For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
free experiment. They might find out for themselves what is the "chief good of man." The more civilized Gentile nations were interested in one form of the experiment, viz. - Can man find God, and all in God, by the researches of his own wisdom? At Corinth much was made of man's "wisdom." Therefore Paul deals with it, and shows that -
I. HITHERTO MAN'S WISDOM HAD FAILED. The various devices of science, philosophy, and religion may be reviewed; and the actually hopeless moral condition of Paul's age should be forcibly presented. There was prevalent atheism; religion was mocked at; philosophy was an amusement, and had become a mere logomachy, an arena for mere disputants; and there was no satisfaction for man's mind or heart anywhere. The foolishness of the world's wisdom was declared. Impress what must be the consequences always if man's wisdom is made mistress, and not kept handmaid.
II. HENCEFORTH MAN'S WISDOM MUST BE DISPLACED. It was not to be the Divine agency employed in the redemption of the world. That should be revelation, not man's discovery. A manifestation, in the earthly spheres, beyond human imagination. A life and death, in which human wisdom would see nought but weakness and shame. And the simple heralding of a message, the proclaiming of a fact and truth given, which the wise of this world would think any commonplace and ignorant person could do. Yet God's wisdom proves able to accomplish that in which man's wisdom failed. For the gospel preaching does bring God near to men, does bring home to them the knowledge of him and the love of him, and does give to men the salvation, satisfaction, and eternal life which they both need and seek. - R.T.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.
(Voltaire.)I. ITS CHARACTER.
1. Presumptuous in its attempts.
2. Proud in its assumptions.
3. Unsatisfactory in its conclusions.
II. ITS DESTRUCTION — effected —
1. By time.
2. By revelation.
3. By the Divine Spirit.
4. By the appearing of Christ.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. GOD PUTS IT TO SHAME.
1. It often blunders in its theories.
2. Always in relation to Divine things.
3. Generally leads to practical error.
II. IT HAS UTTERLY FAILED TO REGENERATE THE WORLD. Instead of mending it it has made worse — witness the philosophy of the Greeks and the "age of reason."
III. IT IS FULLY EXPOSED BY CHRISTIANITY, which —
1. Succeeds where it fails.
2. Triumphs over it.
3. Will ultimately destroy it.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. THE INFERENCE DRAWN FROM THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL UPON THOSE WHO HAD RECEIVED IT.
1. It had accomplished that which the wisdom of the world had failed to do (vers. 20, 21). The wise, the scribe, the disputer, include respectively the thinker, the writer, and the speaker. Thought and its two mediums of expression were the great agents in the world's education, and had succeeded in creating a literature which remains unparalleled. But what had they done towards the regeneration of mankind? Nothing. "Where is the wise?" &c. In the world of philosophy, of poetry, of art, I can see their work; but in the realm of the spiritual they have left the world as they found it. God turns the tables upon those boastful wise ones. They call His plan "foolishness," but its effectiveness proves the folly to be with them. And Christianity is not alone in its frustration of the predictions of the wise. When Fulton constructed a steamship to cross the Atlantic they cried, "There goes Fulton's Folly." Subsequent history has, however, proved them to be the fools, and Fulton the wise man. So when Christianity was starting on its grand voyage, laden with salvation to a sin-afflicted world, the wise called it "foolishness." But how strangely has history proved their own infatuated folly.
2. This glorious result the gospel achieved whilst disregarding men's preconceived notions and prejudices (vers. 22-24). The Jews and the Greeks had their own theories of what ought to be the character of any religious message that might be addressed to them. The Jew, from the standpoint of his expectation of an all-conquering political Messiah, heralded by supernatural marvels, looked for a sign. The Greek, from his standpoint of intellectual culture, sought for wisdom. Of these, however, the apostle took no cognisance, but interpreting correctly the spirit of Christianity, boldly preached "Christ crucified." There is something sublimely unique and grand in this attitude. Other religions seek to accommodate themselves to the thoughts and ways of those whom they seek to win.
II. But notwithstanding its bold defiance of cherished preferences, THE GOSPEL, BEING THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD, supplied in their highest form the very things which its rejectors desiderated.
1. It was the "power," i.e., the miracle "of God" corresponding with the "sign" which the Jews sought. The ordinary operations of nature, though the expressions of His power, yet are never called the "power of God." But the gospel is such a transcendent revelation of God's love, such an extraordinary interruption of the ordinary course of dealing with sin, that it may well be called a miracle; and its moral effects upon those who come within the scope of its influence are so wonderful, as to render it a moral miracle far beyond any physical miracle.
