The apparent foolishness is the only wisdom.
But as it is written. The whole sentence in the Greek is unfinished. The thought seems to be, "But God has revealed to us things which eye hath not seen, etc., though the princes of this world were ignorant of them." Scriptural quotations are often thus introduced, apart from the general grammar of the sentence, as in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 1:31 . Eye hath not seen, etc. The Revised Version is here more literal and accurate. The quotation as it stands is not found in the Old Testament. It most resembles Isaiah 64:4 , but also vaguely resembles Isaiah 53:1-12 :15; Isaiah 65:17 . It may be another instance of a loose general reminiscence. "Non verbum e verbo expressit," says St. Jerome, "sed παραφραστικῶς eundem sensum aliis sermonibus indicavit." St. Chrysostom regards the words as part of a lost prophecy. Origen, Zacharias of Chrysopolis, and others say that the words occurred in an apocryphal book, the 'Apocalypse of Elias,' but if so the apocryphal writer must have had the passage of Isaiah in his mind. Some regard the words as a fragment of some ancient liturgy. Origen thought that they came from the 'Revelation of Elijah.' They were also to be found in the 'Ascension of Isaiah' (Jeremiah on Isaiah 64:4 ). and they occur in the Talmud. In a curious fragment of Hegesippus preserved in Photius, that old writer indignantly repudiates this passage, saying that it is futile and "utterly belies ( καταψεύδεσθαι ) the Holy Scriptures and the Lord, who says, 'Blessed are your eyes which see, and your ears which hear.'" Photius cannot understand why ( ὅτι καὶ παθὼν ) Hegesippus should speak thus. Routh hardly knows how to excuse him; but perhaps if we had the context of the fragment we should see that he is attacking, not the words themselves, but some perversion of them by heretics, like the Docetae. The phrase, "As it is written," decisively marks an intention to refer to Scripture. Neither have entered into the heart of man; literally, things which have not set foot upon the heart. The general thought is that God's revelations (for the immediate reference is to these, and not to future bliss) pass all understanding. The quotation of these words as referring to heaven is one of the numberless instances of texts inaccurately applied.
Spiritual ignorance the cause of immense evil and the occasion, of immense good.
"Which none of the princes of this world," etc. The words lead us to look on spiritual ignorance— i.e. , ignorance of God and our obligations to him—in two very opposite aspects.
I. AS THE CAUSE OF IMMENSE EVIL . These "princes of the world," through ignorance, "crucified the Lord of glory." A greater crime was never perpetrated. It involved:
1. Because it is in itself an evil, and like will produce like. There is an ignorance that is a calamity. When mind and means are absent, ignorance is a calamity; but when they are present, it is always a crime. These "princes" had both. Their ignorance was a sin, and sin, like virtue, is propagated. That this spiritual ignorance was the cause of evil is clear from the fact that:
2. Had it not existed, such an evil could never have been perpetrated. The words lead us to look at spiritual ignorance
II. AS THE OCCASION OF IMMENSE GOOD . Paul tells us that this Crucifixion introduced things that "eye had never seen nor ear heard." Divine pardon, spiritual purity, immortal hopes, are all things that come through the Crucifixion. From the subject learn:
1. That the sinner is always engaged in accomplishing that which he never intended. These "princes" did two things they never intended.
2. That whatever good a man may accomplish contrary to his intention, is destitute of all praiseworthiness. What oceans of blessings come to the world through the Crucifixion! Yet who can ever praise the crucifiers?
3. That no man should act without an intelligent conception of what he is doing. How many act from prejudice and blind impulse! how few trove a right conception of what they are doing!
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 revelation of things unseen and unheard.
It may perhaps have been complained, though unreasonably enough, that Paul's compositions were lacking in logic, and his language in eloquence. There was in the substance of his teaching enough to compensate any deficiencies of such kinds. No sage communicated such wisdom, no poet such wonders, as he. Deep things, drawn by the Spirit from the ocean of God's unfathomable nature, were brought up, and were by him presented to the Church of Christ—to all who possess the spiritual capacity to recognize their meaning and to appreciate their worth.
