and unfolding.] He began with a holiness of relation to Himself. “Holy” days, not physically in any way different from common days; “holy” ground, not distinguishable from the adjacent soil; “holy” garments, neither finer nor more costly than ordinary ones; a “holiness” which might belong to the firstborn produce of a flock, or a field, or a family, and even to the “brass” of the censers of Korah and his associates;—in all these the “holiness” was only separation, from common use and human ownership, that they might be devoted to the exclusive use and worship of Jehovah. [So, in the Polynesian groups, the order of a chief might make food, or property, or persons, tabu, and exclusively for himself.] In the Mosaic code such embodiments and presentations of “holiness” abounded. But this was only an elementary lesson, given to a nation which had barely passed childhood in spiritual knowledge. In the mind of God, to speak humanly, all these looked forward to, were the first steps in a path leading human thought and practice toward a real holiness. Separateness is by no means the only, and the final, meaning of “holiness,” in either the Old Testament, or (certainly) in the New Testament. “Separation is here [story of Balaam: ‘The people dwelt alone’], as throughout the Old Testament, the symbol of sanctity, the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace, the grace which impels men and women to the pursuit of a pure and unworldly life, and makes righteousness … their chief end and highest good” (S. Cox, Expos., 1883, p. 205). [The separateness is the first, and for some time the only, thing our children can see or appreciate about, e.g., the holiness of the Sabbath. The intrinsic value and the deep meaning of the day comes long after, and only fully through the perceptions and experiences of the regenerate life. They, in fact, begin, each of them, where Israel began centuries ago, and rapidly run through and summarise in their own learning the lessons and the process distributed over centuries in the education of mankind.] “We may be made partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10) shows that separateness of a relation to God is not the only or the chief idea, but a personal quality. Historically this is the final point reached in the Revelation of Holiness; really, if we may so speak, it is the first, the full, the originating point, as mapped out in God’s purpose. Looking back over the completed series of Divine teachings, we can now see that, starting from the idea of character, a holiness of quality which is like God’s own holiness, will, in a fallen world, whose life is affected at every point by sin, inevitably work out in a separateness of conduct and of relation to God. [In what God’s holiness consists is a profound question. Is the One Absolute Right, right for all worlds, and ages, and creatures, and for their Creator—Truth; the One Absolute Wrong, for Him and them, Falsehood, or as John says, “A Lie”? Can we be made “partakers of His holiness,” in any sense in which He will be a partaker with us, except that of Love, Life, Truth?]
2. Israel was ideally a people both personally holy and relatively holy. In point of fact, the personally holy individuals were very few in any age, and their holiness was often extremely imperfect. Yet the whole nation was “separated” in a hundred ways from all other peoples. It was the “people of” Jehovah’s “possession,” peculiarly His in a world where all peoples are His. Their King repeatedly saw in them, and in them dealt with, an ideal people, rather than with the actually fickle, rebellious, faithless, idolatry-loving nation. Honours, protection, knowledge, a distinguished regard showing itself in many ways, were given to the real Israel for the sake of the Ideal, and not withdrawn, even in days of deep or widespread national unfaithfulness; not until the time had come for a new Israel, a new “peculiar people,” a new “Church” [for the old, hear Stephen, Acts 7:38], indeed for a new Race to spring from a new, a second Adam. The localisation in one special land was to pass away; the restriction to one special nation was to be abolished; not national birth (John 1:13), but “new birth,” birth “of God” [ib.], was to be the principle of succession and evolution, as between generation and generation. The new Israel has stepped into the separated position of the old, and stands in the old speciality of relationship. At its most unworthy, worldly, depressed point the Church of Christ is still the separated people of God, “sanctified” as the old was.
3. “In Christ Jesus”. As Abraham and his seed through Isaac and Jacob are for many purposes to be regarded and dealt with as a great Unit of reckoning [e.g. Hebrews 7:5; Hebrews 7:10; Galatians 3:16-18; and N. B. how Isaiah goes back to this, Isaiah 51:2], and are “Abraham” in the transaction; so “Christ” stands, a great Unit of reckoning, for Christ and His people, God’s new people, sprung from Him, their new ancestor. He and they are taken together (Galatians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:12). His clients are in favour, for His sake, and along with Him. Indeed, they “are not,” do not count as existing, until they believe “into Him” and live “in Him.” There is no “sanctified” Israel to-day except the persons who are “in Christ.” [The relation of Christian baptism to this relative sanctification will come up later, chap. 1 Corinthians 7:14.]
1. This is great honour and great responsibility. Each member of it is called to realise in himself the separateness, the relative holiness of the whole; and to realise in his character the likeness to God which underlies the separateness, and without which, indeed, the separateness becomes a mere empty conformity to certain codified restrictions and observances, mostly worthless, unless as expressing or assisting a life within, a conformity which will not long survive the extinction of the life within. “They will go out from us,” and merge themselves in the general mass of mankind, laying aside their separateness and “sanctification,” that they may be manifest that they “were not,” or had ceased to be, “of us” (1 John 2:19).
2. The separateness for God, and so from any use which cannot conceivably be included in life for Him, will be the only sanctification of which their body is capable. It is matter, morally neutral; its powers and appetites, necessarily in themselves morally neutral, may equally well be made the “instruments of righteousness” or “of unrighteousness” (Romans 6:13). It is for them to see that tongue, or hand, or foot, or eye, or ear, are always ready for use by God, and are never employed for anything incongruous with His mind and law; always held at His service and disposal; always denied to the use of Sin in every shape. The body can only be holy as the brass of the censers was holy.
3. So, too, imagination, curiosity, judgment, reasoning powers, will, etc., may be lent to sin, or may be kept for God. “May,”—they must. “Holiness unto the Lord” must be written across them all, in all their exercise.
4. And all this not merely by means of regulations imposed from without, but in obedience to a new law of life within. The indwelling Holy Spirit will be a new life, and a new power to the will. Love to God will exert “the expulsive power of a new affection,” and cast out with growing completeness every opposing motive. The same love will carry with it in willing subjection all the exercise of every faculty, and make all tend toward God; the self-centering of life, which is the highest form of Idolatry [the “Man of Sin” exhibits his culminating wickedness in this: “Himself set forth as God,” 2 Thessalonians 2:4], will be exchanged for a convergence of every line of feeling and action upon God as Centre and Object and End. “Separated for God” will be the instinctive, inevitable, happy expression of life within.
5. This will be perfect spiritual health, “life which is life indeed,” man’s life as in the original conception and intention of God in creating Man; and there will be the perfect correspondence between ideal and fact, the perfect self-consistency and internal harmony, which in its highest exemplification is the Truth of God’s own Character and Nature.
6. The very fact, then, that a man is of the Church, and “in Christ Jesus” is “sanctified,” speaks to him, “calls” to him, reminding Him of God’s purpose, and of God’s claim upon him. The Spirit, if he will keep an open ear, will be continually reminding him of the significance of his place in the new Israel, and be offering His own instruction, and leading up to a higher and ever higher type of Christian life. [The very world, in a way, calls him to holiness; for no one is more exacting, more just, in its expectation that Christians should be holy men than they, or has a higher standard of Christian separateness and holiness than the men “of the world.”]
Observe (III.) A twofold bond of fellowship: (A) “Our brother” (the brother, Gr.); (B) “That call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in every place, their (Lord) and ours.”—A.
1. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” were to our fathers’ ears associated with Unbelief and Revolution. Yet they are all, especially the last, ideas derived from the Gospel of Christ. They are not natural to the human heart; when its tendencies reveal themselves in simple openness, they emphasise Self and Class and Pride. The long experiment of antiquity showed that even a common manhood in the race was no native idea to the human heart; brotherhood was unheard of. The stranger in old times was, even as a point of vocabulary, also the enemy; Pascal remarks sadly on the persistency of the feeling, making this slope of the Pyrenees to be the home of “friends,” and the further slope the home of “enemies.” Shame that the preachers of Unbelief should have seemed often the louder, bolder preachers of “Fraternity,” whilst the Church of Christ, in some temporary, local embodiment, seemed to stand by the class distinction, the iniquitous privilege, the wealth as against poverty. If the Church hold its peace, the stones must needs cry out and preach the gospel of “brotherhood.”
2. “Barbarian, Scythian, bond, free, circumcision, uncircumcision, male, female, all one in Christ Jesus,” was the keynote of the new social system of Christianity. Neither sex, nor race, nor religion, nor station, carried privilege or prejudice as to status before God and access to His saving favour. In the early Church the slave and the master would sit at the same Lord’s Supper; it might even happen that the office-bearer was a slave, the private member the freeman. See how honourably prominent women are in the Roman Church, or the Philippian. Paul’s letter to Philemon, for the slave Onesimus, “the brother beloved” of his master Philemon, has always been significantly compared with a letter of Pliny the Younger to Sabinianus his friend, on behalf of an offending freed man, as revealing the utterly diverse conceptions of the relation between man and man on which the pagan and the Christian writers rest their pleading. In Philemon all hinges upon “brother.” Paul addresses his “brother.” Philemon (1 Corinthians 1:20), for his slave “brother” Onesimus (1 Corinthians 1:16). Given that a man were a Christian, early Christian literature lets us see him passing from Church to Church, from city to city, with his “letters of commendation” (2 Corinthians 3:1), receiving hospitality, finding every fellow-Christian ready to be his “host,” asking and receiving assistance in the business on which he was travelling (Romans 16:1; Romans 16:3; 3 John 1:5-8).
3. That Church is losing one of its crowning honours, and losing sight of one of the main points of that Magna Charta of the Kingdom of Heaven, upon which its existence and policy rest, which does not practically work out “a brotherhood” in its membership. Church life must be a Family life, and every member must feel at home. However men may be estimated outside, even as between Christian and Christian, within there should be no such invidious recognition of rank or wealth or education as shall prevent worth carrying a man to his true place in the brotherhood and its work and offices and honour. At the Table of the Elder Brother, above all, must all be forgotten but this, “Brother.”
1. The physical and mental unity of the race lies deeper than the surface divergencies which a century ago were made to argue multiplicity of origin—many “Adams” for as many great, originally distinct races of mankind. Indeed, the evolutionary drift of most modern science so far sustains Scripture teaching as to insist strongly upon the unity which is the natural basis of “brotherhood.” Paul’s argument on Areopagus is cogent still (Acts 18:26).
2. The moral unity, the oneness of heart and conscience, of sin and moral defect, of aspiration after God, is a yet stronger ground for claiming and according “brotherhood.” The same sinful heart in similar conditions brings forth the same crop of sins. The Bible is a universal book; every age and race finds it describe their case with equally correct fidelity. The same Gospel and its remedy awaken the same response, and exhibit the same happy results, in all hearts which give it fair trial. The operation of the soul-medicine is constant in every case. Peter’s unanswerable argument justifies still the broadest brotherliness: “God gave them the like gift, as He did unto us” (Acts 11:17).
3. The “Alliance” and Unity is “Evangelical,” not merely natural. They come to the same God, using the name of the same Christ. All have their access (Ephesians 2:18) through the same door, by the same “new and living Way.” A grand unity! On both sides of “the Pyrenees,” in the tents of two opposing armies, in the council-chambers of opposite political factions, in races as widely apart as Esquimaux and Fijian, as Englishman and native Australian, are found men closer together than ever blood-relationship made kindred by nature. Throughout all ages, and races, and countries, and churches, and ranks are distributed men, women, children, with this one mark in common—they use “the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” in prayer. Indeed, they agree in this, and hardly in more than this, that they pray to this one and the same God-man, who died equally for them all, and who lives on the throne of government for not man only, but for the universe, wearing the nature which belongs to them all. Every man of them feels that his Head is Christ. [Two Christian natives, of different tribes and language, once met at a South African mission station, and found the linguistic barrier insuperable, until one with a bright thought looked up and said, “Jehovah!” The other “caught on,” and responded “Jesus!” “Hallelujah!” said the first; “Amen,” the other. They had then exhausted their stock of Christian language, but “Jesus” had proved their brotherhood.] The world is every day girdled by a succession of praying hearts, who join the Mahometan, the Jew, the Theist, in drawing near to the same God as they, but who are differentiated from even these fellow-worshippers by this, that they “call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” One Baptism, one Supper, one Prayer, one Mediator, one Object of prayer and worship—Christ. [The hymnologies of the Churches, largely common to them all, the identical experiences of all the hearts in them all, who love Christ, vindicate the Church-wide brotherhood. Let them begin to worship, let them begin to talk of the inner life, and they understand each other. Their common bond is “the Name.”] “One Christ died for us all. We all live ‘in’ the one and the same Christ. We all rely on the same Saviour. We all pray to the same God-man. We are diverse enough, to say that we are all ‘Christians’; we are not too friendly with each other; but our common convergence upon Him, our common use of His name in prayer, stamps us one; we are ‘brethren’ of that Brother, ‘theirs and ours.’ ”
Observe (IV.) The twofold blessing, with a twofold source.—A. “Grace and Peace.”—
1. “Grace” is the Greek, Gentile, secular word, originally. “Peace” is the Hebrew, sacred, Biblical word.
2. The free and spontaneous and entirely voluntary character of the bounty lay in the secular use of the Greek word, and fitted it to be a vessel capable of receiving new, Gospel contents and meaning. [Might not God almost have said to the Greek language, “Thou art a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name,” etc.?] Gospel “grace” originates with God, in the mere self-suggesting love of His heart. There must be no claim upon God, and no merit belonging to man, “otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 9:6).
3. The whole bounty of God to Mankind is Grace. The distinction between Providence and Grace often drawn, is too sharp and at bottom unreal; at least there is no actual separation in their practical working. God is gracious in His Providence—it is mere undeserved bounty for Christ’s sake to a lost race. The purpose of His Providence in our life is not merely or chiefly temporal, immediate relief, convenience, profit, happiness, for even His children; but all these as part of a great scheme of a gracious education in holiness and “conformity to the image of His Son.” Every incident of “secular” life is in God’s view ethical, in ours is gracious.
4. Thus “grace” is one of the correlatives of “sin,” in language and in the facts of our life. It is more than bounty to need; it is free, undeserved bounty to sinners.
5. The Gift is one whole bounty; but we approach it on different sides, we draw upon its contents for the special supply of special needs of our fallen or of our regenerate life; at different stages we appreciate different bearings of its provisions upon our case; we therefore distinguish between grace which freely forgives, and grace which sanctifies, and grace which enlightens or delivers. But really the gift was given at one giving, when Christ was given. In a sense the Holy Spirit is the grace par excellence of the New Covenant; yet the gift of Christ carried this further gift within it. To give the One Comforter involved and carried with it as certain, necessary consequence, exsequence, the gift and coming and indwelling of the Other Comforter. Every operation of this gift upon a sinful heart, first and last, is grace. Every fruit of His redemption and of the indwelling of That Other, grace. All good, all Godward movement within us, from the first and faintest to the fullest and deepest going out of a saint’s heart after God, all grace. The “natural” goodness of so many children, the “natural” goodness in a few heathen, the early tenderness of conscience in those, the more or less of light and moral sense in these, all grace, the first workings of the universal gift of the Spirit for the sake of a universal Redeemer.
6. To the fallen race the grace is Redemption; to the individual sinner it may become Salvation; to the Church, at Corinth for example, what? One form of the answer will be “Peace.” No Peace, if there had been no grace; no Peace for a soul or a Church, if grace were sinned away and forfeited. The “God of all [= all forms of] grace” is for one thing the “God of peace” (1 Peter 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, etc. [where the relation between corporate perfectness and peace is very close]). Peace and Grace are “a twofold blessing,” but, more profoundly, one.—
1. What is “Peace” to a Church? When we “pray for the peace of Corinth,” what do we ask? A very pregnant word. Two Orientals to this day meet and greet each other with, “Peace be with thee.” The “Salaam,” universal in the East, becomes a word of customary compliment, like that of our own which once was “God be by you.” Peace meant all possible well-being to the man saluted. The Saviour bade His disciples cross a house-threshold with the salutation, “Peace be to this house”; and the peace was all possible family good, and all possible personal good to every inmate. Hardly needs saying that “peace” to a Church is much more than rest from foes outside and factions within.
2. Peace without sometimes a doubtful blessing. Peace within there must be, or a Church cannot prosper. Zion is always a besieged city. The siege is not always prosecuted with equal vigour, but it is always proceeding. The enemy, never far from the gate, finds his opportunity when the garrison quarrel among themselves. Nothing so much weakened Nehemiah’s hands as the traitors within the walls. In the last terrible overthrow of Jerusalem, from the moment that faction and strife amongst the defenders were added to the awful list of horrors which pressed upon the guilty city, capture by the Romans became a certainty. “As much as lieth in you live peaceably with all,” is counsel more urgent in regard to our dealings with the Church than even with the world outside. Peace within [cf. the factions at Corinth] indispensable.
