CHRIST CRUCIFIED, OR EVANGELICAL RELIGION DESCRIBED
1 Corinthians 2:2. I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
IN different ages of the world it has pleased God to reveal himself to men in different ways; sometimes by visions, sometimes by voices, sometimes by suggestions of his Spirit to their minds: but since the completion of the sacred canon, he has principally made use of his written word, explained and enforced by men, whom he has called and qualified to preach his Gospel; and though he has not precluded himself from conveying again the knowledge of his will in any of the former ways, it is through the written word only that we are now authorized to expect his gracious instructions. This, whether read by ourselves or published by his servants, he applies to the heart, and makes effectual for the illumination and salvation of men. It must be confessed, however, that he chiefly uses the ministry of his servants, whom he has sent as ambassadors to a guilty world. It was thus that he conveyed the knowledge of salvation to the Ethiopian Eunuch, who was reading an interesting portion of Isaiah’s prophecies. He might have opened the understanding of this man at once by the agency of his Spirit; but he chose rather to send his servant Philip, to join the chariot, and to explain the Scripture to him. When the Centurion also had sought with much diligence and prayer to know the way of salvation, God did not instruct him by his Word or Spirit, but informed him where to send for instruction; and by a vision removed the scruples of Peter about going to him; that so the established ministry might be honoured, and the Church might look to their authorized instructors, as the instruments whom God would make use of for their edification and salvation. Thus it is at this time: God is not confined to means; but he condescends to employ the stated ministry of his word for the diffusion of Divine knowledge: “The priests’ lips keep knowledge;” and by their diligent discharge of their ministry is knowledge transmitted and increased.
But this circumstance, so favourable to all classes of the community, imposes on them a duty of the utmost importance. If there be a well from which we are to receive our daily supplies, it becomes us to ascertain that its waters are salubrious: and, in like manner, if we are to receive instruction from men, who are weak and fallible as ourselves, it becomes us to try their doctrines by the touchstone of the written word; and to receive from them those sentiments only which agree with that unerring standard; or, to use the words of an inspired Apostle, we must “prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” To preachers also there arises an awful responsibility; for, as the people are “to receive the word at their mouth,” and their “word is to be a savour of life or of death to all that hear it,” it concerns them to be well assured, that they set before their people “the sincere unadulterated milk of the word;” that in no respect they “corrupt the word of God,” or “handle it deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [Note: See 2 Corinthians 2:15-17; 2 Corinthians 4:2.].”
Hence it appears that we all are deeply interested in this one question, What is truth? what is that truth, which ministers are bound to preach, and which their people should be anxious to hear? There will however be no difficulty in answering this question, if only we consult the passage before us; wherein St. Paul explicitly declares what was the great scope of his ministry, and the one subject which he laboured to unfold. He regarded not the subtleties which had occupied the attention of philosophers; nor did he affect that species of knowledge which was in high repute among men: on the contrary, he studiously avoided all that gratified the pride of human wisdom, and determined to adhere simply to one subject, the crucifixion of Christ for the sins of men: “I came not unto you,” says he, “with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God: for I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
To explain and vindicate this determination of the Apostle is our intention in this discourse.
I. To explain it—
By preaching Christ crucified, we are not to understand that he dwelt continually on the fact or history of the crucifixion; for though he speaks of having “set forth Christ as it were crucified before the eyes” of the Galatians, and may therefore be supposed occasionally to have enlarged upon the sufferings of Christ as the means of exciting gratitude towards him in their hearts, yet we have no reason to think that he contented himself with exhibiting to their view a tragical scene, as though he hoped by that to convert their souls: it was the doctrine of the crucifixion that he insisted on; and he opened it to them in all its bearings and connexions. This he calls “the preaching of the cross:” and it consisted of such a representation of “Christ crucified, as was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to the true believer, the power of God and the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.].” There were two particular views in which he invariably spoke of the death of Christ; namely, as the ground of our hopes, and as the motive to our obedience.
In the former of these views, the Apostle not only asserts, that the death of Christ was the appointed means of effecting our reconciliation with God, but that it was the only means by which our reconciliation could be effected. He represents all, both Jews and Gentiles, as under sin, and in a state of guilt and condemnation: he states, that, inasmuch as we are all condemned by the law, we can never be justified by the law, but are shut up unto that way of justification which God has provided for us in the Gospel [Note: Galatians 3:22-23.]. He asserts, that “God hath set forth his Son to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness in the remission of sins, that he may be just, and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus [Note: Romans 3:25-26.].” He requires all, Jews as well as Gentiles, to believe in Jesus, in order to the obtaining of justification by faith in him [Note: Galatians 2:15-16.]: and so jealous is he of every thing that may interfere with this doctrine, or be supposed to serve as a joint ground of our acceptance with God, that he represents the smallest measure of affiance in any thing else as actually making void the faith of Christ, and rendering his death of no avail [Note: Galatians 5:2-4.]. Nay, more, if he himself, or even an angel from heaven, should ever be found to propose any other ground of hope to sinful man, he denounces a curse against him; and, lest his denunciation should be overlooked, he repeats it with augmented energy; “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.].”
To the death of Christ he ascribes every blessing we possess. We are “reconciled to God by the blood of his cross;” we are “brought nigh to him,” “have boldness and access with confidence” even to his throne; we “are cleansed by it from all sin;” yea, “by his one offering of himself he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” But there is one passage in particular wherein a multitude of spiritual blessings are comprised, and all are referred to him as the true source from whom they flow. The passage we speak of, is in the first chapter to the Ephesians, where, within the space of eleven verses, the same truth is repeated at least eight or nine times. In order to enter fully into the force of that passage, we may conceive of St. Paul as maintaining the truth in opposition to all its most determined adversaries, and as labouring to the uttermost to exalt Christ in the eyes of those who trusted in him: we may conceive of him, I say, as contending thus: “Have we been chosen before the foundation of the world? it is in Christ. Have we been predestinated unto the adoption of children? it is in and by Him. Are we accepted? it is in the Beloved. Have we redemption, even the forgiveness of sins? it is in Him, through his blood. Are all, both in heaven and earth, gathered together under one Head? it is in Christ, even in Him. Have we obtained an inheritance? it is in Him. Are we sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise? it is in Him. Are we blessed with all spiritual blessings? it is in Christ Jesus. When the Apostle has laboured thus to impress our minds with the idea that our whole salvation is in, and by, the Lord Jesus Christ, is it not surprising that any one should be ignorant of it? Yet we apprehend that many persons, who have even studied the Holy Scriptures, and read over this passage a multitude of times, have yet never seen the force of it, or been led by it to just views of Christ as the Fountain “in whom all fulness dwells,” and “from whose fulness we must all receive, even grace for grace.”
But we have observed, that there is another view in which the Apostle speaks of the death of Christ, namely, as a motive to our obedience. Strongly as he enforced the necessity of relying on Christ, and founding our hopes of salvation solely on his obedience unto death, he was no less earnest in promoting the interests of holiness. Whilst he represented the believers as “dead to the law” and “without law,” he still insisted that they were “under the law to Christ,” and as much bound to obey every tittle of it as ever [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:21. Galatians 2:19.]: and he enforced obedience to it, in all its branches, and to the utmost possible extent. Moreover, when the doctrines which he had inculcated were in danger of being abused to licentious purposes, he expressed his utter abhorrence of such a procedure [Note: Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15.]; and declared, that “the grace of God, which brought salvation, taught them, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, they should live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world [Note: Titus 2:11-12.].” A life of holy obedience is represented by him as the great object which Christ aimed to produce in all his people: indeed the very name, Jesus, proclaimed, that the object of his coming was “To save his people from their sins.” The same was the scope and end of his death, even to “redeem them from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” His resurrection and ascension to heaven had also the same end in view; for “therefore he both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living.” Impressed with a sense of these things himself, St. Paul laboured more abundantly than any of the Apostles in his holy vocation: he proceeded with a zeal which nothing could quench, and an ardour which nothing could damp: privations, labours, imprisonments, deaths, were of no account in his eyes; “none of these things moved him, neither counted he his life dear unto him, so that he might but finish his course with joy, and fulfil the ministry that was committed to him.” But what was the principle by which he was actuated? He himself tells us, that he was impelled by a sense of obligation to Christ, for all that He had done and suffered for him: “the love of Christ constraineth us,” says he; “because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.].” This is that principle which he desired to be universally embraced, and endeavoured to impress on the minds of all: “We beseech you, brethren,” says he, “by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].” What mercies he refers to, we are at no loss to determine; they are the great mercies vouchsafed to us in the work of redemption: for so he says in another place; “Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.].”
Now this is the subject which the Apostle comprehends under the term “Christ crucified:” it consists of two parts; first, of affiance in Christ for salvation, and, next, of obedience to the law for his sake: had either part of it been taken alone, his views had been imperfect, and his ministry without success. Had he neglected to set forth Christ as the only Saviour of the world, he would have betrayed his trust, and led his hearers to build their hopes on a foundation of sand. On the other hand, if he had neglected to inculcate holiness, and to set forth redeeming love as the great incentive to obedience, he would have been justly chargeable with that which has been often falsely imputed to him,—an antinomian spirit; and his doctrines would have merited the odium which has most unjustly been cast upon them. But on neither side did he err: he forgot neither the foundation nor the superstructure: he distinguished properly between them, and kept each in its place: and hence with great propriety adopted the determination in our text.
Having explained his determination, we shall now proceed,
II. To vindicate it—
It was not from an enthusiastic fondness for one particular point, but from the fullest conviction of his mind, that the Apostle adopted this resolution: and so the word in the original imports; “I determined, as the result of my deliberate judgment, to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified: I have made it, and will ever make it, my theme, my boast, and my song.” The reasons why he insisted on this subject so exclusively, and with such delight, shall now be stated:—he did so,
1. Because it contained all that he was commissioned to declare.
“It pleased God to reveal his Son in the Apostle, that he might preach him among the heathen:” and accordingly St. Paul tells us, that “this grace was given to him to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This, I say, was his office; and this too is the ministry of reconciliation which is committed to ministers in every age; “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.].” To the Apostles, indeed, the commission was to “go forth into all the world, and to preach the Gospel to every creature;” whereas to us is assigned, as it were, a more limited sphere: but the subject of our ministry is the same with theirs: we have the same dispensation committed unto us; and “woe will be unto us, if we preach not the Gospel.”
But, as though men needed not to be evangelized now, the term evangelical is used as a term of reproach. We mean not to justify any persons whatsoever in using unnecessary terms of distinction, more especially if it be with a view to depreciate others, and to aggrandize themselves: but still the distinctions which are made in Scripture must be made by us; else for what end has God himself made them? Now it cannot be denied, that the Apostle characterizes the great subject of his ministry as the Gospel; nor can it be denied that he complains of some teachers in the Galatian Church as introducing another Gospel, which was not the true Gospel, but a perversion of it [Note: Galatians 1:6-7.]. Here then he lays down the distinction between doctrines which are truly evangelical, and others which have no just title to that name. Of course, wherever the same difference exists between the doctrines maintained, the same terms must be proper to distinguish them; and a just view of those distinctions is necessary, in order to our being guarded against error, and established in the truth.
But we beg to be clearly understood in reference to this matter. It is not our design to enter into any dispute about the use of a term, or to vindicate any particular party; but merely to state, with all the clearness we can, a subject, about which every one ought to have the most accurate and precise ideas.
We have seen what was the great subject of the Apostle’s preaching, and which he emphatically and exclusively called the Gospel: and if only we attend to what he has spoken in the text, we shall see what really constitutes evangelical preaching. The subject of it must be “Christ crucified;” that is, Christ must be set forth as the only foundation of a sinner’s hope: and holiness in all its branches must be enforced; but a sense of Christ’s love in dying for us must be inculcated, as the main-spring and motive of all our obedience. The manner of setting forth this doctrine must also accord with that of the Apostle in the text: the importance of the doctrine must be so felt, as to make us determine never to know any thing else, either for the salvation of our own souls, or for the subject of our public ministrations. Viewing its transcendent excellency, we must rejoice and glory in it ourselves, and shew forth its fruits in a life of entire devotedness to God: we must call upon our hearers also to rejoice and glory in it, and to display its sanctifying effects in the whole of their life and conversation. Thus to preach, and thus to live, would characterize a person, and his ministry, as evangelical, in the eyes of the Apostle: whereas indifference to this doctrine, or a corruption of it, either by a self-righteous or antinomian mixture, would render both the person and his ministry obnoxious to his censure, according to the degree in which such indifference, or such a mixture, prevailed. We do not mean to say, that there are not different degrees of clearness in the views and ministry of different persons, or that none are accepted of God, or useful in the Church, unless they come up to such a precise standard;—nor do we confine the term evangelical to those who lean to this or that particular system, as some are apt to imagine:—but this we say, that, in proportion as any persons, in their spirit and in their preaching, accord with the example in the text, they are properly denominated evangelical; and that, in proportion as they recede from this pattern, their claim to this title is dubious or void.
Now when we ask, What is there in this which every minister ought not to preach, and every Christian to feel? Is there any thing in this enthusiastic? any thing sectarian? any thing uncharitable? any thing worthy of reproach? Is the Apostle’s example in the text so absurd, as to make an imitation of him blame-worthy, and a conformity to him contemptible? Or, if a scoffing and ungodly world will make the glorying in the cross of Christ a subject of reproach, ought any who are reproached by them to abandon the Gospel for fear of being called evangelical? Ought they not rather, like the Apostles, “to rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer shame, if shame it be, for Christ’s sake?” The fact is indisputable, that the Apostle’s commission was to preach Christ crucified;—to preach, I say, that chiefly, that constantly, that exclusively: and therefore he was justified in his determination to “know nothing else:” consequently, to adopt that same resolution is our wisdom also, whether it be in reference to our own salvation, or to the subject of our ministrations in the Church of God.
We now proceed to a second reason for the Apostle’s determination. He determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified,—because it contained all that could conduce to the happiness of man. There are other things which may amuse; but there is nothing else that can contribute to man’s real happiness. Place him in a situation of great distress; let him be bowed down under a sense of sin; let him be oppressed with any great calamity; or let him be brought by sickness to the borders of the grave;—there is nothing that will satisfy his mind, but a view of this glorious subject. Tell him of his good works; and he feels a doubt, (a doubt which no human being can resolve,) what is that precise measure of good works which will ensure eternal happiness: tell him of repentance, and of Christ supplying his deficiencies; and he will still be at a loss to ascertain whether he has attained that measure of penitence or of goodness, which is necessary to answer the demands of God. But speak to him of Christ as dying for the sins of men, as “casting out none that come unto him,” as “purging us by his blood from all sin,” and as clothing us with his own unspotted righteousness; yea, as making his own grace to abound, not only where sin has abounded, but infinitely beyond our most abounding iniquities [Note: Romans 5:20-21.]; set forth to him thus the freeness and sufficiency of the Gospel salvation, and he wants nothing else: he feels that Christ is “a Rock, a sure Foundation;” and on that he builds without fear, assured that “whosoever believeth in Christ shall not be confounded.” He hears the Saviour saying, “This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent;” and having attained that knowledge, he trusts that the word of Christ shall be fulfilled to him: he already exults in the language of the Apostle, “Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us [Note: Romans 8:34.].”
