By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one must be careful how he builds.
I. WHAT IT IS. It is Christ (ver. 11). He is the Foundation of:
1. Christianity. Its basis is conveyed in its name. It rests upon Christ. If he be removed, it falls to the ground in ruins; if he be diminished (as in the denial of his divinity, for example), Christianity becomes weak and tottering. As Christianity is of Christ, so is it strong, abiding, glorious.
2. The Christian Church. Its doctrines and practice. How many other foundations have been laid for it from time to time! how often there has been an attempted union of other foundations with the one Foundation, Jesus Christ! To tamper with this Foundation is perilous indeed; to add to it is to deteriorate and to threaten the whole superstructure. The Christian Church should look to her Foundation, and clear away all that is not of Christ. No hurricane or storm will move her if she is on the Rock; but if her dependence be upon the shifting sands of wealth, position, world power, human learning, or other things of man, woe betide her!
3. Religious work. How Paul made Christ the Foundation of his work amongst the Corinthians when he determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)! When we teach we should teach Christ, when we preach we should preach Christ. Our work amongst men is not to be based upon our fancies or upon human theories, but upon Christ and his great redemptive work. We may amuse men with the fireworks of rhetoric or startling supposition, but the blaze will soon be over, and the old darkness will seem more intense than ever. If we want to bring abiding light to men, we must not divert them with pyrotechnic displays, but we must bring them to the Sun - the Sun of Righteousness. Much "religious work" is like a house built upon nothing. The marvel is, not that it should last so short a time, but that it should last at all.
4. Godly life. There is no sure foundation but this. Christ is the way to holiness. A life's labour after true excellence will be thrown away unless Christ be the Starting point. We shall not reach God without Christ: "No man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6); "Without me ye can do nothing." From Christ we receive power to live aright. Many seek to be godly that they may come to Christ, instead of coming to Christ that they may be godly. We have heard of the man who resolved to rear the house first and put in the foundation afterwards, but he was not a successful builder.
5. National greatness. A nation is truly great only in so far as it is based upon Christ and the principles which he expounded. The nations have perished one after another; their greatness was spurious, and therefore they were ephemeral; they rested upon that which moved, not upon that which is immovable - " The same yesterday, today, and forever." When the nation arises which shall be founded upon Christ and his truth, its glory and greatness shall excel the palmiest days of Solomon, and it shall abide. Our duty as subjects is to remove from the national foundations all that is not of Christ. Sacrifice may be entailed, but never loss: it is never loss to cast away the bad.
II. HOW IT IS LAID.
1. By human instrumentality. At Corinth by Paul: "wise" (ver. 10) was he as a master builder to lay this foundation, as well as wise in his manner of laying it. Here is marvellous honour conferred upon human creatures, that of laying the great foundation. We may participate in this vast privilege; we may have the high joy of laying the Foundation, Jesus Christ, in some unsaved souls. If archangels could envy, assuredly they would envy us this sublime, all glorious work. How readily should we run to it! how gladly devote to it our every power! how unceasingly labour and pray until "Christ be formed in" those whose salvation we desire!
2. Under Divine direction and by Divine help. What wisdom is here required! and of ourselves we are but foolish; what power! and we are weaklings. "Our sufficiency is of God." Only are we "wise master builders" when we constantly look up for guidance and rely upon Omnipotence. If we do anything in this matter it can only be "according to the grace of God" (ver. 10). This grace must be sought. When received and made effective in our lives, all the glory of that which is accomplished must be ascribed to him from whom the grace has flowed. - H.
According to the grace of God... as a wise master builder, I
1. It procures more grace and mercies from God: "He giveth grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
2. This acknowledging of grace will enlarge a man, and make a man more willing and ready in all the ways of God. It is like oil to the wheel; it is like wings to the bird. Duties done with the spirit of praise and thanksgiving have great life and vigour in them. Now I shall add one caution: corrupt doctrines and opinions in religion may much cool this duty of giving thanks. I shall instance some. As first, the denying of original sin is a great engine against the grace of God. Secondly, the maintenance of free-will doth much detract from free grace. Thirdly, that the law is not to be preached; no, not for direction or obligation. Whereas Christ and Paul do often press this.
