Thursday, March 30th, 2023
the Fifth Week of Lent
the Fifth Week of Lent
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The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-corinthians-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Corinthians 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, brethren,… came … not with excellency of speech or of wisdom.
The spirit or tone in which St. Paul preached
It was in--
I. A decisive tone of personal conviction. It was “the testimony of God,” not an opinion. He does not say, “I think so,” but “God says so.” So in Galatians 1:11-12. St. Paul was no hired, official expounder of a system. He felt that his words were eternal truth: hence their power. Hence, too, arises the possibility of discarding rules of oratory. For it is half-way towards making us believe when a man believes himself. Faith produces faith.
II. A spirit of self-abnegation (verse 2). There were no side glances at his own prospects, reputation, success. And this sincerity and self-forgetfulness was a source of power. It was so with the Baptist, who declared of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In any work which is to live, or be really beautiful, there must be the spirit of the Cross. That which is to be a temple to God must never have the marble polluted with the name of the architect or builder.
III. A spirit of personal lowliness (verse 3). Partly this refers to his infirmities and disadvantages; but partly, too, it means deep humility. Now, remember who it was who said this--the daring St. Paul, whose soul was all of flame, whose every word was a half-battle, who stood alone on Mars’ Hill, and preached to the scoffing Athenians “Jesus and the Resurrection.” How little they who heard his ponderous sentences could have conceived that “weakness, and fear, and much trembling” of the invisible spirit! But again: see how this tells on the tone of his ministry. St. Paul did not begin with asserting his prelatical dignity and apostolic authority. He began with declaring truth, and that in “trembling.” Then, when men disputed his right to teach, he vindicated his authority, but not till then. And this is a lesson for modern times. Each minister must prove his apostolical succession by apostolic truthfulness, sincerity, and courage--as St. Paul proved his--and by his charity, and by his Christ-like meekness. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Paul a model preacher
I. His matter.
1. He excludes all that is foreign to his purpose.
2. Knows nothing but Christ.
II. His manner.
1. He is modest in the consciousness of his own weakness.
2. Plain in the conviction of the presence and power of the Spirit.
III. The effect.
1. Faith not in the man.
2. But in the power of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
A faithful picture of a true gospel preacher
The grand subject, of his ministry--
I. Is the crucified Christ, because--
1. He is the highest, revelation of God’s love for men.
2. He is the most thrilling demonstration of the wickedness of humanity.
3. He is the grandest display of loyalty to moral rectitude.
II. Soul-absorbing (verse 3). The man who has some paramount sentiment looks at the universe, through it, and values it so far as it reflects and honours that sentiment. Hence to Paul Christ was “all in all.” All other subjects-political and philosophical--dwindled into insignificance in its presence; it swallowed up his great soul
III. Makes him indifferent to all rhetorical considerations (verse 1). The theme was infinitely too great for it. Does the splendid apple-tree in full blossom require to be decorated with gaudy ribbons? Christ crucified is mighty eloquence.
IV. Subdues in him all self-consciousness (verse 3).
V. Invests him with Divine power over man (verses 4, 5). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Christian preacher
I. His message.
1. The testimony of God.
2. Concerning Christ.
3. Divine, therefore true.
II. His method of delivering it.
1. Not artificial in style, matter, or manner.
2. But plain, simple, pointed. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. That the proper method to convert men in any community, Christian or Pagan, is to preach or set forth the truth concerning the person and work of Christ.
2. The proper state of mind in which to preach the gospel is the opposite of self-confidence or carelessness. The gospel should be preached with a sense of weakness and with great anxiety and solicitude.
3. The success of the gospel does not depend on the skill of the preacher, but on the demonstration of the Spirit.
4. The foundation of saving faith is not reason, i.e., not arguments addressed to the understanding, but the power of God as exerted with and by the truth upon the heart. (C. Hodge.)
Preaching--fruit and flowers
At Hampton Court Palace every one regards with wonder the enormous vine loaded with so vast a multitude of huge clusters: just outside the vine-house is as fine a specimen of the wistaria, and when it is in full bloom, the cluster-like masses of bloom cause you to think it a flower-bearing vine, as the other is a fruit-bearing vine. Fit emblems these two famous trees of two ministries, both admired, but not equally to be prized--the ministry of oratory, luxuriant in metaphor and poetry, and the ministry of grace, abounding in sound teaching and soul-saving energy. Gay as are the flower-clusters of the wistaria, no one mistakes them for the luscious bunches of the grape; yet there are many simpletons in spiritual things who mistake sound for sense, and seem to satisfy their hunger not on solid meat, but on the jingle of a musical dinner-bell. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Conditions of successful preaching
If a preacher wishes to be successful he must--
1. Deny himself (verse 1) and exalt Christ (verse 2).
2. Feel himself weak (verse 3), yet strong (verse 4).
3. Ignore the human and magnify the Divine (verse 5). (J. Lyth.)
Brilliant, but not saving, sermons
Sir Astley Cooper, on visiting Paris, was asked by the surgeon en chef of the empire how many times he had performed a certain wonderful feat of surgery. He replied that he had performed the operation thirteen times. “Ah, but, monsieur, I have done him one hundred and sixty times. How many times did you save his life?” continued the curious Frenchmen, after he had looked into the blank amazement of Sir Astley’s face. “I,” said the Englishman, “saved eleven out of the thirteen. How many did you save out of one hundred and sixty?” Ah, monsieur, I lose dem all; but de operation was very brilliant.” Of how many popular ministries might: the same verdict be given! Souls are not saved, but the preaching is very brilliant. Thousands are attracted and operated on by the rhetorician’s art, but what if he should have to say of his admirers, “I lose them all, but the sermons were very brilliant!(C. H. Spurgeon.)
The messenger like the message
1. As the gospel is the foolish thing of God, so the apostle had no wisdom or utterance of his own (verses 1, 2).
2. As the gospel is the weak thing of God, so the apostle came to Corinth in weakness, fear, and trembling (verse 3). But as Christ is the power and wisdom of the gospel, so the Spirit is the power and wisdom of the ministry (verse 4).
3. As the gospel is the mystery of God, and therefore a Divine power, so the ministry is a Divine power, and therefore the manifestation of Divine wisdom. (Principal Edwards.)
The Divine testimony, and the apostle’s responsibility in relation to it
I. The theme. “The testimony of God,” which has to do with “Jesus Christ and Him crucified(verse 2). The “declaration” of this theme, in all its manifold relations and aspects, is the preaching of the gospel. The gospel is characterised by--
1. Wisdom (verse 6). Perfection of moral character is seen only in the character of Jesus Christ.
2. “Hidden wisdom.”
3. Ancient wisdom. “Ordained before the world.”
4. Glorifying wisdom. “Ordained unto our glory.”
II. The declaration (verse 1) was--
1. Simple in its character. “Not with excellency of speech”--“not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.”
2. Convincing in its arguments. It was “in demonstration of the Spirit.”
3. Powerful in its effects (verse 5).
4. Of exclusive importance (verse 2). (The Study.)
Faith, not intellect
A friend said to Archbishop Whately on his death-bed: “The Lord has heard your prayers and preserved your intellect unimpaired.” He replied: “It is not intellect which can avail me now, but faith in Christ Jesus.”
In ascending the lofty peaks of the Jungfrau and Monte Rosa, the guides, I have read, not unfrequently resort to the innocent artifice of endeavouring to interest the traveller in the beauty of the flowers in order to distract his attention from the fearful abysses which the giddy path overhangs. What the Alpine guides thus innocently do, we preachers are often tempted to do not so innocently. We are prone so to occupy our hearers with the graces of composition and the flowers of rhetoric that they are in danger of altogether forgetting that there is a dread abyss beside them, and that there is but a step between them and death. (J. Halsey.)
The spirit of successful preaching
The Rev. Dr. McAll, founder and superintendent of the remarkable mission in Paris and other parts of France which bears his name, was the son of the celebrated Robert S. McAll, LL.” D., of Manchester, some of whose sermons are justly ranked amongst the noblest productions of pulpit literature. His ministry was powerfully influenced by what he considered to be the failure of his father’s ministry. He tells how “he had repeatedly seen his father weep because, while so much run after and admired on account of his eloquence, so little spiritual good seemed to be done, and there were scarcely any conversions.” Warned by this example, “he determined,” he says, “to throw overboard ‘excellency of speech and of wisdom’ and to strike direct for the heart and conscience of the unconverted, in the hope of saving many.”
The right kind of preaching
Mr. Spurgeon uttered words-in one of his prayer-meeting addresses which speak volumes as to the secret of his successful ministry: “I think I can honestly say that when I have had something come to me rather fine--a nice, rare oratorical bit, and I think I could do it--I think if I tried I might say something “very fine--I have pulled it out of my mouth and flung it away that I might not take away the attention of any hearer from Christ crucified. ‘Here is a sword.’ ‘But,’ says one, ‘it has not a handsome scabbard.’ No; we pull that off. We throw that to some old rag and bone dealer. We use nothing but the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ. When that does not save men, men shall be lost. We know nothing equal to it for the keenness of its edge; for the force with which it slays. It is a strange sword. With its edge it kills, and with its back it heals.
1 Corinthians 2:2
I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
I. Paul’s theme.
2. Him crucified.
II. His determination.
1. To know nothing else.
2. Spite of ridicule and reproach.
III. His motive. This was--
1. His duty.
2. His delight.
3. His glory. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Paul’s one theme
Paul was emphatically a man of one idea. He went forth not to baptize (1 Corinthians 1:17); not to preach self (2 Corinthians 4:5); not to teach philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:23); not to practise tricks of rhetoric (1 Corinthians 2:4); but everywhere in synagogues, market-places, judgment halls, prison, crowded cities, his one theme was “Christ and Him crucified.” In the synagogues at Antioch and Thessalonica, what does he preach?-- Acts 13:38; Acts 17:3. On Mars Hill, what?-- Acts 17:31. Before Felix and Agrippa, what? Acts 24:25; Acts 26:23. In the prison at Rome, what?-- Acts 28:31. And now in writing to the Corinthian Church, what? Why does Paul give such prominence to this theme? Because--
I. It is the most important theme. Philosophy would have reached only the cultured. A plea for the oppressed would have reached only the patriotic, but the Cross commands universal attention, for it touches a universal want. It means--
1. Remission of sins. Sin is the source of all ills. Christ is “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.”
2. An immortality of glory.
II. It is the grandest theme.
1. Grand is the starry world above, but grander is the Cross.
2. It gives grandeur to the life. If it be grand to die for one’s country, grander is it to die for the salvation of men. If it be grand to minister to a mind diseased, grander is it to minister to a soul diseased. The Cross made Paul’s life grand, and Luther’s, Whitfield’s, and Wesley’s.
III. Of the central position of the theme in the gospel. (J. C. Williamson.)
The great subject of evangelical preaching
I. The determination of the apostle.
1. “Jesus” signifies a Saviour. The kind errand upon which He comes is included in this name--to save from the guilt of sin, by imputing the merit of His sacrifice, and from the dominion of sin, by imparting His Spirit.
2. Christ signifies the Anointed One (Psalms 45:7). As kings and priests and prophets were anointed, so He was especially anointed of God as the King, the Priest, and the Prophet of His Church.
3. A special emphasis must be laid upon the words, Him crucified. “Jesus Christ” they, know in heaven; “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” sinners are to be acquainted with upon the earth.
4. Paul determines to “know” this. To know sometimes meant--
(1) Respect and love. “I beseech you to know them which labour among you in the Lord.
(2) To make it known to others. And this the apostle did.
(3) The word here signifies especially that he so resolved to preach among them “Christ crucified,” as if he knew nothing so much as--nothing in comparison with--“Christ, and Him crucified.” And read his sermons and epistles, and see how he carried out this blessed determination.
II. Some reasons for this determination.
1. It was a subject which God approved. He calls it “the testimony of God,” because to His crucified Son God has given wonderful testimony in the Scriptures.
2. It was the subject calculated to convert sinners. And why? Because the Spirit, as the glorifier of Christ, will not apply any other subject but this.
3. It was fitted to comfort the sorrowful. We have in it everything adequate to our present and eternal necessities.
4. It was adapted to promote holiness. If I wish you to manifest His obedience in all your conduct, how is it to be obtained? “The love of Christ constraineth us.” If I want to press upon your attention holy love to Christ, it proceeds from the same source. If I want to excite you to holy liberality, where can I point you but here? “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor,” &c.
5. It agrees with the theme of heaven. (J. Sherman.)
The man of one subject
Paul was a very determined man, and whatever he undertook he carried out with all his heart. “This one thing I do” was always his motto. He had once been a great opposer of Christ; it was not therefore to be wondered at that he should now bring all his faculties to bear upon the preaching of Christ crucified.
I. What was this subject to which Paul determined to shut himself up while preaching to the Church at Corinth?
1. He first preached--
(1) His great Master’s person--Jesus Christ.
(a) He held Him up as a real man, no phantom, but one who was crucified, &c.
(b) He had no hesitation about His Godhead. He preached Jesus as the wisdom and power of God.
(2) His work, especially His death. “Horrible!” said the Jew; “Folly!” said the Greek. But Paul did not, therefore, put these things into the background and begin with the life of Christ and the excellency of His example, and thus tempt them onward to His divinity and atonement.
2. Very impolitic this must have seemed.
(1) Wise men would have remarked upon the hopefulness of the Israelites, if handled with discretion, and their advice would have been, “We do not say, renounce your sentiments, Paul, but disguise them for a little while.” The apostle yielded to no such policy, he would not win either Jew or Gentile by keeping back the truth, for he knew that such converts are worthless.
(2) Another would say, “But if you do this you will arouse opposition. Do not provoke the contempt of all thinking men. Argue with them, and show them that you too are a philosopher. Be all things to all men. By these means you will make many friends, and by degrees bring them to accept the gospel.” But the apostle puts down his foot with, “I have determined.”
3. He resolved that his subject should so engross attention that he would not even speak it with excellency of speech or man’s wisdom. He would hide the Cross neither with flowers of rhetoric nor with clouds of philosophy. Some preach Christ as the painter who, in depicting a sea fight, showed nothing but smoke.
II. Although Paul thus concentrated his energies upon one point, it was quite sufficient for his purpose. If the apostle had aimed at pleasing an intelligent audience, or had designed to set himself up as a profound teacher, he would naturally have looked out for something a little more new and dazzling. A select Church of culture would have assured him that such preaching would only attract the servants and the old women; but Paul would not have been disconcerted by such observations, for he loved the souls of the poorest and feeblest: and, besides, he knew that what had exercised power over his own educated mind was likely to have power over other intelligent people.
1. Paul desired to arouse sinners to a sense of sin, and what has ever accomplished this so perfectly as the doctrine that sin was laid upon Christ and caused His death?
2. But he wanted also to awaken the hope that forgiveness might be given consistently with justice. Need a sinner ever doubt when he has once seen Jesus crucified?
3. He longed to lead men to actual faith in Christ. Now, faith cometh by hearing, bus the hearing must be upon the subject concerning which the faith is to deal.
4. He wanted men to forsake their sins, and what should lead them to hate evil so much as seeing the sufferings of Jesus on account of it?
5. He longed to train up a Church of consecrated men, zealous for good works; and what more is necessary to promote sanctification than Christ, who hath redeemed us and so made us for ever His servants? I say that Paul had in Christ crucified a subject equal to his object; a subject that would meet the case of every man; a subject for to-day, to-morrow, and for ever.
III. The apostle’s confining himself to this subject could not possibly do harm. A man of one thought only is generally described as riding a hobby: well this was Paul’s hobby, but it was a sort of hobby which a man may ride without any injury to himself or his neighbour.
1. But Christ crucified is the only subject of which this can be said.
(1) A class of ministers preach doctrine only, the effect of which is generally to breed narrowness, exclusiveness, and bigotry.
(2) Others preach experience only.
(a) Some of them take the lower scale of experience, and say that nobody can be a child of God except he groans daily, being burdened. This teaching brings up a race of men who show their humility by sitting in judgment upon all who cannot groan as deeply as themselves.
(b) Another class preach experience always upon the high key. For them there are no nights; they sing through perpetual summer days. They have conquered sin, and they have ignored themselves. So they say, or we might have fancied that they had a very vivid idea of themselves and their attainments. Certainly their conventions and preachings largely consist of very wonderful declarations of their own admirable condition.
(3) Another class preach the precepts and little else, and the teaching becomes very legal; and after a while the true gospel which has the power to make us keep the precept gets flung into the background, and the precept is not kept after all. Do, do, do, generally ends in nothing being done.
(4) Others make the second advent the end-all and be-all of their ministry, and in many cases sheer fanaticism has been the result.
2. But keeping to this doctrine cannot do hurt, because--
(1) It contains all that is vital within itself. Within its limit, you have all the essentials for this life and for the life to come; you have the root out of which may grow branch, flower, and fruit of holy thought, word, and deed. This is a subject which does not arouse one part of the man and send the other part to sleep; it does not kindle his imagination and leave his judgment uninstructed, nor feed his intellect and starve his heart. As in milk there are all the ingredients necessary for sustaining life, so in Christ crucified there is everything that is wanted to nurture the soul.
(2) It will never produce animosities, as those nice points do which some are so fond of dealing with. “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ,” comes from not keeping to Jesus crucified; but was there ever yet a sect created by the preaching of Christ crucified?
IV. Because of all this we should all of us make this the main subject of our thoughts, preaching, and efforts. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Nothing but Christ--
1. Could satisfy the preacher.
2. Save the hearer.
3. Please God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Method of preaching
Paul had been trained up in all the learning that was common among the Jews, and it would seem from some casual expressions in his writings, in much also that was common among the Greeks; he might, therefore, have taken his hearers upon their own favourite grounds; he might have treated them in a way suited to the prevailing taste, he might have touched lightly upon those parts of the Christian system against which their prejudices were most powerfully directed, and thus have escaped not only the contempt of his auditors, but secured their admiration.
I. This determination was plainly founded on a deep and heartfelt conviction that Christ Jesus, in that which He has done and suffered, is the only ground of the sinner’s hope. The apostle knew that, though the case of the sinner was dreadful, it was not hopeless, and bearing in mind that the eternal safety of the soul is a matter compared with which everything else must Sink into insignificance, we cannot understand how he could form any other resolution than that which he here expresses, when he says, “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
II. But the apostle’s determination to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified, rested not merely on the fact that, by the atoning death of Christ, it was rendered possible for God to extend His pardoning mercy to rebellious man, but upon the other fact, that by the same means, the sinner is rendered a fit subject for pardon, and endowed with capacity for enjoying the blessings which pardon supposes imparted. Man is not only guilty, but polluted; he is not only subjected to the wrath of God, here and hereafter, because he has broken His law and incurred its penalty, but he is excluded from His fellowship here, and from the enjoyment of Him hereafter, because, by the depravity of his tastes, his feelings, his desires, his affections, he is incapable of holding that fellowship, and enjoying that felicity. It is the tendency of the preaching of Christ crucified to remedy this evil, to reduce the rebellious sinner to throw aside the weapons of his rebellion, to enkindle within his bosom the flame of love, and to adorn his soul with all the virtues which adorn the Saviour, and to change him into the same image from glory to glory. And in illustration of this tendency of the preaching of Christ crucified to produce these effects, we remark, that the strongest possible assurance is thereby afforded to men of God’s willingness to be reconciled to them. Nothing surely can tend more to dispel the fears and strengthen the confidence of his creatures, to soften their hearts, and to win them over to His service, than the view in which the gospel represents God as willing to be reconciled; as not only willing, but earnest that such a reconciliation should be effected, as even sending His Son to suffer and die, that this end might be effected, and delegating men as heralds to offer terms to the guiltiest and most unworthy. But, again, by the preaching of Christ crucified, there is such a demonstration of love afforded, as tends most directly to ensure a return of the same affection. Do we think of a departed parent’s tenderness, her days of toil and nights of watching, that she might bring us (under the blessing of God), through the weakness and dangers of infancy, without wishing her alive, that we might afford her, during her declining years, a practical proof of our gratitude? Can the helpless orphan think of the beneficence of the philanthropist, whose hand has rescued him from want and ignominy and death, and raised him to affluence, without bedewing his grave as he stoops over it with the tears of sensibility and tender recollection? Can we think of the love of God, not only in saving us, but in giving up His Son to the death for us all, in order to save not His friends but His enemies, without having our hearts warmed with a kindred love, and constrained by an irresistible influence, to live no longer to ourselves, but to Him who hath died for us and risen again? And does not the contemplation of the character of Christ, as exhibited in His life of suffering and death and agony, tend to beget in us a conformity to His image? You behold the Son of God leaving a palace, and becoming the tenant of a prison; and who can indulge in pride that contemplates such an overpowering exhibition of humility? You behold the Lord of all worlds wandering to and fro upon this earth without a house to afford Him shelter, yet not repining; and who, having food and raiment, should not therewith be content? You behold Him rejected by the nation He was sent to save, yet lamenting its infatuation, and weeping in the foresight of its doom; and who would not pity the miserable man who does not forgive the injurious? You see the crucified Jesus laid in the grave; and who would not repose in the bed He has hallowed? You see Him rising in glory; and who would not exult in the hope of immortality? Had Christ not been crucified, this Spirit had never been sent to earth, to move, to arrange the disordered elements of our moral nature, to convert the desert into the fruitful field, and the bleak and barren wilderness into the paradise of God. What, then, we ask, should the apostle have determined to know, in comparison with the great subject upon which he dwelt? What is more suited to the hungry than bread--what more consonant to the state of the weary traveller than rest--what more cheering to the guilty than pardon; and what could the apostle, in his regard to the honour of his Master, and to the interests of his fellows of the city of Corinth, guilty and polluted sinners, preach more adapted to their situation, than that Jesus, by whose blood they might be forgiven, by whose Cross and Spirit they might be sanctified, and thus be prepared, both by title and qualification of nature, for a place in that heavenly family, in reference to which they were now foreigners and strangers. (J. Clason.)
Christ crucified: the theme of St. Paul’s preaching
I. What it is to make known Jesus Christ. By separating the idea of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified, the apostle means by the first to specify the person of Christ. To make known the person of Christ is to proclaim Him--
1. The incarnate God. Such he declares Him to be in many passages, “Who, being in the form of God,” &c. “He is God over all, blessed for ever.” He is the true God and eternal life.”
2. The great Prophet of man. As such He was spoken of by the prophets (Isaiah 61:1). Hence they, by predicting His advent, applied to Him the epithet, the Messiah, or the Anointed.
3. Jesus Christ the example. “Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.” Men are prone to imitation, it is one of the principles that come earliest into action, by it the child acquires the art of speech. Of this great principle Jesus Christ availed Himself in effecting His benevolent purposes on the moral condition of men; He commanded them to be perfect, as their Father in heaven is perfect; and, lest their hearts sink within them, and they should turn away from the effort in despair, He hath Himself obeyed His own commandments. In the example He has set they may confide: it is perfect in the embodying and personifying His law.
II. What it is to make known Jesus Christ crucified.
1. For pardon--“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood.”
2. Christ crucified for purification--for if He died a propitiation for men, to save them from their sins, His work must be either complete or completely ineffectual: ineffectual it would be to save them from the punishment of sin if they were still left under its ruling power. By that death Christ having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, sheds Him abroad on the hearts of His people, destroying the tyranny of passion, weakening the power of habit, correcting the taste, implanting new principles, regenerating the affections.
3. Christ crucified for protection--for the protection of those whom He died to save (Philippians 2:8-10; Ephesians 1:22.) He is the ruler of providence, and subordinates all its events to promote the object for which He was crucified, even the salvation of men. They are exposed to danger from temptation, the sin that remains within them would precipitate them into guilt, His grace restrains; the world would seduce, He discloses the vanity of its fascinations; in the hour of death, when trial assails every weakness of humanity, He illumines and supports.
4. For resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:12-13).
5. For eternal glory--this is the consummation of it (John 17:24). Of His glory, “it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive”; but elsewhere it is said, that His followers shall be like Him, and that as they have borne the image of the earthly, so also shall they bear the image of the heavenly, and that image shall never be defaced.
III. What is the import of the phrase not to make known anything”?
1. Anything at variance with, or opposed to, these doctrines. These doctrines were novel; novelty of opinion implies opinions previously existing, which are for the most part not only distinct, but opposite; for truth is one, and opinions respecting it are either consistent with it or are inconsistent. Novelty of opinion, therefore, implies opposition. The opposition in the present ease was extensive; the doctrines of Christianity contrasted themselves with every department, throughout the whole sphere of religious thinking, at Corinth. The sufficiency of reason to instruct and to regulate was tacitly assumed by them; of the necessity of Divine instruction they had no general idea. Naturally allied to this was the sufficiency of human merit to command acceptance. The moral character of their gods was so low that few men, however bad, could despair of reconciling themselves to one or other deity: the thief, the murderer, the adulterer, could all find examples of their own vice in the superior beings they feared. A degradation of the standard of virtue necessarily followed, accompanied with callousness of moral disapprobation. Even in those religious rights where human inability appeared more unambiguously acknowledged in the sacrifices by which they deprecated the wrath of offended Deity, it is easy to descry the spirit striving by such means to establish a claim on the Divine equity for protection and blessing, rather than the mere mercy of God. And again, allied to this, and forming but a new aspect, was the assumption of the sufficiency of human effort to originate and carry on to perfection excellences of character. I mention further their notions of the relative value of the virtues: pride was with them elevation of spirit; brute courage, designated by way of eminence, virtue; a spirit of revenge was esteemed honour, and the constituted favourite topic of their most lauded poets. Throughout the whole sphere there was a lamentable destitution of spirituality in their modes of thinking and feeling. Now, as these were the opinions that obtained at Corinth, and as all these are directly at variance with Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, with the Christianity which the apostle had to make known, it is obvious that in the text he referred specifically to these opinions, and that he considered them as what was not to be made known by one to whom was committed the ministration of the gospel; and condemning them thus specifically, he condemned them by their principles, and so he condemned all the consequences of such principles whenever they should in after years, under any other forms, appear.
2. Not anything exclusive of these doctrines. At first sight it appears impossible that any one, pretending to make known Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, should be able to do it in a way exclusive of the doctrines we have explained: they seem so essential to Christianity. Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and Christianity, are convertible terms, they signify the same thing. But as what appears to man to be impossible is often possible with God, so what appears to man to be impossible is often possible with the great enemy of God and His Son: the arch enemy of the doctrines of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, has devised the means of doing what is apparently impossible: these means vary with circumstances; but one of the most common is to originate controversy respecting the minor matters of the law and the subordinate or less essential parts of religion. By giving to these a temporary and unmerited importance, the attention of those appointed to make known Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is concentrated and engrossed, weightier matters are in proportion neglected, and the duty of promulgating Christianity is performed in a way more or less exclusive of its characteristic doctrines. S. Not anything so habitually as those doctrines. There is no virtue, no excellence, that in practice may not be carried to an extreme; and every extreme is bad. On this subject, of making known Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, men having indulged in the utmost extravagances; have, under the best and most pious feelings, conceived that in the words of the apostle they are enjoined so to make known the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel, as to exclude everything else; have tacitly denied any importance to the minor parts of the system, and have deemed the explication of them unworthy their attention. By thus failing to accommodate themselves to the demands of the system, and the mixed character of those who hear the gospel, they have given offence to the sensible, disgusted the almost Christian, and by limiting their range of topics, have introduced into their illustrations and enforcements a monotony of thinking, destructive, in no small degree, of ministerial usefulness. Such persons seem to act under the mistake that they have to make Jesus Christ known only to the unconverted.
IV. What is expressed by the resolution, “I determined not to know anything,” &c.
1. His conviction of the truth of these doctrines.
2. His sense of their importance. “Why am I invested,” he would naturally ask himself, “by the Creator, the Ruler of men, with extraordinary and supernatural power to propagate among them these tenets, unless they are of more than worldly importance to them?
3. His determination to act worthily of his convictions. How peculiar and how sublime was the attitude in which he now stood! He saw the mightiest purposes of benevolence identified with his efforts, he saw the cause of truth dependent on his success, he heard the voice of gratitude for his own preservation summoning him to the sacred enterprise. (W. Moodie, D. D.)
“Don’t you know, young man,” said an aged minister, in giving advice to a younger brother, “that from every town, and every village, and every hamlet in England, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” was the reply. “So,” continued the venerable man, “from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of Scripture--that is, Christ. And your business, when you get a text, is to say, now what is the road to Christ, and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis, Christ.” In considering what is implied in preaching Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, we remark--
I. That it implies the preaching of Christ’s Divinity.
II. To preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, implies the preaching of the attractiveness of Christ’s character. “The Lord Jesus, it has been remarked, is the subject of all prophecy, the substance of all types, the end of the law, the jewel that lies in the casket of every promise, the sun in whom all the rays of heavenly truth centre, and from whom they radiate, filling the minds of all redeemed men, and of all holy angels, with their light and glory.”
III. Preaching Christ implies preaching Him in all His offices as Prophet, Priest and King.
IV. Preaching Christ, and Him crucified, implies the setting forth in all its fulness and freeness Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and commending Him and it for the acceptance of all hearers, Now, whilst the substitutionary work of Christ must ever be the theme of true gospel preaching, preachers should be careful to be fervent in spirit whilst commending Christ and His salvation to men. No doubt God may bless clear anal cold preaching. For illustration, when Dr. Kane was in the Arctic regions he cut a piece of ice clear as crystal, in the form of a convex lens, held it up to the sun’s rays, and to the surprise of the natives set in a blaze some dry wood which had been gathered. So an unconverted preacher may be the medium by which the truth may be brought to other hearts and kindle them with the holy flame of Divine love. Still, that is not usual, and it is well it is not. True preaching should be earnest; and, indeed, all the most eminent soul-winners may be said to have had their hearts in their mouths, so fervent were they in spirit. Thus, Richard Sheridan used to say, “I often go to hear Rowland Hill because his ideas come red-hot from the heart.” Dr. Mason, when asked what he thought was the strong point of Dr. Chalmers, replied, “His blood-earnestness.” And a Chinese convert once remarked in conversation with a missionary, “We want men with hot hearts to tell us of the love of Christ.” Such is the manner in which Christ, and Him crucified, should be preached. (D. Scott, D. D.)
St. Paul’s determination
And was the apostle wrong in his determination? He speaks as if the doctrine of the Cross were ample enough, comprehensive enough, for all his powers. Does this at all indicate that he was of a narrow and contracted mind, which could apply itself to only one topic, whilst a hundred others, perhaps nobler and loftier, lay beyond its grasp? Nay, not so; the tone of the apostle is not that of a man who is apologising for the limited character of his preaching, or its humiliating tendency; it is rather that of one who felt that the Corinthians had nothing to complain of, seeing that he had taught them the most precious, the most diffusive, the most ennobling of truths. Here, then, is our subject of discourse--the apostle determined to know nothing save the Cross; but the Cross is the noblest study for the intellectual man, as it is the only refuge for the immortal. How different was the plan of the apostle from that pursued by many who have undertaken the propagation of Christianity. The missionary might keep back all mention of the Cross, because fearful of exciting dislike and contempt. But, all the while, he would be withholding that which gives its majesty to the system, and striving to apologise for its noblest distinction. Now, we need hardly observe to you that, so far as Christ Jesus Himself was concerned, it is not possible to compute what may be called the humiliation or shame of the Cross. It is altogether beyond our power to form any adequate conception of the degree in which the Mediator humbled Himself when born of a woman, and taking part of flesh and blood. But when the Redeemer, though He had done no sin, consented to place Himself in the position of sinners, then was it that He marvellously and mysteriously descended. “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” Here it is that the word “shame” may justly be used; for in this it was that Christ Jesus became “a curse for us.” We read nothing of the shame of His becoming a man, but we do read of the shame of His dying as a malefactor. And it we allow that it was a shameful thing, that it involved a humiliation which no thought can measure, with what other emotions, you may ask, but those of sorrow and self-reproach, should we contemplate the Cross? Shall we exult in the Cross? The awful transactions of which Calvary was the scene should never be contemplated by us without a deep sense of the magnitude of the guilt which required such an expiation, and great self-abhorrence at having added to the burden which weighed down the innocent sufferer. But though of all men, perhaps, St. Paul was the least likely to underrate the causes of sorrow presented by the Cross, this great apostle, in determining to know nothing but the Cross, could adopt a tone which implied that he gloried in the Cross. And why, think you, was this? Or why, if there be so much of shame about the Cross, was the apostle wise, when addressing himself to a refined people, in determining to “know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? Indeed, there is no difficulty in finding answers to these questions; the only difficulty is in the selecting those which are the more pertinent and striking.
1. We may first observe that the great truth which the apostle had to impress on the Corinthians was that, in spite of their sinfulness and alienation, they were still beloved by the one true God. And how could he better do this than by displaying the Cross? The greater the humiliation to which the Son of God submitted, the greater was the amount of the Divine love towards man. We know not whether it be lawful to speak of the possibility of our having been saved through any other arrangement. We may not be able to prove, and perhaps it hardly becomes us to investigate, what may be called the necessity for Christ’s death, so that, unless Jesus had consented to die, it would not have been in God’s -power to open to us the kingdom of heaven. But we cannot be passing the bounds of legitimate supposition if we imagine for a moment that some less costly process had sufficed, and that justice had been satisfied, without exacting from our Surety penalties so tremendous as were actually paid. And is it not too evident to ask any proof, that in the very proportion in which you diminish the sufferings of the Mediator, you diminish also the exhibition of His love, and leave it a thing to be questioned? It is, then, to “Christ Jesus, and Him crucified” that we make our appeal when we would furnish such evidence of Divine love as must overbear all unbelief. We do not rest our proof on the fact that we have been redeemed, but on the fact that we have been redeemed ,through the bitter passion and the ignominious death of God’s only and well beloved Son. It is here that the proof is absolutely irrefragable. Notwithstanding all which man hath done to provoke Divine wrath and make condemnation inevitable, he is regarded with unspeakable tenderness by the Almighty. Teach me this, and you teach me everything. And this I learn from Christ crucified. I learn it, indeed, in a measure from the sun, as he walks the firmament and warms the earth into fertility. I learn it from the moon, as she gathers the stars into her train and throws over creation her robe of soft light. But if I am taught by these, the teaching after all is but imperfect and partial. But when I behold Christ crucified, I cannot doubt the Divine love. I cannot doubt of this love, that it may justly be called inexhaustible, and that, if I will only allow myself to be its object, there is no amount of guiltiness which can exclude me from its embrace.
2. We proceed to observe that, although to the eye of sense there be nothing but shame about the Cross, yet a spiritual discernment perceives it to be hung with the very richest of trophies. It is necessarily to be admitted that, in one point of view, there was shame, degradation, ignominy, in Christ’s dying on the Cross; but it is equally certain that in another there was honour, victory, triumph. There are impaled those principalities and powers, the originators and propagators of evil; there is fastened Death itself, that great tyrant and destroyer of human kind; there our sins are transfixed, having been condemned in the flesh, because borne in Christ’s body on the tree. And am I, then, to be ashamed of the Cross? It is to be ashamed of the battle-field on which has been won the noblest of victories, of the engine by which has been vanquished the fiercest of enemies. It is to be ashamed of conquest, ashamed of triumph, ashamed of deliverance. And therefore was His death glorious, aye, unspeakably more glorious than life, array it how you will with circumstances of honour. This turns the crown of thorns into a diadem of splendour. This converts the sepulchre of Jesus into the avenue of immortality.
3. But we have hitherto scarcely carried our argument to the full extent of the apostle’s assertion. Not only was he determined to know amongst the Corinthians “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” but he was determined to know nothing else. And if you consider for a moment what reason we have to believe that every blessing which we enjoy may be traced to the Cross, you will readily acknowledge that St. Paul went no further than he was bound to go as a faithful messenger of Christ. I can say to the man of science, thine intellect was saved for thee by the Cross. I can say to the father of a family, the endearments of home were rescued by the cross. I can say to the admirer of nature, the glorious things in the mighty panorama retained their places through the erection of the Cross. I can say to the ruler of an empire, the subordination of different classes, the working of society, the energies of government, are all owing to the Cross. And when the mind passes to the consideration of spiritual benefits, where can you find one not connected with “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? But we have yet another remark to offer. St. Paul must have desired to teach that doctrine which was best adapted to the bringing the Corinthians to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world.” If, therefore, he confined himself to any one doctrine, we may be sure that he considered it the most likely to be influential on the practice, on the turning sinners from the error of their ways, and making them obedient to God’s law. And what doctrine is this if not that of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? (H. Melvill, B.D.)
The knowledge of Jesus Christ the best knowledge
I. I am to explain what is meant by “not knowing anything, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” By Jesus Christ we are to understand the eternal Son of God. By this word “know,” we are not to understand a bare historical knowledge. It implies an experimental knowledge of His crucifixion so as to feel the power of it.
II. I pass on to give some reasons why every Christian should, with the apostle, determine “not to know anything save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
1. Without this our persons will not be accepted in the sight of God. Some may please themselves in knowing the world, others boast themselves in the knowledge of a multitude of languages. The meanest Christian, if he know but this, though he know nothing else, will be accepted; so the greatest master in Israel, the most letter-learned teacher, without this, will be rejected.
2. Without this knowledge, our performances, as well as persons, will not be acceptable in the sight of God. Two persons may go up to the temple and pray; but he only will return home justified, who, in the language of our Collects, sincerely offers up his prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord. Farther: As our devotions to God will not, so neither, without this knowledge of Jesus Christ, will our acts of charity to men be accepted by Him. As neither our acts of piety nor charity, so neither will our civil nor moral actions be acceptable to God, without this experimental knowledge of Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus Christ has turned our whole lives into one continued sacrifice.
III. Exhort you to put the apostle’s resolution in practice, and beseech you, with him, to determine “not to know anything save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.(G. Whitfield, M. A.)
The knowledge of Christ crucified
1. Let us be thankful to God for a crucified Redeemer. There is nothing in heaven and earth such an amazing wonder as this, nothing can vie with it for excellence.
2. Let us delight in the knowledge of Christ crucified, and be often in the thoughts and study of Him. Study Christ, not only as living, but dying.
(1) This will keep up life in our repentance. We cannot look upon Christ crucified for us for our guilt, but the meditation of this must melt us into sorrow.
(2) It will spirit our faith, when we shall see His blood confirming an everlasting covenant wherein God promises to be gracious.
(3) This will animate us in our approaches to God. Not only a bare coming, but a boldness and confidence in coming to God was purchased by a crucified Christ (Hebrews 10:19).
(4) This will be a means to further us in a progress in holiness. An affection to sin, which cost the Redeemer of the world so dear, would be inconsistent with a sound knowledge and serious study of a crucified Saviours
(5) This will be the foundation of all comfort. What comfort can be wanting when we can look upon Christ crucified as our Surety, and look upon ourselves as crucified in Him; when we consider our sins as punished in Him, and ourselves accepted by virtue of His Cross. (Bp. Hacket.)
The demonstration of the Spirit
If the wisdom of men had been to advise about the most effectual means to promote Christianity in the world, they would presently have considered what those things are which are most likely to prevail on mankind, and, according to their several inclinations, would have made choice of one or the other of them. Some would have been for the way of external greatness and power as most apt to oversway the generality of mankind. Others would have thought this an improper way of promoting religion by the power of the sword, because that is more apt to affright than convince men, and the embracing religion supposes the satisfaction of men’s minds about it, and all power doth not carry demonstration along with it; therefore such would have proposed the choosing out of men of the finest parts and best accomplishments, who, dispersing themselves into several countries, should, by their eloquence and reason, prevail on the more ingenious and capable sort of men, who by degrees would draw all the rest after them. Thus the wisdom of men would have judged; but the wisdom of God made choice of ways directly contrary to these. He would not suffer His truth to be so much beholden for its reception either to the power or the wit of men.
I. Why St. Paul doth so utterly renounce the enticing words of man’s wisdom? For we are not to imagine it was any natural incapacity or want of education which made him forbear them. The apostle implies an unsuitableness in these enticing ways of man’s wisdom to the design of promoting the Christian religion; what that was I shall now more particularly search into.
