Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom--but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world.I. EXPLAIN THE CHARACTER HERE MENTIONED AS NECESSARY TO DISCERN TRUE WISDOM.
1. The apostle means by "them that are perfect," such as have attained that measure of understanding which is necessary to comprehend the wise design of the whole, and perfect consistency of the several doctrines of Christianity.
2. "Perfect men" conveys the idea of minds unprejudiced, and free from the bias of irregular passions and affections; and this is indeed necessary to a just understanding of things: for truth can never appear as it is through a gross and fallacious medium.
3. A sincere and upright heart is another character essential to the perfect man. Wisdom flies the grasp of a dishonest mind; and, though it were possible he could find it, he would soon let it go; for the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
II. SHOW THE WISDOM OF GOD MANIFESTED IN THE REDEMPTION OF MAN BY JESUS CHRIST, ACCORDING TO THE DOCTRINE OF HIS APOSTLES.
1. We read clear characters of Divine wisdom in the discovery that the gospel has given man of his true state.
2. The wisdom of God, by the gospel, is visible in the glorious end it purposes and publishes to the world, that is, the salvation of sinners.
3. Our thoughts might trace with pleasure a vast variety of topics to illustrate the wisdom of God in the means He hath chosen to accomplish the mighty design of His mercy to mankind. To reconcile sinners to Himself, He hath chosen the fittest Mediator that could possibly be, His only begotten and well-beloved Son: the only one who could approach God without terror, and converse with men without pollution; who alone could make up the peace by laying His hand upon both. But another thought, which I cannot pass, to magnify the wisdom if God in the redemption of man discovered by the gospel, and that is to observe how it draws the greatest good from the greatest evil, taking occasion from sin to honour God, by raising man to a more exalted state.
4. The wisdom of God discovers itself in the honourable terms of mercy which the gospel hath established.(1) Faith, or a firm persuasion of all that God hath recorded in His Word: the most plain and speedy way to truth, particularly in those matters which the bulk of mankind have not time or capacity to trace; and the only way in matters which the reason of man could not discover or comprehend.(2) Repentance, or amendment of life, is another term of salvation wisely fixed, because without it the guilty can never be fit objects of mercy, or capable of happiness.
5. As it exceeds the power of man to work such a change of heart and life in himself, the wisdom of God is manifested in the direction and assistance He hath provided to bring His mighty purpose to effect.(1) For his direction, He hath given him such a system of precepts, such an assemblage of illustrious examples, as the wisdom of man could never devise, as the history of mankind could never furnish.(2) That men, seriously concerned to be saved, might not fall short of the end of their faith, the gospel hath done what no other law or doctrine so much as pretends. It hath assured us of sufficient help and ability to practise the duties it teacheth. And we may come boldly to the throne of grace, not only to obtain mercy, but to find grace to help in the time of need.Conclusion:
1. The folly of infidels, who spend all their wit and learning to oppose the gospel of Christ, the plan of Divine wisdom, a system so friendly to virtue, which they pretend to patronise; a scheme so directly calculated to purify the hearts and refine the manners of mankind.
2. Since the gospel of Christ reveals the wise counsels of God for the salvation of men, it must be our duty, who preach it, to understand more and more of the unsearchable riches of Christ, that we may speak to others with greater success and better hope.
3. To the hearers of the gospel let me only say (James 1:21).
(Wm. Beat.)I. THAT is —
II. THIS is —
3. Enjoyed by the perfect.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)J. Gilmour, M. A.)I. IS GLORIOUS IN ITS NATURE.
