For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
I. THE CONTRAST AT CORINTH. The Greeks could no longer boast of great soldiers or statesmen, for military and political power had deserted them and centred at florae; but they had among them rhetoricians and philosophers, and still considered themselves intellectual leaders of the world. In this spirit they sat in judgment on the gospel. As to his treatment of the problems of sin and righteousness, they were not deeply concerned; but they were ready to weigh and measure it as a new philosophy, and thought it deficient in intellectual flavour, and quite inferior to the speculations of Greek teachers on the nature of God and of man, the order of the world, the beautiful and the good. St. Paul knew this feeling well, and felt the sting of such imputations, for he was an educated man; but with his usual frankness and manliness he faced this allegation of the supercilious Greeks, and with a sharp spear pricked the bubble of their self conscious wisdom. Nay, he boldly maintained that what they thought wise was foolish, and what they thought foolish was wise. At the same time, he was too wary and too kind hearted to irritate his readers by pointing the statement at Corinth, or even at Greece by name. He spoke of the wisdom of the world. Let all the wisdom to which the whole world had attained by human investigation into the things of God be gathered into a heap, and displayed in all the light that the world's best minds could cast upon it, and he would maintain that it was weak, dim, and futile as compared with that wisdom which he and other preachers of Christ could inculcate by the gospel. It was a large claim; but those who know "the wisdom of the ancients" best, and are most accurately acquainted with the ideas and usages of that old heathen world, will be the most ready to say that St. Paul had good ground for his assertion - that his claim was absolutely true.
II. THE CONTRAST TODAY. Contemptuous thoughts about the evangelical faith show themselves in many quarters, Men seem to forget that the intellectual advancement of modern society, of which they boast, and which they put forward as superseding old fashioned Christianity, is itself mainly due to Christianity; that the great schools and universities of Europe all had their roots in religion; and that the very ideas which give tone and breadth to our civilization, the appreciation of the force of truth, and the sense of human brotherhood as something far above mere enthusiasm for one race and antipathy to all others, all have been engendered and fostered by our holy faith Ungratefully overlooking this, men stand today on an eminence which Christianity has cast up, and thence decry Christianity. Religion is pronounced weak and quite unprovable. It is not good enough for these very knowing people and hard thinkers! Yet nothing is more certain than that men have urgent need of God, and of those moral helps and profound consolations which are bound up with a knowledge of God and friendship with him. And the heart at times has a passionate cry, "Where is my God?" Put aside the money bags, the clever schemes, the amusements, the newspapers, the scientific instruments, and the social engagements, and tell me this, O wisdom of the world! "Where is God my Maker? Is there not a Highest and Wisest and Best? And where is he? 'Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!'" What can the wisdom of this world reply? It does not deny Divine existence, though a good many persons are coldly doubtful and agnostic on the subject. But as in the first century any effective conception of the Divine was wearing out of thoughtful minds, and there was hardly any religious check on licentiousness and rapacity; so now there are mere vague and high sounding phrases about the Almighty current among the worldly wise, without as much real faith in God as may restrain one fit of passion or dry one bitter tear. He is a force - personal or impersonal, no one knows; where seated, why operative, how directed, none can tell. Or, he is a dream of ineffable beauty and a fountain of ineffable pity; but how to reconcile this with the more severe aspects of nature and life baffles all the wisdom of the world. The sages arc puzzled; the multitude know not what to think; and so the world by wisdom knows not God. But there is a better wisdom, and St. Paul has shows it to us. It may be well for some to watch the weary gropings and. struggles of the world's wisdom, and speak or write on the evidences of Biblical theology and the Christian faith when they find a fit occasion. Yet those to whom the gospel is committed ought not, as a general rule, to turn aside to such discussions. They ought to preach often and earnestly, trusting to God's vindication of the wisdom of that which men call foolishness. "What will this babbler say?" they cried against St. Paul in Greece. "What will this heretic say?" they cried against Wickliffe in England, and afterwards against Luther in Germany. "What will this tub thumper say?" they cried against Whitefield and Wesley - men who, under God, saved the moral and religious life of England. But however preachers may be mocked, the foolishness of preaching has abundantly shown itself to be wisdom by its results. Its seeming weakness covers real power. O wise babbler who says, "Christ crucified! - F.
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God.I. PAUL MEANT THAT MEN HAD TRIED TO KNOW GOD IN HIS WISDOM, NOT IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, NOT IN HIS LOVE, AND HAD FAILED.
1. The wisdom of God is revealed in the universe, in man and in history — revealed but hidden. Wise men have endeavoured to construct a philosophy of the universe, and to reach God by reaching His thought as it underlies the universal order. They have not succeeded. In our times the endeavour to master the laws of Nature has achieved a brilliant success; but this is science, not philosophy. Philosophy attempts to discover what lies behind and above all the laws. It asks whence and where the universe came, and is not satisfied with learning its present structure or its history. It attempts to reduce all things to unity — to determine the relation of man to all things, to verify the certainty of the real value of human knowledge, and to discover the truth about destiny. If it had been successful it would have reached the thought of God, and so, in a measure, God Himself.