1. The matters to be believed.
2. The worship and necessary service of God.
3. The spiritual benefits and mercies, justification and salvation.
4. The things to be done by us in our way to salvation.We will begin with the first, the foundation of our faith or Divine assent in matters of religion. What is that which every man must build his faith upon? And that is the Word of God. As God at first put all the light into the sun, and the stars shine by a borrowed light from it, so God hath now put all supernatural light into the Scripture, and all guides are to shine by that. Now that the written Word of God is the only foundation of our Christian faith, appeareth by these reasons — First, a Christian faith ought to be a Divine, supernatural faith, not a bare human faith. Now nothing can be the ground of a Divine faith but a Divine authority. Secondly, the Scriptures are only the foundation because they are the immediate verity or truth coming from God, who is the first essential truth. They have not only a Divine authority, but evident infallibility. Take a tree from the river side and plant it in a wilderness, what can you expect but withering? And thus it is if you take a man from the Scripture; his seeming faith, graces, godliness will all presently vanish. Thirdly, the Scriptures only are the foundation of faith because they are only immutable and unmovable. They abide always the same, they are not subject to changes, to perturbations of affections, as men are. Councils consisted of men carried by passions and- interests. Lastly, the Scripture is only to be laid for a foundation because this only is strong enough to support and bear up in sad hours of temptation and dangerous times of persecutions. Our Saviour quelled Satan's temptations by arrows out of the Scripture quiver. Now for the matter of doctrine to be believed, some men lay four rotten and weak foundations; others may be reduced to this. The first is that of the papist, the authority of the Church and the Pope, being wholly ignorant themselves, but resting all on their authority. The second foundation men lay is the authority of the civil magistrate. This is a mere political faith. The third is private revelation and enthusiasms. Fourthly, another false foundation is mere human reason.
1. The Word of God in the true sense of it is the only food and nourishment of the soul.
2. If we build not on this foundation, the preaching of the Word loseth those glorious and excellent effects for which it is appointed.
3. On the people's part we had need to take heed, because they are more prone and ready to receive any corrupt sense than the pure meaning of the Scripture.Lastly, on the minister's part it is necessary theft he should take heed. For —
1. He hath not a magistery but a ministry committed to him.
2. He is accountable for all the sin and error people run into through his neglect.
3. He must take heed because, though a man do preach the substantials and the necessary things of salvation purely, yet if he add or mix any corrupt opinions, though of a less nature, that man's salvation is very difficult.
(A. Burgess.)I. THE FOUNDATION.
1. Is laid.
2. Is one.
3. Is sure.
II. THE SUPERSTRUCTURE.
1. Is in course of erection.
2. Is variable in character.
III. THE TEST IS —
3. Decisive.I. THE TEXT ESTABLISHES A DISTINCTION BETWEEN FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINE AND THAT WHICH IS NOT FUNDAMENTAL. It speaks of the foundation which must be laid in all Christian teaching. It speaks also of the superstructure, which varies according to the disposition or knowledge of the individual teacher.
II. CHRISTIAN TEACHING MAY LEGITIMATELY BE CARRIED BEYOND THE LIMITS OF FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINE. There have certainly been seasons in the history of the Church in which its secondary doctrines have usurped the first place. Times of re-action, in which the Christian mind was recalled to the foundation, have in some cases promoted the development of other secondary doctrines, which have overshadowed the foundation no less than those which obtained acceptance before. One phase of the Reformation was a return to the heart of Christianity from the intricate subtleties of scholasticism. Yet Calvinism in its extreme development is at least as barren, and as subversive of all place and keeping in the mutual relation of doctrines, as any part of the scholastic system. It is no wonder that men are tempted from time to time to cast aside all but the most elementary doctrinal teaching, as to content themselves with accepting the bare letter of the Bible, denouncing every inference from it as a corruption of Evangelical simplicity. Far different was the teaching of the apostle. "As a wise master-builder I have laid the foundation," he does not add "Let no man build thereupon;" but "Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon." While he disparages the "wisdom of this world," he congratulates his converts that they "are enriched... in all utterance, and in all knowledge," and declares his intention to "speak the wisdom of God" not indeed to the "carnal babes in Christ," but "among them that are perfect" and able to bear the highest teaching. The Hebrew Christians also are reproved, as those of Corinth are, for their backwardness in the school of Christ (Hebrews 5:12, 13).
