The method of God in the spread of the gospel.
For behold; or, consider (imperative, as in 1 Corinthians 10:15 ; Philippians 3:2 ). Your calling; the nature and method of your heavenly calling; the "principle God has followed in calling you" (Beza); see Ephesians 4:1 ; Hebrews 3:1 . Not many wise after the flesh. Those who hear the calling arc alone the truly wise; but they are net wise with a carnal wisdom, not wise as men count wisdom; they have but little of the wisdom of the serpent and the wisdom of "this age." The Sanhedrin looked down on the apostles as "unlearned and ignorant men" ( Acts 4:13 ). "God," says St. Augustine, "caught orators by fishermen, not fishermen by orators." Not many mighty ; i.e. not many persons of power and influence. Almost the first avowed Gentile Christian of the highest rank was the consul Flavius Clemens, uncle of the Emperor Domitian. This was the more marked because the Jews won many rich and noble proselytes, such as the Queen Helena and the royal family of Adiabene, Poppaea the wife of Nero, and others. The only illustrious converts mentioned in the New Testament are Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus, Sergius Paulus, and Dionysius the Areopagitc. Not many noble. All this was a frequent taunt against Christians, but they made it their boast. Christianity came to redeem and elevate, not the few, but the many, and the many must ever be the weak and the humble. Hence Christ called fishermen as his apostles, and was known as "the Friend of publicans and sinners." None of the rulers believed on him ( John 7:48 ). It must, however, be borne in mind that these words apply mainly and primarily to the first age of Christianity. It was essential that its victory should be due to Divine weapons only, and that it should shake the world "by the irresistible might of weakness." After a time, the wisest and the noblest and the most powerful were called. Kings became the nursing fathers of the gospel, and queens its nursing mothers. Yet the ideal truth remains, and human power shows utter weakness, and human wisdom is capable of sinking into the depths of folly.
God destroying the conventionally great by the conventionally contemptible.
"For ye see your calling, brethren," etc. These verses remind us of two facts.
I. EVIL EXISTS HERE UNDER CONVENTIONALLY RESPECTABLE FORMS , Evil is spoken of in these verses as the "wise" and the "mighty." In Corinth dangerous errors wore the costume of wisdom. Power was also on their side. Sages, poets, artists, statesmen, wealth, and influence stood by them, and they appeared "mighty." Men in England, as in Corinth, have robed evils in attractive costumes, and labelled them with brilliant names. Often, indeed, has religion itself been used as a means of covering vices, and of raising the vilest passions of the human heart into the spheres of worship. Everywhere evil assumes a respectable garb.
1. Infidelity. This great evil writes and speaks in the stately formularies of philosophy and science; borrows its sanctions from astronomy, chronology, criticism, and metaphysics. It is a "wise" thing of the world.
2. Licentiousness. This evil, which involves the utter neglect of all social obligations, and the unrestrained development of the base and vicious lusts of the soul, passes under the grand name of liberty. The vaunted religious liberty of England's population means often only power to neglect sacred ordinances, profane the holy sabbath, etc.
3. Social injustice. This is a demon which works in every sphere of life, leading the crafty to take advantage of the ignorant, the strong of the weak, the rich of the poor; and this does most of its fiendish work in the name of law.
4. Selfishness. This goes under the name of prudence. The man whose heart knows no throb of sympathy for another passes through life with the reputation of a prudent man.
5. Bigotry . This, which leads men to brand all who differ from them as heretics and doom them to perdition, wears the sacred name of religion.
6. War. This, which by the common consent of all Christian philosophers is the pandemonium where all evil passions of the human heart run riot in their most fiendish forms, is called glory. Thus here and now, as everywhere and ever, evil appears as the "wise" and the "mighty." That errors and evils should appear in respectable forms is one of the most unfavourable symptoms in all the history of man. Could we but take from sin the mantle of respectability that society has thrown over it, we should do much towards its annihilation.