2. But Paul declares that in this great adventure human wisdom had failed; God, in His wisdom, remained unknown to the wisest. The task of philosophy had proved to be beyond human strength. School after school had risen in Greece, and the supreme question remained unsolved. There was a feeling of exhaustion, and there was a last desperate attempt to reach the object by means of transcendent speculation, ascetic mortification and ecstasy. But Neo-Platonism failed, and ancient philosophy sank in complete exhaustion.
3. The Corinthians, many of them, were seeking God in the old way; and when Paul came, they expected him to satisfy their desire for wisdom and explain everything. When he spoke of Christ, and of His death as a propitiation, they passed at once with a certain impatience from the fact, and wanted some new and deeper speculation about sin, some discussion about the nature of eternal life; some account of the reason why the death of Christ should be connected with these great things. Paul refused to listen to their demands. God had not given him a philosophy to make known to men of intellectual activity, but a series of facts within the reach of the least intelligent. They said, Let us know the philosophy of your message. No, said Paul, for you I have only the fact. You say it explains nothing, and that it is a foolish thing. Granted; but seeing that the world, in its wisdom, knew not God in His wisdom —
III. IT WAS GOD'S GOOD PLEASURE THROUGH THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE PREACHING TO SAVE THEM THAT BELIEVED. Paul does not mean to say that it pleases God to save men by foolish preaching. There is nothing to save men in intellectual feebleness and folly. This Epistle on the very next page says, "We speak wisdom among the perfect." When a man has received the Divine life, and that life has reached a certain maturity, he is capable of moving into regions of thought even sublimer than those which are familiar to the loftiest philosophy, and in the light of the Spirit of God the thought of God becomes known to him. But at first, while he is dealing with those who have not yet received Christ, Paul will not theorise or philosophise. It is not the theory that holds the planets in their orbits, but the force which the theory attempts to explain. And if that force ceased to act you might have the most perfect understanding of the theory, but you would all fly off into space. Here are the facts — this is Paul's position — resting on the testimony of the apostles; facts which have witnessed their own reality to millions of hearts. The Eternal Son of God became man, died for the sins of men, rose again, and has not forsaken the world that He came to save. How do we know? Why, age after age men have spoken to Him and He has answered; they have brought to Him the burden of guilt, and at the touch of His hand the burden has gone. Weak, in the presence of duty, they have appealed to Him for strength and have become strong. That was the foolishness of Paul's preaching, and this has proved to age after age wiser than all the wisdom of man, for through this men have actually found God, and through this they have actually been able to translate the will of God into life and conduct. The Incarnation is the basis of a philosophy of the universe, the death of Christ for sin contains a philosophy of human nature; and of the Divine order of the moral universe, the resurrection of Christ contributes new elements to the philosophy of human life. Yes; on these great facts a majestic philosophy may rest; but between the facts and our philosophy there is a difference as wide as between all other facts and our theories about them; and if you must be persuaded to receive the facts by the theories that are constructed in relation to them, your faith, to use Paul's words, will stand in the wisdom of man, and mot in the power of God. We must begin with the facts and pass to the philosophy.
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)Job 12:13; Proverbs 8:14). But this is not that wisdom which is meant here in this place. Secondly, the wisdom of God is sometimes taken for Christ Himself, who is the wisdom of the Father: thus here in this very text (ver. 24), "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Thirdly, the wisdom of God is taken for that wisdom which is in us, participative, and by derivation from God. Thus the wisdom of Solomon is called the wisdom of God (1 Kings 3:28). To Joseph it is said, "The Spirit of God was in him" in regard of his wisdom (Genesis 41:38, 39); and Daniel, it is said of him that he was a man "in whom the Spirit of the holy gods, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him" (Daniel 5:11). Fourthly, the wisdom of God is sometimes taken for the Scripture and Word of God, as Luke 11:49. Fifthly, the wisdom of God is taken more restrainedly for the doctrine of the gospel, and the great mysteries which are contained in that (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:10). Lastly, the wisdom of God is taken for the creation of the world; that wisdom which does shine forth in the creature, and the works of God in that respect. And so it is particularly to be understood here in this place. When it is said that "the world knew not God in the wisdom of God," the meaning is this, that they did not so improve that advantage for the knowledge of God by the creation, as indeed it became them to do so. This work of the creation is fitly called the wisdom of God, because the wisdom of God does therein very much appear to all such persons as will take notice of it (Romans 1:20; Psalm 104:24). The second is, what is meant by the world. And surely here, as in the first term, was understood the world for the frame of it, so also in this second term is understood the world for the inhabitants of it. That world which is opposed to the Church, these are the world which the apostle Paul points here unto in sundry respects.