3. Shall ask for peace outside, with some reserve. The infant Church of Palestine “had peace, and was built up” (Acts 9:31). The chief persecutor was converted. The active enmity and attention of other Jews was diverted by some mad doings of Caligula. The Lord of the Church chose outward peace, in view of their weakness, so that in the lull of the storm the new-made converts were instructed and grew strong. Yet when He has chosen to permit persecution and pressure, it has not been unqualified evil. A common danger has drawn men closer together. At such times the unity is more felt after, and made more evident than the diversities. The testing-time sifts out unfaithful members. Faithful ones become more thorough, as a necessity of their own safety. The walls are often built most diligently and securely in “troublous times” (Daniel 9:5). The Church may not pray for it, but many a worse thing for the real peace of a Church may happen than unpopularity or even persecution. There is no peace when the World and the Devil leave the Church alone, and can afford to do it.
4. A slumbering city by night is at peace. There is peace of the most profound in the streets swept by plague till not a living soul is left. “Peace” to Corinth must not be slumber or death, but wakeful health and life. A Church may have a peace imaged by the decorous quiet of an English town, once foremost in the country’s history and commerce, but now a stranded vessel forsaken by the changed course of the current of modern business or trade; the sluggard peace of honourable history and inherited traditions, of exceeding present-day respectability, but of slow decay. The true peace of a Church is rather the tumult and throng of busy thoroughfares; of an increasing roll of citizenship; of an eager, active population and a vigorous, honourable record of to-day.
5. The peace of a Church, as of a city, means citizens who have this “peace” at heart; of broad view, of great public spirit, of large heart; ready to put the corporate interest of the Church before their own comfort or convenience or preferences; all, in diverse ways, self-denyingly seeking the good of the whole.
6. Most deeply of all, Peace to a Church means Holiness. Its people are a holy people. Its well-being is the sum total of the well-being of them all. Sin is its, and their, weakness; holiness its, and their, well-being and peace. Wealth may pour into the treasury; influence, of a sort, may be increasingly wielded; even numbers may multiply; and yet upon a Church, as upon a man, God’s verdict may be: “There is no peace to the wicked.” For a sleeping, dead, indolent, apathetic, unholy Church there is always the peril that “the things which belong unto its peace should be” for ever “hid from its eyes” (Luke 19:42).
B. The “Father,” and “Christ.”—As the twofold blessing is fundamentally one blessing, so the twofold source is fundamentally one Divine Source.
1. In the fullest form of the Pauline salutation we have “grace, mercy, and peace” (1 Timothy 1:2). In the earliest we have “grace and peace” only, without even the indication of their source (1 Thessalonians 1:1.) An interesting piece of doctrinal development for our study; as though, with ripening years, and ever fuller knowledge and clearer insight—the Spirit of God presiding over the process of mind and heart, guiding into real, if partial, truth at every stage, adding detail, filling up the earlier outline, completing the revelation in its historical disclosure, as the letters of the apostle’s last days are written—Paul had at last found a formula which was adequate to contain all he could ask, all God could give in Christ, to His beloved “children” and converts. Perhaps, also, one may see the Spirit of God making the ripe, final, fullest form of a Christian wish, or prayer, a not uncertain echo of the threefold high-priestly formula of benediction (Numbers 6:24-26), and impressing upon it—as in some Epistles, notably the Ephesian, it is impressed upon the very form of whole paragraphs and their underlying thought—the significant threefold form, so wonderfully persistent all along the course of Revelation, and belonging to the worship of the angels and the Church in heaven also, as well as to the experience and theology of the Church on earth.
2. Yet it would be overpressing the words of Scripture to allot Grace to the Father, Mercy to the Son, Peace to the Spirit. And here the two members of the one clause do not so correspond to the members of the other clause, as that Grace should come through the Father and Peace through Christ, exclusively in either instance. The “Grace of God” and the “Peace of God” are, equally, Scriptural, guiding, terms. The Son is invoked as the source of Grace in the concluding benediction of our two Corinthian letters.
3. The old theologies spoke of an “Economical,” or a “Redemptional,” Trinity. They were endeavouring to express the all-important, much-solving truth that we see Father and Son [and Spirit] not in their absolute, internal, relationships—a veil scarcely ever lifted lies upon those—but in their united working, and distinctly apportioned departments, so to speak, in effectuating the Redeeming purpose of the Grace of God toward a lost world. The Son is carrying out the will of Him that sent Him “about His Father’s business”; He is humbling Himself to be the channel, the essential condition, through which alone the grace of God can take blessed effect upon a sinner’s heart. Communication between God and man is opened up in Christ, and in Him only. [This the true point of the “So” in John 3:16, which is not “so much,” “so greatly,” but “thus,” in this manner: “God loved the world, and loved it thus, viz. that He gave …, in order that the love might mean eternal life to every man believing in Him.” All God’s communication with mankind has presupposed His grace, His loving, spontaneous, active goodwill to them. It is in the background of every approach towards man from His side. And the grace has reached us, can only reach us, through one conduit and channel—Christ. All starts and originates in grace. Peace, like every other expression of this basal grace, has reached us through Christ.
4. If a man therefore refuse Christ, or neglect Him, he can never see peace. This not as any arbitrary, isolated decision of God in his particular case, but because he puts away the Indispensable Condition of communication between God and man. He breaks down or refuses the only bridge over the gulf between them. He shuts the only door against himself, or seeks to find or make some other rather than this. We hardly know how to say that the Son conveys to a soul, or a Church, grace which is the bounty of the Father. The very co-ordination here, the two bracketed, as it were, under one “from,” forbids that.
5. Consider the place which Jesus of Nazareth has come to take, by this early date, in Christian language, thought, life. Could we conceivably associate thus any creature, were he never so exalted, as in any sense the giver of grace and peace concurrently with the Father, Jehovah?
1 Corinthians 1:2. A Church in Corinth: A Wonder.—
1. (a) John once gazed in astonishment upon a “Wonder in heaven” (Revelation 12:1). The “Woman” was the Church of God, in its external aspect as an historical fact, a community, out of which, midway in its continuous (Jewish and Christian) existence, arose the Man-Child (ib., 1 Corinthians 1:5). (b) That Church—in the preincarnation preparation for its Christian stage; in the fitness and the “fulness of the time” (Galatians 4:4) at which its Incarnate Head intervened in the earthly history of its growth; in the “manifold wisdom” (Ephesians 3:10) displayed in all the arrangements of God for creating a new Human Race, redeemed, saved, drawn without distinction from amongst Jews and Gentiles alike, and all finally gathered as a Church, a Family, into the House of its God and Father, every member of it a replica, even in their “bodies of glory” (Philippians 3:2), of the Head and Elder Brother—is all through the ages a Wonder proposed for the instruction and adoring contemplation of “principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph., ubi supr.). (c) That Church is the standing wonder of grace, of historical origin and preservation, of effect upon the world’s life and thought, in all ages. The Redeemer, its Head, stands, not only before the throne of His Father, in the day of the thankful consummation of His triumph (as in Hebrews 2:13), but before the gaze of the successive generations of mankind, and at the bar of their judgment, and borrows the words of the ancient prophet (Isaiah 8:18): “Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me are for signs and for wonders … from the Lord of Hosts.” In the occasional, temporary, embodiment of the principle of “miracle,” the age of miracles has ceased. But, in a deeper sense, it has never ceased, for the Church of Christ is a continuous Miracle. It is a Sign (John’s word, ubi supr.), i.e. it is a fact significant of much more behind, a fact with an Argument in it. Frederick the Great’s chaplain gave a compendious argument for the truth of Revelation: “The Jews, your Majesty.” The origin and history and work of the Christian Church are a similarly compendious argument for, e.g., the verity of the Resurrection of Christ and His actual life to-day in Heaven. The Church on Earth is a Wonder.
2. A Church in Corinth is a Wonder. In Corinth, of all places! Remember (a) Its Surroundings. This was Roman, rather than Grecian, Corinth, which latter had been, even in the ancient world, a proverb of costly, highly organized, luxurious vice, but which, like the polluted Whitehall of Restoration days in England, had, a hundred years or so before, perished in the flames of national overthrow and of Divine wrath, Memmius, the Roman conqueror, like Titus afterwards at Jerusalem, being the unconscious avenger of God’s outraged holiness. But Roman Corinth was corrupt enough; it had all the vice of a seaport town, the convergent point of the traffic and the traders of half the world. Heathenism, too, tends to corruption everywhere; where it does not directly make vice into worship and a source of revenue to idolatry, it has no power or motive for restraining the crude naturalism, the animalism, to which human nature gravitates always. In almost every epistle Paul had to speakplainly and strongly against everyday, open, customary, “fleshly” sin. The very phrase, “the flesh,” is more historical than ethical in its first force and use by him. The city specially of Venus (Aphrodite) was a strange setting for the jewel of a Christian Church. Remember (b) Its Difficulties. For the members every-day life bristled with them. The most elementary Christianity meant a sharp disseverance from many most ordinary practices of heathen, and even Jewish, life. Municipal, family, social, mental, artistic, life—men touched Heathenism, Idolatry, in them all. E.g. “Meat offered to idols” was a large part of the provisions at every public, civic banquet; creating many a difficulty for a Christian citizen. Men could hardly touch anything without handling the “defiling pitch”; every step was near a pitfall. “Conformity to the world” was obviously incongruous with any inward “transfiguration by the renewing of their mind.” Yet, the wonder of it! a Church arose and grew and throve amidst such difficulties. Remember (c) Its Work and Purpose. Christ proposed by this little Church to regenerate Corinth, its morals, its faith, its life. It is a lump of the “salt,” which is to arrest further corruption, and to impregnate the whole life of the city with something of its own gracious savour. It is the housewife’s mass of leavened dough, which is to assimilate to its own condition and characteristics the whole larger mass around it. Like similar Churches which were beginning to dot the map of the empire here and there, this was the first appearance of a centre of holy fermentation, which, with the chemistry and life-processes of grace, was to break up and rearrange in healthy, renewed, order, the corrupting material around it. And yet, wonder of wonders! remember (d) Its own Material.
(1) Socially, hardly anybody of any status; slaves, artisans, more women probably than men, Roman colonists, Corinthian Greeks, and Corinthian Jews. “Not many noble, not many wise,” etc. (1 Corinthians 1:26, sqq.). A Rabbi like Paul, or the great Gamaliel, was an important personage amongst his fellow-Jews; but neither he nor his learning counted for anything with even the second-rate representatives of that aristocracy of mind which had been the glory of Greek philosophy. A ruler of the synagogue could be beaten by the Greek mob before the very tribunal of the proconsul (Acts 18:17), without the courteous Roman gentleman thinking him worth rescue or notice. Gaius, able to act “the host” to the Church, or (perhaps) Stephanas, whose household “addicted themselves” to the service of the saints, may have been a little wealthier than their brethren. But such occasional, and comparative, eminence within the Church was lost in a dead level of social insignificance when looked upon by the great people outside and above them.
(2) Then, personally, factious, proud, boastful, suspicious; the Greeks among them intellectually vain, without real knowledge to support their pretentions to be philosophically minded, and worst of all, hard to wean from the heathen evil of their old lives and of the surrounding world. Of such a people God is about to make a Church, and with such Churches to save the dying, or dead and corrupting, ancient world!
3. The Coming Wonder is the success of God’s method. Such Churches did save the world, and infuse into it a new life. It has never been God’s method, nor must it be ours, to wait vainly wishing for material and systems and workers, such as are ideally necessary or desirable, before attempting anything for Him; still less to do nothing unless our personnel, and doctrine, and methods commend themselves to human reason or the natural human heart. “The best” may in that way be “the enemy of the good.” “Imperfect” characters, “imperfect” work, “unreasonable” doctrine,—we will find the best we may,—with such much real work for God may be done, and has been done. The difficulty was, not the surroundings of the Church, nor the conditions of society, but the evil within the Church. “If the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall ‘the world’ be salted?”
4. A Church, a Christian, could live in Corinth, and might be a “saint” there; was “called to be a saint” there, and nowhere else. Obadiah can live in the court of Ahab, if need be. “Saints” may live saints in even Nero’s household. In fact, in greater or less degree, every steady, consistent, persistent, Christian is “a sign unto his generation.” He is sometimes a very Jonah kept alive in the dark “belly of hell.” If there is an Apology for Christianity in the continued existence and success of the Christian Church, there is as true an Apology for it in the life and faithfulness of the individual Christian, in Corinth, or elsewhere. He also is “a fact with an argument in it.” Of the same flesh and blood, of like passions, with the same liabilities and dangers,—what is it makes him so different, calm under trial, patient under persecution, able to forgive his enemies, fearless in the presence of death, and, not least, “keeping himself unspotted from the world,”—what is this Religion, what is there in it, that it can work this continuous miracle of fifty, sixty, seventy years of a holy life? Christians are “men greatly wondered at” (Zechariah 3:8).
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 1:1-10
A. “To me to” write “is Christ.”—So we might make Paul say, almost on the strength of this paragraph. George Whitefield once said, toward the end of a letter to some correspondent, on some indifferent or business topic, “I must have something of Christ in all my letters,” and thereupon proceeded to subjoin some religious talk. How these verses bristle with “The Name” (3 John 1:7, R.V.). The lines are embroidered, wrought throughout, emblazoned, with the name. The Epistle closes in a white-heat of passionate, intolerant devotion to Christ (1 Corinthians 16:22). Here we might not have supposed that Paul had yet “warmed to his subject.” But he never needs “warming” to this subject. He is ready at a moment’s notice, not only to break out into thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 1:4), but to mention his Master’s name. Or without notice, for it is the instinct and habit of his thought. The page is emblazoned with “The Name,” and indeed with the names. Paul is an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) introducing his business with a proudly solemn and stately announcement, in all due and ceremonious form, of the style and titles of the King who sends him. Paul is the bearer of the mind and will of a Son—God’s Son,—a Son unique of this sort,—whose full name and style is, “Jesus—Christ—His Son—His Only Son—Our Lord.” “Take notice of my Master’s name!” [“My God,” in comparison with the stately array of names and titles of his Master, seems quite homely, and touchingly, trustfully, familiar.] No wonder that the clever wit-mongers, the Antiochians, hit off so happily in their nickname the characteristic of these Nazarenes. Their preachers were ever talking of some one known amongst themselves and their hearers as “Christ”; you could not listen long to their uttorances before His name occurred in their discourses. Did men overhear two of these strange people conversing together in the street, or anywhere else, they were sure before very long to bring in His name. [Cf. the Rabbinical rule: “Let not two Israelites meet and separate without a word about the Law.”] He seemed always a topic welcome to their lips. What should they be called? The Antiochians would surely not let them go long without a sobriquet; it would be a reflection on the reputation of their city to let these people slip by unnamed. “Call them ‘Christians’!” Here Christ is in all; touches all; the whole Church, each individual member; every gift; all the fellowship; and gathers up to Himself all hope and desire. Past, Present, Future, all are linked with Christ.
B. I. The Past was full of Him.—As they look backward along the perspective of the Past they see that with Him all the lines of present life and blessing have originated. He is their radiant point. From the first, all the “grace” and gifts which now so enrich them, that they “come behind in no gift,” were all long ago given “in Him” (1 Corinthians 1:4). Potentially every gift was in that first Unspeakable Gift” (see under 2 Corinthians 1:20).
II. The Present is full of Him.—
1. He is the basis and bond of their fellowship.—Besides the great, deep cleft yawning between Jew and Gentile, there were divisions of race dividing Gentile from Gentile; divisions of sex; divisions of station, slave from master, poor from rich: but out of this medley material a new Unity was being created, a new Communion, “The Fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Outside of Him they may either be separate and independent units, or may group themselves on other lines or round other nuclei of opinion or object in life. Their common relation to Him gives them a relation to each other. “Friends of the same Friend are friends of one another” here, though on all other grounds they be strangers from the ends of the earth. Only in the One whose manhood was, in the truest sense, of no nationality, though He sprung from one special branch of the great human family—only in the One who was so entirely “The Son of Man” that no race, no sex, no rank, no age, has ever felt Him a Jew, or alien from itself—could there be a basis for a world-wide fellowship. Only such a Brother and Redeemer of all men alike, could draw together and hold together the diverse elements which were included within the sacred circle and family bond of the “fellowship.” Take the Second Adam away, the new Race, the new Humanity, the Church, resolves itself into its units again, with their isolation and perhaps their antagonisms. Their fellowship is realised as they worship. The world over, prayer and praise are going up to God, the Great Object of worship; but Christian worship converges to the throne through one Door and Avenue of approach—Christ. The differentia of Christian worship, its “note” of unity amidst all its diversity, is that “all in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christian worship, all Christian intercourse with God, passes through Him. He has made it possible.