II. GOD IS DETERMINED TO OVERTHROW EVIL BY CONVENTIONALLY CONTEMPTIBLE MEANS . "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise," etc. The "wise" and the "mighty" cannot protect evil. The agency to sweep evil away is here represented as "foolish," "weak," "base," "despised," and "things which are not." What does this language mean?
1. It does not mean that the gospel is an inferior thing. The gospel is no mean thing. It has proved itself the wisdom of God and the power of God.
2. It does not mean that tile men appointed as its ministers are to be inferior. There are several things to show that the gospel ministry requires the highest order of mind.
3. What, then, do they mean?
From this subject we may infer:
How St. Paul regarded the preaching of the gospel.
By an easy movement he advances to the gospel, to the mode of preaching it as essential to its Divine success, and thus reaches the climax of his reasoning in the first chapter. Other functions of his apostleship will come hereafter into view—the resolute disciplinarian, the firm, administrator, the tender but unyielding executive of the Head of the Church. At present, however, one thing absorbs him, namely, the Divine institution of preaching. What is his foremost relation to these Corinthians? It is that of a preacher of Christ's gospel. And how had he preached it? "Not with wisdom of words"—not as a speculative thinker, not as a Greek rhetorician, not in the spirit of worldly eloquence—"lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." Two things are prominently set forth—the gospel and its manner of presentation; and Christ is in each of them, and in each of them alike, so that not only the substance of the gospel, but the mode of its exhibition, must conform to his sovereignty as the Head of the Church. All preaching of the gospel is not gospel preaching. Looking at the character in the light St. Paul viewed it, the preacher was an original creation of Christ, a new force ordained and anointed of him, and introduced by him for the proclamation of the gospel. It dated no further back than Pentecost; it was of universal adaptation; it was to command all languages, and speak to the simplest instincts, not of men, but of man as man; and this original creation, this new force, was to continue through all time, and never surrender its rights and prerogatives to any successor. And the spirit and matter of fulfilling this grand office were thoroughly unworldly, so much so, indeed, that, it would strike the Greek as "foolishness," and prove to the Jew "a stumbling block." But in contrast with the Greek and his search after wisdom, and with the Jew in his love of national signs as the elect race of Jehovah, Christ was preached as "the power of God and the wisdom of God." The word "power" is not used except in connection with the preaching of "Christ crucified," and its value in the argument is assured by its specialty of application. All the aid of contrast and comparison is given to this one word. Power, God's power, is the designation of preaching Christ crucified. Over against it are put "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," and the array of dissimilarity is lengthened out by "foolish things," "weak things," "base things," and "things despised." But what bearing has this condensed energy of a single idea and its rapid accumulation of phraseological forms on the partisanship of these Corinthians? Has not the apostle wandered from the main idea of the chapter—the "contentions among you"? Nay, this very partisanship is the exact opposite of Paul, Peter, Apollos, in preaching the gospel, and they can never consent to this abuse of their position. Nay, further, it is in downright antagonism to "Christ crucified." There is no "power" in it, no "wisdom." It is the idolatry of the senses. It is the intellect of the senses repeating the folly of Greek and Jew in another but equally fatal shape. It is mere seeking to find themselves and their glory in man. Directly opposite to this, St. Paul argues, we preach "Christ crucified," so that "no flesh should glory in his presence." A great lesson it is in the true spirituality of Christianity as the only strength and safeguard of the Church. If Christ is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;" if Christ become "the power of God" to our hearts in this fourfold form of the "riches of grace;" the root of all worldliness is destroyed, partisanship is at an end, because self-seeking is ended, and henceforth that Scripture has a very real import to us, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." A man may admire others for their own sakes, and this admiration may be very helpful. To admire others because our image is projected upon them can only augment our own weakness. Our praise in such cases is but the echo of our self admiration, and echoes are dying sounds.—L.
The humble status of the Church.