1. Because they are most of the world in regard of their number.
2. Most in the world in regard of their interest.
3. Most in regard of their affections.The third is, what is meant by wisdom, "the world by wisdom"; surely that is the wisdom of the world, as the other was the wisdom of God. Well, but what now do ye call that here in this place? We may reduce it to two branches, either first of all, the wisdom of parts and natural wit and sagacity; or secondly, the wisdom of study and industry, learning and philosophy; their wisdom which consisted in knowledge of natural things. First, they knew Him confusedly, but not distinctly; they knew Him in the general, but not in reference to the right person. Secondly, they knew God imperfectly, and according to some weak and slender apprehensions which they had of Him in their minds, but they knew Him not in the latitude of those excellences which are to be found in Him. Thirdly, they knew God notionally, and in the speculation; they had some apprehensions of Him in their Understanding. But they did not know Him practically and in the effects, so as this knowledge had any influence upon their hearts for the ordering of their lives and conversations. Fourthly, they knew God essentially, as considered in His own nature, but they knew Him not dispensatively and representatively, as exhibited in Christ. I come now in the next place to the proposition itself thus explained as it lies in the text, that "in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God," which affords us this observation, as the moral of all, that the greatest wits of the, world having no more but the common light of nature, are oftentimes exceedingly to seek in the spiritual and saving knowledge of God. And I shall endeavour to make it good by a threefold consideration, and that founded upon the words of the text. First, the insufficiency of the medium, and that is the glory of God shining forth in the creatures, which is here called the wisdom of God. This of itself is insufficient to the producing of such a kind of knowledge as this is. There is not the least spire of grass, but it presents a god to our thoughts, much more the whole body of the creation. This does exhibit God a great deal more fully. But yet God as He is laid open in the gospel, and as He is made known in the preaching of the Word, this the creature does 'not show, nor is able to do it. Secondly, from the weakness of the faculty, the world by wisdom knew not God; that is, by its own wisdom, and that wisdom which is within the compass of itself, so it knew Him not. The wisdom of the world is insufficient alone of itself to bring any people to the saving knowledge of God: this is clear out of sundry places of Scripture (Matthew 16:17). So that we see how men may much abound in worldly wisdom, and yet fall short of evangelical knowledge. First, because this mystery of the gospel is a thing which is merely dependent upon the will and counsel of God Himself. Again it is said to be hid in God (Ephesians 3:9), that is, in the secret of His own purpose and eternal counsel. Secondly, as it is hid in God, so it is also hid. by God; and that of purpose, oftentimes, from those which are otherwise the wisest men in the world (Matthew 11:25). Thirdly, the world by the strength of natural wisdom is not able to know God in Christ, in regard of the disproportion betwixt the faculty and the object, the knowledge of Christ being of a far different and contrary nature and condition hereunto. We know that no faculty can act beyond its own sphere, nor reach an object which is above itself. As bodily eyes cannot see spiritual substances, no more can wit and natural sagacity be able to reach the knowledge of God in Christ, which is an object transcendent unto it. The improvement of this point to ourselves is not (as some would make it to be) from hence to cast a reproach and disparagement upon wit and human learning. There is a threefold disparagement especially which we do justly cast upon human learning and the wisdom of the world. First, comparative and exclusive, we do disparage it and diminish from it so. Human learning, if we compare it with Divine, and worldly wisdom with the wisdom from above; here it is as good as nothing (Philippians 3:8). Secondly, we do disparage human wisdom, as a ground. or argument of pride and boasting and carnal confidence. Thirdly, and more principally to our present purpose, we do disparage human wisdom in reference to such an effect as this, which is to bring those that have it to the saving knowledge of God in Christ. Here the wisdom of the world is too weak, and of small or no effect; it cannot do this. Go to now, let us see then in what sense we do disparage this wisdom of the world; namely, as in another case we seem likewise to disparage good works; this is not simply considered in themselves, but in order to justification and merit. The third is, from the perverseness of the subjects; namely, those persons in which this wisdom was, they did not do their duty to this purpose as they should, and from hence it comes to pass oftentimes that they are as they are. The world by wisdom might have known Him more than they did, if they had given themselves to it. But there was a manifold obstruction upon them, which is a great hindrance hereunto. At first, their non-attendancy, that they did mot heed nor apply their minds to these things. A scholar that looks off his book will never learn his letters, let them be written or printed before him in never so fair and elegant a character. Secondly, it proceeds from idleness and want of taking some pains with ourselves to dive into these things. A scholar must not only read but study, that will improve in any knowledge. A third obstruction to this knowledge is pride and scornfulness of spirit, because men think themselves too good to be taught or learn anything. Well, to close up all now with a brief word of application, let us consider what does result from these truths for our own use. And first let us here take notice of the corrupt nature which is in man, to be abased and humbled for it. Secondly, seeing the world by wisdom knew not God, let us then labour to find somewhat more in us than worldly wisdom. Thirdly, let those who know God and have this worldly wisdom, see what cause they have to bless God and to acknowledge His goodness to them. And again, for those who desire this wisdom, let them learn hence to veil and cover the other, and lay it down in order to the other, where it makes any opposition and resistance. Yet to conclude, let me add one thing more, and that is this, that though human wit does not give grace of itself, yet it does sometimes forward the means of grace, and accordingly is to be improved by us; as the star occasionally led the wise men to Christ. Again, though parts make us not good at first, yet when we are good they are good helps to make us better and more useful in the exercise of piety; and so likewise are we conscionably to use them.
