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(For many points, see Homiletic Analysis.)
1 Corinthians 2:1. I.—Slightly emphatic; q.d. “I was myself also in complete harmony of spirit and method with the lines of God’s procedure” (as set out in 1 Corinthians 1:17-31). This verse takes up the personal thread from 1 Corinthians 1:17. Speech.—Lit. “word.” Compare with 1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 4:20, inter alia. Proclaiming.—No more; that is his function, simple and restricted. Testimony.—Notice the striking and influentially supported reading “mystery,” which, if accepted, is a thoroughly Pauline thought. Retaining “testimony,” then preaching is not theorising, speculation, imagination; not what we fancy, or our heart says “must be”; but the “testimony of God.” Not even our systematised deductions from the Word, unless these can be shown to be the “testimony of God.” To this the heart responds; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
1 Corinthians 2:2. “And that Jesus Christ as crucified;” an additional restriction imposed upon himself, knowing well all the while that it would be an additional difficulty to the reason and heart of man. (In strict grammar the “not” belongs to “determined,” and not to “know.”)
1 Corinthians 2:3.—Not to be illustrated by the A.V. of Acts 18:5, which, with the true reading, means “was under a sacred pressure that made him give himself more earnestly than ever to the preaching of the Word.” The weakness “was ethical, not physical” (Evans). So Ellicott. But Beet, “Any kind of inability, including bodily weakness caused by sickness.” He adds, however, “This sense is suggested in Galatians 4:13. But there is no hint of it here.” This is too strong. Stanley sees allusion to 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:5; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Should we not add 2 Corinthians 12:7-9? Also, does it do honour to the promise of Matthew 10:19—which surely extends beyond any mere case of forensic apology—to speak as if the address at Athens were a mistake in topic and form, and had sent Paul to Corinth burdened with a sense of “failure”? “The Apostle preached Jesus at Athens, as well as at Corinth, Acts 17:18” (Ellicott). Certainly in preaching there the Resurrection he had not sought to conciliate human reason. It is not suggesting anything unworthy of Paul to notice that the special vision vouchsafed to him by Christ (Acts 18:9-10) was the Lord’s assistance of His servant in the face of such “blasphemy” and “opposition,” as might well fill him with “fear and trembling” whether he should be adequate to the demand of the work in Corinth, in the face of all its difficulties. Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5.
1 Corinthians 2:4. Preaching.—The matter, not the act, of preaching, as in 1 Corinthians 1:21, which means not the method, “preaching,” but the matter, the thing preached. Enticing.—“Persuasive,” seeking by argument to gain the assent of the intellect, and by rhetoric the suffrages of the heart. Demonstration of the Spirit.—See Separate Homily. The Holy Spirit. Choose between, (a) “The miracles wrought by the power of God through the agency of the Holy Spirit” (e.g. Beet, with Origen); and (b) “The conviction of the truth, wrought through my plain preaching of the Cross in the hearts of my hearers, whose spirit was touched by the Holy Spirit” (e.g. Evans or Ellicott). Choose (b), and compare the words of Longinus, that “paul of Tarsus was the first who maintained positive assertion without elaborate proof.” See how the method of mere “positive assertion,” accompanied by the “power” of the Spirit, carried conviction at Pentecost [well expounding John 16:8-11]. (a) narrows down to the special method for a few Churches in one century, a Divine method applicable, and exemplified, and vindicated, universally.
1 Corinthians 2:5.—God’s “wisdom” and “power” are together in 1 Corinthians 1:24.
1 Corinthians 2:6. Perfect.—In (the customary Pauline) opposition to “babes” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Evans says: “No contrast here at all between Reason and Revelation, as some think, but between … the philosophy of God and the philosophy of the world. [But this runs up into that between Reason and Revelation.] It is not true that Christianity, in setting forth the bare argument of the Cross unto the salvation of believers, has no interior philosophy of its own for the few receptive of it. But observe that a contrast … is [also] indicated … between the deeper truths or higher wisdom of Christianity and the rudimentary lessons of it. This second contrast … brings to view two corresponding classes of believers, the full-grown and the infants; and, in addition to this, two corresponding modes of instruction. In fact, the Apostle had hitherto preached to his hearers in Corinth such broad facts of the scheme of Redemption as were level to their low apprehension; he had not dared to spread before them the treasures of the higher ‘wisdom’ meet only for the ‘perfect’; to such pearls they in their crude state would have been swine.” [But this latter part is rather exegetical of 1 Corinthians 3:1 than of our verse.] Princes of this world.—Evans: “The leading men of the Jews and of the Greeks, the Gentile potentates, including Hellenic philosophers and Hebrew doctors. Such ‘come to nought’; these luminaries with their vain lamps pale and go out before the day-star of Truth when it dawns from on high.” “That gradual nullification of all real and enduring potency on their part which was brought about by the Gospel” (Ellicott). Any reference to Ephesians 6:12 can only be remote; these “rulers” did not, in any sense germane to Paul’s argument, “crucify” Christ (1 Corinthians 2:8).
1 Corinthians 2:7.—Connect, not “we speak … in a mystery,” but “God’s wisdom in (couched in [Evans]) a mystery.” Our glory.—“All have come short of” (Romans 3:23), but in Christ we now “rejoice” again “in hope of, the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Christ is “the Lord of the glory” in 1 Corinthians 2:7. It is His to give to all for whom it is prepared (Matthew 20:23). “Christ in us” is “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). See His prayer (John 17:22; John 17:24). “Our glory,” then, is our whole recovered estate, as redeemed and saved through Christ; seen in a life of grace, and of holy fellowship with God here as His children (1 John 3:1); broadening into the life of glory in heaven. The recovered image of God is the glory of human nature, as God meant manhood to be.
1 Corinthians 2:9.—Note the more exact rendering in Quoted, somewhat ad sensum, from LXX. of Isaiah 64:4, with perhaps some influence of Isaiah 52:15 and Isaiah 65:17. What God does for His people in such national and temporal deliverances as were in the view of the prophet, is done on the same lines as all His dealings of every kind with and for them. They are always beyond their expectation and hope. He shames their faith as often as their fears. The “waiting” is the “waiting” of “love”; full, therefore, of faith and patient trust. Also the unloving heart “waits” in vain, if it wait at all. It can see and know and receive nothing of all these “prepared” things. Note “prepared” (R.V.), carrying back thought to the original plan of God.
1 Corinthians 2:10. (Hath) revealed them to us by His Spirit.—Makes it quite certain that, however true in such a connection the mere words may be, Paul is not thinking in 1 Corinthians 2:9 of “heaven.” “Heaven,” moreover, is not one of those things internal, so to speak, to the being of God which “the Spirit searches.”
1 Corinthians 2:11.—The analogy is not a perfect one; but notice how like God man is: made in the image of God’s self-conscious personality.
1 Corinthians 2:12. World.—Here κόσμος; in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, αἰών. Liddon, Bampton Lectures, v., note, as to κόσμος, quotes from Bishop Martensen: “If we consider the effect of the Fall upon the course of historical development, not only in the case of individuals but of the race collectively, the term ‘world’ bears a special meaning different from that which it would have were the development of humanity normal. The cosmical principle having been emancipated by the Fall from its due subjection to the Spirit, and invested with a false independence, and the universe of creation having obtained with man a higher importance than really attaches to it, the historical development of the world has become one in which the advance of the kingdom of God is retarded and hindered. The created universe has, in a relative sense, life in itself, including, as it does, a system of powers, ideas, and aims which possess a relative power. This relative independence, which ought to be subservient to the kingdom of God, has become a fallen ‘world-autonomy.’ Hence arises the Scriptural expression ‘this world.’ By this expression the Bible conveys the idea that it regards the world not only ontologically, but in its definite and actual state, the state in which it has been since the Fall. ‘This world’ means the world content with itself, in its own independence, its own glory; the world which disowns its dependence on God as its Creator. ‘This world’ regards itself not as the creature (κτίσις), but only as the κόσμος, as a system of glory and beauty which has life in itself, and can give life. The historical embodiment of ‘this world’ is heathendom, which honoureth not God as God.” [For the distinction between “world” and “age,” see chap. 5, § D, of Homiletic Analysis, Appended Note.] In the prevalent reading two words are used for “knoweth” here, perhaps “slightly distinguished” (Stanley), as in John 21:16-17. See 2 Corinthians 5:16. Freely given.—One word; germ of the thought afterward expanded so largely in Romans 5:15 sqq. Note in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 the order: The Spirit searches in God, what then He brings and imparts, along with Himself, to us; and then next speaks out to others through us; again finding acceptance for them in their case by His own demonstration and power. First and last, and at each intermediate, point it is all the Spirit! God’s thoughts, as the Spirit discloses them, spoken in the Spirit’s words!
1 Corinthians 2:13. Spiritual with spiritual.—Exposition, not Grammar, must decide here between, (a) “Comparing [“combining” (R.V: margin), “matching” (Evans)] spiritual things with spiritual things,” and (b) “Interpreting spiritual things by spiritual things,” or (c) “Interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men.” (a) and (b) approximate. Stanley supports “interpreting” by the usage of the LXX. in Genesis 40:8; Genesis 40:16; Genesis 41:15; Daniel 5:12; Daniel 5:15; Daniel 5:26. Evans supports “matching” by 2 Corinthians 10:12; and also prefers “matching spiritual truths with spiritual minds,” which suits well 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:14. In reality the sentence is almost gnomic in form and fulness of application. (a) is only a special case of (a); the “comparing” “of (a) may be for the purpose of the “interpreting” in (b). [We are reminded of the loud exclamation of the minister in the early Church, just previous to the “consecration” of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper, “Τὰ ἅγια τοῖς ἁγίοις.” “Holy (things) to holy (persons)!” In like manner there are “spiritual things” which can only congruously go with “spiritual words,” or “things,” or “persons.”]
1 Corinthians 2:14. Discerned.—Lit. “examined”; same word as in 1 Corinthians 9:3; as if the “natural” man questioned the “spiritual” thing; but it would not yield up to him its secret (Genesis 32:29; Judges 13:18; Isaiah 9:6). So in 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. Cognate word also with that for “comparing,” 1 Corinthians 2:13.
1 Corinthians 2:15.—Ellicott gives, as examples of these spiritual judgments, the wise, clear, far-reaching decisions in 1 Corinthians 6:1-4, 1 Corinthians 7:1 sqq., 1 Corinthians 7:20 sq., 1 Corinthians 9:3 sq., 1 Corinthians 14:34 sq., 1 Corinthians 14:6 sq.
1 Corinthians 2:16.—LXX. in Isaiah 40:13, here quoted, uses “mind” (νοῦς) for “Spirit” (ruach in Heb.). Paul follows what serves his purpose, with perfect fidelity to the truth of the matter discussed. Mind.—Not at all in the vague, loose sense of “character,” or “temper,” or “disposition.” “We know, the knowledge is in our possession, what God in Christ designs and desires for His people; we are taken by the Spirit into the deeps of His redeeming thought toward our race.” [In the same way “spirit” is never in New Testament used for characteristic temper, or style, or prevailing idea. 1 Corinthians 2:12, e.g., means almost certainly a personal spirit.]