1. As to the enticing words of persuasion.
2. As to the way and method of reasoning, or man’s wisdom.
1. As to the way of eloquence then in so much vogue and esteem, called by St. Paul (verse 1) the excellency of speech. And what harm was there in float that it could not be permitted to serve the design of the gospel? Is not the excellency of speech a gift of God as well as knowledge and memory? What are all the instructions of orators intended for but to enable men to speak clearly and fitly and with all those graces and ornaments of speech which are most apt to move and persuade the hearers? And what is there in all this disagreeable to the design of the doctrine of Christ? Are not the greatest and most weighty concernments of mankind fit to be represented in the most proper and clear expressions, and in the most moving and affectionate manner? Why, then, should St. Paul be so scrupulous about using the enticing words of man’s wisdom? To clear this matter we are to consider a twofold eloquence.
(1) A gaudy, sophistical eloquence is wholly renounced by him, of which the apostle seems particularly to speak, mentioning if under the name of man’s wisdom, which was in mighty esteem among the Greeks, but suspected and cried down by wiser men as that which did only beguile injudicious people. And the great orator himself confesses the chief end of their popular eloquence was so to move their auditors as to make them judge rather according to passion than to reason. This being the common design of the enticing words of man’s wisdom in the apostle’s age, had they not the greatest reason to renounce the methods of those whose great end was to deceive their hearers by fair speeches and plausible insinuations?
(2) The apostle is not to be understood as if he utterly renounced all sober and manly eloquence; for that were to renounce the best use of speech as to the convincing and persuading mankind. And what is true eloquence but speaking to the best advantage, with the most lively expressions, the most convincing arguments, and the most moving figures? What is there now in this which is disagreeable to the most Divine truths? Is it not fit they should be represented to our minds in a way most apt to affect them?
2. As to the way and method of reasoning. So some think these words are chiefly to be understood of the subtilty of disputing because the apostle brings in demonstration as a thing above it. But this again seems very hard that the use of reasoning should be excluded from the way of propagating Christian religion.
But that which St. Paul rejects as to this was--
1. The way of wrangling and perpetual disputing, by the help of some terms and rules of logic, so that they stuck out at nothing, but had something to say for or against anything. No man that understands the laws of reasoning can find fault with the methodising our conception of things by bringing them under their due ranks and heads; nor with understanding the difference of causes, the truth and falsehood of propositions, and the way of discerning true and false reasonings from each other. But men were fallen into such a humour of disputing that nothing would pass for truth among them. And therefore it was not fitting for the apostles of Christ to make use of these baffled methods of reasoning to confirm the truth of what they delivered upon the credit of Divine revelation.
2. The way of mere human reasoning as it excludes Divine revelation. The apostle proves the necessity of God revealing these things by His Spirit (verses 10-12).
II. To inquire into the force of that demonstration of the Spirit and of power which the apostle mentions as sufficient to satisfy the minds of men without the additional help of human wisdom; wherein are two things to be spoken of.
I. What is meant by the demonstration of the Spirit and of power?
1. It must be something by way of proof of another thing, otherwise it could not bear the name of demonstration. If the apostle’s words were understood of the conviction of men’s consciences by the power of preaching, his argument could reach no farther than to those who were actually convinced, but others might say, We feel nothing of this powerful demonstration upon us. Since, therefore, St. Paul speaks for the conviction of others, and of such a ground whereon their faith was to stand (verse 5), it is most reasonable to understand these words of some external evidence which they gave of the truth of what they delivered.
2. That evidence is described by a double character--it was of a Spiritual nature and very powerful. And such a demonstration was then seen among them in the miraculous gifts and works of the Holy Ghost.
3. Why this was not as liable to suspicion as the way of eloquence and logic, since those had been only corrupted and abused by men, but the power of miracles had been pretended to by evil spirits.
Why, then, did God reject the most reasonable ways of dealing with men in the way of eloquence and demonstration, which were more natural and accommodate to the capacities and education of the most ingenious minds, and make choice of a way which the world had been so much abused in by the imposture of evil spirits?
1. Because the method God ,chose did prove it was not the invention of men, which would have been always suspected if mere human arts had been used to promote it. Whereas if the way of promoting this religion had been ordinary with the usual methods of persuasion, men would have imputed all the efficacy of it only to the wisdom of men. For God knows very well the vanity and folly of mankind, how apt they are to magnify the effects of their own wit and reason.
2. God gave sufficient evidence that these extraordinary gifts could never be the effects of any evil spirits.
(1) The publicness of the trial of it, when it first fell upon them on the day of Pentecost.
(2) The usefulness of this gift to the apostles, for considering the manner of their education and the extent of their commission to preach to all nations; no gift could be supposed more necessary.
(3) The manner of conferring these miraculous gifts upon others show that there was somewhat in them above all the power of imagination or the effects of evil spirits.
II. The power of miracles, or of doing extraordinary things, as well as of speaking after an extraordinary manner. This seems the hardest to give an account of, why God should make choice of this way of miracles above all others to convince the world of the truth of the Christian doctrine, upon these considerations:
(1) The great delusions that had been in the world so long before under the pretence of miracles.
(2) The great difficulty there is in putting a difference between true and false miracles.
1. How we may know when anything doth exceed the power of mere nature as that is opposed to any spiritual beings; for some have looked on all things of this kind as impostures of men.
2. We must therefore inquire further, whether such things be the effects of magic or Divine power.
For which end these two things are considerable.
1. That Christ and His apostles did declare the greatest enmity to all evil spirits, professing in their design to destroy the devil’s kingdom and power in the world.
2. The devil was not wanting in fit instruments and means to support his kingdom; and God was pleased, in His infinite wisdom, to permit him to show his skill and power, by which means there was a more eminent and conspicuous trial on which side the greatest strength did lie. Thus the matter is brought to a plain contest of two opposite powers, which is greater than the other, and which shows itself to be the Divine power.
To which purpose we may consider these two things. That the pretended miracles of the opposers of Christianity did differ from the miracles wrought by the apostles in several weighty circumstances.
1. In the design and tendency of them. Most of the wonderful things whereof the enemies of Christianity did boast were wrought either--
(1) To raise astonishment and admiration in the beholders.
(2) To gratify the curiosity of mankind.
(3) To encourage idolatry.
(4) To take men off from the necessity of a holy life.
2. In the variety, openness, usefulness, and frequency of them. The greatest magical powers were limited and confined; and the spirits which ruled in the children of disobedience were sensible of their own chains. I shall only add one circumstance more, wherein the miracles wrought to confirm the Christian religion exceed all others, and that is--
3. In the satisfaction they have given to the most inquisitive part of mankind, i.e., either to convince them of the truth of the doctrine confirmed by them, or, at least, to bring them to this acknowledgement that, if the matters of fact were true, they are a sufficient proof of a Divine power. (Bp. Stillingfleet.)
The determination of Paul
I. Its import.
1. What are we to understand by “Christ, and Him crucified”? This theme is distinguished by--
(1) Great simplicity. Other teachers engaged the mind with speculations on subjects of various degrees of interest, but this teacher had for his theme a Person and a fact. Leaving the philosophers to their “wisdom” he held up a Man, and that Man hanging on a Cross. Other instructors spoke with great respect of eminent men, whose opinions they were anxious to advance; but it was never known before that a person and his sufferings were to be the foundation and the superstructure of every discourse.
(2) Vast comprehensiveness. It was not Paul’s practice to indulge in an endless repetition of the name of Christ, or in a mere detail of His history, but to exhibit His life and death as the basis of a grand system of truth. He “preached Christ, and Him crucified,” as the brightest and best revelation of the Divine character, and the grand announcement of mercy to man. In His incarnation and death we see the Divine love, for “God so loved the world,” &c.; the Divine wisdom, for “Christ is the wisdom of God”; the Divine power, “for the gospel is the power of God unto salvation”; the Divine justice, for the Saviour lived and suffered that the righteousness of God might be revealed; the Divine truth, for Christ came to “confirm the promises made of God unto the fathers.”
2. In what sense we are to understand the apostle’s determination. He determined--
(1) To exclude every subject that would deprive the gospel of its power. The gospel is a sharp, two-edged sword, but if we lower its ethereal temper by forging it anew on our own anvil, it will wound no conscience and slay no sin. It is a fire able to melt the hardest heart, but if we damp its flame by earthly additions, the heart of stone defies its power. It is the sincere milk of the Word; but the admixture of human fancies and dogmas will destroy its power to sustain. It is a mirror, in which the sinner is to see the correct reflection of his own image; but beclouded by the mists of error, the natural man cannot be expected to behold his face in this glass. And therefore would we humbly cherish the apostle’s holy jealousy for the unadulterated gospel, and “know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
(2) To exclude everything that might tend to deprive the gospel of its glory. His anxiety on this subject is clearly expressed in verses 1, 4, 5. He knew the effects assigned by the Greeks to human wisdom, the power ascribed to persuasive words, and how ready they would be, supposing great moral changes to follow, to give to his reasoning and eloquence the glory of bringing those changes about, and therefore was he most careful to prevent this evil.
II. Its reasons.
1. His anxiety to be found faithful. A sacred trust had been reposed in him. How, then, could he most effectually shield himself from the woe threatened against unfaithfulness, and give up his account with joy and not with grief? It was simply by having his mind so engrossed with the grand theme of the gospel as to shut out every other.
2. His desire to promote the highest interests of man. He was eminently a philanthropist, and it is easy to see how such a true lover of mankind would seize with avidity this remedy for universal suffering, and be ready to employ the rent means for “promoting the greatest good of the greatest number.” In the great announcements of mercy connected with “Christ, and Him crucified,” he had the panacea for the spiritual woes under which men were suffering.
3. His grand aim to give the greatest glory to God. When the Redeemer was within a few days of His crucifixion He said in His prayer, “Father, save Me,” &c. (John 12:27-28). From this prayer, and its supernatural answer, we learn, first, that the prevailing desire of every holy mind is the glory of God; and, secondly, that that glory was displayed in the death of Christ and its great results. The prayer of Christ is that of every child of God, “Father, glorify Thy name.” It was so in a remarkable degree in Paul. And it was by the faithful exhibition of “Christ, and Him crucified,” that he could most effectually secure the high end he had thus constantly in view. All the Divine perfections are displayed in the sacrifice of Christ. And the effects of this great theme on the minds that receive it are of such a nature as to bring the highest honour to the Divine name. The case of the apostle is a striking illustration. When he became a preacher of the faith he had once attempted to destroy, men “glorified God in him.” The character of the Divine artist could be seen in the work of His hands. What power, in turning the stubborn will, and causing it to move in the true way! What love, in receiving into the Divine friendship a bitter enemy! What wisdom, which when it was revealed caused the disciple of Gamaliel to count all his learned notions as dross, for the excellent knowledge to which it was now supplanted! And all who believe the gospel, become in like manner the living epistles of God, known and read by all men, and furnishing to the whole intelligent universe the best and the brightest displays of the character of God. (W. Owen.)
The determination of Paul
I. Explain it. He determined--
1. To preach Christ crucified, as the ground of hope, and the motive to obedience.
2. To exclude everything else.
II. Vindicate it. This was--
(1) All he was commissioned to preach.
(2) All it was necessary to preach.
(3) Everything else but weakens the efficacy of the truth. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The preaching of Christ crucified
I. The apostle preached Christ, and Him crucified.
1. Preaching Christ means making known the truth respecting Him, i.e., the great facts concerning His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection; the ends for which He did and suffered all this, and the benefits procured by it.
2. Preaching Christ and Him crucified is stating the fact of His ignominious death, and making known all the blessings connected with it.
II. He preached nothing but Christ, and Him crucified, i.e.
1. He made Christ known on every occasion on which he addressed them.
2. He rejected from his preaching whatever was not intimately connected with this all-important theme.
3. He made known no doctrine, precept, promise, but in connection with Christ and Him crucified.
III. He determined to preach nothing else. It was not a hasty resolution, but his deliberate settled purpose. Let us consider what were the reasons which induced him, and which should induce every minister of Christ to adopt the same determination.
1. He saw the glory and excellency of this subject. Others might consider it foolishness, but the light of its glory had shone into his mind. When a man has his mind taken up with a subject in which he is delighted, he is quite out of his element if you lead him from it, and whatever subject he is engaged upon he will make it turn on his favourite theme.
2. The suitableness of this subject to answer the great ends of the Christian ministry. It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Paul knew that this was the only doctrine which could reach the hardened heart, bring peace to the conscience, inspire a hope of pardon, make men love God, and cultivate all the beauties of holiness.
3. His Lord’s command. The question with him was, not what message will be agreeable, but what have I been commanded to deliver. He was commanded to preach the gospel, therefore necessity was laid upon him, and the Saviour has made the discharge of this duty a test of love to Him. Lovest thou Me? Feed My sheep. (W. R. Taylor, A. M.)
I. The meaning of the phrase. Those who believe in the atonement interpret it as a sacrifice for sin, and consider faith in it necessary to salvation. Others understand it as a bare fact, or as martyrdom for truth. The apostle, however, gives his own explanation (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
II. The proposition that this is the only doctrine which is saving!
1. What is our condition?
(1) We are corrupted!
(2) Guilty--actually criminal, and this is the cause of eternal death.
2. This very condition it is which adapts the gospel to us. Try every other doctrine and see if it will do.
(1) True, it reveals the glory of God, but what avails all our knowledge of God if no sacrifice? The gospel discovers His goodness in glowing characters, but while this rises on the scene it is shaded by His justice.
(2) But you say, the gospel is a beautiful moral law for our guide. True; but what comfort is this to guilty man? Take the statute-book to the victim condemned to die; expatiate on the law he has violated; alas! he wants pardon, not law.
3. You say, there is the example of Jesus. Granted. We cannot study it too much; yet example is only law in action, and the former answer applies to it; if the law is unwelcome, so is its exhibition. And what is the fact? See the Jews. Was it not the excellence of the example which made them hate it?
4. You say, there are many promises in the gospel without that of Christ, or salvation by Christ. True; but hope cannot rest on them. The promise of a common providence, food, raiment, &c., is made; but we are guilty--and what are these if hell is to be our portion? And again, the promises are all to His people.
5. There is nothing, then, in the gospel on which to rest but the sacrificial death of Christ. Here, “what the law could not do,” &c.
1. The Cross is of no use to us if we do not confess our corruptions, inability, and danger.
2. We see the certainty of pardon--all is hope in the gospel, and all certainty too. Say not that you are unworthy--all your unworthiness is assumed in the gospel--it justifies in the character of ungodly.
3. We see what is meant by living a life of faith in the Son of God, all flows from Him, all your petitions are presented by Him, the blood of Christ and faith in that blood are all that stand between you and God.
4. Pray that a ministry may ever be among you to preserve this doctrine. (J. Summerfield, A.M.)
The knowledge of Christ crucified
I. The knowledge here mentioned.
1. Its subject.
(1) Christ’s person. Jesus points out divinity: the signification being Jehovah, the Saviour. It was given Him in fulfilment of the prophecy which declared that He should be called Immanuel, or God with us.
(2) His offices. Christ or Messiah means “anointed,” as were prophets, priests, and kings--all types of Christ.
(a) He is the prophet of His Church (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). He reveals to us the will of God, and accompanies it with the illuminating influences of the Spirit.
(b) He is High Priest who, having offered sacrifice for sin, arose to make intercession.
(c) He is King; He restrains, and finally destroys His enemies; He makes His people willing in the day of His power, governs them by His holy laws, and defends them.
2. His work. “Him crucified.” The atonement thus made is explicitly inculcated in every part of the scriptures. In the prophets (Isaiah 53:5; Daniel 9:24; Daniel 9:26, &c.). By our Lord (Matthew 20:28; John 6:51); Matthew 26:28). By the apostle (Romans 5:6; Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:14). It was pointed out by all the sacrifices, and in heaven the Redeemer appears as “a Lamb as it had been slain(Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 5:11-12).
3. The kind of knowledge which we should have of this subject. There are two kinds of knowledge of Christ--speculative and practical. The former remains in the head, the latter in the heart. The former is obtained by exercise of our own faculties; the latter only by the Holy Spirit. The latter is intended in the text. This knowledge leads us to receive Jesus as our Divine Saviour; which prompts us to rely on Christ in reference to every one of His offices. Intellectual knowledge, however, is not to be neglected, because we cannot be affected by truths of which we are ignorant.
II. Its supreme importance.
1. Absolutely it gives important benefits.
(1) Acquaintance with the real character of God. The Cross of Christ impresses us with a sense of--
(a) His holiness and justice.
(b) His mercy and love.
(c) His wisdom.
(2) Peace to the wounded conscience.
(3) The foundation of all Christian graces, tempers, and obedience. It is the view of Him whom our sins pierced which leads us to mourn for them. It strengthens faith--“He that spared not His own Son,… shall He not freely give us all things?” It furthers progress in holiness. We abhor that sin which heaped such suffering on the Redeemer.
(1) It is more useful than any other kind of knowledge. Human learning has its important use, but the interests of eternity are preferable to those of time.
(2) It is more easily acquired. It is true, indeed, that where a right disposition be wanting, you shall find things hid from the wise and prudent. It is true that persevering diligence is requisite. It is true that there are depths attending this knowledge which the utmost powers of intellect cannot fathom. (J. J. S. Bird, B.A.)
Preaching Christ and Him crucified
1. The great men of the world are those who discover or apply great truths to the times in which they live, in such a manner as to work effectual reformations of society. A man is great, not by the measure of his faculty, but by the results which he produces in life. Paul was, then, one of the greatest.
2. It is more than a matter of curiosity, when a man has been raised up of God to do great things, to have him give a view of his own life, its aims and methods. Paul here sounds the keynote of his life and course. You will take notice, in all the preceding chapter and in this, that it is not Christ, but Christ crucified, Christ with His Cross, that was the essential qualifying particular. Paul did not mean, then, to be a skirmisher, nor an elegant trifler. He did not propose to be a routinist, either through ceremonies or dialectics. For it was his business to work a thorough change of character in the men that came under his influence, and so to lay the foundation for the renovation of society itself. What could be greater than this work?
3. Many things were going on for the renovation, or rather the restraint, of men’s passions? But it was a work imperfectly understood, and not done. Paul declared what was the power by which it might be achieved. He did not declare that he meant to exclude everything else. The declaration is only a comprehensive renunciation of secular interests and influences as working powers. When a man goes into a community to work, he instinctively says, “How shall I reach these men? What things shall I employ for their renovation?” The apostle says, “After looking over the whole field, I made up my mind not to rely on my power to discourse eloquently, nor upon my intellectual forces. This had been done by many a man with great cogency. But Paul, looking at such men as Socrates and Plato, said, “I determined that I would rely upon the presentation of God’s nature and government as manifested particularly through the Christ as a sacrifice for sinners. By these I meant to get a hold upon men’s conscience, affections, and life.” A warrior preparing for battle walking through his magazine passes by bows and arrows, and old-fashioned armour, and says, “They were good in their time and way, but I do not intend to rely upon them.” But when he comes to the best instruments of modern warfare, he says, “Here are the things that I mean to depend upon.” Therefore, when the apostle said, “I determined not to know,” &c., he avowed his faith that in that there is more moral power upon the heart and the conscience than in any other thing, and his determination to draw influences from that source in all his work. In view of this I remark--
I. The personal influence of Christ upon the heart is the first requisite for a Christian preacher. We may preach much about Christ, but no man will preach Christ except so far as Christ is in him. There are many men that by natural gifts are qualified to stand pre-eminent above their fellows, who exert but little religious influence; and, on the other hand, there are many of small endowment whose life is like a rushing, mighty wind in the influence which it exerts. The presence of Christ in them is the secret of their power.
II. A man’s success in preaching will depend upon his power of presenting Christ. There is a great deal of useful didactic matter that every minister must give to his congregation. There is a great deal of doctrine, fact, history, and of description that belongs to the ministerial desk. The Bible is full of material for these things, and ethics should occupy an important place. But high above all these is the fountain of influence, Christ who gave Himself a ransom for sinners, and now ever lives to make intercession for them. Though one preaches every other truth, if he leaves this one out, or abbreviates it, he will come short of the essential work of the gospel. Put this in, and you have all, as it were, in brief.
III. There can be no sound and effective method of preaching ethics, even, which does not derive its authority from the Lord Christ. The motives derivable from the secular and human side of ethics are relatively feeble. Whatever method is pursued, the indispensable connection between the spiritual element and the practical development should be maintained. Morality without spirituality is a plant without root, and spirituality without morality is a root without stem and leaves. I have a right to introduce into my sermons all secular topics as far as they are connected with man’s moral character and his hopes of immortality. If I discuss them in a merely secular way, I desecrate the pulpit; but if I discuss them in the spirit of Christ, and for Christ’s sake, that I may draw men out of their peculiar dangers, and lead them into a course of right living, then I give dignity to the pulpit.
IV. All reformations of evil in society should spring from this vital centre. It is a very dangerous thing to preach Christ so that your preaching shall not be a constant rebuke to all the evil in the community. That man who so preaches Christ, doctrinally or historically, that no one trembles, is not a faithful preacher of Christ. On the other hand, it is a dangerous thing for a man to attack evil in the spirit of only hatred. The sublime wisdom of the New Testament is this: “Overcome evil with good.” Was Christ not a reformer? Did He not come to save the world? And did He not hate evil? And yet with what sweetness of love did He dwell in the midst of these things, so that the publicans and the sinners took heart, became inspired with hope, and drew near to Him. Christ reformed men by inspiring the love of goodness as well as by hatred of evil, and He drew men from their sin as well as drove them from it.
V. Hence all philanthropies are partial and imperfect that do not grow out of this same root. When philanthropy springs from this centre, and is inspired by this influence, it becomes, not a mere sentimentalism, but a vivid and veritable power in human society. Philanthropy without religion becomes meagre. It is the love of man uninspired by the love of God!
VI. All public questions of justice, of liberty, of equity, of purity, of intelligence, should be vitalised by the power which is in Christ Jesus. There are other motives that may press men forward in a little way, but there is nothing that has such controlling power as the personal influence of Christ. (H. W. Beecher.)
Preaching Christ and Him crucified
I. This is the great doctrine suitable for man, viewed as a being guilty in the sight of God. This state of guilt we bring into the world with us; we augment it by actual transgression, and we cannot remove it by any service or obedience of our own. In these circumstances the duty of the ambassadors of Christ is not to gain the applause of their perishing fellow-creatures, by displaying from week to week the depth of their own learning; but to offer simply this one remedy for men’s guilt.
II. This is the only doctrine suitable for man, viewed as a being who has to be raised to holiness. Describe holiness as you will; speak of its beauty and its dignity; invest it with all the charms which fancy can devise or language utter--and to the human heart alienated from Christ, your efforts will be as unavailing as if you were to exhibit the finest combination of colours to the blind, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” Or point to God, as the highest type of holiness--you only plunge the sinner into utter wretchedness. But the preaching of “Christ crucified” exhibits a new aspect of the Divine character, which he can look upon without fear; he now strives to keep God’s holiness constantly before him; and his language is not “Depart from me,” but “My soul thirsteth for God.”
III. This is the only subject suitable for making an impression upon man in the way of leading him to the discharge of active duty. The growth of holiness in the heart is indicated by the fruits of righteousness in the life. Now, when the sinner is once convinced that God loves him, and when fear, and doubt, and suspicion have thus given place to hope, and joy, and confidence--then does he begin to ask what he can do to manifest his gratitude to his merciful Redeemer. (A. D. Davidson.)
The centre of the gospel
1. The teaching of Paul is remarkable for comprehensiveness. In Romans he traverses the whole range of doctrines bearing on sin and salvation; in Ephesians, from another standpoint, he goes still further into thoughts of grace, love, glory; in Corinthians, Timothy, Titus, he discourses of human life, the world, congregational and individual difficulties; in Thessalonians, of prophecy and the future. Moreover, he impresses on all Christians to go on unto perfection, and not rest content with the elements of truth. Therefore, to “know Jesus Christ and Him crucified” is not to him the minimum, but the maximum of knowledge--the culmination of all doctrines, the starting-point of all duties.
2. Paul knew not Jesus in His earthly life; he saw Him only in His glory; yet the deepest impression left on the heart of Paul was the sweet name “Jesus”; the indelible image burnt into his soul was “Jesus Christ crucified.”
3. Paul, more than any other, knew the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. His own weakness made him take hold of the inexhaustible power of God, as the crucifixion leads to resurrection-life and victory. As when he is weak then is he strong, so the Cross of Christ is the power of God. (A. Saphir, D. D.)
Nothing but Christ
I. Christ the subject.
II. Christ the motive--we believe, therefore speak.
III. Christ the end--to Him be all the glory. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The Christian ministry
I. Is a ministry of one text only. “Save Jesus Christ.” As such
1. It is most adapted to the intellectual condition of the world.
2. It is most adequate to reveal God. “In Him dwells the fulness of the God-head bodily,” &c.
3. It is most complete. Christ is the Alpha and Omega of its tidings. Everything in Him and through Him.
II. As a ministry of one text is a ministry cf the one best text. “Save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” It is the best because--
1. Jesus is its sum and substance. “Save Jesus Christ.”
2. It reveals the Saviour in the most pleasing aspects of His love. “Him crucified.”
3. It brings the Saviour within the reach of all. “Among you.(W. Maurice.)
Are Christians narrow?
1. Paul preached to the Corinthians all that had done him any good, and all he knew that would do them good: that was, the crucified Jesus Christ.
2. At the first this seems a narrow basis on which to erect a private character and a public life. But Paul deliberately adopted it. In his case it succeeded, and he believed it must succeed in every case. To a Greek, occupied with his philosophies, to a Roman, taken up with his politics, this must have seemed absurd. Even now superficial scientists and engrossed materialists regard the whole system of Christianity as a narrow theory, standing in contrast with “the liberal arts.”
3. Does the history of the mental development and practical life of Paul, or any other Christian, confirm that view? Let us remind ourselves of certain things taught by the history of mind. Men have attempted to liberalise themselves by dipping into all the arts and sciences, and have thereby become most pleasant society men, and have made some figure while they lasted. But how long did they last? Compare them with the men who have each taken some great field of intellectual labour and devoted their lives to it, and how small they seem. Compare, e.g., the Admirable Crichton with Copernicus! What has Crichton done for the world? His life perished like a splendid rainbow, while that of the one-ideaed Copernicus fell on all fields like fructifying showers. Then Paul may have been right in selecting one single topic for study and preaching. And he was; for the knowledge of “Christ crucified--
I. Raised Paul to be at the head of all the philosophers. The study of Jesus led Paul--and will lead us--into the perception that the material is only an expression of the ideal, that there is a soul to the universe. It is in seeking to explain the existence of such a being as Jesus of Nazareth, and such a life as His, that we come to the underlying basis of the spiritual world. Matter could not do it at all. Now it is so that all questions of bodily and mental health and disease, of the moral forces of the universe, of the social questions of human life, of development and progress, are concerned with Jesus more than with any other one person or subject known to men. For what was all this universe of worlds and men created? “For Him,” said Paul, speaking of Jesus. We have not yet found the centre of the physical universe; but we have demonstrated that there is a centre to every system, and that, there is one last, supreme, unmovable point, around which all worlds revolve. The man who shall determine that exact spot shall wear the grandest starry crown among the princes in the Court of Astronomy. But to know Christ, in all He was and did, would be to know the whole material universe. Science has no other basis so broad, philosophy has no other element so simplifying and unifying all the works of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” but that glory “shines in the face of Jesus.” For all that work which found its consummation on the Cross of Christ all the other works of God were wrought. Believing this, Paul became the philosopher who lifted a light which is now the central splendour of all human intellectual efforts and results.
II. Enlarged Paul into a broad, intelligent humanitarian. Recollect the age in which he lived, and the nation from whom he sprung. It was not an age of humanity; indeed our race had no right views of the value of humanity till Christ came. Now there is no view of humanity which so makes every man precious to every other man, as the doctrine that the God became flesh, and that love found its greatest expression in a sacrifice, in which every man had an interest, and which should bring good to every man. It takes in all there is of God and all there is of man. It is to the heart of man what the doctrine of universal gravitation is to his intellect. All the atoms of the whole material world rush toward one another, because they rush towards the centre. All the individual hearts of our whole humanity rush toward one another, just as all feel the attraction of the loving crucified One. Paul was lifted to his broad love for man, by refusing to know among his brethren anything except their relation to Him who had loved them and given Himself for them, the just for the unjust, to bring them to God. The more he knew of that love the more humanitarian he became, until the distinction between Jew and Gentile, &c., lost itself in the great fact that man was the object of the love of the Heavenly Father, as taught by the dying Redeemer.
III. Made Paul a most practical business man. A good practical business man is one who in the beginning sets before himself distinctly an end worth the devotion of his life; who uses the methods reasonably adapted to the gaining of that end; who pushes his work by sustained efforts to its legitimate conclusion, and who promotes the general weal in gaining his own ends. Now such a man was Paul, and he learned to become such at the Cross of Christ. Full of business, never idle, never hurried, “the care of all the Churches” on him, study and trouble and work always pressing, he succeeded in organising Christian societies whose influence will go on for ever. So those men who make a business of their religion and a religion of their business, these men, by the knowledge of the crucified Jesus, become the greatest, the best, the most practical business men. This text is as good a motto for the merchants as for the preachers.
IV. Made Paul a tender, happy man, loving and beloved in his generation. Paul does not seem to have been an amiable man naturally. But from being the hard, ambitious student of Gamaliel and instrument of the Sanhedrin, how tender he became! The Cross had softened him and his love begat love. Read the salutations in his letters. See what friends he made. Conclusion: Now, consider this case. Here was a man born in a province, taught in a sectarian school, reared under every political and ecclesiastical influence calculated to cramp and embitter him, driven from his own people at last, and killed by their conquerors after years of persecution. This man became a profound philosopher, a wide and consistent philanthropist, a man of great practical business capabilities, and a tender, noble gentleman, through Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. No other culture ever made such results. Will you now dare tell me that Christianity is not liberal, that Christians are narrow, that the religion we preach to you is in the way of human progress or individual advancement? (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The right subject in preaching
“Preach Christ Jesus the Lord,” said Bishop Reynolds two hundred years ago. “Determine to know nothing among your people but Christ crucified. Let His name and grace, His spirit and love, triumph in the midst of your sermons. Let your great end be to glorify Him in the heart, to render Him amiable and precious in the eyes of His people, to lead them to Him as a sanctuary to protect them, a propitiation to reconcile them, a treasure to enrich them, a physician to heal them, an advocate to present them and their services to God, as wisdom to counsel them, as righteousness to justify, as sanctification to renew, as redemption to save. Let Christ be the diamond to shine in the bosom of all your sermons.” Those who most closely follow such advice are most likely to stay the plague of modern superstition and infidelity, as well as build up the waste places of our Church and restore the foundations of many generations.
One great idea
It is said that Luther was a man of one idea, and that idea--Jesus. But it does not mean, I suppose, that he had no other ideas in his mind. This would be false to fact. It means, I conceive, that Jesus was the one idea of his mind from which all others emanated; the same as the trunk of a tree is one, but gives life and growth to scores of branches, hundreds and thousands of buds and leaves; just as great tradesman has one idea, his trade, but that divides and works out into a thousand ideas of ways and means of promoting his trade. In this sense Paul, Wesley, Howard, Whitefield, Wellington, &c., were men of one idea. He who wishes to fulfil his mission in this world must be a man of one idea. (John Bate.)
1 Corinthians 2:3-5
And I was with you in weakness and in fear.
The apostle’s discouragements
St. Paul was laden with a message that would seem homely and jejune beside a fine-spun rhetoric. Come from Athens, where he had partly failed, to make at Corinth a fresh attempt to confront the grandeur of Greek philosophy with the simplicity of the gospel, was enough to make him timid. Of this contrast he was daily conscious, and the weakness here described was ethical, not physical. He was naturally anxious, lest in poising the plain argument of the Cross against the colossal fabric of a seated philosophy, he might fail: was a David armed with such a pebble to prevail against a Goliath in such a panoply? But in his “fear and tremblingthe apostle was encouraged by a vision of God’s presence and his own duty (Acts 18:9). (Canon Evans.)
The feelings of a faithful minister
I. Their character--often--
II. The occasion of them--a sense of--
1. The importance of his work.
2. His own insufficiency.
3. His responsibility.
4. The tremendous issues. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
And … preaching was not with enticing words,… but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.--
It is related of Dr. Manton that, having to preach before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London, he chose a subject in which he had an opportunity of displaying his learning and judgment. He was heard with admiration and applause by the intelligent part of his audience; but as he was returning from dinner with the Lord Mayor, a poor man, following him, pulled him by the sleeve of his gown, and asked him if he was the gentleman that preached before the Lord Mayor. He replied he was. “Sir,” said he, “I came with the hopes of getting some good to my soul, but I was greatly disappointed, for I could not understand a great deal of what you said; you were quite above my comprehension.” “Friend,” said the doctor, “if I have not given you a sermon, you have given me one: by the grace of God, I will not play the fool in such a manner again.”
Some displeased and one converted
The Rev. John Cotton was an eminent minister of the seventeenth century, who laboured for many years at Boston, in Lincolnshire. When at the University of Cambridge, he was remarkable for learning and eloquence; and being called upon to preach at St. Mary’s church in that town, high expectations were raised as to the character of the sermon. After many struggles in his own mind, arising from the temptation to display his talent and learning, and from a powerful impression of the importance of preaching the gospel with all simplicity, he at length wisely determined on the latter course. The vice-chancellor and students were not pleased, though a few of the professors commended his style; but his sermon was blessed to the conversion of Dr. Preston, who became one of the most eminent ministers of his day.
I. Needs so display.
1. This does not exclude the use of knowledge or talent.
2. But the ostentatious exhibition of it.
3. Which helps nothing.
4. But damages much.
II. Depends on divine power.
1. The convincing energy of the Holy Spirit.
2. The saving power of the truth.
III. Requires the communication of the spirit.
1. To the preacher.
2. To the hearer. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Hall was once asked what he thought of a sermon which he had just heard delivered, and which had appeared to produce a great sensation among the congregation. His reply may suggest an important hint to some Christian ministers--“Very fine, sir; but a man cannot live upon flowers.”
Force the main consideration in preaching
I had tried to drive certain long brass-headed nails into a wall, but had never succeeded, except in turning up their points, and rendering them useless. When a tradesman came who understood his work, I noticed that he filed off all the points of the nails, the very points upon whose sharpness I had relied; and when he had quite blunted them, he drove them in as far as he pleased. With some consciences our fine points in preaching are worse than useless. Our keen distinctions and nice discriminations are thrown away on many; they need to be encountered with sheer force and blunt honesty. The truth must be hammered into them by main strength, and we know from whom to seek the needed power. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Popular and apostolical preaching
1. Is distinguished by display, attractiveness, novelty.
2. Aims at pleasing and sensational effect.
3. Accompanied by the convictions of the Spirit and the saving power of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Paul’s preaching and the blessing that attended it
I. “The speech and preaching” of the apostle.
1. His great subject was the gospel. He was a great preacher of the law; for no man preaches the gospel who does not preach the law, and our appreciation of the gospel is always in direct proportion to our real perception of God’s holy law. But that which Paul delighted in was the gospel. He preached in all His fulness a full Christ; he exhibited Him in the glory of His person, in all the perfection of His atonement, in all the freeness of His free-grace salvation. And he preached it largely, and wherever he went. He preached it holily too; he set it forth in all its holy tendencies, and he exhibited it in its holy effects in his own life (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
2. His manner was “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.” His subject was grand, awful, sublime, wondrous; but his speech was plain, simple, unadorned, and homely. No glare and glitter were his, no traps for human applause, no desire to be thought a man of great talent; the gifted apostle was above it. How does this show to us what sort of preachers we want! We do not mean that the apostle did not suit his speech to those to whom he spake, for he became all things to all men, &c.
II. The blessing that attended it. “In demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
1. Many understand by this the miraculous gifts that Paul was able to exhibit, as proof that he was an apostle of Christ. That be wrought miracles, is quite clear; and that they were great seals to his ministry is also quite clear (Romans 15:18). But the Word of God tells us that signs and wonders may be the means of hardening those who work them. Besides, a continuous miracle would cease to be a miracle; and the mightiest could never of itself convert one single soul.
2. More marvellous things than those that wrought in the triumph of God over matter are wrought when He triumphs over mind. The apostle set forth the truth to men’s understanding, but the Holy Ghost conveyed the light into their minds; he spake to men’s consciences, but the Spirit conveyed the tenderness of heart, and made the word’ effectual. Here is no violence, no new faculty, no new truth; but the Holy Ghost put forth His power, and brought in demonstration (Colossians 1:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
3. The power of the gospel is demonstrated--
(1) In the conversion of the sinner.
(2) In the comfort of the mourner.
(3) In the sanctification of the believer.
(4) In the hour of death. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Many a powerful sermon so called is a powerless sermon, because of the absence from it of what is invisible. The gospel preached without power is like a cloud, without rain; there is a promise of rain, but there is no water of life, and no springing up of the seed the result. The gospel preached without power is like a well with all its arrangements for drawing perfect--but without water. (G. Pentecost.)
True power lies in the gospel itself
Hipponicus, intending to dedicate a costly statue, was advised by a friend to employ Policletus, a famous workman, in the making of it; but he, being anxious that his great expense should be the admiration of all men, said that “he would not make use of a workman whose art would be more regarded than his own cost.” When, in preaching the great truths of gospel salvation, the enticing words which man’s wisdom teacheth are so much sought out that the art of the orator is more regarded by the hearers than the value of the truth spoken, it is no wonder that the Lord refuses to grant His blessing. He will have it seen that the excellency of the power lies not in our speech, but in His gospel.
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1. Upon what does your faith stand?
2. Where ought it to stand?
3. Why should it stand there? (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Cannot be produced by the wisdom of man.
1. He may convince by the force of argument or persuasion.
2. But such a faith is--
II. Depends upon the power of God.
1. Through the operation of the Spirit.
(1)Heals the conscience.
(2) Converts the soul.
(3) Sanctifies the life.
III. Should be the end of all preaching.
1. The preacher should aim at it.
2. The people should desire it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The domain of faith
I. The domain of faith is to be distinguished from that of human wisdom,
1. Men are ever confounding the two. Faith, they think, is simply the intellect in its ordinary processes dealing with religious things. The man who rejects Christianity does it on this ground. “I cannot,” he says, “reason out a demonstrative proof of Christianity; therefore I refuse to believe it true.” Because faith cannot stand in the wisdom of man, it cannot, he thinks, stand at all. Now, according to the apostle, faith stands in “the power of God.” What is the difference?
2. How do we know things?
(1) By sensible proof. If I put my finger into the fire it burns me; if I hear music it delights me. This is the proof which my body furnishes concerning things that appeal to it. I do not reason about them; no spiritual or moral sympathies are called into exercise. I prove them exactly as a brute does.
(2) By rational proof. If a man tells me that two and two make four, that a whole is greater than its part, my senses, my religious feeling have nothing to do with the proof--it is a process of pure reason. A brute could not prove anything in this way. A rational man must believe on such evidence.
(3) Moral proof. When I see moral qualities in a man, I instinctively receive impressions concerning him. I say he is a kind man, a true man, a reverential man. If he be a hypocrite, he may deceive me; but that does not affect the validity of this method of proof. Life would be impossible if we could not trust men until we had collected evidence about them. We are always trusting men whom we know nothing about, because of the moral judgment of them which we form.
3. Now, this distinction of different kinds of proof will carry us a long way in understanding the domain of faith as distinguished from that of intellectual wisdom. When God speaks religious things to me, He does not appeal to my physical senses. He does not appeal to my reason, as the multiplication table does, as a proof in logic does; He appeals directly to my religious sense. Is not this religiously true, pure, suitable? And my religious sense responds, as the eye responds to light, understanding to intellectual truth, the heart to love. Men who are “of the truth” respond to moral truth when they see it.
4. Now, the strong tendency is to interchange these methods of proof. “I can believe nothing,” says the materialist, “that I cannot prove.” Quite true; neither ought you. “Aye, but I mean that I cannot prove by processes of reason,” which is quite another thing. Suppose the brute should say, “I will believe nothing which I cannot prove by the senses. I will not believe in your mathematical astronomy, your subtle chemistry.” And is he not as much justified in denying your rational proof as you are in denying my spiritual proof? Your rational proof belongs to a higher nature than his; my spiritual proof belongs to a higher nature than mere reason. What can reason do with moral qualities? You cannot reason out right and wrong; you cannot by reason prove love, or purity, or goodness; you can only feel them. You tell me that you have explored nature, but cannot find God; as well may the surgeon conducting a post-mortem examination tell us that he cannot find the pure patriot, the loving father. How can he detect moral qualities by physical tests?