(Thomas Horton, D. D.)I. THE FAILURE OF PHILOSOPHY.
1. Exhibited in ignorance of God.
2. Occasioned by wisdom.
3. The conformity with the wisdom of God.
II. THE SUCCESS OF THE GOSPEL. Though the scorn of man it is —
1. The salvation of believers.
2. The pleasure of God.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. A TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD NOT REACHED BY MAN'S WISDOM. Consider —
1. The admissions of the wisest men of old. The lament of Plato was that it was so hard to discover the Father of the universe, and he never seems to have reached the conception of God as a self-conscious, living, personal Being. deemed it the greatest happiness to know the will of the gods; but how this knowledge was to be obtained he could not say; perhaps by a resort to divination.
2. The low morality of heathenism at its brightest periods. Vices tolerated which now are reprobated. The mythologies are disgraceful. All this shows practical ignorance of God.
3. The assertions of modern philosophy — that it has dislodged theology from its lofty pedestal, and made it only a curious speculation. The world by wisdom now knows not God, nor seems likely to. It refuses the appointed organ of knowledge, and resembles a man attempting to learn the meaning of sounds by the eye instead of the ear.
II. GOD'S REMEDY FOR MAN'S IGNORANCE IS FOOLISHNESS IN THE EYES OF THE WORLD. The remedy is "preaching," including the thing preached and the act of preaching. This preaching is to the wisdom of man foolishness, for —
1. It simply states facts, not theories and reasonings. The apostles came simply to "bear witness" to Christ.
2. It states facts likely to excite contempt. The Jew didn't want a suffering Messiah; the Greek could not understand a crucified God,
3. It makes salvation depend on faith, not on wisdom. "To save them that believe."
III. THE CONSPICUOUS MANIFESTATION AFFORDED OF THE WISDOM OF GOD. Wisdom is discoverable —
1. In the whole plan, in that man was first taught his weakness. A wise teacher lets his pupil flounder a little that he may learn a lesson of humility. So the centuries before Christ are a standing rebuke to man, reminding him of his impotence. Hence no flesh can "glory in the presence of God." The saint cannot, for all he knows was taught him; the preacher cannot, since the "treasure" does not depend on the "earthen vessel" for its value; the facts he has to deliver are successful not from his eloquence, or thought, or exposition.
2. In the plan of proclamation, in that it enables all Christians to be preachers. He has only to testify what he has seen, tasted, and felt.
3. In making salvation depend on faith, in that it makes salvation possible to all.
(S. R. Aldridge, B. A.)I. ITS CONDITION — ignorant of God; consequently —
II. ITS HELPLESSNESS — unalleviated by —
4. Religious systems — infidelity.
III. ITS BELIEF — by the foolishness of preaching — exemplified. in —
1. The preacher.
2. The subject.
3. The condition.
4. The result.
(J. Burnet.)I. HIS WISDOM.
1. In delaying the revelation of the gospel.
2. In affording man ample opportunity to test the insufficiency of reason.
3. And by his worldly wisdom to work out his own misery.
II. HIS PLEASURE.
1. In the discovery of His mercy.
2. In its free dispensation by the foolishness of preaching — to all that believe.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. THE STATE OF THE THEN HEATHEN WORLD.
1. It "knew not God." It was in no barbarous age that the apostle bore this testimony; but in the evening of the Augustan age, when man's intellect had been developed to the utmost. It was not on the Arab's tent, nor the Indian's wigwam, that these words were inscribed; but it was on the polished marbles of Athens and on the proud walls of imperial Rome. And not only was it of that particular age he spoke; but he seems to look back to the very earliest ages, "After that," &c. After four thousand years had rolled by, looking back to the place where science was born and cradled, to Egypt with its reptile gods, to Babylon where science was nourished and cherished, and whither the Grecian sages went to light their lamps.
2. It was in a perishing condition. Men would not have needed to be saved if they were not lost.
II. THE METHOD OF BELIEF WHICH GOD PROVIDED. "It pleased God." Here is something in which the Lord delighted. And what was it that "pleased God"? It was that which man despised. Beware how you say a word against preaching, and extol or depreciate it in favour of sacraments. But what is this preaching? Heralding, the calling of the rebel to submission, the exhibition of the lawful Sovereign, the proclamation of mercy from the "King of kings," &c. And what is the substance of this preaching? Christ, in all the glories of His person; in all the sufficiency of His offices, and in all the riches of His grace. But this is not all. There is peculiar character in this preaching, by the foolishness of preaching the apostle means its simplicity. It is possible so to preach Christ and His gospel as to strip it of its power. Conceal it in the tangled web of human sophistry; garnish it with the flowers of human eloquence; obscure it with the dusky mantle of antiquity; dress it up in the gorgeous dish; and what do you? You destroy its hidden power. You may attract the eye of man from the precious pearl to the gorgeous setting of it; and what do you then? It is "an uncertain sound" which the trumpet gives, and none will "prepare them for the battle." It is only plain, affectionate, scriptural declarations of God's truth, unreserved, full, free, from the heart, and in the power and demonstration of the Spirit, that can save them that believe.