1. Apprehensible only by the perfect.
2. Not of this world.
3. Divine in its origin.
4. Adapted to secure eternal happiness.
II. IS UNDISCOVERABLE BY HUMAN REASON (ver. 8).
1. Proved by the ignorance and conduct of the princes of this world.
2. By the unsearchableness of the Divine purpose.
III. Is REVEALED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD (ver. 10).
1. He searcheth the deep things of God.
2. Communicates them to man.
IV. CAN ONLY BE COMMUNICATED BY THE HELP OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD (vers. 13).
1. We must use the words of the Spirit.
2. He must create spiritual discernment.
V. IS REALISED AND ENJOYED BY THOSE WHO ABE SPIRITUALLY ENLIGHTENED (vers. 15, 16). Who —
1. Judge all things.
2. Are understood by none.
3. For God is unsearchable.
4. Have the mind of Christ.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)αὐταρκης), and the more fully his Christian stature is developed, he will find every craving of his nature the more completely satisfied." This element he here introduces under the names of "wisdom," "the Spirit," and "solid food" as distinct from "milk." Taking into comparison the other passages (John 3:12; John 16:12; Hebrews 6:1), where a similar contrast is drawn between the higher and lower stages of Christian progress, the reference seems not to be to any exhibition of new doctrines, but to the deep spiritual intuitions which have always been regarded as the highest privilege of advanced Christian goodness. Thomas a Kempis says that "a pure heart penetrates the secrets of heaven and hell; the "beatific vision has always been regarded as the consummation of our intellectual and moral perfection; and the analogy which is here drawn between the perceptions of the human intellect and those of the enlightened spirit might be illustrated abundantly from the biographies and devotions of good men in all ages. What this was in its highest or most extraordinary form may be seen in the account of St. Paul's rapture (2 Corinthians 12:1, 4) or of St. John's (Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:2). What it was in its more ordinary form may be seen in the whole atmosphere of St. John's first Epistle, especially in the connection between love and knowledge which pervades it, and which is illustrated in chap. 1 Corinthians 13:8, 12 of this Epistle. See also Romans 11:33, 34; Ephesians 1:8, 17, 18. This use of the passage —
I. ACCORDS WITH THE WORDS EMPLOYED. "Wisdom," although suggested in the first instance by the contemporary philosophy, derives its religious sense chiefly from its use in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, where it is applied not to the gaining of new truths, theological or natural, but to a deeper practical insight into moral truth. This general sense is further limited in this passage by the indication of its subject, viz., the "glory" or blessedness of Christians, which in vers. 8, 10 assumes such a prominence as to be almost identified with the "wisdom" itself that seeks it. And the faculty by which this wisdom is obtained is described emphatically as "spiritual— "the Spirit." The word is chosen partly from the frequent use of the phrase both in Greek and Hebrew, to express the intellect-chiefly as expressive of a direct connection with God. It is the "inspiration" which in Scripture is ascribed to every mental gift (Exodus 31:3; Job 32:8, &c.), but which is specially applicable to the frame of mind (to use the modern form of speech founded on the same metaphor) "breathes the atmosphere" of heaven. The same sense also —
II. AGREES WITH THE GENERAL CONTEXT AND OCCASION. When the apostle says, "But to us God revealed it by His Spirit," the use of the first person, here as elsewhere, indicates that, though speaking of believers generally, he especially refers to his own experience. The consciousness of his spiritual gifts, especially of his spiritual insight into things invisible, was always present with him, and never more so than at the period of these two Epistles (1 Corinthians 14:18; 2 Corinthians 12:1, 4). And this tendency to dwell on the inward, as distinct from the outward blessings of the gospel — on the things which "eye hath not seen nor ear heard," as distinguished from the things which the eyes of the first apostles had seen and their ears had heard — was a peculiarity of St. Paul's teaching.
III. IT BEST SUITS THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS, who had no especial need of new intellectual truths, nor, if they had, was there any especial impediment to their reception. But higher consciousness of the Divine presence; a knowledge deep and comprehensive, as being grounded in love; an insight into the spiritual world — were gifts which, on the one hand, the apostle might well long to give them, and which were yet, on the other, most alien to their state of faction and bitterness. How could they, who were absorbed in their contentions, enter into the atmosphere of peace which .surrounds the throne of God? How could they, who were for ever insisting on particular names and party watchwords, enjoy the vision where all else is lost in the sense of communion with Christ? Controversy and party spirit may sharpen the natural faculties of shrewdness and disputation, but few sins more dim the spiritual faculty by which alone all things are rightly judged. These disputes and rivalries were "of the flesh," no less than the sensual passions which are commonly so classed; and, if so, they have no place in heaven, they are directly opposed to "the Spirit.(Dean Stanley.)I. IN RELATION TO ITS GREAT END. The gospel is glad tidings of good. This good is —