2. It is "the wisdom of God." Wisdom to the Greek meant learning and knowledge, but mostly only ingenuity in the use of dialectics. But that which is deserving of the name is "the use of the best means for attaining the best ends." And the Cross proposes the best end within the entire scope of Divine benevolence to conceive of deliverance from sin, and forms the best means for attaining it.
III. THE GOSPEL EXERTED SUCH POWER ON THE CONSCIENCES OF MEN BECAUSE IT WAS DIVINE. If it be foolishness, still it is the foolishness of God; and the foolishness of "God must be wiser than men. If it be weakness, still it is the weakness of God; and the weakness of God must be stronger than men. Thus is the success of the gospel assured by the simple fact of its relation to God.
IV. THE THOUGHTS FORMING THE BURDEN OF THE ARGUMENT.
1. The comparative value of the Cross and human culture in the moral regeneration of men. The apostle shows that it is not a question of degree of efficacy, but of absolute failure in the one case, and of transcendent success in the other. Culture has its mission, and a most important one in its own proper sphere. But the human heart, with its sin and guilt, has needs which the highest culture cannot meet in the remotest degree. The moral history of those communities that have attained to the highest degree of cultivation testifies most unmistakably to this. The only remedy for sin is Christ crucified. The faith of some still is, that "the sweetness of light," of intellectual discipline and refinement, will dissipate the gross moral darkness in which men lie. A little of any of the salts of sodium introduced into the flame of a gas lamp gives that flame the power of imparting to every coloured object a greenish yellow tint; but any black in that object remains still black. The sodium flame has no power of affecting this sombre hue. Just so is it with education in relation to sin.
2. The simple method of preaching as against the rhetorical. The apostle sets against the "wisdom of words," so esteemed by the Corinthians, his own customary "plainness of speech." He seems peculiarly apprehensive lest anything should stand between the truth and the conscience it is intended to influence. The more the mind is charmed by the style of the message, the less likely it is that the conscience will be pricked by its truth. Religion is so much a thing of the heart, that its truths come into the soul much more through spiritual insight and quickened sympathy than by logical processes. At one of the Westminster Industrial Exhibitions a workman exhibited two beautiful metal violins. The highest prize, however, was not awarded to him, for the reason that the instrument made of such material did not realise the purpose of a violin. The superior metal looked pretty, but the coarser material gave forth by far the sweeter sound. So high scholarly attainments may produce sermons, but they will, like the metal violin, fail in their purpose, while the discourses of the less polished preacher give forth music, often more capable of touching the heart. The cultured genius of Milton produced "Paradise Lost," but the uncultured mother-wit of Bunyan produced "The Pilgrim's Progress." The refined acumen of Butler produced the "Analysis," but it was the untutored fervour of Whitefield aroused the heart of England from its spiritual torpor.
(J. A. Parry.)
1. What have they not attempted?
2. What have they not promised?
3. What have they achieved?
4. How are they brought to nought?
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. CHALLENGED BY THE GOSPEL. The apostle here challenges the wise men of the world to accomplish the end which the gospel had in view. That end was the impartation to men of the saving knowledge of God. Where, unaided, had it ever succeeded in accomplishing this? Who amongst the wise will come forward to give one single instance.
II. CONFOUNDED BY THE GOSPEL. "Hath not God made foolish?" &c.
1. By doing what philosophy could not. "The world by wisdom knew not God." Though the pages of nature lay open to the eye, with God's signature in every line, man failed to discover Him (see Romans 1.).
2. By doing, by the simplest instrumentality, what philosophy could not do. The proclamation of the history of Jesus of Nazareth, and that by a few simple men regarded as the off-scouring of all things, did the work. Hath not God in this way "made foolish the wisdom of this world?"
III. SUPERSEDED BY THE GOSPEL. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." The preaching is not foolish in itself, only in the estimation of the would-be wise men. The great want of men is salvation — the restoration of the soul to the knowledge, the likeness, the fellowship of God. This want philosophy cannot supply, but the gospel does. It has done so, it is doing so, and it will continue to do so.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
(Dr. Howard Duffield.)