But if a sense of guilt afflict some, a want of victory over their in-dwelling corruptions distresses others: and to them also the doctrine of Christ crucified administers the only effectual relief. The consideration of eternal rewards and punishments affords indeed a powerful incentive to exertion; but efforts springing from those motives only, will always savour of constraint; they will never be ingenuous, hearty, affectionate, unreserved. But let a sense of redeeming love occupy the soul, and the heart becomes enlarged, and “the feet are set at liberty to run the way of God’s commandments” We say not that every person who professes to have experienced the love of Christ, will always walk consistently with that profession; for there were falls and offences not only in the apostolic age, but even among the Apostles themselves: but this we say, that there is no other principle in the universe so powerful as the love of Christ; that whilst that principle is in action, no commandment will ever be considered as grievous; the yoke of Christ in every thing will be easy, and his burden light; yea, the service of God will be perfect freedom; and the labour of our souls will be to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” This the Apostle found in his own experience; and this he found to be the effect of his ministry on the hearts of thousands. What then could he wish for in addition to this? Where this principle was inefficacious, nothing was effectual; and where this was effectual, nothing else was wanted: no wonder then that he determined to insist on this subject, and nothing else; since, whether in the removing of guilt from the conscience, or of corruption from the soul, nothing could bear any comparison with this.
Further, He determined to know nothing but this subject,—because nothing could be added to it without weakening or destroying its efficacy. The subject of Christ crucified may, as we have before observed, be considered as consisting of two parts,—a foundation, and a superstructure. Now St. Paul declares, that if any thing whatever be added to that foundation, it will make void the whole Gospel. If any thing could have been found which might safely have been added to it, we might suppose that the rite of circumcision might have claimed that honour, because it was of God’s special appointment, and had had so great a stress laid upon it by God himself: but St. Paul says in reference to that rite, that if any person should submit to it with a view to confirm his interest in the Gospel, “Christ should profit him nothing:” such a person would have “fallen from grace,” as much as if he had renounced the Gospel altogether. Again, if any person, who had the foundation rightly laid within him, should build upon it any thing but the pure, the simple, the essential duties of religion, “his work should be burnt up as wood or stubble;” and though he should not entirely lose heaven, he should lose much of his happiness there, and be saved only like one snatched out of the devouring flames. With such a view of the subject, what inducement could the Apostle have to add any thing to it?
But the Apostle speaks yet more strongly respecting this. He tells us, not only that the adulterating of the subject by any base mixture will destroy its efficacy, but that even an artificial statement of the truth will make it of none effect. God is exceedingly jealous of the honour of his Gospel: if it be plainly and simply stated he will work by it, and make it effectual to the salvation of men; but if it be set forth with all the ornaments of human eloquence, and stated in “the words which man’s wisdom teacheth,” he will not work by it; because he would have “our faith to stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Hence St. Paul, though eminently qualified to set it forth with all the charms of oratory, purposely laid aside “all excellency of speech or of wisdom in declaring the testimony of God,” and “used all plainness of speech,” lest by dressing up the truth “in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, he should make the cross of Christ of none effect [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.].”
Further vindication than this is unnecessary: for, if this subject contained all that he was commissioned to declare; if it contained all that could conduce to the happiness of man; and if nothing could be added to it without weakening or destroying its efficacy; he must have consented to defeat the ends of his ministry altogether, if he had not adopted and maintained the resolution in the text.
If then these things be so, we may venture to found upon them the following advice—
First, Let us take care that we know Christ crucified—
Many, because they are born and educated in a Christian land, are ready to take for granted that they are instructed in this glorious subject: but there is almost as much ignorance of it prevailing amongst Christians as amongst the heathen themselves. The name of Christ indeed is known, and he is complimented by us with the name of Saviour; but the nature of his office, the extent of his work, and the excellency of his salvation, are known to few. Let not this be considered as a rash assertion: for we will appeal to the consciences of all; Do we find that the Apostle’s views of Christ are common? Do we find many so filled with admiring and adoring thoughts of this mystery, as to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of it; and to say, like him, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?” On the contrary, do we not find that there is an almost universal jealousy on the subject of the Gospel, that those who most labour to tread in the Apostle’s steps, are often most branded with opprobrious names? Do we not find that his views of the Gospel are calumniated now, precisely as they were in the days of the Apostle himself? Verily, we should be glad to be found false witnesses in relation to these things; and would most joyfully retract our assertions, if it could be shewn that they are not founded in truth. We do hope however that there is an increasing love to the Gospel pervading the whole land; and I pray God it may prevail more and more, and be embraced by every one of us, not superficially, partially, theoretically, but clearly, fully, practically.
Secondly, Let us adopt the Apostles determination for ourselves—
Doubtless, as men and members of society, there are many other things which we are concerned to know. Whatever be our office in life, we ought to be well acquainted with it, in order that we may perform its duties to the advantage of ourselves and others; and we would most particularly be understood to say, that the time that is destined for the acquisition of useful knowledge, ought to be diligently and conscientiously employed. But, as Christians, we have one object of pursuit, which deserves all our care and all our labour: yes, we may all with great propriety determine to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. This is the subject which even “the angels in heaven are ever desiring to look into,” and which we may investigate for our whole lives, and yet leave depths and heights unfathomed and unknown. St. Paul, after preaching Christ for twenty years, did not conceive himself yet awhile to have attained all that he might, and therefore still desired to know Christ more and more, “in the power of his resurrection, and in the fellowship of his sufferings.” This therefore we may well desire, and count all things but loss in comparison of it.
Lastly, Let us make manifest the wisdom of our determination by the holiness of our lives.
The doctrine of Christ crucified ever did, and ever will appear “foolishness” in the eyes of ungodly men; so that, if it be preached by an Apostle himself, he shall be accounted by them a babbler and deceiver. But there is one way of displaying its excellency open to us, a way in which we may effectually “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;” namely, “by well-doing;” that is, by shewing the sanctifying and transforming efficacy of this doctrine. St. Paul tells us, that “by the cross of Christ the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world [Note: Galatians 6:14.]:” and such is the effect that it should produce on us: we should shew that we are men of another world, and men too of “a more excellent spirit:” we should shew the fruits of our faith in every relation of life: and, in so doing, we may hope to “win by our good conversation” many, who would never have submitted to the preached word.
But we must never forget where our strength is, or on whose aid we must entirely rely. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us of this; “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength:” and our Lord himself plainly tells us, that “without him we can do nothing.” Since then “we have no sufficiency in ourselves to help ourselves,” and God has “laid help for us upon One that is mighty,” let us “live by faith on the Son of God,” “receiving daily out of his fulness that grace” that shall be “sufficient for us.” Let us bear in mind, that this is a very principal part of the knowledge of Christ crucified: for, as “all our fresh springs are in Christ,” so must we look continually to him for “the supplies of his Spirit,” and “have him for our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and redemption.”
THE FEELINGS OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER
1 Corinthians 2:3. I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
THERE was one subject on which St. Paul delighted chiefly to expatiate, which was, “Christ crucified;” a subject which to the Jews was a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. The mode on which he insisted upon it, contributed to render it yet more distasteful to the philosophic reasoners of Greece and Rome: he laid aside all needless parade of wisdom, and all adventitious ornaments of rhetoric, and plainly declared the fact, that Christ was crucified for the sins of men. This he did, not because he was not able to express himself agreeably to the taste of men of learning, but because he was anxious “that the faith” of all who received the Gospel “should stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,” accompanying a simple statement of the truth. It is probable, too, that somewhat in his speech and external form contributed to render him base and contemptible in the eyes of many [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 10:10. Galatians 4:13.]. In addition to all this, the hostility of his enemies was most bitter, so that they sought by all possible means to destroy him. These diversified trials he sustained for the most part with great fortitude: but it seems that at Corinth his courage was in some degree shaken; for our blessed Lord, in order to comfort and encourage him, appeared to him in a vision, and bade him not be afraid, for that he would suffer none in that place to hurt him [Note: Acts 18:9-10.]. To this state of mind he most probably alludes in the words before us, declaring, that, partly by his “fightings without and fears within,” he had been “among them in weakness, and fear, and much trembling.” But we must not confine the words to this sense: there can be no doubt but that he had many other sources of inward trial, such as are common to all who execute the ministerial office. What these are, and what corresponding feelings they call for amongst a believing people, it is our present intention to inquire.
We will shew,
I. The feelings experienced by a faithful minister—
However light many think of the ministerial office, it is a situation of great difficulty, insomuch that there is not any truly faithful minister who does not find the expressions in our text exactly descriptive of his own feelings.
To the frame of mind here spoken of, he will of necessity be led,
1. From a view of the vast importance of his work—
[A minister is an ambassador from the court of heaven, empowered to declare to men the terms on which a reconciliation may be effected between God and them, and on which they who are now objects of God’s righteous indignation may become monuments of his love and favour. A man who has the fate of an empire depending on him, sustains an arduous office: but all the empires upon earth are not of equal value with one soul. What a weight then has he upon him, who undertakes to negociate a treaty between God and man,—a treaty, on the acceptance or rejection of which the everlasting salvation of hundreds, and perhaps of thousands, depends! Methinks this were an office for an angel, rather than a poor worm like ourselves: yet is it devolved on us: and every one who is able to estimate its importance, and desires to execute it with success, must needs execute it “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.”]
2. From a sense of his own insufficiency to perform it—
[In one who would perform this office aright, there ought to be a combination of all that is good and great. There need not indeed be the same kind of knowledge, or the same species of talent as would be necessary for a person entrusted with the political interests of men: but there should be a deep insight into the great mystery of redemption; a comprehensive view of it, as founded in the necessities of our fallen nature, and adapted to all our wants. There should be an ability to bring forth out of the inexhaustible stores that are contained in the sacred volume, whatever is best fitted for the establishment of sound doctrine and the refutation of error, as also for the correction of every thing that is wrong in practice, and the promotion of universal righteousness [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16.]: he should be “a scribe well instructed unto the kingdom of God,” and able to meet every case with suitable instruction. He should also be endued with such grace, as to exemplify in his own spirit and conduct all that he teaches to others; being “an example to believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity [Note: 1 Timothy 4:12.].” But, as St. Paul himself says, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Who that has any consciousness of his own ignorance and sinfulness, does not tremble at the idea of his own utter inadequacy to the work assigned him?]
3. From a consideration of his own awful responsibility—
[We are constituted watchmen to the house of Israel; and are warned beforehand, that if any soul shall perish through our neglect, his “blood shall be required at our hand [Note: Ezekiel 33:6-8.]:” and on this account we are told to “watch for souls, as those who must give account [Note: Hebrews 13:17.].” But who can reflect on this, and not tremble? It is an awful thought, that we must every one of us answer for ourselves: but how much more, that we must give an account of the hundreds and thousands that are committed to our charge! Verily, if there were not a God of infinite mercy to pity our weakness and to pardon our defects, I know not who would dare to undertake the office. Whenever we hear the bell announcing the death or funeral of one that was under our care, we are constrained to ask, What was the state of that soul? Did I do all that I could for him whilst he was alive? Can I say as before God, that “I am pure from his blood?” Ah, brethren! this is sometimes a heavy load upon the mind; for, of all the people upon the face of the earth, the man who most stands in need of superabounding grace and mercy, is he who has the care of souls committed to him: and the minister that does not tremble at this thought, has, above all men in the world, the most need to tremble.]
4. From an apprehension lest his labour should after all be in vain—
[The labours of Jesus himself, and of all his Apostles, were, with respect to the great mass of their hearers, in vain: no wonder, therefore, that it is so with respect to us. And what a distressing thought is this, that we eventually increase the guilt and condemnation of vast multitudes, over whom we have wept, and for whose salvation we have laboured! The word which we preach to them, if it be not “a savour of life unto life, becomes to them a savour of death unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].” If we had not laboured among them, “they would not, comparatively, have had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin [Note: John 15:22.]:” the more they are, like Capernaum, exalted in their privileges, the more deeply will they be cast down into hell for their abuse of them [Note: Matthew 11:22-24.]. Who that has a spark of compassion in his soul, can look around him on the multitudes who have hitherto withstood his efforts for their good, and not weep over them? Who, when he reflects, that, with respect to many, his commission will prove only like that delegated to Isaiah, “Go, and make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed [Note: Isaiah 6:9-10.];” who, I say, can reflect on this, and not be “in weakness, and fear, and much trembling;” more especially when he considers how much the failure may have been owing to his own deficiencies?
Such then are, and ought to be, the feelings of all who have learned to estimate aright the difficulties and dangers of the ministerial office.]
Corresponding with these are,
II. The feelings called for in a believing people—
These, it is true, are not expressly mentioned in our text; but they are so closely connected with the foregoing subject, that we must on no account omit to notice them.
Two things are evidently called for on the part of those who are blessed with such a minister:
1. A reciprocal concern for his welfare—
[Whilst he is thus “travailing, as it were, in birth with them,” they should be deeply concerned for him, and study by all possible means to strengthen his hands and to comfort his heart. They should co-operate with him in every labour of love; they should, as far as their influence extends, endeavour to confirm his word, and to advance his work. In their own families, especially, they should be labourers together with him. Above all, they should assist him daily with their prayers. How often does the Apostle say, “Brethren, pray for us [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:25. Hebrews 13:18.]!” yea, with what extreme earnestness did he entreat this succour from the Church at Rome; “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me [Note: Romans 15:30.]”! To this he confidently looked, as to an infallible source of blessings to his own soul [Note: Philippians 1:19.], and of success to his ministerial exertions [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:11. Ephesians 6:18-19.]! This therefore is the duty of every one, in return for those efforts which his minister is using for his good. Intercession is an ordinance of God; and is replete with benefit invariably to those who use it, and most generally to those in whose behalf it is used. Does your minister then stand in need of wisdom, of zeal, of patience, of love, of all manner of gracious communications? be instant in prayer for him, that he may receive from the fulness that is in Christ all seasonable and necessary supplies. Without such co-operation on your part he can scarcely hope to bear up under the pressure of the load that is laid upon him. He is ready at times to complain, as Moses did under the weight that had been laid upon him: “Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burthen of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me [Note: Numbers 11:11-12; Numbers 11:14.].” Learn then, brethren, to sympathize with him; and “labour fervently and without ceasing in prayer to God for him, that he may be enabled to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.].”]