I. CONSIDER WHAT THESE REVELATIONS WERE . In the original prophecy the reference was to marvellous and Divine deliverances wrought for Israel; the apostle "accommodates'' the prophet's language to his own purpose, to express the display of Divine wisdom and power evinced in the gospel, in which Christ is made unto his people wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. The privileges of the Christian calling enjoyed in the present are an earnest of the higher joys of the eternal future. The gospel manifests the favour and fellowship of God, assures of sonship and of heirship. It reveals Divine truth, and it imparts Divine grace.
II. OBSERVE HOW INACCESSIBLE THESE BLESSINGS WERE TO THE ORDINARY POWERS OF MEN . The eye can range over the surface of this beautiful earth, and can explore the glories of the majestic firmament. The ear has receptivity for the manifold sounds of nature and for the intricacies and the charms of music. The heart speaks often and profoundly: "A man's mind is sometimes wont to tell him more than seven watchmen that sit in a tower." But the revelations here alluded to are not like the features of nature, which are recognizable by sense, or like the inspirations of practical sagacity. The eye can see the works of God, but not the Artificer; the ear can hear the voice of God, but knows not the Speaker; the heart can echo the appeals of God, but these appeals must reach it from above.
III. REMARK THAT THESE REVELATIONS ARE MADE BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD HIMSELF , We possess a spiritual nature susceptible of Divine impression and appeal, and with this nature, created after his own likeness, the Father of spirits is in direct communication. Not that truth is miraculously conveyed; the Spirit takes the revealed facts and applies them to the mind, quickening and illumining the powers so that they receive and rejoice in the truth of God.
IV. PONDER THE CONDITION OF RECEIVING THIS KNOWLEDGE . The revelations are for those who love God. Not the great, or the wise, or the outwardly righteous are the recipients of Heaven's best blessing; but those who possess this moral and spiritual qualification. They who "wait for God," as Isaiah puts it; they who "love God," as it is phrased by Paul,—are the enlightened and the enriched. The spirit that is filled with gratitude and with love is thereby prepared to understand and appreciate the mysteries of Divine grace. The true love, which puts on the form of obedience, is the path to spiritual perfection. Love grows, and with it knowledge; and heaven is attractive because it is at once the abode of perfect love and the sphere of perfect knowledge.—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 revelation of the things of God.
It may be that we have here a free quotation of Isaiah 64:4 . But whether a quotation or not, it expresses a principle true in every age. The great "things of God" have ever been beyond the reach of the unaided powers of man. What are these "things which God hath prepared for them that love him"? To apply this expression, as is sometimes done, merely to the glories and joys of the heaven of the future, is to narrow its meaning. Those heavenly things, indeed, are purely matters of faith, above sense, above reason, above experience, above the loftiest flights of imagination. The most suggestive teachings of Scripture, even the grand apocalyptic visions, do not enable us in the remotest degree to conceive of them.
"In vain our fancy strives to paint
The moment after death."