III. THE RESULT OF THE APPLICATION OF THIS REMEDY. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save — whom? all the world? every creature? No; "them that, believe." The effect of early evangelising efforts at best what is it? "And it came to pass, that some believed, and some believed not." It was nearly three centuries before the civilised world became Christian. But in all cases preaching did "save them that believed"; and there is the important truth to fix the mind upon. Look at the converts; whether they were in Jewry, or in Corinth, or in Athens; wherever it might be the effect which followed the preaching of the gospel was the same. "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God," &c. Lions became lambs; licentious men pure; impious men became pious. These were the effects which uniformly followed in them that believed.
Sketches of Sermon.I. THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS A SUPERNATURAL SCIENCE. "The world by wisdom knew not God." Genuine religion is a subject of pure revelation, and cannot be discovered by human reason, in its most perfect state. It "s a spiritual science, and can only be comprehended by faith, and realised through the operations of the Holy Ghost (2 Corinthians 2:14).
II. THE GOSPEL IS A FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE METHOD OF SALVATION. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Thus, the gospel is not only a revelation of the scheme of salvation, but also an instrument of its accomplishment in the believer (Romans 1:16).
III. THE GOSPEL IS A GLORIOUS DISPLAY OF INFINITE WISDOM. "In the wisdom of God," &c. The Divine Being always acts according to infinite wisdom and eternal truth. In the dispensation of grace, the Lord has proposed the best possible ends, and accomplishes them by the best possible means. It is not only a display of the wisdom of God, but is the medium of all Christian knowledge.
IV. THE GOSPEL IS A CLEAR MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE BENEVOLENCE AND LOVE. "It pleased God," &c.
V. THE GOSPEL ENJOINS FAITH AS AN ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLE OF SALVATION. "It pleased God to save them that believe."
(Sketches of Sermon.)
I. THE DOMAIN OF SENSE. The present age is one in which sense knowledge is unduly exalted. This arises partly from the vast advancement of physical science, and partly from the development of commerce which leaves small time or inclination for the study of spiritual things.
1. But sense knowledge is —(1) Exceedingly limited. We know very little indeed from direct experience; information for the most part is based upon testimony. Even in science the great mass have neither time, means, nor capacity to conduct experiments, and thus to verify the theories they so boldly advocate. We must always believe much more than we can know.(2) Often deceptive. The state of our minds always gives colouring to eternal things. We see in nature just what we bring to nature the capacity for seeing. The same scenery produces very different effects upon different minds, and upon the same mind at different times.(3) Never extends beyond the surface of things. Behind the domain of our experience there lies a whole world of things which we can never cognize with any organ of sense.
2. Christianity is based upon as much sense knowledge as will suffice to prove its truth. Christ's resurrection is the greatest fact in history; and at the first its appeal was made directly to the senses. To us it is a matter of testimony; but the testimony is irresistible. If, like the Jew, therefore, we would demand a sign, it is forthcoming.
II. THE PROVINCE OF REASON.
1. This province is also very limited. A correct process of ratiocination by no means ensures the accuracy of the conclusion arrived at, for the premises may be incorrect. Butler has well remarked, that "the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence, with which we are obliged to take up in the daily course of life, is scarcely to be expressed." Reason, of herself, is incompetent to inform man of some of the most important facts which appear to lie completely in her own domain. She cannot describe the essence either of matter or of mind. The freedom of the will she has proved herself utterly incompetent to deal with. Reason is by no means perfect in her own domain, for —(1) The knowledge on which the process is based is often too limited.(2) The instruments that are employed are very defective.
2. Man is not left to the guidance of reason alone. Impulse, enthusiasm, feeling, passion, love, and faith are independent of reason, and often lead to higher results.
3. Christianity is supported by reason as far as their powers coincide. The evidences of the Divine authority of Christ's religion are conclusive if judged of by reason. Those, therefore, who seek after philosophy, like the Greeks, can find it here.
4. Many Christian truths are higher than reason, but not opposed to it. Christianity leads into a region where reason cannot follow. There are mysteries in religion, as there are also in nature. Man is surrounded by mystery, and is himself the greatest mystery of all. And mystery deepens as knowledge increases.
III. THE REGION OF FAITH. This belongs peculiarly to religion. Here we can discuss the conscience, the soul, and man's relation to God. Reason might discover the existence of Deity, but it could never tell us of His relationship, to man. Modern science puts God, when it admits Him, at the end of the universe. Revelation places Him at the beginning. Scientific men do not hesitate again to proclaim the unknown God, thus taking us back two thousand years in history. There is a tendency in this age to decry faith, yet society could not exist a week without it. Christ is described as —
1. The wisdom of God. Everything seen in His light is clear. By Him we read the riddle of the universe. The purpose of God in creation is seen in Him, and nowhere else.