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—Whole Chapter
A contrast runs throughout. I. There are two types of men.—“Natural,” “spiritual.” And so—
II. There are two worlds of facts; one being “the things of God.” Correspondent to these there are—
III. Two ways of getting to know; one being by the “demonstration of the Spirit.” And further there are in close parallel—
IV. Two ways of preaching the Gospel.
I. Natural men and spiritual men.—
1. The former word is suitably, truly, descriptive. In any extreme development of the type, they are men as men are by nature; they are what men might have been, what men do again become, apart from the “free gift” of the grace of “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). The unregenerate life, and the backslider’s life after regeneration, tend to revert to type. In fallen human nature, per se, “dwelled no good thing” (Romans 7:18). There is not actually found the unrelieved blackness and darkness of mere human nature, but all modifying goodness and light are grace, not nature. Perhaps noble men, but “natural.”
2. But “natural” is not the equivalent of Paul’s word. Nor is “carnal” in, e.g., 1 Corinthians 3:1, though it is with equal truth descriptive, and is set in equally strong contrast with “spiritual” men.
3. His word is Jude’s word, where we have “sensual” (Jude 1:19), expounded as equivalent to, or at least consequent upon, their “not having the Spirit.” James, too, designates by it the wisdom of the “natural man” (James 3:15; “sensual”).
4. The word, like that for “spiritual,” is one of a pair of correlates of “soul” and “spirit.” [1 Thessalonians 5:23; but also consistently distinguished by Paul throughout his terminology of human nature; and, whatever be the nature and value of the distinction—a very difficult question—it is one preserved and observed in Old Testament Hebrew as consistently as in New Testament Greek.] As Paul observed men, a deep cleavage separates them into two sharply definite classes. The cleavage begins with the opposition between “soul” and “spirit,” but runs through all the life of men. [It is coincident with the line which parts “them that are perishing” from “them that are being saved” (e.g. 2 Corinthians 2:15). The line lies between those out of Christ and those “in Christ”; between those who are “the world” in John, and in his Master’s terminology, and those “born again.” “Soulish” has been proposed as an equivalent for Paul’s description; or “animal,” but this is in many cases misleading; “animal-souled” is a compromise, fairly acceptable and useful.] It should be noted that the underlying opposition is not between the Spirit of God and the “soul” in man, but between the human “spirit” and the “soul” in man. [Though the “spirit” of man is so constantly dealt with as under the gracious influences of the Spirit of God, and the two are so nearly allied, that in fact, and in the exegesis of particular passages, it is often hard to keep them apart.]
5. Some “natural men” live a really “animal” life. To satisfy the body’s need of food and sleep, to gratify its passions, seems all their life. “What they know naturally as brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves” (Jude 1:10). There are many of a higher type, in whom is much that is loving and lovable; they are tender, affectionate parents, firm friends, faithful servants, good masters; in business diligent, honest, honourable. In many the powers of mind are cultured to a high degree, [though it is the witness of fact, in ancient and modern culture, how the highest cultivation of the intellect and the tastes may coexist with utter selfishness, and even with the crudest sensuality]; the mind is well furnished, and the tastes are refined to an extreme of delicacy. Yet there might almost be no God and no Godward side to their own nature, for anything that appears in life, or motive, or principle. At their best they are highly developed types of the uttermost of which “body” plus “soul” is capable, save that personality still remains, a trait of God’s image not altogether lost.
6. The “spiritual man” may be of very humble origin and station, he may be only scantily educated, but in Him the “spirit” is awakened and dominant. [Language cannot be very exact on this topic, but] it is as though there were a something in him akin to God who is a Spirit, a something capable of looking God in the face, and knowing and being known; susceptible of, responsive to, the activities of the personal Spirit of God; and this no longer, as it were, dormant, overlaid, buried, or only awake to struggle in vain against the dominance of the “soul.” The quickened “spirit” and its powers are now the potent factor in a life which is thus made “new.” Take all of which man is capable apart from the distinctive work of the Spirit of God, and develop it to the highest degree, the man remains a “natural man.” Awaken the “spirit,” ennoble it, enthrone it as supreme, by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, and—culture or no culture in the ordinary sense—you have the life, higher or lower, of the “spiritual man,” often with a very real culture due to the supremacy of his Godward life. [Cf. pp. 49, 51, antea.]
7. On one side of his line of cleavage Paul ranges “princes of this world,” on the other “perfect” men in the Church. “Princes;” for an early current understanding of Psalms 2:0 saw it fulfilled when “Herod and Pontius Pilate,” and their helpers, “gathered themselves together against the Anointed” One of God, the “Lord of glory” (Acts 4:24-27). Yet these are only representatives of other “princes,” intellectual, social, financial, literary, the leaders of fashions of thought and speech and opinions and morals; often more really than the titular and hereditary ones the rulers of the life of “this world” of “natural men”; the men who make their “age,” just because they are of the age, neither behind it, nor too violently and extremely in advance of it to make it march with their step and dance while they pipe. Great men; and yet less than the men whose measure and whose outlook is adjusted to the scale of a larger Æon, the eternal, already ever around and with us, and yet “to come.” They are “of the age,” and according to its pattern, and measure, and mind, only. They, and it, and their “wisdom,” all vanish and “come to nought” together.
8. The “perfect” men are the large men; the men—no longer babes, but arrived at, or fast approaching, the prime of moral manhood, in its stature and its trained and experienced capacities. The very “princes” have but a maimed humanity; the dormant, dead, forgotten “spirit” is an integral part of human nature. Human nature is an incomplete, “lop-sided” thing if the spirit be undeveloped. These “princes” may, Saul-like, overtop by a head or more, the average of their “world,” but their feet stand on its level.
9. The “perfect” are only comparatively so. There is no absolute perfection save in God, and to it He does not make progress; He has never had less than perfection in its absolute measure. The perfection of the creature, and even of the “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), is relative, always becoming, never reaching finality. To a creaturely perfection which could not grow into a higher perfection the next stage would be Death. Still, the contrast is so great and so definite, between the childhood of the “spiritual man” and his adult manhood, that this latter is regarded as a distinct perfection, already reached by the men of whom Paul thinks. The man who has reached his physical majority does not, in many senses, cease to grow still, to the last. In the spiritual life there is no “last”; the growth of the “perfect” goes on in glory. The “princes” are all “natural men,” some of them being the best specimens of these. The “perfect” are all “spiritual men,” with a new life and its equipment of new faculties, and with the knowledge of a new world correlative to these.
II. Two worlds of facts corresponding to the two types of men.—“Spirituals match with spirituals,” as Evans renders 1 Corinthians 2:13. (See Critical Notes.) “Natural men” in like manner match with, and are themselves examples of, the things of a “natural” world. The cleavage extends here also. The one world is that of “the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). [Note how these are not exactly the same as “the things of God,” “the deep things of God.” These are mainly the purposes and designs and the facts of the very Being of God. They are paralleled with “the things of a man.” If the thing may be said, they are the world within the Self of God; in some degree analogous to the world within the self of a man, which unless the man please to disclose it, no other man can “know.” As a man can, so God can keep Himself a Secret, unknown, unknowable, except to His own Spirit, which “searcheth all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11); His inscrutable Being, the counsels and purposes of the Divine mind and heart.] These “things of the Spirit of God” are a world revealable and knowable. They are, in part, knowledge and blessedness “prepared for those that love God.” [So Paul gives the sense, gladly availing himself of the words of the LXX. in Isaiah 64:4.] They have been—even Gospel privileges and a hope for Gentiles—a “mystery” (1 Corinthians 2:7). They had been the secrets of God’s mind and heart towards mankind; long concealed, or only revealed gradually, as God had spoken “in many portions and many manners to the fathers” (Hebrews 1:1): but now the time has come for the veil fully to be drawn back. The secret may at last be told, the “mystery” be a mystery no longer; the blessings may be given and may be enjoyed. God designs that they shall; they have been all along, “before the world,” “ordained unto the glory” of the initiated ones, the illuminati (? Hebrews 6:4), the “perfect,” that “love” God. They now cry, “O how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee!” (Psalms 31:19). And it is not only goodness but “wisdom” which moves their adoring, grateful wonder to a praise that becomes more and more fervent, with the growing disclosures and the larger impartations and enjoyments of this new world of the “things of the Spirit of God.” And when at last the correspondence between the “spiritual man” and his “spiritual” environment is complete; when his body is “a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44), lending itself as a perfect organ and vehicle to a life ruled by the “spirit” in him; when his world is wholly that of God and spiritual things—Heaven; then his word will be, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom … of God!” [Romans 11:33; where note, too, the quotation of Isaiah 40:13, which also appears, in the same connection, in our chapter (1 Corinthians 2:16). We are on one of the familiar heart-tracks of Paul’s meditations, and pass the same landmarks of Scripture quotation and of inspired speculation.] There is “a wisdom of this world,” but it is of no avail here. These things are reserved for those that “love” God. It is not, either here or in Romans 8:28, any “favouritism” towards His children, which reserves exclusively to them the knowledge and enjoyment of the world of “things spiritual.” If “all things work together for those” only “who love God,” and if the things unseen by natural eye, unheard by natural organ, unthought of and undesired by the natural “heart,” are also the heritage of these alone, it is no arbitrary narrowing of the range of availableness and privilege. Just as in the closely connected declaration of John (1 John 3:2), “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” there is no arbitrary concealment. In that case it is simple impossibility which bars the way to disclosure and knowledge; the earthly life presents so few analogies to the heavenly, that it gives no terms into which to translate the heavenly into earthly language or thought, or intelligibly to express to us any but the barest information about that life. [The Father, like the Son, had rather tell than conceal all that may help His children (John 14:2).] In this case it is because only love is capable of knowing; such “love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:8) as binds God and His “spiritual” ones together. Even the “little children know the Father (1 John 2:13). But the fulness of the “wisdom” is only for the ears, or the knowledge and experience, of the up-grown children—“the perfect.” Two great facts of this spiritual world, thus sealed to the natural man and his best-trained faculties, are “the Lord of glory” and “the spiritual man.” In John’s words again, “The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not” (1 John 3:1). The inability to “know” us is not only parallel to the inability to know Him; it is the consequence of that inability. God “reveals His Son” in the soul (Galatians 1:16); He is the central Fact of the new world, and, He once known, all else becomes clear. In an ignorance that was condemning, but still in ignorance, they “slew,” as Paul had himself once persecuted, the “Lord of glory” (Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13). How shall any man “call Jesus Lord but by the Spirit”? (1 Corinthians 12:3). He is unknown even to those “natural men” who write, some of them, Lives of Jesus, and very confidently estimate His position in the history of mankind, and amongst the religious teachers of the race; or His personal character; or the “originality” of His teaching; and the like; pronouncing the most confident verdicts, to which nobody listens with more amusement than does the man who really knows “the Lord of glory” as his Saviour and Friend and Life. [The friend, the brother, who has lived with a man for years, smiles at the biography and portrait done by a stranger.] “The spiritual man” himself also is a fact outside the knowledge of “the natural man.” They may live together in every-day, close, intercourse, but impervious spirit to spirit, the spiritual man quite an inexplicable person to the natural; they may have many topics and interests in common, yet they are in different worlds. “The spiritual man knows all things,”—“the natural man” amongst the rest; but “no man” naturally “knows” him. The analogies of the natural world are true in their suggestions here,—the higher always understands the lower, but the lower cannot know the higher. The poet understands what it must be to have no poetry, but the man devoid of a sense for poetry does not understand the poet. The educated man can understand the uneducated, but the uneducated cannot understand him. Breadth understands narrowness, but narrowness cannot comprehend what it is to be “broad.” [In the railway-cars there is passage from first-class to third-class, but not from third into first.] The father understands the child; the child does not understand the man. The man understands how many limitations narrow the life of the brutes; they do not even know how many possibilities the man has. The “spiritual man” understands the world he has quitted, the “natural” life he has left behind—he was “natural” himself once; the “natural man” cannot read him in return. The sources of his life; his enjoyments; his motives, even when doing what is outwardly what they themselves do,—all these are a life hid, as Christ is hidden, hidden in God (Colossians 3:3), from the “natural man.” Different worlds! Hence—
III. Two kinds of knowledge.—
1. He who is of the world may know its “wisdom.” If he be one of its “princes,” then his cultivated talents, his advantages of position, his friendships, his library, his industry, his money, may enable him to master it all fully. There are practical limitations to encyclopædic knowledge; but there is no necessary and inevitable barrier between a “prince of this world” and all the “wisdom of this world.” Indeed, are we to go further? To do so is not in the direction or temper of our time and its thought; even the religious thought of our age tends to minimise the amount of the supernatural which it postulates, or admits and reckons with. Yet men may “receive the spirit of the world,” and so arrive at knowledge.