2. He is the beginning and the continuance of their holiness.—They were sanctified “in Him,” with a relative holiness, from the beginning, and all realisation of this ideal, all their “confirmation” in their holy status, is distinctly His work (1 Corinthians 1:8). And this stands closely connected in fact with another “confirmation”, that of “the testimony of Christ.” The strength is from no outward support merely or chiefly, but from within. [The weak spine may be “confirmed” by the iron supports strapped on outside the patient’s body. The best “confirmation” would be that within, the strengthening of the spine itself.] They stand strong, four-square to all blasts, firm amidst all assaults, until “the End” (1 Corinthians 15:24, perhaps), not alone, nor most of all, because He directly and from without upholds them, but because within them “the testimony is confirmed.” Every point of the witness, both of the Holy Spirit and of Apostles, concerning Christ is verified in their experience. They know that He is a Saviour, and Divine, for He is that to them. There is no promise, implied or expressed, whose root is in Him, which they may not prove, and are not proving, to be true. They stand “confirmed” because they take Him to be “Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). In the fullest sense they find the pledges of His very Name, “Jesus,” abundantly redeemed, and are kept with a continuous Salvation. The external testimony answers point by point to the internal experiences. It is “confirmed in” them by the very same facts of grace which together make up their “confirmation” also. There is no believer in Christianity like the man in whom its great facts have become experiences. Ought we to say that there is no real believer in Christianity except such a man? And the testimony is “of Christ.”
3. What Paul and his fellow-workers had to offer to Corinth and the world was a “testimony.”—They were witnesses, not philosophers; reporters, not authors; they handed on what was first given to them, and did not propose for acceptance what they had themselves in any sense devised. It is true that the testimony has passed through their own mind; each of them puts his own individuality upon the form of delivery; each of them is entrusted with only part; to some is given more than to others, but to each probably just that which he could naturally best appreciate. [The burner gives its own size and shape to the jet of burning gas which it passes. The jet of the fountain also gives shape to the stream of water issuing from it. A group of burners, passing out the gas from one common supply-pipe, will give each its own shape and size of flame, whilst contributing to the one light. (Such illustrations are of course not to be pressed far).] Yet they are witnesses, and no more. As to the great fundamental, historical facts in which Christianity rests, they speak as bearing testimony. When they preach doctrines which are the superstructure upon or the consequences of, the facts, these are not their own inferences, or deductions, or speculations. They are reporters of what the Spirit of God has told them. This narrowed range of work and function—simply witness-bearing—was their strength; as it is still the strength of the preacher and worker. Every great religious awakening affords many examples of the power of testimony, even when that testimony is nothing more than the story of the speaker’s conversion and his “present experience.” It has often been from rude lips a mighty power with cultured people. The facts of the Gospel story, told with freshness and reality, and with the power of the Spirit of God, have, from Pentecost onwards, been very effective preaching,—the most effective. Christian speculation has its time, and place, and value. There is a philosophy of Christianity. But the working force, the real lever-power, of it lies in its “testimony.” That “confirmed” “confirms” Christians. Noteworthy is the summary of all Apostolic messages: “the testimony of Christ.” Comparing this with 1 Corinthians 2:1, “the testimony of God,” we are guided to the conclusion that in the latter case God is regarded as the Proprietor and Source, in the former Christ is regarded as the great Subject. Indeed, as the One Subject; for He summarises the Gospel. All its topics are “broken lights” of Him. He is the Topic. A scheme of doctrine, a sermon from a Christian pulpit, which does not clearly show the relation of any and every topic to Christ, is not a Christian scheme or a Christian sermon. [That is no Christian religious life in which He is not central.] As a matter of notorious, and often verified, result a “Christianity” (if it borrow the name) whose Christ is not Divine, and therefore not the dominating Name and influence a Divine Person must of necessity be, is not a Christianity that moves the world, though for a time it may give satisfaction to a few. The men who move the masses and “confirm” the Church are “witnesses,” and witnesses who report what they see and know in Christ. They exhibit Him. He is the great Subject of all that preaching which is the instrument of strengthening the religious life.
III. The future is full of Christ.—
1. He is the convergent point of all the perspective of the years to come.—At the end of the vista of the personal life, His people see Christ. They “depart and are with Christ.” And the end of the vista of history is to them the blaze of the glory of His “revelation,” and the dread solemnities of His “Day.” The “call” of the Past was into fellowship in Him. The “confirmation” of the Present is in Him. The “waiting” for the Future turns toward Him. [Is the “Revelation” for His people, His “Day” for His enemies?] The “Day of Christ” is, most broadly stated, a period with its historical contents, extending from His first Coming to His second. Within it are several subsidiary “days of Christ,” each of which reproduces in miniature the features of “the Day” on the largest scale. Hence what is true of the whole “Day of Christ,”—which is also a continuous “Revelation”—was true of the historical Advent and its day, which began the larger “Day”; and will be true of the “Day,” specially so called, which closes the period. In the course of it are episodes, special incidents or events, each of which is a real “coming” and “revelation” of Christ, and marks a “day of the Son of Man.” His “revelations” and “days” have all of them three characteristics: Scrutiny [“The thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed,” (Luke 2:35)]; Judgment, i.e. judicial discrimination of, and verdict on, character and conduct, inevitable in, and from, the moment that men, or churches, or nations, or systems, come into contact with Christ, their touchstone [John 9:39]; Sentence, a feature only slightly emphasised as yet, but to be the prominent one of the latest “Day of Christ.”
2. To His people His “revelation” is a Dawn.—There are mysterious, perplexing hints of a darkest hour before that dawn. [E.g. Luke 18:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3.] It is confessedly difficult to arrange the scattered intimations in Scripture as to the sub-final days of the present Age, into any coherent, consistent programme; as difficult as it would have been for even the prophets of fullest knowledge and largest illumination in Old Testament days to have drawn up from the body of Old Testament intimations any programme of the First Advent of Christ. We are in their position: “Searching what or what manner of times the Spirit … did signify” when He gave the New Testament prophetic indication as to the future, the “Revelation” and the “Day.” The relation between even these two great facts is obscure. If the problem had not been as yet insoluble, the pains and learning spent upon it would long ago have resulted in some solution in which all, or most, expositors would have been agreed. Practically the Church has, age after age, “waited for the revelation,” as the individual waits day by day for death. It is an event certain, but the time of it unknown. A constant preparedness for it is cultivated, and, this made sure, the man—and the Church—go steadily on with the daily tasks, “doing what the hand finds to do,” and doing it “with their might.” The end, whether to the man or the Church, must be reckoned with as of urgent present importance, even though in fact it may only come after long delay. It is ever impending, though it may be long before it falls; and this not only keeps a helpful fear awake, but keeps hope and expectation and desire in active exercise. The “waiting” has all these elements in it. The sinner may well stand in dread at the resistless, untarrying, sure approach of “the Day”; like the wretch in the condemned cell “waiting for” the day of the executed sentence. The Christian man “loves the Appearing” of his Lord. His eye is ever turning to the quarter from which his help shall come; he is ever—as the Church also has been doing for ages—looking with eager gaze for the first sign of the breaking of that day, when the glory of His revealing shall burst in upon the unbelieving, persecuting, daringly blasphemous, world [2 Thessalonians 2:8], and the Lord and His people shall together stand revealed in their true and native glory as “sons of God.” All his highest aims and work will then enter upon their eternal fulfilment; all his best hopes will then begin their eternal realisation. No wonder they “wait.”
3. No wonder that “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” is Paul’s strong ground of appeal.—The common hope, the common Lord, make them more closely one than does any other bond which holds men together. They understand each other with a deep, quick instinct, such as no other, no natural, community of sympathy and interests creates. There is no rallying point like this; none like Him. Speak His name, and it should awaken the harmonious response of heart to heart, where all are first tuned to respond to It. “Brethren, do you split into your parties? Do you cherish and foment your antagonisms? Brethren! BRETHREN! Do you forget that you are all His together, that you are all together pledged to Him; that you are looking forward together to His ‘revelation’? You to be divided, who are redeemed by the same blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ? You, who are together ‘sanctified in’ the same Christ, ‘enriched in’ Him; who ‘call’—as none others do—‘upon His name’; you, whose whole life, through and through, is ‘Christ’?” Surely to mention “The Name” ought to hush all party clamour, ought to make them close up all party rents and schisms, and “join them perfectly together in the same mind and the same judgment.” If the spell of The Name do not act, nothing will. If it be the uplifted banner, then round it should gather a compactly united host; too earnest, too thoroughly one, for even partisan “sparring in the ranks.”
1 Corinthians 1:9. God is Faithful.
I. God’s character.—To use a homely word, “reliable.” Like His “faithful sayings,” in the Pastoral Epistles; as He is, so is “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” “By every (such) word doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Here His character is the great basal fact on which rests the fulfilment of “shall confirm,” (1 Corinthians 1:8). The “confirmation” of “the testimony” (1 Corinthians 1:6) was but the means employed by this “faithful God.” It is an admirably suitable and efficient instrumentality, but chiefly because it is in His hand. [Cf. the same link of thought in a Fijian’s boast to a missionary (known to H. J. F.), “This is a good gun, but I carry it.”] Promises, the arrangement of the “plan of salvation,” everything in Gospel and in grace, for all worth to us, ultimately come to this, that behind them, directing them, employing them, is the “faithful God.” All faith ultimately finds its way to Him. “Have faith in God.” He is reliable, and may be counted on, to an utter certainty.
II. An argument for our heart, resting upon it.
1. His character is pledged to us. “He cannot deny Himself.” He cannot turn His back upon the Self whom His people have always known. He cannot do anything which is incongruous with His past character and dealings. He will never “begin again,” on some new and unexampled line of conduct. We may plead “For Thy Name’s sake,” and feel that we there have a strong hold upon Him. His “Name” is involved.
2. When He called us, He promised, so far as depended on Him, to finish His work by bringing us “unreproveable” to “the day of Jesus Christ.” The beginning was, quâ His intention and desire, a promise to finish. It committed Him to finish His work, if we will not thwart His purpose. He desires to redeem the pledge of His “calling.”
1 Corinthians 1:11.—“I hear; for, though you have written me about many things (1 Corinthians 7:1), yet you said nothing about this!” Them of … Chloe.—The bearers of the Corinthian letter? Or residents in Ephesus, who had heard from Corinth? Cannot be decided.
1 Corinthians 1:12.—“To speak plainly, I say that,” etc. Every one of you.—“You are all involved, all to blame.”
1 Corinthians 1:13.—Retain the question, “Is Christ [the personal Christ, not the mystical] divided?” For the exact meaning, choose between, (a) did each party claim the whole, and sole, possession of Christ? or (b) did they, less uncharitably, so rend Him in pieces among them [cf. the connected word used of His garment, Matthew 27:35] as to allow that all did possess a share, but proclaiming their own to be largest and chief? We may hope the latter. But the figure should not be overpressed. Paul crucified?—Contrast the holy horror here with the grateful recognition in Galatians 4:4, “Ye received me … as Christ Jesus,” i.e. “You could hardly have made more of me if I had been Christ Himself.” Paul too popular with one party!
1 Corinthians 1:14.—“It so happened that,” etc. “God so ordered it that,” etc. “I see now why. Thank God, only two of you—yes! [Stephanas and] his family also—can say, “Paul baptized me!”Crispus.—Acts 18:8. Gaius.—I.e. Caius (Romans 16:23), from whose house the Epistle to the Romans was written and sent. Two men whose conversion was of exceptional importance in the history of the work in Corinth, and so Paul baptized them.
1 Corinthians 1:16. The household of Stephanas.—The first souls he won in Corinth; the first handful of his harvest in that field, as he gratefully remembers that “Epænetus my beloved” was in that of Asia Minor (Romans 16:5). No happier memory for a minister than that of his first soul! No wonder that Paul did baptize Stephanas! [i.e. presuming that he did; he does not say so expressly].
1 Corinthians 1:17. Words.—Connect or compare with “utterance” (1 Corinthians 1:5) and “word” (1 Corinthians 1:18); same word, in singular number, in all three. Of none effect.—Void (R.V.); “emptied” of its power. If the words overlay the cross and hide it, if it be wrapped in, as it were, a non-conducting envelope of “wise” putting and rhetorical expression, the only real power in the message is nullified. (See the Homily for this, and more.) Note, Are being saved (R.V.).
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 1:10-17
I. There may be an over-valuation of men [ministers].
II. There may be an over-valuation of baptism [representative in this, perhaps, of Christian ordinances generally].
I. Men over-valued.—
1. All these deserved much esteem and consideration and affection at the hands of the Corinthians. Certainly Paul did, and his successor Apollos. To these, particularly to Paul, very many of the Corinthians “owed their own selves also” (Philemon 1:19). No other man can ever take quite the same place in a Christian’s memory and affection as does he who led him to the light, and to Christ. It is no wonder that the man who finds the ministrations of an Apollos—“eloquent, and mighty in the Scriptures,” and greatly filled with the Spirit—to be very effectual in the sustaining and education of his religious life, should set his Apollos on a high place in his thought and prayers and love. The grateful, intelligent love of those to whom a ministry is a perpetual grace and assistance, is a help to the minister himself, and a reward not to be despised, next to the smile of his Master. Even Cephas did a real and glorious work for the Church; in many respects complementary to that of Paul. No need to exalt Paul by disparaging Peter. All this affectionate, loyal bonding of ministry and people is a great blessing and a great help to both preacher and people. Paul very gratefully remembers in Galatia, with a remembrance not without a pang as he thought of the manifest and rapid change, “Ye received me … as Christ Jesus” (Galatians 4:14). If, that is, he had been the Master instead of the servant, he could scarcely have had a warmer welcome. [This loyalty and affectionate devotion may, similarly, and within the same limits, rightly be extended to the special branch of the Christian Church to which a man owes the awakening and the cultivation of his spiritual life. And, by a very natural application of the same principle, the special form of “Gospel,” or the special type of Truth, “under” which a Christian man has grown up to his present knowledge and strength of Christian character, may well call forth and gather to itself a devotion of grateful support, until a man proudly and affectionately ranges himself under the denominational banner of Calvin or of Wesley, of Cephas or of Paul.]
2. But they were receiving more than their due; though probably Cephas was as blameless as were Paul and Apollos, and not more responsible for the sinful partisanship which chose his name for its banner, than were they for the use made of their own. Certainly not even Galatians 2:0 gives any warrant for supposing any sort of personal feeling between the two men. That the Galatians should have welcomed Paul almost as if he had been Paul’s Lord, was one thing; that the Corinthians should exalt and fight for him or for any other human teacher as if it were for the very Lord Himself, was quite a different matter. It had been innocent and natural affection which, with a stretch of language easily understood, he had recalled so gratefully when writing to the Galatians. The partisan devotion which he so strongly rebukes at Corinth was such as could hardly have been greater if (horrescit referens) Paul himself were their crucified Saviour, or if their baptism had pledged them to him in covenant bond.
3. It was idolatrous.—No, there is but one HEAD and KING, ruling over all alike; “Christ is not divided.” There is but one PRIEST, He who is Priest and Victim, Ambassador and Intercessor, in unapproachable, incommunicable, dignity; “Paul is not crucified for them.” There is but one Teacher, into obedience to whom they were baptized; Paul and the rest are only teachers at secondhand, witnesses, reporters, of what they have first heard from Him. The special theological system of one’s Church, the favourite, or distinguishing, doctrine of one’s best-loved teacher, must not be exalted into unchallengeable, Divinely authoritative, dogma. It must always be held subject to its accordance with the teaching of the Highest Authority. Neither over the intellect nor over the conscience has any man the final authority which belongs to Christ alone, speaking in the Word and through the Spirit. And if belonging to any particular Church, or accepting its creed, and “sitting under” its orthodox ministry, should subtilely become to the soul almost a ground of hope or even of assurance of salvation, it would go perilously near to trusting in a “Paul crucified.” A faithful and wise minister of Christ will point his people to Christ and away from himself; he will stand clear of everything like strife and partisanship, even though he be innocently the cause of it, and an exaggerated desire to honour him be the occasion; he will keep the great object of his calling steadily in view, and not even “baptize,” if that be made to mean too much by over-zealous and very ill-advised friends (1 Corinthians 1:13-17). [One’s Church and one’s creed in like manner must be helps to Christ, and may not arrest on the way, and detain for themselves, devotion and allegiance which belong of right to Christ alone.] [Note how the Baptist was content to be nobody—only “a Voice.” “Listen to me, but look at Him; go to Him. Behold the Lamb” (John 1:23; John 1:36). “We preach Christ Jesus as the Lord; ourselves as your servants” (2 Corinthians 4:5).] [Note also that there may be a partisanship “for Christ,” forsooth, which is as narrow and unholy as that for Paul or Apollos.] [Allegiance to Christ unites the Church (1 Corinthians 1:10); allegiance to man divides it.]
