“For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV
I. Its Character.
A. Simple in its facts.
B. Humiliating in its doctrines.
C. Startling in its announcements.
II. The Result.
A. Foolishness to them that perish.
B. The power of God unto them that are saved.
THE WORD OF THE CROSS
In 1 Corinthians 1:17 the apostle Paul had renounced the “wisdom of words.” It is clear, therefore, that there is an eloquence which would deprive the Gospel of its due effect. This “wisdom of words“–
1. Veils the truth which ought to be set forth in the clearest possible manner.
2. Explains the Gospel away. It is possible to refine a doctrine till the very soul of it is gone. Under pretence of winning the cultured intellects of the age, it has gradually landed us in a denial of those first principles for which the martyrs died.
3. Is frequently used with the intent of making the Gospel appear more beautiful. They would paint the rose and enamel the lily, add whiteness to the snow and brightness to the sun. With their wretched candles, they would help us to see the stars.
To adorn the Cross is to dishonor it. One of the old masters found that certain vases which he had depicted upon the sacramental table attracted more notice than the Lord Himself, and therefore he struck them out at once: let us do the same whenever anything of ours withdraws the mind from the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Is employed to augment the power of the gospel. Paul says it makes it of no effect (see 1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Having cleared our way of the wisdom of words, we now come to the word of wisdom.
A. The Word of The Cross.
This is exactly what the Gospel is. From which I gather that the Cross–
1. Has one uniform teaching. There are not two Gospels any more than there are two Gods: there are not two Atonements any more than there are two Saviors (1 Corinthians 3:11; Galatians 1:8-9).
2. Is one word in contradistinction from many other words which are constantly being uttered. Christ’s voice from the Cross is, “Look unto Me and be ye saved”; but another voice cries aloud, “This do and thou shalt live.”
The doctrine of salvation by works, or feelings, is not the Word of the Cross. Much less is the word of ceremonialism and priest craft.
3. Should be allowed to speak for itself. It cries, let us hear this Word of the Cross, for in effect our text says, “Let the Cross speak for itself.”
B. The Word of Its Despisers.
1. They call the doctrine of the atonement “foolishness.”
2. These gentlemen–
C. The Word of Those Who Believe.
What do they say of the Cross? They call it power, the Power of God.
1. The phenomenon of conversion is a fact. Men and women are totally changed, and the whole manner of their life is altered. The word of the Cross has delivered us from–
2. The power with which God created and sustains the world is no greater than the power with which He made us new men in Christ, and by which He sustains His people under trial; and even the raising of the dead will be no greater display of it than the raising of dead souls out of their spiritual graves.
Conclusion: Believe in the Power of the Cross for the conversion of those around you. Do not say of any man that he cannot be saved. The blood of Jesus is omnipotent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
TWO CLASSES OF GOSPEL HEARERS
I. The one is perishing, the other is being saved. The perishing and the saving are gradual.
A. There is a class gradually losing sensibility–contracting fresh guilt. They are not damned at once.
B. There is a class gradually being saved. Salvation in its fullest extent is not an instantaneous thing, as some suppose.
II. To the one class the gospel is foolishness, to the other the power of God.
A. It is foolishness to them that are perishing, because it has no meaning, no reality.
B. It is a Divine Power to them that are being saved. Enlightening, renovating, purifying, ennobling. The Power of God stands in contrast with mere human philosophy and eloquence. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
THE DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL AND ITS EFFECTS
I. Its Theme–The Cross.
II. Its Dispensation–The Excellency of Preaching.
III. Its Reception–
A. To them that believe not, both the subject and the means are foolishness, because they harbor human pride, discountenance merit, embrace the wisdom of this world.
B. To them that believe it is the Power of God in the conscience, the heart, the life.
IV. The Issue–Those That Perish–Those That Are Saved.
THE GOSPEL THE POWER OF GOD
I. By The “Preaching of The Cross.”
By the Excellency of Preaching the Cross, we understand the preaching of the Gospel. There are two circumstances which may have led to the use of this name.
A. The apostle Paul did not so preach the Gospel as to conceal the Cross.
This has sometimes been done. The Roman Catholic missionaries that went out to the East held back the fact that the great Savior had died in ignominy upon the Cross. They told their hearers only of those facts concerning Him which had a glorious appearance, such as Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
And the first disciples may have sympathized in such a feeling. The Cross tended to attach dishonor to Christ and to His Gospel. But the apostles did not do so; they told the whole story.
B. The crucifixion supplied, and was the whole origin of, the great topics which their preaching of the gospel contained. It would have been nothing for the apostle Paul to have preached the resurrection, if he had not preached Christ’s death.
These facts have no evangelical glory or meaning if you separate them from the Cross. Take away the Cross, and you take away the very Life and Soul of the Gospel itself.
II. This Gospel Is Perverted.
A. By those who say that it derives its power not so much from the Death of Christ, but mainly from His Life.
Now, I do not mean here to depreciate the Life of Christ, which was superlatively grand and striking in all respects.
But the presenting to the world of a life of virtue will not in any degree be influential in its regeneration, and as for presenting an aspect of the benignity of God this is infinitely exceeded in the Death of Christ.
What the apostle Paul preached was not Christ’s Life, but Christ’s Death.
B. By those who say that the Death of Christ has an influence, but that it is not an Atonement. What is it then? It is a “way of speaking”! To this I would say–
III. The Gospel Is A Power.
In that it presents a set of topics and considerations intended to work upon men’s hearts and consciences. If the Atoning Death of Christ be a fact–
A. What a fact must sin itself be! He is God making a vast provision by the humiliating death of His own Son for the expiation of the sin of the world. What a proof it is of the lost state of man!
B. What a fact is God’s justice! The sinner says, “Well, I have sinned, but God is merciful.” Well, now, come again with me to the Cross. See a dying Saviour; there is God’s vengeance against man’s representative.
C. How great the Love of God to a rebellious world. See to what an expense He has gone to save us.
D. What a fact is the Foundation of a sinner’s hope. None need despair; whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved.
E. What a fact is a believer’s obligation to devotedness and love. If we have been bought at such a price, we are no more our own, but our Purchaser’s.
F. What a fact is the guarantee of a believer’s faith! “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 KJV).
I. How wonderful it is that God should be pleased thus to deal with men!
II. What a thought it is for ungodly men that there is a Divine Power in the Gospel, and that in it God puts forth all His powers of persuasion.
III. And it is for us to remember that the Gospel is a Power for all the exigencies of the Christian life. (J. H. Hinton, M. A.)
Salvation and Destruction: A Continuous Processes
A slight variation of rendering, which will be found in the Revised Version, brings out the true meaning of these words. Instead of reading “them that perish” and “us which are saved,” we ought to read “them that are perishing,” and “us which are being saved.” (See Philippians 1:6; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:9).
That is to say, the apostle Paul represents the two contrasted conditions, not so much as fixed states, either present or future, but rather as processes which are going on, and are manifestly, in the present, incomplete. That opens some very solemn and practical considerations. Then I may further note that this antithesis includes the whole of the persons to whom the gospel is preached.
In one or other of these two classes they all stand. Further, we have to observe that the consideration which determines the class to which men belong is the attitude which they respectively take to the preaching of the Cross.
First, let us look at the two contrasted conditions, “perishing” and “being saved.” We shall best understand the force of the darker of these two terms if we first ask what is the force of the brighter and more radiant. If we understand what the apostle Paul means by “saving” and “salvation,” we shall understand, also, what he means by “perishing.”
If, then, we turn for a moment to Scripture analogy and teaching, we find that well-worn word “salvation” starts from a double metaphorical meaning.
It is used for both being healed or being made safe.
In the one sense it is often employed in the Gospel narratives of our Lord’s miracles. It involves the metaphor of a sick man and his cure; in the other it involves the metaphor of a man in peril and his deliverance and security.
The sickness of soul and the perils that threaten life flow from the central fact of sin.
And salvation consists, negatively, in the sweeping away of all these, whether the sin itself, or the fatal facility with which we yield to it, or the desolation and perversion which it brings into all the faculties and susceptibilities or the perversion of relation to God, and the consequent evils, here and hereafter, which throng around the evil-doer. The sick man is healed, and the man in peril is set in safety.
But, besides that, there is a great deal more. The cure is incomplete till the full tide of health follows convalescence. When God saves He does not only bar up the iron gate through which the hosts of evil rush out upon the defenseless soul, but He flings wide the golden gate through which the glad troops of blessings and of graces flock around the delivered spirit, and enrich it with all joys and with all beauties.
So, the positive side of salvation is the investiture of the saved man with throbbing health through all his veins, and the strength that comes from a Divine life. It is the bestowal upon the delivered man of everything that he needs for blessedness and for duty. This, then, being the one side, what about the other? If salvation be the cure of the sickness, perishing is the fatal end of the unchecked disease. If salvation be the deliverance from the outstretched claws of the harpy evils that crowd about the trembling soul, then perishing is the fixing of their poisoned talons into their prey, and their rending of it into fragments.
Secondly, the progressiveness of both members of the alternative. All states of heart or mind tend to increase, by the very fact of continuance. Look, then, at this thought of the process by which these two conditions become more and more confirmed and complete.
Salvation isa Progressive Thing.
In the New Testament we have that great idea looked at from three points of view. Sometimes it is spoken of as having been accomplished in the past in the case of every believing soul–“Ye have been saved” is said more than once. Sometimes it is spoken of as being accomplished in the present–“Ye are saved” is said more than once. And sometimes it is relegated to the future–“Now is your salvation nearer than when ye believed,” and the like.
But there are a number of New Testament passages which coincide with this text in regarding salvation as, not the work of any one moment, but as a continuous operation running through life. As, for instance, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47 KJV).
By one offering He hath perfected forever those that are being sanctified. So, the process of being saved is going on as long as a Christian man lives in this world. That notion of a progressive salvation, at work in all true Christians, has all but faded away out of the beliefs, as it has all but disappeared from the experience, of hosts of us that call ourselves Christ’s followers, and are not a bit further on than we were ten years ago; are no more healed of our corruptions (perhaps less, for relapses are dangerous) than we were then.
Growing Christians are not the majority of professing Christians. And, on the other side, as certainly, there is progressive deterioration and approximation to disintegration and ruin. I am sure that there are people in this place who were far better, and far happier, when they were poor and young, and could still thrill with generous emotion and tremble at the Word of God, than they are today.
The apostle Paul treats these two classes as covering the whole ground of the hearers of the Word, and as alternatives. If not in the one class, we are in the other. If we are not more saved, we are less saved. Further, what a light such considerations as these, that salvation and perishing are vital processes--“going on all the time”–throw upon the future. Clearly the two processes are incomplete here. We get the direction of the line, but not its natural termination.
And thus a heaven and a hell are demanded by the phenomena of growing goodness and of growing badness which we see round about us.
Lastly, notice the determining attitude to the Cross which settles the class to which we belong. There are two thoughts suggested which sound as if they were illogically combined, and yet both are true. It is true that men perish, or are saved, because the Cross is to them respectively “foolishness,” or “the Power of God.” And the other thing is true, that the Cross is to them “foolishness,” or “the Power of God,” because respectively they are perishing or being saved. That is not putting the cart before the horse, but both aspects of the truth are true.
If we see nothing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Death for us all, except “foolishness,” something unfit to do us any good, and unnecessary to be taken into account in our lives, that is the condemnation of our eyes, and not of the thing we look at.
If a man, gazing on the sun at twelve o’clock on a summer day, says to me, “It is not bright,” the only thing I have to say to him is, “Friend, you had better go to an oculist.” And if to us the Cross is “foolishness,” it is because already a process of “perishing” has gone so far that it has attacked our capacity of recognizing the Wisdom and Love of God when we see it.
But, on the other hand, if we clasp that Cross in simple trust, we find that it is the Power which saves us out of all sins, sorrows, and dangers, and “shall save us,” at last, “into His heavenly kingdom.” That message leaves no man exactly as it found him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Gospel Not a Wisdom
This the apostle Paul demonstrates–
1. By the irrational character of the central fact of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
2. By the mode of gaining members to, and the composition of the Church (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
3. By the attitude taken in the midst of them by the preacher of the gospel. (Prof. Godet, D. D.)
The Triumph of The Gospel Over the Wisdom of This World
A. The Means–The Simple Preaching of The Cross–which–
1. Is foolishness to the wise.
2. Yet triumphs over human wisdom.
3. Effects what the wisdom of this world has failed to do.
4. And in spite of the opposition of the Jew and the philosophy of the Greek demonstrates Christ the Wisdom and the Power of God.
B. The Agents–“not many wise, not many noble are called.”
1. God has chosen the most unlikely instrumentalities.
2. And made them successful through Christ.
3. That no flesh might glory in His presence. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The Excellency of the preaching of the gospel is demonstrated–
In them that perish–they deem it foolish–yet it confounds their wisdom–succeeds where it has failed.
In them that are saved–because it conquers their opposition–and becomes in them the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.