1. Most suitable. God, who well knows our nature, has adapted His gifts to its wants.
2. Permanent. God has formed us to endure for ever; and the good which He has prepared for us is enduring also.
3. Divine. God has revealed Himself as the chief, the only satisfying good. He only can fill the powers of the soul — He only subsists through every changing scene. Let us admire the wisdom of God in proposing such a good to us; and let us recollect that such a good as is proposed to us in the gospel is to be found nowhere else.
II. IN RELATION TO THE MEDIUM THROUGH WHICH IT IS COMMUNICATED.
1. The salvation of the race is made to turn on the death of an individual. This is above all the ideas of men; it never could enter the human mind that one man could be saved through the mediation of many, much less that all could be saved through the mediation of one. This was "a stumbling-block to the Jews," &c. But this displays the highest wisdom. It is not an individual merely, but an individual fashioned expressly for the work. In the person of Christ we see a man with a person capable of suffering; and a Divine person, to make His sufferings meritorious. Had Christ been mere man, there could have been no merit; had He not been man, He could not have suffered. Had the question been asked, "How shall man be just with God?" it could not have been answered to eternity; but, "in the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son," &c. The way to reconcile the justice and the mercy of God could never have been conceived but for the wisdom of God in fitting this God-man and sending Him to suffer for the sins of the world.
2. The wisdom appears in Christ's defeating Satan by the very weapons which he employed to subvert His designs. By the Cross of Christ God has, as it were, reversed the order of things. In the first Adam man fell by aspiring to be as God; Jesus Christ, the second Adam, saves by condescending to become man. Man was indebted for his ruin to an evil spirit; he owes his recovery to a good Spirit. As man was ensnared by deceit and vanity and became miserable, he is liberated by truth and purity and becomes happy. The machinery of Satan is thus turned upon himself.
III. IN THE DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL the wisdom of God appears —
1. In the manner in which the truths of the gospel are taught. There are two modes of communicating instruction: the one is by facts, the other is by argument. The latter mode is generally considered the most efficient, and was most commonly employed by the ancients in their schools of learning. But many subtleties were resorted to in this mode of teaching. Learning was clothed in such a garb that it did not even attract the attention of the common people; they could not comprehend it, they could not be benefited by it. But God taught by facts. "I came declaring unto you the testimony of God." Such were the facts the apostles asserted, that the truths they taught must stand or fall by those facts. And these facts are the very soul of the gospel. He who believes that the apostles spake truth, that Jesus Christ really came, and died, and rose again, and ascended, must also believe that He died for the salvation of sinners. And he who considers the number of these witnesses, their character, the harmony of their testimony, their miracles, and refuses to believe their testimony, will be found turning the gospel of the Saviour against himself. In all this the wisdom of God's teachings appears above the teachings of the philosophers. They retired from the crowd; but heavenly wisdom is addressed to all, and is founded upon facts that all may understand.
2. In committing the dispensation of the gospel to men. They can enter into the states of those whom they address; they can comfort those that mourn by the same consolations with which they have been comforted; they can have access to them at all times. And not only was the dispensation of the gospel committed to men, but to men of obscure station and mean talents (1 Corinthians 1:26, 31). Had God employed the great and the wise to propagate His gospel, suspicions might have been raised in the minds of men that its success was to be ascribed to the elevated talent and station of its propagators. But the greatest effects have been produced more by piety than by talent. God will not divide His success with any human being.