2. An anxious desire to answer the end of his exertions—
[Is a minister thus deeply exercised for his people’s good, and should not they be anxious for their own? Is he harassed with unremitting solicitude, and should they be sitting in a state of indifference? Know, brethren, that the very circumstance of God’s having set apart an order of men to labour for your souls, is a very abundant proof that your souls are of an inestimable value, and that all the anxiety you can feel is less than they call for at your hands. Do but consider, that every moment you are ripening either for heaven or for hell; every action, every word, and every thought, is enhancing either your happiness or misery for ever. More particularly are you responsible for all the means of grace which you enjoy, and for all the efforts which are used for your salvation. Should not this thought fill you with fear and trembling, more especially when you look back upon the opportunities which you have neglected to improve? Have you no reason to fear, lest he who seeks your eternal welfare, and longs above all things to have you as his “joy and crown of rejoicing in the last day,” should, after all, be a swift witness against you to your everlasting confusion? Begin then, if you have not yet begun, to cherish this salutary fear. Remember, what his object is; and then inquire, whether that object have been attained in you. It is not to an approbation of his ministry, or to a mere profession of the truth, that he wishes to convert you, but to a cordial acceptance of the Gospel salvation, and an entire surrender of your souls to God. Less than this will not answer the ends of his ministry, or bring any substantial blessing on your own souls. I pray you, examine well how far this good work has been wrought within you; and learn to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” We do not mean that you should be kept in a state of slavish fear: for the very scope and intent of the Gospel is to “cast out all such fear as hath torment.” It is a filial fear that we recommend to you; and it is a filial fear that we would cultivate ourselves: but the more that abounds in ministers and people, the more will the work of God flourish among them, and God himself be glorified in the midst of them.]
1 Corinthians 2:4-5. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
IN the education of persons for the ministry, it is justly thought that all possible attention should be paid to the attainment of whatever may render them eminent in their profession, and useful in the Church of God. Yet it may well be doubted whether a proper distinction be made between the acquisition of knowledge and the use of it. A man cannot acquire too much; but he may use his knowledge unprofitably, and even injuriously, in the discharge of his holy calling. There is, in the truths which he has to deliver, a dignity, which would be obscured by the artificial ornaments of human oratory. Hence St. Paul, even when at Corinth, where human eloquence was in high request, forbore to comply with the prevailing taste, lest, by yielding to it, “he should make the cross of Christ of none effect [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:17.].” Nor did he apologize for this departure from their established usages: on the contrary, he vindicates it, and assigns what they could not but acknowledge to be an abundantly sufficient reason for his conduct.
That we may not lose the benefit of his example, I will enter more particularly into the consideration of it; and shew,
I. How St. Paul conducted himself in his pastoral office—
It is evident that he here contrasts his own conduct with that of their most celebrated instructors, whom they were wont to admire. The philosophers, whom they had followed, were fond of displaying the profoundness of their own wisdom, and the extent of their own researches: and they were admired in proportion as they were able to maintain their theories with logical subtlety and plausible argumentation. Their great orators, too, to whom they had been wont to listen with delight, had filled their discourses with all the flowers of rhetoric, that, by pleasing the imagination of their hearers, they might suspend the severer exercises of judgment, and persuade beyond the just impulse of deliberate conviction. But to none of these artifices would the Apostle condescend.
He conducted his ministrations with the utmost simplicity—
[He was himself a man of great talent: having been educated under the most celebrated teacher, and made a proficiency in knowledge beyond most of his fellow-students; so that, if he had judged it expedient, he could have moved with celebrity in the path which the most distinguished philosophers had trod. But he disdained to seek his own glory in the discharge of his sacred office: he therefore would have nothing to do with “the enticing words of man’s wisdom.” He had received a message, which he was anxious to deliver; and, in delivering it, “he used great plainness of speech.” He looked not to the powers of language, to impress the minds of his hearers, but to the Spirit of the living God; whose energy needed no artificial aid, and whose power was amply sufficient to carry conviction to the soul. He was taught to expect from God such attestations to his word. He was enabled, indeed, to confirm his word with signs and miracles: but it was to the mighty working of the Spirit of God upon the souls of men that he chiefly looked; and, in dependence upon that, he laboured both in public and in private. “His speech,” when conversing with individuals, and “his preaching” before assembled thousands, were both of the same character. To make known the mystery of redemption through our incarnate God was the office committed to him: and he determined to execute it with all simplicity of mind; “knowing nothing amongst his people but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”]
In this he had respect to the best interests of mankind—
[The very aim of the principal philosophers was to establish dogmas of their own, which were to be received by their followers as characteristic of the sect to which they belonged. But St. Paul would not have the faith of his hearers to stand on the dictates of human wisdom. The word was God’s: the power that alone could make it effectual was God’s: nor could it be of any real service to the souls of men, any further than it was applied with power from on high. However the people might accede to it as a truth, that they were corrupt and helpless creatures, they could not feel it aright, unless they were taught it by God himself. And, however they might be persuaded that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world, they could not believe in him to the salvation of their own souls, unless that faith should be wrought in them by the Holy Ghost. In like manner, every truth of Christianity must be experimentally received, and divinely communicated: and therefore the Apostle would not run the risk of having any of its efficacy imputed to his statements: he would have the faith of all its adherents to be purely and undeniably the offspring of a divine power; so that God alone might be glorified in every believing soul.]
Such was the character of St. Paul’s ministry. Let me now suggest,
II. The hints which we may derive from it in the relation in which we stand—
If St. Paul was an example to us as a Christian, he was not less so as a Minister. Now, from his mode of ministering, some important hints arise,
1. To those who preach—
[We have the very same message to deliver as that which was committed to the Apostle Paul. And, though we cannot hope, like him, to have our word confirmed with miracles, we may hope that it shall be accompanied with power from on high, to the conviction and consolation of those who hear us. On us, therefore, the same obligation lies, to wave the use of all rhetorical ornaments, and of artificial statements that savour of human wisdom; and to look to the influences of the Holy Spirit to render our word effectual for the good of men. The same holy watchfulness should be found in us respecting the honour of God in the work of man’s salvation. Were our talents ever so great, we ought to deem the exercise of them, in dispensing the Gospel, a matter of extreme care and jealousy. I mean not that they are to be laid aside; for they may be employed to good purpose: but they are not to be employed for the purpose of display, or to exalt our own wisdom: they must be improved only for the purpose of unfolding more clearly the great mysteries of the Gospel, and of rendering them more intelligible to the meanest capacity. The object which we should ever keep in view should be, to have our word accompanied with a divine unction to the souls of men, and to see faith wrought in their hearts with a divine power.]
2. To those who hear—
[The same simplicity of mind as befits your minister, becomes you also. You should not wish for displays of oratory, or affect that preaching which savours of human wisdom: you should desire only “the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” You should be on your guard against adopting the Shibboleth of a party, or the dogmas of any particular sect: beware, too, of becoming followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, as your own carnal prejudices may incline you: you must receive the truth as little children; and embrace it, “not as the word of man, but as the word of God.” If rightly ministered, the Gospel will “be declared to you as the testimony of God” respecting his dear Son [Note: ver. 1.]. Now, a testimony is not received on account of the figures with which it is embellished, but on account of its intrinsic importance, and the veracity of him by whom it is borne: and in this precise way must you receive the testimony of God, who says, that “He has given us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son; and that he who hath the Son, hath life; and he who hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.].” To know this truth, to feel its importance, to taste its sweetness, and to experience its sanctifying and saving efficacy, this must be your end in attending on the ministry; and, in comparison of this, all gratifications resulting from a display of human wisdom ought to be lighter than vanity itself.]
In conclusion, let me recommend to you,
1. That you form a right judgment respecting spirtual edification—
[There is scarcely any subject on which the Christian world are more in error than this. If persons are pleased with the talents of a preacher, they are ready to suppose that they are edified: but real edification consists in our being more humbled, more quickened, more strengthened in the service of our God: and whatever produces not these effects, however it may please us, is only as a musical exhibition, which leaves us as carnal and corrupt as we were before [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.].]
2. That you seek edification in the way in which alone it can be obtained—
[God alone can work it in the soul: “Though Paul should plant, or Apollos water, it is God alone that can give the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.].” You must cry to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit; and beg that “the word may come to you, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5.].” To Him you must look in prayer, before you come up hither; and whilst you are hearing the word; and when you go hence: then may you hope that the word shall be clothed with energy, and prove “The power of God to the salvation of your souls.”]
WISDOM OF THE GOSPEL
1 Corinthians 2:6. We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.
THESE words appear, at first sight, to have an air of conceit and arrogance: and, if uttered by an uninspired man in reference to lucubrations of his own, they might perhaps be not unjustly condemned, as betraying in the speaker, and generating in the hearers, the unhallowed feelings of pride and self-sufficiency. But, as spoken by the holy Apostle, they are open to no such unfavourable construction. If we were to understand by them, that the Apostle held one doctrine amongst those who were initiated into the secrets of his mind, and another amongst his less-instructed disciples, we could by no means justify him in such a conduct; for he would then resemble those philosophers of old, who, in private, exposed the fallacy of popular errors, which in their public discourses they upheld and sanctioned. This the Apostle never did. If he brought some things to the view of his more enlightened followers, which he forbore to state to others, it was not from any doubt of the truth of the sentiments which he concealed, or from any fear of incurring the displeasure of men by the promulgation of them; but only from a condescension to the weakness of those whose organs of vision were not capable of sustaining the flood of light which he was able to pour upon them. From such motives he certainly did, on many occasions, withhold truths from those who were unable to bear them, and content himself with administering milk to those who were incapable of digesting strong meat [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:1-2. Hebrews 5:11-14.]. But this is not the import of the passage before us. The simple meaning of it is, that whilst the great subject of his ministrations was by many of his hearers regarded as “foolishness,” it was, in the eyes of those who properly understood it, “wisdom.”
His words will naturally lead me to shew,
I. What the true character of the Gospel is—
The Gospel which the Apostle preached was, salvation through a crucified Redeemer: “I determined,” says he, “to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
Now this, whatever an ignorant and ungodly world may say of it, is “wisdom.”
It is indeed a “hidden” wisdom—
[It was hid from all eternity in the bosom of the Father: nor had the first Archangel any conception of it, till it was revealed to man in Paradise: and all the knowledge which is at this very hour possessed by the Principalities and Powers of heaven respecting it, is derived to them through the progressive revelation made of it to the Church by the Prophets and Apostles of succeeding ages [Note: Ephesians 3:9-10.]. Even under the Mosaic dispensation it was for the most part “hidden:” because the types and ceremonies, by which it was adumbrated, cast so thick a veil over it, that it could scarcely be discerned at all; and the very prophets who foretold it were unable to unravel the mysteries which they proclaimed to us [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-12.]. The things which it unfolds to our view are perfectly different from any thing that ever entered into the minds of uninspired men [Note: ver. 9.]: and at this moment are they “hidden from the wise and prudent, even whilst they are revealed unto babes [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.].”]
But in it is contained the “manifold” wisdom of God [Note: Noteb.]—
[It was “ordained of God before the world, for our glory,” even for the salvation of our souls. And in this “great mystery [Note: ver. 7. with 1 Timothy 3:16.]” we may behold his inventive wisdom, his administrative wisdom, his effective wisdom.
No finite intelligence could have conceived such a plan of rescuing from perdition our fallen race, without dishonouring that law which we had violated, and suspending the sentence which justice had denounced. He alone, “whose understanding is unsearchable,” was capable of devising a plan whereby the offence might be punished, and the offender saved.
But how shall this plan be executed? If it be not made known, none can avail themselves of it: and if it be known, it can never be carried into effect: for who would ever dare to lay his hands upon his incarnate God, and inflict on him the things which he was doomed to bear? The Apostle himself tells us, that “if the princes of this world had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory [Note: ver. 8.].” And, now that the plan is executed, how shall the benefits of it be so imparted, that, whilst no room is left for any man to glory, the sovereignty of God shall not supersede, or in any degree interfere with, the free agency of man? Who but God could divine this?
Again: shall any thing be left to chance? Shall it be uncertain whether, after all, God’s ends shall be attained? No: man shall have the benefit; and God the glory. God will “give a people to his Son, whom he shall have for an inheritance [Note: Psalms 2:8.].” “A seed shall serve him [Note: Psalms 22:30.]:” and, however far off they may be, God will apprehend them, and bring them to his Son [Note: John 6:37.], and “keep them unto the end,” and “perfect in them the good work he has begun [Note: Philippians 1:6.].” Of those whom from eternity he has given to his Son, “not one shall be lost [Note: John 18:9.],” “not one be ever plucked out of his hands [Note: John 10:28-29.].” At the same time, all his own perfections shall be glorified; justice in punishing the offence, and mercy in pardoning the offender: yea, mercy shall be the more magnified, because it is exercised in away of justice; and justice, because it is honoured in a way of mercy.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: Romans 11:33.]!” This indeed may be said in reference to any single part of his plan: and, if so, how much more in reference to the whole stupendous mystery, in all its branches! Verily, in the mystery of redemption, as viewed in all its parts, there “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Colossians 2:3.];” insomuch that, though they shall be progressively unfolding to all eternity, they shall never be fully seen, never adequately comprehended.]
Such, then, being the true character of the Gospel, we proceed to shew,
II. Whence it is that the godly alone view it in its true light—
The persons here called “perfect,” are the same as in the foregoing chapter are called “the saved [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:18.],” and “the called [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:24.].” As for absolute perfection, there is no such thing to be found in any child of man [Note: Philippians 3:12.]. But persons are sometimes called “perfect,” as having grown from children to man’s estate [Note: See 1 Corinthians 14:20 and Hebrews 5:14. both of them in the Greek.]; and sometimes as being truly upright in opposition to the unbelieving and ungodly world [Note: Job 1:1. Matthew 19:21. Philippians 3:15.]. It is in this latter sense that the term “perfect” is used in our text. These persons, though they be only babes, behold a wisdom in the Gospel; though doubtless their insight into the glory and excellency of the Gospel is deep in proportion to the attainments they have made in the Divine life.
Now these persons alone behold the wisdom of the Gospel,
1. Because they alone feel their need of the salvation revealed in it—
[Others know not their lost estate: they see no such evil in sin, but that it may be atoned for by some little act of penance, and be counterbalanced by a few self-righteous and formal services. What then can they want of such a provision as the Gospel has made for their reconciliation with God? What need have they, that Almighty God should become incarnate, and offer himself a sacrifice for their sins? What need have they to plead the merits of a dying Saviour, when their own will suffice? What need have they that the Holy Ghost should come down and dwell in their hearts, when they have a sufficiency of strength within themselves for every service which they are called to perform? But the man who knows how low he has fallen, and how utterly impossible it is that he should ever reconcile himself to God, or attain by any obedience of his own a righteousness in which he may stand before God, will be filled with amazement at the revelation which is made in the Gospel, and at the stupendous mystery there contained: in whatever light it be viewed by others, it will in his eyes be “the power of God, and the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.].”]
2. Because they alone seek to be instructed in it—
[Others “lean to their own understanding;” and, being “wise in their own conceits,” “they are taken by God in their own craftiness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 3:19.].” Not so the humble inquirer. To him is imparted “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God’s dear Son; so that the eyes of his understanding are opened [Note: Ephesians 1:18-19.];” and he is enabled to discern with clearness and certainty “the things which are freely given to him of God [Note: ver. 12.].” By this divine Agent he is led to view “the deep things of God [Note: ver. 10.];” and to comprehend, in a measure, the depth and height and length and breadth of that love of Christ, which, in its full extent, is utterly incomprehensible [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].]