But the "deep things of God" here spoken of, "the things freely given to us of God" ( Isaiah 64:12 ), are matters of present realization, facts of consciousness, and not merely anticipations of faith. They are those great moral and spiritual truths of which the Name of Christ is the symbol, and those privileges and joys which are the distinguishing marks of Christian life. Consider what is here asserted about them:
I. THE NATURAL POWERS OF MAN CANNOT APPREHEND THESE THINGS . We may take the eye and the ear and the heart as equivalent to the whole sum of our natural faculties. They are those of the "natural man" as contrasted with the "spiritual" (Verse 14). Every faculty of our nature has its own proper sphere, the "things" that belong to it and with which it is conversant. Sense perceives material things, and, according to the delicacy of its organization, it appreciates the truth of these—beauty of form and colour, variety and harmony of sound, etc. Intellect moves in a region of abstract thought, entertains ideas, judges their relations, etc. Conscience deals with moral questions, determines the dictates of duty, the distinctions of right and wrong. The heart is the seat and tribunal of the affections, love and hate, desire and aversion, hope and fear. Each faculty has its particular part to play in the economy of our life. But when we come to the higher region of the "things of God," we find that which lies beyond the range of these mere natural powers. These Greeks of Corinth and Athens with whom Paul had to do were many of them men of fine native capacity and high culture, men of subtle thought and delicate sensibility. There were "princes" among them, men who had risen above their fellows in the particular departments of human interest for which nature qualified them. The ruler, the senator, the economist, could discern the exigencies of state, and judge matters of law and policy. The philosopher could weigh the evidences of science and thread the mazes of speculative thought. The poet knew what the "fine frenzy" of imagination meant, and could portray in glowing speech the changeful phases of human passion and life. The sculptor and painter had souls alive to the beauty of form and colour, and conversant with the canons of aesthetic taste. And no doubt there were among them men of tender feeling and noble character—benevolent citizens; honourable merchants; faithful, loving fathers, husbands, brothers, friends. And yet how utterly in the dark were they as to the real nature and character of the Deity, and the way of access to him; as to how their being might be redeemed from the power of evil; and how they might solve the mystery and soothe the sadness of death and of the tomb! There had been among them many
"A grey spirit yearning with desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought."
But they could not gain the most distant glimpse of this higher knowledge. It was as a star that had not risen upon them and of the beauty of whose light they could not dream. Indeed, the shadow of their ignorance had settled down so deeply upon them that they had lost the hope of ever seeing the light. They could not recognize it when it came. Paul's preaching was "foolishness" to them. He was but one of the tribe of "babblers," a "setter forth of strange gods." His voice was like that of "one that crieth in the wilderness." It awakened for the most part no responsive echo, but died away upon the empty air. The powers of the natural man are as ineffectual for any saving purpose now as ever they were; as incapable of receiving the deep things of God as they were of discovering them. To be assured of this, we have only to remember to how large an extent the intellect of the age goes darkly and wildly astray from Christ; how men of scientific genius, dealing with the phenomena and laws of the universe, fail often to find in them anything Divine; and how many there are whose very natural virtues condemn them because they refuse to exercise on the heavenward side of their being affections that give so much charm to their lower earthly life. All this tells us that men must be inspired by a Power higher than any that is latent in their own nature before they can rise to the apprehension of Divine things and to the beauty and dignity of the life of God.
II. THESE THINGS ARE REVEALED TO US BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD . The Spirit is plainly spoken of here as a personal Being, entering into personal contact and converse with the human soul, imparting to it a faculty of spiritual apprehension which it would not otherwise possess, Note:
1. The Spirit who inspired the apostles to deliver their gospel message prepared men, rightly to receive and interpret it. It was the same power in both ( John 15:26 , John 15:27 ; John 16:13 ; 1 Corinthians 2:4-8 ; 1 John 2:20-27 ).
2. This interpretive faculty is far less a matter of mental perpetration than of spiritual sympathy. This is seen in rite contrast instituted between the "spirit of the world" and the "spirit that is of God." The spirit of the world is ever a captious, sophistical spirit, distrustful, carnal, vain, self willed. The spirit that is of God is simple, lowly, loving, trustful, submissive, childlike. Coming from God, it is in true affinity with the mind of God, and with that Word which is the reflex of the thought and of the heart of God. When, in answer to the wondering question of the Jews, "How knoweth this man letters," etc.? ( John 7:15 ), Jesus answered, "My teaching is not mine," etc., he placed himself on a level which they also might occupy. Let them emulate his loving loyalty to the will of the Father, and they also shall "know." We must have something of the spirit of the well beloved Son in us if we would rightly apprehend "the things that are freely given to us of God."—W.
The true wisdom.