II. Baptism over-valued.—The possibility of this is a matter of inference from what Paul states had been his own line of action. That man may be over-valued is matter of direct assertion. But it may be fairly gathered from his own declaration that he very rarely baptized a convert, that to him the ordinance did not occupy the place which some would give it—a thing necessary to salvation, and only to be administered by a man belonging to a special order. [Peter did not himself baptize the souls he had gathered in the house of Cornelius. “He commanded them to be baptized” (Acts 10:48). Indeed, they were hardly of his ingathering at all; the Spirit fell upon them and did His work, before Peter had scarcely more than begun his address (Acts 10:41).] For an incidental and purely personal reason, indeed, Paul actually “thanks God” that not many at Corinth could say that his hands had administered baptism to them. It must not be under-valued. Paul would not have left his converts unbaptized altogether. From no New Testament writer do we learn better and more fully the covenant theology which underlies baptism, and especially that of the children. It must neither be exalted into a necessary means of a real salvation, nor emptied of all significance except that of a mere dedicatory service with an element of thanksgiving. “Baptized into the name of Paul” (like “baptized unto Moses,” 1 Corinthians 10:2) would, if such a thing had been possible, have meant much more than that. The startling suggestion of such a parallel case may serve to expound what “baptized in the name of Christ” would mean to Paul. Every Jewish, or Mahometan, or heathen, father understands very well that to allow his child to be baptized means more than a simple dedication to the God of the Christian worship. Between the Lord of the Covenant and the subject of the ordinance it sets up a covenant bond, binding on both sides, officially recognising the rights, and (so to speak) registering the claim, of the baptized one to all the grace of the Christian scheme. The Master had said, “Go ye and make disciples … baptizing them … teaching them,” etc. Both are obligatory. But at least Paul clearly ranked the teaching before the ordinance, if for any reason (as was, in fact, the case at Corinth) choice must needs be made. He relied for tho fulfilment of the “marching orders” of the Church, for the execution of his own part of the work, rather upon securing the response of the intelligence and heart to the instruction and appeal of the preacher. A mere baptism of the unconscious infant or the indifferent adult, and much more the wholesale baptism of Saxons or Indians, are no fulfilment of the Church’s commission. No ordinance, however binding, or significant, or precious and really helpful, can take the place of such a “preaching of the Gospel”—in all the round of that by no means “simple” function!—as secures the attention, and wins the assent, and conquers the heart.
1 Corinthians 1:17. The Kenosis of the Cross.—[Literally, “should be made empty”; same verb as in the important Philippians 2:7, “He emptied Himself” (in connection with which see how Paul, for his own salvation’s sake, “emptied himself,” Philippians 3:4-10). See also the thought of this second member of 1 Corinthians 1:10 expanded and homiletically dealt with under chap. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.] Paul folt the danger of—
I. Scholastic preaching.—[Which met the demand of “Greek” type of mind for “wisdom.”]
1. Such as aims at the intellect rather than the heart; and gives no satisfaction to the man who wants practical direction and help how to live righteously; and deals with speculations and discussions “which minister” [provide and excite further “questions” and discussions in endless evolutionary succession] “questionings, rather than a dispensation” [var. lect., for “edification”] “of God which is in faith” [1 Timothy 1:4].
2. Such discussions of “the Cross” and Christianity have their time and place and value. As things are, Apologetics are a necessity, and the apologists need to be furnished with all wisdom of words and thought. As men’s minds are, oven “the saved” will speculate in reverent pondering upon themes which indeed touch them most closely where the Christian system tells of, and brings to them, immediate safety, peace, holiness for a guilty, unholy man, but which also in other directions broaden out and reach away into regions of almost illimitable vastness. At one end the Gospel answers promptly and distinctly the urgent question, “What must I do to be saved?” At the other it touches questions wide as the whole created universe. [E.g. What is the relation of the Incarnation and of the Cross to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, to the unnamed and unknown (possible, probable) inhabitants of other worlds than ours? (Ephesians 3:10). How widely has Sin diffused its effect? (“Peace in heaven,” Luke 19:38, may only have been a not very intelligent or significant cry of the populace. But Colossians 1:20 speaks expressly of “reconcitation” of “things in heaven.)]
3. The urgent matter is salvation. To the preacher and to the sinner this must stand first. The wisdom of scholastic preaching “makes void the Cross” when it takes the first place, or is the only thing offered by the preacher, or desired and welcomed by the man. [Illustration.—A company of Israelites in danger, or actually bitten by serpents, though not yet feeling much of the effect of the deadly bite, are standing around the serpent uplifted by Moses in the wilderness (John 3:14). They ask, “Tell us, Moses, what is the exact connection between that brazen thing up there and these serpents down here, and between it and the poison in our system, which is to be healed by looking at it. Tell us, analyse for us, the modus operandi of our looking and of the curative action of that up yonder.” (They want “a theory of the Atonement,” and an exposition of “the connection between faith and pardon or holiness.”) “Tell us something about this poisonous substance which has been injected into our veins. What is its action? How did the serpents secrete it? Where did the serpents come from? Why did the Creator make or tolerate such creatures?” (They want “a Doctrine of Sin,” and to hear something about “the Origin and Permission of Evil.”) If Moses had gratified this intellectual curiosity, and engaged in long, subtle discussion in the direction of their desire, there would have been the danger that his hearers should have dropped one by one and died, at the very foot of “the pole,” died in sight of God’s symbol, and pledge, and means, of Victory over death, and of Healing for the poison. Thus they and Moses together would have made “the Uplifting of the Serpent of none effect.” (Cf. the related thought, not word, in Galatians 2:21, “then Christ is dead in vain,” gratuitously.)] “Look to the Cross first, and be saved; then speculate to your heart’s content, if only it do not divert your attention from the Cross.”
4. For the danger is not at an end when the soul has been to the Cross and found salvation. The natural heart loves the discussion and the speculation. [See how the Samaritan woman at Sychar was no sooner closely pressed about the sins of her past life, than she turned off the conversation to a speculative topic, an interesting matter of discussion, which this “prophet” could perhaps resolve for her. “Ought men to worship on Gerizim, or ought we all to go to Jerusalem?” (John 4:18-20); anything rather than sin, her own sin, its guilt, its peril!] And whilst the work of faith and of the Cross is only begun when the soul has first found it “the power of God unto salvation”; whilst “salvation” is a continuous thing, needing a continuously renewed efficacy of the Cross and its atonement; there is ever the danger lest the heart should fly off to speculations and inquiries which please the intellect, and do not offend the pride of the sinful heart, or disturb its peace. The professor of apologetics, the student of that Christianity which is the grandest of all philosophies, “the widsom of God,” may do their work, and may lay it under noble contribution for the service of the Gospel. But the preacher has in hand a narrower, more immediate and urgent, affair. He dares not ordinarily deal with such “wisdom of words,” lest he keep his dying sinner speculating, instead of believing, as he stands at the Cross, and so the Cross and its Offering for sin have been for that man “emptied” of all efficacy. Bishop Butler, with his Analogy and even his Sermons, are wanted. They strengthen the faith of those who do believe, and turn aside for them many an intellectual assault, giving them the helpful knowledge, moreover, that they are not believing in some scheme of teaching unworthy of the mind of man, not to say, of God. But Bishop Butler must not arrest the sinner on his way to the Cross, nor steal away his attention and interest in it, after he has found his way there. [It is hardly within any fair extension of Paul’s thought, to take in the very real case where the Cross is “emptied” of its meaning as a reconciliation, or a propitiation, or a vicarious sacrifice.]
II. Rhetorical preaching.—[Such as meets the demand of the “Jews” type of mind for a “sign.”]
1. Paul knew his Corinthians; he knew man’s heart. There is something not unworthy about the Intellectual, Scholastic preaching, though it may ensnare souls and hold them back from making the most urgent use of the cross of Christ. It does at least bear witness to a Godlike capacity, which is the honour of man, and to which it endeavours to make response. But the preaching that is only words, words, words, beautiful words, words which please the love of beautiful sound, words which are the lovely clothing of perhaps a meagre or imperfect Gospel, or even that clothe very beautifully nothing; the craving for beauty of presentation first, and at all events, whether the thought be true, or poor, or perilous; both are distinctly on a lower level. He is snared by the very nobility of human nature whom “wisdom of thought” turns away, or keeps back, from the cross of Christ. But he is of smaller calibre to whom little or nothing matters if only the preaching be “well put.” Never mind what the song is all about, if only the preacher “have a pleasant voice, and can play well on his instrument, and the song be lovely” (Ezekiel 33:32). They have no serious purpose to “do the words.” Woe to the preacher of the Cross, who to please them, or to please himself, makes more of the manner than the matter; who never presses home the lessons of the hearers’ sinfulness, but is content if he can engage their attention, and please their fancy. He may even so “preach the Cross”—not by any means leaving it out altogether—as that the one thing which makes impression upon his hearers is the beauty of his preaching. [So Louis XIV. shrewdly discriminated between his two great pulpit orators, one of whom made him think of the preacher, whilst the other made him think of himself.] Few preachers will deliberately lay themselves out thus to win applause for their sermons. But all should keep in view the danger to their unsaved hearers. And the danger to themselves also; for the preacher’s own heart would naturally love the reward of human applause; it is more pleasant to have men’s good word and goodwill, than to hear that they say: “He is too good, too earnest, too strict for me. He is always preaching about sin. ‘I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil’ (Ahab, of Micaiah, 1 Kings 22:8).” Every man will use his own gift; but an Apollos will need to take care that himself never stands before and obscures Christ, or arrests on the way to Christ the soul which urgently needs “the Cross” and its salvation. Intellect and oratorical gifts, both may indeed be gloriously used as consecrated means to a sacred end. But the human heart tends, in preacher and hearers, to make them the end, and to ask for no more, but to rest in these. [“The wisdom of which St. Paul speaks appears to have been of two kinds: speculative philosophy, and wisdom of words—eloquence. Men bow before talent, even if unassociated with goodness; but between the two we must make an everlasting distinction. When once the idolatry of talent enters, then farewell to spirituality; when men ask their teachers not for that which will make them more humble and Godlike, but for the excitement of an intellectual banquet, then farewell to Christian progress.… St. Paul might have complied with the requirements of his converts, and then he would have gained admiration and love—he would have been the leader of a party, but he would have been false to his Master—he would have been preferring self to Christ” (Robertson).] [This is no new danger: “In an age of decadence the form of the idea is esteemed far more highly than the idea itself. The surfeited soul, like the surfeited palate, craves the piquant, the highly dressed.… The noblest thoughts pass unheeded, unless surcharged with ornament. The Fathers of the Church have repeatedly pointed out this intellectual epicurism as one of the great obstacles to the progress of Christianity. The noble language of the pagan philosophers seemed to Justin Martyr a bait which would decoy many souls to death. Celsus … heaps his most biting sarcasms on the vulgarity of the form by which, according to him, truth is degraded in the Gospel, on the incorrectness and barbarisms of the style of the Sacred Writings, and on their want of logical force. He exaggerates, … yet he represents the repugnance of the ‘Greek’ to a book, which, like the lowly Redeemer whom it revealed to the world, made no pretence to the glory or excellency of human wisdom. Greece had drunk draughts too intoxicating to appreciate the purity of the living water. Those only who were thirsting for pardon and peace drew near to the Divine fountain. It had no charms for the epicureans of philosophy and art” (Pressensé, Early Years. The Martyrs, 7, 8).] Christ emptied Himself that He might save. Paul emptied Himself that he might be saved. Scholastic preaching may so empty the Cross of meaning, or divert attention from its meaning; rhetorical preaching may so deaden all the force of its appeal; that the Cross cannot save.
1 Corinthians 1:19-20.—Isaiah 29:14 (nearly as LXX.), and a free imitation of Isaiah 30:18. For.—Sustains the general drift of 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, not any particular clause. “The cessation of Rabbinical wisdom was to be one of the signs of Messiah’s coming; and that this was foretold in Isaiah 33:18 was believed among the Rabbis. (So Stanley.) Also, “The heathen oracles are dumb,” silenced since Christ came. Remark, “age” and “world” used together here (in the Greek).
1 Corinthians 1:21.—Difficult; but probably, “In God’s wise ordering of the history of the world and of human thought, the result of all their experiment and inquiry is this: ‘An unknown God.’ ” Paul came fresh from his address at Athens (Acts 17:23) to Corinth. Still, worth considering this reading: “By means of and from the wisdom of God displayed in ‘the things that are made’ (Romans 1:20) the world did not arrive at knowledge of Him; He now therefore will propose what the world thinks the folly of His Gospel of the Cross. Will they know Him through that? They who believe will, and do, and the knowledge is salvation.”
1 Corinthians 1:22.—Notice, “Jews,” “Greeks,” q.d. men of the Jew-type of mind and heart, and of the Greek-type. There are such in all races, religions, ages. Signs (from heaven) suit the Oriental, the childlike, emotional type; wisdom the Western, harder, manlike, logical type. The Jew wanted to see the finger of God; the Greek wanted to explain all by philosophic theory.
1 Corinthians 1:24—Power for the Roman; wisdom for the Greek. Power and wisdom, meeting the moral weakness and moral darkness of the fallen humanity. The age-long experiment of the Jew ended in the knowledge of man’s moral helplessness; that of the Greek race, his moral ignorance.
1 Corinthians 1:26. Your calling.—Choose between, (a) “they who called you,” and (b) “those who are called.” Probably the latter. But both are true, and both are included, as particular embodiments of it, in the great fundamental rule which God has followed “in His manner of calling you,” viz. “not many,” etc. Not many.—Always a few, as Crispus. Can almost count, however, the exceptions in the New Testament on one’s fingers, and hardly any of them counting for much in the world’s estimation.
1 Corinthians 1:28. Base.—Of no special honour of birth. Are not … are.—“Nonentities,” “entities” (Evans).
1 Corinthians 1:30. Are ye.—Q.d. “Now were, and still are, nothing and nobody, in the eyes of the world. But before God, and in Christ, you are indeed something and somebody, with a life of important, eternal reality.” (See Homily).
1 Corinthians 1:31.—Jeremiah 9:23.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Grouping the topics of the paragraph around 1 Corinthians 1:29, we have:—
I. A great principle of God’s government consistently carried out. God alone must be exalted.—
1. In threefold reiteration here. “That no flesh should glory,—or literally, “that all flesh should not glory,”—“in His presence” (“before God,” better reading, 1 Corinthians 1:29); “He that glorieth … in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31); and the triumphant laugh in the face of the world’s wisest ones, “Where is the wise?” etc. (1 Corinthians 1:20). Paul stands by the cross of “the Lord of Glory,” and casts his exultant glance around. The Cross of Christ has been planted, like God’s Royal Standard, in the midst of the battle-field. Now the field is clear. Beaten, discomfited, discredited, by God’s “foolish” method, the competing “wisdoms of the world” have vanished, or are vanishing, leaving the cross of Christ in possession! [So in the Day of Questions, the last day of the Lord’s public ministry, every typical world’s-wise-man assailed Him. But He held His own, and one after another slunk away beaten, until at last He Himself completed the rout by turning questioner, and finally silencing every opponent with His problem about David’s Lord and David’s Son (Matthew , 22).]
2. The Old Testament origin of Paul’s quotation, here and in 2 Corinthians 10:17 (from Jeremiah 9:23-24), carries back the principle into the earlier dispensation, and shows that the Spirit guided him with a sure and right instinct to lay his hand upon a great and perennially valid principle of all God’s rule and administration of His government; one that must obtain wherever there are creatures capable of knowing Him. In no world can it be conceived that this great law should not be in force. He is the One and Only Being who can make Himself the centre and object of all intention and activity, and who can claim that all other life than His own should converge upon Him as its Object and End and Goal. In us such self-centering is of the very essence of Sin; it is our root-rebellion against our God. It is a prime and simple necessity of His position and character and very Being. To ask less, to permit less, to man or to any other creature, were to abdicate His position as God. The Bible sets Him forth abundantly full, full to the overflow, of love; His mercy is eagerly ready and “forward” to bless; the first advance to union between Himself and sinners has always come from His side. His ear is always open to the cry of the feeblest, bowing Himself to the man of contrite and trembling heart; indeed, loving to “dwell with” such a man (Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:2). Yet the condescension is never exhibited at the expense of the majesty. “He is God and none else. His honour will He not give to another.” To compare great and small, and with all reverence: men hear from time to time of our Queen performing acts of kindly condescension and of simple womanly kindness, to the sick and poor and aged. But if any presumed upon this to exercise undue familiarity as to an equal, she would be the first to draw back. To allow another on some state occasion to occupy the throne in her presence, would not be condescension, but abdication. The Creator and the creature can never with His consent even seem to change places. The world’s “wisdom” is rooted in the pride of human nature in itself and its powers of discovery. No field can be supposed beyond its exploration; no height, or depth, or vastest extension of truth, but it can take in all. If God hide Himself, then there is no God; this wisdom can find none. If His ways pass its systematisation, or do not commend themselves to the world’s judgment or “moral sense,” they are evil or folly. Over all that pride of intellect He must win a victory. To men the perpetually attractive temptation is, “Ye shall be as God, knowing.…” Human intellect must lower its high-borne pennon in the presence of the Royal Standard of God’s wisdom. The proud intellect which will acknowledge neither limitation nor error, the proud heart which will own no weakness or sin, must alike bow in the presence of God. It is true of the whole arrangements for the spread of the Gospel; it is true of the provisions in the Gospel for the salvation of the individual sinner.
