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.
In ver. 17 Paul had renounced the "wisdom of words." It is clear, therefore, that there is an eloquence which would deprive the gospel of its due effect. This "wisdom of words" —
1. Veils the truth which ought to be set forth in the clearest possible manner.
2. Explains the gospel away. It is possible to refine a doctrine till the very soul of it is gone. Under pretence of winning the cultured intellects of the age, it has gradually landed us in a denial of those first principles for which the martyrs died.
3. Is frequently used with the intent of making the gospel appear more beautiful. They would paint the rose and enamel the lily, add whiteness to the snow and brightness to the sun. With their wretched candles they would help us to see the stars. To adorn the Cross is to dishonour it, One of the old masters found that certain vases which he had depicted upon the sacramental table attracted more notice than the Lord Himself, and therefore he struck them out at once: let us do the same whenever anything of ours withdraws the mind from Jesus.
4. Is employed to augment the power of the gospel. Paul says it makes it of none effect (see 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5). Having cleared our way of the wisdom of words, we now come to the word of wisdom.
I. "THE WORD OF THE CROSS" (R. V.).This is exactly what the gospel is. From which I gather that the Cross —
1. Has one uniform teaching. There are not two gospels any more than there are two Gods: there are not two atonements any more than there are two Saviours (1 Corinthians 3:11; Galatians 1:8, 9).
2. Is one word in contradistinction from many other words which are constantly being uttered. Christ's voice from the Cross is, "Look unto Me and be ye saved"; but another voice cries aloud, "This do and thou shalt live." The doctrine of salvation by works, or feelings, is not the word of the Cross. Much less is the word of ceremonialism and priestcraft.
3. Should be allowed to speak for itself. It cries, let us hear this word of the Cross, for in effect my text says, "Let the Cross speak for itself."(1) God must be just. The Cross thunders more terribly than Sinai against sin. If God smites the perfect One who bears our sin, how will He smite the guilty one who rejects His love?
(2) God loves men, and delights in mercy. God commendeth His love to us, &c.
(3) The one sacrifice is accepted and the atonement is complete. "God was in Christ," &c.
(4) Come and welcome! "Whosoever will," &c.
II. THE WORD OF ITS DESPISERS.
1. They call the doctrine of the atonement "foolishness."(1) "Because," say they, "see how the common people take it up. Why, the very children are able to believe it." But are the well-known facts of nature foolishness because they are open to all? Is it quite certain that all the wisdom in the world dwells with the superfine gentlemen who sneer at everything and take in a Review? I wish that their culture had taught them modesty.
(2) Because this doctrine of the Cross is not the offspring of reason, but the gift of revelation. All the thinkers of the ages continued to think, but they never invented a plan of salvation. As a thought it originated with the Infinite Mind, and could have originated nowhere else. It is God telling men something which they could not else have known, and this suits not the profound thinkers, who must needs excogitare everything.
(3) Because anything which proves a man to be a fool will at once strike men as being very foolish. Our conscience is dull, and therefore we retaliate upon those who tell us unpleasant truth.
(4) Because it treats on subjects for which we have no care. If I were able to show how to make unlimited profit, all the world would 'listen; but when the sermon is only about the Word of God, and eternity, and the soul, and the blood of Jesus — most people turn on their heel. They call the gospel foolishness because they look after the main chance, and care more for the body than for the soul.
(5) Because they regard all the truths with which it deals as insignificant trifles.
2. These gentlemen —
(1) Are not qualified to form a judgment upon the subject. A blind man is no judge of colours, a deaf man of sound, and a man who has never been quickened into spiritual life of spiritual things.
(2) Are proofs of their own folly and of the sad results of unbelief. Paul says that such men are perishing. What a calamity! Men who are not living to God are missing the end of their being, and like deserted houses are falling into ruin. Yonder is a tree: around its trunk the ivy has twisted itself, grasping it like a huge python, and crushing it in its folds. Multitudes have about them sins and errors that are eating out their life — they are perishing. Those that believe not in Jesus are drifting towards an immortality of misery; and yet while they perish, they condemn the means of rescue. Fancy drowning mariners mocking at the life. boat! Imagine a diseased man ridiculing the only remedy!
III. THE WORD OF THOSE WHO BELIEVE. What do they say of the Cross? They call it power, the power of God.
1. The phenomenon of conversion is a fact. Men and women are totally changed, and the whole manner of their life is altered. The word of the Cross has delivered us from —
(1) The love of sin: no sin is now our master. We fall into sin, but we mourn over it, and hate the sin, and hate ourselves for committing it.
(2) From the dread which once held us in bondage, and made us tremble before our Father and our Friend. But now we love Him and delight in Him.
(3) From the power of Satan.
(4) From self and from the world, and from all things that would enthral us. We are saved. We feel that heaven is born within us — born by the word of the Cross through the Spirit.
2. The power with which God created and sustains the world is no greater than the power with which He made us new men in Christ, and by which He sustains His people under trial; and even the raising of the dead will be no greater display of it than the raising of dead souls out of their spiritual graves. Conclusion: Believe in the power of the Cross for the conversion of those around you. Do not say of any man that he cannot be saved. The blood of Jesus is omnipotent.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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.