Often in the Epistles there is a single word on which the whole discussion turns. In the letter to the Romans, it is "righteousness;" to the Colossians, it is "fulness;" to the Hebrews, it is "perfection." In the letter to the Corinthians, it is "wisdom." Those Greeks sought after wisdom. It was nothing to them that the gospel might relieve a troubled conscience or reform an unworthy life, if it did not correspond with their ideas of philosophy. But St. Paul had an answer to give them for which they were not at all prepared. He calmly affirmed that they were incompetent judges of a heavenly wisdom, and that in his gospel to the people there was a philosophy beyond their power of apprehension—"the manifold wisdom of God." Greek philosophy at its best sought to ascertain how man may, by knowledge and the pursuit of virtue, reach up towards the highest good. But the gospel taught that the highest Good had come down to dwell among men; and that, by union in faith to that highest Good, man becomes more than a philosopher—a saint.
I. THE INAPTITUDE OF MAN TO RECEIVE THE DIVINE WISDOM OF THE GOSPEL . This is expressed by a quotation from the Old Testament ( Isaiah 64:4 ): "Eye hath not seen it." The reference is not, as in a well known poem, to "the better land," but to the wisdom of God. When Jesus, the incarnate Wisdom, was on earth, many eyes saw him that could not discern the glory of God in him. And many an eye today sees the position of Christianity in the world, the width of its influence, and the dignity of its institutions, yet does not "see Jesus," and the things which God has prepared in Jesus for those that love him. "Ear hath not heard it." That organ which receives so impartially all communications fails to drink in the wisdom of the gospel. It is closed by earthliness of mind, till the power of God's Spirit unstops it, so to hear that the soul may live. "Neither have entered into the heart," etc. (verse 9). The heart is hardened, as well as the eye closed and the ear stopped. The spirit of a man of itself knows only "the things of a man," conceives of wisdom and goodness after the manner and measure of man, and so fails to conceive the ways and thoughts of God, and the things which are freely given by him. So the apostle denied that a man untaught by the Spirit, even though he were a Greek, could rightly estimate the gospel. He could remind the disputers and rhetoricians of Greece that their philosophy might sound as jargon to the unlettered, who could not bring to it a sufficient intellectual appreciation. In like manner, the gospel which he preached might seem to them a jargon or a piece of "foolishness," merely because they were out of moral sympathy with it, and had not sufficient spiritual enlightenment to discern and value it. It was the same lesson which our Lord impressed on Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." He can see Churches, preachers, forms of service, but not the kingdom which is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," till he is born again.
II. THE REVELATION OF THE HEAVENLY WISDOM BY THE HOLY SPIRIT .
1. It was made known to holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. By them it was communicated to the Churches. But all who heard them required the unction of the Spirit, that they might receive and know the truth. No one can say that this is unreasonable. Every kind of knowledge requires for its reception a healthy state of the human understanding; and, when it relates to morals, a healthy condition of the imagination, conscience, and affections, because of the effect which these have on the understanding. In like manner, spiritual things can be interpreted only to spiritual men. The all searching Spirit of God must act on the spirits of men to whom the gospel is proclaimed, and so enlighten and empower them to receive "the deep things of God." Thus boasting is excluded at every point. Boasting of our righteousness is excluded by the work of the Son of God, all sufficient for us; and boasting of our wisdom by the work of the Spirit of God, all sufficient in us. By the Spirit all things are made new. Eye and ear and heart are new. The eye can see, the ear hear, the heart conceive, "the things which are freely given to us of God." What a dignity is this! What a joy! "We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God." We are taught of God, so as to enter with a new power of discernment into the secret of his covenant and the glory of his gospel.—F.
The surprising freshness of the new dispensation.