(R. Hall, M. A.)I. THE WISDOM OF THE GOSPEL IS —
II. ITS RESERVED COMMUNICATION.
1. Among the perfect who believe, study, practise it.
2. Because they only can understand, appreciate, and profit by it.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. BY ITS ORIGIN. It proceeds —
1. Not from the wise and mighty of this world.
2. But from the hidden depths of the Godhead.
II. BY ITS PURPOSE, which is —
1. Not realised in time.
2. But in eternal glory.
III. BY ITS ESSENTIAL MYSTERY.
1. Unknown to the greatest in times past.
2. Undiscoverable by reason or sense.
IV. BY THE MODE OF ITS REVELATION.
1. Through the Spirit of God.
2. To the spirit of man.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. ITS NATURE. Wisdom. The wisdom of a system may be determined —
1. By the character of the end it contemplates, A system which aims at an insignificant or unworthy end would scarcely be considered wise. The end the gospel aimed at was the restoration in human souls of supreme sympathy with God. This man lost in the Fall. Its absence is the cause of all the evils that curse the world; its restoration is the soul's salvation. When the value and the influence of one soul are considered, is not this restoration, even in one case, a grand end? But the gospel aims at it in all souls.
2. By the fitness of the means it employs. Though a system contemplate a grand end, yet ii the means are unadapted it could scarcely be called wise. The means Christianity employs to generate this love for God are —(1) A personal manifestation of God.(2) A human manifestation of God. God in the form of an angel, e.g., would not awaken this affection. God in any form but man's would rather terrify and repel than inspire with confidence and hope.(3) A loving manifestation of God. A manifestation of coldness or anger would never awaken love. Love alone begets love. These things are essential, and the gospel in Christ gives us a personal, human, loving manifestation of God. It is, therefore, emphatically the "wisdom of God." It is Divine philosophy.
II. A RULE FOR ITS PREACHERS. "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect." The word "perfect" has, some think, an allusion to the heathen mysteries. These mysteries were religious observances of a secret kind, open only to the initiated. The apostle clearly means by the word "perfect" those in the Christian community who were more advanced in the knowledge of Christ, who stood most in contrast with those who are but "babes in Christ." One of three ideas may be attached to the language of the apostle. Either that he had an exoteric and esoteric doctrine for men, or that the most advanced Christian alone could discern the wisdom of his doctrine, or that he adapted his teaching to the capacity of his hearers. Which of these ideas are we to accept? Not the first, for Paul had not two messages, one for those who were without the Church, and one for those within — one for those who had high capacity, and one for those who had weak. His message to all was one — God's love to the world through Christ. Not the second, for the man who was the least advanced in the Christian life must have some appreciation of the gospel. It was the last, namely, that he accommodated his teaching to the capacity of his hearers. In another place he tells the Christians at Corinth that he had hitherto "fed them with milk, and not with meat, because they were not able to bear it." His conduct I take as a rule for all true preachers. The great saving facts of the gospel are few and simple, viz., that Christ died and rose again. But the doctrines connected with these facts and their relation to man, God, the universe, and phases of truth which can only be appreciated by those who have attained to certain stages in Christian knowledge and experience. The Great Teacher has said, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."
III. AN OBLIGATION UPON ITS HEARERS. If the higher aspects of gospel religion can only be appreciated by those who are "perfect," those who have attained to a high stage of Christian knowledge, it is manifestly their duty to endeavour to advance beyond the "first principles of the oracles of God." This duty hearers owe —
1. To themselves. The more knowledge man has of the wisdom of the gospel, the more power he has within him to purify his affections, exalt his character, and bless his being. The ignorant Christian is feeble, fickle, uninfluential.
2. To their minister. The man who has to minister to hearers who make no progress in Divine truth is limited in his thoughts to the mere rudimentals of the gospel. His motives for pulpit study weaken, and he becomes the commonplace utterer of platitudes.
3. To the system of Christ. The glorious system of Christ, which is "the wisdom of God," will only grow in power, influence, and extent in the world as men's knowledge of it increases.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)1. It must not be thought that the gospel despises wisdom. The gospel is itself wisdom, only it is God's wisdom and net man's. "We speak wisdom... yet a wisdom not of this world." There is nothing which some of us need more just now than a demonstration of this sort.
2. It is constantly assumed that the progress of knowledge has exploded the gospel; that the cultivated intellect leaves faith behind; that the triumph of reason means the overthrow of religion.