(Coleridge.)I. IN THE MEETING OF ST. PAUL AND THE OLD HEATHENDOM AT CORINTH THERE WAS EVERYTHING TO STIR EACH TO THE VERY INMOST OF ITS DEPTHS.
1. Every element of society here burst, as the whirlwind breaks on the giant of the forest, upon his whole intellectual, moral, and spiritual nature. In no city of the ancient paganism was the spirit of the world stronger. The grand families of the Bacchiadae, and even the descendants of the later dynasties of Cypselus and Periander, with their humanising ancestral recollections, had all perished by the sword of Mummius. A century later the discerning eye of Julius Caesar fixed on Corinth as the site of a colony; and it grew up marked by the unelastic hardness of the old soldier, and the elated baseness of the children of slaves. But, planted where it was, it could not but grow rich and prosperous. New Corinth gathered to itself the traders of the world, who multiplied at once its wickedness and its wealth. Many causes combined to promote the demoralisation of such a society. The wholesome lessons of ordinary labour were untaught within it. The barren soil of the Isthmus discouraged agriculture. Manufacture it had none. Trade, stained deeply by all the pollutions of heathendom, was everything in Corinth. Men met there to grow rich by all means, or to spend their acquired wealth in the most unrestrained sensuality. Religion amongst other powers ministered to their exaltation and amusement. The disputers of this world would speculate on Egyptian mysteries, mock at Jewish superstitions, trifle with Greek mythology, and be learned in Roman auguries. Each man took to himself his share of this distinction, and so believing himself wise, he in very deed became a fool. Into such a society the apostle cast himself with the doctrine of the Cross of Christ.
2. If the meeting moved to its lowest deep his mighty spirit, not less disturbing was it to every existing element of Corinthian society: not greater — if the sinewy arm of their fancied progenitor had cast one of their own hills into the blue waves which slept around their isthmus — not greater would have been the tumult of those riven waves, than was the shock to the moral stagnation of their sensual life by the casting in amongst them of the. marvellous doctrine which the apostle preached. We may mark its effects in the brief record of the Acts, and yet more in the two Epistles. In them we may trace the intense sharpness of the gospel conflict with the schismatic habits bred of a fierce democracy, with the gross sensuality of heathen voluptuaries, with the speculating temper of a false and unreal philosophy, with the cold scorn of abundant wealth which shut the rich and noble out of the heavenly election.
II. BUT WE MAY DISCERN THROUGHOUT THE CONFLICT AS THE FOUNDATION AND PROTECTING BARRIER OF ALL, OTHER FORMS OF EVIL, A SELF-ELATING PRIDE.
1. With this the apostle not darkly connects an outbreak within the new community of more than Gentile licentiousness; whilst everywhere outside the Church he speaks of it as the most insurmountable hindrance to the reception of the truth. "Where?" — looking round upon the gathered company with the saddened gaze of that discerning eye — he asks, "is the wise?" &c. Not one, he intimates, has listened to the gospel call.
2. It is not difficult to see why he thus treated this spirit of pride as his master antagonist. It was not merely because he ever remembered the guilty consequences of his own Jewish haughtiness, or because every circumstance of his own conversion was ever before his eyes; but it was pre-eminently a thorough insight into man's nature, and of the relations to it of the gospel which he preached.
3. For that nature does, indeed, bear its witness to the absolute need of humility as a prerequisite to all true learning. He who would learn the common truths of a business or an art, must, if that learning is to be successful, submit to take this posture of humility. As the truths to be mastered become more difficult of discovery, the need of humility increases. Upon almost every matter, some bias, preconception, assumption, troubles the course of discovery; and it needs a great humility of spirit to lay these down, and follow patiently the unlooked-for course. Yet without doing so progress is almost impossible. The history of philosophical discovery strikingly illustrates all this. Of old, man had gazed into the mystery of nature round him, and sought to impose upon it as laws the guesses of his own, often impatient, intellect. He came to it an unhumbled reasoner, and he learned nothing from it. Science was not, until man consented humbly to abandon theories, to be content to accumulate facts, and to let those facts teach him by degrees their often darkly intimated lesson. One of the greatest advancers of physiological knowledge in this land has been known to make ten thousand dissections whilst, setting experiment after experiment aside without gaining the clue he wanted, he followed fact after fact with humble conscientiousness, until at last the revelation which he longed for gladdened his heart. The greatest English discoverer of mathematical science records that he differed from others only in the greater largeness of his patience. Beyond, moreover, the humility of the mere waiting there must be humility in seeing old prepossessions swept away. No physician over forty, when Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood, ever received the new-found truth. The sacrifice of old opinions was too severe a trial of the humility of the learner.