III. "OTHER FOUNDATION CAN NO MAN LAY THAN THAT IS LAID, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST."
1. To preach Christ is the chief office of God's messengers. The leading events of the gospel history, the doctrine of Christ's nature which is a necessary inference from and the only consistent explanation of those events, and the efficacy of His redeeming work which rests on the truth of His nature, make up one complex whole, the due and proportionate exhibition of which is preaching Christ. This is presupposed in all farther Christian teaching.
2. All more advanced teaching must rest upon this.(1) It must not be inconsistent with it. For the superstructure may not merely overshadow, it may disturb and destroy the foundation. Doctrine which comes into collision with fundamental doctrine is a virtual denial of the foundation.(2) It must stand in a definite relation to it and grow out of it. Thus the doctrine of the Sacraments cannot be duly taught, except as it is taught in connection with those of the Incarnation and Atonement.
IV. "LET EVERY MAN TAKE HEED HOW HE BUILDETH THEREUPON."
1. There may be teaching which is not inconsistent with the leading Christian verities, and which nevertheless is false or worthless. Those who promulgate it will have to answer for it before God. "The day shall declare it." Paul was thinking mainly of vain, subtle, and barren questions such as those against which he frequently warns Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 1:4-7; 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:16, 23; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 3:9). But the words apply to every form of teaching which is in itself false and groundless, which is barren and unprofitable, and which ministers questions, rather than godly edifying.
2. If men are answerable for teaching which is not inconsistent with the foundation of the faith, how much more for that which directly or indirectly overthrows it. If vain and unprofitable religious questions cannot be raised with innocence, how can men teach heresy without guilt? If an unwise builder injures the Temple of God by unskilful workmanship, a judgment is pronounced against him: how then shall he escape, who has either never laid the foundation at all, or who (when it has been laid) has succeeded in disturbing it?
(Bp. Basil Jones.)I. CHRIST IS THE FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIAN TRUST AND CHARACTER. No other King and Saviour of men is possible to those who know and understand what He was and taught. Great teachers of religion, and great examples of conduct, have been in the world: but in comparison with Christ, they are but stars in the firmament of the world's night, which become lost to sight when the glorious sun has risen. He stands unique and preeminent in all history, the only true Saviour of mankind. A Congregational minister once said to a Unitarian minister, "Can you conceive of anything greater and higher than the life and teaching of Jesus Christ?" and the Unitarian minister frankly answered, "No." "Then what is the difference between your conception of the character of God and the character of Christ?" and he as frankly said. again, "That it was a very fine point." The apostle, as a wise master builder, had laid this foundation as the basis of the new life; not himself, or Apollos, or Peter. The Corinthians were to be rooted and built up in Christ, and in no other. But they were to take heed how they built themselves up on Him.
II. TWO STRUCTURES ARE POSSIBLE EVEN UPON CHRIST. A Christian life must have Christ as the model as well as the foundation. The gold and silver, and precious stones, that constituted the glory and beauty of Christ's character, must constitute the glory and beauty of theirs. But it was possible for men holding some connection with Christ to build up a pile of perishable rubbish, a hut instead of a temple. They might mingle doctrines and practices which had no necessary connection with Christ and Him crucified; and they were doing it.
1. Some men never think of building up anything, but take life just as it comes. They have no plan of life to work at. Indeed, nothing is so irksome to such men as to live by rule. They live on impulses, come from where they may, from inward passion or from outward circumstances. Dreadful, indeed, is the fate of those who have tried to make this life a holiday.
2. Others live for a purpose; but they are building only for this world, and not for eternity. Their foundation is on the very surface of things, and as the building rises it tapers off into nothingness. A man may bring to it intellect, will, energy; and all for what? Perhaps to have it said of him, "That man started with half-a-crown, and he has made a fortune." But the Divine soul within him has not been built up; his nobler nature has lain despised and neglected; he has been building up his circumstances, but he has not been building up himself.