5. We are always trying to get above the domain of mere matter into that of reason. How the painter and the poet idealise nature; change actual colour and form into glorious ideals! How the philosopher uses them for the creation of a science! How the economist uses them for an economy of social life! And so we are always trying to get above the domain of reason into the domain of faith. It is the necessity of our nature to think about good and evil, to form moral judgments about things. There is another tendency which is always dragging the spiritual down to the sensual; but all men agree to call this wrong moral feeling; Christianity calls it sin.
6. Faith, then, is that quality of our spiritual nature which, when it hears God’s truth, sees God’s purity, feels God’s love, simply and implicitly believes it. It does not wait for processes of reason to prove it, any more than the eye waits for processes of reason to prove light, or the heart for processes of reason to prove love. But, it may be said, does not this make faith irrational? Certainly not. It simply goes farther than reason can go, sees things that reason cannot see, feels things that reason cannot feel. When a truth of God is spoken to me--first, my senses are exercised; next, my reason--it judges the meaning of the words, of the thought, then it delivers the sentiment to my spiritual faculty. Is it religiously true, suitable, and precious? Simple reason could not pronounce upon this; but my religious heart does. I am told of the existence of a God; my senses cannot recognise Him, my reason cannot demonstrate Him, but my spiritual nature confesses His existence, just as the heart confesses love. I am told of the Incarnation; neither sense nor reason can prove it; but my religious consciousness testifies that it is precisely what my condition needed. So with the atonement--the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of Christ; and the immortal life that He gives.
II. How did Paul set forth Christ? (verse 1). Not as a rhetorician, or a moral philosopher. Why not? There is no merit in abjuring reason, when it is a process of reasoning that has to be conducted. But it was not an argument that Paul had to conduct; it was a testimony of God that he had to bear. It was not a science of religion that he had to construct; it was a simple fact that he had to declare. Men knew all about sin; he did not need to prove that they were sinful. Men earnestly craved to know “what they must do to be saved.” He did not need to reason about that. And he simply declared the great fact that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”; that was all he said, but that was enough. Thus, receiving his testimony to the Divine fact, the faith of these men “stood not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Christ, then, is to be preached, and His atonement set forth by bearing testimony. It is the cry of a herald rather than a philosophical argument. The physician does not need to prove to the sick that they need healing; he needs only say, “Wilt thou be made whole?” Preaching Christ is simply setting Him forth as the great gift of the Father’s love. They who hear the testimony have only to trust in the crucified Christ for forgiveness and life. And when so believing God’s testimony we receive Christ, and have experience of His redeeming grace, our “faith stands in the power of God.“We have the witness in ourselves--a certainty and strength of belief which is like the consciousness of life; argument cannot disturb it. Christ is “formed in us”; we “know whom we have believed.(H. Allon, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 2:6-8
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world.
The wisdom of God, as preached by the apostles of Christ
I. Explain the character here mentioned as necessary to discern true wisdom.
1. The apostle means by “them that are perfect,” such as have attained that measure of understanding which is necessary to comprehend the wise design of the whole, and perfect consistency of the several doctrines of Christianity.
2. “Perfect men” conveys the idea of minds unprejudiced, and free from the bias of irregular passions and affections; and this is indeed necessary to a just understanding of things: for truth can never appear as it is through a gross and fallacious medium.
3. A sincere and upright heart is another character essential to the perfect man. Wisdom flies the grasp of a dishonest mind; and, though it were possible he could find it, he would soon let it go; for the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
II. Show the wisdom of God manifested in the redemption of man by Jesus Christ, according to the doctrine of His apostles.
1. We read clear characters of Divine wisdom in the discovery that the gospel has given man of his true state.
2. The wisdom of God, by the gospel, is visible in the glorious end it purposes and publishes to the world, that is, the salvation of sinners.
3. Our thoughts might trace with pleasure a vast variety of topics to illustrate the wisdom of God in the means He hath chosen to accomplish the mighty design of His mercy to mankind. To reconcile sinners to Himself, He hath chosen the fittest Mediator that could possibly be, His only begotten and well-beloved Son: the only one who could approach God without terror, and converse with men without pollution; who alone could make up the peace by laying His hand upon both. But another thought, which I cannot pass, to magnify the wisdom if God in the redemption of man discovered by the gospel, and that is to observe how it draws the greatest good from the greatest evil, taking occasion from sin to honour God, by raising man to a more exalted state.
4. The wisdom of God discovers itself in the honourable terms of mercy which the gospel hath established.
(1) Faith, or a firm persuasion of all that God hath recorded in His Word: the most plain and speedy way to truth, particularly in those matters which the bulk of mankind have not time or capacity to trace; and the only way in matters which the reason of man could not discover or comprehend.
(2) Repentance, or amendment of life, is another term of salvation wisely fixed, because without it the guilty can never be fit objects of mercy, or capable of happiness.
5. As it exceeds the power of man to work such a change of heart and life in himself, the wisdom of God is manifested in the direction and assistance He hath provided to bring His mighty purpose to effect.
(1) For his direction, He hath given him such a system of precepts, such an assemblage of illustrious examples, as the wisdom of man could never devise, as the history of mankind could never furnish.
(2) That men, seriously concerned to be saved, might not fall short of the end of their faith, the gospel hath done what no other law or doctrine so much as pretends. It hath assured us of sufficient help and ability to practise the duties it teacheth. And we may come boldly to the throne of grace, not only to obtain mercy, but to find grace to help in the time of need.
1. The folly of infidels, who spend all their wit and learning to oppose the gospel of Christ, the plan of Divine wisdom, a system so friendly to virtue, which they pretend to patronise; a scheme so directly calculated to purify the hearts and refine the manners of mankind.
2. Since the gospel of Christ reveals the wise counsels of God for the salvation of men, it must be our duty, who preach it, to understand more and more of the unsearchable riches of Christ, that we may speak to others with greater success and better hope.
3. To the hearers of the gospel let me only say (James 1:21). (Wm. Beat.)
The contrast between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God
I. That is--
II. This is--
3. Enjoyed by the perfect. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Wisdom, human and Divine
A blind tortoise lived in a well. Another tortoise, a native of the ocean, in its inland travels happened to tumble into this well. The blind one asked of his new comrade whence he came. “From the sea.” Hearing of the sea, he of the well swam round a little circle, and asked, “Is the water of the ocean as large as this?” “Larger,” replied he of the sea. The well tortoise then swam round two-thirds of the well, and asked if the sea was as big as that. “Much larger than that,” said the sea tortoise. “Well, then,” asked the blind tortoise, “is the sea as large as this whole well?“Larger,” said the sea tortoise. “If that is so,” said the other, “how big, then, is the sea?” The sea tortoise replied, “You having never seen any other water than that of your well, your capability of understanding is small. As to the ocean, though you spent many years in it, you would never be able to explore the half of it, nor to reach the limit, and it is utterly impossible to compare it with this well of yours.” The tortoise replied, “It is impossible that there can be a larger water than this well; you are simply praising up your native place in vain words.(J. Gilmour, M. A.)
The hidden wisdom
I. Is glorious in its nature.
1. Apprehensible only by the perfect.
2. Not of this world.
3. Divine in its origin.
4. Adapted to secure eternal happiness.
II. Is undiscoverable by human reason (1 Corinthians 2:8).
1. Proved by the ignorance and conduct of the princes of this world.
2. By the unsearchableness of the Divine purpose.
III. Is revealed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10).
1. He searcheth the deep things of God.
2. Communicates them to man.
IV. Can only be communicated by the help of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:13).
1. We must use the words of the Spirit.
2. He must create spiritual discernment.
V. Is realised and enjoyed by those who abe spiritually enlightened (1 Corinthians 2:15-16). Who--
1. Judge all things.
2. Are understood by none.
3. For God is unsearchable.
4. Have the mind of Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Paul’s view of spiritual wisdom
It is necessary to bear in mind that the “wisdom” with which the apostle was confronted was not the vigorous and lofty aspirations of Aristotle and Plato, but the hollow and worn-out sophistries of the last days of the Greek rhetoricians. Still, although a different turn would doubtless have been given to the whole argument if the living power of the gospel had been met not by a dead form, but by a power which, though of lower origin, and moving in a different sphere, was still living like itself, the general truth here urged remains the same. It is not by intellectual, but by moral and spiritual excellence, that the victories of the gospel have been achieved. Religion is not philosophy. But although the two spheres of intellect and Christianity are thus distinct, the apostle also wishes to show that there is in Christianity an element analogous to that by which intellectual wants are gratified; as though he had said, “Although the Christian lives in a world of his own, yet in that world he is independent of all besides (what the philosophers would have called αὐταρκης), and the more fully his Christian stature is developed, he will find every craving of his nature the more completely satisfied.” This element he here introduces under the names of “wisdom,” “the Spirit,” and “solid food” as distinct from “milk.” Taking into comparison the other passages (John 3:12; John 16:12; Hebrews 6:1), where a similar contrast is drawn between the higher and lower stages of Christian progress, the reference seems not to be to any exhibition of new doctrines, but to the deep spiritual intuitions which have always been regarded as the highest privilege of advanced Christian goodness. Thomas a Kempis says that “a pure heart penetrates the secrets of heaven and hell; the “beatific visionhas always been regarded as the consummation of our intellectual and moral perfection; and the analogy which is here drawn between the perceptions of the human intellect and those of the enlightened spirit might be illustrated abundantly from the biographies and devotions of good men in all ages. What this was in its highest or most extraordinary form may be seen in the account of St. Paul’s rapture (2 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 12:4) or of St. John’s (Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:2). What it was in its more ordinary form may be seen in the whole atmosphere of St. John’s first Epistle, especially in the connection between love and knowledge which pervades it, and which is illustrated in chap. 13:8, 12 of this Epistle. See also Romans 11:33-34; Ephesians 1:8; Ephesians 1:17-18. This use of the passage--
I. Accords with the words employed. “Wisdom,” although suggested in the first instance by the contemporary philosophy, derives its religious sense chiefly from its use in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, where it is applied not to the gaining of new truths, theological or natural, but to a deeper practical insight into moral truth. This general sense is further limited in this passage by the indication of its subject, viz., the “glory” or blessedness of Christians, which in verses 8, 10 assumes such a prominence as to be almost identified with the “wisdom” itself that seeks it. And the faculty by which this wisdom is obtained is described emphatically as “spiritual”--“the Spirit.” The word is chosen partly from the frequent use of the phrase both in Greek and Hebrew, to express the intellect-chiefly as expressive of a direct connection with God. It is the “inspiration” which in Scripture is ascribed to every mental gift (Exodus 31:3; Job 32:8, &c.), but which is specially applicable to the frame of mind (to use the modern form of speech founded on the same metaphor) “breathes the atmosphere” of heaven. The same sense also--
II. Agrees with the general context and occasion. When the apostle says, “But to us God revealed it by His Spirit,” the use of the first person, here as elsewhere, indicates that, though speaking of believers generally, he especially refers to his own experience. The consciousness of his spiritual gifts, especially of his spiritual insight into things invisible, was always present with him, and never more so than at the period of these two Epistles (1Co 14:18; 2 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 12:4). And this tendency to dwell on the inward, as distinct from the outward blessings of the gospel--on the things which “eye hath not seen nor ear heard,” as distinguished from the things which the eyes of the first apostles had seen and their ears had heard--was a peculiarity of St. Paul’s teaching.
III. It best suits the circumstances of the Corinthian Christians, who had no especial need of new intellectual truths, nor, if they had, was there any especial impediment to their reception. But higher consciousness of the Divine presence; a knowledge deep and comprehensive, as being grounded in love; an insight into the spiritual world--were gifts which, on the one hand, the apostle might well long to give them, and which were yet, on the other, most alien to their state of faction and bitterness. How could they, who were absorbed in their contentions, enter into the atmosphere of peace which surrounds the throne of God? How could they, who were for ever insisting on particular names and party watchwords, enjoy the vision where all else is lost in the sense of communion with Christ? Controversy and party spirit may sharpen the natural faculties of shrewdness and disputation, but few sins more dim the spiritual faculty by which alone all things are rightly judged. These disputes and rivalries were “of the flesh,” no less than the sensual passions which are commonly so classed; and, if so, they have no place in heaven, they are directly opposed to “the Spirit.(Dean Stanley.)
The wisdom of God as displayed in the gospel
I. In relation to its great end. The gospel is glad tidings of good. This good is--
1. Most suitable. God, who well knows our nature, has adapted His gifts to its wants.
2. Permanent. God has formed us to endure for ever; and the good which He has prepared for us is enduring also.
3. Divine. God has revealed Himself as the chief, the only satisfying good. He only can fill the powers of the soul--He only subsists through every changing scene. Let us admire the wisdom of God in proposing such a good to us; and let us recollect that such a good as is proposed to us in the gospel is to be found nowhere else.
II. In relation to the medium through which it is communicated.
1. The salvation of the race is made to turn on the death of an individual. This is above all the ideas of men; it never could enter the human mind that one man could be saved through the mediation of many, much less that all could be saved through the mediation of one. This was “a stumbling-block to the Jews,” &c. But this displays the highest wisdom. It is not an individual merely, but an individual fashioned expressly for the work. In the person of Christ we see a man with a person capable of suffering; and a Divine person, to make His sufferings meritorious. Had Christ been mere man, there could have been no merit; had He not been man, He could not have suffered. Had the question been asked, “How shall man be just with God?” it could not have been answered to eternity; but, “in the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son,” &c. The way to reconcile the justice and the mercy of God could never have been conceived but for the wisdom of God in fitting this God-man and sending Him to suffer for the sins of the world.
2. The wisdom appears in Christ’s defeating Satan by the very weapons which he employed to subvert His designs. By the Cross of Christ God has, as it were, reversed the order of things. In the first Adam man fell by aspiring to be as God; Jesus Christ, the second Adam, saves by condescending to become man. Man was indebted for his ruin to an evil spirit; he owes his recovery to a good Spirit. As man was ensnared by deceit and vanity and became miserable, he is liberated by truth and purity and becomes happy. The machinery of Satan is thus turned upon himself.
III. In the dispensation of the gospel the wisdom of God appears--
1. In the manner in which the truths of the gospel are taught. There are two modes of communicating instruction: the one is by facts, the other is by argument. The latter mode is generally considered the most efficient, and was most commonly employed by the ancients in their schools of learning. But many subtleties were resorted to in this mode of teaching. Learning was clothed in such a garb that it did not even attract the attention of the common people; they could not comprehend it, they could not be benefited by it. But God taught by facts. “I came declaring unto you the testimony of God.” Such were the facts the apostles asserted, that the truths they taught must stand or fall by those facts. And these facts are the very soul of the gospel. He who believes that the apostles spake truth, that Jesus Christ really came, and died, and rose again, and ascended, must also believe that He died for the salvation of sinners. And he who considers the number of these witnesses, their character, the harmony of their testimony, their miracles, and refuses to believe their testimony, will be found turning the gospel of the Saviour against himself. In all this the wisdom of God’s teachings appears above the teachings of the philosophers. They retired from the crowd; but heavenly wisdom is addressed to all, and is founded upon facts that all may understand.
2. In committing the dispensation of the gospel to men. They can enter into the states of those whom they address; they can comfort those that mourn by the same consolations with which they have been comforted; they can have access to them at all times. And not only was the dispensation of the gospel committed to men, but to men of obscure station and mean talents (1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 1:31). Had God employed the great and the wise to propagate His gospel, suspicions might have been raised in the minds of men that its success was to be ascribed to the elevated talent and station of its propagators. But the greatest effects have been produced more by piety than by talent. God will not divide His success with any human being. (R. Hall, M. A.)
The wisdom of the gospel
I. The wisdom of the gospel is--
II. Its reserved communication.
1. Among the perfect who believe, study, practise it.
2. Because they only can understand, appreciate, and profit by it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The superlative wisdom of the gospel
I. By its origin. It proceeds--
1. Not from the wise and mighty of this world.
2. But from the hidden depths of the Godhead.
II. By its purpose, which is--
1. Not realised in time.
2. But in eternal glory.
III. By its essential mystery.
1. Unknown to the greatest in times past.
2. Undiscoverable by reason or sense.
IV. By the mode of its revelation.
1. Through the Spirit of God.
2. To the spirit of man. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Its nature. Wisdom. The wisdom of a system may be determined--
1. By the character of the end it contemplates, A system which aims at an insignificant or unworthy end would scarcely be considered wise. The end the gospel aimed at was the restoration in human souls of supreme sympathy with God. This man lost in the Fall. Its absence is the cause of all the evils that curse the world; its restoration is the soul’s salvation. When the value and the influence of one soul are considered, is not this restoration, even in one case, a grand end? But the gospel aims at it in all souls.
2. By the fitness of the means it employs. Though a system contemplate a grand end, yet ii the means are unadapted it could scarcely be called wise. The means Christianity employs to generate this love for God are--
(1) A personal manifestation of God.
(2) A human manifestation of God. God in the form of an angel, e.g., would not awaken this affection. God in any form but man’s would rather terrify and repel than inspire with confidence and hope.
(3) A loving manifestation of God. A manifestation of coldness or anger would never awaken love. Love alone begets love. These things are essential, and the gospel in Christ gives us a personal, human, loving manifestation of God. It is, therefore, emphatically the “wisdom of God.” It is Divine philosophy.
II. A rule for its preachers. “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” The word “perfect” has, some think, an allusion to the heathen mysteries. These mysteries were religious observances of a secret kind, open only to the initiated. The apostle clearly means by the word “perfect” those in the Christian community who were more advanced in the knowledge of Christ, who stood most in contrast with those who are but “babes in Christ.” One of three ideas may be attached to the language of the apostle. Either that he had an exoteric and esoteric doctrine for men, or that the most advanced Christian alone could discern the wisdom of his doctrine, or that he adapted his teaching to the capacity of his hearers. Which of these ideas are we to accept? Not the first, for Paul had not two messages, one for those who were without the Church, and one for those within--one for those who had high capacity, and one for those who had weak. His message to all was one--God’s love to the world through Christ. Not the second, for the man who was the least advanced in the Christian life must have some appreciation of the gospel. It was the last, namely, that he accommodated his teaching to the capacity of his hearers. In another place he tells the Christians at Corinth that he had hitherto “fed them with milk, and not with meat, because they were not able to bear it.” His conduct I take as a rule for all true preachers. The great saving facts of the gospel are few and simple, viz., that Christ died and rose again. But the doctrines connected with these facts and their relation to man, God, the universe, and phases of truth which can only be appreciated by those who have attained to certain stages in Christian knowledge and experience. The Great Teacher has said, “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
III. An Obligation Upon Its Hearers. If the higher aspects of gospel religion can only be appreciated by those who are “perfect,” those who have attained to a high stage of Christian knowledge, it is manifestly their duty to endeavour to advance beyond the “first principles of the oracles of God.” This duty hearers owe--
1. To themselves. The more knowledge man has of the wisdom of the gospel, the more power he has within him to purify his affections, exalt his character, and bless his being. The ignorant Christian is feeble, fickle, uninfluential.
2. To their minister. The man who has to minister to hearers who make no progress in Divine truth is limited in his thoughts to the mere rudimentals of the gospel. His motives for pulpit study weaken, and he becomes the commonplace utterer of platitudes.
3. To the system of Christ. The glorious system of Christ, which is “the wisdom of God,” will only grow in power, influence, and extent in the world as men’s knowledge of it increases. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The gospel and the intellect
1. It must not be thought that the gospel despises wisdom. The gospel is itself wisdom, only it is God’s wisdom and net man’s. “We speak wisdom … yet a wisdom not of this world.” There is nothing which some of us need more just now than a demonstration of this sort.
2. It is constantly assumed that the progress of knowledge has exploded the gospel; that the cultivated intellect leaves faith behind; that the triumph of reason means the overthrow of religion.
3. This is bad enough, but what is worse is that some Christian people countenance such a view. They look askance at science, believing it to be an enemy of the faith. Huxley and Tyndal are very terrible names to them. They are uncomfortable when they find their sons are beginning to question and to think. Reason has an unpleasing suggestion of “The Age of Reason” and the French Revolution. Then these good people quote, “Not many wise are called,” omitting the qualifying “after the flesh.”
4. Does Christ relinquish His claim on able men? No. The Christian religion is distinguished from all other religions in this, that it is an appeal to the reason, it calls into play all its powers and welcomes all the established results of science. It asks us to believe that we may know and understand. It calls for faith, but only that faith which reason allows or requires. And as the religion differs from other religions, so our Scriptures are distinguished by their constant eulogy of wisdom. The Bible is not only an appeal to the conscience; it is also an appeal to the brain. It is so constructed that it demands diligent study.
I. Who are the natural men nowadays who correspond to those who, in St. Paul’s time, were incapable of receiving the things of the Spirit of God?
1. Those who tell us that matter can explain Spirit, that thought is a mere function of a grey, unthinking substance called the brain. Now they cannot receive the wisdom of the gospel--not because they are wiser than every one else, but because their wisdom is after the flesh, and a limited and foolish kind of wisdom. So far from being really wise, they do not even comprehend the question which agitates all earnest men, viz., the meaning of the spiritual world of which you are all more or less conscious. They say, “The spiritual world is only part and parcel of the material world with which we are familiar.” But if thought comes from brain, then it must be already a thinking brain from which it comes. If spirit is a mere outcome of matter, then it must be already a spiritual matter which produces it. Materialism cannot apprehend the wisdom of the gospel, for it has juggled away the very meaning of its terms--spiritual and material.
2. Those who speak as if the understanding could answer all the questions and meet all the needs of the human spirit. The understanding ,cannot comprehend God; therefore, say they, God does not exist. The understanding cannot explain the freedom of the will; therefore the will is not free. And not admitting the existence of God or the freedom of the will, moral responsibility is quickly discredited. On the same showing love and hope and self-sacrifice ought to be dismissed as chimeras--and perhaps by some they are. Now, such people cannot understand the wisdom of the gospel; not because they are so much cleverer than all the world, only because they have made a rather childish mistake, they have not noticed the limits within which the understanding is able to work; they are like men who should deny that the atmosphere exists because they cannot walk on it as the birds of the air can. The understanding is only a part of our being. Every man is more than understanding; he is also heart, conscience, will. The understanding is only absolute within its own sphere.
II. The wisdom which Paul “speaks among the perfect” is nothing less than the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the spirit of the Christian man. Just as consciousness alone can be aware of our own inward life, so God’s consciousness alone can understand the depths of God; and only by being made partakers of God’s consciousness can we search those depths.
1. Such an indwelling Spirit will rescue us from the two errors on which we have been reflecting: of materialism and the undue exaltation of the powers of our own understanding. This indwelling Spirit forces us to recognise that the world and life, as we see them, stand forth out of an encircling sea of mystery in which their origins and issues are hidden. It makes us glad to learn from science all about the process of development, but it clearly teaches us that in the last resort it is only in the will of God that either the world or the life upon it could have its birth and find its issue.
2. But this wisdom of the gospel is more than an admission of mystery and of our own limitations. It comes to us as the explanation of the mystery and as the aid of our limitations. The gospel gives us the key to creation, culminating in humanity, the Incarnate God-Man--Christ Jesus; the key to man’s great dumb longing for God in God’s great uttered longing for man; the key to the heavy sorrow which oppresses the life of man, in the suffering of the God-man; the key to the dead weight of sin in the complete and voluntary sacrifice of Christ.
3. Nor is this all; in the mind of Christ, an intellect in which there meets the fullest understanding of God with the most tender sympathy for man, is really hidden a treasure of wisdom, a solution of all the questionings of our imperfect spirits. “We have the mind of Christ.” The humble and unlearned believer is made partaker of that wonderful mind, is allowed to share its workings, and so to apprehend the answer which it is always giving to the searchings of man.
III. Thus, as we reflect on Paul’s pregnant sentences, we become aware that the gospel does not suppress wisdom; it is a wisdom far surpassing the wisdom of the world. It would be the greatest mistake to suppose that by the “wisdom” of 1 Corinthians 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:26 Paul means the reason, or the exercise or products of reason. Indeed, there is not a little almost unintentional irony in his use of the word, and his comment on its rarity among the “called.” He speaks rather as one might speak to a number of miners who have just come out of the bowels of the earth into the broad light of day. “You see your calling, my friends; not many torchbearers among you; not many people carry safety-lamps.” No; and, indeed, under so glorious an expanse of sunlit blue there is not for the general purposes of life much need of them. We have had among us in this generation many brilliant “natural” men, highly gifted with wisdom after the flesh. There was the late Professor Clifford; there are Haeckel, Maudsley and Spencer. Have they thrown light upon the universal question? Why are we-intelligent spiritual beings, with conscience, will, and hearts--why are we here at all; whence coming, whither going? So far from superseding this wisdom of which Paul speaks, they fall very short of it. For the most part they modestly confess they have no answer to the question. But Paul has an explanation; and to spiritual minds reason is satisfied. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)
Christianity a system of wisdom and mystery
I. A system of consummate wisdom.
1. Devised by God.
2. Before the world began.
3. To our glory.
II. A system of mystery.
1. Hidden from the world.
2. Mysteriously communicated.
3. Among the perfect, who believe and act upon it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. The revelation of this mystery is made--“Them that are perfect,” i.e., those who have qualifications for receiving the wisdom.
1. Of course, we are told at once that this is the ignorant conceit of religious people. But why ignorant conceit? You do not speak of the ignorant conceit of the physician, or of the engineer, or of the chemist, or of the artist, or of the poet. Nay, does not the ignorant conceit belong rather to those who think that without faculty, without study, they can understand as well as the most assiduous and learned? A spiritual man must know that he has a faculty of spiritual discernment, just as a poet knows that he has a faculty of poetic discernment. And an unspiritual man should know this also, that he has not the spiritual faculty which the other man has. The great doctrine of the apostle is that in religious things right feeling, a right disposition, is the condition of all knowledge. “If any man will do His will,” &c. If you begin with an ignorant or unspiritual man by simply instructing his understanding in the hope that his heart will be affected, you have this difficulty--his hardened spiritual feeling will hinder understanding. We all know how difficult it is to make men understand what they do not like. All the training of a university will not make some men mathematicians. Again, if a man does not love truth and honesty, you cannot make him true and honest by expounding truth or honesty; you must begin by creating within him a feeling of truth and honesty; then you can easily teach him what things are true and honest. You must have a moral faculty for discerning moral things.
2. I think, therefore, we may see the profound wisdom of the gospel method. It begins by setting man’s feeling right, producing in him a desire for holiness and a hatred of evil. The apostle tells us that this is the working of the Spirit of God. Take the little faults of men; you cannot reform a habit or a temper by merely teaching about it--nay, by a mere resolution of the will. The root of the thing is in the love for it, and you must begin by destroying this and cultivating love for good, or you will never succeed. You can cure a bad passion only by producing a good one; you can expel an evil affection only by the Spirit of God.
3. The way of the world in seeking religious truth and life is to investigate evidence, to exercise the reasoning faculties--just as you would investigate a problem of history, or demonstrate a proposition in mathematics or logic. Hence it is that so many learned philosophers and theologians never attain to Christianity; to them it is simply an intellectual study; they study it as they would study Buddhism or Mohammedanism. They can understand theology as a science of God; they can understand religion as a theory and a morality; but they have no conception of its spiritual character. “The natural man discerneth not the things of the Spirit”; they are discerned only by a spiritual faculty.
II. But then it is wisdom, even to the perfect, of a mysterious kind.
1. A man cannot reason out such a system as God’s salvation by Christ; it is discerned, as Paul says, by spiritual recognition, just as the poetry of a landscape cannot be discerned by a mere mathematician, by a mere engineer. Christianity is a revelation of facts, not a mere notion; Christ tells us what God is, that He is “our Father in heaven”; what God has done, that God “has given His only begotten Son, because He so loved the world.” Now these facts could not have been imagined, could not have been demonstrated by human reasoning. But when they are testified by God, when they are proved by evidence to be facts, then, if I am a “perfect,” i.e., a spiritual man, I at once feel that this revelation of God in Christ is true; that it is exactly suited to my personal need; it “commends itself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” None of the princes of this world in thought or in politics have believed. They did not see the principles of truth, righteousness, and love that were manifested by Jesus Christ. Had they seen these as the man of spiritual feeling sees them, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Pilate had some philosophical knowledge; he felt even an interest in and wanted to save Christ. He talked with Him about His kingdom and about the truth; but Pilate’s corrupt selfishness, his political interests, permitted him to sentence a man to crucifixion--whom he knew to be innocent. There was the moral blindness in close conjunction with the philosophical intelligence.
2. Every teaching about God must have mystery pertaining to it that can never be revealed. This is true, indeed, of everything in human life. Let a man begin to think about God and about moral being, and how soon he comes to a blank wall that he cannot penetrate! Well, it is not that God purposely conceals things, it is that we cannot comprehend them. Instead of adding to the mystery of God, we understand more of God through Jesus Christ than we can on any other theory. And yet how much remains that is impenetrable! We are compelled to exclaim, “Oh! the depths,” &c. Who can fathom the mystery of the incarnation, of the atonement, of the quickening of spiritual life in men, &c. In the love of Christ, in the love of God, there are heights and depths that pass knowledge. And yet observe--
(1) That there are no mysterious things in Christianity. Christianity has no sacred rites, inscrutable puzzles, artificial concealments.
(2) That Christian mysteries are revealed to men so far as they are qualified to discern them. Nothing in Christianity is purposely concealed. The religious life of us men and women who have to do with the business of this great city, is never so powerfully moved, so loftily inspired, so practically directed, as when we simply stand before the great Christian doctrines.
(3) What a practical temper this gives to the religious life! What a passionate desire for God, for the study of God, in His Word, in prayer, in worship!
(4) The domain of the knowable is sufficient for all the practical needs of man. It is so in science. We eat without knowing the chemistry of food; we act without knowing the philosophy of motion. It is so in religion. I may, however ignorant of the higher mysteries of being, practically realise the life of virtue and piety. The way of life through Christ is plain. (H. Allon, D. D.)
The foundation of faith
In the verses which precede the text, St. Paul reviews the motives which actuated him, and the line of conduct he had pursued during his ministry at Corinth. When he went there, two courses were open to him. He might have aimed to gain personal adherents, merely using Christianity as a means of displaying the extraordinary powers of mind. Nor can we doubt that he would have been successful. The other course was for him to gain believers in the gospel he preached, and disciples for the Master whom he served. Without the least hesitation, he chose the latter as his aim. Self was studiously kept in the background. This faithful man could say, with perfect sincerity, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord”; whilst he assigns this as his motive, “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Now the steadfast pursuance of this plan, by St. Paul and his colleagues, gave a marked feature to the early Churches. I refer to their singular and rapidly acquired independence of apostolic care. Scarcely was a community of believers gathered, although it might be in the midst of some heathen city, before the little flock were left to themselves, to be instructed by their native teachers, and to preserve their fidelity by mutual oversight. Indeed, but for this, the progress of Christianity could not have been so rapid as it was. Its chief original agents were very few, and if they had been compelled to remain long in one place, only a much smaller portion of the world could have been covered by their labours. Here, in the text, we have described two foundations on which our faith may rest--“the wisdom of men,” and “the power of God,” and we have to make our election between them.
I. The human foundation. “The wisdom of men.”
1. The personal influence of good and wise men in the Christian Church is an ordinance of God, and when kept within proper limits, is an incalculable blessing. It is perfectly right, as well as perfectly natural, that any man who is endowed with eminent gifts, added to sincere piety and fervent earnestness, should win the respect, affection, and confidence of brethren. They involuntarily place themselves under his direction, taking him as their guide and teacher. He becomes a high authority in their estimation. So far all is lawful; but go beyond this, and the most serious consequences follow. If any man was ever entitled to the kind of authority I have described, it was St. Paul, who not only had these personal excellences, but possessed supernatural inspiration. Yet hear how he limits that authority, and indicates a point where it would fail him--“Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Again, “Be ye followers of me”; but observe, he adds the qualification, “even as I also am of Christ.” These limits to human influence, however, are commonly disregarded. There are human teachers who are not only allowed to be influential, but omnipotent; not only good, but perfect; not only wise, but infallible. Respect for them passes into blind obedience; affection into something very much like idolatry. Their utterances are regarded as above criticism. Whatever they say is taken as gospel; not because of its intrinsic truth and reasonableness, but because they say it. This is clearly a form of the evil which St. Paul so earnestly deprecated when he wrote, “that your faith should not stand in the wisdom ,of men.”
2. This undue influence of men in matters of religion is not only exercised through their oral teaching, and over those who are personally acquainted with them, but also through their writings. No man who is sincerely anxious about his spiritual culture, and is glad of light, from any quarter, upon the most important of all subjects, can afford to neglect the stores of Christian thought which have come down to us as precious legacies from the past, or which are still issuing from the press. And yet the teachers, however wise and good, who speak to us through their books, ought to be listened to with the same cautious reserve as those who address us in an audible voice. They ought to be treated as helps, not as final authorities. Is it not a very common thing to hear the inquiry, not “What saith the Scriptures?” but, “What say the fathers? What saith St. Chrysostom? What saith St. Augustine?” And the answer obtained is considered as final. The opinions of commentators, the systems of theologians, and even the beautiful dreams of Christian poets, may be useful to us, but to take our religion from them alone is to let our faith stand in the wisdom of men.
3. A faith which rests on such a foundation must of necessity be insecure. If men have given us our faith, men can take it away from us. What one has built up, another can destroy. Are there not multitudes continually undergoing such changes of religious belief? They are ever passing from one teacher to another; the last and newest is sure to have them. No anchorage, no stability for them! Staggered by each new scientific theory, which appears hostile to religion, or captivated by the last vagary of superstition, they are “children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men.” But insecurity of belief is not the only evil in their case. The life they live is as unstable as the faith they hold. Character degenerates, and every semblance of piety disappears, when the influence which gave birth to it is withdrawn.
II. The Divine foundation. “The power of God.” We recognise this phrase as one which the apostle uses elsewhere. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” In the previous chapter he had said--“We preach Christ crucified.., the power of God.” When, therefore, he desires that faith should stand in the power of God, he means that it should rest upon the gospel, and especially upon Christ, who is the gospel’s central Object. This grand revelation has been made to the world once for all. It is open to universal, to individual inspection. We may be very thankful to another for telling us what he sees in Christ. For if he is a man of eminent piety, who has looked long and earnestly, with an eye whose perceptions love has quickened, and holiness has purified, he may point out to us some features which would otherwise have escaped our dimmer vision. But what he tells us should rather stimulate than supersede our personal observation. All such helps should be like the guide books which a traveller takes with him when he ascends a mountain. If he did not consult them now and then, he might miss some points of interest in the panorama which lies around him. But then he does not allow them to prevent him from using his own eyes. It is evident, however, that St. Paul meant something more than the contact of individual minds with Divine truth, when he speaks of faith standing in the power of God. The power of God can never give stability to faith until it actually enters the soul and exerts its mighty influence there; until Christianity ceases to be a mere set of opinions, and becomes a vital experience. It may seem very satisfactory to say--“my religion is not to be found in the teaching or writings of men, it is contained between the covers of the Bible.” But if your religion is shut up there it is a worthless thing. It is not the perception, but the entrance of God’s Word that giveth light, and heat, and life, to our dark, cold, dead nature. It is when the power of God brings peace to our conscience, and submission to our wayward will, and purity to our sinful heart, that it makes our faith a strong and indestructible thing. (B. Bird.)
Obedience begetting faith
According to Scriptures there are two remedies for unbelief; one the way of argument, the other the way of experiment. In these two ways it is possible to establish the great doctrines of revelation. A careful investigation of the “Evidences of Christianity” is exceedingly helpful to some persons. But it is well to remember that historical knowledge is one thing, belief another. They may quicken the intellect; they do not necessarily enkindle devotion in the soul. Again, Christ’s Church has had a noble history--one with which we do well to acquaint ourselves. Still, a knowledge of its sufferings, sorrows, trials, losses, triumphs, and glories does not necessarily produce faith. There are some, not a few, who endeavour by a process of speculation to strengthen their faith in God and in His revealed will. It is admitted that in matters of religious faith reason should be satisfied. Intelligent service is what our Heavenly Father demands. Commending most heartily the application of reason to the solution of questions connected with religion, we are nevertheless justified in severely condemning the spirit of rationalism. Ratienslistic speculation has accomplished but little good in the world. Some persons are disposed to view truth in abstract form. They endeavour to comprehend what is, always has been, and for ever must remain incomprehensible to finite minds. Argument, it is true, has its place in the defence of Scripture. It establishes God’s people in the truth. It by no means follows, however, that arguments, however potent they may be, will convince the prejudiced. Proof is not conviction. The establishment of the facts is not the removal of antagonism to the facts. Moreover, the way of argument, when exhaustive, is exceedingly laborious. We would find it quite inconvenient to believe nothing till we had established it by unanswerable arguments. May I believe nothing in astronomy, nothing in geology, nothing in chemistry until I have possessed myself of all the arguments bearing upon the subjects? Must I analyse every species of food before eating anything? Supposing I have the ability to do so, will I ever have the opportunity of examining critically all the arguments bearing upon Christianity? There assuredly must be some more direct method of establishing the truth. Yes, says Christ, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God or whether I speak of Myself.” Yes, says Paul, “Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” “Stand in the wisdom of men.” How could our faith rest secure on such a tottering foundation? Man’s wisdom is folly. Look at the seething whirlpool of opinions, philosophies and elaborate systems, all driven by the breath of some new metaphysical nondescript into the gurgling vortex of endless oblivion. What metaphysical truth has been so firmly established that no defiant caviller has presumed to call it in question? Shall we found our faith on this ever-heaving ocean? No. Do and know. Stand in the power of God and live. There is then a more direct way of securing faith than by the toilsome process of argumentation. The seeker after truth may experiment. He may test God. He may test doctrine. He may test religion. He may test prayer. He may test piety. He may do and know. Does he lack faith in the efficacy of Christ’s merit? Let him come to Christ. They who have cordially accepted the Saviour have never questioned His saving ability. Do any question the preciousness of Jesus’ love? “Oh taste and see that the Lord is gracious.” God, then, has seen fit to allow His system of faith to be tested by actual experiment. He invites us, commands us to try it in our own experiences. In this age the inductive method of philosophising is universally accepted. Scientific truths are established by a carefully conducted series of experiments, not by a priori reasoning. The ancient philosophers endeavoured to determine the facts of each science by reasoning from first principles. “Cease your blind reasoning,” said Bacon. “Sit as learners at the feet of Nature and listen to what she has to say. Gather up the facts. Arrange them logically. Form generalisations. Interpret nature.” As a result of the adoption of this method, the physical sciences have made gigantic strides in these last days. To most of us, therefore--for we insensibly imbibe the spirit of the age--it is a question of no small moment: “Are the doctrines of revealed religion open to experiment?” We answer, Yes, we may make a scientific investigation of the truths we are asked to adopt. In adopting this method of establishing truth, however, it should be borne in mind that we have no right to make our own selection of the tests. I have no right to say, “If there is a sovereign ruler of the universe, let Him speak to me in an audible voice from heaven.” Are we justified in imitating the cavillers of the Saviour’s time and exclaiming, “We would see a sign”? “To such no sign shall be given.” Though there are experiments that would be irreverent, there are others that are entirely proper. (J. S. Van Dyke, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 2:7
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.
The wisdom of God in the gospel appears
I. In its origin--the Divine purpose.
II. In the form of its revelation--mystery.
III. In the mode of its communication--by man.
IV. In its ultimate design--to our glory. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. It is God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).
II. It is revealed inwardly by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).
III. It is understood only by the spiritual man (verse 2:14-3:4). (Principal Edwards.)
God’s wisdom in a mystery
I. “The wisdom of God.” Wisdom is knowledge directed to practical ends through the most effectual means. The moral systems of Greece ill deserved that appellation. They were imaginative; they fed the appetite for speculation, but fell with no power upon conscience or conduct. But in the gospel “the wisdom of Godis displayed in efficient and wondrous arrangements to enlighten and save a fallen world.