4. But if in these comparatively cold and colourless inquiries humility must prepare the learner's mind, how vastly greater must be the need of it to him who would receive in their simplicity the secrets of moral and spiritual truth; for against these are arrayed not merely foregone intellectual conclusions, and the impatience which the spirit feels at their removal, and its weary shrinking from the labour of a troublesome and passionless inquiry, but also the restless and impetuous forces of the appetites and particular affections which resent the imposition of a new law of restraint, which is absolutely inconsistent with their habitual or uncontradicted enjoyments. Then the gospel required of men, who proudly deemed themselves the traditional possessors of that wonderful mythology which genius, art, language, scenery, and climate had conspired to make so beautiful, to cast it all aside; to receive, from what they deemed dull Jewish hands, a teaching which trampled on all these wonderful creations of the natural imagination; which, moreover, was not only exclusive, but unspeakably real; which claimed the whole man, his body and mind, his soul and spirit; which was not to be speculated on or disputed about, but was to be lived; which revealed to him such depths of corruption, guilt, and helplessness within himself, that he was altogether hopeless of pardon, unless the Eternal Son had died for him; and powerless for any good, unless the Blessed Spirit breathed into him the breath of a new life. Surely, then, we may see why in rich, self-exalted, trading, sensual Corinth, the preaching of that blessed gospel, in which was all the power of God, must have been "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness."
III. THE APPLICATION OF ALL THIS TO OURSELVES IS A MOST DIRECT ONE. We, too, must be converted and become as little children, or we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven; and there is much within us and around us leading us to resist the call. The trial is indeed largely various to men of different tempers, but to every one it is real, urgent, inevitable. To one the humiliation lies in the receiving simply the dogmas of the faith as the truth of God, instead of treating them as intellectual playthings, and so dissolving their reality in the fleeting colours of passing speculations, or developing from some supposed internal consciousness their supplements, or corrections, or substitutes. To another the trial is the curbing the appetites of the body and the particular affections of the mind by the law of the new kingdom. To another it is the yielding up the life to the one will of God. To another the receiving in its simplicity the atonement wrought for us by our Master's death, and craving meekly for the inpouring of His Spirit. To another it is the being led along, as the apostle speaks, with such lowly things as outward rules and institutions, whether it be of the Church or the particular society into which God's providence has cast us. How real is this trial, how inevitable are its issues!Conclusion:
1. Seek from God a special gift of His regenerating Spirit, a special sign of predestination unto life.
2. Set ever before your eyes the pattern of our Lord's humility. If the pathway be hard, His steps have trodden it.
3. Keep watch over thine heart with diligence and wisdom. Beware of the many wiles of the proud deceiving spirit. Seek to be, not to seem humble, No pride is deadlier in its working than the pride of being humble.
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Hath1. The wisdom of the world and the foolishness of the Cross are represented as rivals engaged in the regeneration of the race. By the "wisdom of this world" is meant all speculations begotten of antipathy to the conception of God, and intended to supersede its authority, including the labours and the spirit of those who do not like to retain God in their knowledge. Now, in this account of the wisdom of the world we cannot include science, or its discoveries, or literature. The most exalted work of God with which we are acquainted is the human mind. Even in partial eclipse, it is about the brightest of the known creations — and when the Scriptures refer to it it is always in language of respect. It is not intellectual labour honestly pursued, nor the discoveries and conduct which are the prizes of its success, that provoke the denunciations of Scripture. It is the mind that insists upon teaching everybody, but will not condescend to be taught by anybody. It is the mind that pursues as its chief end the distinctions, the worship of inferior minds, and allows itself to be flattered into delusions of greatness and authority until it acknowledges no other God but its own conceit. Now, the Bible has no mercy on men of this class; and for the very plain reason: in every age these men are the enemies of faith; and, whether they allow it or not, they are equally the enemies of morality. They are exposed in every book of the Scriptures.