I. THE FACT . Not many wise after the flesh, mighty, noble, numbered amongst the adherents of Christianity. This was true in apostolic days; it is largely true in our own. Christianity was not established by world power. The Founder and his disciples were poor and of humble social position, and in the ranks of the early Christians were comparatively few possessing means, learning, or rank. Christianity has not been preserved or promulgated by world power. This has sometimes been called to its aid, but the "call" has often been of man rather than of God. The "aid" has frequently been injury. The "arm of flesh" has hindered rather than helped. The Church should not snatch at world power; this is not her strength. Sanctified learning, influence, and position are of great service; but these things in themselves, unsanctified, whilst to carnal judgment promising most signal advantage, often operate as an unmitigated curse.—We may require into the cause of the exclusion as arising from free will. And we may be sure that no calling by God violates human responsibility.
1. The wise after the flesh. These, like the Greeks ( 1 Corinthians 1:22 ), are often so filled with human wisdom as not to care for Divine—so absorbed by seeking to know earthly things as to have little leisure for heavenly. Pride is fostered, and pride bars the way to Christ and to God. It is difficult for a very "wise" man to become "as a little child" ( Luke 18:17 ). "Heaven's gates are not so highly arched as princes' palaces; they who enter there must go upon their knees." The wise after the flesh are apt to have stiff legs. When we seek earthly wisdom we should have a care of its tendency. Human knowledge is good, but it need be kept in its proper place, and that is not the first place.
2. The mighty. Often subjects of adulation; have so many at their feet that they find it difficult to sit at the feet of Jesus. Excessive self reliance does not encourage Christ reliance. A sense of sufficiency is very antagonistic to "God be merciful to me a sinner." The mighty are wont to be too mighty, so that they can do without Christ. The mighty know their might, whereas what men need is to know their weakness.
3. The noble. High places are slippery. The command of temptations is great. Wealth, which often accompanies position, multiplies snares. Lofty station often begets a sense of excellence; but to enter the kingdom we need to feel our lack of excellence. It is easy to be great among men and very little before God. Earthly nobility and heavenly are two orders often in startling contrast, Note: Men strive eagerly to be wise after the flesh, mighty, noble, wealthy—and all the while they way be building barriers between themselves and God. How well to commit our ways to the guidance of the unerring wisdom of God; to ask him to "choose our inheritance for us" ( Psalms 47:4 ); to give or withhold as he sees best!
II. THE PURPOSE . Regarding the Church as weak and uninfluential, we might feel some despondency as to its future. "How is Christianity to get on?" might escape our lips. So men are often very anxious to take care of Christianity instead of being very anxious that Christianity should take care of them. There is a sense in which the idea of our defending the faith is monstrous and absurd—it is not we who defend the faith, it is the faith that defends us. The matter is cleared by the revelation of a Divine purpose. God designed:
1. To show his power. He would prove that feeble agencies in his hands are infinitely more mighty than the greatest and most influential not so placed. A "bruised reed" in his hand is more than a sword in another's. Men think that "things seen" are powerful; that which is unseen is much more so. The foolish things confounded the wise, the weak things the mighty, the base and despised things the highly esteemed,—because God was in the former and not in the latter. How this was illustrated in the early Church!—the foolishness of preaching breaking down everywhere the "wise" philosophic systems; the weak disciples triumphing over the marshalled might of Rome; a Church, boasting as its Founder a crucified peasant, and possessing little wealth, influence, or human learning, spreading on all hands, and destroying idolatries venerable in age and powerful in adherents. "God moves in a mysterious way." It is God moving. A Church is made, not by the men who come into it, but by the God who comes into it. The Church needs more divinity. Here is solace for the consciously weak. We cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?" There is but one answer— God!