2. The power of God. His influence on the ages is greater than that of all other systems combined. And He alone can save the soul.
3. Christ is the "wisdom of God and the power of God" only to those who believe. They become one with Him, and receive out of the fulness of His grace.
(G. Sexton, LL. D.)
It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
I. WHEREIN DOES THE "FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING" CONSIST?
1. God chooses and uses the simplest means to save men, which human philosophers would have scorned. It is the proclamation of a message. God's plan is, first of all, to tell men the good news of a free, full salvation. After they have believed and accepted the gift of God, they are to be taught more fully the whole range of Christ's commands. But, at the beginning, it is only pointing to the Lamb of God, and crying, Behold!
2. God takes the most humble and unlettered believers as His heralds.
3. God makes no heavy demands on the souls to whom the gospel comes. It is only "Hear, believe, confess." Salvation is thus put within reach of all — even the feeblest mind and greatest sinner (Romans 10.).
II. IN EMPLOYING THIS METHOD —
1. God discarded the aid of all human wisdom in saving men: "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" Not a feature of His redemptive plan was borrowed from the philosophies of men. The utter failure of human philosophy is one of the marked facts of history. It culminated in Pantheism, Atheism, Materialism, Rationalism, Agnosticism, or in a refined selfishness, like Stoicism and Epieureanism. God not only discarded, but contradicted, the teachings of man's philosophy.(1) He presented Divine thoughts far above the thoughts of man; mysteries above comprehension, though not above apprehension; things too high and lofty for human wisdom to grasp, and which the natural man could not receive.(2) He dared to present paradoxes, apparent contradictions, irreconcilable by man's philosophy, such as the union of two natures in one person in the God-man; the union of three persons in one God; the doctrines of Divine sovereignty and human free-agency, an unchangeable God and yet prevailing prayer, &c.(3) The whole philosophy of redemption, of sin and its desert, the law and its demands, salvation by vicarious suffering, &c., is above the reason of man to devise, or even explore. Into it even the angels desire to look.
2. God discarded all human merit. The gospel not only humbles the proud intellect, but the prouder heart. A free salvation is the "offence of the Cross?'
III. IN ALL THIS THE WISDOM OF GOD APPEARS. For —
1. God makes it possible for all sinners to be saved. Whoever can sin can understand salvation. All philosophies were addressed to an elect few: witness s few disciples, and , with his exoteric and esoteric schools.
2. God makes possible for all believers to be preachers of the gospel and winners of souls.
3. God abolishes invidious distinctions between sinners and believers. All are on a level, as guilty, condemned, and helpless; all on a level, as saved by grace without works.
4. God presents a faith so grandly superior to all human teaching that there is no risk of confounding it with man's philosophy, or mistaking it for a human invention.
5. God reserves to Himself all the glory. Man has no ground for boasting or self-complacency, &c.
6. God teaches men implicit submission and obedience.
(A. T. Pierson, D. D.)i.e., to be sure then. First, take it in the restraining sense. First, that so by this means He might the more fully and palpably convince the world of their neglect; let them first alone and see what they will do of their own accord, and then come in upon their miscarriage. Secondly, that He might the more discover the insufficiency of mere natural and carnal wisdom, which did not yet reach to the knowledge of God. Thirdly, that He might gain to Himself the greater glory. He that does anything after another which misses, he has from hence so much the more honour to himself; especially if he that misses be one that pretends to any great matters, as here it was. The second is the affection to the work, "It pleased God." And this again carries a twofold intimation in it. First, it is a word of freedom and spontaneity, it pleased God, that is, He did it of His own accord and inclination, being not moved thereunto by anything out of Himself. Secondly, it is a word of delight and complacency, "it pleased God," that is, it was very acceptable to Him; He took a great deal of pleasure and contentment and satisfaction in the doing of it, as in nothing more. The third is the means by which the work is wrought, and that is here expressed to us to be by the foolishness of preaching. Where again there are two particulars considerable of us. First, the means itself considered in its own nature, and that is preaching, by preaching to save believers. Secondly, the qualification of this means as the denomination which is put upon it, and that is mean and contemptible. It is here called the foolishness of preaching. We will begin first of all with the second, to wit, the means in its denomination, the foolishness of preaching, blot as it is, indeed, but as it is rather in men's apprehension. Now there is a double account which may be given hereof unto us. First, occasionally from others in regard of their carriage: for truly as many men order the business, it is the foolishness of preaching indeed; there are some kind of persons in the world which have a great deal to answer to God for the offence which they give in this respect, and the scandal and ill report which they bring upon God's own ordinance by their unworthy managing of it. But then again secondly, there is an occasion given to think preaching foolishness from too much niceness and affectation. When we shall make preaching a mere business of wit, and a thing to tickle the fancy, an airy and empty discourse, carried with some high-flown language, but never touching or coming near the heart, nor uttering anything which may be profitable to the soul. Secondly, originally from themselves in regard of their own perverse reasonings. And here there are sundry things which they falsely reason upon. At first, they think meanly of preaching, from the nature and condition of the instruments which are employed and improved in it; poor, frail, and weak men like themselves. If an angel might be the dispenser of it, then it may be they would have some high thoughts of it. Secondly, in regard