3. This is bad enough, but what is worse is that some Christian people countenance such a view. They look askance at science, believing it to be an enemy of the faith. Huxley and Tyndal are very terrible names to them. They are uncomfortable when they find their sons are beginning to question and to think. Reason has an unpleasing suggestion of "The Age of Reason" and the French Revolution. Then these good people quote, "Not many wise are called," omitting the qualifying "after the flesh."
4. Does Christ relinquish His claim on able men? No. The Christian religion is distinguished from all other religions in this, that it is an appeal to the reason, it calls into play all its powers and welcomes all the established results of science. It asks us to believe that we may know and understand. It calls for faith, but only that faith which reason allows or requires. And as the religion differs from other religions, so our Scriptures are distinguished by their constant eulogy of wisdom. The Bible is not only an appeal to the conscience; it is also an appeal to the brain. It is so constructed that it demands diligent study.
I. WHO ARE THE NATURAL MEN NOWADAYS WHO CORRESPOND TO THOSE WHO, IN ST. PAUL'S TIME, WERE INCAPABLE OF RECEIVING THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD?
1. Those who tell us that matter can explain Spirit, that thought is a mere function of a grey, unthinking substance called the brain. Now they cannot receive the wisdom of the gospel — not because they are wiser than every one else, but because their wisdom is after the flesh, and a limited and foolish kind of wisdom. So far from being really wise, they do not even comprehend the question which agitates all earnest men, viz., the meaning of the spiritual world of which you are all more or less conscious. They say, "The spiritual world is only part and parcel of the material world with which we are familiar." But if thought comes from brain, then it must be already a thinking brain from which it comes. If spirit is a mere outcome of matter, then it must be already a spiritual matter which produces it. Materialism cannot apprehend the wisdom of the gospel, for it has juggled away the very meaning of its terms — spiritual and material.
2. Those who speak as if the understanding could answer all the questions and meet all the needs of the human spirit. The understanding ,cannot comprehend God; therefore, say they, God does not exist. The understanding cannot explain the freedom of the will; therefore the will is not free. And not admitting the existence of God or the freedom of the will, moral responsibility is quickly discredited. On the same showing love and hope and self-sacrifice ought to be dismissed as chimeras — and perhaps by some they are. Now, such people cannot understand the wisdom of the gospel; not because they are so much cleverer than all the world, only because they have made a rather childish mistake, they have not noticed the limits within which the understanding is able to work; they are like men who should deny that the atmosphere exists because they cannot walk on it as the birds of the air can. The understanding is only a part of our being. Every man is more than understanding; he is also heart, conscience, will. The understanding is only absolute within its own sphere.
II. THE WISDOM WHICH PAUL "SPEAKS AMONG THE PERFECT" IS NOTHING LESS THAN THE INDWELLING OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN THE SPIRIT OF THE CHRISTIAN MAN. Just as consciousness alone can be aware of our own inward life, so God's consciousness alone can understand the depths of God; and only by being made partakers of God's consciousness can we search those depths.
1. Such an indwelling Spirit will rescue us from the two errors on which we have been reflecting: of materialism and the undue exaltation of the powers of our own understanding. This indwelling Spirit forces us to recognise that the world and life, as we see them, stand forth out of an encircling sea of mystery in which their origins and issues are hidden. It makes us glad to learn from science all about the process of development, but it clearly teaches us that in the last resort it is only in the will of God that either the world or the life upon it could have its birth and find its issue.
2. But this wisdom of the gospel is more than an admission of mystery and of our own limitations. It comes to us as the explanation of the mystery and as the aid of our limitations. The gospel gives us the key to creation, culminating in humanity, the Incarnate God-Man — Christ Jesus; the key to man's great dumb longing for God in God's great uttered longing for man; the key to the heavy sorrow which oppresses the life of man, in the suffering of the God-man; the key to the dead weight of sin in the complete and voluntary sacrifice of Christ.
3. Nor is this all; in the mind of Christ, an intellect in which there meets the fullest understanding of God with the most tender sympathy for man, is really hidden a treasure of wisdom, a solution of all the questionings of our imperfect spirits. "We have the mind of Christ." The humble and unlearned believer is made partaker of that wonderful mind, is allowed to share its workings, and so to apprehend the answer which it is always giving to the searchings of man.