1. It affords infallible instruction in all necessary truth. All true knowledge properly comes from God. Even art and science were probably first suggested to the mind by God, but secretly and without any mark of distinction. It is conceivable that much of Bible truth might have been thus secretly suggested, and have been published only as the results of the human investigation. Beyond their own rational evidence none of these truths, however, would have had, in this case, a greater than human authority. They would have been but matters of opinion still. The disadvantage of the most enlightened paganism was, that what of the wisdom of God was in it was not known to be from God. When they met with truth they met also with error; and both appeared to rest upon equal authority, and each was held with equal unsteadfastness and doubt. What was wanting was truth in a revealed form. “The wisdom of God” has supplied that desideratum. Whilst human teachers remained in the human court darkly investigating what might be hidden within that veil, the “Teacher sent from God” rent that veil, and He who dwelt between the cherubim “shone forth.” Whilst they were gazing upon every dark form of error which flitted before them like the clouds of night, He came forth, and cried, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me,” &c.; and the credentials He bore were equal to this high declaration.
2. It is a Divine contrivance to administer pardon to the guilty. This is peculiar to the gospel. The question, “What must I do to be saved?” has been sighed from many a breast, but has obtained no answer except from Christianity.
3. It is an efficient scheme for promoting personal and universal happiness. Man is miserable, and cannot be otherwise. Between sin and misery there is a necessary connection. Many experiments have been tried to build up happy and peaceful societies, but all have failed. Christianity would not have been “wisdom” had it not provided for man’s happiness; and it could only provide for it by effecting his regeneration. When this takes place the heart is at rest; “the fruits of the Spirit” spring forth from the renewed soil; then man lives to help and bless his fellows.
II. “The wisdom of God in a mystery.” The apostle here probably alludes to the mysteries of Paganism. The priesthood in many places pretended to be in possession of a higher and purer doctrine which they kept from the vulgar, under the plea that they were too base and impure to be entrusted with it. It was, therefore, “hidden wisdom.” But it was occasionally communicated to distinguished persons. The “initiated” had, however, to undergo severe penances; scenic symbolic representations in caverns, and in the night, were the means adopted for unfolding the secret; and these, and other ceremonies, were employed to inspire greater awe and to enforce secrecy. Probably this secret doctrine contained some of the ancient and purer theology, but mingled with fables. The apostle supposes--
1. Points of resemblance; but even the resemblances are implied contrasts such as exist between the sun and a fire, which at once calls our thoughts from what is common to both, to the contrast exhibited between a darkened blaze and an unsullied light.
(1) Christianity was connected with symbolic representations running through the previous ages, of which it was at once the accomplishment and the exposition; and it retained some figurative rites of its own--e.g., Baptism, the Eucharist, and the Sabbath.
(2) It, too, is hidden from the profane, and those who receive it must be prepared by a previous discipline. But its discipline is not some foolish bodily austerity or onerous ceremonies, it is the discipline of humility and prayer. For “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” and to them “He shows His covenant.”
(3) It also produces deep impressions of awe and reverence upon those who are admitted, to it. Religion has an awful grandeur, but nowhere is it displayed so impressively as in the gospel.
2. Points of direct contrast.
(1) The mysteries of Paganism were, for the most part, by artifice; those of Christianity by nature and necessity. The bottom of this ocean is not discovered, not because the waters are muddy, but because they are deep.
(2) In the Pagan mysteries plain truths were often hidden in doubtful enigmas; in Christianity nothing is mysterious but what is so by the appointment of Him who hides that from us which is unfit for us to know, or from the necessary magnitude of the objects.
(3) The impression produced upon the initiated was the result greatly of trick, and brought the spirit of man into bondage and disquieting superstition. But “the mysteries of godliness” at once humble and exalt; and whilst they inspire fear, elevate, strengthen, and sanctify.
(4) In the mysteries of Paganism, whatever wisdom was “hidden” was for the few; that of Christianity, for all. From the former the poor were systematically excluded. The poor find mercy in the gospel, but nowhere else.
III. This “Wisdom of God In a mystery” was “Ordained before the world to glory.”
1. Christianity was ordained “before the world.” We hear sometimes of its invention by man. We acknowledge that things invented have been added by human authority. But these are no parts of the system itself; and we may ask, When was that invented? And what human mind first devised its leading fundamental principles?--that man is a fallen being who can be saved only through the merits of a Divine sacrifice.
2. It was ordained as a perfect and efficient plan for human recovery. (R. Watson.)
The great theme of gospel preaching
I. The wisdom referred to in the text. It is called the wisdom of God; by which we are to understand, not that attribute of God’s nature, but that attribute in its display. The wisdom of God has been denominated manifold--manifold, not simply because the things in which it is displayed are many, but because, as displayed in each of those things, it is in itself manifold; in other words, ample, full in its display. And of what does he thus speak? It is of God’s wisdom as displayed in the economy of human salvation. What is wisdom? What but that which, having an object in view, chooses a plan, and employs means for the attainment of its object--not indeed any plan, but that which is indisputably the best--nor any means, but those which are indisputably the most suitable; and by its choice of the one and its employment of the other, both seeks the attainment of its object, and makes provision for the removal out of the way of what would otherwise operate to make its attainment impossible. If this be what wisdom is, does it not furnish an explanation of what the wisdom of God is, as displayed in the economy of human salvation? He had an object in view. That object was twofold--His own glory and man’s salvation. Had sinful man been left to perish, without any regard to the wish of mercy, the holiness, and the faithfulness, and the justice of God would doubtless have been seen in man’s perdition. Or had sinful man been rescued from destruction, without any regard to the demand of holiness, and faithfulness, and justice, the mercy of God would doubtless have been seen in man’s preservation from ruin. But where--in either the one or the other of those supposed cases--where would have been God’s glory? For His glory is not His mercy, or His justice, or His faithfulness, or His holiness, in their separate form, but all these perfections in combination. And is not this the appearance which these perfections of God present to view in His mode of saving man?
II. The peculiar description which the apostle in the text further gives of it.
1. “The wisdom of God in a mystery.” By this, questionless, the apostle primarily intended to intimate that in speaking, or in ministerially publishing the wisdom of God, or the plan of human salvation in the mode of its accomplishment, in which the wisdom of God has its highest illustration, he proclaimed that which, in itself, is mysterious or incomprehensible. And is it not so? But though there is here that which is mysterious, that which is incomprehensible, there is nothing that is incredible. To refuse the plan of human salvation a place in our creed, because the mode of its accomplishment transcends our comprehension, we must, in order to be consistent, disbelieve whatever we cannot fully understand or explain. And in what tremendous and hopeless scepticism would this involve us! For what is there that is not to us replete with mystery?
2. But though the apostle may have referred to what is strictly mysterious in the plan of human salvation when he said, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery,” yet, from what immediately follows, it would appear that he meant to be understood as referring, not so much to the essential incomprehensibility of that plan, as to its previous secrecy. The plan of human salvation was before a mystery, a secret; but in consequence of the commencement of the Christian era, it is now made known: hence, “We speak--I and my fellow-apostles” speak--publish, proclaim, the once “hidden wisdom.” His meaning is, that, compared with the revelation of it now made, all former revelations of it were imperfect. Though adapted to be spiritually and morally useful, yet every former revelation was not only partial, but oftentimes obscure. In this latter revelation, however, there was no darkness; it was clear, intelligible, satisfactory. But the apostle refers, not merely to the complete discovery now made of the plan of human salvation compared with the former partial and defective revelations of it, but also to its benevolent, its philanthropic character, when he says, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom.” The plan of human salvation was primarily revealed to the progenitor of the human race as their representative; but subsequently this revelation was made only to a portion of his descendants. The rest of mankind needed it, as well as these favoured ones; but from all without the pale of their privileged community it was withheld, and long withheld--so long, that to this latter class it seemed its revelation was never to be made. Until the commencement of this era the calling of the Gentiles to be partakers with the Jews of the blessings of salvation was a “mystery,” a secret; but no sooner did this era commence than the original benevolent and philanthropic character of the plan of human salvation was made manifest. Widely was the revelation of this plan spread during the apostolic age; widely has it been spread since; but still it is far, very far from being universally spread.
III. The source whence it originated, the antiquity of its device, and the grandeur of the object of its revelation.
1. Its source was God. “We speak the wisdom of God”; that in which “the wisdom of God” was illustriously displayed we publish--even the plan of human salvation “which God ordained”; that is, which God decreed, and having decreed, revealed as His own contrivance. And is not this what the plan of human salvation is? Could it have any other origin than that to which it is here traced? Does not that about it which exceeds all description and transcends all conception prove that its contrivance not only was, but must have been Divine?
2. The antiquity of its device. “We speak the wisdom of God” the plan of human salvation “which God ordained before the world,” that is, before the creation of the world; and if before the creation of the world, before the beginning of time; and if before the beginning of time, from eternity. And is not the plan of human salvation thus ancient? “Known unto God,” it is said, “are all His works from the beginning f the world”; language which, whilst it undeniably imports antecedent arrangement, as undeniably implies that that arrangement was, on the part of God, eternal. And if, in reference to all His other works, the date of God’s plans must be fixed in eternity, what other date can be reasonably assigned to His plan of human salvation? What admiration, what gratitude, what confidence is this fitted to excite in our breast!
3. The grandeur of the object of its revelation. “We speak the wisdom of God, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory.” In devising the plan of human salvation, God sought His own glory; and in the accomplishment of that plan His glory has been secured. But though in devising that plan God chiefly sought His own glory, yet He sought ours also; even our spiritual, moral, and eternal benefit, which constitutes our glory. Indeed, the device of that plan would have failed in its object had not its accomplishment combined, in this sense, our glory with the glory of God. And have we not every reason to be assured, from it adaption to our ease, of its fitness to promote our glory, by promoting our spiritual, moral, and eternal benefit? (A. Jack, D. D.)
The wisdom of God in mystery
Light and darkness are here mingled together. It is wisdom, but wisdom in a mystery. We may know from it enough to make us wise unto salvation, but the gospel never proposes to give answers to the catechism of curiosity. Consider--
I. The mystery which lies in the crucifixion of Christ. It is entirely a mystery to us--
1. How it could comport with the justice of God to lay the punishment of our sins on the head of an innocent Being. He has done it. There is no mystery about that. But we know no more.
2. How justice could be satisfied through such an infliction. We cannot tell. All we know is that Divine justice positively did receive there the very last item of her demands.
3. How Christ could render satisfaction to Divine justice, while, at the same time, He was the Being to whom satisfaction was rendered, and the very Being who rendered it.
4. How it came to pass that, while the Divine nature is utterly unsusceptible of pain and death, nevertheless the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ have all their value and efficacy from the Divine nature of the Victim. We know it is so, but we know nothing further.
5. How there could be, in the “one person” of Christ upon the Cross, such a wonderful union of grandeur and humiliation--of complaining and omnipotence--of immortal Deity and expiring humanity! They are truths, but they are mysteries--Divine mysteries of Divine truth.
6. How that Son on the Cross, in whom the Father was well pleased, could have been abandoned at such a moment, and left to wail, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”. How the love of God should ever have brought Jesus Christ to the Cross.
II. The demonstration that all this mysteriousness is no greater than we ought to expect on the subject-matter before us. It perfectly accords with all the facts and all the other arrangements of the plan of redemption. In this accordance beams out the wisdom of God.
1. Sin was the great evil which brought our Saviour into the world and took Him to the Cross. And the existence of sin is just as mysterious a matter to us as its expiation. If sin is a mystery, the expiation of it ought to be a mystery also. And so it is. Great is the mystery of godliness, &c.
2. Why did the Son of God select this world as the theatre of His redeeming wonders? Spirits as precious as ours had fallen. Why did God pass angels by when He rescued us? No answer comes, except, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” There we must leave it. And if it be a mystery how God came to select this apostate world, it accords with God that that work itself should be a mystery also.
3. There is an entire correspondence between the doctrines of Christ’s expiation of sin and satisfaction of justice, and all the other information we have about the Saviour Himself. The incarnation of Jesus ,Christ is just as mysterious to us as His atonement. That Jesus Christ should be able to give strength to the poor cripple’s bones, and yet be Himself weary and wayworn--that He should feed thousands of men, and yet be a man of hunger--that He should please the Father, and yet the Father be pleased to bruise Rim, these are things before which faith and love may wonder and adore, but which reason can never explain!
4. There is something truly amazing in the mode of the redemption of sinners. If it were so, that Jesus Christ were coming into this world to ransom sinners, we should naturally have expected that He would come in the chariots of His omnipotence! But He was a poor man, and at the end of His work, instead of receiving any signals of triumph, He was mocked as an impostor and crucified as a malefactor. This is the mode in which God treated His Son! It corresponds with the mysteries of its design.
5. Through this Christ some sinners are brought into favour with God. They are believers. They are adopted into God’s family, and He loves them with an unequalled tenderness and strength. But how does He treat them? The very pathway by which they travel to heaven corresponds in wonders with all the rest of their redemption! (L S. Spencer, D. D.)
Christianity the wisdom of God in a mystery
I. Mystery primarily signifies a secret, and Christianity is the wisdom of God in a mystery, because of its having been long a secret. “It was ordained before the foundation of the world” it was a Divine plan formed in the mind of God, but, from eternity to the point of time when it was needed, it remained a secret there. But at the moment of man’s fall then came the wisdom of God out of this long mystery. And whilst justice shut the gates of paradise, mercy opened the new and living way to reconciliation and friendship with God. But the apostle speaks of God’s purpose to call the Gentiles as a mystery. The wisdom of God had retired behind the impenetrable cloud for ages till our Saviour gave the charter of salvation to all nations--“Go ye into all the world,” &c.
II. A mystery is an emblem, and Christianity is the wisdom of God in a mystery, because it has delighted in all ages to array itself in emblem. The parables of our Lord were called mysteries for this reason, and “the golden candlesticks” and “the stars” in the Book of the Revelation. But the object of a mystery, in this respect, is not so much concealment as to test whether men love the truth sufficiently to investigate the figures under which it is presented. The wisdom of God chose the ancient types for the manifestation of itself. All nature is made use of in this respect. The sun is the established emblem of Christ, the light of the world. In the shadows of evening the voice of heavenly wisdom admonishes us that the night cometh in which no man can work. Dews and rains remind us of the great promise of the fertilising and life-giving Spirit. It was for this very reason that the sacraments were anciently called mysteries. Baptism teaches us the washing away of sin, and the Lord’s Supper that we live by His death.
III. A mystery is a deep and dark enigma, and Christianity is the wisdom of God in a mystery, because it is by the most perplexing circumstances that it has often accomplished its designs. Take--
1. The humiliation of our Lord. The great pretensions of all the prophets were that He was to save and redeem and reign. Well, this Saviour is seen in the form of an infant--is placed in entire obscurity for thirty years. He was despised and rejected by the people at large, and His character and designs often perplexed His immediate followers. By and by we see this universal sovereign and Saviour expiring on a Cross, and provoking the taunt, “He saved others, but Himself He cannot save.” Yet, however deep that mystery, there was wisdom behind it, and on the morning of the resurrection the wisdom of God came forth from the mystery. There seems to be an allusion to this in the words of St. Paul: “Great,” says he, “is the mystery of godliness,” &c.
2. The history of the Church. There have been so many manifestations of the wisdom of God in the mystery that certainly there is something for faith to rest upon with respect to the grand result as to the Church; and yet how deep and portentous are the clouds which arise before the mind of him who contemplates the apostasies of the Church, &c.
IV. A mystery is a proceeding which contradicts the notions which men ordinarily form of fitness; and Christianity is the wisdom of God in a mystery, because it employs, for the accomplishment of its proposes, means which contradict all the notions of men.
1. There was nothing agreeable to human wisdom in the agents appointed for the conversion of the world; but Paul tells us that the wisdom of God had proved stronger than the wisdom of men, and that God had chosen the weak things to confound the mighty, &c. The mystery was to the men of the world; the wisdom in the mystery was manifested in the end.
2. There is the soul of a man immersed in worldliness and sin to be made sensible of its sin and danger--to have produced within it a new train of emotions which shall lead to God. What is the instrumentality which the wisdom of God employs in producing this effect? Is it the work of an angel? Verily it were worthy of such an agency. But now the wisdom of God veils itself in mystery, and makes use of a fellow-man, and by the secret influence which God gives, the work is done.
3. A soul reconciled to God is to be matured in grace and to be qualified for glory. How often does the wisdom of God, in accomplishing this great end, wrap itself in mystery! One object is to cure the spirit of worldly care, and a load of additional care is laid upon it. Another object is to teach reflectiveness of spirit, and the subject is plunged in most perplexing circumstances. Another object is to increase the peace of the soul; and yet the soul is placed in the midst of the turbulent storm. Another object is to excite a higher love, and yet the heavier stroke of the Lord is laid upon him. Here is the mystery; but we know the wisdom notwithstanding this, “for tribulation worketh patience,” &c.
4. A nation sunk in ignorance and immorality is to be raised into a better state. How is it done? Never by means which are at all taken into the calculation of statesmen. God raises up His own instruments--they may be few in number--from the lower class of society, and the work goes on, principles are secretly spreading, and the scene changes. It is amusing to read the theories of the worldly wise on these changes, whereas the whole proves that the wisdom of God has been proceeding in a mystery to them.
5. And so it is with respect to foreign missions.
V. A mystery is as unfathomable subject, and Christianity is the wisdom of God in a mystery, because the subjects with which it is conversant are of this kind. There are many persons who object to our religion because of its mysteriousness. But what would a religion be that had no mysteries? What view could you have of God if you could comprehend Him? God is eternal--can the creature of a day take in the idea of eternal duration? God’s plans must be like Himself; must they, then, not be incomprehensible by the necessity of nature to creatures like ourselves? The subject is clear, but our minds are clouded by reason of darkness, We cannot perceive the beauty and the proportions of an extended landscape, not because the objects in themselves are indistinct, but because they are distant.
VI. Christianity is a mystery of love. Great has been the manifestation of the goodness of God to His people. Christ has come--the Holy Spirit has been poured out--the ordinances of Christianity instituted; but there is a period coming of still greater glory for the Church. They whom Christ has redeemed are to be with Him for ever and see His glory. (R. Watson.)
The mystery of the gospel
I. In its principles. It reveals reconciliation with God,
1. By sacrifice.
2. By the sacrifice of His own dear Son.
II. In its spirituality.
1. It is revealed by the Spirit of God.
2. To the spirit of man.
3. By faith.
III. In its design.
1. To manifest the glory of God.
2. Secure the glorification of man. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The mystery of the gospel
I. May well be mysterious--for it is the wisdom of God.
II. Must be acknowledged to be mysterious. For its doctrines--
1. Transcend human thought.
2. Are spiritual in their nature.
3. Are in opposition to our common modes of thinking,
III. Is wisely mysterious.
1. To command our reverence.
2. Humble our pride.
3. Provoke our inquiry.
4. Awaken anticipation of a brighter revelation in another life. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The word has four meanings which may be arranged almost in chronological order.
I. That which it is forbidden to divulge except to the initiated. Such were the secrets of the political and religious festivals held in most cities of Greece. We have a trace of this meaning in Matthew 13:2. In 2 Peter 1:16 it is said that the apostles did not follow the false track of rationalised myths, but were eye-witnesses by initiation of Christ’s majesty (Colossians 2:3).
II. That which cannot be known except by revelation (cf. Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3-4; Colossians 1:26)
III. Sacred ceremonies that have a symbolical or spiritual significance; sometimes restricted to denote the Eucharist. After the time of Tertullian this is its prevailing signification, and its Latin equivalent is sacramentum.
IV. A truth that transcends the human intellect to comprehend, and this may be absolute impossibility or impossible till the Spirit of God gives an inward revelation. In the present passage the word includes somewhat of all these meanings except the third. The word “perfect,” while it signifies “full-grown,” contains an allusion to initiation into mysteries. (Principal Edwards.)
Mystery no obstacle to faith
Each human being at his birth has everything to learn. The child is apt to imagine that those who are older than himself, and whom he has found able to answer his first inquiries, know almost everything, and he is surprised and disappointed when he finds, in many instances, that no sufficient explanation of his difficulties can be given, and he is inclined to disbelieve whatever offers itself as a mystery to his mind. In this vulnerable point, scepticism in reference to subjects of a religious nature is wont to assail the mind. It would have it believed that mystery is something peculiar to religion, and then insists that what is so incomprehensible cannot rationally be believed. But neither is true. We purpose to show the contrary.
I. There is mystery in everything.
1. Of nothing can we feel a greater certainty than of our own being and personal identity. But what am I? I can no more understand the essence of my conscious self, than I can that of God the Infinite Spirit. The philosopher here is no wiser than the child.
2. Turn to nature in any of her various departments. Look, e.g., at--
(1) The facts presented in the animal kingdom. Explain the nature of instinct. Observe that spider, which has spread her gossamer across your window. How did she learn to construct that octagon as perfect as if drawn by the nicest geometrician? Or watch the robin; that nest is the first she ever built: yet see how perfect--the most practised of her kind has never formed a better. Where did she gain her skill in architecture?
(2) Animal life and the functions of the vital economy. What is it that prevents the decomposition of the flesh of animals so long as the vital principle is there, while decay commences the moment it is gone? Tell us how it is that the gross substances taken in the form of food are converted into the beautiful carnation of the human cheek, and the gorgeous and variegated dyes of birds and insects. Show what it is that keeps the heart for ever throbbing, and the lungs perpetually heaving, without any effort of the will.
(3) The vegetable world. There is the rose blushing crimson by your window. What elements have been concerned in its production? Light, heat, moisture, and the common earth. But by what means have the petal, the odour, and the hues been elaborated from such materials? How has the same sap been made to produce the hard stalk, the sharp thorn, the green leaf, and the admirable flower? There, too, is the lily by its side. It springs from the same soil, is warmed by the same sun, watered by the same showers, yet instead of having the same colour it is white as the virgin snow. Again, there is the grass and the violet that both spring from one common mould, and yet, one is a soft and lively green, and the other an imperial purple.
(4) Inorganic matter. You have here the laws of chemical affinity and repulsion. You find that certain substances when reduced to a fluid state and then placed in given conditions, return to solids by the process of crystallisation; and that in doing this one always takes the cubic form, another always that of an octahedron, another always that of a parallelopiped, and so on. But of these, and a multitude of other plain and unquestionable facts, you cannot by the nicest observation detect the cause, or the mode of its operation. Nature veils it in deep mystery.
(5) Those subtle yet efficient agents that produce the more general and grand phenomena of nature. Put an end to the conjectures of mankind, by telling us what light, and heat, and electricity, and magnetism are. That mighty universal force, to which, by way of concealing our ignorance, we give the name of gravity, which brings the pebble to the earth, and chains revolving worlds about their centres; search out the secret and instruct us in relation to its nature. You cannot answer our inquiries. You see, then, that mystery is written all over the universe of God.
II. That the truths of revealed religion are confessedly mysterious, is a confirmation of its Divinity.
1. A system of religion which professed to be from God, and yet claimed to have no mysteries, would prove it to be false. For such a system would be anomalous, and we should justly reason that if earthly things are found to be beyond our comprehension, much more ought heavenly things to be expected to be so. To the Omniscient only are there no dark and hidden things.
2. There may be many other reasons besides that of our want of capacity to comprehend Him, to render it fit that God should withhold from us many kinds and degrees of knowledge which might without difficulty be imparted. It might, for example, only perplex us to have our minds excited to yet higher inquiry by further disclosures as to things that have no immediate relation to our duty or our happiness for the present. Life is so short, so full of engrossing occupation, that very little time is allowed us for merely speculative thought. Then, further, it is no less obvious that this living in the midst of mysteries may prove a most salutary moral discipline. By contact with the as yet unopened secrets of the universe our pride receives a salutary check. Both as regards the ends of practical life and the development in our souls of sentiments of humility, of veneration, and of worship, there are great advantages to be derived from the present withholding of many parts of Divine knowledge which might possibly be revealed.
3. Instead, then, of suffering ourselves to be perplexed because we encounter mysteries in the Christian revelation, it is much wiser, as well as more becoming, that we cultivate a humble, docile spirit. How exceedingly limited, at best, is our horizon! What an infant, in a sober view, does the wisest man on earth appear on the scale of universal being!
4. We ought likewise to consider, for the enkindling of a heartfelt gratitude, that the mysteries of our being had been far deeper and darker than they are, but for the partial light which God has afforded in His Word. By the help of this, where the wisest heathen, in all ages, have groped their way, we are able to see distinctly; and though we are able to know so little comparatively, yet let us devotedly praise God that He has enabled us to know enough to enable us to discern and keep the path of duty and of life.
5. For the rest it may content us that we can confidently anticipate the future increase of our knowledge. (Ray Palmer, D. D.)
Christianity mysterious, and the wisdom of God in making it so
The reasons of this may be stated upon these two grounds.
I. The nature and quality of the things treated of.
1. Their surpassing greatness to the mind of man. God is an infinite being, a world in Himself, too high for our speculations and too great for our descriptions. Heaven enters into us, as we must into it, by a very narrow passage. But how shall the King of glory, whom the heavens themselves cannot contain, enter in by these doors? How shall these short faculties measure the lengths of His eternity, the breadths of His immensity, the heights of His prescience, and the depths of His decrees? and those mysteries of two natures united into one person and of one nature diffused into a triple personality?
2. Their spirituality. When we read that God is a Spirit, and that angels and the souls of men are spirits, we cannot frame any notion or resemblance of them. We can fetch in no information from our senses. Imagine a man born blind, able upon hearsay to conceive all the varieties of colour, to draw a map of France, &c. But as it would be extremely irrational for a blind man to deny that there are such things as colours, &c., because he cannot form any mental perception of them, so would it be superlatively more unreasonable for us to deny on the same grounds the great articles of our Christianity.
3. Their strangeness and unreducibleness to the common methods and observations of nature. Take, e.g.--
(1) Christ’s satisfaction for sin. That He who was the offended person should provide a satisfaction and concern Himself to solicit a needless reconciliation, that a Father should deliver up an innocent and infinitely beloved Son for the redemption of His enemies, are transactions such as we can find nothing analogous to in all the dealings of men.
(2) Regeneration, concerning which men wonder by what strange power it should come to pass that any one should be brought to conquer inveterate appetites and desires, and to have new ones absolutely contrary planted in their room. So that when our Saviour discoursed of these things to Nicodemus, he asked, “How can these things be?”
(3) The resurrection.
II. Some of its principal ends and designs. But may it not be objected that the grand design of religion is to engage men in the practice of its commands, and that the way to obey a law is to know it, and the way to know it is to have it plainly propounded? To this I answer, first, that it is as much the design of religion to oblige men to believe the credenda as to practise the agenda of it: and secondly, that there is as clear a reason for the belief of the one as for the practice of the other. They exceed indeed the human reason to comprehend them scientifically, and are therefore proposed, not to our knowledge, but to our belief; but since God has revealed them we may with the highest reason, upon His bare word, believe them. But then, as for those things that concern our practice, they indeed are of that clearness that being once proposed to us, need not our study, but only our acceptance. In sum, the articles of our faith are those depths in which the elephant may swim, and the rules of our practice those shallows in which the lamb may wade. But as both light and darkness make but one natural day, so both the clearness of the agenda and the mystery of the credenda of the gospel constitute but one entire religion. I come now to show that the mysteriousness of the credenda, or matters of our faith, is most subservient to the great ends of religion.
1. Because religion in its prime institution was designed to make impressions of awe and reverential fear upon men’s minds. God, who designed man to a supernatural end, thought fit also to engage him to a way of living above the bare course of nature, and for that purpose to oblige him to a control of his mere natural desires. And this can never be done but by imprinting such apprehensions of dread as may stave off appetite from its desired satisfactions, which the infinite wisdom of God has thought fit to do, by nonplussing the world with certain new and unaccountable revelations. To protect which from the encroachments of bold minds, He has hedged it in with a sacred obscurity in some of the principal parts of it, inasmuch as “familiarity breeds contempt.”
2. Because religion is delivered by God to humble the pride of man’s reason. Man fell by pride, founded upon an irregular desire of knowledge, and therefore Divine wisdom contrived man’s recovery by such a method as should abase him in that very perfection, whereof the ambitious improvement first cast him down from that glorious condition.
3. Because He would engage us in a more diligent search into the articles of religion. No man studies things plain and evident. We are commanded by Christ to search the Scriptures, and whosoever shall apply himself to a thorough performance of this high command, shall find difficulty enough in the things searched into to perpetuate his search. For they are a rich mine which the greatest wit and diligence may dig in for ever and still find new matter to entertain the busiest contemplation with, even to the utmost period of the most extended life. Truth, we are told, dwells low, and in a bottom; and the most valued things of the creation are hidden from the common view, so that violence must be done to nature, before she will produce and bring them forth.
4. Because the full know]edge of it may be one principal part of our blessedness hereafter. All those heights and depths which confound the subtlest apprehension shall then be made clear to us. (R. South, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 2:8-9
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Spiritual ignorance, evil, flood
I. The cause of immense evil. These princes of the world, through ignorance, “crucified the Lord of glory.”
1. A greater crime than this was never perpetrated. It involved--
(1) The grossest injustice. He was embodied virtue. His enemies and judges bore testimony to His innocence.
(2) The basest ingratitude. He not only did no evil, but “went about doing good.”
(3) Most heartless cruelty. They put Him to a death the most ignominious and excruciating that infernal malignity could desire.
(4) Most daring impiety. Whom did they thus treat? “The Lord of glory” (Psalms 24:8). It is impious to trifle with His laws and rebel against His throne, but how much more so to crucify the universal Lawgiver and King!
2. That this ignorance was the cause of this immense evil is evident.
(1) Because it is itself an evil, and like will produce like. There are two things necessary to knowledge--mind and means. When either of these is absent, ignorance is a calamity, but when they are present it is a crime. These princes had both--they were not idiots, and riley had means by which they could know Christ; the Old Testament Scriptures, John the Baptist, Christ Himself. They need not have been ignorant. Their ignorance was a sin, and sin, like virtue, is propagated.
(2) Had it not existed, such an evil could never have been perpetrated.
II. The occasion of immense good. This crucifixion introduced things that “eye had never seen,” &c., viz., God’s love to the world and His method of saving it; Divine pardon, spiritual purity, immortal hopes. Conclusion: From this subject learn--
1. That the sinner is always engaged in accomplishing that which he never intended. These “princes--
(1) Ruined themselves. It brought upon them and their country in this world tremendous judgments--and what in the world to come? Sinner, what are you doing? You are ruining yourself, but you do not intend it; but you are nevertheless doing it in the commission of every sin.
(2) Executed the plan of the great God. “Him being delivered,” &c. God overrules for good. So now, we have not to determine whether we shall serve God or not; we have to determine how--by our will or against it.
2. Whatever good a man may accomplish contrary to his intention is destitute of all praiseworthiness. What oceans of blessings come to our world through the crucifixion! Yet who can ever praise the crucifiers?
3. That no man should act without an intelligent conception of what he is doing. How many act from prejudice, custom, blind impulse! How few have a right conception of what they are doing! (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Ignorance of the truth
I. Its awful prevalence.
1. It has abounded in all time.
2. Pervades all classes.
II. Its injurious effects.
1. It occasions the worst crimes.
2. It led to the crucifixion of our Lord.
III. Its fatal issue destruction of both body and soul. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The guilt of man in crucifying the Lord of glory.
I. The deed.
II. Its aggravation.
1. He was the Lord of glory.
2. Came from glory.
3. Conducts to glory--dwells in glory.
III. Its unmitigated guilt. A sin of ignorance.
1. Not therefore relieved, because the ignorance was wilful.
2. Not inevitable through the purpose of God, because had they known they would not have done it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Christ the Lord of glory
I. The essential glory of Christ, which He hath as God from everlasting; which is unspeakable and inconceivable glory (Philippians 2:6). He has a peerage or equality with His Father in glory (John 10:30). And again, “All things that the Father hath are Mine(John 16:15), the same name, the same nature, the same essential properties, the same will, and the same glory.
II. The mediatorial glory of Christ is exceeding great. This is proper to Him as the Head of the Church, which He hath purchased with His own blood (Philippians 2:9-10).
1. The fulness of grace inherent in Him. The humanity of Christ is filled with grace, as the sun with light (John 1:14), excelling all the saints in spiritual lustre and gracious excellencies.
2. The dignity and authority put upon Him. He is crowned King in Sion; all power in heaven and earth is given unto Him (Matthew 28:18), He is a Law-giver to the Church (James 4:12).
3. Jesus Christ shall have glory and honour ascribed to Him for evermore by angels and saints, upon the account of His mediatorial work; this some divines call His passive glory, the glory which He is said to receive from His redeemed ones (Revelation 5:8-10).
1. How wonderful was the love of Christ, the Lord of Glory, to be so abased and humbled as He was for us vile and sinful dust!
2. How transcendently glorious is the advancement of believers by their union with the Lord of Glory!
3. Is Jesus Christ the Lord of Glory? Then, let no man count himself dishonoured by suffering the vilest indignities for His sake.
4. Is Christ the Lord of Glory? How glorious then shall the saints one day be, when they shall be made like this glorious Lord, and partake of His glory in heaven! (John 17:22.)
5. How hath the devil blindfolded and deluded them that are frightened off from Christ by the fears of being dishonoured by Him!
6. If Christ be the Lord of Glory, how careful should all be who profess Him that they do not dishonour Jesus Christ, whose name is called upon by them!
7. What delight should Christians take in their daily converse with Jesus Christ in the way of duty!
8. If Christ be so glorious, how should believers long to be with Him, and behold him in His glory above! (John Flavel.)
Eye hath not seen … the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.--
I. Lie beyond the researches of the unregenerate mind. They are--
1. Not seen by the observation of nature, providence, grace.
2. Not heard by the report of the preacher, &c.
3. Not conceived by reason, speculation, inquiry.
II. Are revealed to those who love God.
1. Much depends on the heart.
2. The revelation is glorious.
3. Is effected by the Spirit.
4. Is completed in glory. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The excellency and blessings of the gospel
I. The superlative excellency of the gospel.
1. Its discoveries and blessings far exceed all human knowledge or conception.
(1) “Eye hath not seen.” And yet by the eye we have surveyed many of the works of God; and if we look upon ourselves, we discover displays of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness. All these are glorious discoveries; but they say not how, when, or why they were formed.
(2) “Ear hath not heard.” When sight is exhausted, we can still drink in knowledge. But we never heard how the spring of moral conduct might be purified, life and heart made holy, and man be fitted for the society of God. We never heard of such powerful motives as the love of Christ, or such rich blessings as the beatitudes on the mount.
(3) “Nor hath entered the heart of man,” i.e., man never imagined. Every man carries about with him an ideal world of his own. How often have we attempted to paint to ourselves a character just such as we should approve! But it never entered into the heart of man to conceive of true dignity of character, or of the sources of real happiness as suited to the nature of man.
2. The peculiar excellency of this gospel will appear from--
(1) The sublime and interesting truth which it discovers. Briefly, the design of the gospel is to raise man from the ruin of the fall--to wash him from sin--to adorn him with righteousness--to inspire him with sublimity of thought and holiness of affection--to lead him in all the paths of obedience, and finally to exalt him to the society of angels and fellowship with God. But who could have barely thought of such a purpose? Who could have admitted the possibility of the fact? The Divine Being was under no obligations to redeem man. All the motive is revealed to us in the gospel, and is to be found in His own unfathomable love. “God so loved the world,” &c. And who would ever have conceived of such a simple plan of communicating such blessings! “Believe on the Lord,” &c.
(2) The pure and intense happiness it imparts. Even the speculative knowledge of these truths raises man in the scale of intelligence. But the gospel does more. The gospel calms the tumult of passion, reconciles man to God, and makes him to be at peace with himself. Now, “eye hath not seen,” &c. Some have had every advantage and opportunity of knowing this subject, but they are still natural men. They cannot conceive how a man can know his sins forgiven, nor of the joy and peace in believing. The natural man doth not comprehend these things; and even believers do not form conceptions sufficiently noble.
(3) The happy and glorious prospects which it unfolds. Philosophy never found out a remedy for the fear of death. It points to a few instances of apparent calmness and confidence. But it never fully met the evil. Death, to it, has ever been dissembled. But Christianity reveals the immediate consequences of death, and then supplants the fear of death. Where will philosophy show anything like the death of Stephen? And how is this to be explained? (Acts 7:55.) And all in whom is the spirit of Stephen have the like glorious prospects. But what are they? Nay, “Eye hath not seen,” &c. The grandest description is, that it is beyond all description. If we cannot know all that God has prepared for us here, how can we conceive of the joys of heaven? (John 3:12.) “We walk by faith, and not by sight!” We could not possibly understand it; we have no powers of perception suited to such knowledge. Eye hath not seen so glorious a body as that of the Transfiguration, the model of ours; or so glorious a city as “that great city, the holy Jerusalem,” &c. Ear never heard strains so melting as those John heard--“the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” It never entered into the heart of man, the pure and unsullied bliss of the redeemed (Revelation 7:15-17).
II. The characters for whom these blessings are prepared. For “them that love Him.” Consider the love of God as--
1. A necessary principle. Mere admiration will not suffice. The infidel may admire the character of the Creator as impressed upon His works, and be without even a desire to enjoy these blessings. Nor will a mere transient impression of the passions be sufficient, such as is frequently felt whilst contemplating gospel truths, even as a matter of speculation. A consideration of the love of God, the sufferings of Christ, &c., produces no permanent effect, but is obliterated by the next consideration. Now this love of God is necessary. “Without holiness no man shall see Him.” Holiness is the image of God, and “God is love.” These things are prepared only for them that keep His commandments, &c. But the whole law is comprised in this, “Thou shalt love,” &c. Hence, “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” It is only the love of God that gives us the true knowledge of Him. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” This love of God is essential to our enjoying God. No man can enjoy what he hates.
2. A Divine principle. No man loves God by nature. Nothing less than Divine love can conquer this enmity of the human heart. A manifested principle. The love of God is the love of holiness, for God is holy. And if we love God we shall keep His commandments. This love cannot possibly exist without influencing the practice, and thus manifesting itself. (F. A. West.)
The gospel a revelation
The “things” are the gospel in the wealth of its blessings, not only for another world, but also for this. The eye has seen much, the ear has heard much more than the eye has seen, the heart pictures creations more wonderful still; but such truths as the gospel declares belong to a higher world; they are the fruit of God’s hidden wisdom, His deepest thought. They are thus of necessity a mystery to man. It never entered the heart of man that these things would come--
I. From the source they did--from God. Man’s ideas of God, apart from revelation, sprang rather from his own heart than from the teaching of nature, and therefore to imagine our salvation would flow from the source it did was impossible. After man sinned he changed God into his own image and likeness. The gods of the heathen consequently were perfectly destitute of those properties from which the gospel blessings could flow. They were destitute of holiness--heathenism has its heroes, but it has no saints. They were destitute of love, and were notorious for their cruelty and their lack of tenderness.
II. In the way they did. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,” &c. The way God took to save the world--by the incarnation and death of Immanuel--was so strange, that no one could imagine or dared imagine it but Himself. Not only is it so great that man could not in his own strength discover it, but so great that, after being revealed, it baffles man to comprehend it. The gospel is so Divine a conception that it dazzles the wise of this world into blindness. God’s smallest thoughts, His thoughts in nature, perplex man. What then about the thought He conceived in the silence and solitude of eternity?
III. To the degree they did. Paul considered the fact that Christ was preached to the Gentiles a sufficiently great mystery to be put side by side with the Incarnation. Sin makes man selfish. The Romans deemed all others enemies, to be vanquished and made slaves; and once made slaves, they were of less value in their eyes than the beasts which perish. The Greeks judged all others barbarians, who ought to be robbed and slain. The Jews likewise were animated by the spirit of exclusiveness--they deemed all others unclean and worthless. Though our advantages are numerous and important, yet this truth is not properly understood by many in our day. All are not willing, even in this age, that the dew of God’s blessing should fall outside their little garden. The old objections are being revived, that to attempt to evangelise the heathen is sheer waste. Such blind fatuity! The man who would try to stop the clouds to rain and the sun to shine outside the fences of his tiny farm would be looked upon as a lunatic. But his conduct were wisdom itself compared with that of those who in the vanity of their speculations would leave certain races outside the pale of civilisation and salvation. God’s provision for the world is worthy of the high source whence it emanated, and the strange instrumentality whereby it was brought about, at once worthy of the infinite love and the precious sacrifice. To provide for only one nation would not be worthy of Him. Indeed, to provide sparingly for even the whole world would not be according to His custom--plenteousness characterises all His acts. With such fulness of grace in store, no one, be he who and where he may, need be lost. (W. Morris.)