II. Seen in the arrangements for the spread of the Gospel.—
1. Hardly necessary to point out the once current, customary misconception of Paul’s words, “the foolishness of preaching.” Even an English reader of the R.V., with its margin, may now see that the “folly” lay in the matter of the preacher’s message, and not at all in that particular method of delivering it (1 Corinthians 1:21). Vivâ voce instruction and appeal is one of the aptest methods of winning attention and securing conviction. For appeal, whose aim is to secure immediate results, whether of conviction or action, the living voice of the man speaking face to face with his fellow has better prospect than the writer, whose written or printed page lies cold and silent before, perhaps, a listless eye. Every true preacher is, first of all, a public speaker; the natural basis upon which is superinduced his special grace, is the same as that of the speaker upon any secular theme, the lecturer, the parliamentary orator, the very demagogue. He will cultivate it, as part of its consecration, and will learn his very art in order that he may the better win the ear of his listeners, and thus find for his Master a way to their hearts. God has often glorified Himself by using “very poor speakers” to deliver His message. Wisdom of “words,” if made by preacher or hearers a thing aimed at for its own sake, or for the applause it may bring and the pleasure it may give, may “make the Cross of none effect” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Yet foolish preaching is no thing to praise or value, or (as it were) to cultivate. The speaker will seek to be at his best, for God. But all this is quite away from any thought of Paul here. Any supposed “poor preaching” is not, in itself, one of the illustrations of God’s method which he adduces.
2. The message itself seemed foolish.—“Jews” and “Greeks” (1 Corinthians 1:22) are not only historical names, but generic and typical. There are always “Jews” and “Greeks” amongst the men to whom any Paul addresses himself, in every age, in any country. They are two variants of the natural mind, under the influence of the natural heart. And we “who are called” (1 Corinthians 1:24), and have made the “call” a reality [see the tense, as compared with that in 1 Corinthians 1:2], both from our memory of the old days in our own life, and from the very nature of the case, can see how “foolish” the “preaching of the Cross” must seem to such. Here is proposed for man’s acceptance a system of “truth” whose Teacher is a man hanged publicly on a gibbet, on a thing whose whole associations were those of our gallows, but aggravated in their painfulness and shame. “We are being saved” by it (1 Corinthians 1:18), and know its “wisdom” and its “power.” To us they are worthy of God; they carry their own credentials. But “to those who are perishing” such a story may well seem “foolishness.” Apart from the power of the Holy Ghost in it (1 Corinthians 2:4), it would be a message with which to send men only on a fool’s errand. To tell the Roman masters that the hope of the world was in a Jew, rejected by His own people, hanged publicly on a gallows by a Roman quaternion and their centurion, at the instigation of Jewish religious authorities,—Gallio well reflected the temper with which the best of them would receive such a tale. He cared nothing indeed for the rioting; he could afford to ignore a petty Jewish squabble, though under his very eyes. But the same lofty, “gentlemanly,” if not supercilious, contempt would have been his answer—a Roman answer—if the “preaching of the Cross” had been fairly submitted to him for his judgment. The Jew was stung to the quick when Pilate’s “title” seemed to offer to the nation a crucified peasant of Galilee as its King and Messiah. The “Jew” of all ages who wants “signs,” who demands, in order to belief, unmistakeable self-disclosures of the Unseen, Supernatural, Order, who wants to see his God, will hardly bear to be pointed to Jesus of Nazareth crucified. “Such foolishness!” The “Greek,” looking for his Ideal Man, feeling after God, requiring of everything proposed to him for acceptance that it shall fit into some beautifully ordered, symmetrical, closely articulated scheme of philosophic thought, was hardly to be won to attention by this story of a Divine Man dying on a gallows. That the supreme revelation of God? That the supreme form of the Beautiful, the True, the Good? On Mars’ Hill attention ended in an explosion of mocking laughter (Acts 17:32). “Foolishness!” Sensible men, not to say philosophers, to give serious attention to such a story! Not even the learning of Paul, or the eloquence of an Apollos, could make such a story anything else but a “folly” and a stumbling-block. If it kept the field, then, and drove out all competitors, there must be something in it not of man. The most successful preacher “may not glory in His presence.” “This is the finger of God.”
3. Look at the men who bore it.—(For they are fairly included in the unfinished sentence of 1 Corinthians 1:26. R.V. margin is not too broadly comprehensive. What was true of the first converts was true also of the first preachers.) They were not reclaimed reprobates, indeed; nor by any means wanting in native common sense or shrewdness. Their “baseness” (1 Corinthians 1:25) only means that they had no advantage from what with men gives prestige. Yet manifestly they were not the men whom human wisdom would have chosen to confront the “scribe” of the Jew, or the “disputer” of the Greek market-place (Acts 17:18). Men would not have chosen the equivalent of a little company of Whitby or Peterhead fishermen, with a farm labourer or two, and a subordinate collector of Customs, even though joined afterwards by a graduate of the theological school of a small and uninfluential sect, to be the men to clear away religions deeply rooted in the popular life, or consecrated by hoar antiquity. Paul was the best educated of them all, yet his strictly “Hebrew” home (Philippians 3:5), though in the Greek city of Tarsus, would not permit to him much acquaintance with any ordinary secular literary knowledge, and his learning was mainly in that Rabbinic lore which seems to us, as it would to his Gentile contemporaries, so largely trivial, and indeed often contemptible. Humanly speaking, he was by no means the man to put forward as the best representative of the new faith, to discuss it on Mars’ Hill, or in the Agora of Athens, with the heirs of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato and Aristotle. From the standpoint of human prudence, it would have seemed to be the very best method of handicapping the message and lessening its chances of reception, to commit it to such men as its apostles and promulgators. Precisely. But God’s foolishness was God’s way. Such “weak” and “base things” put the world’s wisdom and strength and prestige to shame. The success justified the method, and justified the use of such messengers of the cross. And the method obviously secured this end, that “no flesh”—certainly not the successful messengers themselves—“should glory before God.”
4. Look at the first converts.—In Corinth even the “chief ruler of the synagogue,” the Crispus whom Paul had the joy of receiving as a Christian, soon after he had transferred his labours to the house of Titus Justus, was a man of no account except amongst the Jewish community. The Gentile mob dragged before Gallio his successor in office, Sosthenes, with very scant respect. A few converts may have been won from the descendants of the Roman colonists with whom the city had been repeopled. But, as usual, the artisan and the slave, the small trader and the sailor, would form the bulk of the Corinthian Church. It is just one of the touches of “foolishness” in God’s plan that, though the “noble, the mighty, the wise after the flesh” need the Gospel of the Cross as much as do the “foolish, and weak, and base,” its reception has seemed to be made distinctly more difficult for them than for others. The exceptions in the New Testament to Paul’s statement are few. In Philippi the first to be won for Christ were a purple-seller and a gaoler, not the magistrates. Jerome boasted in after years (on Galatians 3:3), “Ecclesia Christi non de Academia, et Lycæo, sed de vili plebecula congregata est” (Farrar L. of Chr., i. 197). But it was long a standing matter of scorn that the adherents of the new faith were almost exclusively from lower grades of society. Not that the Gospel has any republican prejudice against, or dislike for, the rich or the aristocratic. [“Not many,” but always some. “How I thank God,” Lady Huntingdon used to say, “for the letter m! If it had been ‘not any’!”] The exceptions to Paul’s statement in the New Testament can almost be counted upon one’s ten fingers. But the exceptions are there. [And possibly the percentage of the “wise and noble” has been as great as that of the far more numerous lower classes.] The Gospel met the case of Nicodemus; of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus; of Dionysius, a judge of the sacred court on Areopagus; of Erastus, the city-treasurer of Corinth itself (Romans 16:23); and these were but the precursors of a noble few, who are nobler because position or wealth or learning were consecrated to the service of the Gospel of a crucified Jesus. But these were not saved because of their social standing; as it was no prejudice to them, so it gave no advantage; and they joined a company of people, humble and often rude, who could impart no social consideration, and in company with whom they lost that which they already had.
5. And yet these arrangements of God’s plan have been crowned with success.—The foolishness of God is wiser than men; the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Here is plain matter of historical fact. Such preachers, bearing such a message, winning mainly such converts, “have turned the world upside down.” Such messengers have evidently no ground to glory in their success, as if it arose out of their own qualifications or abilities. To win such converts brought no glory in the eye of the world. The converts themselves could not suppose that anything in themselves drew out any special mercy of God towards them. To join the “sect everywhere spoken against” brought no credit. Looked at on any side, the arrangements for the spread of the Gospel were such as to debar all pretence of “flesh” glorying in the presence of God.
5. All this not only historically, but generally, true.—All Christian workers—and by no means preachers alone—need to remember that God proceeds on the same lines still. The “wise” and the “scribe” are not extinct. Their judgment is that of the natural heart always. They would say: “Convert the men of influence among the Roman masters of Corinth. Catch Gallio, and the whole city will go with him.” [It was a bad day for the world when, not of Christ, but of Constantine, it could be said: “The world is gone after him!” (They who said this so bitterly of Christ, knew not of the glorious fulfilment of their words symbolised in the very next verse, when “the Greeks”—the first “ears” of the harvest of the Gentiles—came to “see Jesus,” John 12:19-20).] “Convert a philosopher or two, or a rhetorician, amongst the Greeks; these will carry their disciples with them.” The critic will dishearten the Christian Church as he points out that, in the mission-fields of the world, or, indeed, in the Churches at home, the bulk of the converts and membership belong to the middle or the working and lower classes. The divorce between Culture and Christianity is distressing, but it is not novel. It is nothing new or surprising if a Church reaps a more abundant harvest amongst the pariahs or the aborigines of India than amongst the Brahmins. God always has lighted His fire from the bottom, [and first ignites the slight material!] He began with the fisherman, and the fallen woman, and the publican, and the slave. Often does He begin with the servant maid or the child to-day, when He saves a family. “The poor have the Gospel preached to them,” whilst it does reach and save culture and birth and wealth. These need “to become fools that they may be wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18). “That no flesh should glory.”
6. No man may be a successful winner of souls who disregards this rule of God’s procedure.—If God have “given the tongue of the learned,” that he may know how to speak “a word in season to him that is weary” (Isaiah 50:4); if to natural gifts have been added opportunities of culture; if the ready tongue and warm heart are used to win many to the story of the Cross; if the Spirit of God make his gifts nobly auxiliary to the work of pulling down strongholds, and bringing hearts to the obedience of Christ; then he needs to remember that these are gifts, and that he is only an instrument. The axe may not complacently dwell upon its temper or edge, nor count up proudly the stout trees it has been used to fell. Every victory must be laid simply at the feet of the Lord of the battle. In the day that God’s labourers begin to “glory in His presence,” in that day will they be laid aside. “Things that are not,” they will revert to their original nothingness.
7. The humble may hear hereof and be glad.—The “weak” and the “foolish” are the very instruments God can best employ. He will have no joint saviours of “them that are perishing.” He wants men and women who will be content to offer themselves, and all the glory of any success, to Him.
8. So also the message must not be tampered with. The Gospel is significantly summarised as “the preaching (the word) of the Cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18).—To conciliate the pride of unsanctified intellect, the Sufferer on the cross must not be hidden behind the Babe in the manger, and still less behind the gentle, tender Healer of disease, and of the Teacher who—account for it, and for Him, as we can—spake as never man spake. [Calvary, and not even Bethlehem, is the true Kiblah of the Mecca of the pilgrimage of a sinful world, in search of rest to heart and conscience. Even on Christmas morning, the Christian preacher will also say, “Let us go even unto Calvary.”] The message must be characteristically, whatever else it includes, the word of “Christ, and Him,” too, “(as) crucified.” As a simple matter of often verified experiment, “foolishness” though this be, it has satisfied the needs of human hearts better than any “other Gospel” (Galatians 1:9). All great revivals of the life and vigour and progress of the kingdom of God in the world, have been in the closest association with this specific type of teaching; they have demanded it, and have produced it. It may be “a stumbling-block” (also in Galatians 5:11); but it may not be dispensed with. As matter of experiment it has been the foundation stone, of “God’s own power and wisdom,” on which effectual teaching and practical holiness of life have age after age been securely built. Try anything else, whether upon the world’s “wisdom,” or upon its sin and misery; the result will only be another verification of 1 Corinthians 1:20; if the Church will confront the world’s wisdom with the like worldly wisdom, God will make even His own people’s effort to end in manifest “foolishness” The “argument of the Cross” [so Evans, bringing into close connection with the same word in 1 Corinthians 1:17] best secures that “no flesh should glory before God,” and it therefore best succeeds.]
III. Seen in the provisions of the Gospel for the salvation of the individual sinner (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).—(See also Separate Homily.)
1. For the overthrow and shaming of the imposing “entities” of the world, God has chosen to take and use “non-entities,” “things that are not,” have no existence [making His new creation out of “nothings”]. And, as truly, for their own salvation He has taken care that, if “they now are” at all, and are anything, or have anything—“wisdom, righteousness, holiness, redemption,” every man shall “glory only in the Lord.” Only “in Christ Jesus” have they, or are they, anything. “He is made” all these things to them. Apart from Him they are foolish, guilty, unholy, lost—nothing!
2. In this fact, that the Gospel does nothing to conciliate either the intellect or the proud heart of man, does it stand very sharply distinguished from all other religions. In varying form, but with substantial unity, these exalt human nature, not abase it; if in any degree it needs elevation or recovery, the sufficient force is said to be within the man himself. In Stoicism man could be his own saviour; he must be self-reliant, and independent of all men and all things in his struggle after good; pride was indulged on principle. And in this it was but a special and philosophic formulating of the thought and feeling of human nature, even at its best, everywhere. That Gospel can hardly be of human origin, which even conceives of attaining success in a totally different direction. It tells a man that of himself he has nothing to recommend him to God; that he can do nothing to win His favour; that, whether “by wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21), or by works, he can attain to no knowledge of God; that all he gets is “of God,” purely and simply, and for the sake of Christ; that even in the faith which lays hold of all, there is no merit—it is exercised in the strength of grace. As the Gospel has been seen above to be “a stumbling-block” to the natural understanding, so it is also an offence to the natural heart. All is of grace. Men, even the “Jew,” the “Greek,” the “wise,” the “scribe,” the “mighty,” are “perishing” together. There is now only one fundamental classification: “them that are perishing,” “us who are being saved.” No matter how high may rise the edifice of a Christian’s life and holiness, at the foundation of all, lies the fact that the grace “of God” “in Christ” has in the first instance made him who “was not” into a saint. After long ages of heaven’s perfected “redemption,” it will still remain true that Christ Jesus is “made redemption” to him. He is in that world only as a man “redeemed” “of God” “in Christ.”
1 Corinthians 1:18. The Preaching [the Word] of the Cross.—Observe the connection between this and the preceding verse. Paul is jealous over himself as a preacher, and over his hearers, lest he should lay himself out to use, and they should desire to hear, “the wisdom of words”; he is jealous lest “The Cross should be made void.” For “the Cross” is the summary, and the very heart, of another “word” which God has spoken; the very strength of it, and the secret of its effectiveness, are there. It is God’s “argument,” set over against man’s “arguments.” [So Evans.] Its whole force lies in the fact that it is not a theory, or a philosophy, but a fact; and that fact a “Cross.” Christianity, the Gospel, God’s latest revelation of Himself, alt gather themselves up around this startling sight, a Cross and a Crucified One. The effectiveness of this “Word” must be guarded at all costs; therefore the “wisdom of words” must be watched or banished altogether. Observe then—
I. A wonderful fact about Christianity: the prominent place given in it to “the cross of Christ.”
1. The Russian painter Verestchagin a few years ago in his exhibition of paintings hung side by side three pictures: A Russian Nihilist being executed by hanging, in a thick-falling snowstorm; Several wretched sepoys of the Mutiny of 1857, writhing helplessly, and in terror, as they stood bound to the muzzle of the guns whose discharge was to execute the sentence upon their revolt or treachery; The crucifixion of Christ. Three executions! The realism of this last was exceedingly great. No doubt it was very true to what was to be seen outside the walls of Jerusalem on a certain Friday morning of April, in the year 30, by one of the visitors come from foreign lands to keep the Passover. No doubt an execution, the execution of a strange man of Nazareth, of whom there had been a good deal of talk in the country for some three years past, was what was discussed at the gatherings for the Supper in upper rooms in Jerusalem that evening. If there were, as an early Christian apologist asserts, an official report from Pilate to Rome, it would be the matter-of-fact report of an execution. How comes “an execution” to be the central argument of God’s message to mankind? Why is this crucifixion of the Author of the new religion so vital to it? One of the preachers of the new faith, Peter, was himself crucified, like the Master whom he served. But the cross of Peter has never affected the world’s religion and civilisation and history like the cross of Christ. Why not? Of the hundreds and hundreds of Jews who were crucified by Roman hands outside and upon the walls of the city in the day of its capture and destruction, not one has left his name, or by his death made any such perceptible mark on the world’s life and thought, as this other crucified Jew has done. Nobody would die for Peter because Peter was crucified. Thousands of spectators are year by year profoundly stirred by the pathos of the Oberammergau dramatisation of the scenes of Calvary; yet the emotion stirred by the intense realism of the death of Josef Meyer is of another older altogether to the stirring of hearts all over the world caused by even the mental contemplation of the dying of Jesus upon His cross. Why? If any heart is really “blessed” at Oberammergau, if by chance any life is changed by a real conversion in consequence of what is seen and felt there, manifestly it is not the crucifixion of the man Meyer which has effected the change, but the cross and death of Christ, which perhaps then was made for the first time to have any reality, and so any power of appeal, to the spectator’s heart.