of the matter of it, and the subject which it is conversant about. And that is, Christ crucified, this is the foolishness of preaching, that is not only the ordinance, but the doctrine; and not only the preaching, but the thing preached about. And so not only in the narrative, but in the hortatory part of it; when it persuades men to deny themselves, to cross their sweetest lusts. Thirdly, in regard of the manner of it, and way of proceeding in it. That it comes not so much with reason and demonstration, as rather simple propositions. Fourth, from defect mingled with pride. And so much of that first, viz., the denomination of the ordinance, as it is here styled, the foolishness of preaching. The second is the means and ordinance itself simply considered, and that is preaching; this is the means of working salvation; God saves believers by preaching. First, by preaching He makes them believers; and then being believers, He bestows salvation upon them. This is the order and method that God uses. That poor and mean ordinance which the world thinks so scornfully of, and counts no better than foolishness; yet it has this excellency that it is a means to bring men to heaven; and God is pleased to use it to this purpose. If it be foolishness, it is a saving foolishness, and that's a great deal better than a destructive wisdom. For the better handling of this present point, there are two particulars which may here profitably be considered by us. For the first, what preaching is: it is not merely to speak somewhat of religion, to make a rambling and roving discourse, and nothing to the purpose. But preaching is a ministerial and authoritative improvement of the truths and doctrines of the Scriptures, to the good and benefit of men's souls, and the procurement of their eternal salvation. The showing men of their misery by nature, and the benefit which they may have by Christ, with the appurtenances thereunto, this in a word is preaching, blow further, for the efficacy of this ordinance, and whence it comes to be thus powerful, this is merely from the ordinance of God. As it is His institution who has ordained and appointed it to be so. "It pleased Him," there is an account of the business indeed. Alas! preaching considered in itself is a poor and empty voice, and were able to do no great matter at all. It is not the gifts of the preacher, it is not the nature of the argument, it is not the strength of the matter, it is not the sweetness of the expression, it is none of all these things in themselves which makes preaching so powerful a conveyance; no, but the ordinance of God which has appointed to work by these means, and the Spirit of God who is pleased to concur with it in working. The improvement of this point to ourselves for application may be twofold. First, as it concerns ministers, there is a very good item for them to quicken us and encourage us in our work, and the conscionable discharge of it without fainting and giving out. Again, let us also hence learn so much the more faithfully to discharge, and make that our chief end in undertaking it, which was God's chief end in ordaining it. Secondly, here is somewhat also for the people, and that is so much the more carefully to attend upon this ordinance of preaching, and to take heed of the despising of it as a weak and foolish thing; they which despise preaching, they do in effect despise believing. And further let this teach us with what affections to come to the ordinances, the preaching and hearing of the Word, namely, as those which expect and desire salvation from it as the end whereunto it is intended. Let us not come to a sermon as to a prize, or a mere trial of wits. Now the fourth is the work or design itself which we have in the last words — "To save them that believe." Where among many other things which might be profitably observed by us concerning salvation, in the nature of it, and the causes of it, and the means of it, and the like, I shall at this time only fasten upon that which is here especially presented unto us, and that is the subjects of it — believers. And here there are two things again which this restraint does extend itself to. First, here is a restraint of the benefit of preaching to faith. And secondly, here is a restraint of the benefit of salvation to faith. There are none which have benefit by preaching any further than they believe; and there are none which do partake of salvation, but those only which do believe neither. And for saving faith has it here attributed to itself. First, as the radical and fundamental grace, and that which puts a life and vigour into all the rest. Secondly, faith has it attributed to it, because it is that whereby we please God (Hebrews 6:6). Thirdly, it is faith which lays hold upon Christ, who is the Author of eternal salvation (Galatians 2:20). Fourthly, it is faith which gives most glory to God (Romans 4:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:10). Fifthly, faith is that which does most conquer temptations, and subdue all the enemies of our salvation (Ephesians 6:16). Lastly, faith is said to save as the condition which God requires and will have in them which shall be saved; and this were enough, though nothing else, to give account of it. In all these respects is salvation attributed hereunto. But what is this faith which we speak of all this while, and wherein does it consist? Sure it is not a mere assent to the truth revealed; though that be somewhat which belongs thereunto, yet this is not all. But saving faith is quieting faith too: "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Romans 5.). For the rise of faith, it comes by preaching, and is suitable to the doctrine of the Word. Those who contemn the ordinance, they have none of the grace. For the fruits of it, it works by love.
1. It makes us afraid to displease God.
2. It makes us courageous for God.
3. It makes us love the children of God.
4. It quite changes and alters our converse from evil to good.
(Thomas Horton, D. D.)
I. THE APPARENT FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING.
1. How inadequate is the means itself to accomplish much! How little has human eloquence been able in other fields to achieve? True; once an orator's audience, wrought up by his invective, exclaimed, "Let us march against our foe!" But that effect soon passed away. And in the ordinary intercourse of mankind; look at the effect of mere persuasion, when it comes in collision with men's passions, interests, and tastes.