2. Are we to connect this with the fragments of knowledge given to us by pure revelation on this theme, which speaks of one who is “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11), who is indeed its “god” (2 Corinthians 4:4), a “spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2)? Must we carry out the principle, which everywhere holds throughout Scripture, of a parallel, a counterfeit, a parody, of the facts of the kingdom of light by the kingdom of darkness, and so see suggested a personal “spirit of the world” set over against the personal “Spirit which is of God”? The strongly definite opposition is at any rate here in Paul’s inspired language, and strongly suggests that behind the world’s maxims and principles and habits of thinking and life, the “spirit of the world” in the modern, vague, but not Scriptural sense, there is a personal source of its activity and predominant character.
3. The spiritual man certainly “receives the Spirit which is of God.” Natural powers and their use, “the eye, ear, heart,” may make a man know the natural world; it is his appropriate and natural setting and environment; there he is at home. He is part of it. “The spiritual man” is part of the spiritual world, and gets to know of it as one detail of the consequences of the grace of the Spirit in awakening his “spirit,” and quickening its faculties into ability and activity. In the new world of Divine things Life brings in its train Knowledge. Born into it, the spiritual man is at home there.
4. That Spirit of God is “at home” amongst “the deep things of God.” The whole meaning of that “mystery of God”—that secret purpose of the Divine mind and heart which, in summary, in aim, in goal, “is Christ” [Colossians 2:2, in most critical editions of the New Testament]—has now become, so to speak, His property,—“the things of the Spirit of God.” He only could know; He only can reveal and impart. He mediates between the mind of God and the mind of man. What He “searches” out and knows there, He discloses and imparts here. He has these truths and blessings that they may “be freely given to us” as if “by God” Himself. He knows, and by His intermediary office and teaching we have, the whole “mind of the Lord.” “The Lord?” Why not go further and say “the mind of Christ,” for “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead” (Colossians 1:9; Colossians 1:19)? [
5. Very profound and far-reaching are the suggestions of this interchangeableness of language: “the deep things of God” passes over into “the mind of the Lord,” and this again becomes next “the mind of Christ.” Father and Son have no counsels or desires for man which are not shared by both; never do They work or think for man on any independent, or possibly divergent, plan. And then, again, when these “deep things” of “the mind of the Lord” pass, as it were, through the hands of the Spirit as gracious gifts to our spirit, they become His own “things.”]
6. The man of the world peremptorily, or even superciliously, dismisses all we profess that we have and know, as “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14). To him it is; to us it is “wisdom,” “hidden (wisdom)” (1 Corinthians 2:7), wisdom that shall abide when all his “comes to nought.” No wonder! He knocks in vain at the door of the shrine into which we are led, that we may be initiated into these Divine secrets. When he finds entrance impossible, he turns away and declares that within, from all he can hear, or see, or make out from these “spiritual men,” there is nothing but “foolishness.”
7. We do not come at our knowledge in virtue of any conquest of the spiritual world. We had no eyes, nor ears, nor heart for it, any more than the “natural man” has. But we “received the Spirit,” we “received the things of the Spirit”; we know just as much as was “freely given,” and as we took (1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14) He gave us eyes, ears, hearts, new powers for the new world of our new life.
IV. Hence two ways of teaching may be conceived of and attempted.—
1. How will you approach and convert these “natural men”? Speak “spiritual things” to “natural men”? Try it, and fail. They do not comprehend you. Speak “natural” knowledge to them. Certainly they will understand that. But that is not the office of a Christian teacher. No doubt, if he speak of the things of their world in terms of their thought, and with human artifice of language, he may win himself audience and reputation.
2. But Paul is a model, who “determined” that he would “know nothing” of “the world’s wisdom,” when he came to Corinth. Let the “natural men” teach “natural men” “natural” thoughts! Paul will begin, and will end—but that there is no end to the Theme—with “Jesus Christ”! Of all “the deep things of God,” of all the now revealed secrets, the “mysteries of God,” He is the chief and the Sum. Inexhaustible as a subject, inexhaustible as a possession of the soul! Paul did not on Mars’ Hill, a few weeks before, begin with Him—perhaps prudently and rightly, remembering his audience. But, at any rate, when he came to speak of Jesus Christ and judgment “some mocked.” Now, in beginning work at Corinth, he had settled beforehand upon this plan of operations, and “Jesus Christ” was both to be central to it and to fill up all the circle to its uttermost circumference. He would be deaf, blind, dumb, in every direction but Christ! Would see nothing, hear nothing, speak nothing else. The Jew would be staggered, offended, perhaps turned aside. What if the fish would not look at his bait at all? These would-be philosophic Greeks of Corinth; these busy, wealthy, mercantile men; these artisans and sailors and slaves,—what of them, if he preached the Godhead and Resurrection of a man hanged on a Roman gallows, outside the walls of Jerusalem? Suppose these, too, should refuse even to listen to the “foolishness of” such “a preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:23)? “If the people will not listen, the preacher is a failure at the outset.” So “human wisdom” would suggest to him, as it does to the teacher now. And had he not better be prudent, and catch the attention and tickle the fancy with “words of man’s wisdom”? Plenty of teachers of rhetoric in a Greek city (Acts 19:9), if he needed teaching. No! But at least would it not be the right and sensible thing to cast his “testimony” [according to the old reading in 1 Corinthians 2:2] into some quasi-philosophic shape, or to use “persuasive words” (1 Corinthians 2:4, R.V.)? No! He would not decorate his “speech”; he would not adapt his “preaching.” He dares not. His function is only to “proclaim” (1 Corinthians 2:1). He has nothing to do with the matter of the message, but to speak it out, as he is first told it. Whether it seem “wisdom” or “folly,” that is not his responsibility. He is only the messenger; let the Sender and Author of the message see to the rest. “You have it as I get it, unmixed, uncorrupted.” The “thing preached” (margin) should be in its plainest form; the “speech” should be a dress as simple for the simple thought. To do otherwise—to wreathe the cross with flowers of thought and rhetoric, till men could find no Cross, no Sacrifice, and no Blood; to take an atoning sufferer from off it, and nail to it an amiable, noble, pure, wise, unselfishly loving sufferer—would not be faithful to his Master, or do honour to the Spirit. Who was Paul that he should even leave the way open, supposing such methods to have succeeded, for any man to say, “Paul’s preaching attracted me; Paul’s way of putting his Gospel convinced me. I am of Paul”? No man should think, or say, if he arrived at belief, that his “faith stood in the wisdom of man.” God forbid!
3. It would be unfaithful to Christ, dishonouring to the Spirit, and, moreover, it would be useless. Corinth is not to be taken by that method of attack! No way into the human heart by that road! The simplest form of the message, in the simplest language,—“Jesus Christ,” and “He a crucified Jesus” in addition; this, if only it were full of the “power of God,” should come “with the demonstration of the Spirit.” The Spirit should make even the “natural man” see and “know” and accept this Jesus. He should furnish an evidence peculiarly His own, which should carry with it a force of proof and of conviction that should sweep away before it ignorance, pride, prepossessions, prejudice, and carry “the things of the Spirit of God” into the world of the “natural man’s” understanding and heart and life. The Higher should, with a holy violence, make for itself an entrance into the Lower. Let other teachers try “persuasive words,” arguments of the most cogent, if they will, and endeavour to win from the proud intellect and the prouder heart, the patronage of an acceptance of their “Gospel,” such as it is! The Spirit of God will Himself use the “foolish” matter, put in no “persuasive” way, but in blunt, repellant nakedness of “speech,” and will “demonstrate” the truth and the method as the “wisdom of God.” Even a preacher who is hampered with physical “weakness” of poor health or fatigue, to say nothing of “a thorn in the flesh”; who, moreover, is burdened and anxious about his work and his companions; who is full of “fear” as he thinks of what is before him; if only he be content to speak in “words which the Spirit teacheth” (1 Corinthians 2:13), can succeed, even in Corinth! By such methods of teaching even the natural man may come to saving knowledge of spiritual things.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 2:1-5
A Model Preacher.