2. The relation of the death of Christ to His Gospel is close, and uniquely close.—The death of Peter might have been, like Paul’s, by decapitation, for all that it would have mattered to the substance of his teaching and to the issue of his life’s work. It is an accident of history merely that Socrates died by the poison-cup, rather than by any other method of execution. Neither the fact nor the mode of the death of Buddha or Confucius is of any importance to their system of doctrine. Pascal lays his satirical finger upon the fact that, whereas the plan and the success of Mahomet meant the death of others, to the plan and success of Christ His own death was essential. [So Talleyrand’s well-known reply to Le Reveillière Lepeaux, who had read before the Institute in 1797 an essay upon the re-establishment of Theophilanthropy. “I have but one observation to make. In order to found His religion, Jesus Christ was crucified and rose again. You ought to attempt as much” (Guizot, Meditations, Philippians 1:2).] It would be impossible to exhibit Christianity, except in a mutilated form whose identity had become doubtful, if no stress were laid upon the fact that Christ was crucified, or, above all, if that fact were left out altogether. As Christ identifies Himself with His Gospel, and with Truth, so here Paul brings into solitary prominence this one fact, “the Cross,” as practically the sum and substance of Christianity. Without the story of the crucifixion of Christ, or with it, if that be only an accidental fact of the history; if that death were only an unfortunate, unintended, premature conclusion of the ministry of Christ—of Jesus; then His work and His works would perhaps long ago have faded into indistinct history or myth. At any rate, His teaching would at the utmost have been a beautiful code of ethics, the most beautiful the world possesses, but hanging, as it were, in mid-air, and weak, just as all the noblest systems of morals are all weak, in having no adequately efficacious working power. He would have been just one among the world’s greatest and choicest names; the best loved of them all, perhaps, but not the present-day personal power He is, not only to a few cultured people who can realise the past and be influenced by it, but to the masses who must live, and must be raised, and must be saved, in the present.
3. The guilty conscience and the burdened heart feel and know why Christianity meets them with a unique helpfulness and sufficiency.—Whatever be the reason, the fact is certain that it is the Cross which makes Christianity the religion of every heart. John Bunyan was not merely casting Puritan or any temporary phase of theology into the form of a story; he was not merely generalising from his own experience; he was summarising universal experience; when he takes his Christian to the Cross, and there, and not till then, makes his burden fall off, and the man set forth with a new freedom and lightness of heart. The sight of the Cross made the burden fall. So say all guilty souls. They push on past the manger of Bethlehem; they have no ear for the name “Immanuel” until they have been to Calvary. When their heart has there been disburdened of its load, then first is that heart at leisure to come back to Bethlehem and learn the lesson of the holy manger. But the profundities and mysteries of condescension and love in the Incarnate Babe need a heart to understand them which has first seen the Crucified One “made sin for us.” No New Testament writer, not even John, contributes more than does Paul to what light we have on the Incarnate Son; but the centre of gravity of Paul’s scheme of the Gospel, “my Gospel,” as he calls it often, will be shifted, if the Incarnation and the Birth become, more than the Death and its Atonement, the objects of attention, the subjects of preaching. It is a glorious Gospel, truly, which lies in the very name “Immanuel,” God with, instead of against, us; it has in it all the possibilities of life (Romans 8:31). The race now is made up of “men of God’s goodwill. “But how? Why? How is the individual, conscious of guilt in the past record, and more deeply conscious still of an inward, deep-seated heart aversion from God and from gôod, to enter into the Name “Immanuel”? Has the word reached him too late, since he has sinned, and is a sinner? The answer is at the Cross, or it is nowhere. It would not be fair to make the Incarnation merely one step in a chain of arrangements leading up to the Cross, and existing for its sake. Really each is in some points for the sake of the other. It is plain that if the Incarnate Babe exhibits and proclaims the reconciliation, the Cross makes it. “He hath reconciled us … by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). We can date the death on Calvary within narrow limits. We cannot date the true Reconciliation; we read mysterious things of “a Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). But when God would make plain His heart to guilty, lost man, He chooses to emphasise the word of the Cross, not “the word of the Manger.” Reconciliation is the first step back to peace. Christian speculation on the meaning of the Incarnation, and its possible relations to the whole creaturely universe, has been fruitful in noble thinking. But Christian preaching which is to touch even “the base things,” in the most unworthy sense of “base,” has always, as matter of experiment, found in the Cross a better help for souls, and the best appeal for the use of the winner of souls. At the Cross he has found his ποῦ στῶ, from which to lift the world.
II. “The Cross” is a summary of Gospel preaching.—Of course the interpretation of this phrase of Paul will depend on our whole reading of the entire New Testament. It is one of those single words into which is condensed, and in which is assumed, all the customary belief and teaching of a man’s lifetime. “How much do you mean by ‘the Cross,’ Paul?” “How much? Ask them which hear me constantly, ask them who read me most closely; behold, they know what I mean!” But at least it is manifest that Christ Himself made it central to His Gospel. The Gospel lies within an ellipse, of which these are the two foci (and the two are fundamentally one, the central Truth of a circle):
1. A cross for the Master;
2. A cross for each of His disciples. Midway, or thereabout, in the course of His three years’ ministry, in the few days of retirement to the neighbourhood of Cæsarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-38), for the first time did Christ speak definitely to His disciples about death as the issue of His ministry, though not as yet precisely specifying that this should be by crucifixion. The news, so startling to a Jew, that this should be at the hands of the revered and representative men of his nation, and so saddening to a loving disciple, Peter was for hushing back, and, indeed, would have had His Master entertain no such gloomy thoughts: “Be propitious to Thyself, Lord (Matthew 16:22, literally); be kinder to Thyself than that!” Quick and sharp the cry broke forth from Jesus, “Behind Me, Satan!” Had the Adversary himself retained Peter on his side, the disciple could have said nothing more thoroughly according to his mind. Such a suggestion—to delete the cross from the programme of the Saviour’s earthly sojourn and its work—was the very desire of the Devil. [It had been his proposition long before that the King should make a “short cut” to His kingdom, avoiding the cross, Matthew 4:8-10]. The voice was Peter’s voice; the thought was the thought of Satan. There must be a cross for the Master, or His work would go undone; there would be no Gospel of redemption. A few days after, as the little company, Jesus leading the way, the twelve “coming after Him,” were slowly moving through some village of the neighbourhood, the villagers stood gazing at the little company of strangers, and Jesus stopped, and calling them to Him, said “unto them all” (Mark 8:24; Luke 9:23), what Peter was not for hearing even for his Master, “Every man must take up his own cross”—as I do Mine; “daily”—as from the first I have done Mine. What Peter would not hear of for his Master, he and every disciple must hear of for himself, else there can be no discipleship. The whole Christian host, the Captain and the rank and file, all carry their cross. There is no Christian who does not. To himself and to his Lord the Gospel is “the word of the Cross.”
1 Corinthians 1:21. Seeking and finding God.
Introduction.—Some striking and suggestive turns of phraseology here:
1. “The world” is seeking “to know God.” Of the “believers” who are brought to the goal which “the world” misses, it is not said that they “know God,” but, what at first seems a very much smaller thing, that they are “saved.” “Is that all?” “Yes; and a very glorious attainment too. It is, in fact, the reward and goal of the world’s search.” “To know God” and “to be saved” were long before closely linked (John 17:3). “In knowledge of whom standeth [consisteth] our eternal life.” (I.e. as in the ancient collect, “Quem nosse vivere est.”)
2. The world seeks for God by the way of “wisdom.” They who find this salvation which is the knowledge of God, find Him by the path of “believing”; another path altogether, which nevertheless justifies itself as the highest wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6) to those who are brought by it to the goal.
3. Are we to press the distinction between “in the wisdom of God” [taking the customarily accepted turn of thought as that of Paul] and “it pleased God”? Perhaps not too strongly or too far. Yet it is true that it is no “good pleasure” of God to see His world groping after the knowledge of Himself in vain. [Acts 17:26-28 is very explicit: “He hath made … that they should seek … if haply they might find Him.”] It may be His “wisdom” that they should not “by wisdom find Him out”; but He loves to be found and known and loved. We have, then,
I. The world’s inquiry.
II. God’s answer.
1. The heart and the intellect of man do inquire after the knowledge of God.—Man’s mind and heart will not be forbidden to inquire after God. Of no avail to throw doors open—invitingly open—and to solicit exploration, in directions to which admittance is given by gates inscribed “To Science,” “To Music,” “To Philanthropy,” “To Truth and Right,” and to shut up Religion-gate, or to build up the door leading out towards the road “To God.” This fact in itself goes some way towards, and has someworth as, an answer to the question, “Is God knowable?” It were strange if the instinctive, or at least the ever-recurrent, inquiry of mind and heart, “O that I knew where I might find Him!” were a mere lying, deluding impulse, driving men to search endlessly after what could not be found, or after One who did not choose to be found; or if the idea of a God were only an ignis fatuus leading into mere bottomless bog and darkness. There can be no demonstration of Him, as there can be no demonstration that there is no God. But if the very constitution of man’s mind be not a contradiction and a lie, then the unceasing quest after God witnesses to a possibility of a real knowledge of Him. Not a complete one—that is out of the question, by universal consent; but a real, if incomplete, knowledge, sufficient, moreover, for regulative [though not merely regulative] purposes. [The child “knows” the father, even though the man’s life, and the particular character of its own parent, be in their whole round far beyond its present comprehension.
2. Man is morally a strange contradiction in this matter.—The natural heart is averse from God, “and desires not the knowledge of His ways” (Job 21:14); yet the famous sentence of Augustine is the summary of the universal human experience: “Tu excitas, ut laudare te delectet; quia fecisti nos ad te, et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.” (Conf., I. i. 1.) “The fool says in his heart ‘No God,’ ” but, as Bacon quaintly puts it: “It is not said, ‘The fool hath thought in his heart,’ so as he rather saith it by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, and be persuaded of it; for none deny that there is a God, but those for whom it maketh that there were no God” (Essays, “Atheism”). It is a lesson which the “fool” must say over and over to himself, to be quite sure: “No God, No God, No God.” David never heard of an atheist by professed creed. [Another David, David Hume, avowed at the table of Baron d’Holbach, that he had never met with an atheist. “Allow me,” said his host, “to introduce you to thirteen,” indicating his guests.] Long ago Cicero pointed out that no nation of atheists had ever been found (De Nat. Deor., i. 16). It is another thing, and capable of ready explanation, that now and again peoples have been found, few in number and low down in the scale of civilisation, in whom the very idea of worship seemed almost or quite extinct, and their life and thinking reduced to the narrowness of the animal existence. Yet the vague sense of a supernatural is hardly ever absent, and the idea of a God can always be called out again in even the most imbruted and degraded. Every man is capable of it, as no noblest animal is. As matter of history, belief has ever been before disbelief; belief has seemed natural, disbelief and denial have been induced, and matters of education. Man “cries out after God, after the living God” (Psalms 74:2). “This inquiry and search after God is the origin of all religion, and the truth even of heathenism” (Luthardt). And yet man is a prodigal who “goeth into a far country,” where his Father may be out of sight and out of mind. It is the dislocation of God’s order seen everywhere in His creation; man, like the rest, is “out of joint,” as the result of a moral confusion in God’s “very good” world and its order.
3. The intellect starts on its quest on some four great lines of argument, four great highways, as it hopes, to the assurance that there is a God and to some knowledge of Him. A few, capable of such thinking, have argued that, because man can have the conception of a Perfect Being, there must be somewhere a reality corresponding to the conception; that there must be an Infinite Substance, of whom [or which] Time and Space must be “accidents”; that the ideas of the Infinite, the Absolute, the Eternal, must have their root and basis somewhere; “the thought of God implies the existence of God.” Often discredited, argued out of court, criticised or refined away, dismissed, buried, but with a wonderful resurrection power about it, the “No effect without a cause” argument has been a path along which a far larger class of minds—“practical people”—has set out to find God. Wider still in the field of its appeal, a broad way at which many—most—have gone in in their search, is the argument from Design, which is not really affected even if modern “evolutionary” science makes good all its claims, and turns every hypothesis into certainty; it would only be a revolutionising of our knowledge of the method, by which the Creator had effectuated and carried out His design; however the result has been brought about, He is still there, directing the processes, guiding the whole, from inception to conclusion. [Said Newton: “Hæcce compages solis, planetarum, et cometarum et stellarum, non nisi Consilio et dominio entis cujusdam potentis et intelligentis oriri potuit.”] “Every science without exception shows that the order and [concurrent] adaptation and harmonies of nature are such as to make the chances no less than infinite against the supposition of Chaos, or the absence of the designing intelligence.” Said Bonaparte in Egypt, after listening to the atheistic talk of a group of officers and savans, gathered at his tent door under the lustrous stars of a sub-tropical night, “All very well, gentlemen; but who made all these?” [There is even in the Sublime and the Beautiful in Nature, secured as so much of it is by the very same properties of matter—mechanical, chemical, or other—and their combinations, as secure the more utilitarian results of Design, a concurrent “design argument,” which leads many minds towards the Mind, towards God. (See this popularly accessible in Pres. Day Tracts, No. 20, R.T.S.] The common agreement of the vast majority of the race, account for it how men may, has always been to some a promising line of quest after God. “Where all the world have turned their steps, surely in that direction He is to be found.” So men have said, nor without justification.
4. The heart and the moral nature have contributed to all the inquiry. The heart, as well as the intellect, has had its own “wisdom” by which it has sought “to know God.” And its wisdom has been the wisest. It has, indeed, affected the search after Him, in every line of quest. Very much according as their heart and moral condition have been, so have the inquirers valued or disparaged the paths by which the reason sought after Him; so have they hoped or feared that the path might lead them to His throne; so have they been urged onward by desire or dragged forward with reluctance, towards the place where perchance He might reveal Himself to the searchers. But the moral nature of man reaches out groping hands after Him. The sense of wrong and right has looked eagerly if it might see a Supreme Lawgiver somewhere behind “Right” and “Wrong.” Conscience has intimated a moral world and its Ruler. The personal manhood has given supreme testimony to a Person with whom it may have fellowship, and the sense of dependence has reinforced the argument. “The same heart in man which trembles before an Authority above him yearns to be able to trust in Him.” And the inquiry of the heart after God is the more earnest when the sense of guilt, so strange, so unreasonable, so inexplicable, and yet so completely justifying itself to the man who passes through its experiences, presses home the question: “How may I find God? If I find Him, what kind of God shall I meet? Will there be any pity, any mercy, any pardon, any love? Can there be? Can He show any?” Man can give no satisfying peace. The sinner has no authority to speak peace to himself. Nature is not without analogies which may suggest forgiveness; she has healing herbs for wounds and diseases, occasioned by violations of her own laws. But the guilty heart wants to know the Lawgiver, and His mind towards itself and its sin.