3. Because they alone are willing to embrace its self-denying doctrines—
[Others are offended at the humiliation it requires: nor can they endure to renounce the world, and to live only for God and for eternity. In justification of themselves, therefore, they “deride” what they choose not to embrace [Note: See, and mark particularly in this view, Luke 16:14.]. But the man whose heart is right with God wishes to be humbled in the very dust as a hell-deserving sinner, and delights in “receiving every thing out of the fulness” that is treasured up for him in Christ. Could he have the desire of his soul, he would be “holy as God himself is holy,” and “perfect as his Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Hence, when he finds in the Gospel every thing that he stands in need of, wisdom for the ignorant, righteousness for the guilty, sanctification for the polluted, and redemption for the enslaved, he cannot but adore the wisdom that has ordained so mysterious, so effectual, a salvation.]
4. Because these alone give themselves up to the contemplation of it—
[Others “let slip all that they hear,” having no wish to treasure it up in their minds. But the truly upright lay up the word in their hearts, (even as Mary did the words of her youthful Son;) yea, and meditate upon it day and night. They resemble in this respect the holy angels, who are represented as bending down upon the ark, and inspecting with all possible care the law contained in it [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.]. No wonder they are instructed; no wonder the veil is taken from their hearts: for God has said, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.”
Hence, then, we see the grounds on which the perfect man admires as “wisdom” what all the world besides regard as folly. Being enabled by God to discern its suitableness, and to experience its sufficiency, he glories in it as the perfection of wisdom, and as a comprehensive summary of all that is good and great.]
Now, as in the text are mentioned the speaker and the hearers—the one delivering with confidence, and the others receiving with submission, the dictates of inspiration—I will, in conclusion, address myself,
1. To those whose office it is, or may hereafter be, to preach the Gospel—
[The Apostle, knowing the Gospel to be the very wisdom of God himself, was extremely careful to deliver it with the utmost simplicity. He was able to preach it “with wisdom of words,” and to set it forth with all the powers of language, if he had been so inclined: but he would not do so, “lest he should make the cross of Christ of none effect [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:17.].” He appeals to the Corinthians themselves, that he had “come to them not with excellency of speech or of human wisdom [Note: ver. 1, 4.];” being anxious “that their faith should stand, not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God [Note: ver. 5, 13.]. Now, in this he has set us an example which we ought carefully to follow. We greatly err, if we hope by any meretricious ornaments to embellish the Gospel of Christ. That appears most beautiful, when it is exhibited most simply in its own native form. The whole world would in vain attempt to add any thing to light: and equally vain will be any endeavour to exalt the Gospel by the gaudy trappings of rhetorical expressions. It is by the plain exhibition of a crucified Saviour that God will work. On the wisdom of the wise he will pour contempt: but “by the foolishness of preaching,” that is, by such preaching as the wise of this world account foolishness, “he will save them that believe.” Let ministers then learn from hence how to preach the Gospel, remembering that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:25.].” We may by our additions weaken the Gospel of Christ; but we can never strengthen its efficacy by any thing that we can add. It is in itself “the rod of God’s strength:” and, if we wield it faithfully, all the powers of darkness shall fall before it.]
2. To those who hear the Gospel—
[You must seek to attain simplicity of mind, even the simplicity of little children. “If you would be wise, you must become fools that you may be wise [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:18.].” It is the truth of God that you are to regard, and not the human eloquence with which it maybe proclaimed. You must “hear the word,” not as the word of man, but of God.” You must hear it as God’s word to your own selves in particular; and must “receive it with meekness, as an engrafted word, able to save your souls [Note: James 1:21.].” Let this thought be duly impressed upon your minds, and it will operate powerfully to counteract that sad propensity which is in us to set up one preacher above another, because of his peculiar gifts and talents. For what is any man, but a mere instrument of God, whereby God himself was pleased to work upon you [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:5.]? Whether it was “Paul who planted, or Apollos who watered, it was God alone who gave the increase:” and therefore “neither Paul nor Apollos should be any thing in your estimation, (except as you may love them for their works’ sake,) but God who gave the increase.” The praise and glory should be His alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.].
On the other hand, neither should you despise the word, because it is delivered in weakness. God is often pleased to “magnify his own strength in the weakness” of his instruments [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]. He has “put his treasure into earthen vessels for this very end [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.]:” and, if you will look to him for his blessing on the word, he will “ordain strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings [Note: Psalms 8:2.],” and “enrich you by those who are the poorest in themselves [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].”
Only seek to behold and to admire the wisdom of God in his Gospel; and you shall find it to be “the power of God to the salvation of your souls [Note: Romans 1:16.].”]
MYSTERIOUSNESS OF THE GOSPEL
1 Corinthians 2:7. We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.
AMONGST persons of intelligence, nothing is so highly esteemed as wisdom. And well may it be preferred to every other attainment; because it elevates its possessor in the scale of being, and assimilates him to the highest order of finite intelligences. Even the wisdom that is merely human is deservedly ranked far above all the riches or honours of the world: and much more does divine wisdom merit this place in the estimation of mankind. It is of this latter wisdom in particular that we are now to speak. But, in truth, it far exceeds all human comprehension: for it is the wisdom of God himself; and that wisdom, too, in a mystery, that from all eternity was hid in the bosom of the Most High. Yet is it sufficiently intelligible to answer all the purposes for which it has been revealed, and to enrich the souls of all to whom the attainment of it is vouchsafed. That which contains it all is the Gospel: and it is my intention, at this time, to shew what there is in the Gospel which entitles it to this high character. There are four things, which I will specify:
I. The profundity of its principles—
The great principle of the Gospel is precisely that which was typified under the Law—Reconciliation with God through the sacrifice of his Son. Contemplate this:
Reconciliation with God!
[What a mystery! Consider the greatness of the Divine Majesty: consider the meanness and worthlessness of the human race, who, whether they were annihilated, or consumed in the regions of eternal misery, would not be missed from the creation of God; who needs them not, nor can receive any thing from them; and who could, if he pleased, by a mere act of volition, create millions of holy beings to supply their place. Why are they not left to their fate? Why does the Most High God concern himself about them? Why, when they have sinned like the fallen angels, are they not left, like them, to reap the bitter fruit of their wickedness? How can we conceive that God should ever think of being reconciled to such rebellious creatures? Even if a proposal to this effect had first come from man, we could not conceive that God should ever accede to it: how much less then can we imagine, that when no such desire was evinced by man, the proposal should ever originate with our offended God?
But contemplate further,]
Reconciliation by sacrifice!
[What can there be in sacrifice that should answer any such end as this? How can that which is innocent be substituted in the place of the guilty? If such a proposal were made, how could a holy God acquiesce in it? And where could a victim be found? Shall the blood of bulls and of goats take away sin? Impossible. Should the highest archangel offer himself for us? What could he effect, either by doing or suffering, for us? What could he do, beyond what he is by the very law of his creation bound to do? or what could any sufferings of his avail for expiating the guilt of a fallen world? But contemplate yet further,]
Reconciliation by the sacrifice of God’s only dear Son!
[Impossible! The co-equal, co-eternal Son of God be given for such an end! The eternal God become a man! The Creator of all things substitute himself in the place of his creatures! The Lord of Life and Glory die, and bear the curse due to sin, yea, and expiate thereby the guilt of the very persons who nailed him to the cross! Truly, if God has revealed all this in his Gospel, it must be true: but nothing less than the most unquestionable evidence of such a revelation having actually proceeded from God can warrant us to entertain the thought of a reconciliation effected by such means as these.]
But, to get a clearer insight into the mystery of the Gospel, let us notice,
II. The comprehensiveness of its provisions—
Nothing in it is wanting that can contribute to,
1. The honour of God—
[Were the Gospel at all deficient in this view, it would be impossible for God to approve of it. But there is not a perfection of the Deity which is not honoured by it. The justice of God has all its demands satisfied: the holiness of God is displayed in the brightest colours: his truth is kept inviolate: yea, all the perfections of God are more glorified in this way of exercising mercy, than they would have been if man had never fallen, or never been redeemed. In truth, it is this which gives to the Gospel its chief value: it is valuable, doubtless, as saving man; but it is infinitely more valuable as displaying and magnifying the glory of God.]
2. The salvation of man—
[Needs fallen man the removal of his guilt? it is removed from him, as far as the east is from the west, by virtue of this sacrifice. Be it so: the debt we had contracted was infinite: but infinite also was the value of that blood which was shed to expiate our guilt; so that justice itself, being satisfied by our Surety, has nothing to demand at our hands. Does man need also the renovation of his nature? For this also is ample provision made, seeing that by virtue of the blood of Christ the gift of the Holy Spirit is purchased for us; by whose Almighty agency every child of man may be renewed and sanctified, yea, and transformed also into the very image of his God. Does he need yet further a perfect righteousness wherein to stand before God? This, too, is secured to him by Christ’s obedience unto death: for by that a righteousness is formed perfectly commensurate with all the requirements of the law; and it is imputed to every believing soul; so that, clothed in it, he stands perfect and complete before God, without spot or blemish. Nothing that can in any way contribute to a man’s peace of conscience, or holiness of life, or meetness for glory, is wanting in this stupendous mystery: all is provided for; all is secured: and in every part of it the wisdom of God is incomprehensibly and unsearchably displayed.]
The mysteriousness of the Gospel will yet further appear, if we notice,
III. Its remoteness altogether from human apprehension—
Supposing man to be informed that God had designs of mercy towards him, in what way would he expect it to be exercised? He would look for it,
1. In a way of mere gratuitous forgiveness—
[He would never once have the remotest idea of an atonement. It would appear in his eyes a perfect absurdity. In fact, it did so appear “both to the Jews and Gentiles; being to the one a stumbling-block, and to the others foolishness.” In this light it does appear to the wise and prudent of the present day. For, though the general notion of an atonement may be admitted, and even contended for, by many, as a sentiment in opposition to Socinians and Deists, it is really approved by those only who are taught of God the truth as it is in Jesus. The minds of all by nature lean to the side of uncovenanted mercy, as being less humiliating than that plan of forgiveness which the Gospel prescribes. The imputation of our sin to Christ, and the imputation of his righteousness to us, are doctrines at which the natural man revolts: nor is any man brought cordially to acquiesce in them, till he has been made to feel the extent of his own demerit, and his utter incapacity to do any thing which is good.
Yet, whilst we thus incline to uncovenanted mercy in preference to an atonement, we still expect that mercy,]
2. In a way of self-righteous dependence—
[To renounce all dependence on our own works appears absurd in the extreme: for, if we are not to be saved by our works, what need is there for us to perform them? To set them aside in point of merit, seems to supersede all occasion for the performance of them. Man cannot endure to discard all boasting before God. If he cannot purchase heaven altogether, he will do it in part: and if he be constrained to accept of heaven as a free gift, still he will look to himself for something which shall be a ground of preference in the sight of God, or at least a warrant for him to look to God for the communications of his grace. A free salvation, without money and without price, and apprehended solely by faith, is, to the great mass of Christians, an object of offence, rather than of desire and love.]
3. In a way of self-confident exertion—
[The doing of something to merit salvation, is always associated with the doing of it in our own strength. The natural man has no conception but that, as he is responsible for all that he does, he must of necessity have a sufficiency for all that he needs to do. The attempting of any thing in the simple exercise of faith, and in expectation of strength communicated from above, appears to him to be an enthusiastic conceit, unworthy of a sober mind. In short, every part of the Gospel salvation, whether as bringing us to God or fitting us for the enjoyment of him, is the very reverse of what the natural man would either suggest or approve. It cannot even he understood by any who possess not a spiritual discernment, nor ever is received but through the teaching of the Holy Spirit.]
Distant, however, as it is, from human apprehensions, we cannot but acknowledge,
IV. Its suitableness to the end proposed—
Does God propose to humble the sinner?
[Nothing effects that work like the Gospel: for in the death of Christ he sees the awful desert of sin, and the impossibility of obtaining mercy without an adequate atonement for it. In the requirement of a life of faith on the Son of God, he sees his own utter incapacity for any thing that is good: and, in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, he is constrained to acknowledge, that even his best works are full of imperfection; and that salvation, from first to last, is, and must be, by grace alone.]
Does he desire to exalt the Saviour?
[The honour of salvation is altogether reserved to Christ, as the Author and Finisher of it: and to him alone, both in heaven and earth, must all the glory of it be ascribed. Not a hope enters the sinner’s mind, but through his atoning sacrifice: not a prayer is offered, but through his mediation and intercession: nor to all eternity will a blessing be enjoyed, without being traced to his merit as the procuring cause, and to the influence of his grace as the efficient cause: so entirely will the glory of it all be given to him alone.]
Does he determine to secure holiness?
[Here it is secured, beyond a possibility of failure: nor is it found in any creature under heaven, but in him who receives the Gospel of Christ. Semblances of holiness we may find in self-righteous formalists; but real holiness in none but those who are penetrated with redeeming love. In confirmation of this truth, we appeal to the records of the Church in every age of the world. Even at the present hour, we shrink not from a comparison with all other people under heaven: and we are free to acknowledge, that the professor of religion who soars not in holiness above all the unbelievers upon earth, is unworthy of the name of Christian, and will have no part with Christ in his kingdom and glory.
Thus we trust that the Gospel, however despised by an ungodly world, is justly entitled to the appellation given it in our text, “The wisdom of God in a mystery.”]
See, then, from hence,
1. What is the office of a minister—
[It is to proclaim “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.” We are to “speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.” We are appointed for this very end, even “as stewards of the mysteries of God.” We are not to be bringing forth notions out of our own minds; but simply to declare what God has done for the salvation of mankind, and how a guilty world may be reconciled to him. This is the ministry of reconciliation, committed unto us; and in the execution of our office, we beseech you, Be ye reconciled to God — — —]
2. What is the duty of those to whom he ministers—
[Is that which he brings to their ears “a mystery?” It becomes them to receive it into their hearts, with docility, submission, and gratitude. We expect little children to learn from us, without questioning the solidity of our judgment, or the truth of our assertions. That he cannot altogether comprehend the lessons we teach him, is no reason why we do not expect his assent to them. On the contrary, it is by their first receiving our testimony with implicit faith, that they afterwards come to see both the truth and excellence of our instructions. And it is in this way that we also must acquire the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ — — — But we must also submit to the plan proposed by God, and seek remission altogether in the way pointed out by him — — — And finally, we must feel our obligations to the Most High God, who has done such wonders for the salvation of our souls. Whilst on earth, we must, to a certain degree, be penetrated with the zeal and love which we shall feel in heaven; and both here and in eternity “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.”]
IGNORANCE OF THE GOSPEL, FATAL
1 Corinthians 2:8. Had they known if, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
IT has been supposed, that there is such a transcendent excellence in virtue, that if it were embodied upon earth, it would be universally revered and honoured. But virtue has been embodied in the person of God’s only dear Son; and yet, instead of receiving from man all the homage which might have been expected, it has been treated with all possible indignity, even to the extinction of the person in whom it was found. But in the assumption that all men would honour it, it is taken for granted that all would be able to appreciate its excellence: whereas men, with jaundiced eyes, see every thing with an unfavourable tint upon it; and, consequently err exceedingly in their judgment respecting it. Through this unhappy bias, men “put evil for good, and good for evil; darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” No wonder, therefore, if their aversion to what is really excellent rises in proportion to its exalted qualities, and their opposition to it be found to correspond with their judgment. We have the authority of an Apostle for saying that this was the real cause of the indignities offered to our incarnate God. Had men been able to form a correct estimate of his character, they could not have treated them as they did: had they fully understood the errand of love on which he came, and the purposes of grace which he was destined to accomplish, they could not have raised their hands against him: it would have been impossible for persons comprehending the great mystery which he came to consummate, so to act: no; “if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.”