2. To humble human pride. "That no flesh should glory in his presence." The pride of man budded at the Fall. The all successful stratagem took this form: "Ye shall be as gods." This pride has been the curse of man's existence—it has separated him from God, and led to a fearful multiplication of transgression. When God works in man, a first effect is the abasement of pride. The pride of man which is altogether of the devil, has persuaded man that he is God. God, in the formation and continuance of his Church on earth, dealt a deadly blow against human pride, and showed how powerless were the mightiest things of man when confronted with Divine power working through the weakest. The lesson is that henceforth we are not to glory in men—neither in ourselves nor in others, but we are to glory in the Lord. When we are humbled at his feet, we are in our right posture; when we acknowledge that with him alone are might and dominion and true wisdom, we are in our right minds.—H.
Salvation all of God.
The apostle has shown, in the previous section, flint the cross of Christ, which men count foolish and weak, is really the wisdom and the power of God. In proof of this he now calls their attention to the social status of the converts at Corinth. For the most part they were of no account in the world's esteem; but, though nobodies according to the flesh, they were raised to true dignity in Christ.
I. THE CHRISTIAN CALLING DOES NOT PROCEED ON THE PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD . "For behold your calling, brethren," etc. The Church at Corinth was composed chiefly of the poor and the illiterate. The philosophers and the rich merchants, the high born and those who occupied positions of influence, had but few representatives among the disciples of Jesus. They were drawn in great part from those whom the world reckoned foolish, weak, base, and of no importance. And the case of Corinth was not singular. It is characteristic of Christianity to begin low down. The Lord Jesus himself was not born in a royal palace or nursed among the lordly of the earth. His birthplace was a stable, his home the simple dwelling of Joseph, his training school the carpenter's workshop, his disciples were derived mainly from the labouring classes. One or two of the twelve may have been in easy circumstances, but none of them appears to have been of high birth; and outside this circle his followers, with the exception of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, were almost entirely of the same class. From the beginning, therefore, the gospel found acceptance, not in the high places of the land, nor among the representatives of the learning and religion of the time, but among the plain, unschooled, unsophisticated people. "The poor have good tidings preached to them" ( Luke 7:22 ). Beyond the bounds of Palestine it was the same. The pride of wisdom and station closed the ear against the story of the cross. It did not flatter the wise or the great. It spoke to all alike as sinners needing a common salvation, and summoned all to repentance and faith. The result may be illustrated by comparing the reception of the gospel at Athens and at Corinth. In the metropolis of philosophy and art only a few were converted ( Acts 17:16-34 ); in the capital of trade a large Church was formed. So also at Rome. The first and chief successes of the gospel were among the lower classes of society; and this was urged as an objection against it. Celsus jeers at the fact that "wool workers, cobblers, leather dressers, the most illiterate and clownish of men, were zealous preachers of the gospel, and particularly that they addressed themselves, in the first instance, to women and children." The rend Roman could not understand a religion which treated the slave as a man, and addressed itself equally to all. But the leaven thus put into the mass spread not only outwards but upwards. From slave to master, from plebeian to patrician, did the blessed influence pass, till at last the emperor himself was constrained to do homage to Jesus Christ. To a large extent the course of the gospel is the same still. In our own country the profession of Christianity is not confined to any class in society; but a living godliness is a plant of rarer growth. Among our men of science, our philosophers and poets, and our hereditary nobility, there are to be found eminent Christians, whose lives evince the power of the gospel over the finest intellects and the most exalted station; yet it is mainly among those less privileged that the Church is strongest. The greatest number of her members are to be found among the humbler classes, especially among those who have neither riches nor poverty, and who know the meaning of honest work. Illustrate also from the history of modern missions to the heathen.