3. I once watched the building of a new church, and remember what trouble they had in getting a foundation for the tower, and how long they were in reaching down to a solid basis of stone that would bear the immense mass of weight that was to rest upon it. I remembered also when the foundation was laid, how carefully the plan of the building was studied and followed by the workmen; how every principal stone was selected and measured, and chiselled to a nicety. It was all done by faithfully working according to the plans of the architect; and when the building was complete, it was but a transcript of what had been in the architect's mind before a stone had been laid. It was a parable in stone of the manner in which a human life must be built. We must get down beneath the surface and rubble of things before we can reach Christ as our foundation, as the rock upon which our eternity of life is to rest. Hearing and doing His sayings is trusting to Christ; nothing more and nothing less (Matthew 7:24, &c.). He drew with a Divine hand and an unerring pencil the plan of a human life, not only by His words but by His deeds, to show what God meant in creating man. To believe in Christ is to believe that His plan is to be our plan, faithfully worked out after the living pattern He exhibited. But our mistake and disaster is, that we mix up the wood and the gold, the stubble with the silver, and the hay with the precious stones. One man has great gaps in his character because he thinks God regards faith as the transcendent virtue; and if faith meant the prompt and active loyalty of the mind to all Christ's commandments, he would be right; but if faith is taken to mean an indolent confidence, such a notion will arrest the progress of the building up of the soul. Another man says that prayer is the principal thing. Now, though Christ says that we ought always to pray and not to faint, He says also that it is he who does His will who is most eminent before God. What would be otherwise gold, becomes wood or stubble when we put it out of its place, and make it a substitute for other equally essential things. The doors of a house are necessary things; but if we put them at the top instead of on the floor, they are useless and absurd. It is this jumbling of things which often makes the spiritual structure of our lives unsightly and unprogressive. We want symmetry,
III. IF WE COULD FOLLOW THE DIVINE ORDER IN THE BUILDING OF THE SOUL, HOW BEAUTIFUL OUR LIVES WOULD BE! If the first act of the new life could be an act of faith, grandly receptive and grandly active at the same time; and if to such a faith we could add virtue or mental valour — an enterprise of soul that would launch us forth upon every difficult work with enthusiasm; and if to such valour we could join knowledge, &c., &c. (2 Peter 1:5, &c.). These are the gold and silver and precious stones of the Christian life, if we could but build them into our characters with symmetry and beauty.
IV. WE ARE LIKE MEN WHO ARE BUILDING IN THE NIGHT, WHO CANNOT SEE EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE DOING, BUT EVERY MAN'S WORK SHALL BE MADE MANIFEST, for the day shall declare it, the full daylight shall show the true value or worthlessness of that which we have been building. A great part of the building that is going on is an unconscious operation, or nearly so. That which we knowingly build into ourselves is but a. small part in the structure of our lives. A habit steals upon us with furtive steps, and embraces us with arms which are as soft as velvet but as strong as chains. We forget the work that has been wrought upon us in the past, because we were never distinctly conscious of its kind and extent. And so each man is a mystery to himself, an enigma in his own eyes. He feels that there is in him such a strange mixture that he is doubtful of himself, doubtful whether the gold or the alloy is in the larger proportion. Therefore the apostle exhorts us to take heed, to be vigilant, and as far as possible to know how we are building. For the daylight will break, and this compound structure which we call ourselves shall become more clearly defined by and by.
(C. Short, M. A.)
I. WHAT IS A BUILDER? A builder is one who brings together materials and adjusts them properly, in order to secure symmetry, strength, coherence, and beauty. A wise master-builder in God's Church seeks soul after soul; its rescue from sin; so that each godly soul may take its proper place in the spiritual temple of the Lord Jesus. This process sets before us the vocation of a spiritual builder. He has two aims before him. His work is first to get hold of souls, and then, second, to fix them, as permanent parts or members of the Church of God.
1. This getting hold of souls is a great work, and success therein in the test of a real builder for God. For so great is the subtilty of Satan, and such is the hardness of the heart of man, that to effectually resist the one and to prevail with the other is the surest proof that the preacher is sent of God. No mere human learning, sense, skilfulness, or eloquence, can make a master-builder for God. No! He must have that spiritual magnetism by which one soul, strong in the might of God, can go out to another soul, and grapple with its guilt and hate, and overcome it by the love of Christ.
2. But souls, when saved, are to be fixed into the temple of God, as permanent parts or members thereof. Thus St. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians: "Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of faith; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom," adds the apostle, "all the building, fitly framed together, groweth into an holy temple in the Lord." Here we have this permanent abiding of saints, their fixedness in God's Church, graphically set forth. So much, then, with regard to the qualities of a builder.