I. The man.
II. The message.
III. The method.
I. We naturally and rightly conceive of Paul as one of the greatest moral forces of his day, a man more important to the life of his age and to that of all future ages, than any man then living. But he did not so stand out to his contemporaries. The leading Jews in Rome (Acts 28:21), though intercourse between the capital and every part of the empire was frequent and fairly easy, knew, they seem to say, a good deal about the stir which the Nazarene faith was everywhere making, but very little about Paul himself, even as a “ringleader of the sect.” At all events, from even Judæa there had not come letters such as would have indicated that the authorities there attached preeminent importance to the prisoner remitted by Festus to Nero. Out of their sight, out of their way, out of their mind. Plainly at Corinth, and probably elsewhere, the very Christian Church did not, as we do, see Paul overtopping—a Saul amongst them—the rest of the Apostolic band. He came and went, “one of these Jews,” somehow not much in favour with his fellow-Israelites; and except for an occasional tumult, the work he was doing went quietly on, unknown to the cultured, fashionable, busy world. “The world knew not” (1 John 3:1) Paul or his Churches. “Gallio cared for none of these things;” the exalted Roman gentleman attached very little importance to such canaille and their squabbles! We must not read back our present knowledge into the look of things then; and, above all, must not unduly magnify the man by looking at him through the spectacles of the results of his labours. What the Corinthians saw was a man of no striking appearance, perhaps in physical weakness, perhaps betraying his “fear and much trembling.” He was not deficient in moral courage, as many an incident shows, and repeatedly met danger with calmness. But he was not a “fighting” character, and may even have been constitutionally timid. [So Howson thinks, Hulsean Lectures, Character of St. Paul,” lect. ii. He refers to Monod’s sermon on the “Tears of St. Paul” (Acts 20:18-19, etc.). 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18. He points out the three reassuring visions, Acts 18:19; Acts 23:11; Acts 27:24, and compares 2 Corinthians 7:5. See further the depression of spirits in anticipation of the issue of his third missionary journey, at Miletus and Tyre and Cæsarea. We see a strong craving for personal sympathy, almost to the point of dependence. “Alone,” 1 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:10-11; 2 Corinthians 2:13; Philemon 1:11; Philemon 1:14; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 4:9-10. See also in Critical Notes.] No preacher or worker should feel Paul far away from him, knowing nothing of his feelings, exempt from his anxieties about his work and his qualifications for it, and his little likelihood of success. Very human, often very much “down,” commanding no world-wide reputation or respect; little known, and less loved, except by his converts, and not always by them; but “made able as a minister,” etc. (2 Corinthians 3:6). The “earthen vessel” very “earthen,” to the eyes of his contemporaries (2 Corinthians 4:7) The “meek man has inherited the earth.”
II. The message.—One topic, only one—“Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
1. Let a modern instance illustrate this. “Ned Wright, a well-known South London evangelist, said [coram me, H. J. F.] that when he was once preaching on or near London Bridge a half-tipsy man thrust himself into the crowd gathered round, and cried out, “Look here, Ned! I am Jesus Christ!” “Come here, then;” and the crowd made way. “Let me look at your hands. Hold them up!” Ned made a show of examining one, and then flung it away from him with a contemptuous gesture: “You are not Jesus Christ. You are not my Jesus Christ. My Jesus Christ has nail-holes in His hands. Be off with you!” And the poor fellow slunk away ashamed, amidst the laughter of the crowd, who did not the less intelligently listen whilst Wright took advantage of the incident to drive home the lesson that the sinful and guilty heart wants a Jesus Christ that is crucified.
2. It is a true instinct which has made preaching “popular” in the best sense to centre in the cross of Christ. Or, better, the Spirit of God has thus rightly guided the successful “popular” preacher. Christian speculation, the philosophical study of the Christian system, may rightly bring the Incarnation into greater prominence than has often been given to it. But in every time of Evangelical revival in the Church, in every time of personal concern because of conviction of sin, it is seen that the centre of gravity of an effective Gospel for a guilty, unholy soul is at the Cross, not first at the Manger. Bunyan was sketching his allegory on the lines of often-repeated and self-justifying experiment, when he made the pilgrim’s burden fall from his shoulders at the Cross. The old experience of the early missionaries of the Moravian Church in Greenland is repeated in every successful mission-field: the best place to begin at in teaching Christian doctrine is the Cross. When the heart has found rest at the Cross, it can then return to the Manger, and the Babe, and the Incarnation, and the perfect Manhood and the perfect Example of an ideal human life. But the Cross meets the first and most urgent need of an awakened soul.
2. Nor is it sufficient to make the Cross merely an incident in the Example, even though perhaps the crowning, culminating point of its self-sacrifice, and of its appeal to the human heart. It is all this; but to make it, and offer it as, no more than this, fails to give due weight to the teaching of experience, or to acknowledge the perpetually recurring demand of the awakened conscience and the troubled heart for some such satisfaction as has always been, as a matter of fact, given when the Cross has been an Altar bearing a Sacrifice for Sin. The evangelist finds the Cross, with a vicarious, expiatory, reconciling Offering, his best lever for lifting the lowest, whilst it meets the universal heart as found in the highest. It is his true cure-all for all cases of spiritual distress. It has been a despised sling and stone only; but it has brought down the giant! The pathetic crucifixion of Josef Meyer at Ober-ammergau does not, with all its dramatic vividness, so prove a revolutionary moral force. Nor did the real crucifixion of Peter, or of thousands of Jews by Titus, so move mankind. Was Paul crucified for you? For that is the very centre and heart of what Christ is to you.
3. In giving this narrower prominence to “Jesus Christ … crucified,” Paul is following the lead of even the Gospel history. [Cf. Dale, Atonement, lect. ii., who says:] “All the four Evangelists are agreed about the exceptional importance of our Lord’s last sufferings. Only two of them relate the circumstances of His Birth, which we might have supposed none of them would have omitted. Only two tell the story of the Temptation. The Sermon on the Mount appears neither in the second Gospel nor the fourth. St. John says nothing about the Transfiguration, the agony in the Garden, or the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The story of the Resurrection and of the appearance of the Risen Christ to His Disciples occupies only twenty verses in St. Matthew’s narrative; only twenty—perhaps only nine—in St. Mark’s; and St. John appears to have said in thirty verses all he intended to say, and to have added another five-and-twenty at the request of his friends. St. Matthew tells us nothing of our Lord’s Ascension into heaven, nor does St. John; and even if the closing verses of St. Mark’s Gospel came from his own hand, he tells us nothing more than the bare fact.… Time and place are left indefinite, and our Lord’s parting words to His Disciples and the vision of angels are passed over in silence. But the Betrayal, the Arrest, the appearance before Caiaphas, Peter’s denial, the cry of the people for the release of Barabbas, and the Crucifixion of our Lord, Pilate’s judgment, the inscription … on the cross, are … in all the four Gospels; and they all bring the story to a close with words which indicate that at the very moment of our Lord’s Death there was no loss of consciousness or exhaustion of strength.” He proceeds to show that in the deaths of the Old Testament there is no precedent for this elaborate detail, and in those of the New Testament no true parallel. He discusses the suggestion that all this was only the lingering of love over the particulars of last hours, or to give the clearest demonstration of the evil heart of the Jewish rulers, and concludes: “A careful examination of the Gospels will lead us to (decide that) in the importance which they attach to the Death of our Lord, they are but following the line of His own thought. To Him His Death was distinctly present from the very commencement of His ministry.” After Pentecost, indeed, Peter and his fellow-apostles “gave witness, with great power, of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). But the Resurrection is an integral part of the “Doctrine of the Cross.” The actual crucifying needed no emphasising in Jerusalem; the complementary fact, which gave the death any meaning and value and power, needed clear and vigorous proclamation. Without the resurrection and intercession, the Cross is no Gospel of an atonement; it is a mere death upon a gibbet. When Peter declared the resurrection, he was “preaching Christ crucified” in the full significance of the Messiah’s name and work.
III. His method.—“Proclaiming the testimony, the mystery, of God.” Assertion, not argument. Announcing a fact, not propounding any theory, the result of his own study or excogitation. He had been taken behind the veil and shown one of God’s secrets; now he came forth commissioned to impart it to others. But only to tell it out; not to add to it, or mutilate it, or refine upon it. “Put in trust with the Gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4), he had simply to pass it on, to offer it, in its entirety. He had only to stand up as a witness, bearing “a testimony.” A method widely different from that of the discussions of the Porch, the Grove, the Academy, where everything might be challenged by the learner, and the teacher must support with reasons. A very narrow function, a very restricted office and work. But it is the preacher’s right place, and the limit of his sphere. He should first go in and learn the secret of the Lord, and then come forth simply to tell and testify of “what he has seen and heard.” [John 3:11, “We” = Christ and all His representatives pursue the same method. 1 John 1:3.] [It is a principle which may be illustrated by a modern case, closely analogous. When Dr. Duff first sailed for India in 1830, the Lady Holland was wrecked on Dassen Island, a sandbank off Capetown. All eventually found safe landing on a higher point, a penguin haunt. A sailor, walking along the shore looking for eggs, found Duff’s Bagster’s Bible and Scottish Psalm Book, given him at his ordination, both safe because of the chamois-leather case. He had taken out eight hundred volumes in every branch of human knowledge—journals, notes, memoranda, essays, “as dear to a student as his own flesh”; all were lost. In the first flush of his student success, he “had only half parted with them,” when he became a missionary. He could never lose the culture they gave him. But the loss seemed to him didactic, a speaking incident, that all save these two perished, or were reduced to pulp. “The memory of Dassen Island was never absent from what he regarded as temptations to literary self-indulgence” (Dr. Smith’s Duff, i. 258). God’s Word was the only book for the missionary, and for the minister of the Gospel. More exactly parallel to Paul’s determination is this:] Dr. McAll, of Paris, recently deceased, said that many a time, when his father, the still more famous Dr. McAll, one of the brilliant galaxy of pulpit orators of the early half of the century, was at the zenith of his fame, and was being followed everywhere by admiring and deeply affected crowds of hearers, he has seen him come home and sit down, bursting into a flood of tears, distressed that all the popular favour and all the effect of his preaching seemed to mean so little of real conversions to God. His son read the fact in the light of this text, and feared that the “excellency of speech” had really been an obstacle to the success of his father’s ministry, and therefore deliberately adopted a simpler style for his own. Paul bore his witness in the plainest and in entirely inartificial language, lest he should so wreathe and overlay the Cross with the flowers of human thinking or rhetoric that the Cross itself could not, as it were, be seen. Is there, then, no place in preaching “Christ crucified” for the faculty of moving speech, of wit, of clear reasoning, or of any other gift of God’s bestowal? (See on 1 Corinthians 9:16) Yes. Apollos might quite lawfully employ his special talents. There is no cast of mind, no one mould of man, from which God has not raised up successful witnesses of His truth; no faculty, no knowledge, on which contribution cannot be levied for the service of Christ. There is an “excellency” of popular address which is the very equipment of an out-of-doors evangelist. There is an eloquence born, and inevitable as certainly as the man opens his lips. But there is an eloquence which is taught and acquired and laboured after, the mere artificial rhetoric of the schools and their fashions of oratory, which, in Paul’s view, is no thing for the minister of Christ to seek after or employ. In any case the faculty of attractive, persuasive speech must be kept a means to an end, never a thing desirable, an end in itself. Where it is a native, necessary, inborn, unconscious eloquence and excellence, it must rigidly be kept consecrated to the service and glory of Christ alone. But the speaker will find it hard not to create a difficulty for his own heart, and not to arrest the attention and heart of his hearers at himself. Any art associated with the delivery of the message may assume undue importance. If it succeed, it may get the credit due only to the “power of God.” Probably Paul would not censure his friend Apollos, who, eloquent and philosophical as he perhaps was, might nevertheless [or therefore?] do good, and who certainly would, if his aim and heart were kept right. Yet he plainly believed that his own mere “testimony,” in simpler language, would do greater good, and that it ran less risk of obscuring in any degree the glory of the “power of God.” The anxiety to justify the Gospel to the intellect of the unrenewed man, or to cast it in some such mould as would be less likely to be repellent at its first hearing, would to him be a putting on of the hampering armour of Saul, instead of relying upon the sling, and stone—and God! It might even issue in so modifying some essential feature of the Gospel that it should no longer be simply God’s “testimony.” The intellect of the world had, in Greece above all, been fed upon the noblest philosophies, and was sick of them all, and unsatisfied. Teacher after teacher was more critical of his predecessors, than constructive of anything satisfying. Should Paul attempt to give the weary world another philosophy? No! He would tell them a history, and the heart of the history should be a Person—“Jesus Christ,” and that Jesus Christ “crucified.” The “princes of this world” knew everything but this. Paul knew nothing but this; but such a man, with such a message, working on such a method, succeeded.