In speaking of the ignorance of mankind, and especially their ignorance of true religion, I will endeavour to shew,
I. Its extensive prevalence—
It prevailed to an awful degree in the apostolic age—
[Respecting the way which God had devised for the salvation of a ruined world, the wisest philosophers had not the slightest notion. Nor had the governors of the Jewish people any just conceptions respecting it. Though they had the Scripture in their hands, and the great mystery of godliness was shadowed forth in all their sacrifices, yet could they not comprehend the purposes of God which were revealed to them. They had the moral law, but knew not its spirituality and extent: they had the ceremonial law, but knew not its typical import: they had the prophecies, but knew not in what way they were to be accomplished. They saw a Messiah promised, but they altogether mistook the nature of the kingdom which he was to establish in the world.]
It prevails also, nearly to the same extent, at this time—
[“The princes of this world,” though born in Christian lands, know, for the most part, but little of Christianity: nay more; the very rulers of the Church itself are far from having that insight into the hidden mysteries of our religion which their general information might give one reason to suppose. As far as a knowledge of the languages in which the Scriptures were written, and a critical skill in interpreting them, and an extensive acquaintance with ecclesiastical history, will qualify men for the sacred office, there may be no cause for complaint: but, if we inquire into men’s knowledge of the “hidden wisdom of God in the great mystery” of redemption, it is lamentable to think how few there are who manifest an acquaintance with it; such an acquaintance, I mean, as has a transforming efficacy on their souls. We see somewhat of the feelings which are generated by a knowledge of this mystery in heaven: we behold, also, the effects produced by it upon the Apostles and martyrs upon earth: but where do we see these feelings excited, and these effects produced, in any considerable degree, in “the princes of this world” amongst ourselves? I mean not to speak disrespectfully of any, or to judge uncharitably of any: but I simply ask, whether, in the public ministrations of men, or in their printed addresses, or in their conversation with each other, there be such a preponderance given to this great mystery as might be expected, or such as would infallibly be given, if its excellence and importance were duly appreciated? Of the secret transactions of men, and the intercourse which may take place between God and their souls, I presume not to speak. I speak only of what is manifested in open act: and of men’s knowledge of this mystery, as tried by that standard, I am constrained to say, it is very partial and confined. Nor need I bring any other proof of my assertion than this, that, wherever this mystery is fully opened, and the different parts of it are inculcated with the energy which its importance demands, the doctrine draws attention as a novelty; and excites odium, as differing from the common standard of the established ministrations. But could this be, if the mystery of the Gospel were so generally known, and its truths so faithfully promulgated, as some would assert? A taper would attract no notice by day; but it is seen at a great distance at night, by reason of the surrounding darkness: and, for the same reason, even a very slender exhibition of the Gospel, which would have passed unnoticed in the apostolic age, now calls forth adoring gratitude on the part of some, and provokes inveterate hostility on the part of others;—a sure proof, that such exhibitions are not so common amongst us as they ought to be.]
To shew how great an evil this ignorance of the Gospel is, I will proceed to mark,
II. Its injurious tendency—
In the Jews, it led to nothing less than the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory—
[Both Jews and Gentiles concurred in this act. They did not merely refuse to become the disciples of Jesus, but reviled him, and treated him with all imaginable indignities, and at last put him to death, even the accursed death of the cross. And to what but ignorance can we refer it? Can we conceive, that if they had really known Jesus to be “the Lord of Glory,” they would have dared to treat him thus? Methinks, if love to him for his condescension and grace had not restrained them, a fear of his displeasure must have disarmed their malice. It would have been impossible for them to proceed to such extremities, if they had had any just conception of his person and character, his work and office.]
In a similar way it operates on us also—
[It is obvious that men of all ranks and orders live in a neglect of Christ and his salvation, and seek their happiness rather in the things of time and sense — — — But could it be so, if they really knew what a glorious Saviour he is? Could they think so little of all the wonders of his love, if they had any just comprehension of them in their minds? By our treatment of him, we do, in fact, “crucify him afresh, and put him to an open shame.” I ask, Could we do this, if we knew him to be indeed “the Lord of glory,” who had divested himself of all his glory for us, and become a man for us, and died upon the cross for us, and to be carrying on his work in heaven for us, and coming again to make us partakers of his glory for evermore? Bad as human nature is, it could not withstand such a miracle of love as this: it must lay down its weapons of rebellion at the sight of this: at the sight of this it would feel “a constraining influence to live to Him” who has so “loved us and given himself for us.” From our first inquiry, “Who art thou, Lord?” another would instantly succeed, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do [Note: Acts 9:5-6.]?” and a life of entire devotedness to his service must of necessity ensue.]
Can we wonder then at,
III. Its fatal issue—
It was, to the Jews who continued impenitent, of the most fatal consequence—
[Doubtless their ignorance did in some respects extenuate, but it could by no means excuse, their guilt. The Apostle apologizes for them; saying, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers:” but yet he adds, “Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out [Note: Acts 3:17; Acts 3:19.];” evidently importing, that without repentance, and thorough conversion to God, they must eternally perish. And St. Paul, whilst he speaks of having “obtained mercy, because he did it ignorantly in unbelief,” still calls himself “a blasphemer, and injurious, and a persecutor,” and “the very chief of sinners,” yea, as the greatest miracle of mercy, a monument of mercy to the whole world [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:15-16.]. In the Old Testament, God had declared by the prophets that he would not regard ignorance as any excuse for their iniquities: “They are a people of no understanding: therefore He that made them will not have mercy on them, and He that formed them will shew them no favour [Note: Isaiah 27:11.].” And again, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge [Note: Hosea 4:6.].” And under the New Testament, it is even made a matter of appeal to us: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation [Note: Hebrews 2:3.]?” And again, “If judgment begin at the house of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God? If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear [Note: 1 Peter 4:17-18.]?” Verily no candid person can doubt what the event was to the unbelieving Jews.]
And will it not have the same issue with respect to us?
[The greater our advantages are above the Jews, the greater is our guilt in neglecting to improve them. It is generally imagined, indeed, that those who commit no sin to lower them in the estimation of their fellow-creatures, are happy when they die: and to intimate a doubt of this would be deemed very uncharitable. But “none, except they be converted, can ever enter into the kingdom of heaven.” True indeed it is, that men ignorant of the Gospel, and of the wonders of love and mercy contained in it, are confident, in their own minds, that they have nothing to fear: and hence they continue in “the broad road that leadeth to destruction,” without ever thinking of their impending fate, till they drop into perdition. A fact which a pious writer records, as seen by himself, will well illustrate this. A flock of sheep being frightened on a bridge at the time of a high flood, one of them leaped over the side: all, one after another, followed its example, each supposing that those which had preceded him were safe and happy: but all, to their cost, found out their error when it was too late: for all were immersed in the flood, and perished in the waters. This gives us an exact picture of what is passing all around us. And it is abundantly confirmed in Holy Writ. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man, who had no flagrant sin laid to his charge, supposed himself sure of happiness in death; just as his five surviving brethren did, whilst walking in his steps: but from the depths of hell we hear him crying for a drop of water, to cool his tongue; and entreating, that a messenger might be sent from heaven to warn his brethren of their danger: and, as this request could not be complied with, we have reason to suppose that they also, however confident of their safety, became partakers of his awful doom. And would not many, who are gone before, be glad to send such messengers to us? Yes, I doubt not but that thousands and millions of them would be coming from heaven, if they were allowed to perform that friendly office for our self-deceiving race: for, whatever we may think to the contrary, that very Jesus, whom we slight, will ere long “be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.].”]
To improve this subject, I would entreat you to consider,
1. What use you should make of your present opportunities—
[You have “the Lord of glory” set before you, and all the mysteries of redeeming love unfolded to you. Yes, I can appeal to God, that “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” I pray you, then, continue not ignorant of this great mystery; for it is “the wisdom of God, and the power of God” to salvation to all those who receive it. I need not say, in this place [Note: The University of Cambridge.], how eagerly knowledge is sought, in the hopes of promoting men’s future advancement in life: and shall that knowledge be neglected which has so intimate a connexion with your happiness through eternity? I mean not to detract from the importance of human sciences: but I must say, that, when weighed against the knowledge of this mystery, all earthly knowledge is but as the dust upon the balance: for St. Paul, whose judgment in that particular we cannot doubt, “counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.” Though you possess ever so small a portion of the one, you may be happy: but without the other you can never be happy, in time or in eternity. I must say, then, to every one amongst you, Seek the knowledge of this mystery: seek to comprehend the height and depth, and length and breadth of the love of Christ contained in it. So shall it be progressively opened to your view, and your souls “be filled with all the fulness of God.”]
2. What zeal you should manifest for the glory of your Lord—
[Did those who knew him not, crucify him? and shall not those who know him, honour and exalt his name? Should you forbear to do so, “the very stones would cry out against you.” Let an ungodly world complain of you: let them call your zeal enthusiasm, and your love hypocrisy; but be not ye deterred from duty by all the clamour that can be raised against you. You well know what efforts Pilate made to save Jesus from the fury of his persecutors: yet did his entreaties only increase their thirst for his blood. Learn ye of them, and shew the same pertinacity in his righteous cause; yea, rather, Jet your knowledge operate more forcibly than their ignorant animosity: and as they accounted nothing too much to inflict upon him, account ye nothing too great to do or suffer for the honour of his name.]
3. How well you may be reconciled to sufferings for his sake—
[He has ordained, that all his followers shall have a cross to bear. But shall you account it hard when it is laid upon you? Was he, the Lord of Glory, crucified for you; and will you not bear a cross for him? It is not without reason that he bids you, under such circumstances, to “rejoice and leap for joy:” for “you are partakers of his sufferings,” and rendered conformable to him; and your reward in heaven is proportionably augmented by it. Be not, then, either afraid or ashamed of the cross for his sake; but glory in it, and bear it after him with joy; and “rejoice that you are counted worthy to bear it for his sake.” You may suppose that you may disarm the malice of the world by the blamelessness of your conduct. But the more you resemble Christ in your conduct, the more will you he called to suffer for his sake. Open as his character and dispositions were, men knew him not. Nor do they know you [Note: 1 John 3:1-2.]. Your conduct is as incomprehensible to the ungodly world as Christ’s was. They cannot conceive why you should separate so entirely from their ways, or give yourselves up so entirely to God. If they knew all your views, motives, principles, and habits, they would not so despise you. But, as all that our blessed Lord said or did was perverted, and made an occasion of evil, so must you expect “all manner of evil to be spoken against you falsely for his sake.” But let it not grieve you to be so treated: for “the servant cannot expect to be above his Lord.” Be contented to “suffer with him” here; and be assured that you shall “reign with him” in glory for ever and ever.]
THE GOSPEL A STUPENDOUS MYSTERY
1 Corinthians 2:9-10. It is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.
THE former part of this passage is generally quoted as relating to the eternal world. But, if the latter part be taken in connexion with it, as it ought to be, the sense is evidently determined to those things which were revealed by the Spirit to the Apostles of Christ. And it is in this sense that the words were originally used in the place from whence they are cited. They are part of a prayer, which the Jews, as soon as they shall begin to embrace the Gospel, will pour out before God in behalf of their afflicted nation; entreating him to interpose in their behalf, as powerfully as he formerly did when he brought them out of the land of Egypt; and to make known to them those great and glorious truths of which hitherto they have never had any just conception [Note: Isaiah 64:4. The prayer begins at Isaiah 63:15 and continues to the end of the sixty-fourth chapter.]. To the same purpose the Apostle cites them in our text. He is speaking of the Gospel as “foolishness” indeed to the natural man, but as in reality the most stupendous display of the Divine wisdom; such as had never before been seen, or heard, or thought of, from the foundation of the world [Note: ver. 6–8.]; and such as, if previously known to those who crucified our Lord, would have effectually deterred them from executing in that respect the eternal counsels of the Deity.
Confining then our views of the passage to what is revealed in the Gospel, we will shew,
I. How infinitely superior the Gospel is to any thing that reason ever devised—
Reason has certainly evinced great powers in relation to things natural and temporal—
[It has penetrated far into the regions of science. It has comprehended within its grasp the whole extent of that field which was laid open to the mind of Solomon; and has arranged according to their nature and properties all parts of the animal and vegetable creation, “from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall, together with all the different orders of beasts, and fowl, and fishes of the sea [Note: 1 Kings 4:33.].” Nay, it has soared beyond this terraqueous globe, even to the starry heavens; and has found out the magnitude and distances and courses of the heavenly bodies, together with the laws by which they move in their respective orbits. It has in these and many other respects carried its researches far beyond the limits which nature appeared to have assigned to it, and has raised man far higher in the scale of creation than by his contracted powers he seemed destined to stand.]
But it has made little progress in relation to things spiritual and eternal—
[Man with, all his powers was not able to find out God. Not even the unity of the Godhead was discovered by him; much less were his great and glorious perfections. The wisest philosophers spake on these subjects with much uncertainty and inconsistency. As for any way of reconciliation with God, consistently with the Divine perfections, not so much as a thought of it ever entered into the mind of man, till it was revealed to man by the Spirit of God: it was far out of the reach of human reason to declare, how God should be just, and yet the justifier of sinful men. Even a future state of existence was rather guessed at than fully ascertained; and the nature of that state was wholly unknown:—so true is it, in reference to the whole circle of divine knowledge, that “man by wisdom knew not God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:21.].”
Thus, when we compare the knowledge which we enjoy under the Gospel with the discoveries of uninspired men, we are constrained to say, that they are as wide asunder as light is from darkness, and heaven from hell.]
But, to form a correct estimate of the Gospel, we should see,
II. How far superior it is to any thing that men had a conception of under the Jewish dispensation—
God did reveal himself to Moses: but his views of God were very partial and indistinct: he saw only, as we are told, “his back parts [Note: Exodus 33:23.].” As far as he, and David, and Isaiah had a cleaver insight into the great mystery of redemption than others, they received it rather by special inspiration, than from the notices given of it in the Mosaic law: the Jews as a people had very indistinct notions on the whole subject of religion.
1. Their views of God himself were very dark—
[To them he appeared rather as a Sovereign than as a Father; and as a Sovereign of their own nation only, and not the Father of the whole human race. They beheld him rather in the terrific aspect of his majesty, than in the endearing attribute of mercy.]
2. They knew but little of the way of acceptance with him—
[They had sacrifices, it is true, but such as could give no peace to a wounded conscience. The very necessity of repeating the same sacrifices from year to year, clearly shewed to them, that their past sins were not fully expiated or blotted out. The sacrifices, in this view, were rather “remembrances of sin,” than real expiations of it. For some sins, as murder and adultery, no sacrifice whatever was appointed: and for these therefore there was no well-grounded hope of pardon. All that they were assured of, in any case, was, rather an exemption from punishment by the civil magistrate, than an everlasting remission of their sins by God himself: so dark, even in this respect, was the dispensation under which they lived.]
