The apparent foolishness is the only wisdom.
In a mystery; that is, "in a truth, once hidden, now revealed." The word is now used for what is dark and incomprehensible, but it has no such meaning in the New Testament, where it means "what was once secret, but has now been made manifest" ( Romans 16:25 ; Ephesians 3:4 , Ephesians 3:9 ; Colossians 1:26 ; 1 Timothy 3:16 ). It implies the very reverse of any esoteric teaching. Hidden . It was "hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed to babes" ( Matthew 11:25 ). Before the worlds; literally, before the ages; before time began. Unto our glory. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews clearly states that "the future age" is in God's counsels subjected, not to the angels, but to man. But "our glory" is that we are "called to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus" ( 1 Peter 5:10 ).
The gospel: its description, preachers, and hearers.
"Howbeit we speak wisdom," etc. In these words we have three things concerning the gospel.
I. A DESCRIPTION OF ITS NATURE . Paul calls it the" wisdom of God." The wisdom of a system may be determined by two things.
1. By the character of the end it contemplates. A system which aims at an insignificant or unworthy end would scarcely be considered wise. What is the end the gospel aims at? The restoration in human souls of supreme sympathy with God. The absence of this sympathy is the cause of all the crimes, evils, and sorrows that curse humanity.
2. By the fitness of the means it employs. Though a system contemplate a grand end, yet if the means it employs are unadapted, it could scarcely be called wise. What are the means Christianity employs to generate this love for God in unloving souls? Ask what the souls destitute of this love must have in order to get it, and our answer will be three things:
These things we think essential in the nature of the case, and these three things the gospel gives. It is, therefore, emphatically the "wisdom of God."
II. A RULE FOR ITS PREACHERS . "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect." 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 these 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. The last is the idea which I think we are to accept as the meaning. 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 is, I take it, a rule for all true preaching.
III. AN OBLIGATION UPON ITS HEARERS . If the higher aspects of gospel religion can only be appreciated by these who are "perfect," those who have attained to a high stage of Christian knowledge, it is manifestly their duty to advance beyond the "first principles of the oracles of God." This duty hearers owe
Contents of the revelation.
But the apostle claims "wisdom" for the gospel. The counterfeit has been exposed, and the genuine coin is now presented. And how does he proceed to verify his right to use a term that, in the estimation of all thinkers, commanded respect and admiration? He will honour the Word; he will restore its meaning and clear it of obscurity, nay, expand its significance and invest it with a charm not known before. Solomon had used his splendid intellect to give the word "wisdom" a wide currency among his people, and Socrates had laboured for the Greeks in a similar way, each of them an agent of Providence, to teach intellect its legitimate uses and rescue it from bondage to the senses. And there was that old world in which these men, under very different circumstances and sharing very unlike illumination, had taught their countrymen what they knew of wisdom, and this remnant of its former state—the mere effigy of earlier grandeur—stood confronting St. Paul at Corinth, with its conceits, prejudices, and animosities, arrayed most of all against him, because he resisted, so bravely its earthly arts and methods. From a far loftier standpoint than Greeks and Jews acknowledged, an infinite distance, indeed, between the disputants of either side, he preached wisdom that came from God—a wisdom long hidden and hence called "a mystery," but now revealed in the fulness of the times. Yet, during the ages when this wisdom had been concealed, when eye and ear and the subtlest imagination had been unable to probe the secret, when human thought had exhausted itself in vain research, and had sunk at last into unnatural content with its own imbecility,—through all this probation of intellect in the school of the senses, God had reserved "the hidden wisdom" for "our glory." The demonstration of man's utter weakness had to be made, and Judaea and Greece had been chosen to make it. Rome's task was to gather up the results and exhibit them in a solidified form; nor could there have been such a Rome as that of the Caesars unless the experiment with the "wisdom of this world," and of the "princes of this world," had proved a failure disastrous in the extreme. That time had passed. And now this "hidden wisdom" had been made known as a spiritual certainty, which was nothing less than a "demonstration of the Spirit and of power." "There is a spirit in man," and it "knoweth the things of a man." Who can gainsay its consciousness? Who can appeal from its testimony to anything higher in himself? So too the Spirit of God "searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God," and, furthermore, the Holy Spirit is given to our spirit so that we "might know the things that are freely given to us of God." Just before St. Paul had stated that the mystery, the hidden wisdom, had been held back for "our glory." And is not the truth of that statement now attested? Understand wherein "our glory" lies. It is in this—man has a spirit, and God communicates his own secret intelligence unto it in the shape of a "demonstration of the Spirit and of power." Not wisdom alone, not only perception and reflection, but realization and assimilation in the attending form of power, the act of the recipient of grace not being the functional act of a faculty, but of the whole mind; "comparing spiritual things with spiritual"—the spirit of the renewed man most fully conscious of itself, because of the presence of God's Spirit and the expansion thereby of its own consciousness, What a comparing power suddenly wakens! What an outreaching process begins! This capacity of comparing, beginning our development in childhood and continuing till old age, is one of the mind's foremost activities. It is susceptible of more culture than any mental property. The inventive genius of poets and artists, the skill of the great novelist, the discriminating power of the sagacious statesman, are alike dependent on the diversified energy of comparison. Accuracy of judgment, depth of insight, breadth of sympathy so essential to largeness of view, are mainly due to this quality. Give it fair treatment, and three score and ten years witness its beautiful efflorescence. But its spiritual uses are its noblest uses. "Comparing spiritual things with spiritual" is its grandest office. When the human spirit receives the Divine Spirit, what a glorious enlargement, by reason of the superaddition of "the things of God," to the domain of thought, emotion, impulse! Calmly the mind works on; its laws never disturbed, its strength invigorated, its ideal of greatness opened in fuller radiance, its range and compass widened by a new horizon, a motive power brought to bear it never knew, and the repose of strength deepening evermore in the peace of Christ.—L.