1 Corinthians 2:2. Paul’s One Topic.—[Cf. this resolution of Paul the preacher, with the resolution and life-habit of Paul the sinner, “This one thing (I do).… I counted all … loss. Yea, I count all … loss” (Philippians 3:13; Philippians 3:7-8).] [“The man of one book” is a proverb of narrowness of knowledge and of view. “Fiddling ever upon one string” is usually a reproach to any public speaker. But a Paul could outmatch a Paganini in educing from his “one string” an endless variety of soul-winning music. Rather, Paul’s one string will give endless variety to the preaching of a man of far less ability than Paul. The theme, not the player, is inexhaustible.]
I. Christ Jesus, not Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5). In the analogous case of Galatia, the rival teachers really at bottom only cared to boast how many converts they could make to their Judaising form of the Gospel (Galatians 6:13). Really a subtle glorification of themselves and their ministry; before even the Circumcision, for which they professed such anxiety.
II. A Person, not a philosophy or a set of doctrines.—Men’s hearts cannot rest in a system. There is rest only in a person. A well-known characteristic of Christianity that Christ identifies His religion with Himself. Faith does not only, or chiefly, lay hold of a series of propositions about Him, whether historical or theological, but of Himself. “If I say Christianity, I thereby say Jesus Christ. Christianity appeared in the world, not as a system of philosophy, not as a code of morality, but as an actual fact, the fact of the person Christ Jesus. All depends on Him. With Him, Christianity stands or falls. It cannot be separated from Him. It was not His precepts, but His person and His testimony concerning Himself, which brought about the crisis in Israel. He Himself made His whole cause depend upon His person. We cannot separate it from Him. Rationalism has attempted to separate Christianity from Christ, and to reduce it to a mere morality. But experience has proved the attempt impossible. Jesus Christ does not bear the same relation to Christianity as Mahomet does to Mahometanism, or as any other founder of a religion to the religion he has founded; but He is Himself Christianity. To speak of Christianity, is to speak, not of doctrines and precepts, but of Jesus Christ. Christianity is indeed a summary of truths, a new doctrine, a philosophy if you will, a new view of the world, a new explanation of history, a new mode of worship, a new morality, a new rule of life, etc. It is all these, because it is a fact universal in its nature. But all these depend upon the person of Jesus Christ, are given with Him, and included in Him—stand and fall with Him” (Luthardt, Fundamental Truths, lect. viii. 256). Part of its universal adaptation, this. The child, the ignorant, the heathen, at once are led to the very heart of Christianity when they are taught to know Him. They believe in Him, they learn to love Him, life is summarised and simplified into living for Him. They can die for Him. They say as Paul did, “To me to live is Christ.” So the little child can be a Christian. The heathen, whether in lands nominally Christian or really heathen, simply, readily learn the secret of becoming saints.
III. “Not to know anything save,” etc. What was the alternative in Paul’s mind? What was the alternative in the practice of the rival teachers at Corinth?—If we are to find any suggestion in the use of the name “Cephas,” and with that may couple what we gather from the Galatian Epistle about Peter’s connection with the Judaising controversy which just at this period evidently occupied so much of Paul’s life and thoughts, our answer may be “Circumcision.” In contrast with some other teachers at Corinth, Paul made his topic “Jesus Christ, not circumcision.” In Acts 15:1 is summarised the thesis, so to speak, which the side of the Christian community whose associations and affinities were with the Judaism from which they had been recruited, nailed up on the door of the Antiochian Church, and which became for many years the centre of fierce strife within the new brotherhood: “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Paul saw from the first that this proposition struck direct at the honour of his Divine Master. What was to save a man? Was not Jesus Christ a sufficient Saviour? What did they propose—“Christ and Circumcision”? Or was it “Circumcision before, or even instead of, Christ”? Either way he would “know nothing” of the kind. Should he preach some necessary supplement to the work of his crucified Master, without which what He did was not complete and sure foundation for a sinner’s hope? “God forbid” (Galatians 6:14). Could it be that they even meant Christ to be the supplement to the efficacy of the now mere dead ceremonial? “God forbid!” Could it be that, not Christ at all, but the ceremonial was to save? Yet the ceremonial was now effete, evacuated of all meaning or virtue; it had, indeed, become a mere “concision” (Philippians 3:2), a mere piece of surgery, a mere cutting of the flesh. Whatever these later comers might do, or teach, when he entered Corinth his own resolve was clear and definite, and to it he had rigorously confined himself: “Jesus Christ … crucified.”
IV. Moreover, he had from the first been at the uttermost pole removed from the motives of such teachers, as well as from their teaching [to borrow light again from the Galatian Epistle, as above: 1 Corinthians 6:14]. Their motives were of “the world,” not of Christ. The religion of circumcision was becoming almost fashionable in some quarters. The weary heart of many in the upper classes were seeking, some of them a new sensation, some of them real rest, in becoming Jewish proselytes. A few years later a proselyte Jewess, Poppæa, sat by Nero’s side on the throne of the empire. But the man who made any profession of “Christ, the crucified” Jew of Nazareth, had to lay his account with social exclusion, and to have for his friends for the most part the artisan, the slave, certainly “not many noble, mighty,” etc. It was human nature; therefore it was the spirit of “the world” getting a footing in Christian hearts again, when some of these were putting to the front the side of Christianity on which it had relations with the Old Religion, with its prestige of a sort, and were keeping in the background the Cross, with all its associations of shame and suffering and social inferiority. The crucifying of Christ had so entered into Paul’s life that he himself was “crucified with Him,” and a crucifixion was between him and such “worldly” motives in teaching and thought. He was crucified to the world, and was quite content that it should care no more about him than it did for a poor fellow hanging dead upon a cross. The world was crucified to him; he cared no more for its good opinion or its bad opinion, for its favour or its frown, than did the dying man for the passing show beneath him, on which his glazing eyes looked down from the elevation of his cross. “I am nothing to the world; the world is nothing to me. In any personal life I know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” “Weakness and folly be it! A weak fool I was prepared to be reckoned, when I came to you wise and mighty people in Corinth.” All which has its present-day analogies for the man who is determined, in the world—not to say also in the Church—to know, to have but the one theme, sovereign in all his theology, his ethics, his teaching, his service—“Jesus Christ crucified.”
1 Corinthians 2:4. The Demonstration of the Spirit.—A pivot-word of the chapter; a pivot-fact in the story of the Gospel.
I. The secret of Paul’s success at Corinth.—
1. Consider the conditions under which Paul sought to win Corinth for Christ. Morally, a city of the vilest. A seaport, with all the difficulties of a shifting population, of medley composition, given eagerly to the pursuit of wealth. Sufficiently a Greek city for the Corinthian to pique himself upon his intellectual acuteness. And a large Jewish community—as everywhere, proud, narrow, intolerant. See Paul enter Corinth, an unnoticed man amongst the throng; of no striking appearance, in poor health; one Jew more, where there were too many already; a working tentmaker, taking lodgings with a Pontian Jew and his wife, fugitives from Rome. He is alone; his host and hostess are not Christians yet. He begins his attack on Corinth singlehanded. Moreover, he has “handicapped” himself by a resolution that he will concede nothing to the intellectualism of the city or the fashion of rhetorical address. He has a “ridiculous” topic—a crucified Jew, who, forsooth, has risen from the grave, and gone to heaven; and he will conciliate no opposition, he will bid for no success, by any economy or reserve as to the matter of his teaching, or by any artifice of human school rhetoric in its presentation. Succeed or fail—he will not! He succeeded! After a stay of a year and a half, he left behind him a Church in Corinth. Poor specimens of Christians; but remember their training, their surroundings, and that the most elementary Christianity was a whole heaven removed from much of the most ordinary heathen, not to say Jewish, life. Jews had bowed before a Crucified Messiah. Gentiles had trusted in a Son of God who was a man, and unlearned. What did it?
2. What did it at Thessalonica two years before? (1 Thessalonians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:4). The Holy Ghost did it. Greek intellectualism and sensuality and Jewish pride, bowed before the Demonstration of the Spirit. His peculiar, proper proof wrought Conviction.
3. So anywhere, amongst all classes; amongst nominal Christians or real heathens. Remember that Paul often tried his form of the Gospel upon simple, virgin, adult heathenism. The problems of our mission-fields were his problems. The mission-fields of the Churches have a high value in the very fact that they repeatedly afford new examples and verifications of the method: “The demonstration of the Spirit.” A “consecrated cobbler” tried it in India, as a “consecrated tentmaker” tried it in Corinth. It seems irrational, and even impertinent, that a stranger should make his appearance amongst a heathen people, bringing with him a book, and that much of his method should be a number of bold, bare assertions. Their gods false—no gods at all; his the only True. Their religions—whether childish in their barbarous simplicity, or hoary with antiquity, the fruit of ages of subtle thought—all fraud or delusion; the True is an elaborate and mysterious system of teachings, gathering around a Person mentioned in his Book. It is with very real peril, he says, that they reject this Person. Some of the commonest practices of themselves and their ancestors—sins, which make his God angry. And so on; a series of startling assertions. The world laughs or grows angry at the man and the method, but the man succeeds. Something awakens within his hearers; Some One works with him within their hearts. They accept his teaching; many become really “saints.” Nothing more illogical, coolly, irritatingly presumptuous, than his procedure; yet heart, will, understanding bow, and the men are “new creatures.” The “demonstration of the Spirit” makes it successful. Because
II. The Spirit
(1) reveals a new world,
(2) gives a new sense,
(3) affords a new kind of evidence.—
(1) Five senses are our outfit for living in the natural world; five gateways of knowledge. Take these away, and all knowledge of the world round us is gone. We can also awaken and train another eyesight, another hearing, for a world of facts for the intellect, growing wider as we train. “Taste” opens up the world of æsthetics. The heart again has its world, that of the affections. Are these all? “Yes,” says the natural man; “there is nothing else. We have explored; our world grows larger every day; but we find no new world. Every new inquirer brings in his new gathering of facts into the common stock. Our methods grow more perfect; the observing faculty more highly trained. But we find only this natural world.” The Bible agrees with them exactly (1 Corinthians 2:9). The very meaning of Agnostic, Agnosticism. Huxley coined the word thirty years ago. Spectator popularised it; made it the chosen name of many of the most famous and most influential men and women of our time. Metaphysicians, theologians, affirm and deny confidently; the Agnostic will neither affirm nor deny, has no scientific ground for professing to know. As a “natural” man, he is right; wiser than the “infidel” of the last century. Did he call himself a Deist? Then Christian controversialists pressed him that he must logically believe much more. The Christian was plainly right. Or was he an Atheist, and denied a God? Christian apologists said: “You cannot demonstrate, do not know, that. To demonstrate that, you must be omniscient and omnipresent.” He is now seen to have been right again. “Eye hath not seen,” etc. (A. V., R.V. not materially different). But finish the quotation: “God hath revealed,” etc. The spiritual man says another world has opened around him. He can look back to the day when it first broke in upon his eyesight, when his ears were first opened to its voices and harmonies, when his dead heart started into life, sympathy, receptivity, enjoyment. How was it done?