II. REASONS FOR THE DIVINE METHOD . When men inaugurate any new scheme or system, they seek the patronage of great names in order to recommend it to the people; but the gospel of salvation was not proclaimed to the world under the auspices of kings and philosophers. This is referred to the purpose of God ( 1 Corinthians 1:27 , 1 Corinthians 1:28 ), according to which all things proceed. More particularly the end in view is:
1. The humiliation of human pride. "That no flesh should glory before God" ( 1 Corinthians 1:29 ). Human wisdom and power are of small account in this matter. Salvation is all of God. Had he chosen the wise and the great, pride might have boasted itself before him; but in choosing the foolish and the weak, all ground of glorying is removed. This does not imply that the one class is of more value in God's sight than the other; nor does it put a premium upon ignorance and weakness. It means that the wise man will not be saved because of his wisdom, nor the nobleman because of his high birth, nor the rich man because of his wealth. All trust in these things must be put to shame, as is done when they that are destitute of them enter the kingdom of heaven more readily. In the eye of the gospel all men arc equal, which means that some must be humbled, while others are exalted. It is always our Father's way to "hide these things from the wise and understanding, and to reveal them unto babes" ( Matthew 11:25 ). Pride is at once insulting to God and hurtful to man; and it is in mercy that he requires us to "become as little children" ( Matthew 18:3 ). In like manner, the advance of the gospel in the earth is not to be promoted by an arm of flesh ("not by might, nor by power," etc., Zechariah 4:6 ). Christian work must not be undertaken for the aggrandizement of persons, or parties, or sects. The flesh must not be elevated to the dishonour of God.
2. The advancement of the Divine glory. Human pride is to be humbled, that the honour of salvation may belong to God alone. It is the prerogative of the Almighty to make his own glory the chief end of all he does. No created being can do so. For man and angel, happiness consists in seeking the glory of our Father in heaven. A life with self as the centre, self as the aim, must be a life of misery. Does not this explain the misery of Satan? "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven!" It is otherwise with the Most High. To seek his own glory is simply to desire truth and reality. In the nature of things all praise is due to him alone who is the Alpha and the Omega of existence. Hence the glory of God coincides with the greatest happiness of men, in the matter of salvation as in other things. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
III. THE RICHES IN CHRIST . Salvation is due entirely to God. It is of him that we are in Christ Jesus. The believer's union with Christ has been brought about by God Himself, who has given us all things in his Son.
1. Wisdom. "In him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden" ( Colossians 2:3 ). He reveals to us God—his nature and his will, his purpose and plan of grace. In the person and work of Christ; in his incarnation, life, teaching, atonement,—the wisdom of God shines out conspicuously. And in union with Christ we become truly wise. In him we have the key which opens all mysteries. We learn to know God and to know ourselves; and in him the broken fellowship between God and us is restored. The quest for wisdom, alike in its speculative and in its practical form, is satisfied only in him.
2. Righteousness. He is "Jehovah our Righteousness" ( Jeremiah 23:6 ). To be righteous is to be in entire consistence with the mind and Law of God; and this Jesus, as our Representative, was. He bore the penalty of our sins, and met the positive requirements of the Law; and thus wrought out a righteousness for us ( 2 Corinthians 5:12 ; Galatians 3:13 ; 1 Peter 2:24 ). When by faith we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, his work is reckoned to us, and we are received as righteous for his sake.
3. Sanctification. This includes the whole of the process by which we are restored to the image of God. Not only is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, the character of Christ must also be reproduced in us; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is his to illuminate, regenerate, purify; and the whole man thus renewed is consecrated to God. Every part of the nature—spirit, soul, body; every activity of thought, affection, desire, purpose; all are transformed and devoted to the noblest service. Justification and sanctification are the two sides of one whole, never to be separated.
4. Redemption. This denotes deliverance from all evil, enemies, afflictions, death. Soul and body shall be completely emancipated, and presented at last without blemish ( Romans 8:23 ; Ephesians 5:26 , Ephesians 5:27 ).
1. To be emptied of self is a necessary condition of God's working in us and by us.
2. Give God all the glory of salvation.
3. Christ is the Source of all blessings. "In him ye are made full" ( Colossians 2:10 ).—B.