III. THUS, AS WE REFLECT ON PAUL'S PREGNANT SENTENCES, WE BECOME AWARE THAT THE GOSPEL DOES NOT SUPPRESS WISDOM; IT IS A WISDOM FAR SURPASSING THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD. It would be the greatest mistake to suppose that by the "wisdom" of 1 Corinthians 1:20, 21, 26 Paul means the reason, or the exercise or products of reason. Indeed, there is not a little almost unintentional irony in his use of the word, and his comment on its rarity among the "called." He speaks rather as one might speak to a number of miners who have just come out of the bowels of the earth into the broad light of day. "You see your calling, my friends; not many torchbearers among you; not many people carry safety-lamps." No; and, indeed, under so glorious an expanse of sunlit blue there is not for the general purposes of life much need of them. We have had among us in this generation many brilliant "natural" men, highly gifted with wisdom after the flesh. There was the late Professor Clifford; there are Haeckel, Maudsley and Spencer. Have they thrown light upon the universal question? Why are we-intelligent spiritual beings, with conscience, will, and hearts — why are we here at all; whence coming, whither going? So far from superseding this wisdom of which Paul speaks, they fall very short of it. For the most part they modestly confess they have no answer to the question. But Paul has an explanation; and to spiritual minds reason is satisfied.
(R. F. Horton, D. D.)I. A SYSTEM OF CONSUMMATE WISDOM.
1. Devised by God.
2. Before the world began.
3. To our glory.
II. A SYSTEM OF MYSTERY.
1. Hidden from the world.
2. Mysteriously communicated.
3. Among the perfect, who believe and act upon it.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. THE REVELATION OF THIS MYSTERY IS MADE — "THEM THAT ARE PERFECT," i.e., those who have qualifications for receiving the wisdom.
1. Of course, we are told at once that this is the ignorant conceit of religious people. But why ignorant conceit? You do not speak of the ignorant conceit of the physician, or of the engineer, or of the chemist, or of the artist, or of the poet. Nay, does not the ignorant conceit belong rather to those who think that without faculty, without study, they can understand as well as the most assiduous and learned? A spiritual man must know that he has a faculty of spiritual discernment, just as a poet knows that he has a faculty of poetic discernment. And an unspiritual man should know this also, that he has not the spiritual faculty which the other man has. The great doctrine of the apostle is that in religious things right feeling, a right disposition, is the condition of all knowledge. "If any man will do His will," &c. If you begin with an ignorant or unspiritual man by simply instructing his understanding in the hope that his heart will be affected, you have this difficulty — his hardened spiritual feeling will hinder understanding. We all know how difficult it is to make men understand what they do not like. All the training of a university will not make some men mathematicians. Again, if a man does not love truth and honesty, you cannot make him true and honest by expounding truth or honesty; you must begin by creating within him a feeling of truth and honesty; then you can easily teach him what things are true and honest. You must have a moral faculty for discerning moral things.
2. I think, therefore, we may see the profound wisdom of the gospel method. It begins by setting man's feeling right, producing in him a desire for holiness and a hatred of evil. The apostle tells us that this is the working of the Spirit of God. Take the little faults of men; you cannot reform a habit or a temper by merely teaching about it — nay, by a mere resolution of the will. The root of the thing is in the love for it, and you must begin by destroying this and cultivating love for good, or you will never succeed. You can cure a bad passion only by producing a good one; you can expel an evil affection only by the Spirit of God.
3. The way of the world in seeking religious truth and life is to investigate evidence, to exercise the reasoning faculties — just as you would investigate a problem of history, or demonstrate a proposition in mathematics or logic. Hence it is that so many learned philosophers and theologians never attain to Christianity; to them it is simply an intellectual study; they study it as they would study Buddhism or Mohammedanism. They can understand theology as a science of God; they can understand religion as a theory and a morality; but they have no conception of its spiritual character. "The natural man discerneth not the things of the Spirit"; they are discerned only by a spiritual faculty.