3. The real blessedness of his people could not be duly estimated by them—
[They possessed indeed many privileges above the heathen; but yet they were kept at an awful distance from God. The people at large could not enter into the court of the more privileged orders, the priests and Levites: nor could any but the high-priest alone enter into the most holy place; and he only on one day in the year, and in the way that was particularly prescribed. Their services consisted altogether in burthensome rites and ceremonies, which, instead of calling forth a sublime exercise of spiritual devotion, were “a yoke which none of them were able to bear.” They went in and out before God as servants actuated by fear, and not as children under the influence of love.]
4. Not even the future state of rewards and punishments was clearly known to them—
[Some light indeed was thrown upon the eternal world; but it was faint and glimmering. Little was seen throughout the Mosaic writings but a prospect of temporal rewards and punishments, of an enjoyment of Canaan with much earthly felicity, or of an ejection from it with the attendant miseries of captivity and bondage.
Thus the whole of the Jewish state was at best only as an intermediate state between the darkness of heathenism and the light of the Gospel: it was as the early dawn to usher in the brighter day.]
To elucidate the infinite superiority of the Gospel, we must proceed to shew,
III. How full and rich a manifestation of it we enjoy—
“The darkness is now passed, and the true light now shineth [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.];”—
1. God himself is now fully revealed to us—
[We see not only his unity, but his subsistence in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; all in glory equal, and in majesty co-eternal. All his perfections also have been made, as it were, to shine both in their separate, and united, splendour before our eyes;—justice harmonizing with mercy, and righteousness combining with truth, in the salvation of fallen man: yea, justice glorified in the way of mercy, and mercy in the way of justice, and truth and righteousness in all. Yes verily, “the whole glory of the Godhead now shines before us in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].”]
2. The mysterious plan of redemption also is now fully opened—
[We are introduced, if we may so speak, to the eternal counsels of the Deity, wherein the Father gave to his Son a people to be redeemed, and the Son undertook to lay down his life for them. In the fulness of time we behold the eternal Son of God laying aside that glory which he had with the Father before the worlds were made; and taking upon him our nature, on purpose that in the nature which had sinned he might suffer the curse that was due to sin. We behold him fulfilling the perfect law of God for us, that we may have his perfect righteousness imputed to us, and at the same time expiating our guilt by his own sufferings on the cross. We see him further rising from the dead, and ascending up to heaven, to carry on there the work he had begun on earth; to be the continual Intercessor for his people, and, as their living Head, to supply them with all that their necessities require. And, finally, we behold him coming again to judge the world, and to assign to his friends, and to his enemies, the portion prepared for them; and then, having completed the whole work of redemption to the uttermost, “surrendering up the kingdom into the Father’s hands, that God may be all in all.”
How amazing is all this! how infinitely beyond all that human eye ever saw, or ear heard, or heart conceived!]
3. The felicity of God’s people is now also plainly declared—
[“Perfect peace” is now to be enjoyed by all who believe in Christ. No doubt rests upon the mind respecting the fulness and sufficiency of his atonement: it is known to be a sufficient “propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Now every believer has free access into the holiest of all, to behold God himself upon his mercy-seat, and to present before him his sacrifices of prayer and praise. Every saint now regards God as his Father, and with a filial confidence goes in and out before him, assured that every thing both in heaven and earth shall be ordered with an immediate view to his good, as much as if there were not another creature in the universe. And lastly, he looks up to the more immediate residence of Jehovah, assured that a crown and a kingdom are prepared for him, even a participation of the Redeemer’s glory, and an everlasting fruition of God himself.
Say, Did ever any child of man, even among the Jews, foresee such things as these? Did even the highest archangel ever form any adequate conception of them, before they were revealed to the Christian Church? No: they were hid from angels, as well as men [Note: This is particularly marked in the passage as it stands in Isaiah; “None, O God, besides thee.” Isaiah 64:4.]; and the angels are made wiser by the revelation of them to the Church [Note: Ephesians 3:9-10.]. But to us they are now revealed: they are revealed to us in the written word; and they are revealed in us by the mighty power of the Spirit taking the veil from our hearts, and giving to us a spiritual discernment [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14.]: and we are authorized to declare, that the most ignorant of true believers at this day is greater than all the prophets, not excepting the Baptist himself, who personally knew Christ, and pointed him out as “the Lamb of God who should take away the sins of the world [Note: Matthew 11:11.].”]
1. How inexcusable are they who inquire not into these things!
[Has God in his infinite mercy revealed such things to us, and shall we pay no attention to them? Shall we treat them as if they were no other than “a cunningly-devised fable?” Shall “the angels in heaven be desiring to look into them [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.],” and we be unconcerned about them? O, brethren, what account shall we give of ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, if, when he says to us, “Search the Scriptures, for they testify of me,” we prefer every other book before them, and either neglect the Bible altogether, or read it only as a formal exercise? Surely our “study should be in it day and night,” and it should be “sweeter to us than honey, or the honey-comb.”]
2. How blind must we be, if we see no glory in them!
[What! see nothing wonderful in an incarnate God! Nothing wonderful in God dying in the place of his own rebellious creatures! Nothing wonderful in our being brought by these means into union and communion with God, and an everlasting participation of his glory in the world to come! If these things be not wonderful, tell me any thing that is. You would be filled with utter astonishment, if a fellow-creature were to tell you some of the phenomena of nature; and are you not when God tells you all the wonders of his grace? If these things produce no admiring and adoring thoughts in your hearts, know assuredly that the God of this world hath blinded your eyes, and that “you are in darkness even until now.” Were you of the happy number of the Lord’s people, it would have “been given you to behold the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven:” but “if you see them not, it is because ye are not of God.”]
3. How ungrateful are they who do not endeavour to walk worthy of them!
[These things are revealed, not as matters of speculation, but as means of happiness, and as incentives to holiness of life. Do but think what manner of persons ye ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness; ye, I say, for whom such things have been done, and to whom they have been revealed! But it will be well for you to attend to that expression in our text, that “God hath prepared these things for them that love him.” True, in the first instance it is for his enemies: but they do not remain his enemies; on the contrary, they “love him,” and serve him, and “wait for him [Note: Compare the passage as it stands in Isaiah, with the same as cited by Paul.]:” and verily, if, after you have been enlightened by the Spirit of God, and been enabled to behold all these wonders of love and mercy, you do not devote yourselves wholly to the Lord, you shew that you have no part or lot in this matter. You may have believed, like Simon Magus; but like Simon Magus you shall perish: for know assuredly, that, “if ye be Christ’s, ye will crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts, and will glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are his [Note: If this be the subject of a Mission Sermon, the duty of diffusing over the face of the whole earth these glorious truths may here be pressed to great advantage.].”]
THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD
1 Corinthians 2:10. The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
IN the verse immediately preceding our text, which is a citation from the Prophet Isaiah, there is a remarkable difference between the words, as uttered by the Prophet, and as cited by the Apostle. The Apostle quotes only so much as was sufficient to shew that the great mystery of redemption was never conceived by man before it was revealed to us by God. But the prophet excludes all the bright intelligences of heaven, no less than men; and intimates that none but God was privy to the Divine counsels: “Neither hath eye seen, O God, besides thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for him [Note: Isaiah 64:4.].” This omission we should not have particularly noticed, if the Apostle had not, by his subsequent observations, drawn our attention to it more particularly, by shewing, that though there was no finite intelligence privy to these counsels, there was One, who, though God, was in some respects to be distinguished from Him, whose counsels they were, and who did “search,” and behold with perfect accuracy, the very utmost depths of that mystery, and who also had revealed them to the Apostle:—“God,” says the Apostle, “hath revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” Now, throughout this whole passage, there is repeated mention made of God, as the source and fountain from whence this mysterious plan emanated; and of the Spirit of God, as a distinct Agent discovering these depths to us. From hence we have an insight into the doctrine of the Trinity of persons in the Godhead; a doctrine obscurely intimated in the words of the prophet, but plainly declared in the Apostle’s fuller explanation of them. The personality of the Holy Spirit, and his divinity, are here repeatedly asserted: and a beautiful light is thrown upon those words of the prophet; “No eye hath seen, O God, besides thee:” for though no created being hath seen, the Holy Ghost hath: for “the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”
In these words we are led to contemplate the province of the Holy Spirit in relation to the great mystery of redemption; to contemplate it, I say,
I. As exercised by him in reference to God—
He “searcheth the deep things of God:” he searcheth,
1. The eternal purposes of his grace—
[From all eternity did God determine to suffer the fall of man, and to provide means for his recovery. The means ordained by him were, the incarnation and death of his only dear Son, whom he would send into the world to be a propitiation for sin, and to work out a righteousness whereby the believing penitent might be justified. Every particular relative to this mysterious plan was foreseen and fore-ordained. The person of whom the Son of God should take our flesh; the time at which he should come into the world; the various incidents of his life; the minutest circumstances of his death; the agents that should effect it, and the precise part which every one of them should bear in effecting it, whether Judas in betraying him, or Pilate in condemning, or the Romans in crucifying, or Joseph and Nicodemus in burying him: every thing also relating to his resurrection and ascension, and the sending of his Holy Spirit, and the consequent establishment of his kingdom in the world; all was ordained of God the Father: but all was searched out by God the Holy Ghost. He had the same perfect knowledge of it as the Father himself; and not the smallest incident that occurred in any part of it was hid from his all-seeing eye. “No eye saw it, besides his:” but he saw it in all its parts, and in all its bearings: not the slightest thing connected with it was hid from him.]
2. His particular dealings with every individual of mankind—
[The salvation of all was to be of grace, from beginning to end. Yet was man to be dealt with as a rational and responsible being; every man being left to the freest exercise of his own will, yet subject to an agency within, which, in all that should be saved, should be effectual for the overcoming of all the evil propensities of his nature. It was not ordained that all should ultimately be saved: but it was ordained, that those who were saved should have nothing to boast of; and that those who perished should have nothing to complain of: the saved should owe their salvation to him alone; the lost should owe their condemnation wholly to themselves. But who could fathom such depths as these? Who could tell how God should ordain all, and yet not interfere with the free agency of any; and how he should reserve to himself the praise from all that were saved, and leave all the blame of condemnation to rest on those who should bring that doom upon themselves? But the Spirit of God searched out all these unfathomable depths. He saw how the whole should be carried into effect, in every individual of the human race: at what time, in what manner, and by what means, the elect should be converted, preserved, perfected; and, at the same time, how the rest should be left to reject the mercies offered them, and to perish under an accumulated weight of misery. If St. Paul, in relation to the calling of the Gentiles and the restoration of the Jews, exclaimed, “O the depths!” much more must we, in the contemplation of such mysterious works as these.]
3. The glorious issue of all his dispensations—
[The result of all will be the glory of God, both “in them that are saved, and in them that perish.” “Though Israel be not gathered, yet will He be glorious [Note: Isaiah 49:5.].” God declared that he would get himself glory on Pharaoh and all his hosts [Note: Exodus 14:17.]: and, on his destruction of them all, Moses said, “Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy [Note: Exodus 15:6.].” In the judgments also that were executed on Nadab and Abihu, God was “glorified [Note: Leviticus 10:2.].” In like manner, even in the torments of the damned, will God be glorified: for all who behold the infliction of his wrath will be constrained to say, “Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments [Note: Revelation 16:5-7; Revelation 19:2.].” It is indeed a tremendous thought, and to our weak apprehensions it appears incredible, that God should be glorified in the eternal condemnation of any of his creatures. But so it will be: and at the last day, when Jesus “shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:10.],” will the objects of his wrath be confounded before him, and never have one word to utter in arrest of his judgments [Note: Matthew 22:12.]. Now all this the Holy Spirit saw from the beginning. He saws that if mercy was glorified in the salvation of some, justice would be glorified in the condemnation of others: and that the whole issue of this stupendous mystery would be worthy of the Most High God; of the Father, who had planned it; of the Son, who had executed it; and of the Spirit, who had carried it into full effect.]
But as the Holy Spirit, in the exercise of this office, has respect to us, it will be proper for us to contemplate it,
II. As exercised by him in reference to us—
“He searcheth all things,” as the Apostle intimates, on purpose to reveal them to us. He searcheth them,
1. As a Teacher, to reveal them to us—
[It is the Holy Spirit who revealed this hidden mystery to prophets first [Note: 2 Peter 1:21.], and then to the Apostles of our Lord [Note: John 16:13-14.]: and the whole of the written word was penned by inspiration from him — — — But in the sacred volume there is much that is beyond our comprehension: indeed, if it were all level with our capacity, we should have reason to doubt whether it were really from God; seeing that it would be totally unlike to his other works of creation and providence, in which there is confessedly much that no human being can explain. But the Spirit having searched the deep things of God, is perfectly acquainted with them all, and has revealed to us nothing but what he knows to be true. We, therefore, must receive by faith all that he has declared. Our only concern is, to know what the Holy Spirit has spoken in his word: and that once ascertained, we must receive it with childlike simplicity; saying, ‘What I know not now, I shall know hereafter.’ That we cannot comprehend it, should be no objection to us: for, if God had explained the whole ever so clearly, there must be many things which we could not comprehend. Let a philosopher declare to an uninstructed peasant some of the more hidden depths of astronomy, could the peasant comprehend them? or could the philosopher, by all the clearest demonstrations, enable him to comprehend them? And if such a distance exist between men, may we not well suppose that an infinitely greater distance will be found between God and man? I say, it is our wisdom to submit our understandings to the word of God: and there is no juster lesson afforded us in all the Scriptures, than that of the Apostle, “If any man will be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
2. As an Instructor, to reveal them in us—
[To Him we are directed to look for that spiritual discernment, whereby alone we can comprehend the truths of God [Note: ver. 14.]. The Apostles themselves, after they had heard our Lord’s instructions for nearly four years, were unable to understand the Scriptures, till “he opened their understandings to understand them [Note: Luke 24:45.].” So it is with us: we must have a “spirit of wisdom and revelation given to us,” before we can attain “the knowledge of Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18,];” and must “all be taught of God [Note: John 6:45.],” before we can “know the things that have been freely given to us of God [Note: ver. 12.].” Let me then recommend, that, whenever you open the inspired volume, you lift up your hearts to him, and say, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”
Shall this be thought unnecessary? Shall it be supposed, that, because we have the words and sentences plainly written, we can necessarily discern the mind of God in them? Were this the case, every student of the Scriptures would, in all their principal and fundamental points at least, have a clear understanding of them. But experience proves, that, like the Scribes and Pharisees of old, we may have an accurate knowledge of the letter, and yet have no conception of the spirit of them. They are a sealed book to us at this time, as they were to those of former days. Like a dial, which has the figures accurately marked, and the gnomon rightly fixed; but yet you look at it in vain, till the light of the sun shine upon it: so in vain do you read or study the Holy Scriptures, till a light shine upon them from above, or till God “shine into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].”]
