1 Corinthians 1Observe here, 1. The apostle's asserting his commission for the work of the ministry to be from God: he was called to be an apostle by the will of God; he did not thrust himself into that high and honourable employment, but was chosen, called and sent by God. Such as exercise the sacred function without a regular call and commission, may expect a blast instead of a blessing.
Observe, 2. The double object of St. Paul's salutation in this epistle: he first salutes the church of Corinth in particular, and then all the churches of Christ in general: To all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Where note, That they were not real saints, no, nor all visible saints, (but called to be both,) whom he calls the church. Many secretly vile and scandalously profane persons were found amongst them; yet the apostle salutes them as the church of God; To the church of God at Corinth.
Learn hence, That there may be a mixture of profane and scandalous persons with real saints in the church of God here on earth; there may be, I say. I mean, de facto, there have been, and there will be; not de jure, that there ought to be such a mixture; yet if so, this doth not unchurch the assembly in which they are; they are the disease of the church, but not its death; such corruptions and blemishes cannot consist with the well-being, but may consist with the being, of particular churches.
Observe, 3. The salutation itself, Grace and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where note, 1. A double blessing desired, Grace and peace; grace is of all blessings the richest, and peace is of all comforts the sweetest.
Note, 2. A double spring discovered from whence this double blessing flows, God and Christ: God, as the original source and fountain of all good in himself; and Christ, as the donor and dispenser of all good to us:
Note, 3. The order of the words, first grace, then peace: there can be no peace without grace, and no grace but there will be peace; there can be no peace but from God, no peace from God but as a Father; no peace from God as a Father, but as our Father; and he cannot comfortably be said to be our Father, but through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Learn hence, That all that grace and peace which believers share in, and are made partakers of, is derived from God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As if the apostle had said, "I am very thankful to God for his grace and favour bestowed upon you through Jesus Christ, in and by the preaching of the gospel, and particularly for the gift of tongues, and other miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit vouchsafed to you, whereby the divinity of the gospel (called here the testimony of Christ, because it testifies of Christ) was attested and confirmed.
He farther tells them, he was firmly persuaded that God would confirm them unto the end, causing them to persevere unblameable in holiness, till the coming of Christ to deliver his faithful servants, and remarkably to destroy his crucifiers; because of the faithfulness of God, who having called them to the fellowship of his Son, and to partake of his invaluable benefits, will never leave them, but accomplish the whole pleasure of his will in them."
Observe here, 1. That the apostle in the third verse prayed affectionately for the grace of God to be bestowed upon the Corinthians; in his fourth verse he thanks God abundantly for the grace they had already received: and no man has such supplies of grace, but he stands in need of farther influences; and there is no such way to attain more grace, as to be thankful for what we have already received.
Observe, 2. To whom the apostle returns his thanks for all that grace the Corinthians had received; even to the God of all grace: I thank my God for the grace which is given you. All grace depends upon God, as to its being and production, as to its exercise and operation, as to its growth and augmentation, as to its evidence and manifestation, as to its perseverance and preservation; he is both the author and finisher of our faith. Both seed, increment, and perfection, the beginnings, increasings, and finishings of grace, are all from God the Father, but by and through our Lord Jesus Christ, who by his blood purchased grace for us, and by his spirit produceth it in us.
Observe, 3. That believers, in the first ages of the Christian church, received not only sanctifying graces, but the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the gift of tongues and miracles.
Observe, 4. That they obtained these gifts by Jesus Christ, and through faith in him.
Observe 5. That by these gifts the testimony of Christ was confirmed, that is, the doctrine of the gospel, testifying that Jesus was the true Messias, by his being raised from the dead.
Observe, 6. That by these gifts, and by this earnest of the Spirit, they had encouragement to expect and wait for the approach and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, ver. 7. Ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These words are a pathetical exhortation to a most important duty.
In which observe, 1. The duty itself directed and exhorted to; and that is, unity and unanimity amongst Christians: this is three-fold, the unity of the head, of the heart, and of the tongue: the unity of the head, and that is an unity in judgment and opinion; the unity of the heart, is an unity in love and affection; and the unity of the tongue, in an unity in language and expression, when we speak all the same things, and with one mouth, as well as with one mind, glorify God.
Observe, 2. The powerful arguments here enforcing this duty: the first is an apostolical observation, I beseech you; he that had authority to command, has the meekness to entreat, and in a supplicatory way to beseech.
The second is, the nearness of the relation, I beseech you brethren; an endearing expression, and full of affection: they were brethren by place and nation, and brethren by faith and profession, owning the same God, professing the same religion, animated by the same Spirit, encouraged by the same promises, partakers of the same hope, and heirs of the same glory.