The Divine mystery.
The Apostle Paul was accustomed to press into his service, as a Christian teacher, all the institutions and usages of the societies with which he was in any way and at any time associated. Thus in this passage he makes use of the Eleusinian mysteries, with which his readers were doubtless familiar, to set forth the profundity of the Divine wisdom, and the distinction and happiness of those who were initiated into the glorious secrets of Christianity. "We speak God's wisdom in a mystery."
I. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MYSTERY . There is little reason to believe that the ancient Grecian mysteries had any substantial and valuable truth to conserve and communicate. Observe the contrast: the New Testament tells us of the purpose of God to save mankind; not Jews only, but Gentiles also, in the exercise of his wisdom and compassion.
II. THE HIDING OF THE MYSTERY . It is not for us to explain why a purpose so gracious should have been so long concealed. So it was. And for generations and ages the human race was unacquainted with the purpose which the Supreme had conceived in the counsels of eternity. We can see that the Law had been a "pedagogue" to bring the Jews, and philosophy to bring the Gentiles, to Christ. But the fulness of the time was known only to God.
III. THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY . This took place when Christ came and, in his ministry and sacrifice, made known the gracious designs of the Father, that all men should be drawn unto himself, and that the world might not be condemned but saved with an everlasting salvation.
IV. THE COMMUNICATION OF THE MYSTERY . This took place in the gospel. The fervour which Paul and his fellow labourers displayed in the preaching of the glad tidings shows how deeply those tidings had sunk into their nature, and how precious the reception of them appeared to their enlightened minds. They unfolded what had been wrapped up; they brought to light what had been buried beneath the soil, even "the hid treasure;" they brought out from the deep sea that "pearl of great price" which is for the enrichment of every possessor and for the delight of every beholder.—T.
I. IS FOUND IN CHRISTIANITY . Paul has been speaking slightingly of" wisdom." Might lead some to suppose that Christianity was unwise, or at all events a one-sided system; that it was a religion for the heart only, and unfriendly to the intellect. The apostle guards against this damaging supposition by claiming true wisdom for Christianity. What he has been decrying is the ineffective wisdom of the world. Christianity is for the whole man. When a man is in a right condition, Christianity satisfies both his head and heart. Christianity is the sublimest philosophy. Its creed contains the profoundest truths, and under its influence we are placed on the high road to the solution of all that is mysterious in the universe. We are in alliance with, and under the teaching of, the Eternal Mind, which will at last lead us into all truth. An intricate piece of mechanism may baffle the intelligence of careful students, but those on terms of intimacy with the inventor may obtain from him a lucid and all satisfactory explanation. God is the great Inventor of the universe, and all its puzzles are very plain things to him. Those who are on terms of sacred intimacy with him—not those who are estranged—are likely to enter into the higher knowledge of things. Christianity places us in this all advantageous position. We are on the road of knowledge. One day we shall know even as we are known. Perhaps to the lost the disheartening puzzles and mysteries will continue evermore.