The precise words, as quoted by the apostle, are not found in the Old Testament. They are probably Isaiah 64:4 , given from memory and modified by the thought of phrases found in other parts of Isaiah. Only an unreasonable sentiment concerning verbal inspiration would make difficulty about the inexactness of quotations given from memory. The sense of a passage may be precisely indicated when the words are set in a different order and form. This text has often been used as the basis of elaborate descriptions of heaven, but such treatment is only possible when verse 9 is separated from verse 10. The apostle is plainly dealing with some glory which has been revealed and is now realized, lie conceived of the Divine dealings with men as having been arranged in "ages," or "dispensations." We may thus distinguish the Adamic, Patriarchal, Mosaic, Davidic, Exilic, and post-Exilic. In the passage before us St. Paul shows, not merely that the Christian is another and a succeeding dispensation, but also that, in important respects, it differs from others, and is superior to others. Previous dispensations have given only faint suggestions of the surpassing glory of this one, just as Solomon's magnificent temple did but hint the exceeding glory of that later and spiritual temple, Christ's Church. We may dwell on some of those points in which the Christian revelation seems so new, so surprisingly fresh, so utterly beyond what human imagination could have conceived or human experience suggested.
I. RELIGION IS NOT A CEREMONIAL , BUT A LIFE . To a Jew this was so fresh a conception as to be even bewildering. A less thoughtful Jew would be in peril of cherishing the sentiment that religion was only a ceremonial, a round of ordinances, festivals, and sacrifices. And this view of religion had become the general and prevailing notion in the time of our Lord. A more thoughtful and pious Jew would connect personal godliness with outward ceremonial, and strive to culture an inner life of trust, obedience, and communion with the outward observance of rites and ceremonies. But the new thing revealed in Christianity is, that religion is, essentially and only, the soul's life, and that all ceremonial is mere expression and agency in the work of culture. The relations are manifestly reversed. Formerly there must be ceremonial, and there ought to be life now there must be life, and there may be ceremonial. On fully maintaining these later relations, the health and vigour of Christianity must ever depend.
II. SALVATION BY A SUFFERING AND DYING SAVIOUR . This is indeed a fresh and surprising thing. Triumph is to lie in defeat. Glory is to blossom out of shame. A sublime mission is to be accomplished by a seeming failure. Life for men is to come forth out of death for Christ. It is the introduction of a new force, a moral force. Christ lifted up is to draw men. The story of the crucified One is to melt men into penitence, win their faith, and ensure such a love as shall make even self sacrifice for Christ possible. Men knew before of love that would work for those it loved, and love that would fight for those it loved, and love that would bear for those it loved; but it was new that love should die such a death, not for the loved only, but for the ungodly and enemies by wicked works. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
III. SANCTIFICATION BY THE PRESENT POWER OF HIM WHO DIED . This is altogether new. Christ, as the exalted One, by his Spirit, is now carrying out his redeeming purpose in all hearts and lives that are open to him by faith. We do not struggle for righteousness by unaided personal efforts. Unseen, indeed, still the Living Christ is ever with us. Untraced, indeed, the mighty Spirit of Christ is ever working within us, sanctifying us wholly. And so, in face of all difficulties, perplexities, frailties, or hindrances to spiritual progress, we may calmly say, "If God be for us, who can be against us? " "Greater is he who is with us than all who can be against us."
IV. MAN THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD THROUGH THE SPIRIT . This is also new; for hitherto the common sentiment had been that God dwelt in places, on the mountain's crown, at the altar, in shining pillar clouds, in tabernacle or in temple. Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the God man, shows us that God can dwell in man and make man's body his temple. He can even dwell in us; and an apostle may plead with his people, saying, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you?" Surely such an honour for us is beyond all that "eye has seen, ear heard, or heart conceived."
Illustrate that aged Simeon loved God and knew something of him, but he never could have dreamed what God had in store for him—even to hold the world's Babe Saviour in his own trembling arms. What could Abraham, who saw Christ's day; or Moses, who spoke of the great prophet to come; or David, who sang of his Lord making his foes his footstool,—have really known of the Christian glories, the spiritual mysteries of the revelation in Christ? These spiritual things broke more and more clearly on the minds of Peter and John and Paul, until, in utter ravishment and wonder, they exclaimed, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"—R T.