1 Corinthians 1:18
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God.
A slight variation of rendering, which will be found in the Revised Version, brings out the true meaning of these words. Instead of reading "them that perish" and "us which are saved," we ought to read "them that are perishing," and "us which are being saved." That is to say, the apostle represents the two contrasted conditions, not so much as fixed states, either present or future, but rather as processes which are going on, and are manifestly, in the present, incomplete. That opens some very solemn and practical considerations. Then I may further note that this antithesis includes the whole of the persons to whom the gospel is preached. In one or other of these two classes they all stand. Further, we have to observe that the consideration which determines the class to which men belong is the attitude which they respectively take to the preaching of the Cross.
I. I desire, first, to look at THE TWO CONTRASTED CONDITIONS, "perishing" and "being saved." We shall best understand the force of the darker of these two terms if we first ask what is the force of the brighter and more radiant. If we understand what the apostle means by "saving" and "salvation," we shall understand, also, what he means by "perishing." If, then, we turn for a moment to Scripture analogy and teaching, we find that well-worn word "salvation" starts from a double metaphorical meaning. It is used for both being healed or being made safe. In the one sense it is often employed in the gospel narratives of our Lord's miracles. It involves the metaphor of a sick man and his cure; in the other it involves the metaphor of a man in peril and his deliverance and security. The sickness of soul and the perils that threaten life flow from the central fact of sin. And salvation consists, negatively, in the sweeping away of all these, .whether the sin itself, or the fatal facility with which we yield to it, or the desolation and perversion which it brings into all the faculties and susceptibilities or the perversion of relation to God, and the consequent evils, here and hereafter, which throng around the evil-doer. The sick man is healed, and the man in peril is set in safety. But, besides that, there is a great deal more. The cure is incomplete till the full tide of health follows convalescence. When God saves He does not only bar up the iron gate through which the hosts of evil rush out upon the defenceless soul, but He flings wide the golden gate through which the glad troops of blessings and of graces flock around the delivered spirit, and enrich it with all joys and with all beauties. So the positive side of salvation is the investiture of the saved man with throbbing health through all his veins, and the strength that comes from a Divine life. It is the bestowal upon the delivered man of everything that he needs for blessedness and for duty. This, then, being the one side, what about the other? If salvation be the cure of the sickness, perishing is the fatal end of the unchecked disease. If salvation be the deliverance from the outstretched claws of the harpy evils that crowd about the trembling soul, then perishing is the fixing of their poisoned talons into their prey, and their rending of it into fragments.
II. Now note, secondly, THE PROGRESSIVENESS OF BOTH MEMBERS OF THE ALTERNATIVE. All states of heart or mind tend to increase, by the very fact of continuance. Look, then, at this thought of the process by which these two conditions become more and more confirmed and complete. Salvation is a progressive thing. In the New Testament we have that great idea looked at from three points of view. Sometimes it is spoken of as having been accomplished in the past in the case of every believing soul — "Ye have been saved" is said more than once. Sometimes it is spoken of as being accomplished in the present — "Ye are saved" is said more than once. And sometimes it is relegated to the future — "Now is your salvation nearer than when ye believed," and the like. But there are a number of New Testament passages which coincide with this text in regarding salvation as, not the work of any one moment, but as a continuous operation running through life. As, for instance, "The Lord added to the Church daily those that were being saved." By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are being sanctified. So the process of being saved is going on as long as a Christian man lives in this world. Ah I that notion of a progressive salvation, at work in all true Christians, has all but faded away out of the beliefs, as it has all but disappeared from the experience, of hosts of you that call yourselves Christ's followers, and are not a bit further on than you were ten years ago; are no more healed of your corruptions (perhaps less, for relapses are dangerous) than you were then. Growing Christians — may I venture to say? — are not the majority of professing Christians. And, on the other side, as certainly, there is progressive deterioration and approximation to disintegration and ruin. I am sure that there are people in this place this morning who were far better, and far happier, when they were poor and young, and could still thrill with generous emotion and tremble at the Word of God, than they are to-day. Now, notice, the apostle treats these two classes as covering the whole ground of the hearers of the Word, and as alternatives. If not in the one class, we are in the other. If you are not more saved, you arc less saved. Further, note what a light such considerations as these, that salvation and perishing are vital processes — "going on all the time" — throw upon the future. Clearly the two processes are incomplete here. You get the direction of the line, but not its natural termination. And thus a heaven and a hell are demanded by the phenomena of growing goodness and of growing badness which we see round about us.
III. And now, lastly, notice THE DETERMINING ATTITUDE TO THE CROSS WHICH SETTLES THE CLASS TO WHICH WE BELONG. So there are two thoughts suggested which sound as if they were illogically combined, but which yet are both true. It is true that men perish, or are saved, because the Cross is to them respectively "foolishness," or "the power of God." And the other thing is true, that the Cross is to them "foolishness," or "the power of God," because respectively they are perishing or being saved. That is not putting the cart before the horse, but both aspects of the truth are true. If you see nothing in Jesus Christ, and His death for us all, except "foolishness," something unfit to do you any good, and unnecessary to be taken into account in your lives, that is the condemnation of your eyes, and not of the thing you look at. It a man, gazing on the sun at twelve o'clock on a June day, says to me, "It is not bright," the only thing I have to say to him is, "Friend, you had better go to an oculist." And if to us the Cross is "foolishness," it is because already a process of "perishing" has gone so far that it has attacked our capacity of recognising the wisdom and love of God when we see it. But, on the other hand, if we clasp that Cross in simple trust, we find that it is the power which saves us out of all sins, sorrows, and dangers, and "shall save us," at last, "into His heavenly kingdom." That message leaves no man exactly as it found him.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.