3. As a Governor, to bring us into subjection to them—
[If the Spirit of God have searched out for us the deep things of God, and have made them known to us, it is not that we should speculate upon them, but that we should, as far as possible, be conformed to them. We must be as ready to obey him in what he commands, as to believe him in what he reveals. We must complain of nothing as an hard saying; but must give up ourselves as willing servants to fulfil his will, or rather must be like metal that is ready to be poured into the mould which God has prepared for us. This is the very idea suggested by the Apostle Paul, when he says of all true Christians, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you:” his expression rather is, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine, into which, as into a mould, ye were delivered [Note: Romans 6:17. See the Greek.].” If this be not attained, the manifestation of God’s will in the written word will be of no use: indeed, it will only occasion our heavier condemnation.
If any reply, that there are commands which appear unreasonable, and that we cannot be required to obey them; I answer, We are not to sit in judgment upon God, and to determine whether his commands be reasonable or not. We expect to be obeyed by our children and our servants, though they do not know all the objects we have in view when we issue our commands. We expect them to give us credit for ordering only what is wise and good; and to take for granted, rather than deliberate upon, the wisdom of our commands. And what we expect of others, we may well be required to render unto him.]
4. As a Witness, to testify of our conformity to them—
[It is said of him, that “He searcheth all things:” and if he search “the deep things of God,” does he not also search the deep things that are in our hearts? Yes, “He searcheth the heart and trieth the reins,” and discerneth the inmost thoughts and intents of our hearts. “I know,” says he, “the things that come into your minds, every one of them.” Yes, “He weigheth the spirits,” and ascertaineth precisely the measure of good and evil that there is in the heart of every one amongst us. We must not suppose that he has fully executed his office when he has revealed to us the deep things of God. No: he searches how we receive them; how we improve them; how we answer the end of God in them. And this he does with a view to a future judgment, that we may all “receive according to what we have done in the body, whether it be good or evil.” Let us, then, bear this in mind: let us remember, that he is conversant with every inclination, every affection, every appetite of our souls. The darkness is no darkness with him, but the night is as clear as the day: and as his testimony respecting God is true, so will his testimony respecting us be true. Attend then to the way in which every day and every hour is spent. Mark in what frame your mind is, in all your public or private addresses to the Most High. Call yourselves to a severe account respecting every duty and every defect. After all, you will never weigh yourselves so accurately as he weighs you: and “if your heart condemn you, God is greater than your hearts, and knoweth all things: but if your heart condemn you not, then have you confidence towards God [Note: 1 John 3:20-21.].”]
INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 2:12-13. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
NO man was ever better qualified to please men with the charms of oratory than the Apostle Paul: for, in point of talent, few perhaps have ever exceeded him; and, in point of knowledge, no uninspired man ever came near him. In the great subject of his ministrations there is a sublimity, in comparison of which all other subjects are but as a star before the meridian sun. Yet, in setting forth that subject, he was particularly careful to “use all plainness of speech,” lest he should obscure, rather than illustrate, its excellency by any vain attempts to embellish and adorn it. This he repeatedly mentions, as the stated rule prescribed to him by God, and followed by him. “Christ,” says he, “sent me to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:17.].” In conformity with this commission, he says, “I came to you not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring the testimony of God:” and again, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom:” and so also in the words of my text, “Which things we speak, not with words which man’s wisdom teacheth [Note: ver. 1, 4, 13.].” As, in receiving the Gospel, he had been taught it by the Spirit of God; so in communicating the knowledge of it to others, he would make use of no other language than that which the Spirit himself had provided.
The declarations of the Apostle in my text will lead me to shew,
I. Whence a minister must receive his choicest qualifications—
Of course, if he would instruct others, he himself must be instructed in “the things which are freely given to us of God”—
[God has given us salvation in the Son of his love — — — He has also made known to us this salvation in the fullest manner — — — And this is the subject which even servant of his has it in commission to unfold to a benighted world — — —]
But how is he himself to obtain the knowledge of it?—
[He must “receive it, not from the spirit of the world, but from the Spirit of God.” It is itself altogether foreign to all that the world either cultivates or admires. It is not within the power of human intellect to comprehend it; or of human investigation to search it out; or of human wisdom to impart the knowledge of it. The Spirit of the living God alone can convey it to the mind.
If it be asked, How are we to account for this? I will confess, that the statement, by which persons very generally endeavour to account for it, I greatly disapprove. We are told in the words following my text, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [Note: ver. 14.].” Hence some imagine that a distinct sense must be given to us, without which we can no more discern the truths of the Gospel, than a man can discern the objects of sight, or smell, or taste, whilst he has not the organs proper for the perception of them. But, were this the case, a man would be no more blameable for his ignorance of divine things, than a man who was born deaf or blind would be for not perceiving objects by his eyes or ears. A juster view of the case, I apprehend, is this. The word is that seal which the Spirit of God uses for the stamping of the Divine image upon man; and the heart of man is the wax, which is ordained of God to receive the impression. But the wax is hardened by sin; so hardened, that not even the word of God himself can make any impression on it. Hence it resists the word, even as stone or iron would the action of a seal upon it. Thus is man’s ignorance to be ascribed, not less to the hardness, than to the blindness of his heart [Note: Ephesians 4:18, πώρωσιν. See the marginal version.]. Nor is this all. Man does not only withstand the word, as stone or iron would the impression of a seal, but as a spring would resist it. In a spring there is a re-action, proportioned to the force which acts upon it: and this is the kind of resistance which the heart of man gives to the word of God. Man’s heart rises in opposition to the word, and with all its power repels it. The Jew rejects it as “a stumbling-block;” and the Greek despises it as “foolishness.” And hence it is, that no power but that of the Spirit of God can overcome the obstinacy of man’s resistance to the word.
And how does the Spirit of God produce this effect? It operates as fire on the wax. Our Lord has said, that he will “baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire;” that is, with the Holy Ghost, who shall operate as fire. And when that divine Agent applies the word to the soul, he humbles the soul, and softens it, and renders it susceptible of that very impression which the word is intended to make upon it. And this is the very account which St. Paul himself gives of the process, when he says, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you;” or, as it should rather have been translated, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine, into which (as into a mould) ye were delivered [Note: εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχῆς. Romans 6:17.].”]
The dependence of a minister on the Spirit of God for the instruction of his own mind shews,
II. How alone his efforts can be made effectual for the salvation of his hearers—
It is not by the power of human eloquence that he must prevail—
[Human eloquence is good in its place: but it can add nothing to the truth of God. On the contrary, it rather takes from the power of God’s word, than adds any thing to it; just as any efforts of man to augment by paint the brilliancy of a diamond, would only, in the issue, obscure its lustre. There is a majesty in the word of God, which we may enervate, but can never augment.]
It is by the simple statement of the Gospel, as revealed in the sacred records—
[The words of Scripture have a power which no words of man can attain. And, though it is not necessary that they should be used on every occasion, they must always be the foundation of what we assert, and must always be referred to in confirmation of it. St. Paul “compared spiritual things with spiritual:” he had to unfold spiritual truths; and he referred to what the Spirit of God had previously revealed, as containing the substance of all that he promulgated. Did he set forth Jesus as the Messiah? He referred to the prophecies which had announced his advent, and were fulfilled in him. Did he expatiate upon the work and offices of Christ? He referred to those typical institutions which had been appointed to shadow them forth. Thus, in like manner, must we do; particularly pointing out the spiritual provisions of the Gospel as suited to the spiritual necessities of man. It is this kind of statement which alone succeeds to any great extent. God might, if he pleased, render more partial statements effectual; and on some occasions he does: but for the mostpart, it is by an exhibition of the Gospel as a remedy, that he chiefly works for the salvation of man. The state of man, as fallen, must be fully opened: his guilt and danger and helplessness must be set forth with all fidelity: then must the Saviour be proclaimed, as making a full atonement for our sins, as bringing in for us an everlasting righteousness, and as supplying out of his own fulness all that our utmost necessities can require. This is the doctrine to which the Holy Ghost bears testimony, and which he uses as a seal, to stamp the divine image on our souls. A striking instance of this may be seen when Peter opened this Gospel to the Jews [Note: Acts 2:36-37.]; and again, when he also first opened it to the Gentiles. On the latter occasion, when he had said, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” it is particularly noted, “When Peter spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word [Note: Acts 10:43-44.].” And we also can bear testimony, that he does yet set his seal to these blessed truths, and make use of them for the consolation and salvation of those who hear them.]
From this subject we may learn,
1. How to judge of our knowledge of divine things—
[A head-knowledge of them may be obtained from books: but a heart-knowledge, if I may so speak, can be acquired only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. We should carefully inquire, therefore, of what kind our knowledge is. If it be such as man can impart, it is not that which will prove of saving benefit to our souls. But it may be asked, ‘If the subject matter be the same, how shall I distinguish between human teaching and divine?’ I answer, The distinction can be known only by experience. Suppose a person who had constantly seen the sun, but never felt its beams, were told, that a man exposed to the action of its rays had a totally different perception of the sun from any which a mere sight of it would produce: he could not enter fully into the distinction, as the person could, who felt the genial warmth of the sun: and so a person, unacquainted with the operations of the Spirit upon the soul would have a very inadequate idea of the experience of one who felt them, even though we should labour ever so much to make him comprehend it. But yet, methinks, you will not be altogether at a loss to comprehend the distinction, if I say, that the truths of the Gospel, when received from man only, abide in the mind much in the same way as any speculative subject does; whereas, when applied to the soul by the Spirit of God, they produce a feeling corresponding with the truths themselves; that is, a feeling of humiliation, or confidence, or joy, as the subject itself may require. Perhaps we may understand the matter yet more clearly, if we refer to the illustration before used, of a seal and the wax: the same seal is applied to both; but the one, by reason of an invisible action of heat upon it, receives an impression; whilst the other, by reason of its obduracy, remains unimpressed. Inquire then, I pray you, whether divine truth operate on your minds, to the production of penitential sorrow, of holy joy, of unreserved obedience. It is from its effects, in assimilating the soul to the Divine image, that you must judge of the source from whence your knowledge flows. If it be from God, you may rest assured that it will lead you to God.]
2. How we may grow in all that is good—
[If we can learn only from the Spirit of God, we must still continue to seek his heavenly teaching. Even after our eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God, the Scriptures will still be to us as a sealed book, unless He shine upon it from on high, and shine into our hearts also, to give us the knowledge of it [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]. Remember, then, to seek, even to your latest hour, instruction from Him. If at any time you take up the Scriptures, to read them, forget not to pray, with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” So also, when you come to hear the word, look up to the Holy Spirit for his gracious influence upon your soul: for if it come not home to you “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” it will be only “as water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again:” but if you rely simply upon him, and “receive it with meekness” as little children, you shall find it “mighty, through Him, to the pulling down of every obstruction,” and shall experience its sufficiency to sanctify and save the soul]
THE NATURAL MAN’S IGNORANCE OF DIVINE THINGS
1 Corinthians 2:14. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
CHRISTIANITY, as far as relates to its provisions, is founded on the necessities of man: there is a perfect correspondence between the want and the supply: whichever of the two is contemplated, we of necessity behold, or at least may behold, the other. Men, it is true, are not very willing to acknowledge their necessities; and hence they think lightly of the blessings of the Gospel salvation: and many, who are willing to confess the depravation of their will and their affections through the fall of our first parents, are very averse to admit the loss they have sustained in their intellectual powers. But it is certain, that the mind of man is no longer what it was before the introduction of sin into the world: it can no longer discern the glory and excellency of Jehovah, or the mysteries of his spiritual kingdom. This is expressly declared in the words before us; which it is our intention,
I. To explain—
That we may have a just view of them, we will distinctly shew,
1. Whom we are to understand by “the natural man”—
[The term which we translate “natural,” is differently translated in different places; and the sense must always be determined by the context. Now the whole context shews, that the person here spoken of is man in his natural state, untaught, and unassisted by the Spirit of God. From the middle of the preceding chapter, two descriptions of persons are mentioned; one, wise in respect of earthly knowledge, but spiritually blind, and, in consequence of that blindness, pouring contempt upon the Gospel: the other, as spiritually enlightened, and, in consequence of that illumination, accounting the Gospel the richest display of God’s wisdom and power. The former the Apostle denominates the “wise, the scribe, the disputer of this world,” and comprehends among them “the princes of this world:” these, in our text, he calls “the natural man,” that is, man conversant with worldly knowledge, but uninstructed by the Spirit of God.]
2. What are those things which he can neither receive nor know—
[These are “the things of the Spirit,” or, the great mysteries which are revealed to us in the Gospel. And when it is said, that the natural man cannot know them, we are not to understand merely that these mysteries are not discoverable by the light of reason, so as to supersede the necessity of any revelation; but that, however revealed to us externally by God, they cannot be inwardly comprehended, without a special discovery of them to the soul by the influence of the Holy Spirit. As far as they are capable of being judged of by reason, or are mere matters of science, any man may, by the application of his own natural powers, understand them: but, as far as they are objects of faith, and matters of experience, no man can understand them, unless he be taught of God. Theoretically, he may maintain the whole system of the fall and the recovery; but, practically, he cannot realize in his soul the truths which he maintains: the humiliation which his depravity calls for, he cannot feel; nor the gratitude, which the wonders of redemption so imperiously demand. On the contrary, the whole system, however as a theory it may be approved, as a practical and influential principle in the soul is accounted “foolishness.”]
3. Whence this incapacity arises—
[It is well accounted for in the words before us: “He cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” We are not to understand by this, that the spiritual man is endued with any new faculty, which the natural man does not possess; for then the natural man would be rather to be pitied for a defect which was unavoidable, than to be blamed for a weakness to which he himself was accessary: we are rather to understand, that the natural man does not make a right use of the faculties which he already possesses, but, through the corruption of his own heart, renders them unfit for the use for which they were originally designed. Perhaps we may attain some insight into this matter by means of an easy and familiar illustration. Many by nature are very indistinct in their organs of vision; and art has enabled them to supply the defect. From the formation and structure of their eye, the objects which they behold do not fall upon the retina that should reflect them, but either fall short of it, or go beyond it: but, by interposing a proper medium, the object is brought to such a focus as the eye requires; and is then clearly discerned. Now we may suppose our natural pride, and unbelief, and sensuality, to have rendered our spiritual discernment so indistinct, that nothing is seen aright; but objects, especially spiritual objects, are dim and distorted: but humility, and contrition, and faith being given by God as a new medium through which they shall be seen, the objects are made, so to speak, to fall upon the heart, and are discerned by the heart in all their true colours and dimensions. We do not propose this as a perfect illustration; for nothing in nature will perfectly represent the mysteries of grace: but it may serve perhaps to convey some faint idea of our natural incapacity to know and to receive the things of the Spirit; and may shew us what we want in order to a spiritual discernment. It is the Spirit of God alone that can supply us with those qualities of mind which will rectify the defects of our visual organs: but when he does supply them, then, in proportion as they are communicated, will be the clearness of our sight. We again say, that we do not bring this as a perfect illustration, and much less as a proof, of the truth we are considering: but we apprehend, that it is such an illustration as the word of God sanctions. Our blessed Lord tells us, that, “if our eye be evil, the body will be dark; but that, if our eye be single, our whole body will be full of light:” and St. Paul says, that “by reason of use our senses are exercised to discern both good and evil [Note: Hebrews 5:14.];” by which two passages we learn, that the rectification of our visual organs, and the due application of them to their proper objects, are the appointed means of communicating to us a spiritual discernment.]