II. ITS CONTENT . The knowledge of God's redemptive work in its widest significance ( 1 Corinthians 2:7 ). Showing how man is restored to the Divine favour; his relation to God upon his recovery; the plan of his new life; shedding much light upon the Divine character and upon the Divine working in nature and in providence, since these are allied to and influenced by his working in grace; leading to the knowledge of many deep things of God ( 1 Corinthians 2:10 ), profound doctrines, etc. Man learns whence he came; the meaning of his present life; whither he goes; the cause of the disorders which he beholds in the world and realizes in himself; how this cause may be dealt with so far as he and others are concerned; how he and they may escape from its control and rise from it to God. Christianity solves now the mysteries attaching to practical moral and spiritual life. It shows man how to live. The Christ of Christianity could say, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." "In him was life, and the life was the light of men" ( John 1:4 ). Life wisdom was the wisdom the world needed; it was found in Christianity. The wisdom of the world was powerless to answer the great question of life—in this province it was mere folly. Christianity answered every question that really required an answer; and, in its marvellous plan of salvation, exhibited the sublimest wisdom, seeing that the Deity is hereby glorified and man's rescue from sin, ennoblement, purification, and present and future well being are secured. When Paul expounded the doctrines of Christianity, he was not speaking folly, hut setting forth the truest and highest wisdom the world had ever listened to; and those who truly embraced Christianity became "wise," seeing that they then possessed true views of God and of human life, and moreover yielded themselves to the control of an influence which would make them practically wise in every day conduct. Let us realize that Christianity contains the profoundest wisdom. Men laugh at Christianity,—not because it is foolish, but because they are. Let us guard against being laughed out of Christianity; for if we are, we shall be laughed out of wisdom and laughed into folly,
III. ITS ORIGIN .
1. Not of this world. The true wisdom is heaven born, not earthborn. The world is at enmity with God, and omits him from its schemes of wisdom; no wonder that these develop into utter folly.
2. Not of the rulers of this world. The world's great men did not produce Christianity; it sprang not from philosophers, rhetoricians, politicians, or conquerors. World powers tend to come to nought and their wisdom with them ( 1 Corinthians 2:6 ). The true wisdom revealed in Christianity never entered the heads of the wise men of the world ( 1 Corinthians 2:9 ); it was alien to their natures and notions. They were natural; it was supernatural.
3. God . It is true wisdom because it is Divine wisdom; its origin proves its quality. It springs from the Supreme Mind; it conveys his thoughts; it reveals his purposes and acts. In Christianity the finite mind runs upon the lines of the infinite. The human occupies the standpoint of the Divine. We see with God's eyes.
4. Ancient. We speak of the wisdom of the ancients: this is the wisdom of the Ancient of days. Older than the worlds. Thought out by God in a past eternity. Conceived then for our well being. Wondrous thought! Here Divine love takes its place by the side of Divine wisdom. For us; and shall we miss it after all? Because fools call it folly, shall we? It is the eternal wisdom, prepared for us before time was. It comes to us down through the ages unshattered, unshaken, by the assaults of the centuries.
IV. BY WHOM UNDERSTOOD . By the spiritual. It is spoken amongst "the perfect" ( 1 Corinthians 2:6 ), the spiritually minded, the matured. Every believer has some comprehension of it; but the more spiritual a man is the keener is his perception of its beauty and force, the greater his delight in it. The carnal understand it not. Once they were tested in its close and striking approach to them in the person of the Lord Jesus, but him they sought to destroy ( 1 Corinthians 2:8 ); and, could they have done so, they would have robbed the world of light and left it to interminable darkness. To the "natural man" the true wisdom is folly ( 1 Corinthians 2:14 ); as the ordinary wisdom of men might seem to creatures of lower grade. The spiritual man is exalted, and sees clearly what to the man beneath appears blurred, unsightly, puzzling, and undesirable. The carnal man has a valley view, and gazes through thick and distorting mists; the spiritual man has a mountaintop view, and the more spiritual he is the clearer is the atmosphere through which he looks. Many men who quarrel with Christianity should rather quarrel with themselves; the fault is not in it, but in them. We need alteration, not God's revelation. We must not think lightly of Christianity because many reject it; an imbecile throws away bank notes. Honesty is good, but a thief will have none of it. A blind man has a poor opinion of pictures. When the mouth is out of condition, the sweetest meats are unsavoury. When God revealed the true wisdom in Christianity, he announced that it would be unappreciated by many, and explained why this would be so ( Romans 8:7 ).
V. ITS POSSESSION AND EXERCISE BY THE SPIRITUAL . 1. Possession.
2. Exercise. The Spirit not only reveals wisdom to the spiritual, but makes them practically wise. As led by him, all their actions are wise; their foolish deeds are the fruits of refusing to be so led.
While disclaiming a gospel based on the wisdom of men, Paul is careful to show that he does not disparage true wisdom. The facts of Christianity are the embodiments of great principles; the story of the cross has behind it the sublimest philosophy. Hence the gospel is at once milk for babes and meat for men ( 1 Corinthians 3:2 ); and a wise teacher knows how to adapt his teaching to the capacities of his pupils. Among the newly converted, the apostle confined himself to a simple presentation of truth; but among the "perfect," or more advanced, he exhibited that truth in its higher relations. The Epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians are examples of the wisdom which he communicated to the full grown in the Christian Churches. The child and the philosopher find a common point of interest in Christ crucified.