(2) The Spirit gave new senses.—For a deaf man, open an ear! For a blind, an eye! Yet not that only. Put many a man before a beautiful landscape or painting. He sees it, but sees nothing in it. You must open an inner eye. Many men hear sound, but not music. You must give or awaken a faculty. A corpse lies blind, dumb, deaf, without sensation, responsiveness; life all around, but cut off from all. Give life, and you give not one sense, but all, and a new world. [“The Life is the Light of men.”] So for the spiritual world, the “things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14) want a new faculty, corresponding. The “natural man” must be “agnostic” to these; “spiritually discerned.” E.g. Sin. Spiritual men understand failure because of weakness; the fall of a tottering child learning to walk; the defect of a finite creature. The “natural” man sees no more. But the spiritual man sees more. Guilt; he is himself guilty; feels guilty fear; discovers that he was not only blind, but blinded; helpless, not with weakness, but with disease. A discovery all this, a revelation, when it comes. Think of the burst of a new world on the blind man (John 9:0) when he had washed away the clay, and for the first time saw, and understood what sight meant, and what blindness meant. A natural man is “agnostic” in regard to himself until that moment; Christ, and spiritual men, have understood him all the while. That blind man said, “You know not … He hath opened my eyes!” To every man thus made to understand the fact—Sin, Christ has Divine credentials. “Proofs” of His Divinity have their place; the natural man may discuss them, but the spiritual man knows. The Spirit brings the sinner, Thomas-like, into the presence of Christ. Doubts melt away. Questions to be asked, tests to be proposed, difficulties often raised—all are forgotten. He looks, falls, adores: “My Lord, and my God.” Only the new sense will do this. Without that men will go on “crucifying the Lord of glory.” Sin and a Divine Saviour are two facts by which to mark out a spiritual world; twin stars in the firmament of truth—“tests of sight” for spiritual things.
(3) This brings thus a new kind of evidence.—He who says, “One thing I know,” etc. (John 9:25), knows much besides. One man with opened eyes is secure against the arguments of a thousand blind. A spiritual man is safe, walking in light, and knows it. The natural man is in darkness and danger, but only the spiritual man knows it. He understands the natural man; the natural does not know, nor can criticise, the spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:15). [“Pure in heart see God.”] Value of all this to-day, amidst revolutionary changes in knowledge and the very foundation principles of knowledge and inquiry. Very few capable of mastering the evidence for or against all these changes; most must believe, or disbelieve, upon authority. Children, heathen, cannot by discussion or investigation arrive at knowledge on such matters. Yet there is a world which they know, where they are at home; they tread confidently; they give a lifetime to the study of such of its facts as sin, pardon, providence, prayer, an inspired Bible, a Divine Christ. These things they know by “the demonstration of the Spirit.” Natural systems of things must find room for these spiritual facts, or they give no true, complete account of man, life, the world. (Cf. 1 John 5:18-20.)
[“He knows nothing,” they say, when they have heard the new minister. “He is a poor, narrow fellow!” “He is no preacher!” But sometimes the narrowness gives force. In that may be his power. Narrowness may be to shut up the force of your powder in a gun-barrel, rather than to let it simply burn away uselessly in space and “freedom”; to load with a bullet instead of with a pellet of lead-foil.]
1 Corinthians 2:6. Wisdom justified amongst the Perfect.
I. Facts, such as “the perfect” appreciate, set up a presumption that it is wisdom.—The world says: “A poor thing, this Gospel of yours! Your preachers boast that they have only One Topic, only one theme, only one tune, in their repertory. Fit for the maid-servants, for children, and for fools!” [Voltaire’s well-known sneer, “Philosophy was never meant for the people. The canaille of to-day resembles in everything the canaille of the last four thousand years. We have never cared to enlighten cobblers and maid-servants. That is the work of apostles.”] Certainly “the poor have the Gospel preached to them”! That is its glory. It is the climax of the series of Messiah-tokens which Christ offered in reply to John Baptist’s question (Matthew 11:4). It can hardly be an entirely “foolish” system of truth which has repeatedly approved itself as a very effectual “Culture for the Million.” Culture as ordinarily understood is to the vast majority not available at all. They have no preparation for it; their average powers, the engrossing, enslaving, nature of their necessary engagements in providing for the wants of the physical life, the surroundings in the midst of which the majority of mankind must always live, forbid that it should have any message and help for them. Is that the wiser instrument for developing the best in mankind, which avowedly, and in the nature of the case, must miss the bulk of mankind altogether; or that which, true or false, has given a very real enlargement of life and outlook and ideas and character to the labouring class in all lands and ages, to the young, to the heathen, to the sunken and degraded and hopeless, to even the profligate and debased? In English agricultural districts, for example, how frequently is there found an old labourer, hard-handed, of heavy gait, bowed in knee and shoulder, of scanty education, with no literature but a Bible, and a devout book or two beside, living in narrow circumstances, and yet refined in thought by long years of habitual pondering over such large conceptions as the love of God and of His Son toward him; his mind really enlarged by the habitual extension of the horizon of Life until it takes in the Eternal and the Unseen; the man perpetually dwelling in the presence of “Him who is invisible” [Hebrews 11:27. No man’s life can be narrow, or mean, or animal, who does that! If we only knew that one fact about Moses, we should be sure that he had learned the secret of living a life, large and elevated and noble. We see how “the Invisible” was an anchor which held him to the right, when otherwise the storm of fear might have swept him away before it into a return to Egypt and an abandonment of his mission.] Indeed, the spirit of “Christ Crucified” has so far moulded many such a labourer’s spirit into conformity with the Pattern that, in unselfish readiness to serve others, in fine sensibility to the feelings of others, in a real tact and consideration for others, the “clod-hopper,” as some would call him, has become, in all the essentials of the character, a “gentleman.” He has learned it from the Bible, whose heart and raison d’être is Christ—Paul’s “Christ crucified.” The system which can do this, in those very ranks of social life, of which philosophers or Jewish Rabbis (John 7:49, “Ham-ha-aretz”) despaired, or took no practical account, is not to be dismissed as folly. “Perfect” men justify the “wisdom.”
II. Paul found, and the “perfect” find, how perfectly this system meets the need of actual human nature.—“Wisdom” or “folly” is often a question of suiting means to ends. The means may be ludicrously inadequate or the end entirely unworthy. Here the end is noble, and the means are of proved sufficiency. For the many-sided need of human nature the “manifold”—many-sided, many-coloured—“wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10) has provided the “manifold” (cognate word, 1 Peter 4:10) “grace of God.” Like the flaming sword of the gate of Eden, it “turns every way”; but offering a very different reception to the approach of needy human nature, drawing it near, not keeping it off. No matter from what side human need approaches it, the grace of God revealed in the Gospel of “Jesus Christ … crucified” has an aspect exactly, “squarely,” meeting it. It reveals first of all that Sin is the root trouble of humanity, and it then offers its remedy for Sin in its threefold curse of Guilty Fear, of Innate Impurity, and of Fear of Death. [Thus, especially in the last particular, does it “destroy … the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7; which proceeds:) “He will swallow up death in victory.”] Coming as a Jew into a city where much of his work would be concerned with a numerous Jewish element in the population, Paul appreciated the “wisdom and the power of God” in the message of the Cross. He knew—none better—the utmost of moral help which could come from the system whose seal and symbol was Circumcision. It “could never make the comers thereunto perfect” (Hebrews 10:1); it could not bring them to spiritual and moral manhood. [It was only a “school-slave,” a pedagogue, for children under age (Galatians 3:24).] It could not, even with its culminating sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, give a lasting, perfect peace to a guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:2). It spoke sternly of duty, but of itself law offers no help to obedience; that is not its office. And, indeed, the provision for pardon through the elaborate system of sacrifice scarcely reached beyond transgressions of the ritual system. For graver moral delinquencies and offences it had hardly a word of help or hope. Paul’s Epistles are full of a larger, satisfying help, all centering in the work of the Cross. He had himself “found sanctuary” there. The very writ of God’s own righteous law does not “run” within the precincts of the Cross. The sinner taking refuge there says, “No condemnation!” [A passing analogy may be found in the trial of Marcus Manlius, the hero of old Roman history, whose glory it was to have saved the Capitol from the Gauls. Becoming the friend of the distressed plebeian classes, the patricians accused him of aiming at “the tyranny,” and put him on trial before the Comitia in the Campus Martius. But there in full view was the Capitol, and he pointed to it as his only defence. After such an appeal his condemnation was impossible, and his prosecutors broke up the assembly. He was again tried, and in the end put to death; but the second trial took place in the Peteline Grove, where the Capitol could not be seen. “No condemnation” where the Capitol—or the Cross—can be seen and appealed to.] Nor does the work of the Crucified Saviour end with the relief to a guilty conscience, from all fear of past sin and its penalty. The divided heart, the consequent moral weakness, which are the shame and the despair of all noble natures—hating themselves that they do not, and cannot, attain to even their own ideal of Goodness or Holiness—these find their remedy in the “salvation to the uttermost” which is made available in the work of Christ crucified. Romans 6:0 or Galatians 2:15-21 are samples of the message Paul could take to Corinth, the good news of God’s “wise” remedy for heart-sin. The crucifixion of his Lord was to Paul no mere fact of the past, however significant in its objective relief to a guilty soul. It was a transaction re-enacted—or which had its counterpart—within the soul of every believer in Christ. “Christ died to sin once;” “death” from that moment “had no more dominion over Him”; “He” there “spoiled principalities and powers”;—all these significances in the fact of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Paul knew were to be realised over again in the man whom a living and life-bringing faith united to Christ. As a matter of fact, ten thousands of all ranks, ages, countries, churches, “crucified with Christ,” have found in the Cross and its power, effectuated by the Spirit of God, the solution of the problem of a Holy Life. And the death of Christ has transformed all the habitual thought and feeling of the Christian world in regard to death. [Illustrate by the triumph with which the main body of an attacking force sees the advance party raise the flag upon the captured battery. So when the centurion and his quaternion of men, “told off for duty” at “the execution” upon Calvary, raised up and dropped into the hole they had dug for it, the cross of rough carpentry with its precious Burden, they “knew not indeed what they did,” but they were really raising the banner of a world’s victory over that Death in which the curse of sin had entrenched itself in its most terrifying form.] Death has never been the same thing since He died, at least to His people. They who else “were all their lifetime subject to bondage” through “the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15), now welcome it as advancing their hopes, and their best purposes, and their spiritual growth, a stage onward toward realisation. Many of His people, even tender women and young children, have met death with far less of dread and distress than He Himself seemed to manifest. He met it in its full strength; to them it comes as a conquered thing, a foe whose “sting” is drawn. The Gospel which thus—as is proved by multiplied experiment—provides a practically operative remedy for the torturing of guilt, for the hopeless moral division and weakness within the nature, and for deliverance from the fear of death, is certainly a “wisdom” which approves itself to the “perfect” who are experiencing its advantages.