2. And now let me ask, What is the pre-eminent virtue according to our adversaries, of learning and speculation? The votaries of these powers profess, while they have their accomplishments in refining taste and furnishing elegant occupation for leisure hours, that their chief mission is to raise the standard of life — to encourage its struggles against vice, and indolence, and want; to refine and multiply its fiery motions; to increase personal worth, and fit the entire community for great things. I agree with that. But here I differ from them. The wisdom which would make the human mind, thus cultivated, the ultimate authority on all moral questions, and make the training of the human faculties the source of moral power — has been stultified by God because it has universally failed. In endeavouring to cure the sickness of humanity the wisdom of man has not touched the roots of the disease. It has salved the surface, but never probed the wound.
3. If man were a mere animal we might look for a type of the family which has been formed under the most favourable conditions, and try to spread those conditions abroad. But man is not an animal. I grant that where climate is kind, and territorial selection happy, the tribe becomes a people, and the people a mighty nation. But I deny that this progress necessarily means the distinctive greatness of man. If I look at the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Colosseum at Rome, I see an impressive image of greatness. But, then, greatness itself is really the ascendency of moral intelligence — intelligence that grows righteousness. The wisdom of the world in its higher moods confesses this. But where is the people amongst whom the wisdom of the world has grown to righteousness? I confess that anything more sickly than the history of civilisation — as it is called — I cannot imagine. I visited Italy not long ago and I studied in its noble and pathetic remains the wisdom of Rome. In that city the man who wrote my text spent two years of his life. He was a man of taste, and he saw its beautiful palaces, its exquisite provision for the artificial productions of luxury, its triumphal arches, its amphitheatres, and he read its literature and saw its great men; and this was his opinion of its philosophy, and his analysis of it. "Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit," &c., and the deeds that philosophy dared not rebuke, and was utterly helpless to arrest, are darkly shadowed forth in another verse, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, for it is a shame to speak of those things that are done of them in secret." He writes with a large and grateful appreciation of good wherever he may find it. He says, "Whatsoever things are true," &c. Oh! ponder the moral condition of Rome when Paul was there — there, where the accomplishments of men — where the wisdom of the world in every department in which that wisdom is concerned — had exhausted its resources, morality was not to be found (see Romans 1.).
4. At all costs the folly, the wickedness of the atheistic spirit must be made flagrant. And they were made flagrant. The atheistic spirit in the interests of humanity has been from the beginning a universal and an unqualified failure. It has done nothing for humanity; it has left behind it nothing but disaster. It has befooled the worshipper, betrayed the legislator, ruined the people, and but for the fact that God has put a testimony into your very mind to controvert this atheism — a testimony which sceptical habits long continued cannot subdue, which the most violent lusts cannot intimidate, a testimony confirmed by nature around us, and by the striking providence of God — but for that, I believe that the race would have perished outright. The man who impugns my verdict is bound to point out, if he can, in the vast wilderness upon which atheism has been working all these ages past — to point out one single acre reclaimed from the desert and made to blossom like the rose.
5. The apostle cries out with pardonable triumph, "Where is the wise?" And we may take up the parable, and ask where are they? Where are the problems which they say they have made their own? I will tell you.(1) The problem of the degeneracy of the race and how to arrest it. I wish them well over that.(2) The problem of bringing back the departed manhood of the savage tribes. Let them do their best with that.(3) The problem of invigorating and cleansing the nations of the earth — the stagnant nations of China and India — the problem of providing an adequate supply of knowledge, sympathy, and heart to meet the necessities of the race. These are their problems. They are a long time sitting down before them. Where are the wise to-day? They ought to be in the field if they are sincere. But they do not like the field. They are at home, writing, disputing, criticising! They were doing it in Paul's day: they are doing it to-day. It is their vocation!
6. What is the doctrine of the Cross doing to-day? Changing the world. I was thinking the other day whether I could find out one single force acting for the benefit of the human race that had not its origin from the Cross. I cannot find one. Who discovered the interior world of Africa? Missionaries. Who solved the problem of preaching liberty to the women of India? Missionaries and their wives. Who first brought into modern geography the hidden ]ands and rivers of China — unsealed for inspection the scholarship and opened for the enrichment of commerce the greatest empire of the East? Missionaries. Who first dared the cannibal regions, and converted wolves into a nation? Missionaries. To come nearer home. Who are those in Europe who are now lifting up their voices against war, that horrible perversion of the intellect and of the soul of man? Who are devoting their means and influence against vice in the high places and low, and against the infliction of wrong upon the defenceless? Who are those whose example of righteousness and purity and gentleness conforms with their own spirit the legislation of governments and the sentiments of society? The followers of the Nazarene.
(E. E. Jenkins, LL. D.)
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