II. BUT THEN IT IS WISDOM, EVEN TO THE PERFECT, OF A MYSTERIOUS KIND.
1. A man cannot reason out such a system as God's salvation by Christ; it is discerned, as Paul says, by spiritual recognition, just as the poetry of a landscape cannot be discerned by a mere mathematician, by a mere engineer. Christianity is a revelation of facts, not a mere notion; Christ tells us what God is, that He is "our Father in heaven"; what God has done, that God "has given His only begotten Son, because He so loved the world." Now these facts could not have been imagined, could not have been demonstrated by human reasoning. But when they are testified by God, when they are proved by evidence to be facts, then, if I am a "perfect," i.e., a spiritual man, I at once feel that this revelation of God in Christ is true; that it is exactly suited to my personal need; it "commends itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God." None of the princes of this world in thought or in politics have believed. They did not see the principles of truth, righteousness, and love that were manifested by Jesus Christ. Had they seen these as the man of spiritual feeling sees them, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Pilate had some philosophical knowledge; he felt even an interest in and wanted to save Christ. He talked with Him about His kingdom and about the truth; but Pilate's corrupt selfishness, his political interests, permitted him to sentence a man to crucifixion — whom he knew to be innocent. There was the moral blindness in close conjunction with the philosophical intelligence.
2. Every teaching about God must have mystery pertaining to it that can never be revealed. This is true, indeed, of everything in human life. Let a man begin to think about God and about moral being, and how soon he comes to a blank wall that he cannot penetrate! Well, it is not that God purposely conceals things, it is that we cannot comprehend them. Instead of adding to the mystery of God, we understand more of God through Jesus Christ than we can on any other theory. And yet how much remains that is impenetrable! We are compelled to exclaim, "Oh! the depths," &c. Who can fathom the mystery of the incarnation, of the atonement, of the quickening of spiritual life in men, &c. In the love of Christ, in the love of God, there are heights and depths that pass knowledge. And yet observe —(1) That there are no mysterious things in Christianity. Christianity has no sacred rites, inscrutable puzzles, artificial concealments.(2) That Christian mysteries are revealed to men so far as they are qualified to discern them. Nothing in Christianity is purposely concealed. The religious life of us men and women who have to do with the business of this great city, is never so powerfully moved, so loftily inspired, so practically directed, as when we simply stand before the great Christian doctrines.(3) What a practical temper this gives to the religious life! What a passionate desire for God, for the study of God, in His Word, in prayer, in worship!(4) The domain of the knowable is sufficient for all the practical needs of man. It is so in science. We eat without knowing the chemistry of food; we act without knowing the philosophy of motion. It is so in religion. I may, however ignorant of the higher mysteries of being, practically realise the life of virtue and piety. The way of life through Christ is plain.
(H. Allon, D. D.)
I. THE HUMAN FOUNDATION. "The wisdom of men."
1. The personal influence of good and wise men in the Christian Church is an ordinance of God, and when kept within proper limits, is an incalculable blessing. It is perfectly right, as well as perfectly natural, that any man who is endowed with eminent gifts, added to sincere piety and fervent earnestness, should win the respect, affection, and confidence of brethren. They involuntarily place themselves under his direction, taking him as their guide and teacher. He becomes a high authority in their estimation. So far all is lawful; but go beyond this, and the most serious consequences follow. If any man was ever entitled to the kind of authority I have described, it was St. Paul, who not only had these personal excellences, but possessed supernatural inspiration. Yet hear how he limits that authority, and indicates a point where it would fail him — "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Again, "Be ye followers of me"; but observe, he adds the qualification, "even as I also am of Christ." These limits to human influence, however, are commonly disregarded. There are human teachers who are not only allowed to be influential, but omnipotent; not only good, but perfect; not only wise, but infallible. Respect for them passes into blind obedience; affection into something very much like idolatry. Their utterances are regarded as above criticism. Whatever they say is taken as gospel; not because of its intrinsic truth and reasonableness, but because they say it. This is clearly a form of the evil which St. Paul so earnestly deprecated when he wrote, "that your faith should not stand in the wisdom ,of men."
2. This undue influence of men in matters of religion is not only exercised through their oral teaching, and over those who are personally acquainted with them, but also through their writings. No man who is sincerely anxious about his spiritual culture, and is glad of light, from any quarter, upon the most important of all subjects, can afford to neglect the stores of Christian thought which have come down to us as precious legacies from the past, or which are still issuing from the press. And yet the teachers, however wise and good, who speak to us through their books, ought to be listened to with the same cautious reserve as those who address us in an audible voice. They ought to be treated as helps, not as final authorities. Is it not a very common thing to hear the inquiry, not "What saith the Scriptures?" but, "What say the fathers? What saith St. Chrysostom? What saith St. Augustine?" And the answer obtained is considered as final. The opinions of commentators, the systems of theologians, and even the beautiful dreams of Christian poets, may be useful to us, but to take our religion from them alone is to let our faith stand in the wisdom of men.
3. A faith which rests on such a foundation must of necessity be insecure. If men have given us our faith, men can take it away from us. What one has built up, another can destroy. Are there not multitudes continually undergoing such changes of religious belief? They are ever passing from one teacher to another; the last and newest is sure to have them. No anchorage, no stability for them! Staggered by each new scientific theory, which appears hostile to religion, or captivated by the last vagary of superstition, they are "children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men." But insecurity of belief is not the only evil in their case. The life they live is as unstable as the faith they hold. Character degenerates, and every semblance of piety disappears, when the influence which gave birth to it is withdrawn.
II. THE DIVINE FOUNDATION. "The power of God." We recognise this phrase as one which the apostle uses elsewhere. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation." In the previous chapter he had said — "We preach Christ crucified.., the power of God." When, therefore, he desires that faith should stand in the power of God, he means that it should rest upon the gospel, and especially upon Christ, who is the gospel's central Object. This grand revelation has been made to the world once for all. It is open to universal, to individual inspection. We may be very thankful to another for telling us what he sees in Christ. For if he is a man of eminent piety, who has looked long and earnestly, with an eye whose perceptions love has quickened, and holiness has purified, he may point out to us some features which would otherwise have escaped our dimmer vision. But what he tells us should rather stimulate than supersede our personal observation. All such helps should be like the guide books which a traveller takes with him when he ascends a mountain. If he did not consult them now and then, he might miss some points of interest in the panorama which lies around him. But then he does not allow them to prevent him from using his own eyes. It is evident, however, that St. Paul meant something more than the contact of individual minds with Divine truth, when he speaks of faith standing in the power of God. The power of God can never give stability to faith until it actually enters the soul and exerts its mighty influence there; until Christianity ceases to be a mere set of opinions, and becomes a vital experience. It may seem very satisfactory to say — "my religion is not to be found in the teaching or writings of men, it is contained between the covers of the Bible." But if your religion is shut up there it is a worthless thing. It is not the perception, but the entrance of God's Word that giveth light, and heat, and life, to our dark, cold, dead nature. It is when the power of God brings peace to our conscience, and submission to our wayward will, and purity to our sinful heart, that it makes our faith a strong and indestructible thing.
(B. Bird.)a priori reasoning. The ancient philosophers endeavoured to determine the facts of each science by reasoning from first principles. "Cease your blind reasoning," said Bacon. "Sit as learners at the feet of Nature and listen to what she has to say. Gather up the facts. Arrange them logically. Form generalisations. Interpret nature." As a result of the adoption of this method, the physical sciences have made gigantic strides in these last days. To most of us, therefore — for we insensibly imbibe the spirit of the age — it is a question of no small moment: "Are the doctrines of revealed religion open to experiment?" We answer, Yes, we may make a scientific investigation of the truths we are asked to adopt. In adopting this method of establishing truth, however, it should be borne in mind that we have no right to make our own selection of the tests. I have no right to say, "If there is a sovereign ruler of the universe, let Him speak to me in an audible voice from heaven." Are we justified in imitating the cavillers of the Saviour's time and exclaiming, "We would see a sign"? "To such no sign shall be given." Though there are experiments that would be irreverent, there are others that are entirely proper.
(J. S. Van Dyke, D. D.)
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