The third argument is, the name he beseeches in, and that is Christ's: I beseech you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, "I adjure you for his sake, and his authority, by all that he had done, suffered, and purchased for you. If you have any reverence for his authority as a sovereign, if you have any regard for his undertaking as a Saviour, look that there by no divisions amongst you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment."
Observe, 3. That so exceedingly was the apostle's heart set upon this duty, that in both his epistles to the Corinthians he presses them very earnestly to the love and practice of it; here, in his first epistle and first chapter; and in his second epistle and last chapter: Be of one mind, live in peace, &c.
From whence note, That the apostle makes this exhortation to unity among Christians the alpha of his first epistle, and the omega of his last; 'tis the first duty which he commends to their consideration in the former epistle, and the last which he recommends to their care and practice in the latter epistle; intimating thereby unto us, that this unity in judgment and affection is the first and last thing to be respected among Christians, as being both the beginning and perfection of Christianity.
Observe here, 1. The apostle declares a reason why in the foregoing verse he pressed his exhortation to love and unity with so much fervour and vehemency! namely, because he had received information that there were contentions and sidings, divisions and parties, amongst them, to the great scandal of Christianity, which was so newly planted amongst them.
Whence learn, That divisions and factions do quickly creep into the best and purest churches. This church at Corinth was a garden newly planted by St. Paul; yet, notwithstanding all his care and personal inspection, these ill weeds of division and dissension grew apace; it was not while men slept that these tares were sown, but while the officers of the church were both awake and watchful.
Observe, 2. What was the cause of these divisions and dissensions that were found among them: it was having mens persons in admiration, factiously crying up one minister above another, naming themselves the followers of this and that man, setting up teachers one against another, and even Christ against his ministers.
Learn hence, That although it is the people's duty to have a great and high esteem of the ministers of Christ, yet must not their respect degenerate into a sinful admiration of their persons; for the factious affection of one minister above another, is both sinful and dangerous; it occasions enmity and dissension among ministers themselves, and their people also, when the gifts and abilities of one are cried up in contempt of others.
Observe, 3. That these Corinthians did not only sinfully admire the persons of their teachers, but also set up their teachers as heads of several parties, sinfully resting upon them, and glorying in them.
Learn hence, That it is not barely unlawful, but very dangerous and exceeding sinful, for persons to call themselves by the name of any men, though never so eminent, so as to build or pin their faith upon them: we are not believers in Paul or Peter, but in Christ; there is but one head of the church, and that is Christ, and he is not divided: his disciples we are in whose name we are baptized, and that is not in the name of any man, but in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; to build therefore our faith upon any man, is to make him our Saviour, and to put him in Christ's room and place.
Observe here, 1. That though baptizing were God's ordinance, and St. Paul, as Christ's minister, had commission and sufficient authority to baptize, yet the providence of God so ordered, that he baptized very few, lest any should say he baptized in his own name.
Observe, 2. That among those few he baptized, here is a whole household mentioned, The household of Stephanas.
Where learn, That as Abraham, and others under the Old Testament, were to bring their households into covenant with God by circumcision, so did those that had households under the New Testament endeavour to bring their whole families into God's covenant by baptism. The gaoler and his house, Lydia and her house, Stephanas and his household, are all baptized.
Observe, 3. The comparison here made betwixt baptizing and preaching, and the preference given to the one before the other: Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach; that is, rather to preach than to baptize: this was his great business, his principal work; though baptizing was within his commission, yet it was not that, but preaching the gospel to convert souls to Christ, that he was called after such a wonderful manner, and endued with such extraordinary gifts for the performance of. It is neither wise, nor safe, to cry up one ordinance of God above another, but to have them all in estimation, and none more than the preaching of the gospel, which is one principal part of our commission.
Observe, 4. The manner after which Christ sent St. Paul to preach the gospel: Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect; that is, not attracting and drawing men to the faith by the power of human eloquence, lest the doctrine of Christ should be rendered suspected by such a pompous way of preaching.
Plain truths, without art and varnish, may be conveyed with more warmth and vigour to the conscience, than all the charms of human eloquence from the most fluent and popular tongue. The way and manner of St. Paul's preaching was grave and serious, pious and ardent, plain and profitable. With what brevity, without darkness; with what gravity, without affectation; with what eloquence, without meretricious ornament, were St. Paul's discourses! solidly instructing men in the great and necessary duties of the gospel, and furnishing them with arguments and motives to a good life, and this in such a plain and familiar manner, that the success and prevalency of his preaching appeared to be of God, and not of man.
Observe here, 1. The character and description given of the preaching of the gospel: it is called the preaching of the cross, that is, of a crucified Saviour; it represents him who died upon the cross as the proper object of our faith and hope, of our affiance and trust.
Observe, 2. The low and mean esteem which the philosphers and wise men among the heathens had of the doctrine of the cross, and of the preaching of the gospel; they esteemed it foolishness: The preaching of the cross is, to them that perish, foolishness.
So esteemed, 1. In regard of the subject of it; it is the doctrine of the cross, that is, of a crucified and despised Saviour; it accquaints us, that the eternal God, in the fulness of time, became a mortal man; that life became subject to death, and blessing subject to a curse; all which are such appearing contradictions, that natural reason is very prone to scorn and deride them.
2. The wisdom of the world, or the wise men among the Gentiles, did esteem the preaching of the gospel foolishness, in regard of the manner of it; because the gospel doth nakedly and barely propound some doctrines of faith, and positively requires our assent to them from the evidence if the things themselves, and from the authority of the principal speaker, God himself.
The mysteries of the Christian religion, though not contrary to reason, yet are above our comprehension; notwithstanding which, they do not only require our assent, but also challenge the obedience and adoration of our faith.
Now the wisdom of the world is not satisfied with God's autos efey, with God's authority in asserting; but requires that every doctrine of faith, and every mystery of the gospel, be made so plain and obvious, so clear and perspicuous, that their shallow reason may be able fully to comprehend it; for these reasons is the preaching of the cross, to them that perish, foolishness.
Observe, 3. What efficacy and virtue the gospel is of unto believers: Unto us which are saved, says the apostle, it is the power of God; that is, a powerful instrument in God's hand for men's conversion and salvation; the word preached is the organ or instrument through which the vital power of the Spirit is conveyed unto the souls of sinners, how much soever it is contemned and despised in the world.
Observe, 4. How the apostle upbraids the pride and folly of the learned philosophers and reputed wise men among the heathens, who, though they excelled in natural wisdom, yet despised evangelical truth, making reason their supreme rule, and philosophy their highest principle: "Where," says the apostle, is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? That is, where is the wisdom now of the wisest philosopher among the Gentiles? where is the wisdom of the scribe, or the interpreter of the law among the Jews? where is the disputer of this world, or the curious searcher into the depths and secrets of nature? Let them show so many brought, by all their wisdom, learning, and eloquence, to the knowledge of God, and to the practice of their duty, as the preaching of a crucified Christ hath done; yea, all their natural wisdom is mere folly, in comparison of the glorious effects which the preaching of the gospel has produced.
Observe here, 1. That the frame of this world, or the work of creation, is here called the wisdom of God; the name of the cause is given to the effect, because divine wisdom shines so clearly forth in the work of creation; the beautiful frame of heaven and earth doth discover the several excellences and perfections which are in God, and amongst the rest his admirable and unerring wisdom.
Observe, 2. What is here affirmed concerning the most wise and learned men among the heathens, namely, that with all their wisdom they knew not God: that is, they did not own and acknowledge him, serve and glorify him, as they should and ought to have done. The world by wisdom knew not God, that is, they knew him confusedly, but not distinctly: they knew in general, that a God there was, but knew not particularly who the true God was; they knew him notionally, but not practically; their knowledge had no influence upon their hearts or lives; they knew him as essentially considered in himself, but knew him not relatively, as considered in Christ; they knew not Immanuel, God with us, and becoming a Mediator for us, him they did not know.
Learn hence, That the greatest wits of the world, having no more but the common light of nature, and the advantage of human accomplishments, are oft-times exceedingly ignorant as to the spiritual and saving knowledge of God and Christ; human wisdom and divine knowledge, as they are distinct in their nature, so they are separable in their subject: let those that have both, bless God with eternal thanksgivings.
Observe, 3. God's gracious supply of that defect which the world laboured under: when by all their wisdom, collected from the book of the creature, they could not arrive at the right knowledge of the true God, then it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Where note, 1. The persons described whom the wisdom of God thinks fit to save: them that believe; them exclusively, and none but them.
Note, 2. The great instrumental means which the wisdom of God ordained in order to the believer's salvation, namely, the preaching of the gospel; it pleased God by preaching to save them that believe.
Note, 3. The mean and low opinion, the vile and base esteem, which the world have of this venerable ordinance of God, the preaching of the gospel; they think fit to style it foolishness, the foolishness of preaching.
Note, 4. The moving, impelling, and impulsive cause of this gracious dispensation, to wit, the preaching of the gospel in order to men's salvation; and that is, the goodwill and pleasure of a gracious God: It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Observe here, 1. How both Jews and Gentiles conspired together in their contempt and rejection of the gospel; the Jews require a sign; that is, besides all the miracles and the resurrection of Christ, the Jews require some sign from heaven to prove that Christ was sent from God: so unreasonable and obstinate was their infidelity, that all the miracles of our Saviour's life, death, and resurrection, could not remove it. And the Greeks seek after wisdom, that is, they look for profound wisdom, eminent learning and deep philosophy, in the gospel; and scorn it, because they find not there what they expected: The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.
Observe, 2. The apostle's peremptory resolution to preach Christ crucified, though he were to the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness.
But how was Christ a stumbling-block to the Jews?
Answer, In regard of his poverty and sufferings, the meanness and misery of his condition in the world. They expected that their Messias should be a victorious prince, one that should rescue them from their enemies; instead of which they find this Jesus to be overcome by his enemies; that he had no power to defend himself, much less to deliver them; that was deserted by God, whom he called his father, forsaken by his followers, whom he styled disciples, scourged with rods, crowned with thorns, ignominiously treated, shamefully crucified; this was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and continues so to be.
But how was Christ to the Greeks foolishness?
Answer, The Gentiles despised the gospel of Christ, as an absurd, ridiculous, and ill-contrived fable; for what appearance could be more unbecoming God, and injurious to his perfections, than to take the frail garment of flesh, to be torn and trampled upon? They concluded the incarnation impossible, that a being infinitely perfect should unite with a nature so inferior to itself; and rejected the doctrine of our Saviour's death, as an impiety contumelious to God: they could not reconcile servitude with sovereignty, punishment with innocence, the lowest of human miseries with the highest of divine honours; and accordingly they esteemed it foolishness to expect eternal life from him that was put to death, and that he should bring them to the highest glory, who suffered himself in the lowest weakness. Thus was the preaching of Christ crucified to the generality of the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness.
But observe, 3. It was not thus unto all; there was a number of both converted and saved by the doctrine of the cross, unto whom Christ was the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Here note, 1. That Christ was the power of God: Isaiah styles him the mighty God, Isa 9:6.
Works of mighty power were performed by him; as the work of creation, By him were all things created in heaven and in earth. Col 1:16.
The work of providence, He upholdeth all things by the word of his power. Heb 1:3.
The work of redemption, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Gal 3:13.
The curse and wrath of God was a burden that would have broke the back of angels; none could stand under it but Christ, and not he neither as mere man, but as supported by the infinite power of his Godhead.
2. Christ is the wisdom of God: his divine nature had a fullness of infinite and uncreated wisdom found with it; also his human nature had a fullness of infused and created wisdom found in it; and the redemption of man by Jesus Christ was a design of admirable wisdom.
3. He that turns his back upon Christ, rejects the wisdom of God, and renders his ruin both dreadful and certain; they must perish eternally by the hand of strict justice, who will not be saved according to the methods of divine wisdom, which are to save us from hell by saving us from our sins.
Observe, 4. The reason assigned, why the preaching of Christ crucified became the power of God unto salvation: because the weakness of God is stronger than men; that is, the ordinances and institutions of God, though they seem weak and foolish in the eye of the world, yet are more efficacious and powerful than all the wisdom of worldly men.
Learn hence, that the ordinances and institutions of God, and particularly the preaching of the gospel, though despised by the men of the world, yet by the power of God have glorious operations, and produce wonderful effects. The weakness of God is stronger than men, that is, the weakest instruments which God uses, are stronger in their effects than the strongest which men can use: and the foolishness of God is wiser than men; not that there is either foolishness or weakness in God, but that which men account foolishness and weakness, and deride as such, doth yet overcome all their admired wisdom and strength: and if the wisdom of man cannot match the foolishness and weakness, much less before the wisdom and power, of God: The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Observe here, 1. The singular favour which our apostle calls upon the Corinthians to eye and view, namely, their effectual vocation and calling out of heathenism to the profession of Christianity: You see your calling brethren. Such as are exalted by God in any kind, ought to call to mind their former meanness; but those that are persuasively called by God out of a state of nature, ought frequently to observe and consider the worth and weight of that mercy, and the freeness of that divine favour: Brethren, see, and take notice of your calling.
Observe, 2. That God has in all ages called some of all ranks and degrees of men, of the wise and great, the rich and noble, to the knowledge of himself and his Son. Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; he doth not say, not any, but not many, lest the world should think that Christians were deceived through their simplicity and weakness; one rich Joseph of Arimathea, one honourable Nicodemus, one Crispus, a ruler of the synagogue, but not many men of might and power.
Men of strong reason and sharpness of wit, are too proud and stout to stoop to the simplicity of the gospel, and the humbling, self-denying terms of it; yet some of the wise and mighty are called, lest any thing in man should seem too hard for the grace of God; but not many, lest worth and worthiness in us should be thought the motive that rules God.
Men of greatest fame and renown in the world, have been the fiercest enemies against Christ and Christianity. Galen, the chief physician, Porphyry, a chief philosopher, Lucian, a chief orator, with many others, were all professed enemies of the Christian religion.
Wherefore observe, 3. That although God called some of the wise, rich, and noble, amongst the Jews and Gentiles, to espouse Christianity, yet the far greater number of those which hear his voice, and obey his call, are poor and mean, and in the world's esteem weak and foolish, base and despicable: God hath chosen foolish things to confound the wise, and weak things to confound the mighty.
This was verified in the choice which God made of the apostles, who first planted Christianity in the world, and though illiterate fishermen, confuted and confounded the wisest among philosophers; and also in the choice God made of the primitive Christians, who first entertained the gospel, who were a poor, despised company, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom? Jas 2:5
This choice Christ thanks his Father for, Matt 11:25 and the wisdom of God therein deserves our highest admiration; because thereby,
1. God plainly showed that Christianity needed do worldly props to support it. As it was first planted and propagated by weak and contemptible means and instruments, so it is still upheld and supported without human policy or riches: God can outwit wise men by fools, and overpower mighty men by those that are weak; witness the apostles and primitive Christians.
2. God by this choice of the weak and foolish, of the base and despised, does pour contempt upon those things which are most admired among men, namely, the internal endowments of the mind, strong reason, and sharpness of wit; and the external gifts of providence, nobility of birth, riches, and honours.
Lord! what shame and confusion of face will cover the noble and honourable, the great and mighty, the rich and wealthy, in the coming world, when they shall see those poor Christians, whom they despised for their poverty, scorned for their meanness of parts, as unworthy to come into their presence, highly exalted in the favour of God, and proclaimed the heirs of his kingdom!
For as here God has more rent, and better paid him (as the great Landlord of the world) from many smoky cottages, than from divers great palaces, where persons wallow in plenty, and forget God; so will God own his faithful, though despised servants, at the great day, and make it evident to angels and men, that he accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor; but every one that here feared him, and wrought righteousness, shall be accepted of him, and rewarded by him.
Our apostle had in the foregoing verses acquainted the Corinthins how low and despicable their outward condition was in this world; he tells them the world looked upon them as weak and foolish, and, as such, despised and disdained them, but as a superabundant recompence for the despicable meanness of their outward condition, he tells them what they are in Christ Jesus, how rich they are as Christians; that Christ is made unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Observe here 1. An enumeration of the believing Christian's privileges, received by virtue of his interest in Christ, and union with him; and they are wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; to relieve us against our ignorance and blindness, he is our wisdom, the fountain of divine illumination, enabling us to see both our sin and danger; to discharge us from the burden of our guilt and obnoxiousness to divine wrath, he is our righteousness, the author of justification, procuring for us remission of sin, and acceptance with God; to free us from the pollution and power of sin, he is our sanctification; purging us by his Spirit, as well as pardoning by his blood, coming both by water and blood into our souls: and to set us at liberty from captivity and thraldom to sin and Satan, and the law, he is made our redemption, that is, the blessed author of a beloved redemption, not from Egyptian bondage or Babylonish captivity, but from the dominion of sin and servitude to Satan, from the wrath of God, from the curse of the law, from the danger and dread of death.
Learn hence, That God hath stored up in Christ all that we want, a suitable and full supply for every need, and made it communicable to us: he is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and redemption, our all in all, our all in the want of all.
Observe, 2. The method, way, and manner, by and after which believers come to be invested with, and made partakers of, these glorious privileges: Christ of God is made unto us; this denotes,
(1.) That Christ with all his benefits becomes ours by a special and effectual application: he is made unto us.
(2.) That this application of Christ is the work of God, and not of man; of God he is made unto us.
Learn hence, That the Lord Jesus Christ, with all the precious fruits and invaluable benefits of his death, became ours by God's special and effectual application.
Observe, 3. The reason here assigned why the whole economy of grace is put into the hand of Christ, why all is communicated by him, and derived from him, namely, that all the saints' glorying may be in him, and not in themselves: That no flesh should glory in his presence, but as it is written, Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord, ver. 29, 31.
Infinite wisdom and sovereign pleasure has centered all grace in Christ; it hath pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and the fullness that is in him is a ministerial fullness, it dwells in him on purpose to dispense to us, according as our exigencies do require, and our faith deserve; for of him are we in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
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