This truth, we now proceed,
II. To confirm—
The natural man, under all circumstances, is blind to the things of God—
It was so in our Lord’s day—
[Never was there any light comparable to that which was diffused by the Sun of Righteousness: yet the darkness comprehended it not. Our Lord came to his own, and his own received him not [Note: John 1:5; John 1:10-11.]. The very people who, from their acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, and their opportunities of knowing the character of our blessed Lord, and the proofs of his divine mission, had the best means of ascertaining the truth of his Messiahship, could see “no beauty or comeliness in him for which he was to be desired [Note: Isaiah 53:2.].” The great mass of the Jewish people accounted him an impostor: and when his own Disciple, Peter, confessed him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Lord said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven [Note: Matthew 16:17.].” Whence it is evident, that none can truly receive Christ in all his characters and offices, unless a spiritual discernment be given unto them by the Spirit of God. Clear as our Lord’s discourses were, they were not understood fully even by the Disciples themselves. “To them indeed it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” more clearly than to others; but even they could not enter fully into the nature of his kingdom, no, not after he had risen from the dead, till “he opened their understandings to understand the Scriptures [Note: Luke 24:45.].”]
It was so under the ministry of the Apostles—
[Paul himself, so far from being convinced by the wonders of the day of Pentecost, was the most determined enemy of the Christian Church, till Christ himself arrested him in his mad career, and revealed himself to him by an immediate vision, and a special revelation from heaven. In like manner the ministry of Paul was as offensive to some, as it was delightful and instructive to others. Those “whose hearts the Lord opened,” as he did Lydia’s, “to attend to the things spoken by Paul,” received the word with all gladness; but the great majority of his hearers rejected it with abhorrence. The very same words spoken before Festus and Agrippa, made one to cry out, “Paul, thou art beside thyself:” and the other to say, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”]
And thus it is also at this day—
[The work of conversion does not go forward among “the wise, the mighty, the noble:” on the contrary, the Gospel is very generally esteemed as “foolishness” among them. We still find occasion for the same acknowledgment as our Lord himself made: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.].” To this source we must trace all the difference that we still observe amongst the hearers of the Gospel: “the Spirit of God worketh all in all; and divideth to every man severally as he will [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11.].” If we know Christ, it is because “he hath given us an understanding that we might know him [Note: 1 John 5:20.],” and “an unction of the Holy One,” whereby our faculties were enabled to apprehend him [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.]: and, if we have come to Christ, it is because “we have heard and learned of the Father [Note: John 6:45.].”]
Humiliating, no doubt, this declaration is: nevertheless it is one which we shall do well,
III. To improve—
We may learn from it—
1. How to appreciate divine knowledge—
[Valuable as human knowledge is, it hears no comparison with that which is divine. So superior is “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord,” that St. Paul accounted all things but as dross “and dung in comparison of it.” It is more excellent in its nature, more exalted in its origin, and more beneficial in its use. Into the mystery of redemption the very “angels themselves desire to look.” To understand it, we must be taught, not of man, but of God; and, when we have received it aright, it will renew and sanctify us after the Divine image. Let it then be sought by us, not exclusively indeed, but supremely. Let us not be satisfied with any knowledge which the natural man can attain: but let us seek that which shall carry its own evidence along with it as divine, by its renewing, sanctifying, and comforting influence upon the soul.]
2. How to seek it—
[Nothing is to be attained without diligence: but it is not by study only that the knowledge of divine things is to be acquired: we must “cry after knowledge,” at the same time that we “search for it as for hid treasures.” It is “the Lord alone who giveth wisdom;” and therefore we must seek it from him by earnest prayer. We must beg him “to give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him,” that the eyes of our understanding being enlightened, we may see “the deep things of God.” He first “commanded light to shine out of darkness” in the material world; and a similar process must take place in our minds through the operation of his word and Spirit. We must be “taught of God, as all his children are:” and then only shall we behold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, when he shines into our hearts to give it us [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” Our studies therefore must all be accompanied with prayer, and we must never take up the Holy Scriptures without crying, like David, “Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”]
3. How to employ it—
[Has God in his unbounded mercy opened our eyes, and enabled us to see what the natural man is not able to receive? Surely we should endeavour to employ that light in the way that shall most conduce to his glory. We should make use of it as the means of searching out his glorious perfections, and of discovering the heights and depths of his unsearchable love. We should also employ it for the rectifying of all our own views, and spirit, and conduct: and, finally, for the diffusing, to the utmost of our power, the knowledge of him throughout the world. As it was said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren;” so is it said to us, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” No one gift is bestowed on us for ourselves alone, but for the good of others: and knowledge in particular is a talent entrusted to us for the benefit of all around us: “it is a light that is to be set on a candlestick, and not to be hid under a bushel.” If then, through the distinguishing grace of God, we have been called to the knowledge of the truth, it becomes us to “shine as lights in the world,” and so to “hold forth the word of life,” that others may be “guided into the way of peace.”]
ADVANTAGES OF THE SPIRITUAL MAN
1 Corinthians 2:15-16. He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
TO claim, in the behalf of any person, a pre-eminence and distinction which does not belong to him, is invidious and unwise; but to prefer such a claim in behalf of persons on account of some peculiarity in their religious sentiments or feelings, would be an act of palpable impiety. In proclaiming, therefore, the advantages of a spiritual man above those who are only carnal, I would proceed with extreme caution, lest I should appear to arrogate in his behalf what does not truly and properly belong to him. Yet we must not dissemble, that the Scriptures do paint in very bright colours the privileges of the true Christian; and that he is represented as a “child of light,” whilst others are “children of darkness;” yea, and as “a child of God” too, whilst others are declared to be “the children of the wicked one.”
It is evident that there is in the passage before us a comparison drawn between the natural and the spiritual man. The natural man is he who has nothing but what he possesses by nature, or has acquired by his natural powers: the spiritual man is one who has been enlightened and renewed by the Spirit of God. The former, in all his views, desires, and pursuits, is circumscribed by the things of time and sense: the latter soars to spiritual things, and lives, as it were, in a sublimer atmosphere, the element of heaven.
Of these latter the Apostle speaks in the words which I have just read; which will lead me to set before you,
I. The advantage which the spiritual man enjoys above all others—
“He judges all things”—
[Of course, we must understand this observation as relating to those things only which come properly before him as a spiritual man: for, in relation to arts and sciences, or indeed to any thing which is within the reach of the natural man, he has no advantage whatever. Solomon speaks in the same unqualified terms: “Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the Lord, understand all things [Note: Proverbs 28:5.]” St. John also uses nearly the same language: “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.].” But common sense, as well as experience, shews, that we must limit the assertion to those things which pertain to the salvation of the soul. And here I might enumerate a great variety of things: but I will content myself with specifying two, which will carry their own evidence along with them.
The spiritual man, then, “discerns” (that is the meaning of the word, which we translate “judgeth,” and it is so translated in the margin of our Bibles) wherein true happiness consists: he sees it, knows it, feels it, and has his judgment completely made up upon it. He discerns that his happiness, as a rational and immortal being, is bound up in communion with God as a reconciled God and Father, and in a conformity to his image. By this view of happiness, all earthly things are cut off at once from any share of this honour, any further than they are made subservient to the bringing of Almighty God nigh unto us, or to the transformation of our souls into his likeness. In forming this judgment, the spiritual man inquires what constituted the happiness of man in his first creation. And here he has no more doubt than he has about the happiness of the heavenly hosts. And with this agrees his own experience. For he can have no comfort in his soul whilst he is in doubt whether God is reconciled to him, or whilst the light of God’s reconciled countenance is hid from him. Nor can he find any true comfort whilst he feels within him any reigning sin, or any unmortified lust whatever — — —
Next, he discerns the means by which alone this happiness can be attained. He sees that it can be attained only by the simple exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by that only that he can obtain reconciliation with God, or a sense of the Divine favour in his soul. It is by that alone that he can obtain “the witness of the Spirit,” or “the earnest of the Spirit,” or “the sealing of the Spirit,” which are necessary to elevate his soul above all earthly things: as the Apostle has said; “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith [Note: 1 John 5:4.].” It is by that, too, that he attains the Divine image on his soul, even by “the faith that purifieth the heart [Note: Acts 15:9. 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” In a word, it is by the simple exercise of faith that he receives every thing out of the fulness that is in Christ, and is filled with that “love of Christ that constrains him,” as a mighty torrent, “to live no more unto himself, but unto Him who died for him, and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.].”]
“But he himself is judged and discerned of no man”—
[The natural man does not discern these things. However he may speculate upon such things, there is not a natural man in the whole world that truly and practically discerns them, so as to hare the same fixed judgment in relation to them that the spiritual man has. The natural man knows not how to estimate the spiritual man, either in relation to his principles or conduct. Judge him indeed he will, and confidently enough; setting him down for a weak enthusiast, if not for a designing hypocrite. But, to form a just estimate of him, he has no power. He has no idea of spiritual enjoyment; no conception of the efficacy of faith: consequently the experience of the spiritual man appears to him a mere delusion, a fanatical conceit. His pretensions to joys which the natural man never experienced, appear as wild as if he claimed the possession of a sense which none but himself and a few other favoured persons had ever exercised. Suppose, for instance, when all the world besides were destitute of some one of the senses that we enjoy; say, of sight, or hearing, or smelling; and one were to profess that he was enabled by that particular organ to distinguish things which the others could not perceive; would they not account him a deceiver? Just so do the ungodly world account the true Christian, who by faith discerns the excellency of those things which never were discerned by the eye of sense: they are ready to exclaim, as Felix to Paul, “Thou art beside thyself: much learning (or much conceit) hath made thee mad.” But Paul was “not mad:” nor are they mad who seek their happiness in the way before described. If they appear so, it is because their principles and conduct are not duly appreciated. Not that he has any new sense: for that he certainly has not. But a new perception he has [Note: Philippians 1:9-10. See the Greek, πάσῃ αἰσθήσει· εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν.]: and by means of that he is enabled to judge of these things as they are. At the same time, he himself is judged of no man; because no natural man does view things as they are; he never takes eternity sufficiently into his account: if he did, he would see, at once, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do thereafter: the praise of it endureth for ever [Note: Psalms 111:10.].”]
Let me now proceed to point out,
II. The true source of his superiority—
The natural man possesses not that kind of knowledge whereby to instruct him—
[What, I would ask, is the standard of true wisdom? Is it not “the mind of the Lord?” Is there a man in all the world that believes in a divine revelation, and will, for a moment, controvert this truth? Let this, then, be settled in our minds: let this be admitted as a point agreed upon by all parties: let this be laid down as an axiom, which admits of no doubt:
The mind of the Lord is the only standard of true wisdom.
Now then, I will ask, What natural man knows that mind? There are but two ways in which he can know it; namely, either by the written word alone, or by a special revelation of it to his soul. But by the written word alone (whether with human instruction, or without) he cannot understand it; as we are told in the words before my text: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [Note: ver. 14.].” As for a spiritual revelation of them to his soul, that is out of the question: for if he had that, he would already have become a spiritual man: but, not having received that, he neither knows, nor can “know, the mind of the Lord;” and consequently cannot instruct the spiritual man, either in a way of refutation, or of more accurate and enlarged information. If he attempt to dogmatize on such subjects, he will only betray his own ignorance, which even a babe, if taught of God, will discover.]
But the spiritual man possesses that very knowledge which is requisite for his guidance in the divine life—
[“He has the mind of Christ:” he has it revealed to his soul by the Spirit of God: as St. Paul has said, “God hath given him the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of his Son [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.].” Nay, “he is himself one spirit with Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.],” and “has in him the very mind that was in Christ [Note: Philippians 2:5.].” He has, “according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” the very “law of God himself written in his heart [Note: Jeremiah 31:33.];” so that he may be “seen and known of all men to be an epistle of Christ, written, not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:3.].” True, indeed, he always needs fresh instruction from above; and will, even to his dying hour, have occasion for that prayer, “What I know not, teach thou me.” At first he is only “a babe, and unskilful in the word of righteousness: and it is not till after his spiritual senses have been long exercised to discern both good and evil [Note: Hebrews 5:13-14.],” that he attains the fuller “mind of Christ.” But, even as “a babe, he has opened to his view things which are hid from the wise and prudent [Note: Matthew 11:25.];” and an inward monitor, saying, “This is the way, walk thou in it [Note: Isaiah 30:21. with Matthew 12:34-35.].” Hence, therefore, whatever superiority a natural man may have over him in relation to the things of time and sense, he is himself superior to the natural man in reference to the things of the Spirit; nor can the natural man either add any thing unto him, or correct him.]
What then shall I say? I will say to every one that is taught of the Spirit,
1. Regard not the ridicule of an ignorant and ungodly world—
[They will ridicule you; and they will despise you; and they will represent all your pursuits as folly: but “they know not what they say; nor do they understand whereof they affirm.” Nay, they themselves have a secret consciousness, that, at least in the main you are right. This do then: Ask them if they are right: ask them on what their own conduct is founded, whether on the commands of God, or on the dictates of the world. Ask them which is the more likely to issue well at last, a life of worldly conformity, or a life devoted to God. I mean not by this to encourage any thing that is really enthusiastic or absurd. You must doubtless “walk in wisdom towards them that are without,” and “give no occasion to any one to speak reproachfully:” but you must nevertheless maintain a holy and consistent conduct; and, “if reproached or persecuted for righteousness’ sake, you must rejoice [Note: Matthew 5:11-12.],” and bless God, who has counted you worthy of such an honour [Note: Acts 5:41. with 1 Corinthians 4:3.].]
2. Study diligently the mind of God in his word—
[That, as we have observed, is the one only standard either for faith or practice; and from that alone can the mind of God be ascertained. Though the Spirit is necessary for your guidance into truth, it is only by and through the word that he will instruct you. He will not bring to your minds any one truth that is not there revealed. Study, therefore, the word; and study it with fervent prayer to God for the teaching of his good Spirit: and never adopt, either in sentiment or practice, any one thing which may not be clearly proved by God’s written word.]
3. Let your pretensions to “the mind of Christ” be justified by your conformity to his example—
[if you “have indeed the mind of Christ,” you will undoubtedly “walk as he walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].” He came, not only to redeem you by his blood, but also “to set you an example, that you should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.].” Let it be seen, then, that Christ is with you of a truth: that in all your tempers and dispositions you resemble him; in your deadness to the world; in your devotedness to God; in your meekness and patience, your kindness and benevolence, your purity and holiness, your self-denial and zeal. It is by this only that the world can judge of your pretensions to a superior knowledge of his mind: and by this will your improvement of your advantages be tried in the last day. Shew that, in these respects, you are “one with Christ” now [Note: John 17:21.]; and doubt not but you shall be one with him, to all eternity, in a better world.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter