1 Corinthians 3:11
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
I. A FOUNDATION LAID.
1. The idea is the radical one that no one can begin to live rightly and well just as he is. Sin has touched and tainted the deepest things in us. We cannot even begin. And this is not only the Bible teaching, but the conviction of almost the whole world.
2. Immense numbers of men are busy in the vain attempt to lay a foundation of their own. And as builders drive in piles into the marshy ground, and throw in vast loads of earth and stones, making a foundation on which they rear their house to last for its century or two, so men in imagination carry out of themselves their good deeds, sufferings, penitence, recognitions of Divine mercy, &c., to lay down as a basis on which they may raise the structure of hope and happiness. Vain toils! The gulf is too deep and the materials have no real strength or worth.
3. God, looking down says, in condemnation, yet pity, "Behold, I lay in Zion," &c. Jesus Christ, then, is the foundation. The needed work is done. "It is finished." The gospel is a message, far more than an argument; an announcement of work done, rather than a discussion as to the way of doing it. On this we rest. The foundation of God standeth sure. We are safe, we are strong, if we build on that. There are many mysteries yet unsolved, but this is clear, that God has laid the foundation.
II. THERE IS A BUILDING TO BE RAISED. A foundation without a building is a solecism.
1. After laying the foundation God tells us that we may build a house, and ought to build a temple. "Wood" was used for the posts and doors; "hay," or dried grass mixed with mud, for the walls, and "stubble" or straw for the roof. These are never used for temples. The temples were built of "precious stones," such as granite and marble, and they were adorned with "gold and silver." God stands close by the foundation He has laid, waiting for the builders to come. Come, be a builder. Put your trust in Christ. Faith in Him is the first stone laid on the foundation, and without it no other can be there. A man may be, according to the human judgment, great, and good, and happy, but if he does not believe in God's chosen foundation, his life is essentially defective, and must collapse in the end.
2. But the apostle is speaking to those who have begun, and in effect says, "Having begun, go on. Build diligently, that you may have a completed structure — carefully, that it may be composed of the proper materials." There is a certain kind of Christian teaching and writing which condenses everything in Christian life and experience into faith: "only believe. That is all." No, says the apostle, that is not all. Lay the first stone securely on the foundation which is laid, then add another, and another. Act by act, day after day, let the temple grow. In the compass of three verses four several times the apostle mentions a man's work. Lay the precious stones one upon another. Bring in the gold and silver for the enrichment and adorning of this living temple.
(1) And beware lest unwittingly you should be using the wood and the hay and the stubble, which must perish at last. A man, e.g., comes to Christ, he yields to Him, is pardoned, renewed, and rejoices for a while in his complete salvation. For years he keeps his place and builds on. But what is his building? "Wood, hay, stubble," low views, superficial opinions, evil tempers, worldly habits — just such things as irreligious men are building into their lives. Then let us be careful to build with the right materials, and all the more because the wrong ones are so rife and so near. Errors of every kind, but especially religious errors, are very abundant, some of them looking quite like truth. We shall build them up into the system of our faith ere ever we are aware; if we do not give earnest heed. Vices also abound, and some of them are so fair. And a multitude of things are around us which cannot be called either errors or vices, which yet will make very indifferent materials — ways of thinking, speaking, acting; the spirit of the place.
(2) But let no man be discouraged, as though there were but little chance of being able to build up his life without large intermixture of such inferior stuff. Good materials are available — truth, virtue, strength, wisdom and love. If we ask them they will be given to us. God has taken care for this. He has filled His Book with truth. He has filled His providence with moral helps. If we diligently study the one and live faithfully amid the scenes of the other, He will fill us with His grace and salvation day by day, so that we shall grow unto an holy temple in the Lord.
III. THERE IS A TIME GIVEN TO FINISH THE WORK. And when the limit of that time shall come, not one stone more can be laid. "I must work the work of Him that sent me while it is day," &c. And no man can tell when the night shall come. Look at the tombstones in a graveyard. You will see every age recorded there, and remember, as you read, that every name recorded is the name of a builder who, in the day given to him, began and finished a building that will be tried by fire.
1. Here is a stone that tells that an infant was born, and after wrestling with mortality but for a few days, died and was buried. But that little history was the building of a temple, and when it was finished the angels carried it away.
2. Here is a stone that marks the resting-place of a little worker. Mere shapings and scantlings of work there were — a little serious thought, a little faith and love, some tiny steps of following after the great Master: nothing, as some would say, to make a finished life. You are mistaken. That little workman will never need to be ashamed. He has finished a temple life.
3. This is a maiden's name. She was looking to the bridal-day, and death came unbidden, but not unwelcome, for He led her up to the higher espousals of heaven. Father, mother, lover have written on the stone that "her sun went down while it was yet day." But the angels have written "eventide"; the Saviour has written "finished."
4. Here lies a merchant who was in the full stretch of his powers. His name was a synonym for truth and honour, and all around are the beginnings he had made. Nothing was finished. Yes, all is finished, and he lies here.
5. And now we come to the grave of the old, old pilgrim. The shock of corn seemed more than ripe. He was blind, deaf, in pain, helpless. Would it not have been better that he had gone some years sooner? No, no. It was the right time. He needed all his days and all his experiences to finish the temple.
IV. THE FIRE SHALL TRY EVERY MAN'S WORK OF WHAT SORT IT IS. Our day is now. "The day of the Lord" is coming. Then our day will begin once more beyond, Go have no more ending. But there must be judgment before glory. The apostle brings out this idea with truthful and unsparing severity. Again, and again, and again he mentions "the fire"! and how shall I dare try, with my misleading instincts, to quench God's holy fires? They will burn all the same, and be the more consuming the less men expect them.
1. God resolves to take us through that last ordeal, sparing nothing that will burn, and bringing us out, if need be, with nothing left to us of all our sore labour under the sun, that we ourselves may be saved — saved so as by fire. And which is best? Our poor human shrinking and longing, or God's holy will? For would you have "the wood, the hay, the stubble," yonder as well as here — calcined and hardened and preserved by those fires which were too feeble to consume them? Better stand at last in his full and complete salvation, than in any respect or for any length of time come short of it. Day of God! Day of Christ Jesus our Lord, with awful yet with loving desire we would look on to thee! The Lord grant to us that we (whatever may come of many of our works), that we may find mercy of the Lord on that day.
2. But let us, on the other hand, remember that nothing in us, which is truly Christian, can fall in those flames at last. And a little of these things is just as indestructible as much. Good is gold always, and will pass through any fires. If it is mingled with alloy the fire will be its salvation. And you do not know how the little services you are rendering will expand into nobleness, when the spirit and principle of them are known and declared. Not one precious stone which you put into your life will ever crumble, not one particle of gold or silver can perish. He whom you serve will gather up all the fragments so that nothing shall be lost.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.