1 Corinthians 1:17-31
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words…
I. A LARGE CLASS OF MINDS LIKE TO MAKE A SUPERSTITION OUT OF THEIR RELIGION. Mere words addressed to the understanding and the heart appear too feeble, too immaterial. They long to be set in rapport with the superhuman in some realistic way. Establish some "sign." Paul, generalising from what he saw before his eyes, calls this demand of human nature Jewish; but it is common everywhere. It has penetrated every religion from the days of the Chaldeans downwards. One after another Judaism, Buddhism, Parseeism, Mohammedanism, Christianity, have succumbed to this demand for material signs. Each of them has degenerated into a system of ceremonial and stooped to pander to the sensuous taste of its devotees.
II. THERE IS IN MAN A TENDENCY, not So widespread, but nobler than the vulgar bent to superstition — AFTER INTELLECTUAL SATISFACTION AND AN EXHAUSTIVE KNOWLEDGE OF TRUTH.
1. No sooner had Christianity appeared than this appetite seized upon it, questioned it, thought to find in it what it had failed to find elsewhere. Generalising, again, Paul termed this the Greek habit of mind. "The Greek," he says, "searches after philosophy"; but it is as little exclusively Greek as the bias to superstition is exclusively Jewish. In our day it is no less profound, unsuitable, or eager than it ever was. Men claim that it shall be as systematic, exhaustive, and demonstrable as a science; that it shall help to answer the unanswered problems of existence; that it shall abjure all pretensions to be supernatural; that every one of its facts be found explicable on natural grounds; and that its boasted virtue to save shall prove as intelligible as the action of any other truth upon human minds.
2. Follow out this conception of Christianity to its issues, and what have you? Not a genuine revelation from heaven; not the advent of a Divine power to save; but simply some very beautiful and elevating truths, discerned first by a certain Jew of Palestine and by him added to the world's treasure-house of thought, yet competing with many discoveries of more modern times. Is it not to some such appraisement of the gospel that a great deal of modern discussion among the learned is tending? Nay, is there not a way of preaching and defending the gospel — such a way as Paul avoided in speculative Corinth — which actually invites men to rate its value as low as this among the rival systems of human wisdom?
3. Against such a misconception of the essence of the gospel, what is St. Paul's protest? It is true, he seems to say, the gospel is a rational word, and not a magical rite. It is spoken truth, and it acts, like truth, through the misunderstandings of men. But, for all that, it is not a philosophy. With abstract truth it has little to do; but it proclaims Jesus the Messiah, and proclaims Him as crucified for the sins of men. Its real character is this — it is a, testimony from God which we are not called upon to discuss so much as to credit. It is in this, accordingly, that its power lies. For power it unquestionably possesses. Only not the mere power of wisdom, but the quiet personal power of the Speaker's authority and the Speaker's love. Speculate about this and it may seem in your sagacious eyes folly. But cease to criticise and be humble enough to believe it, to surrender yourself to Him who speaks; then it will prove itself to be Divinely wise and strong in your experience. It will work in you as no human wisdom works; it will save you as no intellectual system saves.
4. On this side also I think a faithful Church needs just now to speak out in clear tones. It is not the first time in the history of our faith that the gospel has been like to lose its characteristic spirit by evaporation. Treat it as you treat an ordinary system of thought, and you end (as Paul feared to end) by making the Cross of Christ "of none effect." You miss its very essence as a gospel. For what makes it to be a gospel? Just this, that it is God's own record of His peculiar way of having mercy upon sinners. It is a plain, practical, personal appeal from our reconciling Father to each wandered soul among us; or it is nothing.
(J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.