III. The simplicity of the methods of the Gospel is a mark of its wisdom.—All adaptations of means to ends, e.g. mechanical inventions, gain by simplicity. The inventor who can at the outset, or by subsequent improvements, reduce the number of the parts of the mechanism, or who can simplify their arrangement and working, shows “wisdom.” In the plan of moral recovery and renewal, God’s wisdom appears in the fewness and simplicity of the essential parts of His scheme. For example, He has “utilised” what Chalmers called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” to work a moral revolution in the nature of every Christian man. The principle is one of common and obvious effectiveness; its working is on the lines of the ordinary laws of human nature. It is most strictly analogous to many often verified facts of every-day life. The one “supernatural” element in the case is the Holy Spirit’s assurance to the penitent sinner that he has found acceptance with God for Christ’s sake, and he now stands in the favour of God. Because he is now a son, accepted, accounted, welcomed, as such, God “sends forth the Spirit of [His] Son into His heart, crying ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Galatians 4:6). The “love of God”—God’s forgiving, adopting love to him the sinner—“is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him” (Romans 5:5). All these are varied forms of statement of one fact, that the Spirit of God, by a particular instance of His “demonstration” (1 Corinthians 2:4), that special, direct, supernatural evidence and conviction, which He alone can give, bears in upon the soul, with full clearness and with overwhelming force of assured knowledge, the new idea, the new fact: “God in Christ loves, forgives, accepts, adopts, me, the sinner!” How this is communicated, where the Holy Spirit meets man’s mind and heart, is past our analysis. [How does man’s mind meet and act upon man’s mind?] But the fact is sure to the man who receives it upon the Spirit’s “testimony” (Romans 8:16). And after that first, supernatural step, all proceeds in accordance with the ordinary laws of human thought and life. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19) is a simple sequence which finds as many illustrations as we find hearts capable of knowing and returning love. And the elevating, transforming force of a new love thus awakened is a fact of every-day observation and knowledge. [The indolent, selfish, and withal weak, nature finds in the loving interest of some friend, a new motive and a new power to arouse itself and to go out of self, and to struggle after and up to a nobler, larger life and character. Poor drunkards, men or women, are thus lifted out of the slough in which they sink helpless and hopeless, by the persistent love of some pitying heart that will not be shaken off, and will not give them up, spite of repeated and ungrateful failures. The young fellow turns away from evil companionship, gives up some evil resort or indulgence, sets himself resolutely to struggle against long-established habits of evil, all because, “She will not like it; she loves me, if nobody else does, and wants me better and purer.” Every mother knows how she can direct and mould her child’s life, if only she have her child’s love.] “I live,” exclaims Paul, “by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me.” That fact, “The Son of God loves me, me, me, Paul,” grasped by faith, and made knowledge by the “demonstration of the Spirit,” explains, summarises, Paul’s new, altered life and career. A new “ruling passion” has taken possession of him, and the transforming, revolutionary, power of a new passion for good or for evil is an ordinary fact of human nature. So a “new idea” taking possession of a life may transform it in character and direction. [The story once told of Correggio may not be true in fact, but it is true to human nature, how that he was a dull, heavy youth, developing no special ability, until one day he found himself before a painting by an earlier artist, which awoke the painter in him, and he turned away saying, “And I too am a painter.”] In all God’s works there is a “law of parsimony”—parsimony of the miraculous, of “contrivance,” of “effort.” It was an old argument for the Copernican as against the Ptolemaic arrangement of the solar system, that it was more agreeable to the analogy of God’s whole procedure that the earth should go round the sun rather than that the sun should go round the earth; it meant a “less expenditure of force.” The argument is worth little to-day, and is not needed; but it rightly appreciated a point of God’s wise ordering of Nature. And so the simplicity of the means used under the Gospel is a mark of the “wisdom” of that Gospel which seems folly to those outside the number of those who believe its truths and experience its blessings. A new affection, a new idea, a new ruling passion, is implanted—“God loves me”; and from this, with its sequel, “I love Him because,” etc., grow all the new direction, the new aspirations, the new sympathy with God’s love of holiness, all the new activities of the Christian life; a new character, a new man. Love to God is the simple seed from which may spring all holiness. It is the single force which secures such complex and far-reaching results. The whole of Religion is implicitly in the sentence, “We love Him because He first loved us.” So again, remembering the constituency to which it is to be applicable, the “perfect” see the wisdom of the form given to the Ethical Standard of the Gospel; not an elaborated Code, but a Person, conformity to Whom in character and act and motive is a “law,” a rule, applicable to every conceivable case, and apprehensible, as experiment shows, by the simplest mind, and yet a perfect directory for life and practice and character, for the wisest.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14. The Causes of Ignorance; the Way to Knowledge.
I. The causes of ignorance.—
1. There is, amongst all the fields of human inquiry and their contents, one special field—“the things of the Spirit of God.” It stands apart from the rest; the knowledge of it, and the way to that knowledge, stand apart from all other knowledge. Not that there are no analogies with the processes and conditions of knowledge in other fields. It would be unlike God’s method in everything else, if this particular group of facts, and this particular path into the knowledge of them, were without their natural analogies—were abnormal in that universal order which includes the spiritual as well as the natural. There are “laws” which hold good in the “natural” and the “spiritual” world, both. The respective classes of facts are analogous; the laws observed to hold good amongst them are identical, can be stated in identical terms. Life, for example, in the natural world is so far analogous to life in the spiritual, that of both it can be said, “No life originates except from life precedent.” Similarly the broad principle is found to be as true of spiritual things as of natural: “No knowledge in either world is possible to a man who does not belong to that world.” The old illustrations, always valid, are the blind man’s necessary ignorance of the world of light and its facts; the necessary incapacity of the man born deaf for the very idea of sound or music; the utter ignorance of art, the entire incapacity for appreciation or criticism of everything æsthetic, inevitable in the case of the man with no sympathy with, no love for, Art.
2. The “natural” man is, in close analogy with all this, a mere outsider in regard to the world of “the things of the Spirit of God.” And there is no true knowledge except to those within. Significantly enough, the phrase of Christ to Nicodemus changes from “see the kingdom of God” to “enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3; John 3:5). The barrier wall engirdling the world of things spiritual is too high and too utterly impenetrable for one who does not “enter” to “see” anything. The Great Revealer “who came down from heaven” John 3:13), who came from within the wall to tell of glorious things within, and that company of His people whom He joins to Himself as He says, “We speak that we do know, … and ye receive not our witness,”—these may tell of what is within, but it conveys little or no knowledge, little or no idea, to those without. “Ye receive not our witness.” Every religious teacher, every Christian man or woman who has tried to win to religion those who are outside “the wall,” has been baffled with the initial difficulty of conveying any conception of (say) the joys and experiences and knowledge of the life of those who have entered into the kingdom. They speak of an unknown world in an unknown tongue. What they want to tell does not need explaining to those who experience it, and cannot be explained to those who do not. Conversion at once puts a man into possession of the key to knowledge. How frequent the experience of the new convert: “I seemed never to have understood the Bible until now. Sermons seemed suddenly plain to me and interesting now.” “I was blind; now I see!” In Bishop Hannington’s Life his biographer tells how he called with Hannington at Datley House, Derby, and found with Miss Evans, whose residence it was, several friends seated round the fire, engaged in a conversation which soon turned on some point of religious experience. As Hannington and his friend left the house, the former said, “ ‘Do you know, old fellow, that I think I must really be a Christian!’ ‘I hope so; but what makes you think so just now especially?’ ‘Well, what an unutterable bore I should have thought these people and their talk on such a subject a short time ago. But, do you know, I positively enjoyed it’ ” (Life, p. 102).
3. It is merely reversing the illustration, without affecting the essential fact, to say that the barrier is not around the spiritual world so much as in the man himself. [As in 2 Corinthians 3:12; 2 Corinthians 3:15, the veil is first upon the Law, and next upon the heart of the reader.] The kingdom of God is to be entered by the man, but also the kingdom of God enters into the man. He “receives the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:15), which is in close conformity to the phrase here (1 Corinthians 2:14), “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” His five senses and his intelligence are avenues through which the world of things natural enters into the man; through them he receives it. He has a “spirit” which has its adits of knowledge, but they are sealed up—sealed up in death. Life only can understand life. It “is life eternal to know,” etc. (John 17:3). The knowledge presupposes life, it evidences it, it alone makes living “life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19). The spiritual man knows spiritual things, not only because he has found access into the world of things spiritual, and habitually lives and moves amongst them, the constant environment of his life; but they have entered into him, they have translated themselves into facts which are part of his very self; he knows them simply and directly, as he knows himself. The natural man’s incapacity lies in the fact that he does not open the avenues of his heart to the entrance of this spiritual world.