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SPIRITUAL WISDOM . These are set forth negatively and positively.
1. It is " not of this world." It is not a natural product springing out of earthly soil. It is not the invention of this world's princes, the leaders of thought and the wielders of power, who control the ongoings of the age. They and their works belong to a state of things that is coming to nought. They have no place as such within the kingdom of God, and their wisdom shall perish with them. Christianity derived nothing from this source, and all attempts to improve upon it by human wisdom have been futile.
2. This wisdom is of God. The plan of salvation is a product of the Divine mind. At every step in it we mark his impress. Its conception as a whole, and all its details, speak of him. The characteristics here enumerated are in keeping with its Divine origin.
II. HOW SPIRITUAL WISDOM IS REVEALED . To give point to the contrast he has been drawing out, Paul quotes freely from Isaiah 64:4 , to show whence our knowledge of heavenly wisdom is derived. "Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him" is a beautiful description of the blessings of salvation—pardon, peace, renewal, life eternal. All these have been made ready in the working out of the scheme of redemption. During the Old Testament period they were in course of preparation, the great plan step by step unfolding itself, till in the fulness of the time the Christ appeared, to turn shadow into substance, prophecy into history. And these prepared blessings are for them that love him; for they alone can receive them. Love has an eye to see, an ear to hear, a heart to embrace, the things of salvation; and to love they are revealed.
1. The knowledge of these things is not attained by the exercise of natural faculties.
2. They are revealed to us by the Spirit of God. It is his office, as the Spirit of truth, to guide us into all the truth ( John 16:13 ). Spirit can be touched only by spirit. Our inner being lies open to the access of God, who can put his finger on its secret springs and move it as he pleases. The influence of one human mind upon another is similar to this. The process by which the things of God are made known to us is here called revelation. A twofold unveiling is requisite. The Holy Spirit presents the truth to our spirits, holds up before us Jesus Christ and his salvation; whilst at the same time he with draws the veil from the mind, touching the closed eye and opening the deaf ear. Of Lydia it is said, "Whose heart the Lord opened, to give heed unto the things which were spoken" ( Acts 16:14 ); and Paul says, "It was the good pleasure of God to reveal his Son in me" ( Galatians 1:15 , Galatians 1:16 ). By this spiritual unveiling, and not by natural sense or reason, do the things of God become to us realities.—B.
The wisdom of God in a mystery.
The word "mystery" has a twofold meaning as used by the apostle. It means that which is concealed from men until the due time for its disclosure has come; and it also means that which in itself, by reason of its own inherent greatness, surpasses human comprehension. Both meanings are involved here. God's wisdom in the gospel, though foreordained before the worlds, had been "hidden" from the ages and generations of the past. As it would seem to be with many of the secrets of nature, there was the proper, the "appointed" time for it to be brought to light. The men of the earlier ages were as ignorant of it as our fathers even of the last generation were of many of the marvellous things that are now among the familiar facts of our social life, or as we are of what the triumphs of scientific discovery a hundred years hence shall be. Not that the discovery of this Divine wisdom is like a mere step in scientific development. It is a supernatural revelation. And now that it has been revealed, it is still a "mystery," too profound for any power of man to fathom. The apostle "speaks" it, handles it, deals with it, as a mystery—a mystery which even he himself cannot penetrate and solve (see also Romans 16:25 , Romans 16:26 ; Ephesians 3:5 ; Colossians 1:26 ). Having special regard now to this inherent characteristic of the gospel, note—
I. WHEREIN THIS ELEMENT OF MYSTERY CHIEFLY LIES . It lies in matters such as these.
1. The person of Christ ( 1 Timothy 3:16 ).
2. The efficacy of his atoning sacrifice ( Ephesians 3:9 , Ephesians 3:10 ; 1 Peter 1:12 ).
3. The operation of his Spirit on the souls of men ( John 3:8 ).
4. The nature of the union between himself and his people ( John 6:53-63 ; Ephesians 5:32 ).
5. The ultimate issues of his redemption ( 1 Corinthians 15:51 ; 1 John 3:2 ; Acts 3:21 ).
II. CERTAIN CONSIDERATIONS THAT VINDICATE AND EXPLAIN IT .
1. That which is Divine must needs transcend the limits of human intelligence.
2. It shows Christianity to be in harmony with every other form of Divine revelation.
3. It accords with the progressive character of our present state of existence.
4. It serves to develop in us some of the noblest moral qualities.
5. It heightens our impression of the simplicity of those truths which are vital to our salvation.
6. It stimulates our longing for the brighter and better future ( 1 Corinthians 13:9 , 1 Corinthians 13:12 ).—W.