5. Abundantly clear from the history of human thought, philosophical or theological, that by any of these roads, or by all combined, the race has never come to any satisfying certainty about God. “His eternal power and Godhead” have not always been understood by the things that are made (Romans 1:20). All these arguments have always been open to all, to study and use. They none of them depend upon Revelation. The wisest wisdom of this world has exercised itself upon them. Yet there is not one of them which is so demonstrative in its force as to compel assent or to give certainty. [There is not one which may not be frittered away by over-subtle criticism; not one from which the intellect cannot find a way of escape, if sore pressed by it in controversy.] There is not one which brings absolutely and infallibly to God. Phenomena and the Finite have not necessarily suggested an Infinite Subsistence. The unity of design is as consistent with the operation of one of two, or of one of many, workers left to do as he wills, as with the operation of One Only Worker. He must be very and sufficiently wise and powerful, but not of logical necessity all-wise, all-powerful. “Is number finite or infinite?” asked a believing French savant of some atheistic men of science. “Finite.” “Then the universe had a beginning.” But the argument does not of necessity shut men up to a Creator. Men of “wisdom” have, in fact, held an Eternal Matter, or a self-originated Universe. Endless have been the ancient and modern, Oriental and Western, variations upon the Pantheistic theory of God and the world. A personal God, who is Creator, has not always been a God of providential rule over, and care for, His creation. Polytheism has been the belief of large sections of the race in all ages. The inquiry of mere wisdom has always, in point of fact, left men without just views or settled convictions. “The various apprehensions of wise men,” said Cicero long ago, “justify the doubtings of sceptics, and it will be time enough to blame these when others agree, or any one has found the truth” (De Nat. Deor., i. 10, 11. See Note at end of Homily). “(The wisdom of this world) 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 God was wearing out of thoughtful minds [Emperors, not only like Augustus, but like Tiberius and Nero, were deified. On the other hand, all the vilest, meanest, Oriental or African gods and cults were being welcomed at Rome], … so now there are mere vague and high-sounding phrases about the Almighty current among the worldly-wise. 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 are puzzled; the multitude know not what to think; and so ‘the world by wisdom knows not God’ ” (Dr. Donald Fraser). “Anima naturaliter Christiana,” cried the old apologist; but his word is both true and untrue. The anima Christiana truly finds reason enough to believe that in the design of its Maker it would “naturally” have known God. But there has been a blinding of the eye that looks for His traces; it cannot read aright the teachings of (say) nature. [It is “the pure in heart” now that alone “see God.” The Sir Galahads, not the Lancelots, see the Holy Grail.] In some lines of argument the evidence also has got confused; it cannot be read with absolute confidence; [the pieces of the puzzle have got jostled, and some perhaps are lost; it is not easy to discover the design which would lead to a Designer]. The altar “to an unknown God” in Athens is confessedly a symbolical fact in a representative city; man’s wisdom with all possible advantages avowing a result so incomplete as to be a defeat of any search “by wisdom” only. The wisest minds need God’s pilotage if they are to reach Himself. Science does not find man in man’s body, nor God in God’s world. The most modern thing is to take the confession of failure and wear it as the badge of superiority: “Agnostic, we!”
6. And this was “in the wisdom of God.”—The whole moral history of earth and mankind may probably be a great object-lesson in sin, its meaning, its mischief, its misery, and in grace, its manifold wisdom, and infinite fulness, for the teaching of other worlds and other races. The failure of mere fallen, darkened reason, even in its wisest, mightiest, most industrious examples, to “come at” God, “though He be not far from any one of us,” may not be the least instructive detail in this great Didactic of the story of our race. However that may be, with regard to “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” and however the question may be decided whether, if sin had not darkened man’s reason and perverted his heart, and confused and blurred some of the clearest evidence for a God, man might then “by wisdom” have known God, [if, indeed, he would then have had any need to search; man is seeking now a lost vision and knowledge]; as things are, this world-wide, age-long result all falls in with the great principle of 1 Corinthians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 1:31, that all pride of human intellect should be utterly excluded, made impossible by its utter failure to “find out God” (Job 11:7). The knowledge, when it comes, is to be through a “Salvation,” and salvation is for “those who believe.”
II. God’s answer.—
1. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in” the midst of Israel, so God has “lifted up” His Son upon a cross in the midst of mankind, groping with blind eyes, and outstretched hands, and yearning heart after Himself. The central Figure of history is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. The central Fact of the history of the Christ is the Cross. [The wise men from the East asked, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” Thirty years after Pilate gave the answer, putting upon the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”] The world for ages had been asking, “How, where, may we find and know God? Is there a God to know and find?” The answer given by the “preaching” of Paul and his fellows and their successors is, “Look at Jesus Christ, and above all at Him crucified, and see and know God.”
2. All we need to know, perhaps all we can be made to know, about God, we hear from Jesus of Nazareth; indeed, more truly still, we see it in Jesus of Nazareth. “He that hath seen Him hath seen the Father.” [As we say of a boy whose father is unknown to an inquirer who, nevertheless, is acquainted with the lad, “Well, he is his father over again.”] What He said and did, and above all, the reasons, the principles of judgment and action, which underlie all He said and did,—we may transfer them all to God, and say, “Thus and thus does He act and judge.” His relation, e.g. to prayer and to sin, is exhibited in Christ. His requirement of faith in Himself in order to sight and health and blessing, is a revelation of God in this respect. We have a record, attested by historical evidence, sufficient when the nature of the case is taken into full account, of a Person and His character and teaching, starting with which we gain, at the least, a crucial and probative instance that there is a “supernatural” Order, which in that one case at least has broken in upon, and manifested itself in the midst of, the natural. The world of God and of things spiritual disclosed itself in Him, His life and work. It is an ascertained fact, and level to the apprehension of the simplest. And when, moreover, it is understood that the whole Written Word is the word of Christ the Revealer, then all its teachings about God become those of Christ. And, as matter of fact, the only certain and satisfying knowledge of God has been that which is given in the Word of God; the Written and the Incarnate are for this purpose one.
3. But Paul singles out again and again the Cross as the central point of the revelation. A knowledge of God is, in his view, given there which does not even come through the three years’ ministry. [When Moses pleaded, “Show me Thy glory,” and God made His goodness to pass before His servant, it was not even a partial refusal of his request. His “goodness,” “pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin,” is His “glory” to sinners’ hearts (Exodus 33:18 to Exodus 34:7).] It is interesting in the last degree to hear the confession of even secular students of history that the cross of Christ is the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the modern; that all ancient history, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, all led up to it and converged upon it, whilst all the life of the modern world radiates from it; interesting to see how typical was the simple fact that in the very inscription on the cross were gathered up all the best history of preceding ages,—Hebrew, Greek, Latin—Religion, Wisdom, Law—Worship, Speculation, Government; profoundly interesting to see how Christianity meets the “Jew”-type, “requiring a sign” of the nearness of the Supernatural [“for outward, visible wonders”], and of the “Greek”-type, asking for the True and Beautiful and Good [“for inward completeness of system”]; meeting the one in the failure of his moral quest, and the other in the failure of his intellectual inquiry. But the “base” and “despised” and guilty want first and most urgently an answer for the conscience. And, once more it may be said, that the Cross has, age after age, given a satisfaction on this point found nowhere else. “Theories of the Atonement” have not always been consistent or wise, or duly considerate of all the facts; the analysis of the way in which the holy Justice of God was displayed at Calvary, as well as the Mercy, may sometimes have been mechanical and overdone. Much of all this has, moreover, been beyond the mass of seeking souls. And, apart from it all, by “believing” they have at the Cross come into a “salvation” which has meant “knowledge of God.” Their faith in Christ has been crowned by a gift of the Spirit, whose indwelling has restored more and more perfectly spiritual vision and judgment and power. They have been put by Him en rapport with spiritual things. There has come a “demonstration of the Spirit,” which has given evidence and proof and certainty. God reveals Himself to their “spirit.” They understand the reason of the failure of the search “by way of wisdom.” “Wise” or “foolish” after the mere intellectual standard of “the world,” the “saved” “know,” and they are saved at the Cross by “believing.”
NOTE.—Plato complains how hard it is to discover the Father of the universe. Socrates held it to be the greatest possible happiness to know the will of the gods, but did not believe this discoverable by principles of reason, and recommended divination [Christlieb, Mod. Doubt and Chr. Belief, pp. 78, 79. He, with others, says further:] Men never found God as personal, as holy, as Creator. Plato’s God oscillates between Nature and a Divine Idea. Aristotle made Him personal, but limited by primordial matter, and only a Demiourgos. The utmost attained to by the race was an intermittently shining, half-obscure presentiment, but not that God is and can only be One.
1 Corinthians 1:30. Christ our Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption.
I. Wisdom.—In two senses. Not even in Paul’s, or in God’s, could we be “wise” if there were no Christ to know, and unless He helped us to know Himself. He is the great Fact to know which is Wisdom. He gives the faculty for knowing, and the Spirit who exhibits Him to our awakened perception. He is Himself the Revealer, the Sum of all Revelation, and the giver of the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:12). Like the “world” at Corinth, the “world” to-day makes no account of such “wisdom.” But “knowledge” and “ignorance,” “wisdom” and “folly,” are all relative terms. Measured by one standard, placed in one set of circumstances, judged by one purpose, a man may be wise. With no change in himself, but with another set of conditions, in other circumstances, for another purpose, he may be a fool. To be really wise he must have the knowledge just then required and must know how to apply it. On a certain voyage, for example, so long as all went well, the ship’s surgeon was the wise man of the company. Besides his medical skill, he knew everything which could make the tedium of life on shipboard pass agreeably away. He easily carried the palm for popularity, and for being the universally clever man. The ship was wrecked on a desolate island. It became a question of finding shelter, of finding and cooking food, and here the many-sided man was utterly at fault. The common sailors, with their experimental knowledge of a thousand-and-one odds and ends of practical convenience, despised the doctor as a helpless hindrance. There was a curious reversal of the position. He had been a hero, a little god, on board; now he was a fool who wanted feeding and could find no food. The only wisdom known to the Book of God is Divine knowledge, and that is all bound up in Christ. No Christian will wisely undervalue mere natural wisdom or culture. The wide knowledge of the facts of the universe and their laws—Science; the wide mastery of the facts of the past and the great principles underlying them—History; the full-stored knowledge of the human mind, and of its laws—Philosophy; literary lore; the accumulations of the linguist; all these are noble and ennobling possessions, elevating, widening, as well as furnishing the mind which is enriched by them. All due honour even to the “wise man after the flesh.” All highest honour to such Wisdom when she becomes the handmaid of Divine truth. But all this is only fair-weather knowledge. The storm is coming, the wreck of the present order of things; the day of peril and of judgment, when the great question will be Eternal Life or Eternal Death. Even now all mere human knowledge is of things that “vanish away.” Knowledge and the objects of knowledge both are in ceaseless flux; a shifting, ever-changing knowledge of a shifting, ever-changing world, a partial knowledge perpetually under revision, correction, or enlargement. The one unchanging Fact is God in Christ. When, in “the new heavens and the new earth,” our science, history, literature, language, art, shall have been made obsolete, or shall have become mere curious memories, the knowledge of God will abide, true as ever, important as ever. “Can you tell me about God?” is a question which somehow the human mind cannot let alone. “Tell me about man, about myself. What is the meaning of the strange conflict always going on within me, between a higher and a lower self? What is the voice I sometimes seem to hear within me? and why is it so often a voice of self-reproach?” And then, when sin is understood, come the great questions: “Tell me whether there is any way of peace with myself and with God? Is He good? But that only makes me the more sadly wrong. Do not tell me what you hope, or think. Has He spoken? What are His terms of restoration?” Up to Paul’s day the wisest man of this world never answered such questions with any finality of satisfaction. The world’s wisdom has no final answer to-day. The very simplest Christian has an answer—an answer which, in ten thousand instances, has “worked” well in practical life. He believes he has reached certainty, where the wisest thinkers who disdain the help of Revelation go, groping and guessing, over the same wearisome ground of human ignorance; he certainly has learned to solve moral questions in practical living, as they are never solved elsewhere. He has learned a wisdom on these topics which will have abiding value in the dissolution and vanishing of all other knowledge besides, and will avail even at the bar of God. The Christian man’s theory of life and morals, his doctrine of God and of creaturely existence, are in fact a complete philosophy, which centres for him in Christ. All we can know, certainly all that we need to know, of God, for regulative ends, is exhibited in Christ. We hear from His lips a revelation of God; but we do not only listen, we look and see what God is, in His own holiness. Every great principle of His dealing with petitioners and with sin may be traced out in, and often lies upon the very surface of, the works of Christ. Said Augustine: “The works of Christ are themselves words of The Word.” The Bible is through the Spirit the revelation of Jesus Christ; and thus again He is “made to us wisdom” on the great topics of the inward moral schism, its meaning and origin and remedy. At His cross is the only definite word anywhere found about the pardon of guilt. And all the “wisdom” is one into which they have lived their way. It is verified knowledge; it is the knowledge of Life. God and Conscience and Sin—they understand these by the teaching of the Spirit of Christ. The way of peace with God, they know it, they have availed themselves of it—it is Christ’s work. Peace within themselves instead of the old moral discord—they have learned the secret of that also. And everything which is really wisdom, before God, and in the presence of eternity, they are being taught by the Spirit of Christ. The Revealer is Christ, the great Prophet of God.
II. This passes over into Righteousness and Sanctification.—We should once more have expected “power” to be linked with “wisdom.” But no, something better—“righteousness.”
1. These to be taken together.—They go together, in fact, as closely as in the grammar of the text. To a heart which learns Paul’s dialect they become almost a familiar two-worded unit of his customary thinking, as they are used in the vocabulary of Paul. Righteousness and Sanctification cover the whole career of the Christian life from pardon to glory. They are one work; one salvation; one glorious life. [Romans 8:30, “them He glorified,” began to be true from the moment of “them He justified.”] Not the same thing: the one the first step; the other the whole subsequent course. [In the illustrative language of Psalms 40:2, the Righteousness is located at the point where the foot is first set firmly upon the rocky brink of the “horrible pit”; Sanctification is the progressive departure farther and farther from the pit, with “goings” which are more and more “established.”] The one the work of pardoning, the other of the purifying, grace of God; in modern phraseology, blessings respectively objective and subjective; in old theological language, relative and real; imputed, imparted. The one restores His favour, the other His image. Apart from all technical phraseology, the fashion of which may change from teacher to teacher, from Church to Church, from century to century, the distinction is a real one and an inevitable one. The righteousness is the result of an act of pardon; the sanctification is the result of a process. It is one thing, and a simple one, to “justify” a man from his past debts; it is another and a longer, greater matter to cure him of thriftless or extravagant habits; yet both combine, and are needed, for complete help for the debtor. Something must be done for men, very much in men, if the work of redemption is to be accomplished. [The “Jews” were not only delivered from their captivity in Babylon; they were cured by it of the love of idolatry which had brought the captivity upon them. In the unvarying symbolism of Scripture the “blood” deals with guilt, the “water” with impurity. The “water and the blood” are the credentials of a complete Saviour (1 John 5:8).] A man who is “safe” in regard to the guilt of the past is “saved,” but in a very elementary sense only. That does but clear the way for a “salvation” which is larger, and complete: “Sanctification.” The man who is forgiven must go on to be holy.
2. Christ is our sanctification.—Not at all as though there were in the Gospel any vicarious holiness belonging to His work, such as will excuse the man who believes in Christ from seeking and working out a very real personal holiness. There was truth in the out-of-fashion and discredited phrase “Imputed Righteousness” (meaning “imputed holiness”). But it was only true to those who are aiming at realising their holiest in practice and attainment. Imperfection will cling where it brings no guilt. In Christ they are judged “holy” by a law which for His sake is interpreted in evangelical grace, and is reckoned as fulfilled by love. But God desires to have His “righteous” ones really “sanctified.” And the grace which sanctifies is secured for them, as pardon was, by the work of Christ. With Him was freely given the Spirit who makes them holy—Christ is the model and the means of their sanctification. It is the work of the Great Priest of the Gospel order.
III. Redemption is the crown of the work of Christ.—The word is here used in its highest and noblest sense. In a lower, narrower use it is the foundation of salvation; men could not be “saved,” if they had not been first “redeemed.” The redemption of the race is the basis and background of the salvation of the individual. But, looking forward, we see salvation fulfilled, culminating in redemption. Man is not only soul and spirit, “but body, soul, and spirit.” The body was redeemed by Christ [not Ephesians 5:23; but 1 Corinthians 6:20]; and as it has shared in the ruin and curse wrought by sin, so it will share in the deliverance wrought by Christ. [It is part of the “creature,” Romans 8:21-22.] It must wait longest for, and must receive latest of all, its part in the redemption of our complete manhood by Christ; but He wore it Himself, and still wears it, in a glory which is an earnest and pledge to the very body that He will not reckon His redemption complete until His people stand by His side before His Father [“Behold, I and children which God hath given Me” Isaiah 8:18; Hebrews 2:13], the last trace of the fell work of sin gone from every part, even the humblest, of their nature. The body will rise because He has risen, body and all. It will appear in glory, as, and because, He appears in glory. The vista of New Testament revelation leads up to a House in whose courts there move about, as if “to the manner born” [they have been “new-born” to it], a glorious Family, every one of whom is “conformed to the image of God’s Son,” “the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Romans 8:29). He is the pattern whose reproduction in them accounts for the strong “family-likeness” in them all. This is their “good” (Romans 8:28), up to which “all things have been working together”—Grace, Providence, even History in its worldwide, age-long course. The “redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23) will be the latest element in a redemptive process which at last puts every man who is in the new Race, whose Head is the Second Adam, beyond the reach of sin or death. As an Idea in the mind and heart of God—to speak humanly—the beginning of this whole Redemption is dateless, “before the world was.” Historically, its unfolding anticipated Calvary. But in a true sense the initial moment was when He cried in death, “It is finished!” And its completion will date from the moment when the Divine-human Redeemer looks for the first time upon the gathered, completed company of His own, and sees His own victory over Sin and its work, Death, realised in His people. The King and Deliverer will then cry once more, “Finished!” His people will say, “Thou art made unto us Redemption!”
1 Corinthians 1:20-21. Human Wisdom.
III. Superseded, by the Gospel.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 1:20. “Where,” indeed!
I. What have they not attempted?
II. What have they not promised?
III. What have they achieved?
IV. How are they brought to nought?—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 1:30. Christ is made [cf. John 1:14 (another tense of same verb), the great primal wonder, of which this is one purpose and outcome. See Appended Note] Wisdom to us.