God’s revelation of heaven
I. The inability of the lower parts of human nature--the natural man--to apprehend the higher truths.
1. Eternal truth is not perceived through sensation or science. “Eye hath not seen.”
(1) There is a life of mere sensation.
(a) The highest pleasure of sensation comes through the eye. The Corinthians could appreciate this. Theirs was the land of beauty. They read the apostle’s letter, surrounded by the purest conceptions of Art. Let us not depreciate what God has given. There is a joy in contemplating the manifold forms in which the All Beautiful has concealed His essence. It is a pure delight to see.
(b) But the eye can only reach the finite beautiful. It does not scan “the King in His beauty, nor the land that is very far off.” And the visible is perishable beauty--not the eternal loveliness for which our spirits pant. Therefore Christ came not in the glory of form; “He had no form nor comeliness,” &c.; “there was no beauty that they should desire Him.” The eye did not behold, even in Christ, the things which God had prepared.
(c) This is an eternal truth. This verse is quoted as if “the things prepared” meant heaven. But the world of which Paul speaks God hath revealed, only not to eye nor ear. In heaven this shall be as true as now. The pure in heart will see God, but never with the eye; only in the same way, but in a different degree, that they see Him now.
(2) Again, no scientific analysis can discover the truths of God. Science proceeds upon observation. Experiment is the test of truth. Now, you cannot, by searching, find out the Almighty to perfection, nor a single one of the blessed truths He has to communicate.
1. It is in vain that we ransack the world for probable evidences of God, and idle to look into the materialism of man for the revelation of his immortality; or to examine the morbid anatomy of the body to find the rule of right. If a man go to the eternal world with convictions of eternity, the resurrection, God, already in his spirit, he will find abundant corroborations of that which he already believes. But if God’s existence be not thrilling every fibre of his heart, if the immortal be not already in him as the proof of the resurrection, if the law of duty be not stamped upon his soul as an eternal truth, science will never reveal these, the physician comes away from the laboratory an infidel. Eye hath not seen the truths which are clear enough to love and to the spirit.
2. Eternal truth is not reached by hearsay--“Ear hath not heard.”
(1) No revelation can be adequately given by the address of man to man. For all such revelation must be made through words, the mere coins of intellectual exchange. There is as little resemblance between the coin and the bread it purchases, as between the word and the thing it stands for. Looking at the coin, the form of the loaf does not suggest itself. Listening to the word, you do not perceive the idea for which it stands, unless you are already in possession of it. Speak of ice to an inhabitant of the torrid zone, the word does not give him an idea, or if it does, it must be a false one. Talk of blueness to one who cannot distinguish colours, what can your most eloquent description present to him resembling the truth of your sensation? Similarly in matters spiritual, no verbal revelation can give a single simple idea. For instance, what means justice to the unjust, or purity to the licentious? What does infinitude mean to a being who has never stirred beyond a cell? Talk of God to a thousand ears, each has his own different conception. The sensual man hears of God, and understands one thing. The pure man hears and conceives another thing.
(2) See what a hearsay religion is. There are men who believe on authority. Their minister believes all this Christianity true; therefore so do they. He calls this doctrine essential; they echo it. They have heard with the hearing of the ear that God is love, that the ways of holiness are ways of pleasantness. But the Corinthian philosophers heard Paul; the Pharisees heard Christ. How much did the ear convey? He alone believes truth who feels it. He alone has a religion whose soul knows by experience that to serve God and know Him is the richest treasure.
3. Truth is not discoverable by the heart--“neither have entered into the heart of man” the power of imagining, and the power of loving.
(1) It is a grand thing when thought bursts into flame, or when a great law of the universe reveals itself to the mind of genius, or when the truths of human nature shape themselves forth in the creative fancies of the poet. But the most ethereal creations of fancy were shaped by a mind that could read the life of Christ, and then blaspheme the Adorable. Some of the truest and deepest utterances ever spoken came from one whose life was from first to last selfish. The highest astronomer of this age refused to recognise the Cause of causes. The mighty heart of genius had failed to reach the things which God imparts to a humble spirit.
(2) The heart of man has the power of affection. The highest moment known on earth by the merely natural, is that in which the mysterious union of heart with heart is felt. Yet this attains not to the things prepared by God. Human love is but the faint type of that surpassing blessedness which belongs to those who love God.
II. The nature and laws of revelation.
1. Revelation is made by a Spirit to a spirit. Christ is the voice of God without the man--the Spirit is the voice of God within. The highest revelation is not made by Christ, for He said, “The Spirit shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you.” And therefore it is written here--“The Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Now the Spirit of God lies touching, as it were, the soul of man. They mingle. The spiritual in man, by which he might become a recipient of God, may be dulled, deadened, by a life of sense, but in this world never lost. All that is wanted is to become conscious of the nearness of God. God has placed men here to feel after Him if haply they may find Him, albeit He be not far from any one of them.
2. The condition upon which this revelation is made to men is love. These things are “prepared for them that love Him,” or revealed to those who have the mind of Christ.
(1) Love to man may mean love to his person, or it may mean simply pity. Love to God can only mean love to His character: e.g., God is purity. And to be pure in thought and look is to love God. God is love--and to love men till private attachments have expanded into a philanthropy which embraces all, is to love God. God is truth. To be true--to hate every form of falsehood--to live a brave, true, real life--that is to love God. God is infinite--and to love the boundless, reaching on from grace to grace, and rising upwards ever to see the ideal still above us, aiming insatiably to be perfect even as the Father is perfect--that is love to God.
(2) This love is manifested in obedience.
(a) “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me,” &c. We remember the Roman commander who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the transgressor was his own son. He accepted the challenge of the leader of the other host, slew, spoiled him, and then in triumph carried the spoils to his father’s tent. But the Roman father refused to recognise the instinct which prompted this as deserving of the name of love--disobedience contradicted it and deserved death: weak sentiment, what was it worth? So with God--strong feelings, warm expressions, varied internal experience coexisting with disobedience, God counts not as love.
(b) To love, adoring and obedient, God reveals His truth. As in the natural, so in the spiritual world. By compliance with the laws of the universe we put ourselves in possession of its blessings. Obey the laws of health and you obtain health. Arm yourselves with the laws of nature, and you may call down the lightning from the sky. In the same way there are laws in the world of Spirit, by compliance with which God’s Spirit comes into the soul with all its revelations. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” “No man hath seen God at any time.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us.” “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.”
(c) These laws are universal and invariable. There is no favourite child of nature who may hold the fire-ball in the hollow of his hand and trifle with it without being burnt; there is no selected child of grace who can live an irregular life without unrest; or be proud, and at the same time have peace; or indolent, and receive fresh inspiration; or remain unloving and cold, and yet see and hear and feel the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him. And if obedience were entire and love were perfect, then would the revelation of the Spirit to the soul of man be perfect too. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Every prophet who has stood upon the borders of a new dispensation might have uttered these words. Abraham might have looked forward to the Mosaic dispensation, &c., and have turned to his brethren who lived in the patriarchal age, and said, “Eye hath not seen,” &c. At the close of the Levitical dispensation the prophets might have thus spoken of the coming glories. And now we stand on the borders of a new era. But persons are curious to know what kind of dispensation the millennial one is to be. Will the temple be erected in Jerusalem? Will the Jews be positively restored to their own land? &c. We cannot answer. “Eye hath not seen,” &c. And this brings us to make the application of the subject to heaven itself.
I. What heaves is not.
1. It is not a heaven of the senses.
(1) “Eye hath not seen it.” What glorious things the eye hath seen! Have we not seen the gaudy pageantry of pomp crowding the gay streets? We hear of the magnificence of the old Persian princes, of palaces covered with gold and silver, and floors inlaid with jewels; but we cannot thence gather a thought of heaven, for “eye hath not seen” it. We have thought, however, when we have come to the works of God, surely we can get some glimpse of what heaven is here. By night we have turned our eye up to the stars, and we have said, “If this earth has such a glorious covering, what must that of heaven be?” At another time we have seen some glorious landscape, and said, “Surely these grandeurs must be something like heaven.” It was all a mistake--“Eye hath not seen” it.
(2) “The ear hath not heard” it. Have we not sometimes heard the sweet voice of the messenger of God when he has by the Spirit spoken to our souls! We knew something of heaven then, we thought. We have heard music, whether poured from the lungs of man--that noblest instrument in the world--or from some manufacture of harmony, and we have thought, “This is what John meant by the voice like many waters, and the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” But we made a mistake. “Ear hath not heard” it.
(3) Others look upon it as a place where they shall be free from bodily pain, and where they will eat to the full and be satisfied. What a mistake! We can get no conceptions of heaven through the senses; they must always come through the Spirit.
2. It is not a heaven of the imagination. Poets let their imaginations fly with loosened wings, or the preacher weaves the filigree work of fancy, and you say, “It is sweet to hear that man speak; he made me think I was there.” But imagination, when it is most sublime, and freest from the dust of earth, and kept steady by the most extreme caution, cannot picture heaven. “It hath not entered the heart of man,” &c. Your imaginary heaven you will find by and by to be all a mistake.
3. It is not a heaven of the intellect. Men describe heaven as a place where we shall know all things, and their grandest idea is that they shall discover all secrets there. But “It hath not entered into the heart of man.”
II. “He hath revealed it unto us by His spirit.” This means that it was revealed unto the apostles by the Spirit, so that they wrote something of it in the Holy Word. We think also that it means that every believer has glimpses of heaven by the influence of the Spirit. A Christian gets a gaze of what heaven is--
1. When in the midst of trials and troubles he is able to cast all his care upon the Lord, because He careth for him. Heaven is something like that--a place of holy calm and trust.
2. In the season of quiet contemplation, for the joys of heaven are akin to the joys of contemplation.
3. At the Lord’s table. You get so near the Cross there that your sight becomes clearer, and the air brighter, and you see more of heaven there than anywhere else.
4. When we assemble in our meetings for prayer.
5. In extraordinary closet seasons. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The city of Corinth has been called the Paris of antiquity. Indeed, for splendour, the world holds no such wonder to-day. The commerce of all nations passed through her ports; the mirth of all people sported in her Isthmian games, and the beauty of all lands walked her porticos, and threw itself on the altar of her stupendous dissipations. Column and statue and temple bewildered the beholder. And the best music from the best instruments in the world resounded in her theatres. It was not to rustics who had never seen or heard anything grand that Paul uttered this text, and it was a bold thing for him to stand there amid all that and say, “All this is nothing; eye hath not seen,” &c. We can in this world get no idea of--
I. The health of heaven. When you were a child you had never felt sorrow or sickness. Perhaps later you felt a glow in your cheek, and a spring in your step, and an exuberance of spirits, and a clearness of eye, that made you thank God you were permitted to live. You thought that you knew what it was to be well, but the most elastic and robust health of earth, compared with that of heaven, is nothing but sickness and emaciation. Look at that soul standing before the throne. On earth she was a life-long invalid. See her step now, and hear her voice now. Health in all the pulses! Health of vision; health of spirits; immortal health. No racking cough, no consuming fevers, no exhausting pains, no hospitals of wounded men. That child that died in the agonies of croup, hear her voice now ringing in the anthem. That old man that went bowed down with the infirmities of age, see him walk now with the step of an immortal athlete--for ever young again. To have neither ache, nor pain, nor weakness, nor fatigue. “Eye hath not seen it--ear hath not heard it.”
II. The splendour of heaven. John tries to describe it, and as we look through his telescope we see a blaze of jewellery, a mountain of light, a cataract of colour, a sea of glass, and a city like the sun. John bids us look again, and we see thrones; thrones of the prophets, patriarchs, angels, apostles, martyrs, throne of Jesus--throne of God. John bids us look again, and we see the great procession of the redeemed passing. “Eye hath not seen it, ear hath not heard it.” Skim from the summer waters the brightest sparkles, and you will get no idea of the sheen of the everlasting sea. Pile up the splendours of earthly cities and they would not make a stepping-stone by which you might mount to the city of God. Every house is a palace. Every step a triumph. Every meal is a banquet. Every day is a jubilee, every hour a rapture, and every moment an ecstasy.
III. The re-unions of heaven. If you have ever been across the seas, and met a friend in some strange city, you remember how your blood thrilled, and how glad you were to see him. What then will be our joy to meet in the bright city of the sun those from whom we have long been separated. In this world we only meet to part. It is good-bye, good-bye. But not so in heaven. Welcomes in the air, at the gates, at the house of many mansions--but no good-bye.
IV. The song of heaven. There is nothing more inspiriting to me than a whole congregation lifted up on the wave of holy melody. But, my friends, if music on earth is so sweet what will it be in heaven! They all know the tune there. All the best singers of all the ages will join it--choirs of white-robed children! choirs of patriarchs! choirs of apostles! Harpers with their harps. David of the harp will be there. Gabriel of the trumpet will be there. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The things which God has prepared
I. Their nature.
1. The mysteries of the gospel salvation.
2. Extending into the eternal future.
II. Their transcendent value.
1. Worthy of God.
2. Surpassing all human comprehension.
III. Their participation--depends on love to God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The things prepared and their enjoyment
I. The things prepared. Suggesting--
1. The Divine forethought, and the infinite fulness and carefulness of God’s love for His children. Remember:
(1) How the world was prepared before man came upon it.
(2) How God prepared a body in which Christ should be one with us, die to be our Saviour, and ascend to hold the sceptre of the universe.
(3) How Christ reminded His disciples that the dignities of the kingdom were only for those for whom it is prepared of the Father.
(4) How He went to prepare a place for us, and sent the Spirit to prepare us for the place.
2. The Divine treasury. The figure suggests a vast building over whose portals we read, “Ask and it shall be given,” &c.
a building divided into so many stores of Divine love. Let us open their doors.
(1) One contains the “purposes” of the Divine love, delivering mercy, sustaining grace--purposes that no need can exhaust, no opposition thwart, no eternity unfold.
(2) Another “promises” Divinely--
(a) Simple, little children can understand them.
(b) Profound, angels cannot fathom them.
(c) Certain, for “heaven and earth shall pass away,” &c.
(d) Sweet and rich, “sweeter than a honeycomb,” and “more precious than gold.”
(3) Divine “provisions” the mercy-seat where we obtain grace to help; the Cross, its cleansing fount, infinite ransom, Divine righteousness; the Lord’s Table.
(4) The “fulness” that is treasured up in Christ--fulness of grace to pardon, of merit to atone, of strength to sustain, of glory to reward.
(5) Things prepared in the ministry of the Holy Spirit--regeneration, comfort, sanctification.
(6) Glories that await us hereafter--the “crown” of triumph, the “harp” of praise, the “mansion” of repose and blessing, the “living fountain” of joy.
II. The revelation of the Spirit in which these things are made manifest to us.
1. Striking thought! God takes men into His confidence about matters that human reason could never fathom. It was so with Abraham. “Shall I hide,” &c. Amos declares that the Lord will hide nothing, but will reveal His secret unto His servants. In proportion to our intimacy with God the Divine purposes will be made plain to us. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” The disciples pleaded with John, who reclined on his Master’s bosom, to ask Him a secret which they did not venture to ask themselves. He lived so much nearer to Christ, and therefore had more of His secret. We deprive ourselves of unspeakable blessings in regard to God’s dealings in providence from our failure to recognise God’s hand in every gift. And God’s children should feel that in regard to the mysteries of the world around they shall have light resting on their path, and truth revealed by the indwelling Spirit which enables them to trust where others cannot. The man that is nearest the sun will have most of light, and the man who lives nearest the throne will have deeper draughts of the water of life that proceeds therefrom.
2. As to the revelation by the Spirit of Divine things, take the case of Simeon, unto whom it had been revealed by the Holy Ghost that he should not die until he had seen the Christ. How long he waited for the consolation of Israel! But at last it came. So God may have revealed to you in His Word and by His Spirit truths that have yet to come in their Divine significance and power. Wait patiently; God’s time is always the best. Take the case of Peter who, when all were dumb before “Whom say ye that I am?” received at once a revelation that Jesus was the Christ, &c. You may say “We are not Simeons or Peters.” No; but remember how Christ thanked God that the things withheld from the wise and prudent were revealed unto babes, i.e., babes in spiritual experience. But even to your children, who shall say at how early an age God, by His Spirit, shall reveal the truth? Remember Samuel.
III. The condition essential to the reception of the blessing. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us” there is the origin of all Christian love. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” that is the next step. Then we are the children of God, and the Spirit beareth witness with our spirits, &c. Then the circle is complete. And the Divine love thus enjoyed must manifest itself in self-sacrificing love to men. (J. P. Chown.)
The things prepared for a prepared people
The apostle here is quoting from Isaiah 64:4, and only intends to give the general sense of the passage. Both passages are generally used as referring to the heavenly state, but we can only apply them thus by accommodation. Yet this is a legitimate application. For if the text is true of our imperfect condition of privilege in this life, much more will it be true as applied to that perfection of bliss that awaits us in the life to come. You cannot judge of the real merits of a story till you see how it ends. You cannot decide about the value of a casket till it is opened and you see the jewels which it enshrines. You cannot pronounce on a campaign till you see what fruits result from its hard-fought battlefields. And so, in estimating the real worth of redemption, we can only form an approximate judgment of it in this life. There are three points of view from which we may contemplate our portion for the future, as set before us in the text.
I. The plain and positive view. “Things prepared.”
1. “Things” plural--not one element of joy, but many. It is a caricature of heaven when psalm-singing is represented as its chief occupation. A wonderful variety marks the imagery of the Bible as to the heavenly state--“a city that hath foundations,” “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” being “present with Christ, and beholding His glory,” is being made “like Him,” &c. These varied expressions suggest that our heaven will be a condition of being in which the mind, with its large desires, its deathless cravings, and the soul, with all the warmth of its affections and sympathies, will find the fullest scope for their development. As the vine puts forth its tendrils, and finds something to cling to for its support and growth; so, doubtless, will all the innocent tastes and longings of our renewed nature find in the heavenly state that which answers to their wants, “prepared,” as a trellis, to which they may cling, and in clinging to which they will find their delight.
2. And these are not things thrown together at haphazard. They are “prepared things.” How eloquent all nature is as to the teachings of this word! Note the wonderful care with which God has “prepared” for the wants of every tree, animal, bird, and fish; yea, for every worm; just that which will best meet its wants and minister to its comfort. Then, when we think of the souls God has redeemed at the price of His Son’s death, to whom His love has flowed out in a deeper channel than to any other of His creatures, whom He deigns to say that they are to be His portion; when we think of “the things prepared” for them in their final home, what shall we say? How shall we put limits to the extent to which His power, wisdom, and goodness will go in seeking to promote their happiness?
II. A negative or comparative view. Heaven’s happiness is such as “eye hath not seen,” &c., or to which all the eye hath seen, &c., bears no proportion.
1. It is clearly the inferential teaching of the text, that “the things prepared” exceed in glory all that we are familiar with in this outer creation.
(1) And the eye sees wondrous beauty as it ranges through the world of nature. But there is no comparison between what the eye sees here and “the things prepared” for God’s people in the future.
(2) And then the ear opens an avenue to another world of enjoyment peculiarly its own. Yet the highest rapture of the most gifted musician through the organ of hearing bears no comparison to the joy the redeemed will experience in “the things which God has prepared for them.”
(3) And then the imagination has a wondrous power to call into existence worlds of beauty and loveliness all its own. But when you put these things together--all that the eye can see, &c., of that which is beautiful or grand--they will be infinitely surpassed by “the things prepared” by God as the future portion of His people.
2. And there is something very sweet in the thought of this instituted connection, between these glories spread over the face of nature and that blessed home which Jesus is preparing for us. It shows how God means that the one should remind us of the other. The Jewish Rabbis inform us “that when Joseph had gathered much corn in Egypt he threw the chaff into the Nile, that so flowing down to the neighbouring cities, and nations more remote, it might bear witness to them of the store of good things garnered up in the treasure cities of Egypt.” And so God, to make us know what glory there is in heaven, has thrown some husks to us here, that we might draw out our inferences. If we find so much of glory spread over earthly things, what may we expect to find in those that are heavenly? If He give us so much in the land of our pilgrimage, what will He not give us in our own country? If He can lavish so much on His enemies what will He not reserve for His friends?
III. The personal view. “For them that love Him.” These things are designed for a “prepared” people. The preparation on the one side is just as necessary as that on the other. What is the use of preparing a feast unless you know that the guests those who are to be admitted to it can see; of preparing a grand concert unless will have appetites; of arranging the paintings of a splendid gallery unless the audience can hear? The glorious things of the future are prepared for a people who love God. The planting of this love in the heart is the great personal preparation for heaven that we need. The necessity for this is absolute. “Except a man be born again, He., he cannot see the kingdom of God.” These two things--love to God, and a new birth--always go together. (Richard Newton, D. D.)
is the eye that sees, the ear that hears, the heart that realises the things of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Ephesians 3:18)
. (Principal Edwards.)
1 Corinthians 2:10
But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.
The things of God revealed by the Spirit
When a telescope is directed towards some distant landscape, it enables us to see what we could not otherwise have seen; but it does not enable us to see anything which has not a real existence in the prospect before us. It does not present to the eye illusive imagery, neither is that a fanciful and factitious scene which it throws open to our contemplation. The natural eye saw nothing but blue land stretching along the distant horizon. By the aid of the glass there bursts upon it a charming variety of fields and woods, and spires and villages. Yet who would say that the glass added one feature to this assemblage? It discovers nothing to us which is not there; nor, out of that portion of the book of nature which we are employed in contemplating, does it bring into view a single character which is not really and previously inscribed upon it. And so of the Spirit. He does not add a single truth or a single character to the book of revelation. He enables the spiritual man to see; but the spectacle which He lays open is uniform and immutable. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The revealed communications of the Spirit are
I. Transcendent in character.
1. The deep things of God. Reason suffices in other matters; these can only be revealed by the Spirit, who teaches us to cry “Abba, Father.”
II. An absolute around of certainty and confidence.
1. He knows all things.
2. Reveals that God is love.
3. This truth is as unchangeable as God Himself and becomes the immovable ground of our happiness.
III. Sufficient for all our spiritual necessities, We want nothing more when this love is revealed in us because--
1. His gracious purpose is disclosed.
2. All the miseries of our nature are met in Christ.
3. Christ is revealed as a new source of life and happiness. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The wisdom of God
I. The relation of intellectual knowledge to the wisdom of God. In the apostle’s presentation of this question there are two things very manifest, viz., that the true Wisdom involves a very large and important element of intellectual conception, and yet that, on the other hand, it must be radically distinguished from merely intellectual operations and discoveries. The former of these two positions is clearly seen in the way in which He presents the wisdom of a perfect Christianity as competing with, and transcending, the philosophic wisdom of the Greek. This side of the apostle’s position is condemnatory of the modern craze to recklessly ignore important differences in the intellectual conceptions of truth held by Christian people, and to talk at random about oneness of spirit. In the mature Christian life the spirit largely determines, and is largely determined by, the central conceptions of truth. Essential differences in the “wisdom” we hold must be a sign of serious spiritual divergence, though it may be difficult to detect it in the moral life. To take an extreme case, there is a vast difference between the spiritual state of an atheist and a Christian man, even though the moral life of the former may be unimpeachable. But, as we have said, the apostle also maintains that the wisdom of God is far more than a system of thought, so much so that it is impossible to attain it by the mere force of intellectual power, however great its sweep and however large its results. The senses cannot discover this wisdom, nor can thought evolve it. The seat of the highest wisdom is not intellect, but spirit. But the spiritual consciousness of which we speak must not be confounded with the more superficial element of emotion. The latter sweeps over the surface of the life, the former is fixed deep in the centre of it. The latter is transient and uncertain, the former is set in the heart of eternal relations. The latter is fickle and untrustworthy, the former affords the most trustworthy testimony concerning the truths to which it testifies. Clearly enough, then, Paul excludes from participation in the true wisdom all that have not entered into a spiritual relation of life and love with God; and, more explicitly still, all that fail to apprehend God in Christ. A love of scientific investigation and an apprehension of spiritual realities do not necessarily go together; and without the latter even the elements of true wisdom are absent.
II. What is the relation of philosophic moral and religious systems to the Biblical system? Can we claim for the Christian Scriptures an inspiration which cannot be claimed, say, for the moral systems of Greek philosophy? The principle laid down in our text seems to me to state clearly the truth of the matter. It is not my intention to deny that the Greek received a revelation from God, for I believe he did receive e. Divine revelation, and that a revelation of considerable range and grandeur. Further than this, I affirm that, wherever there has existed any degree of moral and spiritual consciousness, God has necessarily manifested Himself through it. “The Word is the light that lighteth every man.” But there was this essential difference between the Jewish prophet and the Greek philosopher, a difference that revealed itself more fully as their several histories developed: the apprehension of truth by the former was predominatingly spiritual, by the latter intellectual. The Greek reached his conclusions by elaborate processes of thought; the Hebrew received his revelations in the Spirit, and spoke as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. It is to this unique experience that we give the name of “inspiration.” The unique revelation which this experience involved is asserted clearly enough in the principle laid down in the text; for it asserts this, that the revelation received through the Spirit of God transcends every other, and covers a sphere into which no other can enter.
III. The relation of spiritual development to the wisdom of God. The apostle clearly lays down the principle that the development of spiritual apprehension accompanies the development of spiritual life. It is to the man of mature spiritual life that the apostle reveals the higher wisdom of the gospel. Spiritual things are revealed by the Spirit of God, and are therefore apprehended in the proportion that we possess this Spirit. But, if this be so, if a clearer vision of truth must be ever coming to developing spiritual life, does it not follow that the New Testament Scriptures may be superseded, and that we must look for the latest revelation of truth to the spiritual man of to-day? When Christ came, and when, in the full light of His teaching, the central facts of His life and death, and the central significance of these facts, had been recorded, the book of God’s revelation closed. The glorious opportunities for the conveyance of final and complete truth to men were such as could not recur. If we cannot find the certainty of truth here, then there is no rest for the sole of our foot for ever. But we must distinguish between the finality of the revelation and finality in the comprehension of it. I see no difficulty at all in admitting that even the apostles were wiser than they knew, that their teaching contained vast possibilities of unfolding and latent grandeurs which they but dimly apprehended. The truest theology is that which, like a growing child, maintains its identity, not through stagnation, but through development. God help us to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! But the most deep-lying development in the Christian life, deeper than thought-articulation of truth, is spirit-apprehension of it. Underneath the grandest thought-apprehension of truth there is a still grander spiritual consciousness of it. Truth in its deepest origin is life. In the full life which holds in its bosom the full truth consists man’s highest heaven. This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. (John Thomas, M. A.)
True religion a revelation
I. Religion is the fruit of a revelation from God. There are those who tell us that there is no such thing as a supernatural light to guide man through the maze of his soul’s life. The little sparrow has that within itself that, like a luminous flame, guides it in all that pertains to its existence. In seeking its food it is able to distinguish between that which will nourish and that which will poison; it can also choose its own home: “Yea the sparrow hath found a house and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.” The sun in the heavens guides man in all this lower life. Is it possible that he has been left without a light to illumine his mind and spirit? There was need of a revelation; for those who had seen the greatness and glory of nature had failed to see, hear, or to conceive the things God had prepared for the soul. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged.” But why be content with merely carnal senses? Why not receive the light and grace of the Holy Spirit, that you may by spiritual discernment understand the things of God prepared for you?
II. Religion is a revelation to love. We must not forget in our study of these words that they speak of a revelation which has been made; it is not something we are to look forward to. “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.” The state of mind to which God makes known the things which He has prepared is love. God is love, and love can only make itself known to love. The subject must be in sympathy with the object. The strange conduct of the Jews towards Christ can only be explained on this principle. The Saviour’s life was in the truest sense really beautiful, as it is admitted by the most pronounced unbelievers in these days. And yet the people of His age esteemed Him as a “root out of a dry ground: He had no form nor comeliness”; when they saw Him, “there was no beauty that they should desire Him.” God reveals His love to love. “We love Him because He first loved us.” The infinite kindness of God is to be seen in the method of His dealings with the world. If His method of saving men were mainly intellectual, few comparatively would be redeemed; for the plan would ,of necessity be so cold and formal, that only the few gifted minds would be interested by it. The many can only be reached by a direct appeal to their feelings, and hence the religion of Christ addresses the minds of men through their hearts; and the apostles laid emphasis, not on the great thoughts of God, but upon His infinite love in the gift of His Son. It is clear, then, that the religion of heaven is a revelation of love to love. God cannot reveal Himself to any other temper. We have sometimes gone into gardens, and observed plants that should be in full bloom still unopened. The green bud appeared full, almost to bursting; it was least the time for it to send forth its fragrant blossom, and still it was completely inclosed in its natural shield and entirely hidden from view. The reason of the delay was the state of the air; it was cold and frosty, and they could only reveal “themselves to a bright sun and in a genial atmosphere; were they to open in the frosty air they would endanger their lives. A cold critical spirit is fatal to the revelations of love, it freezes the channels to the heart; and makes it impossible even for the love of God to find its way into it. But where a loving disposition exists, the love of God is sure to reveal itself.
III. Religion is the fruit of a complete revelation.
1. The Holy Spirit has revealed the great truth that “God is light.” God is the light of the soul, it is from Him we obtain the light that enables us to solve spiritual problems.
2. Another important truth has been revealed by the Spirit, that “God is love.” This is done in a most effectual manner. “Because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which was given unto us.”
3. The Spirit has revealed the truth that ,God is life: “For with Thee is the fountain of life.” He in the first instance breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of man. (D. Rhys Jenkins.)
I. Its indispensable necessity to the knowledge of God. Because--
1. God stands alone, and is known only to Himself.
2. He is infinitely less comprehensible than men who cannot, though of the same nation, comprehend each other.
II. Its possibility and sufficiency. The Spirit--
1. Is as intimately one with God as the spirit of man is one with Himself.
2. Knows all things perfectly.
3. What He knows He can reveal.
III. Its contents and operation.
1. It contains a revelation of the Divine purpose, of Christ, of the things prepared for us in eternity.
2. He who teaches these things awakens desire, produces faith, confirms and comforts the heart in the knowledge of them. (R. Watson.)
The Spirit as a Teacher
On entering a cavern you inquire for a guide who comes with his lighted flambeau. He conducts you down to a considerable depth, and you find yourself in the midst of the cave. He leads you through different chambers. Here he points you to a little stream rushing from amid the rocks, and indicates its rise and progress. There he points to some peculiar rock, and tells you its name, then takes you into a large, natural hall, tells you how many persons once feasted in it, and so on. Truth is a grand series of caverns. It is our glory to have so great and wise a conductor as the Holy Spirit. Imagine that we are coming to the darkness of it. He is a light shining in the midst of us to guide us. He teaches us by suggestion, direction, and illumination. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Spiritual sight restored
A little boy was born blind. At last an operation was performed--the light was let in slowly. When one day his mother led him out of doors and uncovered his eyes, and for the first time he saw the sky and the earth, “Oh, mother!” he cried, “why did you not tell me it was so beautiful?” She burst into tears, and said, “I tried to tell you, dear, but you could not understand me.” So it is when we try to tell what is in Christ. Unless the spiritual sight is opened by the Holy Spirit we cannot understand.
The office of the Holy Spirit
The Rev. E. Hopkins, in showing the importance of knowledge to the Christian, told as an illustration what had happened to a friend of his in Yorkshire, who, though practically a poor man, owned an estate in that county. One day a geologist told him there was in his estate an abundance of iron ore. Believing this to be true he felt at once that he was no longer poor but rich. Even so it is the office of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the boundless riches that are treasured up in Christ.
For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.--
The agency of the Holy Spirit
I. He searcheth the deep things of God.
1. His purposes of grace.
2. His particular dealings with individuals.
3. The glorious issue of His dispensations.
II. He reveals them to man.
1. To us and in us.
2. With saving power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The deep things of God
We walk in a daily wonder, ourselves the strangest of mysteries. Our knowledge is only the glimmer of light upon the surface of the ocean of existence. Beneath are the deep things of God. We need not go far to stand on the shore of the deep things of God. Our science has not gone to the root yet of a single blade of grass.
I. Consider some of these mysteries.
1. To begin with the lowest, what do we know about the nature of matter? You can tell me as easily what the angels’ wings are as tell me the ultimate constitution of a single particle of matter. Common oxygen and- hydrogen, and all elemental principles, belong by nature to the deep things of God. The very dust of the earth upon which we tread is in its real principle as unknown to us as the nature of God Himself.
2. But if the common earth is thus the wonder of science, much more is that dust a mystery when, by unknown forces, it is taken up and woven dexterously after a predetermined pattern and organised into a thing of life. Sometimes investigators, pressing hard after the molecules of matter, have thought they had almost won the secret of life; but, just as our science seems about to put its finger upon that fugitive thing, life, it flies from its hand and we are no wiser than before. Life is one of the deep things of God, whose, origin no man can discover, and of whose future what we call death is only our ignorance. Perhaps to see the spring of life would be to see the living God Himself.
3. But if the life which colours the petal of the flower, and finds wings in the bird, and culminates in the form of man, is a mystery, what shall we say of that life when it has become conscious and is a thinking, willing mind? The human soul is one of the deepest of the deep things of God.
4. What then shall we say of all those further problems of life of which these things are, as it were, but the terms or elements? Our thoughts flutter over these deep things of God as the seabirds dip their wings in the ocean’s waves. They only shake from their feathers the spray of the surface. Yet we cannot help thinking of the deep things of our soul’s past, of the deeper things of its future. Whence came the evil that gives the good a bitter taste? How did death ever gain dominion over us? How did this hard, poisonous core of sin ever grow in the midst of this fair life? And who thus shall lift the veil for us from the future? We can see signs all around us of a great system of retribution. There is no doubt but that what a man sows that shall he also reap. The present retributive tendencies of things no sane man can deny. And they extend into the future; they work on and on. We can follow them out until they disappear in the unknown depths of futurity.
II. We are ready now to draw from such reflections some useful and pertinent conclusions.
1. We may infer that--
(1) There are some people who know more than their Creator ever intended that they should know. There are some, e.g., who know that the Bible is false, and religion a superstition, because, in this cast-iron world, a miracle seems impossible, prayer folly. Before they can be sure of that, however, they should know vastly more of the structure of this material universe than any mortal eye has as yet ever seen. Possibly this may not be a “cast-iron” universe; possibly it may be something more than a mere museum-world of biological specimens; and yet, for all we know to the contrary, this material system may be as permeable to Divine influences as this earth, which seems a globe so solid, is supposed to be open as wicker-work to all movements of the ethereal waves. “There,” said Lacordaire, as he overheard in a Paris restaurant St. Beuve saying, “I cannot believe in God, because I believe only in what I understand--there is St. Beuve, who does not believe in God because he does not understand Him; nor does he understand why the same fire melts butter and hardens eggs, and yet he eats an omelet.”
(2) There are people who know there can be no such place as hell, because God is good. I could trust better their assurance if only they could prove that there never could be such a place as Sodom, because God is good. Surely it is the part of a wise man not to dogmatise, but so to live as not to pitch his tent toward any Sodom, either in this world or in the world to come.
(3) There are persons so wondrous wise as to know that God cannot exist as a Trinity, because three are not one. We, too, ever since we learned to count our fingers, have known that three are more than one; but there is a puzzle of arithmetic which we have not solved yet, and that is, how I can be at one and the same time the subject and the object of my own thinking--these three in one. When I cannot as yet hardly comprehend my own imperfection, I will, at least, allow God to exist in a perfection which passes my knowledge; and if revelation leads me to worship Him as a unity, complete in Himself, and not as a mere lonely, loveless unit, that needs something else to make it blessed, surely it is; a better wisdom to believe in, though we can but dimly comprehend, the unity of three eternal distinctions in the ineffable society of one blessed God.
2. But my main object is to remind you, by these questionings, of what our errand in this life really is.
(1) It is very evident that the deep things of God are intended for finite minds to search. God has given us great problems for our mental exercise, and we have found out a vast deal. Truth opens new vistas to us at every turn.
(2) But it is just as clear that to gain knowledge is not our chief errand here. This mortal stage is arranged for scenes of probation; it is fitted out for the formation of character. Our object is salvation. And so God follows through all man’s history this supreme moral purpose, and to this end everything else in His providence seems to have been subordinated. This appears clearly enough from the reflections which we have just been pursuing; for God gratifies our love for knowledge only in so far as it seems to be for our moral good. How easy it would have been for Him to have granted us revelations of some of these mysteries! Let us remember however, that while the shadows lie over many a field of knowledge, the light does fall directly over the narrow path of duty; and though we may not see far into the shadows of the forest on either side, yet, if we will, we can keep with resolute feet the narrow path of duty, and that is the path which leads up into the open day. Conclusion: Let us remember, then, that the great duties of life are the illuminated texts of Scripture: “Repent,” “Believe,” “Be converted,” “Strive,” “Pray,” “Have the Spirit of Christ,” “Set your affections on things above.” These commandments of the Lord are “plain, enlightening the eyes” of whosoever wishes to see. There are many things which, as Jesus said, we shall know hereafter. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
The deep things of God are
1. Unfathomable in their nature.
2. Comprehended only by the Spirit of God.
3. Partially revealed to us. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The gospel school
Here the student is--
I. Instructed in the sublimest realities. “Deep things of God.” Things, not words, not theories, “deep things,” deep because undiscoverable by human reason, and deep because they come from the fathomless ocean of Divine love. They are the primary elements of the gospel, and the necessary condition of soul restoration, and are--
1. The free gifts of heaven. “Freely given to us of God.”
2. Freely given to be communicated. “Which things also we speak,” &c. He who gets these things into his mind and heart is bound to tell them to others.
II. Taught by the greatest teacher. “The Spirit of God.” This teacher--
1. Has infinite knowledge. “The Spirit searcheth all things.” “The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” He knows them in their essence, number, issues, bearings, relations, &c.
2. Is no other than God Himself (verse 11). The implication is that this Spirit is as truly God as man’s mind is mind.
III. Must develop his higher nature (verse 14). Man has a threefold nature--body, soul and spirit. The first is the animal, the second is the mental, and the third, the moral or spiritual. This is the conscience with its intuitions and sympathies, and this is the chief part of man, nay, the man himself. Now this part of the man alone can receive the “things of the Spirit of God.” Set these things before the “natural man,” his mere body, they are no more to him than Euclid to a brute. Set them before the mere psychical or intellectual man, and they are “foolishness unto him.” Sheer intellect cannot understand love nor appreciate right. It concerns itself with the truth or falsehood of propositions, and the advantages and disadvantages of conduct, nothing more. Moral love only can interpret and feel the things of moral love, the “deep things of God.” Hence this spiritual nature must be roused from its dormancy, and become the ascendant nature before the “things of the Spiritcan be “discerned,” and then the man shall judge all spiritual things, whilst he himself will not be judged rightly by any “natural man(verse 16). Who thus uninstructed can “know the mind of the Lord”? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
1 Corinthians 2:11-12
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?
Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
The narrow limits of human comprehension in spiritual matters
I. Without help man knows--
1. Very little of himself.
2. Still less of his fellow-man.
3. Least of all about God.
II. This should teach him--
1. Modesty in his judgments.
2. Humility in his inquiries.
3. Confidence in the Word of God, for the Spirit knoweth all things. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The imperfection of human insight and sympathy
1. There is an outer world in which all of us are living: and so far as regards that world, one human being may know “the things of other.” Indeed, in a quiet country town it is a proverb that everybody knows the things of everybody else. In such a place it is all but impossible for any one to keep anything about himself a secret.
2. But under this outward living another and a deeper being lies. Those around you may know just as well as you do, the externalities of your life, and yet be profoundly ignorant about all that concerns your real, inward life. And it was of this inner world that St. Paul was thinking. In one short solitary walk, just think how many thoughts pass through your minds of which your nearest and dearest can never know. And nothing more illustrates the truth of the text than to think how differently the same scene may affect different persons, according to the associations linked with it.
3. This great ignorance of the inner life of those around us--
I. Should teach us to be charitable in our judgments and estimates of those abound us. You cannot penetrate into the soul of your fellow-sinner, and know for certain what is passing there. Beware, then, how you think or say concerning him what may be cruel injustice. Let us think the best we can of our brethren in sin and sorrow.
II. Should comfort those who mourn the loss of friends. It is sometimes a cause of grief and anxiety to the relatives of the dying, that they will not be brought to speak of their religious faith and feelings in that frank way which some would wish. Ah, you do not know what solemn thoughts pass in the unseen world within your departing friend’s breast. Where a Christian profession gives good hope of a Christian end, you may well use this text as it were to eke out the humble trust of the happiness of one departed which you may fail to derive from his own brief and reserved words.
III. Should teach us our great need to have Christ for our Friend. For the text suggests to us the very awful thought that each one of us, by our make and nature, is a solitary being. Even in the case of those who know us best, there is a most imperfect knowledge day by day of our most real life. Our awful gift of personality parts us off from all created beings. Our spirits live each in its own sphere: and we cannot explain to one another. Do you want a friend, who, without your needing to tell him, will know your every shade of thought, of anxiety, of weakness, of sorrow, and who will discern the heartiness that glows through your every prayer, your every act of faith and love, the sincerity of your every struggle with temptation, the thousand things which you could not if you would confide to those you love best, and which if you could you would not. If you want all this--and every Christian does want all this--then come to Jesus. (A. H. K. Boyd, D. D.)
The personality of life
The consciousness of another is impenetrable. We cannot reach it; we cannot even conceive of it. But in our own is our existence; our existence and our personality are the same; and, therefore, we shrink from the extinction of our personality, because it implies the extinction of our existence. Christianity teaches, in a variety of ways, the doctrine of a strict spiritual personality. It is not the least remarkable characteristic of Christianity that, being of all religions the most social, it is likewise, of all religions, the most individualising. We shall look at this Christian doctrine, concerning the personality of life, in a variety of aspects. The spirit of the doctrine we take from the gospel; illustrations of it we shall seek everywhere. If we look into life, in itself as each of us finds it circumscribed in his individual consciousness, we become aware of a principle in our being by which we are separate from the universe, and separate from one another. We become aware that, by the power of this principle, we draw all the influences which act on us into our personality, and that, only as thus infused, do they constitute any portion of our inward life. It is by the power of this principle, which is, properly, myself, modifying all that is not myself, that I live, and that my life is independently my own. But some say that man has no inherent spirituality, no spontaneous energy, no sovereign capacity. Such say that man is never the master, but always the creature of circumstances. These are assertions to which no logic can be applied, and if a man, on consulting his own soul, is not convinced of their falsehood, there is no other method of conviction. No matter what may appear to be the external slavery, we still feel that we have a principle, an individuality of life, that is separate from our circumstances and above them. Take this feeling once away, and we are no longer rational, and we are no longer persons. We do not, certainly, deny the influence of circumstances. In a great degree, circumstances are the materials out of which the life is made; and the quality of the materials must, of course, influence more or less the character of the life. But the influence of circumstances on life does not loosen the inviolability of its interior consciousness. This doctrine of circumstances affords no aid even for the interpretation of that in life which may be interpreted; because for a true interpretation you should know all the circumstances that acted on the life, and you should know in what manner they acted. Bat who knows this of any one? Who knows it of one with whom he has been longest and nearest? Who can know the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? Race, country, era, creed, institutions, family, education, social station, employment, friend, companions, these are but vague data when a soul is to be judged; and, be it only a judgment on the merest externals of character, such data afford, even for this, but uncertain inference. Perhaps things of which no one takes heed are the most important. A word heard in childhood, a kind or cruel look felt in youth, a tune, a picture, a prospect, a short visit, an accident, a casual acquaintance, these, and a thousand like, may be the chief constituents of many an impulse that begins a destiny. We behold the streams of individual life as they bubble out upon the surface, but we do not see the fountains whence they spring. Every life has combinations of experience, of which another has not an idea, or the means of forming an idea. Every life has treasures of which others know not, out of which, and often when least expected, it can bring things new and old. How is it that events, incidents, objects, changes, alike in outward semblance, enter into millions of minds, and in every one of them assimilate with a different individuality. How one man is a poet, where another man is a sot; how one man is in raptures, where another is asleep; how one man is improved, where another is corrupted. Thus, whatever the visible appearances, within them there is a central self, in which the essence of the man abides. Your life is yours, it is not mine. My life is mine and not another’s. Human faculties are common, but that which converges these faculties into my identity, separates me from every other man. That other man cannot think my thoughts, he cannot speak my words, he cannot do my works. He cannot have my sins, I cannot have his virtues. Each must feel, therefore, that his life must be his own.
1. Life is first unfolded through outward nature. In that rudest state of humanity, which seems almost instinctive, we might imagine individuality as nearly impossible, but so it is not; and monotonous as the ideas and experience may appear, they become incorporated with a distinct life, in the personality of each soul. But does not outward nature afford manifest evidence that it is intended to unfold life through higher feelings than sensation? Is there no other purpose for sight than discernment of our position and our way? Is there no other purpose for hearing than the simple perception of sound? Why are there flowers in the field? Why are blossoms on the trees? Why is the rainbow painted with hues so inimitable? Or, why, also, do the waves make music with the shore? These are not necessary to feed, or lodge, or clothe us; they are not necessary to mere labour or mere intercourse. They afford nutriment to the inherent life of rational creatures. The life is indeed but narrowly unfolded in which the sense of beauty in outward nature is dull or wanting. Not to mark the seasons, except by the profit or the loss they bring; to think of days and nights as mere alternations of toil and sleep; to discern in the river only its adaptation for factories; to be blind, and deaf, and callous, to all but the hardest uses of creation, is to leave out of conscious being whatever gives the universe its most vital reality. Such a life may be called a prudent life, and, for its object, it may be an eminently successful life; but its object is paltry, and its success on the level of its object. Not that men are expected to be poets or artists, or to have the peculiar temperaments that characterise poets or artists. Not that men are expected to talk of their experience of enjoyment in nature, or to affect it if they have it not. I merely insist that the sensibilities be open to every influence of natural beauty; and I hold that if these sensibilities belong not to the individual constitution, there is a deficit in it. If the world has deadened them, the world has done the being a serious injury; if education or religious culture has not been such as to incite them, each has failed in one of the most vital offices of a true spiritual culture. Outward nature, also, unfolds life by exercising thought; not thought which is busied only about wants, but thought which delights to seek the end of creation’s laws and mysteries. But life is unfolded in its loftiest capacities when everywhere in outward nature the soul is conscious of God’s pervading presence; when it sees the goodness of God in all that is lovely, and the wisdom of God in all that is true. Every man, whether he knows it or not, is an incarnation of the immortal; and through his immortality all things that connect themselves with his soul are immortal. In every loving soul, therefore, according to the measure of its power, God re-constructs the heavens and the earth.
2. The individual being of man is also unfolded by society. It is born into society, and by society it lives. Existing at first in passive and unconscious instincts, it finds protection in the care of intelligent affections. The home, therefore, is the first circle within which personality opens, and it is always the nearest. Beyond this, the individual is surrounded with circumstances more complex. He is cast among persons whose wills are not only different from his own, but constantly antagonistic to it. And thus in society, as in nature, the unfolding of his being will be by resistance as well as by affinity. The most self-complete personality can have no development but by means of society. Intellect works by means of society. Thinkers the most abstract have not all their materials of reflection in themselves. The studies that belong purely to the mind as well as those that belong to matter, and to the active relations of life, require observation, comparison, sagacity, variety of acquisition, and experience. No man can be a thinker by mere self-contemplation. He might as well expect to become a physiognomist by always gazing in a mirror, or to become a geographer by measuring the dimensions of his chamber. A man is revealed even to himself by the action on him of external things, and of other minds. Imagination works by means of society. For society it builds and sculptures, paints, forms its concords of sweet sounds, and puts its dreams into melody and measure. But for society, virtue could neither have existence nor a name. Society, by its occupations and injunctions, by the contact in which it places will to will, by its excitements and its sympathies, elicits the power of the moral nature: society it is that trains this power, tries it, strengthens it, matures it; is the arena of its contest, is the field of its victories. But if in society the moral nature has its contests, in society also it has its charities. But while society, whether in calm or conflict, unfolds life, to this its agency should he bounded. It should not be allowed to absorb the individual life, or to crush it. With the strength, the freedom, the integrity of thought and conscience; with honest and unoffending idiosyncrasies, it has no claim to interfere. Men in our age live gregariously; and if the aggregation were for exertion and for work, this might be a benefit; but men think, men feel conventionally, and this is an evil. It enfeebles, it impoverishes the life; it depresses, nay, it denounces originality, it takes away all stimulus to meditation, reflection, or any strong mental effort. I do not impeach the value of public opinion, but I do not bow to it as an authority, nor accept it as a guide. Life in our age is too much in the mass for any thorough spiritual culture; and life is too much in the outward for any intensity of individual character. If those who use efforts for others, and use them seriously, would first use them to the utmost on their own spirits, society would advance more quickly towards regeneration. There is a mawkish tendency in some to charge their failings on this or that cause out of themselves. They were tempted, the evil was placed in their way, and they could neither pass by it nor bound over it. This is a cowardly spirit which, after all, absolves not from the transgression, while it pulls down the soul into the deepest pit of degradation. It is just as far from genuine repentance and humility as it is from honesty and heroism. When we judge others we must make every merciful allowance; but we must not teach themselves to do so; nor must we do so when we judge ourselves. I have said that we should hold every man’s personality sacred, as well as our own, and I repeat it. Why should I wish to compel any man, if such were possible, to live my life, think my thoughts, accept my opinions, believe my creed, worship at my altar. If such desire were not utterly foolish, would it not be the climax of presumption? Some one may object that the personality which I defend is an obstinate egotism. Not at all. Nor is it combative or exacting, but charitable and liberal. The absence of a true individuality produces many of the gloomiest evils with which society is deformed. Why else do people consider the meat as more than the life, and the raiment more than the body? Why else do they so esteem that which is not their being, and so little that which is? Why else do people ape the talents of others, and neglect those which are their own? Why do they so abortively attempt the work they cannot do, and overlook the work they can? Let a man be satisfied to be himself, and he will not be dissatisfied because he is not another. He will not, then, be hostile to that other for being what he is; nay, he will rejoice in all by which that other is ennobled; he will lament for all by which he is degraded. For a man, therefore, to be himself, fully, honestly, completely, does not circumscribe his communion, it makes it wider. But a man should not be content to be only roughly himself. A man ought to labour to beautify and harmonise in his interior personality; and if that be done, there will be no confusion in his exterior relationships. And what a glorious work is this! If the sculptor spends years in toil to shape hard marble into grace, and then dies contented, what should not a man be willing to bear and do, when it is a deathless spirit that he forms to immortal loveliness? After all, there is much of one’s life that is not unfolded; much that remains uncommunicated, or that is incommunicable. The very medium, language, by which spirit holds converse with spirit, is inadequate to transmit the plainest thought as it is in the mind of the speaker. Language is not representative, but suggestive, and no merely spiritual idea is exactly the same in any two minds. How much of life passes within us, that we make no attempt to impart, that we have no opportunity to impart. If we find such to be our ordinary experience in life, what shall we say of its more solemn passages? Can any man, and let him be of surpassing eloquence, communicate an absorbing thought, and the interest with which it fills him? No; we try in vain to express an overflowing joy; as vainly go we attempt to put into utterance a deeply-seated grief. Even bodily pain we cannot make the most sympathising understand. And then death--death always in shadow, always in silence, always absolute in isolation! Who, then, can know the things of a man save the spirit of a man which is in him? What misgivings, what memories, what darkening fears, what dawning hopes, may then agitate the breast, and none can know, and none can share them! We shall not seek to pierce the mystery. These solemn isolations we ought not to forget; they must, sooner or later, come to us all, and it is but common prudence to gather strength to meet them. The view that I have given in this discourse of life, some, I doubt not, will consider lonely. A great part of life must indeed be lonely. In a pure and reflective loneliness there is strength, and there is depth in it. There is great enrichment in it. To get at the meanings and mysteries of things we must converse with them alone. So the thinker is lonely; the poet is lonely; the hero is lonely; the saint is lonely; the martyr is lonely. Social affection has, indeed, great beauty; public spirit much worth: energetic talents have abundant utility; but it is by habits of independent and solitary meditation that they are matured, deepened, and consolidated. (H. Giles.)
The perfect knowledge of God
I. How it is possible.
1. Only the spirit of man knows what is in man.
2. So the Spirit of God only knows the things of God.
3. Hence the things of God can only be known by him who has the Spirit.
II. How it is obtainable.
1. Not by him who has the spirit of the world.
2. But by him who receives the Spirit by a new birth, and consequently by the Spirit understands the things that God has freely given in His Word. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The indwelling Spirit
1. There are certain instincts in our common humanity by which every man has a sympathy with his fellow-man. No other creature but man can possess it. Mind strangely echoes mind.
2. Again every one is conscious of secret thoughts and depths in his own soul which only himself can fathom. He has feelings within feelings, which no other person can ever thoroughly understand, but which, to his own consciousness, make his individuality and his whole being.
3. Put these two truths together, and you arrive at a double analogy. As only “man” knows “man,” and as only one’s self knows one’s self, “even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”
I. Only God knows God. ‘The Holy Ghost is God. Therefore the Holy Ghost “Knows God.” But he who is “Born of Godhas the Holy Ghost in him, and he, and he only, can “know God.” It is not your reading, reasoning, listening, philosophy, piety, or prayers that will enable you to know God, but only the Holy Ghost in you. We live in the midst of two worlds, equally real, equally definite. The one is that material universe which we see, and feel, and touch. The other is--
1. A veiled world till a touch of Omnipotence opens it. You may walk in the midst of it all your life, and yet never know that it is there. To another--at your very side--these things are, at this moment, more real and more distinct than your world is to you.
2. A spiritual world, made up of spiritual pleasures, pains, conflicts, tastes, friendships, services. It is here. But it wants a new faculty to see it. Suppose, at this moment, another bodily sense were added to your five senses, what new channels of thought and enjoyment that sixth sense would add to you! And this unseen system requires a new sense before it can be perceived.
3. A much higher world. The natural world is very lovely; but it is only the shadow of that spiritual world. What if you should find, at last, that all along you have been contented with the shadow, and that you have never grasped the substance of life, because your eyes were never opened to see it?
II. If, then, everything in spiritual knowledge depends on the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the great question is, how can i enjoy it? Only by union with Christ. Only the grafted branch can get the sap. Only the united member partakes of the life’s blood. The first act of union takes place by the free working of the grace of God. This is conversion; the new life. After that, many things will promote its increase--specially the Word of God, and prayer, and good works. Then, through union, comes the Holy Ghost; through the Holy Ghost, the knowledge of God; through the knowledge of God, the image of God; through the image of God, God; and through God, heaven. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The necessity of the Spirit to the understanding of the things of God
The Scripture cannot be perfectly understood except by the guidance of the same mind that inspired it. It is an outward revelation, and we need, in order to make it plain, an inward revelation also. It resembles a sundial, which is in itself perfect, but the indispensable condition of whose usefulness is light. The Scripture is the chart to glory, on which everything necessary is marked with unerring accuracy; but the one indispensable condition of its answering its end is that the Spirit, while we read it, shall be shining upon it (Psalms 43:3). Or to put the matter in another way: Without some kind of sympathy with the mind of a poet, without the poetical turn, it would be impossible to appreciate poetry. And each distinct species of poetry can only be so far understood as the reader finds in himself some taste for it. The literature may stimulate the taste, but there must be the taste in the first instance. So then it would not be consonant even with reason that Holy Scripture should be exempted from the operation of a law which applies to poetry, and indeed every class of literature; that it should be feasible to enter into its significance, without having inherited their spirit. (Dean Goulburn.)
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.
The spirit of the world and the Spirit of God
The Spirit of God is--
I. A Spirit of truth. By witnessing to the truth He condemns--
1. The errors of the world.
2. The hypocrisies of the world.
3. The false judgments of the world.
II. A Spirit of love. He inspires--
1. Love to God. Gratitude takes the place of cold thoughtlessness, sympathy with the redeeming work of Jesus takes the place of selfish isolation.
2. Love to our neighbour. One great form in which the world’s selfishness finds expression is covetousness. The Spirit of God destroys it, and fills the heart with its opposite, benevolence.
III. A Spirit of zeal. His descent was accompanied with mighty rushing winds and cloven tongues of fire. These manifested--
1. The mystery of His nature.
2. The efficacy of His grace.
3. The majesty of His presence.
4. The facility and promptitude of His operations.
5. The impression which He would make upon the apostles.
He came to change the whole aspect of society. The world was absorbed in love of the visible, occupied in things present, was indifferent to the future. The darkness of superstition and infidelity had again covered the face of the deep. The disciples, timid, feeble, and unlettered men, when inspired of God, became courageous, powerful and victorious. The Spirit of God inspires us with zeal--
(1) To confess our religion.
(2) To practise it. (Bp. Adam Flechier.)
The two kinds of spirit
The spirit of anything is that vital principle which sets it a-going; which keeps it in motion; which gives it its form and distinguishing qualities. The spirit of the world is that principle which gives a determination to the character, and a form to the life of the man of the earth; the spirit which is of God is that vital principle which gives a determination to the character, and a form to the life of the citizen of heaven. One of these spirits actuates all mankind.
1. The spirit of the world is mean and grovelling; the spirit which is of God is noble and elevated. The man of the earth, making himself the object of all his actions, and having his own interest perpetually in view, conducts his life by maxims of utility alone. The citizen of heaven scorns the vile arts, and the low cunning, employed by the man of the earth. He condescends, indeed, to every gentle office of kindness and humanity. But there is a difference between condescending and descending from the dignity of character. From that he never descends.
2. The spirit of the world is a spirit of falsehood, dissimulation, and hypocrisy: the spirit that is of God is a spirit of truth, sincerity, and openness. The life which the man of the earth leads is a scene of imposture and delusion. Show without substance; appearance without reality; professions of friendship which signify nothing; and promises which are never meant to be performed, fill up a life which is all outside. The citizen of heaven esteems truth as sacred, and holds sincerity to be the first of the virtues. He has no secret doctrines to communicate. He needs no chosen confidents to whom he may impart his favourite notions. What he avows to God, he avows to man. He expresseth with his tongue what he thinketh with his heart.
3. The spirit of the world is a timid spirit; the spirit which is of God is a bold and manly spirit. Actuated by selfish principles, and pursuing his own interest, the man of fine earth is afraid to offend. He accommodates himself to the manners that prevail, and courts the favour of the world by the most insinuating of all kinds of flattery by following its example. He is a mere creature of the times; a mirror to reflect every vice of the vicious, and every vanity of the vain. He is timid because he has reason to be so. Wickedness, condemned by its own vileness, is timorous, and forecasteth grievous things. There is a dignity in virtue which keeps him at a distance; he feels how awful goodness is, and in the presence of a virtuous man he shrinks into his own insignificance. On the other hand, the righteous is bold as a lion. With God for his protector, and with innocence for his shield, he walks through the world with a face that looks upwards. He despises a fool, though he were possessed of all the gold of Ophir, and scorns a vile man, though a minister of state.
4. The spirit of the world is an interested spirit; the spirit which is of God is a generous spirit. The man of the earth has no feeling but for himself. That generosity of sentiment which expands the soul; that charming sensibility of heart which makes us glow for the good of others; that diffusive benevolence, reduced to a principle of action, which makes the human nature approach to the Divine, he considers as the dreams of a visionary head, as the figments of a romantic mind that knows not the world. But the spirit which is of God is as generous as the spirit of the world is sordid. One of the chief duties in the spiritual life is to deny itself. Christianity is founded upon the most astonishing instance of generosity and love that ever was exhibited to the world; and they have no pretensions to the Christian character who feel not the truth of what their Master said, “That it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (J. Logan.)
Spiritual qualification for the reception of the spiritual
There are many free gifts which one man seeks to present to another, which the other cannot receive without spiritual sympathy with the giver. Sometimes the recipient has no spirit to understand the kindness that has dictated it, or to appreciate the gift itself; and so the gift is thrown away.
I. There are many things freely given to us by God. “The great things of His law” are “free gifts.” Pardon, holiness, “heaven upon earth,” are free gifts. Christ is “the unspeakable gift,” and “eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
II. These free gifts must be known and appreciated, or they will not be received by us. Allowing that some free gifts of Providence can be physically received by the thankless and fleshly mind, they are only partially received by such. If I do not understand, or appreciate, the labour of the artist, he may have given me some sheets of canvas and some ounces of paint, but he cannot give me his picture. The musician may freely give me the treasures that have enriched his soul, and yet my inner self, through my lack of knowledge, fail to receive a single emotion: so, the Divine Harmonist may freely give the harmony of heaven, but these joys are only received by those who know them. “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee,” &c. “We know that the Son of God is come.”
III. The knowledge of God’s free gift is dependent on the spirit that we have received. It depends on the spirit of a man what is the truth that is forced upon him. Imagine the truths conveyed to a group of men before any given scene. There are the scientific spirit, the spirit of the historian, of the politician, of the artist, of the soldier, of the philanthropist; each receives different things, because perceiving different objects. The same thing occurs in respect of spiritual life. If our spirit is haughty or selfish, how can we know, or receive, free gifts that require for their appreciation self-condemnation and self-forgetfulness? If our spirit is false, how can we receive, or know, that which depends on the faithfulness and truthfulness of God? “The natural man receiveth not,” &c. If there is no spirit of self-dissatisfaction, how can we appreciate the promise of pardon and life? The spirit of a man is open to influences from other spirits. One man may pour his spirit into another’s, communicate it to society, enshrine it in the common motives and aspirations of the race. And, just as every man has a spirit of his own, so societies, communities, nations, the world itself, may have a spirit which reacts upon the individual spirits which compose them. We speak correctly of the spirit of the age, of a system, of a class, and of the world.
IV. The spirit of the world is utterly insufficient for the purpose here indicated. This spirit has differed at different times in the world’s history. Some day the spirit of the world will be the Spirit of God. Ignorance identifies them now, and philosophy tries to prove it. The apostle was not deluded by the false philosophy of Greece. We must not be deceived by the dicta of either France or Germany. Note some characteristics of this spirit in the days of Paul.
1. Sensuality. If not sensual now, still it is sensuous and materialistic. But the things given by God are spiritual and eternal. “Therefore,” &c.
2. Selfishness. This blinds the eye to God’s gifts. We suffer as much from the selfishness of trade, politics, religion, art, and even philanthropy, as Paul did, though it may be more subtle in its manifestations. “Therefore,” &c.
3. Cruelty. The harsh repression of natural instincts--parental, filial, conjugal; e.g., the amphitheatre, modes of warfare, court intrigues. The spirit of the world is materially changed in this respect, but its traces are still to be seen, and they war with God’s free gifts.
4. The love and lust of conquest.
5. The love of money.
6. Enterprise. But in all these respects, in proportion as we catch and embody the spirit of the world, we incapacitate ourselves for knowing or receiving the things freely given to us of God.
V. The reception of the Spirit of God will strike a relation at once between our understanding and the truth--between our hearts and the Divine appeals to our feelings--between our wills and the calls of duty and self-sacrifice. “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” We may have this Spirit if we will; we have quenched and resisted more of this Spirit than is enough to do for us all we want. Receive the Spirit. Pray for an abundance of it. “If ye, being evil,” &c. (H. R. Reynolds, D. D.)
The peculiar spirit of Christians
I. The peculiar spirit which God has given to Christians. He has not given it to the world, and it is directly opposite to the spirit. If the latter is selfish, then the former must be benevolent. And according to the Scriptures, the spirit which God gives is the spirit of benevolence, which is the moral image of the Deity. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And the reason is, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And that spirit which is the fruit of the Spirit is love. “Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God.”
II. This peculiar spirit gives Christians a peculiar knowledge of spiritual and Divine things. “That we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
1. The spirit of love which Christians receive from God removes that ignorance of spiritual and Divine things which is peculiar to sinners. As the removal of scales from a blind man’s eyes will remove all the blindness, so love must certainly remove all that blindness or ignorance which arises from selfishness (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 3:14-18).
2. The way in which God enlightens the minds of men in the peculiar knowledge of Himself is by changing their hearts, or giving them a pure, benevolent spirit. “I will give them an heart to know Me.” As their ignorance of God arose from the blindness of their hearts, so in order to remove that kind of ignorance, He determined to give them a wise and understanding heart, or a spirit of true benevolence.
3. There is no other possible way by which God can give Christians the knowledge of Himself and Divine objects, but by giving to them His own Spirit, or shedding abroad His love in their hearts. He cannot convey this peculiar spiritual knowledge by mere inspiration. He inspired Saul, Balaam, Caiaphas, but this did not remove the blindness of their hearts. And Paul supposes a man may have the gift of prophecy, &c., and yet be totally destitute of the true love and knowledge of God. Inspiration has no tendency to change the heart, but only to convey knowledge to the understanding. For the same reason, God cannot give men this knowledge of Himself by moral suasion, or the mere exhibition of Divine truth, nor by mere convictions of guilt, fears of punishment, or hopes of happiness; the only way in which He can give it is by giving them a benevolent heart. For--
(1) By exercising benevolence themselves, they know how all benevolent beings feel--God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, &c. So the apostle argues in the text and context. As one man knows what his rational faculties are, or what his own selfish feelings are, so he knows what another man’s are. Just so, says the apostle, we who have received the Spirit which is God, know the things of God.
(2) The peculiar spirit which they have.
(3) This spirit necessarily gives Christians a peculiar knowledge of the distinguishing truths of the gospel. The whole scheme of the gospel was devised and adopted in, is carried on, and will be completed by benevolence. Benevolence, therefore, prepares Christians to understand it (Ephesians 3:17-19).
Conclusion: If the peculiar knowledge which Christians have of God and of Divine things arises from benevolence, then--
1. There is nothing mysterious in experimental religion. Christians have experienced no other change, but from sin to holiness, or from selfishness to benevolence. There is nothing more mysterious in loving God than in hating Him. The men of the world love to hear experimental religion represented as mysterious, because they are ready to conclude that they are excusable for not understanding it. All experimental religion consists in disinterested benevolence. And is this a mystery which sinners cannot understand? By no means; they can fully understand and oppose it.
2. There is no superstition or enthusiasm in vital piety, or experimental religion, for benevolence leads those who possess it to hate and oppose all superstition and enthusiasm.
3. They who are real Christians may know that they are such. The Spirit which they have received from God, bears witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”
4. They may always be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them, though unable to exhibit all the external evidences of the Divinity of the gospel. They know the gospel is Divine, by the Divine effects it has produced in their hearts.
5. Sinners may know that they are sinners, by the spirit of the world, which reigns within them, and governs all their conduct. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. Not the inspiration of this world.
II. But the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
1. Divinely communicated.
2. Divinely acting upon their minds.
3. And thus enabling them to know the things freely given them of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Paul’s protest against worldliness
I. The curse of the Church. The spirit of the world. This worldly spirit had wrought terrible mischief at Corinth. It is--
1. The evil element that surrounds the Church.
2. The insinuating guile that ensnares it.
3. The espionage that betrays it; like Delilah, it ensnares with flattery and song, deprives of the secret all strength, and delights in the discovered weakness.
II. The cure of the Church. The Spirit which is of God.
1. It is found in a Divine gift. The Holy Spirit that enlightens, regenerates, sanctifies, comforts, and strengthens, is received as a supernatural deposit by every one who repents of sin, believes in Christ, and practises holiness.
2. This is the royal amulet of the Church. It protects the Church with the “love of the Spirit.” It conducts the Church by “the Spirit of truth.” It commends the Church by the Spirit of purity.
3. It is the infinite resource of the Church; obtained by the intercession of Christ it is to “abide with us for ever.”
III. The Crown Of The Church. The highest point of Church life--“that we might know the things,” &c. (J. Odell.)
The efficient minister
I. Whence he derives his knowledge.
1. Not from worldly sources.
2. But from the Spirit of God.
3. Through the medium of the Word of God.
II. How he imparts it.
1. Not according to human wisdom.
2. But in dependence upon the Spirit of God.
3. Comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Spiritual knowledge attained
I. The things to which it refers. These are expressed under a variety of names (1 Corinthians 2:9-11; 1 Corinthians 2:14). They are--
1. Spiritual in their nature (1 Corinthians 2:13). They relate to God, who is a Spirit; to the soul and its spiritual concerns; to heaven, its society, employments, and pleasures, which are purely spiritual.
2. Divine in their origin: “given to us of God.” All the great and good things of the gospel are in Him and come from Him.
3. Free in their communication; clearly made known, but “freely given to us.” They flow to men, irrespective of human worthiness; communicated “without money and without price.”
II. The knowledge of these things is--
1. Personal. In order to its answering any useful end we must have it for ourselves.
2. Scriptural. Our acquaintance with “the things freely given to us of Godmust be according to the truer nature of these things; it must agree with the gospel.
3. Accompanied with faith. Let his views be ever so Scriptural and correct, they are of no saving worth unless he give credit to them with his whole soul.
4. Productive of fruit. Faith is known by its fruit, and the value of knowledge is determined by its influence and effects.
III. The way in which this knowledge is attained. “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God.”
1. What this spirit was not. The spirit of the wise of the world was not friendly to the gospel. It was a spirit of pride, of self-sufficiency, of prejudice, and conceit. The spirit of the world is
(1) “The spirit of error.” It cannot therefore be friendly to our knowledge of the truth.
(2) “The spirit that lusteth to envy.”
(3) “The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” If we are true Christians we have not received but have renounced this spirit. It is “from beneath.”
2. Who this Spirit was--“the Spirit which is of God.” This is a good Spirit, the reverse of that which we have noticed and producing opposite effects. Observe--
(1) His names: The Holy Spirit and Spirit of holiness; the Spirit of wisdom, of grace, of truth, of Christ.
(2) His offices--to teach, guide, enlighten, enliven, comfort, purify. The text suggests His office as a Teacher; for He is received “that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God.” The Father teaches by the Spirit; and His teaching invariably leads to faith and hope and rest in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 16:13-14). Conclusion: What is the knowledge which you are seeking? Is it, or is it not, the knowledge of “the things which are freely given to us of God”? Acquaintance with other things is lawful and proper, but what can compensate for ignorance of the things which belong to our peace? The season of youth is most friendly to the acquisition of knowledge; and this applies to the knowledge of the gospel; but how rarely are young persons in earnest in this concern!
2. What is the proficiency which you are making? This question particularly concerns aged professors. You have long been planted in the house of the Lord, but what is your growth? Does your progress keep pace with your years?
3. What is the spirit which you have, and under which you live? Is it “the spirit of the worldor “the Spirit which is of God”? (T. Kidd.)
I. Its source.
1. The Word of God--
2. Which contains a revelation of Divine truth.
3. Freely given.
4. Of God.
II. Its means.
1. The Scriptures are to be understood not by the help of mere learning or criticism--
2. But by the assistance of the Holy Spirit--
3. Which we receive by faith and prayer. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. The gifts. “Things.”
1. Real, not ideal; not to be imagined, admired, but “known.” The gospel scheme is of surpassing beauty, but its aim is not to enchant the fancy, but to enrich the experience.
2. Many and various “things” not single or stereotyped. Our Father has more than our blessing for His children, and those blessings differ according to the object to which, or the circumstances under which, they are given.
3. Practical, not speculative. True, there are “things which angels desire to look into” in the gospel; but in the main it is not a thing to be reasoned about but to be enjoyed in the heart and exhibited to the life.
4. Divine not human. Man never saw, heard, or imagined them, much less invented or created them.
II. The giver--“God.”
1. Infinite in resources, and therefore “able to do exceeding abundantly.” “Enough for all, enough for each,” &c.
2. Loving in disposition, and therefore willing and ready to supply all our need.
3. Wise in administration, and therefore suiting the gift exactly according to the requirements of the recipients, and so augmenting their values.
III. The manner. “Freely.”
1. Without restriction. The gifts are needed by all, and are therefore given without respect to nation, class, rank, &c.
2. Without cost. The water of life is offered freely because none could purchase it.
2. Without regard to merit, because above all merit. (J. W. Burn.)
I. Their reality. It is remarkable how often the word “things” occurs in this chapter. This gives reality and something like shape and touchableness to the spiritual world. Thing is a wide word; it is the short way of saying thinking; thinkings are the true things; things visible are valuable only as they express thought. Thus the universe is the thinking (or thing) of God; every star is an expression of His mind. We must indeed stand back, nor come too near. When I was a child I thought as a child, foolishly supposing that he who gave me a penny gave me something real, and that he who gave me a thought had simply given me nothing. But now I am a man I see that to think is to have. Had I known it properly the penny actually was a thought, a thought of love or care. The picture was a thought before it was a mystery of colour. The cathedral was a thought before it rose to heaven in tower or pinnacle or swelling dome. The book was a thought before it was embodied in paper or ink and binding. Go back from shapes and colours and find your way into things, thinkings--in the beginning was the Word! When you are told that this is practical and that is metaphysical or even sentimental, what is meant by the definition? It is equal to saying, this is the outside and that is the inside--no more! It is unhappily quite possible for a man to be satisfied with the outside, and, indeed, to contend there is nothing but outside. He forgets that the tabernacle was built for the ark; that the outward exists for the sake of the inward. Suppose a child so demented as to be satisfied with the outside of his father’s house, to say, “When I have discussed every mystery connected with the stone, the wood, the glass which I do see, it will be time enough to open the door and pry into the unknown and the unthinkable. They tell me that is my father’s face at the window, but let me settle the mystery of the window before troubling myself with the mystery of the face. They say he wants me; when I have settled the geology of the doorstep, I may pay some attention to the fanatics who suppose that my father is so idling away his time.” We should see the lunacy and impiety of this, and it is possible to repeat this substantially in the concerns which lie between God and the soul of man.
II. Their freeness. They are given lavishly, abundantly, and without price or tax, so that the poorest may have equal chances with the rich. Every man may find a hundred ways leading straight into the King’s presence; the grassy way, open to humblest men; the starry way, trodden by loftier minds; the providential way, studied by the patient in their retirement and suffering, so that neither the blind nor the weak shall be lost for want of an open road to heaven. This is Godlike. “He that spared not His own Son,” &c. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” God giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not. But here is a peculiar temptation. The very largeness of the inheritance is a temptation to neglect or extravagance. Let us watch ourselves, or we may turn the bounty of God into an occasion of sin.
III. Their revelation (1 Corinthians 2:10). Even the things that are seen require to be made clear by revelation. How much more the testimony which is addressed to an understanding perverted and a heart poisoned by sin? The Bible is revelation, ,but the revelation itself needs to be revealed. “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may ,behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” “Then opened He their understandings that they might understand the scriptures.” The inspiring Spirit must make plain She book He hath inspired or it will be a letter hard, cold, friendless: but with the Spirit it will show you its beauty, its unsearchable riches. Is it enough to snatch it up and hastily peruse the dead print? Not so did the saints of old study the lively oracles. “O how I love Thy law, it is my meditation all the day.”
IV. The disadvantage of having to put them into human words (1 Corinthians 2:13). To show our own cleverness in the use of words has been at once the temptation and the curse of Christendom. Fewer words, plainer words, the better; more thought, more feeling, more devotion, that is what we want (1 Corinthians 2:1). All the Christian preachers whose fame is immortal in England at least have been, from a scholastic point of view, more or less rude in expression, so that in their case it was not by might nor by power, but by God’s Spirit, that the great victories for Christ were won. Worldly wisdom is the curse of preaching. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Capacity of regenerate men to understand the Scriptures
In regeneration men become able to understand and appreciate the Holy Scriptures. Of course this proposition implies that unrenewed men are incapable of a true knowledge of Divine truth. The things of the Spirit of God are beyond the reach of the natural man; he cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned. The history of the world, using both terms history and world in their broadest sense, has two aspects. We will endeavour to discern between them, and to point out their true, mutual relations. That view of the world which is almost universally taken may be designated as the natural one, in opposition to the spiritual one. The world is contemplated as a vast system of causes and effects curiously linked in together, and susceptible of analysis into distinct series arid orders, emanating perhaps in the first place from an intelligent, holy, and benevolent first cause, and pointing to some indefinable harmony and concentration far off in the future. It is the work of science to perform this analysis. The plain matter-of-fact man sows and reaps, buys and sells, manufactures and operates, produces and consumes, untroubled by matters in which he has no direct concern. The shaking of kingdoms affects him only as it affects his markets. Or if he is aroused to a momentary excitement, he never forgets the main chance. If his plans succeed he magnifies his own wisdom and skill, and rejoices that the sun shone, and the rain fell, and the winds blew all in their season. Or if his plans fail, he regrets his undertaking and laments over the occurrence of unfavourable events. Everything is material and according to sense. The more reflecting and philosophic men of the world entertain essentially the same views, only refined, and generalised, and lifted above the grossness of mere appetite and calculation. In their silent retreats or their dignified assemblies they theorise, and speculate, and affect to decide upon the past and prophesy concerning the future, while the multitude, with little reflection, does the acting that is the counterpart and occasion of their thinking. They discover and announce the laws of moral, and intellectual, and natural science as they are gathered from history, and observation, and consciousness. But alter all, something is wanting of which science gives no account. What she has told us is of the earth and has an earthly savour. It may be true, but it is not all the truth. No scientific man however skilful, no philosopher however profound, ever get beyond the world and above it. Their views are sensuous; such as they might entertain were there no Bible; such as they do entertain with the Bible but without the enlightening Spirit of God. Now there is another view of the world which we may call spiritual in distinction from natural. It includes the natural, the whole of it. It discards no genuine science. It rejects no philosophy that is not falsely so called. It interferes with no personal, domestic, or social duties. It is ready to investigate all the processes of matter and of mind. It will dig with the geologist into the bowels of the earth, and with the astronomer scan, through the telescope, the nebulae that whitens the heavens. It will discuss the law of nations with the statesman, and urge the individual and the community to personal and social reform as boldly and zealously as any reformer of them all. It is a view of the world as a whole and in all its parts; omitting nothing, and unjustly condemning nothing. But it is not a view of the world alone; as if the object of its creation, and the assurance of its continuance were in itself. It sees something before the world, out of which it came; and something after it to which it tends. It sees a harmony between this beginning and end, that is unbroken by the intermediate time. Nay, it sees in time but the confluence of the eternities, and in matter and sense the vesture and energetic working of the Infinite Spirit. It sees the world as it is. And, what is the world? Why was it made? Why is it continued? What is the motive power of all this vast and varied machinery? Whence these compensating forces that keep the solid globe and its sister planets balanced and moving in their orbits? What keeps the river channels full, and agitates the restless sea, and stirs the viewless winds, and brings out from the unpromising soil the tinted flower, and the leafy oak, and the nutritious grain? What is the meaning of history? What intend all these records that are carved on the mural faces of mountains, or deposited in the strata that compose the earth’s crust, and scattered everywhere both on and beneath the earth’s surface? What may we learn from the annals of our race imperfectly kept though they have been? What will become of Europe? What will become of the Jew, and what of the Gentile? How will the connection between them result? Such questions as these suggest themselves in numbers without number. We want an answer disclosing the spiritual and true idea of the world and of human affairs. And there is an answer to them. The mystery of life has its solution. The confused and jarring course of events has its order, and has had from the beginning. There is one grand idea, one primal truth, that pervades the entire system of the universe. Every thing, every event, every mode of existence, refer directly or indirectly to it. This truth is the truth of Christ. Of Him and for Him are all things; by Him they were created, by Him they stand, and to the manifestation of His glory they tend. No man is a scholar who does not study Christ as the essence of all knowledge, and the embodiment of all truth. All history is the revelation of Christ; and all histories which do not present this fact are partial and inconsequent. The age to come is the Christian age; and whoever puts a sensuous and worldly interpretation on prophecy, or ventures with uninspired lips to predict a state of society and the introduction of a new era, in which Christ shall not be all in all, will find his prediction falsified and his interpretation scattered like chaff before the wind. It is in Christ, then, that we find all the strange and, complicate phenomena of the world resolved. There is no other light than that. The light of nature, the light of science, the light of reason, the dim light of antiquity and the glare of modern times are illusory and vain, mere ignes fatui, will-o’-the-wisps that lead those who follow them ever deeper and deeper into the mire. This Divine light shines only from the Word of God. What is the Bible to an unbeliever? Perhaps a moral treatise; perhaps a story, or a song, or the rhapsody of an enthusiast; perhaps a treasure-house locked up and barred, in which he, knows there is treasure, but to which he has no key. But it is no word of Christ, condemning, convincing, converting, sanctifying, saving. It is not the truth, living and brilliant, and able to raise the dead. In his unbelief he seeks no life there, but hunts for it in the weak and beggarly elements of this world. What is the Bible to the believer? It is his all. It is light in darkness, joy in sorrow, life in death. It is the communication, the embodying of the Holy Ghost, proceeding forth from the Father and the Son. It is the touchstone of all wisdom. Tell me, does not regeneration teach men that Word which is the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation? And can any one who has not tasted of this good Word, and been enlightened by the Spirit of God, attain this knowledge? Does any such one believe in Christ? Does not every unregenerate man believe in the world, and in himself, and in his personal experience, and in his reason, and in his arithmetic, and his science, and his philosophy, and refuse to believe in Christ and the Scriptures which testify of Christ? And in conclusion, let me ask you, do you sufficiently appreciate your privilege of knowing the Word of God? Do you subordinate all other knowledge to this, and regulate all other knowledge by this? The Bible must be everything or nothing. It is the chart of redemption, and everything in creation and providence is subservient to redemption. It is the inspired record of Christ; of what He was, and is, and will be. Let it dwell in your hearts. Let it control your lives. Let it animate your affections. Let it stimulate your devotion. (J. King Lord.)
The things freely given us by God
I. The doctrine contained in the words, “freely given to us,” and “we have received.” Whatsoever we have is of God’s free gift; and as in the department of nature it is the Lord that giveth life, and all things, so in the department of grace it is the Lord that blesseth us with every spiritual blessing.
1. Let us observe the simple word “given,” a word so simple that one would think it impossible to be mistaken.
(1) Let it stand by the side of the word “offer.” For there are some that say God merely offers grace and salvation in the gospel. But God says that He gives grace and salvation. The offer only comes half way, and there stops, but the gift comes home. So it is in the things of God. When God intends grace for any poor soul, He does not stop half way and wait for our closing with His offer, but He comes home to our very soul, and makes a sure lodgment of the blessing.
(2) Further, if to give means to offer, it certainly means much more than to sell; for there be some who tell us that God gives upon conditions, or, in other words, sells grace; into which error they have been drawn by their inability to perceive that the “ifs” of the New Testament are not conditional, but evidential. I know of no other condition on which sinners are saved but the death of the Son of God.
2. Lest we should make a mistake concerning the matter or manner of God’s giving, He hath added another word here to clear it up; we read of the things “freely” given to us of God. We know the miserly disposition of some men, who in order to preserve a decent appearance in the world lay out some of their money in charity, yet have so niggardly a way of doing it, and such an ungracious manner in bestowing it, that an honest man would rather go without than accept anything at their hands. Now, God would have us know that He is not one of these niggardly people, and therefore tells us that what He gives, He also freely gives. But in order to constitute it a free gift two things are necessary; it must be done without compulsion, and without condition; either of these destroy the freeness here spoken of.
3. Again, let us remark how God’s free giving is further illustrated by another word which stands contrasted with it in the sentence: “We have received.” Now this expression takes away all idea of any merit, power, or wisdom in the favoured objects of God’s bounty, as completely as does the former; and when both are viewed together, they give a twofold testimony to the truth of the grace of God.
II. The things themselves which are freely given to us of God. What is there which God hath not given us? for the apostle in the next chapter tells the believers in Jesus, “All things are yours,” &c. But sweet as this description is, what would all this be, what would heaven be to him that loves God in His beloved Son, if the object of that love formed no part of the heavenly enjoyment? Therefore also God hath abundantly revealed it to us, that of these “all things” we speak of, He hath given Himself both as the cause and the substance; so that we may know that as all blessings come from God, so all blessedness is centred in God. Now to show this from Scripture that God gives Himself to us, we may observe that single sentence more than ten times repeated in the Bible, “I will be their God!” There is a twofold meaning in these words. First, I will give Myself over to them in covenant characters. All this is expressed in those words of Hosea (chap. 2:19, 20). Having thus made Himself over to us, He becomes bound to us to deal with us in lovingkindness and tender mercies. But there is another meaning of it which comes nearer to the point. God gives us Himself most truly when He gives us His Christ, for He is over all God blessed for ever, Amen. God in Christ, and Christ in God, shall be the Sun of heaven; a Sun that shall no more go down. If God thus makes over Himself for our eternal consolation and blessedness, how can we doubt whether or no He hath also given all things together with Him. Having given the greater, how could He withhold the less? (Romans 8:39). So, then, we need argue that matter no further; but of the “all things” here spoken of I would merely select one as being most important to be known, which is our complete justification, called by the apostle the gift of righteousness (Hebrews 9:26). Now a word or two more shall be added to show that we are really righteous before God by the presence of righteousness. And, first, it will appear from many parts of Scripture, that where there is an absence of sin, there is and must be the presence of righteousness; in short, that one cannot be without the other. This is shown plainly by Daniel 9:24, where he enumerates the blessings to be brought upon the Church by the advent of Messiah, at the expiration of the seventy weeks; for He was not only to “finish transgression,” and make “an end of sin,” but to bring in “everlasting righteousness.” Here both the one and The other are attributed to the same event; and therefore he that believeth in that Messiah hath not only his sins put off, but an everlasting righteousness put on. Again, David saith (Psalms 32:1). But what is the Holy Ghost’s comment on those words by the pen of Paul? David, says he, “describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works(Romans 4:6): so, then, what can be clearer than this, that where sin is not imputed righteousness is imputed, and this makes the believer doubly blessed. Again, this truth may be made to appear yet more clearly by comparison. There are some things in nature so completely contrary that the one cannot exist where the other is, and the absence of the one plainly indicates the presence of the other. The absence of sickness is health; the absence of darkness is light; the absence of filth is cleanliness. So in like manner the absence of sin is righteousness. Now observe how it is, that of sick, filthy, and dark sinners, we become healthy, and clean, and saints of light.
1. “By His stripes we are healed(Isaiah 53:5). Here is our sickness gone, and health established.
2. “The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin(1 John 1:7). Here is filthiness abolished, and cleanliness in its place.
3. “Ye were once darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord(Ephesians 5:8). Here “the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.”
III. “We know the things that are freely given to us of God,” and that, not by the spirit of the world, but by the Spirit of God. Could we tell the world no more than what we have already considered we should have told them great things; for the love of the Father, and the Son, eternal and unfathomable, are therein revealed; but we have some of the Spirit’s: love yet to declare, who giveth us the most comfortable knowledge of these things. We grant, indeed, that with our bodily eyes we have never seen Christ Jesus the Lord; but the Lord giveth to His children an eye even to see clearly things in themselves invisible. But if it be asked, How do we arrive at this most excellent and comfortable knowledge? The words of the text plainly answers, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” By the spirit of the world is here peculiarly meant worldly wisdom, which in the preceding chapter he has shown to be utterly unprofitable in order to teach us the deep things of God. But that which maketh us wise unto salvation, and teacheth us that we are sinners saved by Christ’s blood, is the wisdom which cometh from above, the gift of the Spirit of God. No man is possessed of this heavenly wisdom except he be a heavenly man, that is, except he be born from above. (H. B. Bulteel, M. A.)
1 Corinthians 2:13-14
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth.
The true evangelical preacher speaks
I. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
1. He has received the Spirit.
2. Is instructed by the Spirit.
3. Speaks with the demonstration of the Spirit.
II. After careful study of God’s Word. Comparing, selecting, with much humility and prayer.
III. He cannot, therefore, accommodate himself to the wisdom of this world--
1. Either by modifying his doctrine to please worldly men--
2. Or adopting a worldly method of address. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The illumination of the Holy Spirit
To teach, to enlighten, and to illuminate, have equivalent meanings.
I. Its need. The natural condition of the mind is spiritual darkness: hence illumination is necessary to the apprehension of spiritual things (Luke 11:36; 1 Corinthians 2:9-14; Ephesians 1:18).
II. Its author. It is ascribed to each person of the Trinity.
1. God (2 Corinthians 4:6).
2. The Son (John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
3. The Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
III. Its instrument. The revealed Word of God (Psalms 119:105).
IV. Its agency. The ministry of reconciliation. Preaching may awake men to their need of spiritual illumination (Ephesians 3:9).
V. How obtained.
1. By the careful reading of the Word.
2. By prayer (Psalms 119:18). (L. O. Thompson.)
The dispensation of spiritual truth
I. How spiritual things are to be dispensed.
1. Not according to human rules.
2. But under the teaching of the Spirit.
3. In conformity with the Word of God.
II. By whom they are to be dispensed.
1. Not by unconverted men, for they cannot understand them.
2. But by those who are spiritual, who are indifferent to the judgment of man, and have the mind of Christ. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Various meanings have been attached to this expression.
I. Adapting spiritual words to spiritual things, and not language incongruous, as we should be doing if we spoke the things of God in words taught by human wisdom. But the apostle has already said this in effect, and according to this view there is a play on the word “spiritual” which is not in his manner; for “spiritual words” can only mean words taught by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:19), but “spiritual things” must mean things that reveal God.
II. Adapting spiritual things to spiritual men. But this is the direct opposite of what Paul declares, that spiritual men understand spiritual things, so that no adaptation of them to their capacity is needed.
III. Interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men. But it is only in reference to dreams and visions that the word συγκρίνω means “to interpret,” and that with few exceptions in the LXX. In no passage are the things of God represented as dreams to be interpreted, or allegories of which the apostles have the key.
IV. Interpreting spiritual things by spiritual words is open to the same objection.
V. Proving the truth of spiritual things (whether Old Testament types or the teaching of the Spirit) by the demonstration of the Spirit. But the word does not elsewhere signify “to prove.”
VI. Comparing spiritual things with spiritual is satisfactory. Christianity is a Divine wisdom. But this means from the side of teacher and of learner that revealed truths are combined so as to form a consistent and well-proportioned system of truth in their correlation. The higher Christian training resembles Plato’s criterion of dialectical power, the faculty to see the relation of the sciences to one another and to true being. (Principal Edwards.)
The Spirit’s work
The Holy Spirit is the source and standard of all spiritual things. Wherever found, in heaven or in earth, in time or eternity, they all come first from the Spirit of Life. In the New Testament sense, spiritual things are just the things of God; does that convey any thought to you? These are altogether different things from those we have been born into, live in, and take to so naturally. This is our misery, that we are antagonistic to the things of the spiritual world. No one had so much of God’s Spirit as our Lord; and there is nothing so suited to receive the Spirit as the soul of man. No spirit was more receptive than Christ’s. His heart was full of the Holy Ghost; and His words and works were less from Him than from the Spirit. The next best example of the Holy Ghost’s workmanship is the Bible. All parts are not equally full of Him; Job is not so full as John, nor Ruth as Romans; but he who is most spiritual will dwell most in those parts which reveal most of the mind of the Spirit of God. The Old Testament is penetrated with the Spirit even in its most secular and legal parts; and the spiritual mind can find spiritual meaning even in its laws, ordinances and ceremonies. But as Christ was most spirit-filled, so the New Testament is richer, and those hooks are most to be prized which hold most to New Testament doctrines. A preacher should be much in the New Testament, and if he is led into the Old he should always take the New back with him. His people have not a thousand years to spend in discovering its meaning, and it is not fair to keep them always in the elements, to the retarding of spiritual growth. Could you tell why you are a member of your Church, or are you ashamed to tell the reason? Did spiritual reasons take you there, and are spiritual results coming from the change? There is nothing we do on earth so spiritual and which demands so much spirituality as prayer. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,… because they are spiritually discerned.--
St. Paul’s trichotomy
This may be roughly compared to a cathedral: the body corresponds to the nave, the spirit to the chancel, the soul, which divides and unites the body and the spirit, to the transept, which divides and unites the nave and the chancel. The cathedral is one consecrated building with three main compartments, and man is one person in three natures, all consecrated in baptism to the Triune God. Furthermore, the human spirit is the highest and noblest of the three natures, and akin to the Divine, and therefore that which is immediately controlled by the Holy Spirit, who through it acts upon the soul, and through the soul upon the body. In like manner the chancel is the highest and holiest compartment of the cathedral, in which also is the altar or table of the Divine Presence. This illustration must not be pressed, but it may serve to smooth the way for some apprehension of the difficult question of man’s trichotomy. A psychical man, the mere soul-man--animalis (Vulgate) from anima, not animosus “full of spirit from animus--is one in whom the psyche, or lower principle of life dominates. He moves not in the sphere of Divine light and truth, but in the world of sense. If he is intellectual, he delights in a mental activity purely human, and exerted on objects merely mundane, and is attracted by worldly philosophies that fail utterly to lead the mind up to the high truth of God. The mental side of the psychic man comes to view in this text; the intellectual rather than the ethical, not to the exclusion however of the latter, for between the moral and the mental there is a mutual relation and interaction. In this homo animalis the higher principle of life, the human spirit illuminated and quickened intellectually and morally, does not dominate, has no activity, is dormant. He is one, as St. Jude says, “not having [in his own consciousness] spirit.” Such a one does not receive, indeed cannot admit into--that which he has not--a prepared spirit anything that is of the Spirit of God. He is psychic, not pneumatic: how can he entertain truths that are purely pneumatic? They are an absurdity to him. His habits of mind, modes and centres of thought, aims in life, lust of fame, pride of intellect, are all soul-like and sensuous, all of the cosmos and to the cosmos. Thus he is simply incompetent to apprehend what is extra mundane and supernal; indeed, he is not in a position to do so, for there must always be a correlation and mutual congruity between that which perceives and that which is perceived. Wherefore spiritual truths are “foolishness unto him,” because they are spiritually estimated, i.e., are tested and sifted by a process spiritual in the court of the human spirit, enlightened by the Divine, and there subjected to an anacrisis, or preliminary scrutiny ere they are admitted. (Canon Evans.)
The natural man
I. His character described. Assumes three phases:
1. The prejudiced, who oppose the truth.
2. The indifferent, who do not trouble about it.
3. The unenlightened, who cannot understand it.
II. His sad condition. Naturally without--
3. Hope. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The natural man
I. Here are two objects set before us.
1. The natural man in contrast with the spiritual man. Note Paul’s classification.
(1) The carnal man “lives after the flesh.” His whole nature is the servant of sin.
(2) In the natural man the ethical element may be predominant. He may be a man of culture, sympathy, and a believer in the objective facts and formal sanctities of religion; and yet so long as he is only all that, he “cannot discern the things of the spirit.”
(3) The spiritual man is such by virtue of a new creation. He has “put off the old man and his deeds.”
2. “The things of the spirit.”
(1) They are spiritual things. Religion deals with supernatural objects--God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, &c. These are spiritually discerned. There are windows in the soul of the spiritual man through which he looks into the mystery of invisible worlds. “The Spirit searched,” &c. “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.”
(2) They are revealed to faith. They occupy a sphere and deal with realities which “eye hath not seen,” &c. They are emphasised as “the things of God,” they are the product and expression of His thought. We have no faculties by which to apprehend a Being whose attributes are infinity and eternity. But what cannot be discerned may be revealed. That is what has taken place, and the verifying power of this revelation is a spiritual discernment, a faculty of faith, inwrought by the Spirit in the soul; and “the eyes of the understanding being enlightened,” we “know what is,” &c.
(3) They become real in the consciousness of the believing man, who is translated into a new order of being, is born again. God and the soul touch.
II. Some illustrations of the apostle’s teaching.
1. There is a class of outward things which we can only know by the senses. There is no rainbow to the blind man, no music to the deaf. So it is with the things of the spirit.
2. The senses bring in their report of things, but they know nothing of the science or philosophy of things. This is the work of trained intellect.
(1) To the ordinary man nature looks like a jumble of accidents; to the scientific there is a place for everything and everything is in its place, from the atom to the sun. To ninety men out of a hundred the pebble, or bit of coal or chalk, is merely a thing for use; to the trained eye it is a revelation of cycles of duration, in which now vanished dynasties of animated beings sported. Nature is a book of hieroglyphics which only science can interpret--it is scientifically discerned.
(2) Look at the Bible, at the seemingly discordant but really concatenated departments of revealed truth. But the Bible as a harmonious whole only yields itself up to the discipline and culture of the student.
3. Another class of realities we can know only as they come through experience. They are, in the strictest sense, “spiritual things(verse 11).
(1) The things of a man--his joys, hopes, fears, griefs, &c.
what man can know these, save the spirit of a man that is in him? Language is a system of signs for the expression of “unknown things”; but there are things of which it can be neither the sign nor the expression Thoughts lie deeper than speech, feelings than thoughts: consciousness the deepest of all, is the only witness of what passes in the mysterious world of mind. Sin, remorse, &c., have no sign and can never be interpreted but by the reality which calls them forth.
(2) So the things of God can be known only by the consciousness created by the Spirit of God. Coleridge speaks of a philosophical consciousness lying behind the ordinary consciousness before he can be a philosopher. To know what the reality of life is, we must live, not dissect it. To feel the bitterness of sin we must repent, not speculate about it. To taste the sweetness and power of Christ’s forgiveness we must believe in Christ, not just catalogue or canonise His virtues. These things belong to the “new name written, which no man knoweth,” &c.
(3) Hence the reason why so many unspiritual though gifted minds miss the entrance to the kingdom of God. They are “natural men” and “cannot discern,” &c. They are as blind men groping in the dark. Let us be consistent. I, as a non-scientific Christian, am warned off the ground of scientific induction as a territory on which I have no factor of investigation. My religion is not the organ of physical discovery. Very well: the scientist is warned off the ground of spiritual consciousness as a territory on which he is equally at fault. Conclusion: Note--
1. The limit which these considerations set to the possibilities of mental culture, and the rebuke which they administer to the audacity and irreverence of the unsanctified intellect.
2. The need of regeneration.
3. “If any man will do God’s will he shall know of the doctrine.(J. Burton.)
The natural man
I. His character.
II. His spiritual obliquity.
1. Moral. “He receiveth not.”
2. Intellectual. “He cannot know.”
III. His hopeless condition without Divine help. The things of God--
1. Are foolishness to him.
2. Must be spiritually discerned. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
A natural man’s ignorance of spiritual things
I. The character of the unrenewed man.
1. He follows the dictates of his own appetites.
2. He is under the control of his passions.
3. Being chiefly occupied about the perishing things of this world, he is dead to a future state.
4. Though man too much resembles the animal in many things, yet in this he differs widely from every other creature--he will be responsible for his conduct at the judgment-seat of Christ. Whatever be the sinner’s moral inability, his natural powers qualify him to serve God; and it is sin only that prevents him from using those natural powers in a manner in which he would please God. While the natural powers remain, though the inclination be absent, his accountability is continued. “We say, God actually treats the want of disposition, not as an excuse, but as a sin; and we take it for granted that what God does is right, whether we can comprehend it or not. Howbeit, in this case, it happens that with the testimonies of God accord those of conscience and common sense. Every man’s conscience ‘finds fault’ with him for the evils which he commits willingly, or of choice; and, instead of making any allowance for any previous aversion, nothing more is necessary to rivet the charge. And with respect to the common sense of mankind in their treatment of one another, what judge, or what jury, ever took into consideration the previous aversion of a traitor or a murderer, with a view to the diminishing of his guilt?”
II. The dispositions of the sinner’s mind towards God. He does not receive the things of the Spirit.
1. What the Spirit reveals. These things are found in the Holy Scriptures, which are the “lively oracles of God.” If the Spirit had made known a plan of salvation which had flattered the pride of the human heart, his testimony would have been cheerfully received.
2. What the Spirit imparts. Man, as a fallen creature, requires something done in him as well as for him. How much soever men may boast of their reason, their intellect, and their discernment, they must be Divinely illuminated before they can rightly understand the things which the Spirit either reveals or imparts. The natural man does not believe this. If you were to examine the opinions of a very large majority of those who are called Christians, they are either careless about the renovation of their own hearts, or they reject the doctrine altogether as a useless, unmeaning dogma. They fancy themselves virtuous and good, and that they are capable of making some amends for their disobedience of the law of God; they think that they will at some future time do some good thing that they may inherit eternal life, though their conscience often reproves them, after their best efforts, till they are ready to believe themselves but unprofitable servants.
3. What the Spirit requires. He requires of all men “to turn from darkness to light, from the power of sin and Satan unto God.” The animal man may love his sin and persist in committing it, but this he cannot do with impunity, for God will bring him into judgment! There is a method by which that sin can be forgiven, its dominion destroyed, and its love eradicated from the soul; and that is by the atonement of Christ. If he refuse this means of repentance and sanctification he must die in his sins; there remains no other sacrifice for sins. The Spirit requires that men should receive Christ. All the information which He imparts to the mind concerning the purity, spirituality, and extent of the holy law of God; every conception which He enables the mind to form of the holiness of God, exhibited in that law; and all the humbling convictions which He produces upon the soul in a state of penitence, are intended by the Holy Spirit to prepare the sinner for the reception of Christ as a suitable and all-sufficient Saviour. The natural man does not receive these “things of the Spirit of God.” He does not believe them. He calls them the words of God; but it is the language of the lip, not of the heart.
III. The reason which the apostle assigns. “They are foolishness unto him.” What dreadful havoc sin has made of the human soul l What haughty conduct towards God! How proud, how ignorant, and how unfeeling is the heart of man! This revelation was given to him for his instruction, to correct his errors and to remove his ignorance. After the divinity of this revelation had been fully and rationally ascertained, it was the duty of this rational being to submit to its teaching and decisions, without hesitation, thankful that God would condescend to instruct the undeserving and the sinner. The Spirit has revealed the infinite perfections of the Deity, so far as that revelation was connected with man’s duty and happiness, in a manner likely to excite him to fear, venerate, love, and worship Him as the ever-blessed God. What the Spirit has revealed must limit his inquiries and check his presumption. Let him regard what the Spirit of the Lord declares in His Word, and seek an experimental knowledge of those “heavenly blessings” which are provided in the new covenant for the penitent and believing. He does not understand them because they are “spiritually discerned.” But the Spirit can and will restore the spiritual faculty if he will ask Him. Let him not call them “foolishness”; for the preparation of them was the highest manifestation of the wisdom and love of God. His not perceiving them is not to be considered as a reason why they are not good in themselves and suited to relieve his misery. This is to be traced to his want of spiritual vision, “for sin has blinded his mind! (Wm. Jones.)
The natural man blind to the things of the Spirit of God
Set a man down on one of the jutting crags of the Andes, and with the shadows of midnight or the scarf of a morning mist hanging around him he sees nothing of the shaggy fantastic grandeur with which he is environed. He stands on one of the “altar thrones” of creation, with the sweep of the firmament above him, and the jewelled earth beneath him; but until the sunshine sifts its radiance on his sightless eyeballs, darkness confused and confusing shuts him in on every side. So with the spirit world in its relation to the natural man. That world envelopes him like an atmosphere or sea of life, touching him at every avenue of soul and sense with its glory; but the perceptive faculty is wanting and he cannot behold it. The flashing skies are dark to his closed eyes. Neither can the dark mind see God. (J. Burton.)
The ignorance of the natural man
I. Explain the truth affirmed.
1. Who is the natural man?
2. What are the things he cannot receive nor know?
3. Whence his incapacity?
II. Confirm it.
1. It was so in our Lord’s day.
2. In the times of the apostles.
3. Is so now.
III. Improve it. Learn--
1. To appreciate Divine knowledge.
2. How to seek it.
3. How to employ it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Natural or spiritual
The apostle knows of only two classes of men--natural and spiritual. Under “natural,” he includes all who are not partakers of the Spirit of God, no matter how excellent they may be. On the other hand, all into whom the Spirit of God has come he calls spiritual men.
I. The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, but counts them foolish.
1. Some oppose them violently, and do their best to put down such folly.
2. A greater proportion secretly despise and condemn. They dare say that religion is a good thing for old women, &c., but utterly repudiate it as a thing worthy the attention of wise men.
3. The great mass are indifferent. “For forms of faith let graceless zealots fight, he can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.”
II. There is nothing whatever in the things themselves to justify such an estimation. You do not know what you say when you declare that the gospel of Christ is absurd. It is generally pretty safe to ask a man who rails at the Bible, “Did you ever read it?” These learned gentlemen are like those critics who, when they meet with a new volume, take the knife and cut the first page, smell it, and then condemn or praise. The mightiest intellects confess that the truths of this book are above their highest flights. Even Newton said there were depths here which no mortal could fathom. As these things of the Spirit of God are wise and profound, so they are most important, and if not received, it is not because they are uncongenial with our necessities. There are some speculations which a man need not enter upon, but the doctrines of God teach you your relationship to your Maker; your condition before Him; how He can be just to man, and yet be gracious; how you can approach Him, and become His child; how you may be conformed to His image, and made a partaker of His glory.
III. The reason for the rejection of the gospel.
1. Want of taste. You have sometimes seen an artist standing before a splendid picture. “What a fine conception!” says he, “I could stand a week and admire that.” Some bumpkin, however, says, “It looks to me to be an old decayed piece of canvas that wants cleaning.” Then leaving the gallery, he notices on the wall outside a picture of an elephant standing on his head, and a clown performing in some circus, and he says, “That’s more to my taste.” Just so is it with the natural man. Give him some work of fiction--a daub upon the wall--and he is satisfied. But he has no taste for the things of God.
2. Want of organs. Just as a blind man cannot appreciate a landscape nor a deaf man music; so the natural man lacking the eye and ear of faith cannot appreciate the beauties and music of the gospel.
3. Want of nature. The brute cannot appreciate the studies of the astronomer because he lacks an intellectual nature; and so the mere man of intellect cannot appreciate the things of the Spirit because he lacks a spiritual nature.
IV. The practical truths which flow from this great though sorrowful fact.
1. The absolute necessity for regeneration, or the work of the Spirit. You may educate a nature up to its highest point, but you cannot educate an old nature into a new one. You may educate a horse, but you cannot educate it into a man. You may by your own efforts make yourselves the best of natural men, but still at your very best there is a division wide as eternity between you and the regenerate man. And no man can help us out of such a nature into a state of grace. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
2. If any of us have received the things of the Spirit, we ought to look upon that as comfortable evidence that we have been born again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man’s mortal inability to understand the things of the Spirit
I. Some of those sublime and interesting truths which the natural man does not receive.
1. The equity and goodness of the law of God, and the evil and desert of every transgression of it.
2. The suitableness and excellency of the method of redemption by Jesus Christ.
3. The necessity of union to Christ by faith as the source of holiness and strength.
4. The necessity of reconciliation to God and conformity to the Divine image to all true happiness both here and hereafter.
II. The alarming extent to which this want of spiritual discernment prevails, and the inadequacy of the highest advantages to communicate it.
1. We see some men endowed with great strength of mind, and their natural powers much improved by a liberal education, but they do not receive the things of the Spirit of God.
2. We observe other men who have great discernment and assiduity in the concerns of this life, and who discover a particular tact in the management of business, and considerable ability in improving the advantages afforded them of amassing wealth, but they receive not the things of the Spirit of God.
3. We see other persons favoured with the advantages of a religious education, but they have not received the things of the Spirit of God.
4. Some men have an undoubted conviction of the truth of the gospel, and their passions are occasionally moved with its important discoveries. Still, except a Divine change takes place in the heart, they do not receive the things of the Spirit of God.
III. The important reflection which the subject suggests.
1. That the disaffection of man to God is not accidental, or the result of some circumstances in which he is placed, but is an evil principle, natural to the whole species, and the consequence of the fall.
2. The great gratitude we owe to God for the gospel of His Son, as a discovery of enlightening and renewing grace, as well as of pardoning mercy.
3. The indispensable necessity of Divine influence in general, and in respect to our own personal experience in particular.
4. The importance of accompanying the means of grace with humble and earnest prayer. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Not only have excellent photographs of the heavenly bodies been obtained, and an absolutely accurate picture of the skies obtained for permanent examination, but it has been found that the camera reveals stars invisible even with the aid of the most powerful telescope in existence. This is due to the fact that the camera is able by continued exposure to obtain an image of an object which may be so faint that a shorter exposure would give no image. This, of course, is a power the eye does not possess. It is equivalent to being able to see plainly by long gazing what cannot be seen at all by a brief inspection. A notable instance of this power is seen in photographs of the Pleiades, the group of stars mentioned in Job 36:31. Here a nebula is shown in the photograph which the eye cannot perceive in the sky, but which undoubtedly exists. Astronomers believe in the revelations of the camera, though they are not confirmed by actual observation. Their example may be commended to men who reject the inspired revelation of the Bible, and refuse to exercise faith when they are asked to accept spiritual truth not perceptible to the senses. (New York Sun.)
I. There is nothing here which is not acknowledged and insisted on in every-day life. There are things that are only instrumentally discerned.
1. Here is a large brilliant diamond, and you pronounce it to be without fault; but the lapidary gives you a magnifying glass of great power, and bids you look at the centre of the stone; and there sure enough you see a black spot. The lapidary says the naked eye can neither receive it nor know it because it is microscopically discerned. And nobody arises to say, “Sir, you have introduced a painful mystery into human thought and inquiry.” People are rather glad that a medium has been supplied by which the hidden truth may be brought to light.
2. Yonder are two shining surfaces, and you say there must be a great fire there. The scientist who overhears you, however, says, “One of those surfaces has no light at all.” “But can’t I believe my own eyes?” “No,” he says, “just look through this instrument--the polariscope--and now you see that the one surface was primary light and the other but reflected. The naked eye can neither receive nor know it because it is polariscopically discerned. And you thank him for the information.”
3. Yonder are two men who have undertaken a mineral survey. One is a mineralogist, the other a man who believes that if he cannot find things out with his naked eyes and fingers that nothing can or shall be found out. The former walks slowly over the ground holding in his hand a little crystal box, watching the instrument within. Presently the needle dips, and he says, “There is iron here.” Can you see it, touch it? No. But the scientific man digs for iron and finds it, and then turns round to hear what the other has to say, and remarks, “The senses cannot receive or know it, for it is magnetically discerned,” and then receives the confidence he deserves.
4. Look at this ruddy-faced boy. You cannot walk out with him, but he challenges you to leap a five-barred gate; and you say, “What a vigorous lad! There will be a long life and a happy one.” A physician, however, drops in on your return, and hearing your verdict, applies an instrument to the region of the boy’s heart, and then, taking you aside, says, “He will never see five-and-twenty. He has had rheumatic fever and contracted valvular affection of the heart.” The untrained ear can neither receive it nor know it because it is stethoscopically discerned. Now in all these things we confess our need of instruments. Suppose that everything were taken away that cannot be discovered or read by the naked eye! Shut up the heavens, for astronomy must go; cover up the fields, for botany tells little to the naked eye. All science indeed would be impoverished and degraded. Yet the man who cannot read his own mother’s letter without an eyeglass insists upon reading the infinite and eternal God by his unassisted powers.
5. The same principle holds good in spheres where instruments are not required.
(1) Here are two men listening to the same piece of music. The one is inspired, enraptured, and says, “I would this might go on for ever.” The other says, “I wonder when they will be done.” The best ear cannot receive these things or know them, for they are musically discerned. The one man would be tormented if one note were the thousandth part of a shade wrong; but all the notes might be wrong so far as the other man knew.
(2) Here are two men looking at the same picture. The one is chained to the spot; the other, with a thick shilling catalogue, does not see much in that, and hastens on to something that has superficies, no matter what the superficies may be: only let it be extensive enough. Paint for such men with a broom,
II. The application of these things is to the things of God as accessible to the spirit of man. There are blind minds as well as blind eyes. “Except a man be born again he cannot see.”
1. As ministers, therefore, we are not to be discouraged because some people cannot understand us. There will always be men to whom the best preaching will be foolishness, because they have not the spiritual faculty.
2. Do we wish for this discernment? “If ye being evil,” &c. “If any man lack wisdom,” &c. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Spiritual insight in possible to unspiritual men
1. No painter was ever yet so unwise as to submit his work to the criticism of a committee of blind men, however learned such men might have been in history, logic, or law. Igor has any company of blind men assumed to sit in judgment upon Murillo, Raphael, or Titian; still less that they have fallen to raving because their censorship in art had not been accepted as final. The men in the Patent Office in Washington, who examine the thousand models that yearly come to them, are men who have an eye for machinery. Men who did not know a wheelbarrow from a spinning-wheel could scarcely get an appointment to such a place. In general it matters not how much a man may know nor how keen his power of discernment in some other line of human thought or knowledge, men give little heed to his talk unless he has capacity and culture in the very things of which he assumes to be a critic and a judge.
2. The elements of our complex nature are many; and a man may be strong in some things and weak in others. Lord Macaulay was almost a blockhead in mathematics. Sir Isaac Newton had hardly patience enough to read the “Paradise Lost” and only asked contemptuously, “What does it prove?” Milton might very likely have asked the same of the “Principia.” Many a great scientist has never been able to distinguish between the highest strains of music and any mere jargon of discordant sounds. Eminent lawyers and judges have been utterly blind to the beauties of the most perfect machinery, and many an inventive genius would have been utterly swamped in the commentaries of Blackstone.
3. Why, then, should it be thought any argument against the reality of spiritual things that here and there a man--with large genius for invention; for oratory; for science; for philosophy; for music; for art--has no appreciation for things unseen and eternal? It weighs less than a feather to him who revels in the demonstrations of geometry to know that hundreds of college students have never fully comprehended a single demonstration I “Poor fellows!” is all he can say, “I pity their obtuseness!” In like manner it weighs less than a milligramme to any Christian believer, whose soul has been illuminated from on high, that Darwin lived and died blind as a bat to all the glories of the spiritual universe. But unlike many another blind man, Darwin did, in a measure, realise his condition. He recognised the fact that his spiritual nature had died out! He calls it “atrophy.” In his boyhood he had a consciously religious nature; in later years it was starved to death! He tells us, also, that in early life he had a poetical nature. That, too, had been famished. His soul had died--“at the top!” Alas! how many another soul has died in the same way! Shall the Christian believer find his faith disturbed because of these great men whose souls have been lopped off? No! He still knows in whom he has believed. A blind man may tell me that he sees nothing in the glory of the evening sunset, or in Raphael’s Transfiguration. “Poor man!” I say, with deepest pity; that’s all. I do not forthwith put out my own eyes, because he has put his out; or, peradventure, may have been born blind. God forbid! I only cherish my eyesight with the more thankfulness and care. When even Humboldt, Darwin, Ingersoll, and Renan tell me that they see nothing of the spiritual and Divine in this revelation of the Divine life and glory of the Christ of God among the sons of men--Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Paul, John, and Luther, Knox, Wesley, Bunyan, and the unnumbered hosts of the Lord Almighty, will still continue to enjoy the seraphic vision and know whom they have believed.
4. A legislator may wisely study the Bible to help him in making laws. The historian may ponder its incomparable histories. The sociologist may turn over its leaves to find the profoundest teachings known to the world in his department. The lover of sublime and beautiful poetry may discover here some of the rarest gems that can be gathered from all the seas and from all the lands. But only the spiritual man can discern within these lids their choicest treasures of spiritual truth, and it would be passing strange if it were otherwise. What would your five-year-old boy think of conic sections, or your ten-months-old baby of a treatise on optics? “I wonder what grandfather can find in that old book!--it’s a very dull book to me.” So said a young man just entering college many years ago. But when the Spirit of God had opened his eyes, the young man marvelled no more at the absorption of his grandsire in the study of the old book, and himself lived to revel in its pages more than in all things else. Had sin never come, our vision had been clear. Oh, that every soul might cry out as Bartimeus, “Lord, that I may receive my sight!”
5. “What is the Bible?” Only Christian experience can fit any person to answer that question. I see a cherub of three short years over the way, and I ask, “What is that child?” The analytic chemist will tell me how much oxygen, and hydrogen, and nitrogen, and phosphorus enter into the forty pounds of avoirdupois of that beautiful form. The anatomist will tell me the number of bones and muscles and the names of them all that enter into her perfect body. But you are the child’s mother. And I ask you to tell me what she is. While I speak the angel of death has come, and she lies by your side a corpse. Her sweet face has a heavenly smile upon it, for she has had a vision of the Son of God, who has taken her into His arms. “What is that child?” You need the gift of tongues to tell me. The lips cannot utter it; your tears even can scarcely suggest it. The love of father and mother alone can conceive the answer. “What is the Bible?” Only he who has learned to love the Christ that shines through it can answer that question. And then his answer will grow as he grows, through all his years. He will find more in it as his experience deepens. The only proper test of the gospel of Christ is the trial of it. No soul was ever yet made worse by believing it. No Christian ever yet, as he came near to death, regretted his faith or recanted his trust in Christ. (E. B. Fairfield, D. D.)
Unsanctified men cannot read the Bible to profit
If you bring me a basket full of minerals from California, and I take them and look at them, I shall know that this specimen has gold in it, because I see there little points of yellow gold, but I shall not know what the white and the dark points are that I see. But let a metallurgist look at it, and he will see that it contains not only gold, but silver, and lead, and iron, and he will single them out. To me it is a mere stone, with only here and there a hint of gold, but to him it is a combination of various metals. Now take the Word of God, that is filled with precious stones and metals, and let one instructed in spiritual insight go through it, and he will discover all these treasures; while, if you let a man uninstructed in spiritual insight go through it, he will discover those things that are outside and apparent, but those things that make God and man friends, and that have to do with the immortality of the soul in heaven, escape his notice. No man can know these things unless the Spirit of God has taught him to discern them. (H. W. Beecher.)
The ignorance of the natural man
“Suppose,” says an old divine, “a geometrician should be drawing outlines and figures, and there should come in a silly, ignorant fellow, who, seeing him thus employed, should laugh at him; would the artist, think you, leave off his employment because of his derision? Surely not; for he knows that his laughter is hut the fruit of his ignorance, as not knowing his art, and the ground upon which it goes: and therefore he holds on drawing, though the fellow should hold on laughing.”
The natural man’s view
One may be a diligent student of science and have a large acquaintance with the facts and forces, processes and laws of the physical universe, and yet be insensible to all by which its higher meanings are revealed. The man of this spirit may cultivate his fields with judicious husbandry, but all the harvest goes into the barn, or to market; none is for the soul He may note the season’s circling course, but finds no meaning in their storied succession, save calls to a varied round of toil and use; no pulsings of a life Divine, no ebb and flow of supernal tides, bearing outward the flow of a Divine energy, and then with refluent flood coursing backward to the infinite deeps. He may view the stars, perhaps know their names, orders, distances, and seasons, but catches no glimpse of the Hand that moves them, nor hears the resonances of their silent song. He may climb the mountains, but it is only as tourist, or engineer, not as worshipper, or to find the uplands of God. (J. W. Earnshaw.)
Spiritual discernment impaired
Darwin gives an account of two blind men with whom he was in the habit of conversing for some years. They both told him that “they never remembered having dreamed of visible objects after they became totally blind.” So, when men give themselves to lower and meaner things, the higher and nobler faculties of the soul come in to trouble them less and less. By and by the spiritual and the unseen is to them as though it were not.
The natural versus the spiritual man
Different persons shall stand before that Nature’s wonder of wonders, the mighty cataract of Niagara, and how differently they will regard it and be affected by it! To one it will be simply an immense volume of water rushing down swift rapids and leaping a tremendous precipice, with stunning effect to the observant senses, but with no glory in its gliding, gleaming, plunging mass, and no music or meaning in its rhythmic roar. Another will be mainly impressed with the probable energy of the descending mass, and occupied with the problem of its utilisation. He will measure it according to the principles of hydro-dynamic science, and estimate what engines it would move, what machinery impel, and what work perform, if properly yoked, or what cities it would illumine, if converted into electricity, but find in it no power to draw the soul to God. Another, bringing to it a more aesthetic sensibility, will be impressed with its beauty and grandeur; but the beauty will be soulless, the grandeur only that of physical magnificence. But another shall bring to it a true spiritual sensibility, and to him it will open all its meaning, and become a wondrous revelation of the mighty power, grand designs, and sovereign laws of the infinite Creator, an apocalypse, through Nature transfigured in her own process, of Him who is Nature’s God and soul; and awed into silence, or thrilled with adoring wonder, he will stand as before the Holy of holies of Nature’s vast and solemn temple. The difference of impression and effect appears not only in relation to Nature’s more majestic scenes, but to all, from the greatest and rarest to the lowliest and most common. Dull sensibility passes unheeding, but to a Cowper, a Wordsworth, a Bryant, or a Ruskin, the very heath hath a voice, and the desert shrub becomes aflame with God. And so, too, with those works of art in which God speaks to us as it were by an interpreter. Different persons shall view some masterpiece of painting. To one it will be but a representation of sensible forms, beautiful or unbeautiful as the case may be, and with pleasant or gruesome effect according to the subject. Another shall note its fidelity to nature or history, and feel the charm, life, and dramatic movement of the piece. But another shall catch the very meaning and spirit of the work, and see what the artist has not painted yet could not but represent; could not treat his subject faithfully and not bring into view the great white throne. And so with a poem, a piece of music, or a sermon. One shall catch but the thunder of the sound and sensuous effect. To another it shall have a certain articulate coherence, as it were the voice of an angel, sweet perhaps, perhaps sublime, but its meaning unresolved. While to yet another it shall penetrate the soul as a voice from the unseen, holy, touching responsive chords of spiritual sensibility, and quickening, uplifting, and purifying the very inmost life of the soul. (J. W. Earnshaw.)
1 Corinthians 2:15-16
But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
The spiritual man
I. His character.
2. Born of God.
3. Endued with the Spirit.
II. His privileges.
1. He judges all things.
2. Is exalted above the judgment of others.
III. The source and security of his happiness.
1. Not natural.
2. But Divine. He has the mind of Christ. (J. Lyth D. D.)
The spiritual man
I. His condition. “Spiritual.”
II. His discernment.
1. Wherein it consists.
2. To what it extends.
III. His immunity from the judgment of others; because natural men--
1. Cannot appreciate Divine things.
2. Are incompetent to form a correct judgment upon them. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The spiritual man
I. His power to judge--
1. Arises out of an enlightened understanding.
2. Extends to all matters affecting his religious well-being.
3. And if not infallible, is guarded by the disposition to prove all things and hold fast that which is good.
4. Hence he is preserved from all serious error.
II. His immunity from judgment. He can despise the judgment of worldly men because they have no spiritual apprehension and their decisions are worthless, being over-ruled by the testimony of the Spirit within him. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Authority in matters of religion
The religious or spiritual man, then, is characterised not by taking his religion from other men, not by living on a decision formed by others, but by a personal, private judgment of his own. Religious truth, like other truth, nay, much more than other truth, is a personal conviction, and not merely a conviction, but a judgment, part of man’s own rational being--the very life of his rational being--that in which he looks out upon and judges of men and things, when he is most conscious of exercising his own faculties. Nay, more than this, he holds this truth, not merely on his personal private judgment, but with a certain strenuous insistence upon its independence in the face of other men, even within the Christian society.
1. What is the antithesis to this tenure in conscious, personal, and rational judgment of religious truth? It cannot be what is impossible that we should hold a body of truth on the external authority of the Church, while it does not commend itself to our own deliberate judgment. We cannot disbelieve a thing in our own mind and accept it on an authority external to us. The most that is possible is that a man should take a body of truth as summarised in Church formulas, and without letting his mind work upon it at all, simply passively accept it, and externally laud it and conform to it. And no man can for a moment suppose that such an attitude towards religious truth is the attitude of the Christian. No religious truth, then, is held rightly “as a spiritual man” should hold it, which is held as a mere external dogma positively accepted. It is held only then in a way worthy of our personal responsibility when it is held with active personal apprehension, as that which is an indelible and irrefutable part of our own deliberate conviction, in the light of all the facts of experience.
2. But it is only in our shallowest moments that we shall suppose this repudiation of absolute and unconditional authority, which leaves room for an exercise of our judgment, to involve in any sense the repudiation of authority at all, or the denial that truth should be held finally on mere external authority, to involve the rejection of external authority from its proper place in the formation of our mind. Indeed, those portions of the truth which do not come under the verification of our own faculties, must permanently be held on external authority, but the authority itself must then come under verification. In no part of our life do we live so much by authority and legitimately in its own sphere as in scientific matters. I accept, for example, with no hesitation, a body of truths in physics which are considered well established, the evidence for which I not only could not produce myself, but though I believe it exists, I am, through want of sufficient training and capacity in mathematics, incapable even of understanding and appreciating. But I accept the results because on other grounds where scientific reliability is put to a test intelligible to the uninitiated, I am able to verify it, The verifications general and particular open to ordinary men appear to be quite as valid of their kind in the sphere of religion as in the sphere of science. But in religion, as in science, the authority verified in general must cover particulars beyond the scope of our personal verification. It is, for example, only reason to take on the authority of Christ truths about the future which cannot come under our present cognisance, if we have reason to believe that they come under His. But the true relation of authority and private judgment, in matters of religion, appears more clearly on a more cognate subject, the subject of morals. In morals there is a commonly recognised standard from which a man could not differ without being looked upon with almost universal suspicion--say, on the subject of personal purity and truthfulness. We hold up before each generation as it rises this authoritative standard, this “norma” of moral truth. We do not tell a man as he grows up not to think on moral subjects, not to exercise his own private judgment, but we do tell him that if he exercises it in every way aright he will arrive at an agreement with the authoritative “norma,” though the norma is a very old one, which has not materially varied since Christianity first illuminated the moral conscience of mankind, and though on non-theological ground, the basis of this moral dogma is not easily formed and stated--and if a man comes to a conclusion on morals counter to the established dogmas of purity and truth, we condemn him, not for having exercised his private judgment, but for having exercised it wrongly, conformity to the highest standard of mankind on a particular subject being taken as the test of right thinking on that subject. Indeed, unless we are prepared to identify self-will with the exercise of will, and license with liberty, and eccentricity with strength of character, we have no justification at all for putting private judgment as a contradiction to orthodoxy. The place of authority, then, is primarily and mainly in helping us to form our own judgment, We ought to bring our thoughts and feelings, our desires, into the light of the established and recognised authority, which may provisionally, and in the light of common experience, be regarded as expressing the collective wisdom, and setting the standard on the subject, whether of taste, knowledge, or religion. Our judgment ought not to be formed in an isolated, individualistic manner. It is out of committing ourselves to authority that right reason normally and naturally grows. Behind holy teachers, behind our mother’s influence, there should be the great mother, the “mother of us all.” To receive in the Church of Christ in earliest years--in education, at the time of our confirmation--a body of truth, a system of practice emphasising and embodying holiness of life, to receive it on her loving authority, and to grow up, as our faculty develops, into the intellectual recognition of her truths and practices on our own judgment--this is the moral growth of man.
3. The general principle of authority admits of a great variety of applications in matters of religion. Let us apply it to one particular state of mind. There is a very widely spread fear of committing oneself in matters of religion. A man is often deeply impressed with the need of religion. He has little doubt that the Christian life is what he wants, and to his practical judgment it appears reasonably clear that the Christian life is indissolubly bound up with the Christian motives, and that Christian motives derive their only force from positive and supernatural facts. Why, indeed, should anybody deem that the life can be severed from the truth which has moulded the life? Christian holiness has reigned supreme and final in the world of morals since its origin. And it has come down indissolubly bound up with its environment of doctrines, sacraments, ministries in the Christian society. In the strength, more or less, of these thoughts, there is many and many a man who feels the attraction of the Christian Church: its appeal. It seems the true home of what is best in him and those about him. But it is so much to commit oneself to--is it all true?--Crede ut intelligas is the Church’s reply. The understanding of spiritual things can result only from experience, and experience involves faith as its basis. “If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.” “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” The self-committal of faith must precede and be the basis of the satisfaction of the intellect. Well, is this unreasonable? Does it not appear on a little reflection that taking things on trust does in every department of life precede verification? The pure Pyrrhonist who professes to regard certainty about anything as unreasonable is the only person in theory who rejects the ultimate basis of faith. In the commonest knowledge of external nature is involved the taking on trust an objective reality which corresponds to the imitations of sensation. “It was pointed out,” Mr. Spencer says, “when treating of the data of philosophy, that we cannot take even a first step (in knowledge)without making assumptions, and that the only course is to proceed with them as provisional, until they are proved true by the congruity of all the results reached. Apply this principle to the sphere of religion, where its application is more complete, and it gives just what we want, the crede ut intelligas. And do we suppose that we are in danger of really dwarfing our capacities for originality, our faculties of criticism, by such temporary suppression of them? On the contrary, is not the principle which Hegel used to inculcate in regard to education profoundly true--that we empoverish and reduce our faculties by a premature exercise of criticism, judgment, originality? Will, not intellect, is the basis of life. Self-conscious intellect belongs to the second stage, not the first. Faith is as legitimate a faculty of man as intelligence. It has its special exercise in realising man’s moral and spiritual being. Why should we be ashamed of it? Why should it be apologised for? Thou shalt understand, but thou must first believe.
4. The scheme of Christian truth coheres. To a Christian believer who has advanced to any measure of understanding the whole is one and indissoluble. He recognises that it would be unreasonable to pick and choose; he recognises the coherence of the same sort of means by which we recognise the similar connection, far beyond our personal knowledge, in the department of science. Thus he abides under the shelter of the whole creed. He takes it on trust as a whole. The Christian Church seems to his spiritual faculties eminently trustworthy. He waits while the “Spirit leads him into all the truth.” That is, he waits while in the growing experience of life, in the vicissitudes of failure and success, of joy and suffering, of growth and manhood, point by point, the truth becomes realised to his experience and his understanding. What was obscure is cleared up. What might have seemed at one time unnecessary is seen to have been wanted. If anything remains yet outside the sphere of his own personal verification, the processes of his past life warrant him in believing that the future will give it its place. There comes to hand--at this moment in a recent biography--a beautiful instance of the way in which one who stood wholly outside the Christian creed, and, as far as can be judged, by little or no fault of her own, came gradually within the bosom of the Church of Christ, and knew her Lord. Ellen Watson was a brilliant mathematician. When at the age of twenty she was a pupil of Professor Clifford, at University College, in London, and loved with the deepest respect and affection to speak of him as “the Master,” he in his turn had a high admiration of her abilities, “believing,” as we are told, “that she possessed the rare faculty for doing original work in his science; indeed, he even looked forward to her becoming known some day as a discoverer or originator in mathematics.” Her position in regard to religion at that time is thus described: “The one absorbing passion of her mind was the love of positive truth, and this love was guarded by an almost severe morality of the intellect, which made her fear, above all things, every kind of illusion and self-deception. She dreaded, as an intellectual sin, the giving to a wish or a hope or a dream of the imagination the subject and influence of a conviction. Mathematics, by its strictly logical conclusions, and natural science, by its severe experimental tests, commended themselves to her high intellectual integrity as the greatest and best of all teaching, while at the same time they best satisfied the craving for positive truth which filled her soul, so that she delighted in resting on their conclusions as on an immovable basis. ‘I do not need religion,’ she often said at that time; ‘science thoroughly satisfies me.’ For, judged only as to the satisfaction afforded to the reason, religion appeared, by the side of positive science, as a collection of dim, uncertain facts mixed with conceptions of the imagination.” The certainty of science “gave peace to her intellectual conscience; all else seemed misty--delusive.” Within five years she died at Grahamstown, but with words very different on her lips, the words of triumphant faith and praise which make up the Church’s “Gloria in excelsis,” and with the Church’s viaticum for her journey into the unseen world. The biography is mainly an account of the converson of her mind. It was a progress without a break. She lost nothing she had ever had. No part of her hold on scientific truth, her trust in scientific method, ever vanished. She did but, as she described it, gradually wake up in a larger world and found that the spiritual truths which she held by faith, though reached, it is true, by a different process, were still the “crowning knowledge of all that she had won before, perfecting and completing what was otherwise rudimentary and broken.” The premature death of her master, Clifford, and the discipline of sorrow and suffering, rudely shattered the completeness which she had at first assigned to the life in the mere visible world. The imparious exigencies of an awakened spirit forced her into the sphere of spiritual and supernatural facts. The recognition of the Divine Fatherhood came slowly but surely upon the mind. Through Divine Fatherhood came the belief in the Divine Sonship manifested in Christ, and while she was yet far off any clear grasp of the accuracies of the Christian faith, the Christian Church presented itself to her as embodying the truth, and satisfying man’s obvious need for order, for spiritual shelter, for unity. She had none of that intellectual vanity which keeps clever people from confessing themselves wrong; none of that pride which makes us preserve our isolation. She desired to have perfect fellowship with the common Christian life. She accepted the Church in practice. She presented herself for confirmation. She sought and found in South Africa the fellowship of the saints in the Church. Authority presented itself to her, and was accepted by her just in the shape of something which embodied what her soul wanted. She recognised the truth, so hard to the natural will, that we must surrender ourselves, merge ourselves, if we are to find our true selves. (C. Gore, M. A.)
The epithet pneumatikos as applied to believers is significant and comprehensive. It does not mean rational as opposed to sensual. It is the indwelling of the Spirit that gives character to the believer. The Spirit has an illuminating power, so that new discernment is imparted to the soul. This does not arise from light shed on the object, but from the effect produced on the mind. Its faculty of vision is restored; its eyes are opened. Before it was blind--not rationally so as not to perceive truth in its logical relations, nor morally so as to be insensible to moral distinctions, but spiritually so that it cannot discern the things of the Spirit. The case of the Jews in their judgment concerning Christ is an example. They saw that He was a wise man, that He was just, benevolent, and kind. They understood His words, but had no such discernment of His character as enabled them to see the glory of God as it shone in Him. The effect, therefore, produced in the mind is the ability to discern the things of the Spirit. Hence--
I. There is a coincidence of judgment between the believer and God. What God declares to be true the believer sees to be true. He acquiesces in the judgment of God as to sin, the method of salvation, the person of Christ, the doctrines of grace, the reality and importance of eternal things. So in his judgments of men. Those whom God approves the believer approves. This is the ground--
1. Of the unity of faith among believers.
2. Of the unity of fellowship; so that all Christians recognise each other.
3. Of the authority of the Church, and of the only legitimate authority of tradition.
4. Why schism is a sin.
II. There is also a coincidence of feeling, i.e., the spiritual love what and whom God loves, and hate what and whom God hates. The friends of God are their friends. This is the reason why they have a common experience, and why they love each other as brethren.
III. There is a conformity in the life of the believer with the will of God. He does what is in accordance with the mind of the Spirit. This is the ground of the community of worship. They all walk by the same rule and worship the same God and Saviour.
IV. All relievers are united so as to form one body. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
I. “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.”
1. It is not said that he judges all men, or any man; he has his opinion as to their views; but in regard to their persons, “to their own Master they stand or fall.” “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Spiritual judgment, then, has to do not with persons, but with things. Still, does it absolutely judge all things? It is clear that it will not make a man acquainted with the truths of science, or the facts of history, or the details of business. Many a great statesman has had very little spiritual judgment. It will not make a man a skilful Biblical critic, nor a profound theologian.
2. Paul speaks of those things which come within the sphere of the spiritual nature. The Spirit of God reveals to the soul a world which lies both within the present and outside it. It is in a hidden chamber whose existence we dimly felt, but which God’s Spirit makes known to us; and this chamber has in it a window which looks out on a new and infinite universe. We do not know ourselves, our fall and possible rise, our sin and salvation, until we are taken in there. This world may seem to those who have not been in it a narrow and poor and almost non-existent thing. But to those who have lived in it, it grows in certainty as its life grows, and it deepens and expands and rises, until it penetrates and comprehends the natural world on every side.
II. Its independence--“he himself is judged of no one.”
1. This does not mean that the spiritual man is beyond the judgment of others when he has contravened human law. Nor is he exempt from judgment in his spiritual life. He can never be freed from the judgment of God, and his fellow-Christians may have it in their power to instruct and correct his judgment. And then, again, any man of the world can judge a Christian man’s conduct, so far as it comes before the outward eye; he can approve it or he can condemn it, and he has a right to do so.
2. What, then, is meant by “he is judged of no man”?
(1) The apostle is speaking of an inward, spiritual region into which the Christian man has been introduced by God’s Spirit, and of the judgments which natural men, who have no experience of it, may form of it, and of him as he lives in it.
(2) Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to take Paul himself, and see how he had a whole world within him removed from the judgment of natural men around. Take
(a) the great truth of salvation by grace without the works of the law. It was looked on by many then and since as an immoral doctrine. But they could not understand that in receiving this free grace there is a new nature received, the motions of which are always saying, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
(b) Neither could he be judged as to the way his new life was supported. Men saw the persecutions, &c., to which he was exposed. The world could not understand how the spirit in him was sustained, and rose up in fresh flames of consuming zeal.
(c) The mere natural man could not understand the happiness of his life. Let us only think of this chain which begins with hope and ends with it, like two golden nails fixed to the gate of heaven, while the links hang down into all the trials of life, which are touched and turned to gold by their Divine fastenings (Romans 5:2-5). Now this was not peculiar to the apostle. The experience of most Christian men will fall very far short of that of the apostle, but it is the same in kind; and they have a right to set this inner world, in which their spirit is living and moving, against all the arguments which the outer can advance.
III. Its guidance and tests.
1. It must never separate itself from its source--God’s Spirit acting through God’s Word. The spiritual judgment, if it is to be sound, can never be cut off from this fountainhead. “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple,” &c. But in order to this there are two things to be observed.
(1) We must not form our judgment on single texts, but on the breadth of Scripture--the letter may kill, the spirit gives life; and I know no better way of reaching the breadth of Scripture than by carrying it up in its final issue to the Lord Jesus Christ. Many things that are doubtful become simple when we ask, What would the example and spirit of Christ lead us in this case to say and do?
(2) We must ask the guidance of the Spirit which gave the Word, and which kindled any light in us that we may possess. To ask the Author of the book to explain it is the true way of being guided aright (Psalms 25:6).
2. After this guidance from the Source, there is that which we may receive from the new nature formed within, and from the growth of it in obedience to God’s will. (J. Ker, D. D.)
The spiritual man unknown to the world
We have here--
I. A spiritual character. The “natural man” is man in his unregenerate state, under the power and influence of those principles and affections which are natural; the spiritual man is man renewed by the Spirit of God.
1. Spiritual men have--
(1) Spiritual appetites: they hunger and thirst after righteousness.
(2) Spiritual senses, which are exercised to discern good and evil; spiritual eyes--they can see Him on His throne; spiritual ears--they can hear His voice.
(3) Spiritual lips--they show forth His praise.
(4) A spiritual taste--and therefore they can savour the things of God.
2. Let us particularise, and lay down a few tests by which the spiritual may be known. As regards--
(1) The thoughts. They cluster around the Cross. Evil thoughts may enter, but they enter either by fraud or force. But they enter the mind of the natural man as friends and acquaintances.
(2) The desires. “There be many that say, Who will show us any good?” They seek their happiness in the things of time and sense only. But “the spiritual” pray, “Lord, hit Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon me.” These desires in the Christian may not arise so high as he could wish; but this is the current in which they flow, the end to which they move.
(3) Gratitude. If ever a natural man feels anything like gratitude it is for some temporal favour. Now a spiritual man overlooks none of God’s mercies. He blesses Him for his daily bread, but much more for heavenly bread. He blesses God for his civil freedom, but above all for the freedom with which the Son hath made him free.
(4) The use of creature possessions. A natural man only uses them as bodily gratification; or, if mentally, as objects of curiosity and science. But a spiritual man sees God in everything.
(5) Association. While here, we must have to do with the world; otherwise we must needs go out of it. But a spiritual man, when he is entirely free, will say with David, “I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that love Thy name.”
(6) Conversation. Spiritual discourse to a natural man is always uninviting, and even irksome. But the spiritual man encourages it and is at home in it.
(7) Devotional exercises. The spiritual man does not draw nigh to God with his lips while his heart is far from Him.
II. An attribute attached to this character. “The spiritual judgeth” (i.e., discerns)
“all things.” This must be qualified by being taken with four limitations. “All things” mean religious things, and apply--
1. To religious things only. True religion tends to make men wiser in other things--by arousing their faculties, by exciting their energies, by inducing them to redeem their time; but Paul does not refer here to the knowledge of nature, arts, science, &c., but to “the things of the Spirit,” the things which are of God.”
2. Only to religious things that are revealed. “Secret things belong to God,” &c.
3. To religious things only of importance. Everything in religion is not equally momentous, though it is equally true. What you are required to know is not the decrees of God, but His commands; His promises, rather than His prophecies. A man may be spiritual and yet not able to judge what kind of creature the leviathan was; or know where is the locality of Ophir, or the length of a Jewish cubit. A man may be able to open the seals and blow the trumpets--that is, in his own imagination-and be no nearer to the kingdom of God than before.
4. Only to the knowledge of these comparatively; not absolutely and completely. For who by searching can find out God--who can find out the Almighty to perfection? Paul, after knowing so much of Christ for so many years, says, “That I may know Him.(See also Ephesians 3:18-19.)
III. A distinction. “Yet he himself is judged of no man.”
1. This distinction must be exemplified.
(1) You have, perhaps, acquired a certain art, and a person, ignorant of the art, calls in question your proficiency in it, and you say, “I am not to be judged of by such as you.” How could Handel be judged of properly by a novice in the principles of music? How could a statesman, in executing the complex concerns of a whole nation, be judged of by a man not able to manage his own family, or even himself?
(2) It is always difficult to judge a man religiously. For we are ignorant of the heart and of a thousand things which may tend either to extenuate or condemn. For a man may be conscientious in certain things in which he is condemned. Therefore our Saviour says, “Judge not,” and afterwards applauds judgment. “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
(3) But the spiritual is absolutely inexplicable to the natural man. “He is a new creature,” and not, therefore, to be judged of by the old rules and principles of natural men. He knows them, but they know not Him! He has been in their condition, but they have not been in His!
2. The spiritual are, therefore, said to be “men wondered at.”
(1) Others may think it strange that we “run not with them to the same excess of riot”; but they know not what it is that has weaned us from it all, viz., the discovery of something infinitely superior.
(2) They wonder, that you, should find such delight in the exercises of the Lord s day. While they say, “What a weariness it is!--when will it be over?” you are “made joyful in the house of prayer.”
(3) Their experience under affliction often perplexes the people of the world. They see their afflictions, but they do not see their consolations.
(4) Their conduct is often equally puzzling to them. They wonder to see them following a course which exposes them to endure reproach and self-denial. They know not the lever that moves them, and are unacquainted with the machine--the love of Christ--that sets all in motion.
(5) Neither can they judge of the system of doctrine which they hold. It may seem to them as though they may “continue in sin that grace may abound.” But no, they hate the very “appearance of evil.” How can we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?”
1. Our subject accounts for Christians not being very ready to communicate to men of the world of their religion and experience. They would not understand it. David said, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.” They could relish it, but others could not.
2. Christ accounts for the divers misrepresentations of Christians by men of the world. “The world knoweth them not,” although they are very free in speaking of them. Let us learn, then, to be indifferent as to the judgment of the world.
3. But is there nothing by which the people of the world may judge you who are spiritual? Yes. They can judge of--
(1) Your talents. They may, perhaps, be able to say to you, “You think more highly of yourself than you ought to think.”
(2) Your outward condition, and know that you live above your income, and that you had better lower some of your sails.
(3) Your consistency as professors of religion. “What do ye more than others?” You profess more than others, and you are to be judged of by your own pretensions.
(4) The moral and practical effects of your feelings and experience. You should, therefore, seek to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, and to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. (W. Jay.)
The spiritual faculty
Nothing seems at first sight more reasonable than to expect that a revelation which is intended for all mankind should rest on such evidence as can be appreciated by all men. How otherwise can it be universal? Surely the evidence ought to be such as to bear the fullest and strictest investigation by all sound intellects; it ought to be impossible for any one who reasons exactly to fail to reach the right conclusion. Nay, there seems to be not only truth but justice in this claim. The revelation professes to be made not to perfect but imperfect men, not to the holy but to the sinful. To send such a revelation to men who have some peculiar power of appreciating the evidence for it, and to make the reception of it depend on their exercise of that power, seems to contradict not only rational expectation but the demands of equity. How are sinners to be saved if the means of their salvation cannot reach them on account of something in the very sinfulness from which it is the purpose to deliver them? Ought not religious knowledge to be treated as all other knowledge is treated? Ought it not to be considered a branch, in fact, of natural science? Ought not its evidence to be subjected to the same kind of investigation; ought not its basis to be observed facts, handled by strict reasoning; ought not its truth or falsehood to be decided in precisely the same way as the truth or falsehood of any other assertions. Nevertheless, in spite of all this, which is undeniably weighty, we find the revelation which we have received distinctly declining to submit its claims for recognition to these conditions. It appeals to a distinct faculty from those which decide on the truth or falsehood of assertions concerning the laws of nature. It insists that the spiritual man who accepts its teaching, while still keeping all his natural faculties and capable as ever of judging all questions which those natural faculties can handle and determine, has in him a faculty of judging of spiritual truth which is either wanting or dormant or possibly dead in others. It declares with St. Paul that if the gospel be hid it is hid to those who are blinded. How, then, can we call this reasonable or fair? Now, as regards the reasonableness, it must be plain that even in regard to natural phenomena there is a vast difference between one observer and another, and that not only as between the trained observer and the untrained, but between the capacity of one man for being trained and the capacity of another. There are men who cannot see for themselves the facts on which the inferences of science are based, and some cannot even see them when aided by having them pointed out by men of clearer sight than themselves. The conclusions rest on observations in the making of which men differ in power from one another, and, nevertheless, no man is allowed to plead that because his faculties cannot discern the fact, therefore the fact is no fact at all. Now, the same thing is unquestionably true as regards the fundamental facts of all real religion. The claim that the intellect and not the spiritual faculty shall judge of the truth or falsehood of a religious revelation is a claim that bad men and good men, men with aspirations to holiness and men content with their own moral and spiritual condition and desiring nothing higher, shall be on precisely the same level. And this is not so, and never can be so. The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness sees truths which are not seen by men who have no such hunger nor thirst. He not only knows better what is meant by the beauty of self-sacrifice, of holiness, of unearthliness, but he knows too and sees as others do not see the eternity and supremacy of these things. And the perception of these facts makes an enormous difference in the inferences which he perpetually draws from the sum total of the facts before him. He draws different inferences because he takes into account different premises. He sees that the inferences drawn from the partial premises which alone are within the reach of bodily observation are of necessity incomplete, and be cannot be content with them. The question, whether there is a God at all, whether the Bible comes from Him, whether the history told in the New Testament is a true history, have to be determined with due regard to the insight which he ever has within himself into the eternal nature, into the absolute sovereignty, into the more silent but imperative command of the great law of duty. This will demonstrate to him the existence of God; this will largely determine his judgment on the true nature of the Bible; this will never be forgotten in his estimate of the historical truth of the New Testament. The value which he attaches to particular human testimony, the degree in which he will allow the possibility of exceptions to those generalisations which we call the laws of nature, but which after all are nothing but generalisations, must be and must rightly be gravely affected by his looking at the evidence taken as a whole from the point of view which belongs to his spiritual character. If his premises are different, it is inevitable that his conclusions must be different also. So true is this and so sure is the operation of the spiritual character upon the hold that a man has on religious truth, that we can trace it not only in the decision of the great question of all, Shall we believe in a God or not? but in the acceptance of particular doctrines contained in the revelation we have received. Thus, for instance, the doctrine of our Lord’s Atonement is grasped with a strength by some Christians which is not to be traced in the convictions of others. And if we search for the reason we always find it in the conflict which these men have had to pass through which others have not known. St. Paul, from the agony of his struggle with his own lower nature, came to the Cross with a passionate conviction of his need of a Saviour which we cannot find expressed with the same fervour in any other writings than his. The man whose inner life has been comparatively calm and who has known nothing of such violence of battle, will not see with the same vividness that the Cross of Christ is his one hope, and while accepting the doctrine will not place it at the very height of all his faith. The varying spiritual characters give an insight into varying aspects of spiritual truth, but without the spiritual character such insight cannot be. When, therefore, it is seen that religious men decide differently from other men questions which have to be decided on evidence, there is nothing in this that is contrary to reasonable expectation. They are, of course, liable to make mistakes in the inferences, just as all men are liable to make mistakes. But the difference in their conclusion is not due to the fact that they reason differently from others, and set aside the ordinary canons of inference. It is due to their taking into account certain premises which others disregard and cannot help disregarding. But to deal with the other demand, namely, that a revelation to sinners ought to be appreciable to sinners: it is to be observed that the revelation was never intended to work mechanically without any demand on the moral action of those to whom it was made. It was intended to be effectual on those who were willing to use it, and, therefore, it was made to be appreciated in accordance with that willingness. It was offered to all, but it was offered without relieving or being intended to relieve any from responsibility for his own life. The responsibility of every individual moral being is a fundamental religious truth, never to be set aside. And in order that this responsibility may be complete, it must extend not only to action in obedience to revelation when accepted, but to the act of acceptance itself. Men shall not be prevented from accepting it because they have sinned; provided there still remain the power of longing for higher things, even though that longing be of the faintest and the feeblest. The revelation of God meets the aspiration of man. Where there is the upward spring of the soul, even though that soul be in the very blackest depths of evil, there shall penetrate the power of the voice of God, and shall give force to the effort, and shall touch the heart, and shall clear the insight, and shall revive the conscience, and shall make the will the master of the life, to go on ever and to go on upwards, in spite of falls and failures many, to the very presence of God Himself. But if now it be asked what judgment can be formed of those who, notwithstanding, have come to the conclusion that the revelation is not true, the answer is plain, no judgment can be formed by us. We are speaking all this time not of the application of the laws of the spiritual world to individual men, but of the laws as they are in themselves. It is conceivable that a man’s spiritual faculty may be palsied by the concentration of his mind on the phenomena of sensible things. The possibilities travel beyond our conceptions, and leave us unable to say what exceptions to His general rules our heavenly Father may make. Of this we are sure, to begin with, that His justice is absolute, and we are told expressly that when all secrets are revealed this also shall be plainly seen. But until that day we must be content, in spite of apparent contradictions, to leave all judgment on men’s souls absolutely to Him. These arguments are not to enable us to judge others, but to enable us with strong certainty to live in our own faith, and to show us in what direction we are to seek for that which will confirm that faith in us and aid the formation of that faith in others. There is nothing which will help either others or ourselves more than the perpetual reiteration of the majesty, of the eternity, of the supremacy of that which is the very essence of the nature of God Himself, the law of duty. (Bishop Temple.)
For who hath known the mind of the Lord?… But we have the mind Of Christ.
The mind of God is
I. Unfathomable. His thoughts are--
II. Disclosed to His servants.
1. In Christ.
2. By His Spirit.
3. Through faith. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The mind of Christ
We may have the mind of Christ--
1. Representatively. The minds of great men represent themselves--
(1) Through the character of their disciples. Jesus put His disciples in possession of His mind--both its great ideas and governing sympathies. They faithfully represented His mind to others. They died; but their followers, in their turn, transmitted the mind which they received. We look at the true Church, and we can see in it the mind of Christ.
(2) Through literature. A man’s book is a kind of second incarnation of himself. Thus the mind of Jesus has come down to us in the New Testament.
(3) In their historic influence. Christ’s mind has come down to us in this way.
2. Personally. Christ has distinctly assured us that He--not His mere influence, but Himself--is with His Church always, even unto the end, to enlighten, sanctify, guard, and strengthen it. This fact gives the Bible a wonderful advantage over other books. I take up the work of a departed author, and I find many things which I cannot understand, but I have no help. But when I take up the Bible--though it has been written for centuries--its Author is by my side. If we have the mind of Christ, then--
I. Whether we rightly act in relation to that mind or not, our obligation is immense. Our obligation is ever regulated according to the powers and privileges with which Heaven has endowed us. “Unto whom much is given, of them much will be required.” In connection with this principle note--
1. That the most precious thing in the universe is mind. Matter, in all its forms of life and beauty, is but the creature, symbol, and servant of mind. One human soul, though tabernacling in poverty, is of more essential worth than the sun. The sun has no feeling, thought, volition; it can neither form an idea of itself, nor of its Author. But the feeblest moral mind has all this, and can do all this,
2. That the most precious mind in the universe is the mind of Christ.
(1) All human minds are not of the same relative value. The minds of such men as Newton, Bacon, Milton are worth the aggregate mind of their age. But he who is instrumental in restoring one soul to moral truth and God, may do a greater work for the universe than he who corrects a hundred inferior minds. But the most majestic intellects bear no comparison with the mind of Christ; His mind was “the image of the invisible God.”
(2) Now nothing enhances our responsibility so much as connection with minds of a high and holy order. But contact with the mind of Christ enhances our responsibility a thousandfold. “If I had not come, and spoken unto them, they had not had sin,” &c. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world,” &c.
II. If we act rightly in relation to that mind, the effects on our character will be most glorious. There are three great blessings which will result.
1. Mental vivacity. Mind is the quickener and developer of mind. The amount of vital energy and impulse, however, which one mind is capable of imparting to another will, perhaps, generally depend upon two conditions.
(1) The character of the subjects of intercourse. Where they are tame commonplaces or vague abstractions, but a small amount of impulse will be imparted; but where they are of an opposite character, a powerful effect may be expected.
(2) The native vigour of the mind that presents these subjects. The most moving subjects will produce little effect when presented by a lifeless mind; but where there is great native energy in the soul of the communicator, in any case, there must be a powerful effect. Now you have just these two conditions in the highest form in connection with the mind of Christ. His mind is life and light--condensed energy and focal flame. His mind broke the mental slumbers of humanity, put the world in action, and gave it an impulse that shall go on accumulating for ever. He, therefore, who is rightly connected with the mind of Christ must be a man of mental earnestness. A sleepy-minded Christian is a solecism--a contradiction.
2. Moral assimilation. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.” Fellowship with a pre-eminently spiritual, holy, humble, benevolent, and devout mind is eternally incompatible with worldliness, impurity, pride, selfishness, and impiety.
3. True happiness. Christ’s mind does two things towards human happiness.
(1) It removes all obstructions. Sin is the great obstruction, and the great work of Christ is “to lint away sin”; to put it away in its--
(a) Idea form--the intellectual errors of men are sources of misery.
(b) Disposition form--the wrong and conflicting dispositions of men are sources of misery.
(c) Guilt form--the sense of guilt upon the conscience is a sore element of distress.
(2) It supplies the necessary condition of happiness. A suitable object of supreme love. Our supreme affection is the fountain of our happiness; but for the supreme affection to yield perfect happiness it must be free from all moral defects, capable of helping us in all the contingencies of our being, ever reciprocating our affections, and one which will continue with us for ever. In Christ we have all this, and nowhere else. If, then, we are in right connection with the mind of Christ, we are happy. Melancholy and gloom are foreign to Christianity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
“The mind of Christ”
A wonderful property, even for an apostle! And if it is within our reach that man must be a fool who does not give his mind to consider what it is, and how it is to be obtained. The expression is a full one--for you may take the words and actions of a man, and still fall short of his mind. For that is his spirit, the motive which actuates him, the feeling which moulds his conduct, the inner life which gives tone and character to his outer being. So you might copy Christ’s example, and speak and act like Christ--but all the while be unable to say, “I have the mind of Christ.” Note--
I. What the constitution of “The mind of Christ” was.
1. It was altogether human. It is an idle thought that the body of Christ was human, but the spirit or mind of Christ, was Divine. That which is Divine, being always infinite, is incapable of any growth or increase. But Christ “increased in wisdom.” So complete was Christ’s emptying of Himself here for our sakes that His mind became subject to all the laws by which our intellect is governed.
2. This is necessary for the truth of the history, to the integrity of His humanity, for the perfectness of His sympathy and power, for His being an exemplar that we may imitate.
II. How did the human mind of Jesus become that sublime and perfect thing it was? He had “the Spirit without measure.”
1. This thought is the connecting link which unites our little minds with His. For this is exactly Paul’s reasoning. “The spirit which is of God” is identified with the mind of Christ. That soul of Jesus, then, infinitely stored with the Holy Spirit, becomes a fountain from whence that Spirit is always pouring out into His own people; so that “out of His fulness have all we received.” And this it is which makes a gift of the Spirit so very sweet to a Christian.
2. And, as that process goes on, every fresh communication of the Holy Ghost, passing as it does from the bosom of Jesus, enables us to say with greater and greater truth, “We have the mind of Christ.”
III. The advantages which belong to those who have “the mind of Christ.”
1. As respects that great search after truth, no man can really understand the Bible who does not bring to the study of it “the mind of Christ.” Now mark the apostle’s reasoning. He says, no man can tell what is passing in any man’s mind except that man himself. In like manner he says, no one can know what is passing in the mind of God but God only. But if only God knows God, how can we know God? By having “the mind of Christ.” Thus, then, it is, by bringing the mind of Christ in our souls to “the mind of Christ” in the Bible that we can understand the mind of God.
2. The possession of “the mind of Christ” is a wonderful clue to the intricate windings of the labyrinth of life. There are thousands of points which require instantaneous decision. The juncture gives little space to go to some friend, or even to the Bible. At such moments a rapid perception of the right is an inestimable gift, and we shall have that if we have “the mind of Christ.”
3. They have the benefit of “the mind of Christ” who wish to pray rightly. God has given us the license to “ask what we will, and it shall be done.” But may not a man inadvertently ask and obtain a curse? Our security in that dangerous privilege is in the knowledge of the Bible--an acquaintance with God’s promises. But we want something quicker. Those who bring Christ in them to their knees, having “the mind of Christ” in asking, know what is “the mind of Christ” in giving. And it is surprising to what an extent this may control and guide prayer. The Syrophenician woman had it, when she would not cease till she had obtained what she wanted. Abraham had it equally when he stayed his supplication for Sodom at “the ten.” And doubtless Paul also, when he ceased to deprecate “the thorn” at the third petition. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The Christly spirit
(Philippians 2:5, and text):--Let the thought, the aim, the spirit of Christ be in you and be yours. All that He did, wills, approves, and blesses, even in the details of every-day life. Observe here the Christly spirit--
I. Urged as the supreme pattern of self-renunciation. Mark--
1. Voluntary humiliation. “He emptied Himself,” became obedient unto death.” He who would study the grand pattern for the Christly life must begin in the valley of humiliation.
2. Absolute surrender for others--the perfection of self-sacrifice. “He came not to be ministered unto,” &c.
3. Disinterestedness in benevolence--“Looking to the things of others.”
4. The grand law of Christian discipleship. Though we may never be able to equal the incomparable humility, gentleness, and self-sacrifice of Christ, yet we may follow His example.
II. Possessed--as the Divinest inspiration to the higher life. No man that would ascend to the loftiest moral excellence but must possess “the mind of Christ.” By the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ there is imparted into us--
1. Strength to fight against sin and to achieve a victory.
2. Inspiration to spiritual power, beauty, excellence, and holiness.
3. Harmony of heart with the heart of God.
III. Realised--as the crowning endowment for the noblest service. “We have the mind of Christ.” The conscious possession of the mind of Christ has led thousands to make the highest sacrifice and to render the noblest service--Luther to attempt the Reformation; Robert Raikes to establish the Sunday-schools; Charles of Bala to originate the British and Foreign Bible Society, &c. Lessons: The attainment is--
2. Certain. “We have.”
3. Let us all seek it afresh, for the glory of God, for the good of others, and our own happiness. (J. Harries.)
The certainty and solidity of the experience of Christian believers
I. We have the mind of Christ.
1. Enlightening the understanding.
2. Assuring the conscience.
3. Informing the judgment.
4. Renewing the heart.
II. We are thus fortified against the objections of all unbelievers. Because--
1. They do not know the mind of God.
2. Are incompetent to judge of spiritual things.
3. Much more to offer any instruction to those who have the Spirit of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)