II. Let us now consider WHAT IS THE OBLIGATION OF BEING BUILDERS OF SOULS. Surely, it is to be this, or else to be destroyers! In the universe of God there are two great principles ever antagonistic, one to the other; that which conserves, and that which destroys. And to one of these two classes every one of us belongs. There are, indeed, differences of character and degrees of depravity. See the singular light which comes upon this point from the narrative of the rich man and Lazarus. When you examine the character of Dives you can discover nothing prodigious in immorality. But during his lifetime he was not a builder for God. Self, and not God, was the mainspring of his being. His life work was not to save and bless. Hence he was ranked with the class of destructives in time, and sent to keep company with them in eternity! It is your duty not to be destroyers, but to be builders, consciously and with purpose. Note here what God is — a Builder; ever since, as a great Architect, he laid the foundations of the universe, and built all the great fabrics of His creation: the globe, beasts, birds, fishes, and man, the crown of all! And if this is the fashion of the Omnipotent being of God, what then should men be, who are His image and likeness? Ought we not to be builders, as God is? How otherwise shall we show our similitude to Him? The new creation, in Christ Jesus, for what is it wrought in us, if not to make us co-workers with Him? Join to this the testimony of your own nature. Look into your spiritual framework, and see that in every way, the soul of man was fitted in every attribute to be a builder of souls. What is the power of thought but a power formative in all its activities? What is reason but a constructive force? What imagination but a creative faculty? Our physical members are also formed for creative action. Take the hand, and mark its wonderful adaptedness to operations creative and fashioning. It can demolish. But every one sees that that is not its special vocation. It was made to construct. Hence, naturally from the functions of the hand have sprung up the divers formative trades of men, in clay, wood, leather, stones, and metals. But the hand of man, of itself, had no skilful cunning, no ingenious art. No more than the claw of a bird, or the foot of a squirrel or a rat. But the hand is the instrument and agent of the soul. And because the soul of man is a builder, therefore it is that there are carpenters and wheelwrights, blacksmiths and machinists, ship-builders, stonemasons and architects, painters and sculptors. But what are all these functions and faculties of men, compared with the grand creative power of God? God made man in His own image. But man fell into ruin; and then God began again the refashioning of humanity out of the ruins of the Fall. And ever since He has been building up man, by all the operations of the kingdom of grace; by the workings of the Spirit. But angels, and men too, are workers together with God, to the same gracious end. Jesus died to build men. For this purpose the Holy Ghost descended on the day of Pentecost. So again, to build men, the ministry was commissioned, and the Scriptures were given. As God is a builder of souls, so are all His disciples. And although ministers are set apart to special duty in this grand work of soul-building, the laity of the Church, in a subordinate way, are likewise called the same solemn vocation.
III. And now, lastly, let us consider THE CLASSES OF PERSONS WE SHOULD BUILD UP.
1. First, of course, ourselves. It is a great trust to have souls. Broken and impaired as are the spirits of men, they show, even in fragmentary powers, the skill of a Divine architect.
2. Next to ourselves, are our kinsfolk and relatives to be built up in the faith of Jesus. It is our duty to strive to build up parents and children in the most holy faith; by all the several means of training and teaching, by admonition, by prayer and spiritual example. In the family relation this is, without doubt, the most obvious of all duties to train up our children and servants. Build them! that is the word; not tear them down to ruin by indifference, by carnal indulgence, by foolish vanity!
3. But besides kinsfolk and family, there is a further outer circle of human beings separate from ourselves, for Whom it is our duty to live, and our aim to build up in the temple of the Lord. So, then, it seems quite apparent that our life-work among our fellow-men is primarily, constructive and restorative. Christ came to seek and to save the lost.Learn:
1. Do not destroy! Keep from ruining souls for whom Christ died! Do not destroy little children! Do not ruin women! Boys and girls, baptized into Christ, do not destroy! Nay, strive to save other boys and girls. Yea, all of you, do not destroy! Do not destroy by whisky or by wine! Do not destroy by cursing, nor by oaths! Do not destroy by scoffing or by filthy speech, or carousing.
2. Build! Strive to mould, to compact and strengthen the immortal spirits around you, that they may become powerful for Christ. Endeavour to root and ground every soul you meet in the truth. Labour to build men in the knowledge and love of Christ. Make it the aim of your life to strengthen and uphold, and build immortal souls. Build men! by speech, by influence, by godly example. Use every possible instrument and agency, both small and great, at all times, and in all places, in your families, in the world, at the workshop, on the highway or in the street, to save men, and to glorify Christ.
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