The true culture is the conforming of our manhood to the ideal in Christ. “Is it not a fact that a certain superficial refinement of manners, some acquaintance with the forms of good society, a little stock of ordinary phrases, and the fact of having seen or heard something of the best known products of literature, together with a fashionable style of dress, is, in the opinion of most, a sufficient claim to the possession of culture.… Only look at the simple-minded man, not possessing much outward culture, but animated by the Spirit of Christ, and by sound piety; what a sense of moral fitness, what correct tact, what sound judgment, especially as to the ethical value of any person or action, do we find gradually produced in him. In such a case the educating influence of Christianity is frequently shown in a most surprising way.” (Christlieb, Mod. Doubt and Christian Belief, pp. 40, 43.)
1 Corinthians 1:30. Christ is made unto us Redemption.
I. By an atoning sacrifice (Galatians 3:13).
II. By infusing the spirit of a new life.
III. By abolishing death as the penalty of sin. There was evidently death, violent death, in the pre-Adamic geological ages. But the “violent” death may have been painless, for aught we know. If not, it may have been that there would have been no death for the crown of creation, man. Or if there had been death for him, it would have been only dissolution, natural, happy. Sin, indeed, turned dying into Death. It is Death because it is not only the penalty of sin, but it is the physical anticipation and adumbration of the true Death—“death that is death indeed”—the abandonment of the soul by God Who is its Life. Sin links fear with the thought of death, for to an innocent moral nature, one might as reasonably hope as fear, before the presence of the unknown future. Now in Christ death is once more only dying; decease, departure, falling asleep. The one thing which now the dying of a Christian is never called is “death.” He hath abolished death; it practically counts for nothing to His people. He has abolished its bondage of fear (Hebrews 2:15).
1 Corinthians 1:30. Christ made to us … Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption.
Stanley brings out three pairs of correlatives.
1 Corinthians 1:21. Seeking God.—To be blessed by God, to know Him, and what He is, that is the battle of Jacob’s soul from sunset till the dawn of day. And this is our struggle—the struggle. Let any true man go down into the deeps of his own being, and answer us, what is the cry that comes from the most real part of his nature? Is it the cry for daily bread? Jacob asked for that in his first communion with God—preservation, safety. Is it even this, to be forgiven our sins? Jacob bad a sin to be forgiven, and in that most solemn moment of his existence he did not say a syllable about it. Or is it this, “Hallowed be Thy name”? No! Out of our frail and yet sublime humanity, the demand that rises in the earthlier hours of our religion may be this, “Save my soul”; but in the most unearthly moments it is this, “Tell me Thy Name.” We move through a world of mystery; and the deepest question is, “What is the being that is ever near, sometimes felt, never seen? That which has haunted us from childhood, with a dream of something surpassingly fair, which has never yet been realised? That which sweeps through the soul at times as a desolation, like the blast from the wings of the Angel of Death, leaving us stricken and silent in our loneliness? That which has touched us in our tenderest point, and the flesh has quivered with agony, and our mortal affections have shrivelled up with pain? That which comes to us in aspirations of nobleness, and conceptions of superhuman excellence. Shall we say It or He? What is It? Who is He? Those anticipations of Immortality and God, what are they? Are they the mere throbbings of my own heart, heard and mistaken for a living something beside me? Are they the sound of my own wishes, echoing through the vast void of Nothingness? Or shall I still call them God, Father, Spirit, Love? A living Being within me or outside me? Tell me Thy Name, thou awful mystery of Loveliness! This is the struggle of all earnest life.”—F. W. Robertson, “Sermons,” i. 45, 46, “Jacob’s Wrestling.” Cf. “In Memoriam,” cxxiv., “The heart’s refusal of Atheism.”
1 Corinthians 1:21. The Foolishness of the Preaching.—If Christianity had been an “idyll” or a “pastoral,” the product of the simple peasant life and of the bright sky of Galilee, there is no reason why it should not have attracted a momentary interest in literary circles, although it certainly would have escaped from any more serious trial at the hands of statesmen than an unaffected indifference to its popularity. But what was the Gospel, as it met the eye and fell upon the ear of Roman Paganism? 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2. Here was a truth inextricably linked with other truths equally “foolish” in the apprehension of Pagan intellect, equally condemnatory of the moral degradation of Pagan life. In the preaching of the Apostles, Jesus Crucified confronted the intellectual cynicism, the social selfishness, and the sensualist degradation of the Pagan world. To its intellect He said, “I am the Truth”; He bade its proud self-confidence bow before His intellectual Royalty. To its selfish, heartless society, careful only for bread and amusement, careless of the agonies which gave interest to the amphitheatre, He said, “A new commandment,” etc. (John 13:34). Disinterested love of slaves, of barbarians, of political enemies, of social rivals, love of man as man, was to be a test of true discipleship. And to the sensuality, so gross, and yet often so polished, which was the very law of individual Pagan life, He said, “If any man will come after Me,” etc. (Matthew 16:24); “If thine eye offend thee,” etc. (Matthew 18:9). Sensuality was to be dethroned, not by the negative action of a prudential abstinence from indulgence, but by the strong positive force of self-mortification. Was such a doctrine likely, of its own weight and without any assistance from on high, to win its way to acceptance? Is it not certain that debased souls are so far from aspiring naturally toward that which is holy, elevated, and pure, that they feel toward it only hatred and repulsion? Certainly, Rome was unsatisfied with her old national idolatries; but if she turned her eyes toward the East, it was not to welcome the religion of Jesus, but the impure rites of Isis and Serapis, of Mithra and Astarte. The Gospel came to her unbidden, in obedience to no assignable attraction in Roman society, but simply in virtue of its own expansive, world-entrancing force. Certainly, Christianity answered to the moral wants of the world, as it really answers at this moment to the true moral wants of all human beings, however unbelieving or immoral they may be. The question is, whether the world so clearly recognised its real wants as forthwith to embrace Christianity? The Physician was there; but did the patient know the nature of his own malady sufficiently well not to view the presence of the Physician as an intrusion? Was it likely that the old Roman society, with its intellectual pride, its social heartlessness, and its unbounded personal self-indulgence, should be enthusiastically in love with a religion which made intellectual submission, social unselfishness, and personal mortification, its very fundamental laws? The history of the three first centuries is the answer to that question. The kingdom of God was no sooner set up … than it found itself surrounded by all that combines to make the progress of a doctrine or of a system impossible. The thinkers were opposed to it; they denounced it as a dream of folly. [He quotes Tacit., Ann., XV. 44, “Exitiabilis superstitio”; Suetonius, Nero, xvi., “Superstitio nova et malefica”; Celsus’ comparison of the worship of Christ with the Egyptian worship of cats, crocodiles, etc.] The habits and passions of the people were opposed to it; it threatened somewhat rudely to interfere with them. There were venerable institutions, coming down from a distant antiquity, and gathering round them the stable and thoughtful elements of society; these were opposed to it, as to an audacious innovation, as well as from an instinctive perception that it might modify or destroy themselves. National feeling was opposed to it; it flattered no national self-love; it was to be the home of human kind; it was to embrace the world; and as yet the nation was the highest conception of associated life to which humanity had reached. Nay, religious feeling itself was opposed to it; for religious feeling had been enslaved by ancient falsehoods. There were worships, priesthoods, beliefs, in long-established possession; and they were not likely to yield without a struggle … It was a time when the whole administrative power of the empire was steadily concentrated upon the extinction of the Name of Christ What were then, to a human eye, the prospects of the Kingdom of God? It had no allies, like the sword of the Mohammedan, or like the congenial mysticism which welcomed the Buddhist, or like the politicians who strove to uphold the falling Paganism of Rome. It found no countenance even in the Stoic moralists; they were indeed amongst its fiercest enemies. [In foot-note he adds, “Who can marvel at its instinctive hatred of a religion, which proclaimed a higher code of Ethics than its own, and which, moreover, possessed the secret of teaching that code practically to all classes of mankind? (See next Appended Note, a.)] If … it ever was identified by Pagan opinion with the cœtus illioiti, the collegia illicita, with the moral clubs of the imperial epoch, this would only have rendered it more than ever an object of suspicion to the government. Between the new doctrine and the old Paganism there was a deadly feud.”—Liddon, “Bampton Lectures,” III. iii. 3 (β).
a. Appended Note to above: “Most men, being incapable of understanding logical arguments concerning truth, need instruction through parables; thus those who are called Christians derive their faith from the parables of their Master. They sometimes act, however, like those who follow true philosophy. There are some among them who, in their zeal to control themselves, and to live honourably, have succeeded in becoming in nothing inferior to true philosophers.”—Galen (the physician); from a lost work on Plato. Quoted in Luthardt.
1 Corinthians 1:23. The Cross and its Victory.—To the ancient world the cross was the symbol of shame; to us it is our joy, our comfort, and our boast. There is nothing which can possibly be more opposed to all our natural ideas than the cross. We can understand a God of majesty; we can comprehend a manifestation of God in the great interests of humanity; but nothing could be more directly opposed to our every notion than that the death on the cross should be His supreme manifestation. “To the Jews a stumbling-block, to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). And so it is still. And yet it was just the preaching of the Cross that conquered the world. In proportion as concessions are made to the repugnance of the natural reason to the cross is Christianity weakened and its efficacy lessened. It is only the Christianity of the cross which is the victory over the world. And it has conquered. A few years since a drawing representing the Crucified was found upon the walls of the ancient palace of the Cæsars in Rome. The rude sketch speaks to us from the midst of the times of the struggle between Christianity and heathenism, and is a memorial of the manner in which the minds of men were then stirred. Some heathen servant of the emperor is taunting his Christian fellow-servant with this contemptuous sign. The relic belongs to about the year 200, and is by far the most ancient crucifix we know of. But this … is an ironical one. It is a caricature of Christ, before which a Christian stands worshipping, and it bears the inscription, “Alexamenos”—the name of the derided Christian—“worshipping his God.” We see that the Crucified Saviour and the preaching of the cross were the scorn of the world; and yet this conquered the world. In the great struggle between heathenism and Christianity the cross was the sign of victory. Whether the story is true or not that Constantine, before his decisive battle with Maxentius, saw in the clouds of heaven the appearance of a cross, with the inscription, “By this shalt thou conquer,” even if it is a fiction, it is yet truth in the form of fiction, for the cross was the victorious power, and such it will remain. If Christianity is to conquer the world, it will only do so as the preaching of the Cross, and not by concessions to the natural reason. It is contrary to all natural logic that God should humble Himself to such an extremity. That death upon the tree of shame should be His supreme revelation is contrary to all the logic of the natural reason. But it is the logic of love; and love can hold its own against the logic of the mere understanding, for it has on its side the higher logic of truth.—Luthardt, “Saving Truths,” 136–8.
[The caricature referred to, known as the Graffito, was on the plaster of the wall of one of the guard-rooms of the Pretorians, the body-guard, the household troops, of the Emperor, in the ruins of the Imperial Palace on the Palatine. The head of the Crucified One is probably that of an ass. (It was a common popular slander that the Christians worshipped an ass.) The worshipper is most likely a Pretorian, like the draughtsman of the caricature. A readily accessible engraving and description of the Graffito may be found in “Italian Pictures” (p. 55), Religious Tract Society, Pen-and-Pencil Series.]
1 Corinthians 1:23. The Victory of the Cross.—Everything seemed to conspire to render its victory utterly impossible. Its origin was against it; it seemed but a Jewish sect. Its advocates and followers had nothing attractive about them, and belonged for the most part to the lower and uneducated classes. Its doctrine was a “stumbling block”; it appeared a most vexatious “foolishness.” Its reverence for God, too, was suspected, for the Christians, using no images of the gods, were taken for atheists. The worst and most immoral things were said of its mysterious rites. Public opinion was prejudiced against them, philosophy assailed Christianity with intellectual weapons, whilst the authorities opposed it with brute force. And yet it triumphed. So early as the reign of Nero it was, as Tacitus indignantly asserts, very widely diffused. (Multitudo ingens, Ann., xv. 44.) Nor did it avail to arrest its progress, that Nero, in order to divert from himself the guilt of the great conflagration of Rome, executed vast numbers of Christians; not so much, as Tacitus says, because they were guilty of this crime, as because they were hated by the whole human race. (Tac., ut supra.) Nevertheless, Christianity continued to spread. An interesting letter of the younger Pliny, governor of Bithynia, to his friend the Emperor Trajan, written about seventy years after the death of Christ, is still extant, distinctly pourtraying the state of the Christian cause at that time in the places which had been the scenes of St. Paul’s and St. John’s ministries. “This superstition,” writes Pliny (Epp. v. 97), “has spread on all sides, in towns, in villages, and in the country; the temples of our gods stand deserted, and sacrifices have now for a long time ceased to be offered. I arrested a few girls called deaconesses, and put them to the torture, but discovered nothing besides excessive and pernicious superstition.” … And a century later, Tertullian, in his Apology (c. 37), could say to the heathen, “We are but of yesterday, and yet we have taken possession of your whole country—towns, islands, the camp, the palace, the senate, the forum; we have left you only the temples!” Nor could the great persecutions—of which ten may be enumerated—ever hanging over the Christians arrest the triumphs of Christianity. No age, no sex, was spared; all the strength of the empire was put into requisition; certain of the most energetic of the emperors, such as Decius and Diocletian, considered it their special duty to root out Christianity from the world, because the very existence of the Roman Empire depended upon its extirpation. But the arm of the executioner failed before the fidelity of the Christians. Diocletian was obliged to give up his work; he retired from the stage, but Christianity remained, and in the person of Constantine ascended the imperial throne, and has since governed, even externally, the Roman world.—Luthardt, “Fundamental Truths,” 267–9.
1 Corinthians 1:23. The Victory of the Cross over Heathenism.—“As Heine puts it, while the gods of Greece were assembled at the feast of the immortals, and Hebe tripped round with her goblets of pleasantest nectar, and infinite laughter rang round the happy banqueting board, and the feast was at its fullest, the music at its sweetest, suddenly there came gasping towards them a pale Jew, dripping with blood; a crown of thorns on His head, bearing a great cross of wood on His shoulder; and He cast the cross on the high table of the gods, so that the golden goblets trembled and fell, and the gods grew dumb and pale, and ever paler, till they melted in utter mist.”—From “A Lay Sermon” by Gerald Massey.
1 Corinthians 1:30. Christ … Wisdom to us.—“Verse 30, viewed apart from its connection, is a great text, and great in the greatness of its mystery. Became, not was made. This verb denotes a transition from one state or mode of subsistence to another, e.g. ‘the Word became flesh,’ i.e. being God, the Word passed into a mode of subsistence in which He was man as well as God. Similarly we are said (2 Corinthians 5:21) to ‘become the righteousness of God in Christ,’ i.e. to pass from our low estate of sinful humiliation to the high level of God’s perfect righteousness. Thus, according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, the Son of God, when He entered into human nature, entered also into the Divine scheme of wisdom, and translated it into life. For unquestionably the substance of that scheme of wisdom was the union of the two natures in the Person of God’s Son, together with the manifold benefits flowing from that union. Of this hidden counsel of redemption, which was willed and planned before Creation itself, Jesus Christ was in His Person the embodiment, and in all that He wrought and suffered, the historical manifestation and pleroma. Thus He became wisdom from God; not ‘became from God’; the order of the Greek is against that view. Again, as the Father in heaven was the first cause or fountain of this wisdom, … so Christ on earth may be regarded in His work as a cistern gradually filling with this wisdom, and after His ascension overflowing with it from heaven into the larger cistern of His Church below. This overflow commenced on the Day of Pentecost. Thus He became wisdom to us from God, i.e. wisdom from God for us to receive. But this abstract counsel or wisdom of the Father, which was planned by Him before the ages were made, and which in the sphere of time became concrete in the Incarnate Son, what was it? What it more precisely was, both in its embodiment in Christ and in its relation to us men, is further defined in three heads. The eternal purpose is drawn out of its secret depths, so to speak, like a telescope of three lenses, in three evolutions, each in its own place:
1. Righteousness of God the Father imputed, not the righteousness of Christ, for that is nowhere in the New Testament said to be imputed. It is the proper fruit of Christ’s obedience unto death, and the imputatation of it to believers on earth approaches by degrees to assimilation precisely as progress is made in the inner life of sanctification. Indeed, the “both and” indicates this mutual correlation. Of the absolute Righteousness God is the giver because of Christ’s meritorious Passion, and in it the saints, after the Resurrection, are set indefectible. The last link in this threefold chain of wisdom is redemption, i.e. of the body together with the soul and spirit in the resurrection of the saints at the Parousia. In brief, the whole means this: God—He alone is the first and efficient cause of your union and fellowship with Him who became flesh and translated into life and made actual in time the ideal plan of eternity, mediating for us the threefold benefit of that Divine counsel, righteousness imputed, holiness imparted, redemption consummated.—Evans, “Speaker.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent