The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
"This varied and highly characteristic letter was addressed not to any party, but to the whole body of the large (Acts 18:8-10) Judæo-Gentile (Acts 18:4) church of Corinth, and appears to have been called forth, 1st, by the information the Apostle had received from members of the household of Chloe (1Corinthians 1:11), of the divisions that were existing among them, which were of so grave a nature as to have already induced the Apostle to desire Timothy to visit Corinth (1Corinthians 4:17) after his journey to Macedonia (Acts 19:22); 2ndly, by the information he had received of a grievous case of incest (1Corinthians 5:1), and of the defective state of the Corinthian converts, not only in regard of general habits (1Corinthians 6:1, sq.) and Church discipline (1Corinthians 11:20, sq.), but, as it would also seem, of doctrine (1 Corinthians 15); 3rdly, by the inquiries that had been specially addressed to St. Paul by the Church of Corinth on several matters relating to Christian practice.
"The contents of this Epistle are thus extremely varied. The Apostle opens with his usual salutation and with an expression of thankfulness for their general state of Christian progress (1Corinthians 1:1-9). He then at once passes on to the lamentable divisions there were among them, and incidentally justifies his own conduct and mode of preaching (1Corinthians 1:10, 1Corinthians 4:16), concluding with a notice of the mission of Timothy, and of an intended authoritative visit on his own part (1Corinthians 4:17-21). The Apostle next deals with the case of incest that had taken place among them, and had provoked no censure (1Corinthians 5:1-8), noticing, as he passes, some previous remarks he had made upon not keeping company with fornicators (1Corinthians 5:9-13). He then comments on their evil practice of litigation before heathen tribunals (1Corinthians 6:1-8), and again reverts to the plague-spot in Corinthian life, fornication and uncleanness (1Corinthians 6:9-20). The last subject naturally paves the way for his answers to their inquiries about marriage (1Corinthians 7:1-24), and about the celibacy of virgins and widows (1Corinthians 7:25-40). The Apostle next makes a transition to the subject of the lawfulness of eating things sacrificed to idols, and Christian freedom generally (1 Corinthians 8), which leads, not unnaturally, to a digression on the manner in which he waived his Apostolic privileges, and performed his Apostolic duties (1 Corinthians 9). He then reverts to and concludes the subject of the use of things offered to idols (1Corinthians 10:1 to 1Corinthians 11:1), and passes onward to reprove his converts for their behaviour in the assemblies of the Church, both in respect to women prophesying and praying with uncovered heads (1Corinthians 11:2-16), and also their great irregularities in the celebration of the Lord's Supper (1Corinthians 11:17-34). Then follow full and minute instructions on the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14), in which is included the noble panegyric of charity (1 Corinthians 13), and further a defence of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, about which doubts and difficulties appear to have arisen in this unhappily divided church (1 Corinthians 15), The Epistle closes with some directions concerning the contributions for the saints at Jerusalem (1Corinthians 16:1-4), brief notices of his own intended movements (1Corinthians 16:5-9), commendation to them of Timothy and others (1Corinthians 16:10-18), greetings from the churches (1Corinthians 16:19-20), and an autograph salutation and benediction (1Corinthians 16:21-24)."—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.]
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,1Corinthians 1:1-9
1. Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God and Sosthenes our brother,
2. Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
3. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
5. That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge:
6. Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
7. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
8. Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Apostle's Salutation
We could hardly understand the composition of the Church at Corinth from the opening of this letter. Judging indeed by the salutation, one would suppose that the Church at Corinth was a model church, rich in knowledge, eloquent in utterance, generous in charity, quite an example to all churches. Yet it was as rotten a constitution as can be found in all the annals of history, everything that was bad was in the Church at Corinth; probably there has been nothing like it since; it was indeed a mystery of iniquity; yet it was the Church of God, and it is described as composed of men who were "called to be saints," and the men were recognised as those who called upon the name of Jesus Christ the living Saviour of the world. And even the Apostle Paul, whose righteousness was neither to be threatened nor bribed, said, "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ." There must be some explanation of these practical contradictions, of these perplexing mysteries. Let us approach the whole consideration calmly.
Corinth was a wonderful city. This was not the Corinth of olden time, the Corinth that flourished two centuries before Paul wrote; this was only a fifty-year old city, the Chicago of Greece, the city which Julius Cæsar had built upon the foundations of the old Corinth. It was in very deed a tumultuous city; the Greek was there, and the Roman, and the Jew; traders, from what would then be called under the whole heaven, were to be found at this seaport; various languages, various customs, ill-remembered traditions, dreams of the past, aspirations after the future, a consciousness that quite a colossus was bestriding the whole city of Greece,—all these things blended and combined and interplayed upon the imagination, the memory, and the consciousness of the Corinthian population. Corinth was subdued; it was a Roman footstool: and in this place there was a Church of God, there were sanctified men, there were praying souls; there were religious persons for whose spirit and purpose and beneficence the Apostle Paul thanked God every day. This must always be so, now that we think of it more carefully. We are as bad as the people who were at Corinth. Human nature advances at a very slow rate. No microscope has yet been invented that can tell how much higher we are than the people who lived thousands of centuries ago. In some particulars the advance is patent, obvious, indisputable: but are we now talking about a mechanical advancement, or a spiritual progress? Are we talking about certificates, or about interior life? Are we speaking about a calculated civilisation, or about a civilisation that expresses an action of motive and an aspiration after God? The great doctrine which we need every day for our comfort is that character is deeper than conduct. This doctrine may be stated so as to be dangerous; hence the infinite delicacy that is required in guarding it, lest men should pervert it and turn it to their destruction. We are judges of conduct: we are not judges of character. We say a man's conduct is very proper, very guarded, very admirable, is in many respects worthy of applause; and in so speaking we are speaking honestly and according to information, but we know nothing as to what we are talking about. Only God can judge souls. A man of bad conduct may be a good man. This is hard to understand: it seems to be impossible, and in certain social senses it is not only impossible, it is monstrous, and is to be repudiated with indignation: in another sense, character is greater than action, habit, manifestation; the man as he really is has to show himself through conditions that distort his beauty, his proportions, and that turn his very prayers into a species of accusation against his honesty. The Apostle Paul understood all this: none better; hence what a pastor he was, what a shepherd! How he gathered us to his boundless heart after every bout of drunkenness, after every revel, after every far-away wandering, and would still count us among the jewels of God. No doctrine can be so easily perverted. If a man be disposed to accept this as a doctrine and to say, "Such being the case, I may do what I like"; that man is a dog who has no right to the bread which is now being ministered. But it any man should say, "That may be the explanation of my poor life; I knew I had something in me that was better than the things I did; this is putting into words a lifelong feeling of mine: I will take hope; this is the very Gospel of heaven; I will now say, though I can hardly say it for choking sobs, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." Peter's character was greater than Peter's conduct. Peter's heart had not fair play in that battle so suddenly sprung upon him. He was one of those men who having had time to recruit himself would have shown a better surface to society; but suddenly taken, suddenly tempted, suddenly sprung upon, how weak he was and foolish, and how he yielded himself an easy prey to the destroyer! Yet, though this doctrine may be perverted, we must not give it up on that account. Some men find poison in everything; some eaters could find poison in bread; we must not, therefore, throw the bread away, but use it, and derive health and strength from it. You have committed a thousand sins, and yet there is a possibility of your being a really good man at heart. Do not let the man who has only committed the sins steal this consolation, for he could but lay a felon's hand upon it. The reference must be to spirit, to self-testing, to earnest, critical, unsparing examination. No man will seize this consolation wantonly who has any right to it; he will put out his hand tremblingly and thankfully. No man can accept a gospel with riotousness and wantonness, for his acceptance of it would be its spoliation and rejection. May a man be a drunkard, and yet a Christian? What is a drunkard? Everything will depend upon the definition. We have not hesitated to lay down the doctrine that some men drink with the body, but not with the soul. When a man drinks with his soul he is a drunkard, and I know not that there is any salvation for him; but when his intemperance is a mystery of the flesh, I leave him to God, speaking many a word of hope to him. May a man be a thief, and yet a good man in his heart? What is a thief? Be critical in your definitions, be exact in your judgments, and do not deal out rough justice; penetrate into temptation and circumstance and surrounding, and understand the whole case, and if you cannot do so, then leave it to him who alone can comprehend the whole mystery of human desire and human temptation.
There is nothing that is bad that was not in the Church at Corinth. It was drunken, partisan, riotous, sensual, idolatrous, quite mad with an ungovernable excitement; and yet it was the Church of God. Sometimes God has to abide in poor lodgings; sometimes the blessed Saviour has to sit down where he can, for we cannot always find him a couch of gold with seat of velvet, on which he may recline as a pampered King; we can offer him nothing but a broken heart, a wild, tumultuous, self-contradictory spirit. I know we pray one half of the day, and curse the other half; I am aware that human life is a moral contradiction, a paradox not to be tolerated by scribe and disputer of this world: yet he who was born in the stable seems to live in it all the time. This is all we can do for him at present, but in the worst of us he sees the make of a better man. How long must an earnest preacher wait to drive off from the appropriation of this sweet doctrine men who have no right to it? Let it be understood as a fact in history, that there was a community at Corinth as bad as it could be to all human appearance, and yet the Apostolic eye saw in it what perhaps it did not see in itself, a grace abounding over a grievous sin. How shall a man be estimated? Who shall number the elements that constitute his composition? and say whether the Ayes have it, or the Noes, whether the affirmative or the negative, whether the majority of the man lies upwards towards light and progress, or downwards towards darkness and decay? The Lord knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are but dust: it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men. If there is any one little gleam of beauty about us, no larger than a dew-drop, God will see it, and it shall be to him as a jewel he will never part with. What is richer than wealth? and what is that higher wealth without which all money is worthless? It is confidence. Confidence is the true strength of the nation. All commerce, though it may bring in a thousand per cent, every day in the week, is worthless if it does not represent something better than itself—a strong, deep, indestructible confidence. There is a morality which the bank cannot represent in equivalent financial figures. What is larger than experience? Philosophy. But we thought philosophy was a theory? It may be made a theory of, and nothing more: but true philosophy is the larger experience; true confidence is the larger wealth; true character is the larger conduct; the true soul is the true man: on these distinctions, which can only be drawn and worthily estimated in the sanctuary, we must build our hope of progress and victory. If there are preachers who would always hang your sins before you in black festoons, and would overbear you, and would distress you by critical enumeration of the wrong things you have done, they are not God's preachers. There is a time when that requires to be done, but never to be done alone. There is another and comforting side; no man can preach truly about sin who does not preach worthily about grace. It is possible so to preach about grace as to make men feel their sins without ever naming them; it is possible so to erect a standard as to make every man feel his stature without being publicly measured. Great Apostle, Saint Paul in very deed! None can smite as he will smite, but none will bless as he will bless; he will begin with blessing, and he will call up all our strength before he submits us to the surgical examination which is in view; he will build us up that he may take us down.
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God"—literally, Paul, a called apostle. He will have need of this authority, so he lays it down in the first breath. It is his apostolicity that is questioned. He must be clear about it himself, or the questioners themselves will throw his mind into incertitude. Every man can write the same sentence if he will be just to the indications of Providence:—"called" to be a merchant; "called" to be an artist; "called" to be an expositor of law; "called" to be a servant; "called to stoop and do the world's poor drudgery;—but "called"! There are no loose stones in God's quarry; every one is marked for a place: why should the stone that is marked for the base complain that it was not marked for the pinnacle? Why should the stone marked fur the pinnacle complain that it always catches the high winds, and the first snow that falls coldly upon it? whereas it ought to have been hidden in the earth, where it would have been saved from many inconveniences and from all exposures. There is one Builder: let him put us where he pleases. We cannot all be in the pinnacle, we cannot all be in the foundation; it is the Lord's Temple, let him put the stones where he wants to put them. "And Sosthenes our brother"—our equal, our colleague. So at once all Papacy is expelled from this opening salutation. There is no playing at infallibility. Nobody knows who Sosthenes was even; some think that he was a ringleader of evil persons, and that he is referred to in the Acts of the Apostles; that is doubted by other commentators: the beautiful thing is, nobody knows certainly who he was; and yet he was Paul's "brother." We need obscure men to shadow the brilliance of men who are conspicuous. If Paul can sign along with an utterly unknown man, Paul is no pope. "Our brother"—your brother and my brother, said Paul to the Corinthians. Or, if we omit the word "our" as an interpolation, still the music will read thus, "and brother Sosthenes"—brother nobody. This is how we must look upon God's Church; great men and little men and no men—men without any actual name; a mere label about them to distinguish them from some other people yonder. This is the Pauline democracy; this is the fundamental line of sainthood. "Grace be unto you, and peace." When heathen writers sent a letter they always began with the same word—"health": when the Apostle writes a letter he nearly always—perhaps literally always—begins with some form of "grace," "peace." It is a word worthy of the Gospel. Health represents paganism right well; it was a study more or less of economics, and outward conditions, and phases of civilisation; but the Apostle comprehends health, and enlarges all its best suggestions when he says, "grace, peace." What is health without grace but a great, staring pillar without a capital, without a touch of beauty? What is health without peace but a tree-trunk—all trunk: but grace and peace, what is it?—full of twigs and buds and hints of blossom and promises of crowned summer. The Lord Jesus Christ is not less than any philosopher that went before him. He takes up all philosophical or pagan salutations, assumes them, and in some larger salutation blesses all the world. What would this Apostle have us enjoy? "Grace and peace." He would then have us rich indeed. He is poor who is without this blessing, whatever else he has. Money can never make a man rich; it needs too much counting and looking after and bookkeeping; but grace and peace—given these, in Paul's conception of their magnitude and operation, and a man knows not whether he is in prison or out of prison, in the body or out of the body; knows not whether he is eating luxuries or feeding on the barest necessaries of life, for all life is then a luxury to him; he eats and drinks all day, but not as the dog does. No man can be in any doubt as to whether he has grace and peace in his heart. These are singing birds; they are birds that sing in the nighttime. Some poor little songsters seem almost obliged to sing because the sun is so bright and warm; they seem to be selfish birds; they are made, compelled, to sing. Others seem to wait for the darkness, and to have a great festival when they cannot be seen. Grace and peace will sing to a man at midnight, in every bereavement, sorrow, anxiety, and that kind of wonder which agonises to the point of distress. Have ye these singing-birds in your heart-cage? If not, yours is a dull house, though there be a fire in every room and servants be spreading banquets on your tables all day long. The banquet is nothing when the appetite is wanting.
How noble the recognition!
"I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Corinthians 1:4-7).
Here is a lesson in tactics. Sometimes we have to make a long carriage-drive to the house; sometimes we have all the road-making to do; it is well to make it broad and smooth. Sometimes we would do better with the people if we went with flowers in our hand, and with the sweet presentation dropped the word of hard instruction. There is a genius in the use of compliments. The wrestler lifts up his opponent that he may thrown him down. How rude some people are, and rough and senseless altogether: how wild in violence, how unfamiliar with human nature, how gifted with the insane genius of always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and of always saying what ought not to have been said at all! This is marvellous. When was human nature other than very marvellous?
Father of our spirits, and God of all grace, we come with our morning hymn. We come to sing of thy goodness and thy mercy, which have followed us all the days of our life. Behold thou hast not left us alone; we have not known the meaning and the sorrow of desolation. Thou hast been a God nigh at hand, and not afar off; all the light of heaven has been thy smile, all the winds that blow over the earth have brought with them the fragrance of heaven. We will not therefore be dumb: we will praise the Lord with a loud voice; yea, we will rejoice exceedingly in the God of our salvation. Thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad; when we have undertaken for ourselves we have failed: when we have rested in the Lord, and waited patiently for him and made a space in our life for the ministry of heaven, behold we have reaped in the seedtime, and in the harvest we have had the joy of summer, and even amid the snows of winter we have plucked a thousand flowers. Thou hast led us through the wilderness, and thy presence has made a garden of it; we will, therefore not be silent, we will lift up our voice gladly and praise the Lord for his manifold riches and goodness, for his wondrous patience, for his ineffable care. Thy grace has been greater than our sin, the black pebble of our guilt has sunk in the infinite ocean of thy love; we have learned concerning God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, that he is love, that he is righteousness, that he is merciful and kind to the unthankful and to the evil, not withholding his rain from the gardens of those who deny him, and from the fields of those who blaspheme his name. Jesus Christ thy Son has taught us to call thee our Father, and to find in thee all the best meaning of that term. Truly we know thou hast been near us; when our father and our mother forsake us, we will feel thine arms stealing round about us in the tenderness of omnipotence; when our way is dark and held up, yea bound round with rocks, then thou dost find a way for our feet and bring us into a wealthy place. We will no more be our own light and guide: there is no light in us, it is not in man that liveth to direct his way; we will abide in God, we will not disquiet ourselves by self-care, we will rest in the infinite love Guide us, O thou great Jehovah! Amen.
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.1Corinthians 1:9-17
9. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
10. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11. For it has been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14. I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15. Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
16. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
17. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
The Apostle's Appeal
We have noticed how frequently and fervently the Apostle Paul cites the name of Jesus Christ; it is quite as remarkable how he uses with emphasis and unction the name of God. We read of "the will of God"; "the Church of God"; "my God"; "the grace of God"; "God is faithful": the whole confidence is thus put in God. If a miracle is to be wrought, it is by God alone the miracle can be accomplished. This introduction is specifically and uniquely religious. The Apostle is not going to be merely eloquent or argumentative; he is going to base his standing upon the Eternal; he will have a rock under his feet; on no bog of his own making will he venture to stand when he delivers his great appeal to the Corinthian Church. "God will do this" is his constant declaration. If you wonder how the miracle is to be accomplished, the answer is "God will do it"; if you ask how you, so far gone in all evil, are to be brought home and made secure, the answer is, God will do it all—"God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." God does not come into the arrangement at a remote period; there is nothing accidental in the interposition of the Divine power: all the idea of the Church began in eternity, began when God began. The universe is a garment with which he clothes himself. There is only history to us; there is no history to God; it was written in the unwritten record before the world began. God does a few things that we can see, that he may encourage us to believe that he can do other things that are not immediately obvious, or that are only too obvious as to their apparent impossibility of even being done. Out of the earth he will bring a beautiful flower, and presenting it to us will say, There shall be richer beauty than this brought out of your poor heart. He shapes the universe out of chaos—tumultuous, measureless, shapeless chaos—and says, All this rounding and brightening and glory is but a hint of something I am going to do in human nature: men shall be brighter than suns; hearts shall be more constant than stars. What we see in nature is symbolic of what we shall see in grace. So the Apostle, in coming to the Corinthian Church—dissolute, corrupt, shaken to its very foundations, divided into a thousand parts—says, God will work out the miracle of your perfectness, and your harmony: the God who called is the same God who will crown. Here is the steadfastness of the Christian Church. If this faith were a mere matter of words, clever arguments, skilful mental inventions on the part of disputants, we should have small faith in it, for there may one day arise a controversialist so mighty as to destroy all other lovers of disputation. We are only secure when we stand back in God, when we take refuge in the Eternal, when we repeat the old prophetic formula, "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
The Apostle is now ready to undertake his immediate business. In the tenth verse a marked change of tone is noticeable—"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." The Church is only strong when united. It is possible to have a united Church. This would seem at first sight to be utterly incredible, and indeed it can only be made credible by placing the emphasis upon the right word. The Church is suffering to-day very largely from a misplacement of emphasis. The Church is not heretical, painfully, and lastingly divided; the Church is more than an exemplification of cruel schism: but that something more and something better is concealed by the use of false or vicious emphasis. Have we not often seen how possible it is to repeat the words of a message, and yet to leave the message itself undelivered? Let us think of that steadfastly, for the whole secret may be in that one suggestion. The words may be literally quoted, and yet by tone, by emphasis, by weight of voice here or there, we may wholly misrepresent the meaning of the message; we may have a literal declaration, but not a Divine Gospel from the heart of God. A Gospel sermon may be void of Gospel tones, and being devoid of Gospel tones all its evangelical promises go for nothing; the light that is in the sermon is darkness, and how great is that darkness! The Apostle will have unity, in mind, in judgment, in heart, will he not then permit diversity? No man has spoken for diversity more pointedly and eloquently than the Apostle Paul; it is he who enumerates the diversities that are in the Church; but it is also he who shows that, although there may be diversities of administration, there may be the same spirit, and that the unity is to be found in the spirit, and not in the mere expression of individual genius or special idiosyncrasy of character. How to have unity in diversity is the problem that is given to us for solution. We have it everywhere else—why not in the Church? There is not a man in the country worthy of citizenship who is not a patriot; and yet probably hardly any two men in the country have an identical policy as to this or that particular question. Patriotism is deeper than party. There are times when party is suspended, and with one shout, because with one heart, men say, Defend the country! Save the altar! It is possible in the Church to have all manner of theological speculation, and to recognise charitably every special theological standpoint; it is possible to have a great hubbub of words, quite a tumult of eloquence, quite an Atlantic storm of contradiction, and yet to have unity: because unity is not an affair of words; it is an affair of motive, aspiration, desire. We find our unity not in our opinion but in our love. Had the differences of Corinth been great, had they in any degree been heroic, the Apostle would have recognised their breadth and grandeur; but they were frivolous divisions, merely petty pedantic classifications.
Let the Apostle himself explain the case:—"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them who are of the house of Chloe"—an elect and saintly lady, whose servants had probably brought the message—"that there are contentions among you"—not high controversies, noble debates, such as stimulate the mind to finer ambitions and endeavours, but small contentions, and spiteful recriminations, and pedantic distinctions,—"every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." What a truthful man the Apostle was! He gave his authority for the accusation. Paul never could stoop to the base trick of the anonymous. Everywhere he comes boldly to the front, gives up his authority, makes his statement in his own name, tells exactly how the thought came into his mind, and on what ground it is based, and by what reasons it is justified. Here we have names, references, and particulars. What a skilful man, as well as truthful, was Paul! For he begins by putting his own name first. Had it been a question of honour, he would have put his own name last; but being a question of little mean contention, he says some of you say, "I am of Paul," and Paul never would found a sect; Paul would have nothing to do with a party spirit; he knew that party spirit always kills true trust. And another said, "I of Apollos": I like eloquent preaching; I like rhetorical presentation of truth; I like a smooth, fluent speaker; I like my theology to come upon me with the depth and sweep of the Ganges. And another said, "I of Cephas"—Peter: we know something of Peter's seniority, and we like to be classified under a name so comparatively ancient as the name of Peter. "And I of Christ." Was it possible to be a partizan and to take the name of Christ? Yes: that is the bane worst of all. Surely the Apostle would have said, "Some of you, thank God, say, We are of Christ." He utters no such commendation. He sees that the very name of Christ has been debased by this wicked partisanship.
There are people who suppose that they are not sectarian because they do not belong to any particular communion. They are always the greatest sectarians of all. There are persons who say they have no creed, no theology: generally they are the most narrow-minded of pedants. There are persons who say, We do not take any human name; far be it from us to sail under any merely human flag; we are brethren, we are Christians, we are saints; we do not take any qualifying or limiting name. They need none—if they would call themselves plain hypocrites! The qualification would be wasted upon them. Better have the naked truth, though sometimes it may present rather ghastly aspects. Have no faith in those people who want to be regarded simply as brethren, Christians, saints, and to deprive themselves of all the little comforts and conveniences arising from classification and qualification. We are still human; we need definition, for definition is sometimes an assistance and a strengthening of our best nature. We cannot all hang up our garments upon the horizon: some of us need a closer accommodation, a near convenience, for the disposal of some little things that belong to us. We do not thereby limit Christ; it is Christ who condescends to show himself through the medium of communion, it may be what is called denominationalism, or classification of Church thought: this need not be sectarianism; it may be the broadest, noblest charity. Are we free from this charge? Are there not Paulists among us, and followers of Apollos, and people who imagine they would die for Peter? And are there not some who wish to be known simply by the unexplained and infinite Name? How does Paul treat this party spirit? He treats it characteristically. Wherever you find Paul you find him standing on first principles, on acknowledged axioms, on solid historical facts. Paul will not come and talk to these people an upon equal terms, saying with a kind of suppressed whine, Is this wise of you? Is this the best course you can pursue? Will it not be better to yield a little here and there, and to live upon a basis of compromise? No such tone do you find in the Apostle Paul! At once, inclusively, finally, he says, "Was Paul crucified for you?" The crucified should be sovereign. He who has suffered most should reign; he who has made the Church possible should be the Church's Lord. Let us hear how many questions the Apostle puts:—"Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" We feel already that we are in the hands of a master. This man will not let us escape by evasions. He will have Christ put in his right place. Given Christ at the heart of things, and Paul will allow large liberty as to human aspects, and temporary relations, and immediate conveniences; but he will not have two Christs; there is only one Christ in Paul's Church; his eyes never become so dim that he mistakes the three crosses as of equal value; he separates with a sacred discrimination, and he claims that Jesus Christ should be the one Lord as he was the one Sufferer. We must follow Paul's example, and go back to fundamental lines. Who made the Church possible? Christ. Whose Church is it? Christ's. For whose glory does it exist, in no narrow or selfish sense, but as a revelation of his infinite love? For Christ's sake it exists. May we not, then, take the name of Christ, simply, singly, unqualifiably, and use that as our designation? No, because we may indulge our vanity even in that titular distinction. We may think we have done all Christ wants us to do when we have simply labelled ourselves with Christ's name. We can be Christ's in the largest, deepest, and truest sense, without any ostentatious declaration of his Name. To live Christ is better than merely to bear the nominal designation of Christ. Vanity is very subtle in its operation. Sometimes vanity leaps into a prayer suddenly, and turns it into blasphemy; sometimes vanity comes across a man's beneficence, and that which he was going to give as a sacrifice, he presents as a certificate or a claim to distinction. Vanity may therefore come into our choice of the word Christ as the description of our faith: it so specialises us as to inflict dishonour upon other people, and therefore its use may be wrong; as who should say, Look at me: I am simply called Christ's; other men are called Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians. All these names I abjure, and if you wish to know what I am I wish to be known simply by the name of Christ. The man who talks so is either a fool or a knave. If a man wants to be Christ's you will not hear him saying anything about it in any invidious spirit; he will not condemn other Christians that he may raise himself on a higher pedestal; he will recognise diversity, and show how possible it is to have unity in difference. The misplacement of emphasis is to be found in the fact that we are always putting forward the wrong points; the points may themselves be useful, but we put them out of proportion; we create a false perspective, and thus we make the near the great: whereas if we placed it at its right point in the line, it might be beautiful, illustratively useful, but being put out of its right position, it distorts the whole picture, and goes itself for less than it is worth. Find out the principal things, and magnify these. Faith is greater than creed: faith is eternal, creed is variable. Rest is greater than the mere time on which the rest is to be taken. Revelation is greater than the book in which it is disclosed. Brotherhood is larger than any limitation of mere blood or physical kinship. So we should get at the heart of things, at the Christly element, at the eternal quantity, and lay our emphasis there with a right cordial voice.
The Corinthians talked much about baptism. The Apostle apparently had heard of that love of a special sacrament or ordinance. He says, "were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" then it were a poor baptism; there is nothing in it; you are baptized by water that will dry on you and be forgotten; unless you are baptized by fire your poor Christianity will soon decline and wither away. "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other." What an illustration this, of what is meant by inspiration! Here is an inspired man correcting himself; first being very positive that he had baptized only one or two, and then remembering that he had baptized another household; and then, confusedly, half-forgetting whether he had in fact baptized anybody or not. Here is the truthful man; here is the really inspired Apostle;—inspiration not relating to the memory of incidental facts and circumstances, but referring to the grand doctrine "lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name." That is the point on which the emphasis is laid. Is the Apostle then despising baptism? Nothing of the kind. Is he in any sense undervaluing it? No. What is he doing? He is putting it in its right perspective. As compared with the Crucifixion it is nothing in value: as compared with life, faith, love, it is a mere mechanical form, useful as a symbol, appointed as an ordinance, but still capable of being thrust out of proportion, unduly and absurdly magnified, and thus rendered insupportable and immeasurably mischievous. How grand the Apostle is here! Looking upon the whole Corinthian Church, he says, "I thank God that I baptized none of you"; not that baptism is wrong, not that I do not baptize, but I can see now that you have a disposition to magnify little things instead of great things, and you have a genius for distortion, and it would have been a very easy thing for you to have said, "Paul baptized us, therefore we are Paul's men." I thank God I had next to nothing to do with your baptism; not that baptism is wrong or useless, but that you would have made a false application of a very small fact. How prone we are to operate in this direction, to assume false honours, to shelter ourselves behind false securities, and to diminish the glorious Christ into a mere mechanical form or passing phase of history! How may we recover ourselves from this? By always asking the one question, Who was crucified for us? Who gave himself for us? How does the Apostle come into this argument? He comes into it, first of all, by right of apostolicity; that we have already seen; then he comes into it with his usual tender persuasiveness, as if he would plead upon his knees. Saith he, "Now I beseech you," that is an attitude of humiliation, that is a tone of courtesy—"Now I beseech you, brethren." The tone heightens a little, and a council fraternal is called upon the spot. "Now I beseech you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now the occasion is sublime; the Lord is present, and under his presence must this controversy be adjusted. So he proceeds to put up the Cross, to draw the Corinthian Church around the Cross, and to have the whole conflict settled by the spirit of the Cross. Every controversy can be settled at the Cross, can be completely settled, finally settled; and no soul will retire from that centre saying that he has got an advantage over his brother. When Christians meet there they will be bowed down in a common penitence, they will be chastened by a common humiliation; they will see so much of their Lord as to see but little of themselves; and they will say, For Christ's sake, let us forgive and forget, utterly blot out, with all possible obliteration, every unholy, irritating, exasperating memory; and let us remember that we are nothing except so far as we are in Christ; our testimony is useless if it be not begun, continued, and ended in Christ. We have been unkind, ungracious, uncharitable: now in sight of the bleeding Lamb of God let us cease to see one another's littlenesses and begin to see one another's excellences. That was the Pauline method. Any man who adopted that method, by its very adoption proved himself to be called—called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.
We bless thee, Father in heaven, for the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: it unites all things, it gives form and meaning to thy government, it creates the tears of the universe, it creates the songs of heaven. God forbid that we should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ—shameful, glorious Cross. We are crucified with Christ; nevertheless we live, yet not we, but Christ liveth in us; and the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us. We are Christ's miracles; he has taken us at the spear-point in the deadly fight; we are the Lord's prey, we have been captured by that man of war. Help us to look at all life from the point of view created by the Christ; then there shall be no night, no separating sea, no desolate wilderness, no death; the grave will have no victory, and the night can hardly make room for all the stars that throng upon her darkness. Give us to live in Christ, and for Christ, and to Christ; may he be our song, our subject, our confidence in life, our hope in death. Thou knowest us altogether—the cold heart, the reluctant will, the eager spirit, the soul that sheds all its tears in secret, the contrite heart: look upon us according to our pain and need, and come to us with all the balm of Calvary; may grey hairs be no sign of age, may the stooping form be a proof of the ascending spirit and the ripening heart, and may we all become, through Christ and the eternal Spirit, better and better, like a ripening harvest. Amen.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?Party Spirit
How comprehensive were all the questions put by the Apostle Paul! How instinctively and therefore instantaneously he always went to the root of the matter! He knew nothing about evasion or double-dealing of any kind; he had no part or lot in anonymous insinuations or statements. We have seen that he gave up his authority for assuring the Corinthians that there were divisions and contentions of many kinds in that tumultuous Church. Now he draws the attention of the Church to the one all-determining inquiry, What is Christ's relation to the Church? Everything must stand or fall by the reply to that inquiry. One only wonders that this was a Church at all. That is the mystery of grace. This is a departure from our little mechanical prejudiced conceptions of a Church. We have seen what culture did for Greece, if Corinth may be taken as representing that classic land. Culture led away from God. Culture had its prayer; but in the streets of Corinth public, prayer was offered that the gods would increase the number of the prostitutes. Culture without humility, culture without a cross shadowing it, what is it but selfishness, vanity, idolatry? Yet Paul finds a Church here, calling it the Church of God. We are too pedantic in our classification. We should look at the manhood rather than at the mere circumstances limiting and qualifying it. The king is not named by any one appellation. Charles the First was not the king; the king was within him. He was still to be prayed for as the king. We look at his little doings, his mischief-makings, his vanities, ambitions, tergiversations, and grow eloquent in our condemnation about him. But all that has nothing to do with the king; the king is there, whether for the moment he be devil or angel; both these classifying terms must be dropped, and the term "king," royal and significant, must stand, whoever for the moment the man may be who debases the office. So with the Church of God; we must look at the ideal Church, at the thing signified. We are not the Church, else what a poor Church it were! Take out littleness and ignorance, our selfishness and vanity, our bigotry and self-idolatry, and how the enemy might make merry over us as the Church! How he might fling our prayers in our face, and echo our songs with a suggestive cadence! The fool would not be foolish only, but unjust. He does not know whereof he affirms. The Church of God is within; an invisible, spiritual, ideal germ: an outline shaped in clouds, and yet to be realised as it were in the granite and rocks of eternity. So the man is within the man. Say not you will judge the poor creature by his conduct, for then no gaol would be large enough to hold so much wickedness; then no asylum would be large enough to accommodate such overflowing and immeasurable imbecility. You do not see the man; only God sees him: he is better than he appears to be, if sometimes he is worse than the surface would enable us to conclude. So we repeat the sacred doctrine we have already ventured to lay down that God is judge: he knows whether we are his kings and priests and Church, or whether we are refuse and offal, living and hopeless offences.
Amongst the deprivations and general debasements of the Church at Corinth there was one which may be designated by the term Party Spirit—"Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." There were denominations within the denomination. Within an apparently united Church there were all kinds of sects, all degrees of animosity, all temperatures of virulence. Paul will not have this. He will at all events extricate himself from this prostitution of his name. Saying nothing of Apollos or Cephas, he says, "Was Paul crucified for you?" No man came so near to being crucified for the Church. How he approaches the Son of God! In self-surrender, in pious obliteration, how nearly he is on the very Cross of his Lord! Yet between Paul's crucifixion and Christ's there lies an infinite distance of significance. There can be but one Christ; his robe is seamless, his crown fits no other brow; he is the one Lord, he cannot be divided. Yet every day we are trying to divide him. Party spirit was not the blemish of Corinthian ecclesiastical society alone; party spirit is rife to-day. Party spirit is not truthful. A religious party man cannot speak the truth. When he is most vehement he is most perjured. Who can tell exactly what his opponent believes? and who can state in words, which his opponent would accept, his opponent's exact position? Or who, by some happy chance hitting upon the very words, can utter those words in the tone which an opponent would adopt and endorse? The party man need not intentionally tell lies; he simply can hardly help doing so. His prejudice beclouds his vision, his bias turns him away with a kind of significant haughtiness or revulsion from the man whom he is attempting to represent. We have heard a theologian declare that there is a band of men newly risen who declare that it is safe for men to die in their sins. This statement has been made by a man of celebrity, by a man of capacious and ardent mind. Now refer the statement to the parties implicated and say, Do you teach that it is safe for men to die in their sins? They redden with anger, they flush with indignant shame, that such a travesty of their views should have been perpetrated. Yet they are all honourable men. The accuser did not mean to falsify, but his prejudice was larger than his reason, his fury overwhelmed his temper, and he showed how dangerous a thing it is to pick out words for other men when the attempt is to express the deepest convictions of the soul. It is not safe for men to die in their sins; it is not safe for men to live in their sins; it is not safe for men to have any sympathetic relation to sin. How tremendous the blasphemy to insinuate that any Christian man could suppose that it was safe for men to die in their sins! If this calumny has not yet defiled our English communications, let us be grateful that we are separated from it at least by the width of the Atlantic. Party spirit is not sincere. This is the more notable because it appears to be awfully in earnest. Sincerity is a larger term than may at first be supposed; it involves and connotes many elements of judgment, honesty, sense of what is due to man, to truth, to God. It is possible to be sincere at one point, and to be there even burningly severe to be there even scorchingly earnest; but for want of a proper width and range of judgment it is possible also to lose the one burning point of sincerity. Distinguish between sincerity and bigotry. Sincerity should be large, should be calm, should be refined, should have the Divine power of patience, and the Divine attribute of hope. Madness may be a form of sincerity; it is not the less an expression of insanity and a guarantee of danger. Party spirit is not acceptable. It wounds the very Lord it attempts to serve. Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with our parties; he died for the world; he tasted death for every man, and he only knows the meaning of that all-involving expression "every man." We hastily pronounce the words, but he had eternity to think them over, and he has eternity in which to redeem his meaning when he bowed his head in death for every man. Our little impatience, our self-extinguishing, self-exhausting vehemence, our professed regard for truth at the expense of the larger human feeling, may be well-intentioned tributes, but he never allows them to be laid acceptably upon his altar. We have not a divided Christ; we have a united and indivisible Lord.
What is the explanation of difference? for difference is to be tolerated, and is to be recognised with thankfulness; only difference need not by any irresistible compulsion become party spirit. We have seen how the Apostle Paul maintained the right of diversity, gloried in diversity, showed how diversity and unity are perfectly compatible. What is the explanation of rational, healthy, useful difference? The explanation is that no man can see all the truth, and no one man can represent the totality of God's thought. We are all needed. The mischief is that we separate one testimony from another, and regard as an integer that which after all may be but the smallest of fractions. Peter read something that Paul had written, and he said, "These things are hard to be understood." Did he then expel Paul? Nay verily; for in the very confession that Paul had written some things hard to be understood, Peter described him as "our beloved brother Paul,"—that great, strange, sometimes almost unbalanced and wild mind, that genius that hovered near the eternal throne and snatched notes from angelic music, and came and told the Church with more or less of incoherence what he had seen and heard; Peter did not understand him; did not profess to stand shoulder to shoulder with that man, but he had grace enough to describe him as "our beloved brother Paul." Probably the Apostle Paul may have heard something of this, for when he comes to define his own ministry and function, he distinctly says, "my gospel." There is a sense in which that is true of every man. Each man has his own view of God, his own conception of truth and duty, his own little light of hope. These are incommunicable gifts. Man is put in trust of some individuality of faith; it is enough if in his stewardship he be found faithful. We should gain much if we could realise the fact that each man has what he may honestly and modestly denominate his own gospel; that is to say his own view of the Gospel, his own way of explaining the Gospel, his own delight in the Gospel; let each man speak out of his own consciousness and his own experience, and what is lacking in monotony will be made up in individuality; and individuality properly construed and regulated is the guarantee of spiritual energy in the Church.
The Apostle James will write a letter and will dwell upon works; he will have works done; he will have an industrious and self-attesting Church; he will demand every day an account of the acts of yesterday. John will follow James, and will write of love. Where, then, is the Church? In Peter? No. In Paul? No. In James? No. In John? No. Where is the Church? In all of them. The organ is not a flute or trombone, clarionet or bassoon. What is it? All of them; and more still, and all worked from a centre, and all inspired by a common knowledge, and all united in expressing lofty, martial, pensive, comforting, or rousing music. You have not heard the Gospel if you have only heard one man preach it. The Gospel is infinitely larger than any one man's little brain. We have only heard the Gospel when we have read all the Evangelists and all the Apostles. Otherwise only one writer would have been required to write the Bible. Moses, might have done it, or Ezekiel; Paul might have written the whole of the New Testament, or John; but God required the truth to be presented from every possible point of view, and each man comes into this great treasure-house to take out of it that which he most particularly needs for the moment. Is justification by faith? Yes. Is justification by works? Yes. Is predestination taught in the Bible? Yes. Is free will taught in the Bible? Certainly. You must study the proportion of faith; you must grasp the philosophy of revelation, and you must live and move and have your being in the Divine rhythm. You cannot snatch at heaven's prizes: you must live long before you begin to see how far away the horizon is, and yet what a wondrous part it plays in defining issue and boundary. Some minds can only be approached along doctrinal lines. You must come to them with philosophies, theologies, high speculations and debates. Blessed be God, such minds are few in number. Other minds could only be secured in sacred custody and imprisonment for Christ by proceeding along sympathetic lines. You come to them with offers to dry away the stains of sorrow, to bind up the broken heart, to make the grave tremble with immortality. Then you touch the heart, and fire the imagination, and excite the feelings with holy and rational ecstasy. Other minds can only be approached along what may be termed selfish lines. You must give them a good substantial heaven and hell to begin with; you must guarantee that they are going to heaven wherever anybody else is going to. Then they say, This is definite! So it is; it is extremely definite. The number of the selfish is large; they do not care for high reasoning, for noble sentiment, for broad and generous interpretation of things. They want to be assured that somebody else will burn for ever and ever, and ever and ever; and then they will feel comfortable. Even they may be converted! Do not let us limit the grace of God. Even people who have a selfish heaven may become chastened and ennobled by the long-continued action of the Spirit of God, until they shall feel that heaven is here, and hell is here; and they will speak of the one with holy rapture, and of the other with pain, ill-concealed, but not the less expressive and instructive; they will feel that all these things must be left in the hands of the living Father, who alone knows all about the case, and who will do justly, though he turn the wicked into perdition. The man of one view always has an advantage over the broad-minded man. We have heard how formidable an opponent the man of one book is; that is to say, he knows that one book so thoroughly that he cannot be caught at a mischance or misadventure in the reading and interpretation of it. Other men may know a hundred books, but they may not know the hundred books so well as this man knows the one book; therefore he is thought to be formidable. So with the man who has but one idea in theology, or in Christian thinking, whatever its name may be. He is vehement on that point; there he burns like an oven; he is not troubled with doubt, because he is not troubled with indigestion; he is not aware that the horizon is larger than his house, it only appears to be so to eyes that cannot distinguish between differences. The glazier has less difficulty than the telescope maker. What difficulty can a glazier have? But the telescope maker, how he studies, calculates, polishes, adjusts, enters into the mystery of distance, and light, and optics; how he is a mathematician before he is an instrument-maker; through what hard words he passes to the simplicity of his conclusion! This would be very satisfactory, only oftentimes the glazier mistakes himself for the telescope-maker. We need the Pauline mind; we cannot understand it, but we feel that it is a master mind, and we, so to say, nestle up towards our beloved brother-father Paul, saying to him, with look if not with words, You know how it is; pray for us; we cannot understand all your words, but verily it is God that justifieth you, that sanctifieth you, that enlighteneth you; we know it; oh, take care ever of us, put your pastoral arms around us, play the shepherd to our poor wandering life, for we know the wolf is after us, and we need a huge man's strength to enfold us in security.
What was Paul's method of meeting all this party spirit? It was a method characteristic of his mind. It was comprehensive, theological, profound, noble. Instead of saying, "What are your differences? and let me see if I can adjust them," he brushes them all away, and says, "Was Christ divided?"—it is Christ you are misrepresenting, it is Christ you are misunderstanding, it is Christ you are putting to shame; I will not hear your contentions, I will magnify my Lord. The Cross of Christ was the standard of judgment as well as the centre of observation, and everything depended upon men's relation to the Cross of Christ. What is the reason of that reference? This, that Crucifixion is the central idea in the Church. The Cross measures all things, determines all things, and ought to rule all things; and he who has accepted the doctrine of Christ's Crucifixion has by so much entered upon the practice of his own. That is the holy secret, that is the Divine discipline; not that I have only to look at my crucified Lord as a distant spectacle, I have to reproduce his Crucifixion in my own heart as a personal experience. Christ's work was the atonement; my work is its acceptance, and obedience to its spirit. I have to be crucified with Christ, and to have no self. When I gave myself to Christ I gave myself wholly; he would not take part of me—it was a complete surrender. So now as to who is to be first, or second, or last, we have no time for such mechanical and frivolous inquiries; each is to be first in love, first in prayer, first in obedience.
Then the Apostle associates this great Christian act with the mystery of the personality and sovereignty of God, as we have already seen. How often does the word of God occur in these introductory verses: "It pleased God"; "after that in the wisdom of God"; "the power of God"; "the wisdom of God"; "the foolishness of God"; "the workings of God"; "but God hath chosen"; "God hath chosen." Before this noble utterance, how mean is the contention of Corinthian partisanship; how Paul and Apollos and Cephas drop out of view when the Apostle comes to set forth the right perspective, and the right relation of Divinity, revelation, duty, and destiny. We must get back to great principles if we would get back to profound peace. Paul has his place; Apollos has his function; Cephas we cannot do without, for he burned, and in his glowing energy he warmed and inspired us all. But even Christ, as we have seen, may itself become a party name. We may crucify the Son of God afresh in using a great name for little purposes. That is debasement, that is decoronation—to use the signet of God in stamping our private epistles, to use the name of Christ to pass into the currency of the Church some ill-moulded name of our own. Where there is doubt there should be silence; where there is uncertainty there should be love; where the doctrine is too high for us we should clasp hands, saying, "Brothers, the doctrine is above us far, we cannot attain its gleaming height; but we can pray, we can love, we can wait." A Church that adopts that attitude need never put itself to the shame of defending its own orthodoxy. It is enough for such a Church that it can live.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.The Preaching of the Cross
What is termed a whole body of theology might be gathered from this first chapter. Here we find God, Christ, the Church, the mystery of the Cross, and the fact of redemption. Why does the Apostle gather all these great doctrines around him, so compendiously and so severally? What is his business? We have not seen him in this urgent mood before; usually he has taken time to his work, but he is in it before we imagine he has begun it. He is excited. The excitement of love is upon him, and that is the keenest excitement of all. His charity is offended, his excellence of heart is annoyed, his sense of right is assailed. He has heard that the people in the Church at Corinth are setting up parties, cultivating small bigotries, multiplying contemptible sects. This the Apostle will never consent to. He says, This is wrong, this is contrary to the spirit of the Cross; sectarianism and Christ cannot live together; party spirit and the Crucifixion are as opposed to one another as darkness is to light. So he gathers all his thunders and lightnings, all his majestic conceptions of God, humanity, truth, destiny; he will not attempt to overthrow this by some wind of contempt, he will come down upon it as from eternity and destroy it in the name of the Lord. There must somewhere be a point of rest There must be some fixed quantities in this stupendous universe, else what is to become of it? We are saved by the points of rest, by the centres of tranquillity. Foolish mariner he, who says he will take a ship over the Atlantic by the help of the moon. Yet the moon is a fair orb, the moon has been praised to her face by audacious yet reverent poetry; hardly a boy but has said something sweet to the moon and about the moon; the moon has been called a banner of silver hung out in the sky; classical names have been attached to her; yet no mariner ever took his course across the water by that banner of silver. Not that he has any objection to the orb itself; there is nothing objectionable in the moon. It is not aggressive, but it is changeable. That is the reason. Yonder in the north is a point of light you can always rely upon; the captain lays hold of it, and gets home. That is what men will not do. They will run after any moon; they call its changeableness variety: whereas when the soul is interested it is treachery. I suppose there will be moon-worshippers until the end of time. When the Apostle has any great argument to state and apply he stands upon a rock, he puts out his hands towards the north star, to the quiet eternal planets, and then things may swing around him as they like, but he will not swing in them, except in so far as he has hold of the things that abide. He has such a conception of Christ that he will not be disturbed by partisanship and party quarrels at Corinth or anywhere else. He will cling to Christ; he will say, "What does Christ mean? what is the meaning of the Cross? what is the purpose of God in the gift of his Son? and thus he will fix his attention upon things polar, immutable. Thus, unless we have a right conception of eternity we can never make a proper use of time. Time is nothing by itself; there is no sense or reason or rhythm in it: the whole value of it is in its relation to something greater than itself, and something which it dimly and feebly typifies. If we do not know eternity we do not know time. If we do not know astronomy we do not know geography, except as an invention in the painting of lines and sections and circles, and distributions of properties which may be changed tomorrow by some sudden battle. Dean Alford tells of a quaint old Cambridge preacher who said in his pulpit, his throne of power, "Eternity is like a great clock, the pendulum of which says 'tick' in one century, and 'tack' in another: now, said he," erecting himself and facing the scholars of Cambridge, "go home and calculate the length of the pendulum." What are our little calculations about if they do not come out of eternity and return to eternity, and if they do not bring to bear things abiding upon things transient? This is the wise philosophy of life: the one thing that abides amid all the party creations and controversies is the Cross of Christ. That will keep us all steady, solid, right.
The Apostle refers to certain people, with a little tone of sarcasm in his voice. Sometimes he could be very ruthless in criticism and crushing in condemnation. The old Saul would occasionally revive in him. Once he was writing so carefully and quietly, and suddenly the old Saul of Tarsus flamed up in him, and he said to his young correspondent, "There are certain people that are going about talking nonsense in the Church, whose mouths must be stopped." That was Saul; that was an old plan of his! So now he says, "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world?" Where are these men when you want them most. You do not know, and they do not know. They are of no use. Yet how the wise man can shake his head and look as if he knew a great deal! He will be of no service to you in the hour and article of death. He will be wise enough then to get out of the way. Yet some young minds are victimised by the "wise," who live upon their own consciousness, who keep their manufactories of nonsense within themselves, and turn it out in endless rolls,—men who never risked anything for the world's bettering; men who never did anything but talk, so as to prove how little they had to talk about. They had no text. What is the sermon if it be not the text magnified, amplified, and in a sense illuminated? But these men have no text; therefore what they say has no authority; it issues from no throne, and returns to no tribunal; it is an empty noisy wind. "Where is the scribe?" the man of the inkhorn, the grammarian, the letter-monger, the man who will discourse vehemently, so vehemently at least as the infinite coldness of his little nature will permit him, about a semicolon. The poor little scribe loses his rest because he cannot settle whether the comma should be before the word or after the word, or whether there should not be an apostrophe before the s in some cases. How his mind is troubled about that! how grave he looks! how wrinkled he is! how he stoops about the shoulders! Why? Because he is a scribe, a grammarian, a man of syntax; a great parser, but nothing at poetry. "Where is the disputer of this world?"—the man of controversy, the man who loves an argument, the man who is always looking round to see whom he can argue with: where is he, in view of the Cross, in view of the great necessities of life, in view of the solemn, impending, inevitable future? Where are they? Nowhere. These men are troublers of society. It is easy to ask questions, to suggest difficulties, to multiply the stumbling-blocks that lie in the way of honest progress. The mind, when it is most truly and Divinely excited, may easily be turned aside by some temptations, shot upon it so quickly that there is no time to reason with it; but the turning aside is but for a moment; because the excitement is Divine it will return, pursue its way, and complete its purpose. The Apostle had to deal, let us see carefully, with the wise, with the scribe, and with the disputer of this world. These classes still live. They will live to the end of time, and to the end of time they will be unblessed by men whose hunger they cannot feed and whose thirst they cannot assuage.
See how the Apostle describes the whole method and economy of God in regard to this matter. How will the Lord God proceed? First, "by the foolishness of preaching." We all know this to be a misrepresentation of the Apostle's meaning. The foolishness is not in the preaching as an art or practice; the foolishness is in the thing that is preached,—by the foolishness of the preaching of Christ, by the foolish way of proceeding, by setting up a Cross as the answer to human sin: such stupendous folly was never seen by man before,—that God should die, that God should make an atonement to himself, that God should through weakness find the way to power, and through distress and trouble infinite find the way to rest and peace. This is like the Lord's way of proceeding in everything. Given a certain set of circumstances to know how God will act, and we have to draw up the course of his action. Now, when we have written with the patience and criticism of the scribe, compare what we have written with what we should see in Providence: what could be more different, more contrastive, more mutually annihilative? This is the way of the Lord. It is not seen only in the Cross of Christ, in the foolishness of the thing that is preached; it is seen everywhere, in all history, in all providence, in every day's history. We should proceed straightly, we should proceed promptly: by our very littleness we have a trick of energy. We want everything settled before sundown. So does the Lord, only his sundown is a long way off. There is no sundown; what we call sundown is but a momentary expression of convenience; the sun goes on his beaming way even after we think the sun has set. God has a day to work in, and before the day ends his purpose will be completed in righteousness. Let us wait; let us learn that patience is often the best prayer, that longsuffering is often the only theology we want. Then God proceeds by the disappointment of prejudice; because the wise ought to have some little word in this matter; the scribe really ought to be asked to dip his pen if it were only once; the disputer ought to have a little space created for him that he might enter into his argument with some degree and show of pomp. And yet the Lord sweeps them aside, and will have none of them. This was the way with the Lord Jesus Christ. He never allowed a scribe to open his mouth, except that he might have an opportunity of rebuking him, and showing him how little title he had to be described as a writer of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. No Pharisee would Jesus Christ call so long as he remained a Pharisee; no disputer would he permit to enter into his ministry. Men who are in the ministry of Christ have simply to repeat their lesson; to tell what their Lord told them, but to tell it in the language of the day. The liberty is not to change the message, but to vary its delivery. God proceeds by way of rebuking vanity:—"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." Can God do without them? He can do without us all. The darkness and the light are both alike to him. He does not need any one of us.
The Apostle proceeds to a very suggestive climax:—"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." "Hath God chosen"; then we should omit the word "and," and read "things which are not": he does not introduce this as another element, but he sums up the whole policy of God in these words—"things which are not"; base things, things which are despised, hath God chosen—things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. His providence is a continual miracle. If we could see a battering-ram, and see the wall that was to be shaken down, we should begin a process of calculation—for we are all scribes—and say, The instrument is equal to the occasion; the wall is so high, so broad; the instrument is so large, and so energetic, and the momentum is calculable in mathematical terms: now proceed. This is not God's way. We see the thing to be shattered, but we do not see the energy that shatters it; but down goes the wall, away goes the mighty rampart, the stubborn bastion—all down! What did it? A breath from eternity. What saith the Apostle?—"Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble." Then there are some wise, mighty, noble. Circumstances do not always go against the aristocratic and the eminent; men should not necessarily condemn them because they are great, after the pattern of this world's greatness. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, one of the greatest workers in the Christian field in her day, said with characteristic sweetness, "I owe my salvation to the letter 'm'; blessed be God," said that sweet soul, "It does not say, 'any' mighty, 'any' noble; it says 'many' mighty, 'many' noble: I owe my salvation to the letter 'm.'" If it had been "not any noble" where would the Countess have been? Yet how differently we act towards those who are wise and mighty and noble! How we fawn upon them; how we call upon them, even if we have to go to the side door! We have lost our Christian dignity. This spirit was well rebuked by one illustrious clergyman in his day. He was the son of a peer. He could not help that; do not blame him; his consent was not asked. But the lady parishioner upon whom he called would hear of his ancestry and pedigree and birth and advantages. Said the truly great man when the palaver was over, "Madam, I am surprised that you should talk about such frivolities: I have come to speak to you upon matters of eternity." There he was wise, there he was mighty, there he was noble. There is a nobility which men cannot help having, nor are they to be condemned because they possess it; it may be only a nobility of name, or it may be a nobility of name justified by nobility of character, and if not so justified, then the nobility becomes, not a decoration, but a disgrace Let every man justify his nobility, and the world will not withhold from him the palm which is due to faithfulness, integrity, and industry. Thus Paul will drive off the wise, the scribe the disputer, the mighty, the noble, all nominal claimants, patrons and dividers, and he will have nothing seen but Christ; for, said he, as long as the Church looks at Christ it will be unable to see those distributions of rank or power, and take part in those mean controversies, which are characteristic of earth and time and sense. There is a beautiful scene. What you look upon is a silver lake, not a ripple on its smooth face, and the light that is in it is the sun; see how the sun lies in the depths of the lake as in an under sky: does the lake create the sun, or only reflect it? That is what the Church does: it does not create the Cross, it reflects it; it does not originate the Atonement, it accepts it; it does not invent Christ, it receives him and adores him. What a wondrous landscape is that on the canvas! what hill and dale, and wood and water, and light and shade! what painted music! what poetry! Did the artist create the landscape, or only paint it? He only painted it. That is what the Church does. All that is beautiful in the Church is but a transcript, a writing, a transference of something heavenly into an earthly image and symbol and visibility. Does the husbandman create the harvest, or only reap it? Does the seedman create the seed, or only sow it? What does the preacher make? The sermon, not the text. Why this suppression of human vanity? why this snubbing of the wise, the scribe, the disputer, the mighty, the noble? The reason is given in these words, "that no flesh should glory in his presence." The moment we begin to glory we begin to weaken. Self-consciousness lives upon its disease, and eats up its own vitals. Let a man live in himself, for himself, upon himself, and he will consume himself. We were made truly for one another. Call upon the Eternal Father, the Eternal Christ, the Eternal Spirit. In God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost we find what alone can satisfy our appetences, if those appetences are allowed to express themselves in their natural destined aspiration. If we are living upon anything else, then we have ill-treated our organism. If aught but God can satisfy the human heart, the human heart has played traitor to God, and has abandoned the fountain and origin of life and grace. There is an argument in this distaste for God; there is a whole history in this aversion from the Holy One. Let men dispute as they may, whether Adam fell or did not fall, every man knows that he himself has fallen low enough. The self-fall can never be denied.
Paul says in one word you have everything you want in Christ—"of him"—that is, of God—"are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption": word upon word to express the redundance of the provision which is made in Christ for the education, the progress, and the sanctification of the human heart. Do you want wisdom? It is in Christ. Righteousness? It is in Christ. Sanctification? It is in Christ Redemption—full, complete, involving the overthrow of the last enemy and the inheritance of immortality? It is in Christ, "That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." We have no need to go to the wise, because we have wisdom in Christ; we have no need to go the scribe, because we have righteousness in the Cross; we have no need to go to the disputer of this world, because we have sanctification and redemption in the Cross. Everything we want is there. Why should men roam in quest of the true riches? Here they are, here at the Cross, here in the wounded Lamb of God. Let us abide here. Let us risk our all on Christ. Lord, abide with us!