2. But the inadequacy of the instrumentality will be still more apparent when we remember that the first preachers of the gospel were not highly gifted, and had no advantage of rank, or influence. They were unlettered fishermen, who had no excellency of speech; and taking the mass of ministers in all ages, how few have had any pretensions to transcendant powers of persuasion!
3. But if we pass on to regard the grand theme of preaching the foolishness of preaching will be still more obvious. The Cross of Christ has ever been to the Jew a stumbling-block and to the Greek foolishness.
4. And yet more will the foolishness of preaching strike us if we regard how contrary to the natural bias is that effect at which preaching aims. It aims at getting men to "deny themselves," to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; to live for eternity and not for time.
II. ITS REAL WISDOM AND EXCELLENCY.
1. It is an ordinance of Almighty God. Judaism was propagated by ceremonies and types; false religions have usually been propagated by the sword; but it is the preeminent peculiarity of the religion of Jesus, that by the simple appeal of truth to the conscience and the heart, it has its potency and its triumph. Omniscience could only devise, and infinite grace must have prompted the best of all machinery.
2. It is the ministration of the Spirit of God. We are under the dispensation of the Spirit, and the Spirit communicates Himself mainly and most frequently through preaching.
3. The theme at which the Jews stumbled, and which the Greeks esteemed foolishness is to them that are called "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
4. It is attended with great and gracious results. Why are we not gathered, as our forefathers were, under the oak-tree, to go through our dark orgies of impiety and blood? Why have we the arts, and sciences, and literature, and all that marks out a civilised people? These are the external triumphs of Christianity. But they are nothing compared with its internal, its everlasting triumphs. What multitudes has it made to pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from the bondage of Satan, to the glorious liberty of the Son of God.Conclusion: If, on the one hand, preaching appears so foolish, and, on the other, it is so wise and powerful —
1. Do not fall into the false notion of the day, that education is to be the grand regenerator of mankind.
2. How faulty must many of you be when you go to hear the preaching of the Word much as the world goes to the theatre; when you go to hear the words of man instead of the Word of God.
3. How much does it behove the Christians of this country to multiply that machinery which is God's great ordinance, to promote that righteousness which exalteth a nation.
I. The preaching of the gospel has contributed in a remarkable degree TO IMPROVE THE INTELLECTUAL CAPACITIES OF HUMAN NATURE, AND TO DISSEMINATE, THROUGH A WIDER SPHERE, THE PRINCIPLES OF USEFUL KNOWLEDGE. It threw into the circulation of human thought a new stock of most interesting principles — principles well established themselves, fruitful in important consequences, and fitted to exercise all the higher faculties of the understanding. It trained a numerous order of men, and forced them, by the very nature of their employment, to cultivate their intellectual talents, to cherish habits of regular thought, and to study the most effectual method of elucidating and confirming the doctrines which they taught. This order of men it mingled with the mass of the people, and placed them in a situation, where their example and instructions could not fail to draw forth and improve the reasoning powers of their hearers. This institution furnishes, besides —
II. A RICH INEXHAUSTIBLE TREASURE OF CONSOLATION TO EVERY INDIVIDUAL WHO EMPLOYS IT WITH PROPER DISPOSITIONS. Numerous are the evils to which we are subjected in the course of our earthly pilgrimage. In the sanctuary of God we see the plan of Providence unveiled, and, through the ministry of the Word, discover order and beauty rising from the darkness. The train of thought which is there presented to us, and rendered habitual by its frequent recurrence, has a direct and powerful tendency to calm the agitations of a troubled heart, and to re-establish our confidence in God. We there learn that God is good to all; that, through Christ, He is reconcilable even to the guilty; that His government of the universe is free from defect; that the apparent disorder around us is essential to the nature of our probationary state, and productive of good; that even afflictions are frequently messengers of His love. But the doctrines which the preaching of the gospel preserves, and diffuses through all orders of the people, tend not only to enlighten the understandings of men and to alleviate the ills of life. They are also —
III. POWERFUL MEANS OF OUR MORAL IMPROVEMENT. The system of duty which the gospel contains is most perfect in itself, and most wisely adapted to the exigencies of human nature. It reaches to the thoughts and intents of the heart; it prescribes with a minuteness and accuracy which leaves no room for misconception, the conduct proper for all the situations in which we may be called to act; and it enforces its precepts by motives the most awful and the most interesting which can operate on the mind.
(James Finlayson, D. D.)
Links1 Corinthians 1:21 NIV
1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT
1 Corinthians 1:21 ESV
1 Corinthians 1:21 NASB
1 Corinthians 1:21 KJV
1 Corinthians 1:21 Bible Apps
1 Corinthians 1:21 Parallel
1 Corinthians 1:21 Biblia Paralela
1 Corinthians 1:21 Chinese Bible
1 Corinthians 1:21 French Bible
1 Corinthians 1:21 German Bible
1 Corinthians 1:21 Commentaries