4. “Does not open,” for, after all, the practically operative incapacity and ignorance are in large part of his own creating. Two things must be carefully kept apart in our thought about human nature. It is fallen; it is redeemed. The fall must never be, in point of fact and experience can never be, dealt with apart from the redemption. The natural, native incapacity for spiritual things, the absolute incapacity of “death,” is true only of a Manhood which is a necessarily theological conception, but no more. No man is actually found who, to begin with, has an utter and absolute ignorance or incapacity for knowledge. The grace of the redemption of the race by its Second Adam has so far modified the actual condition that there is very much of light in many, some in all. But this may be quenched, the knowledge may be lost. The eyes which were at least in part opened may be closed again. By plain sin, indulged in any form, by even utter worldliness, many a man has been led back to, has reverted to, what must have been, and ideally is, the utter darkness and death of the natural heart, with its insusceptibility and its sealed adits of knowledge. [The prodigal has “spent all.”] He has flung away the beginnings of light and knowledge and capacity. Natural conditions would account for the innate and necessary incapacity; but when that has been in some degree removed, then moral causes lie at the basis of much of the actual ignorance. [In so far, a man can “help not believing.”] There may in some be a moral levity which refuses to give any serious attention to themes which demand it, or will not else yield up their secret. There may be more of conceit, pride, in the position of some doubters or ignorant ones, of the man who knows nothing of spiritual things, than they are themselves aware of. It seems “nobler” to be somewhat independent, and not quite content to follow in the old line, or to accept anything on trust. There is a pride that will not allow a man to recede from a position he has once openly taken up, and, above all, that will not allow him to do or say anything which confesses or implies that he has been all along a sinner, and morally wrong. This may be cherished until it becomes resolute not to be satisfied and to believe; “no evidence will ever satisfy me.” And subtle in the extreme is the temper which makes the man turn away, half unconsciously, from fully and fairly looking at truths which he knows, if accepted, must revolutionise his life. He does not want to go in their direction, and he averts his gaze; he will not look that way. The “spirit of the world” has been “received,” and allowed to enter into occupation and control. So long as this is in any degree his attitude, the “natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit of God.” He will not receive them. The little children have little or none of this pride or subtlety of heart; they readily enter into the kingdom. To “receive the kingdom as a little child” is the only way of knowledge for the man.
II. The way to knowledge.—
1. Before, however, the man can receive the things of the Spirit, there must be an earlier step taken. He must “receive the Spirit which is of God,” and then he can “receive the things of the Spirit of God.” The Spirit is the first gift; then He enables the man to receive and know all else so freely “given to us of God.” The gifts will only be received by a receiver brought into sympathy and receptiveness. “Spirituals to spiritual.” All faculty for knowing and receiving is grace; it is a gift. The Spirit gives Himself; men who get to know have first received Him. He, too, stands at the door and knocks, “May I come in?” He breathes around, His light shines upon us. Men must open the shutters and throw wide doors and windows to the rushing mighty Wind, that He may fill the house of the heart. “But I cannot open!” “Yes, you can open! He is Himself with you to help you to open, and to receive Him. [Or at least you are not weaker than the bed-ridden invalid, who cannot rise to open in answer to the knock of the Visitor, but can at least lie and say ‘Come in.’ ” He is in that word “Come in”; this Visitant will, if the man will, open the door for Himself and enter. The “receiving” is in the will; and the very will itself is not without something of His grace.] It is helpful to realise that men are dealing with no mere vague Abstraction, or a half-poetical, idealised Energy or Force, but with a Personal Friend and Teacher. It is a Comforter who “leads into all truth.” He is One who can be a Revealer because He has an original knowledge of the things of God ab intra, so to speak; He knows them, because He knows God as it were from within the very self of God. To give Him welcome is then the first step to knowledge. The native incapacity is gone if He is come in. The susceptibility is restored if He dwell within. The eyes, the ears, all the senses of the human “spirit,” are awakened from their death into receptiveness and activity.
2. He will communicate much knowledge directly. Man must make his mind touch the mind of another man through a chain of physical organs and their operations, but the Spirit can go direct to the spirit in man, in immediate communication. But He will also use means—words spoken, words written, by men who are taught them, not by man’s wisdom, but by Himself. Paul and his brethren stand apart in their gift. The Spirit used them to make known to the Church “the things which are freely given,” the “heritage of those who fear God’s name,” as first-hand authorities to convey new truth. Things such as these had never “entered into the heart of men” To these very apostles these were novelties. He conveys no new truth to-day in the sense of adding anything absolutely new to the completed body of revealed disclosures; he expounds the old truth already given. But this with a wonderful novelty. The inheritance has long ago in its completeness been made over in its entirety; He leads the heir over his estate, and continually discovers in it for him new beauties, new wealth, new views, “the length, and breadth, and depth, and height.” The Word is His great instrument of disclosure. Let a man use it, read it, explore it, with the Spirit of God “received” to be His Guide, and it is marvellous how some simple souls grow fast in the knowledge and in the experience of the things “given to us of God.” Many simple hearts make good theologians; no man can be an expert in Divine things who is not spiritual, Spirit-taught. Bishop Andrews said that he learnt far more upon his knees than from his books.
3. He is the one and only Teacher of the first and fundamental truth of all religion, Sin and the need of a Saviour, of help from outside a man’s self. Until that is learned the very A B C of Divine things is unknown, and all after-teaching is simply incomprehensible. But He comes; reaching hearts inaccessible to human appeal, and that will even tolerate no human approach; hearts fenced round with conventionalisms and pride, hard as if in the grip of a hard, frost-bound winter of worldly life. He comes and overleaps all barriers and gets at the inmost citadel direct; He throws down all the defences of pride, all lifelong sophistries with which the soul has deluded itself; tears away all the veils so long and diligently and densely woven which have hidden the real man from even himself. The proud, reserved, self-satisfied soul carries about with it a new conviction, driven home, burnt in, “I am a sinner!”; carries it until it can keep silence no longer, “the bones wax old through the inward roaring all the day long”; and at last shame, fear, pride, are all overborne by the masterful might of the new truth, “I am a sinner!” So too He bears in, burns in, with happy force of conviction the truth, “I am a child of God, and not a servant any longer” (Romans 8:15-16). In the fulness of the new discovery he utters, by a new instinct, and for the first time, a child’s name for God, “Abba, Abba!” God Himself “is given” to him as he never knew or expected was possible before. In like manner point after point of the experiences of the Christian life, its possibilities, its privileges, reveal themselves to the spiritual man, and all of them “freely given,” to be “received,” therefore, into the embrace of the quickened understanding, but above all into the inmost life of the heart. Strictly speaking there is to the spiritual man no merely” doctrinal “truth, as distinguished from “experimental.” The theology of his creed is merely the formal, scientific statement of truths that are his life. But if the conventional and convenient distinction is to be maintained, then again is the Spirit the Guide into all truth. There is discovered an orderly, harmonious scheme of doctrine, every point of which has its relations with every other. As between Church and Church, man and man, the parts, the points, may receive different degrees of appreciation, and so may be taught with varying prominence and emphasis. But spiritual men understand each other, and understand the wisdom of God, which is to the natural mind a hidden thing, a “mystery,” a secret which they have no ear to receive, even if it were spoke to them. The man whose Teacher is the Spirit of God understands. As the solar system was a problem of growing perplexity to the astronomers of the past, who adopted earth as their centre, but resolved itself and its motions and laws into perfect harmony and order when a heliocentric standpoint was adopted; so the Spirit of God puts even the least cultured or trained spiritual men at the theocentric, Christocentric, view point; and if all perplexity and difficulty do not pass away, at least he occupies the only standpoint from which knowledge is possible, and the beauty and order and harmony of Christian Truth can be in any degree understood and received.
1 Corinthians 2:16. The Mind of Christ.—
1. As explained in the Critical Notes, nothing said here of the “character” or “distinguishing spirit” of Christ. It is true that in that sense “we have,” as the natural man has not, the mind of Christ, in varying degree of apprehension of it, in varying clearness of exhibition of it. The Christian is normally a reproduction, a repetition, of Christ, in tempers, conduct, judgments, holiness But obviously what is meant is the “mind” which can be made a matter of information and instruction, the thought of God, and of His Christ, about and towards His people.
2. Very noteworthy the interchange between “Lord “and “Christ.” [True there are variant readings, but not so strongly attested in any case as to disturb the Received Text.] Comparably with the position ascribed to the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, as it were, internal to God, with a relation which may be paralleled with that of the human spirit to the man; so here Christ occupies such a position in Paul’s theology [the Holy Ghost’s theology, they say who believe in Paul’s inspiration] as that His name may be quietly substituted for the “Jehovah” of the Old Testament prophet. The particular case is but a sample of others in which an Old Testament text is so transfigured, that, whilst the verbal body remains the same, another soul, another personality has entered into it, and we see not Jehovah, but Jesus the Christ, looking through its eyes, speaking through its lips, informing with Himself its whole countenance and aspect. Who must He be whom the vesture of Old Testament Jehovah-phraseology thus fits so perfectly that it was plainly made for His use? The new wine of N.T. doctrine can be put into the old bottles of O.T. language.
3. Note that Revealed Truth, both in its doctrinal and its experimental aspects (to use the convenient distinction), is the disclosure of the thought, the will, the “mind” of Christ. He is the Fountain of our knowledge on such topics. If He be not, in the economy of the Redemptional Trinity, exactly and accurately the great Fountain-head of it, at least He is the only and only-accessible Fountain to whom the Father has been pleased that men [and perhaps all creaturely life] should come to draw, and “at” whom alone they may obtain any knowledge. [For knowledge, as well as for the good offices which a sinful creature needs One to do for him with a holy God, “no man cometh to the Father”—or gets at the Father, even to know Him—“but by Christ.”] Accordingly it is the “word of Christ” which is to “dwell richly” in the Colossians. [Colossians 3:16, again with its variants, “God” and “Lord”; which have this incidental significance for historical theology that they show the belief in the Godhead of Jesus to have been so thoroughly the conviction of the early transcribers (and of the early Church) that they could designedly substitute—if they did so designedly—one phrase for the other with no sense of impropriety, or could inadvertently do so with a perfect and unconscious facility only to be explained by the customary equipollence of the expressions.] “The Spirit of Christ” was in the ancient prophets (1 Peter 1:11); the Old Testament was but the earlier stage of the utterance of the one abiding “word of the Lord” which is the “Gospel” (1 Peter 1:25).
4. “We have” is more than “we know the mind of Christ.” We is only spoken of the Apostolic company as the culminating embodiment of the general idea of “Christians.” [These say, moreover, as they read these Epistles, “We have the mind,” not only of Paul, but “of Christ.” The more vividly realised natural, literary, historical, personal side of these Epistles is nowaday making it difficult to be just to the old view that, whoever was the writer, the real Author was the Spirit of God; that though the thoughts passed through the mind of men and took a personal, individual stamp from each, yet they were thoughts for which the Spirit of God held Himself responsible.] “We have;” they have become part, not only of our habitual beliefs, our stock of credenda, but part of our life, of ourselves. We carry within us the law of Christ, we carry within us the Gospel.
5. How this settles many a question, sufficiently at any rate, for practical life, such as the objective efficacy of prayer, providence, and the like.
6. And these topics may, if we will, be studied by us with the Author’s own help. We may ask Him what He meant by this or that. The Spirit who searches the “deep things of God” also knows the “mind of Christ,” even its deep things of teaching and saving grace.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent