After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;…
1. Not seeing sufficient encouragement to attempt to found a Church in Athens, Paul turned his steps to Corinth. Here the Greek mind was to be encountered under a new phase; not, as in Athens, devoted to science, to eloquence, but to gaiety and luxury. Approaching Corinth, the most conspicuous object was not, as in Athens, the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, but the temple of Venus. Our subject for the present is, accordingly, Christianity in contact with gaiety, luxury, and refined sensuality.
2. Corinth, unlike Athens, was a commercial city, the mart of Asia and of Europe, bringing thither a multitude of strangers, leading to the habits of luxury consequent on wealth. We must add also that on the very isthmus on which the city was built were celebrated the Isthmian Games, which drew together vast numbers of people from other parts of Greece, and from foreign lands. No city has been or is more profligate. In the art of refining upon the pleasures of sense, Corinth was in the ancient world what Paris is in the modern — the seat of splendour, gaiety, sensuality.
3. What the feelings were with which the apostle approached such a city, he tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:3. It was to relieve his solicitude that the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision (vers. 9, 10). The purpose of the apostle was deliberately formed. What it was he tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:1, 2. Amidst the works of art and beauty, and even among the gay and pleasure-loving people, he would seek to introduce the Cross as an object which would become more attractive than all the splendours and all the vanities around them. To understand the apostle's purpose, and to elucidate our subject, it will be necessary to consider —
I. THE NEW TOPIC OF THOUGHT WHICH PAUL PROPOSED TO INTRODUCE INTO CORINTH — "Christ, and Him crucified." The apostle subsequently stated how the Cross is naturally regarded by that class of minds (1 Corinthians 1:18-23).
1. He who came to them to preach this doctrine was a Jew, unable to advance claims to a hearing from Greeks. His country had produced no philosophers like theirs.
2. He of whom Paul came to speak "Christ" — was a Jew also, of lowly origin, of no education, who had been associated mainly with fishermen, and had been rejected by His own countrymen.
3. The theme was one that was little likely to be attractive to those who lived in Corinth. The "Cross," little as it has now to make it attractive to the gay and the worldly, had then everything that could make the mention of it repulsive. Who will now venture to make an allusion to it in a ballroom, etc.? But at the time when Paul resolved to know nothing but "Christ crucified," the word had but one idea attached to it, and was regarded as more dishonourable than are now the words "guillotine" and "gallows." How could it be hoped by Paul that the gay citizens of Corinth could be made to overcome this revulsion of feeling, and to find an object of attraction in a cross?
4. The Cross was to be made known to them as a method of salvation; as a means of inducing the gay and the worldly to forsake their vanities and follies. It was this alone which it was Paul's object to proclaim. And it was on this alone that he relied for success (1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:17). It was easy to see how this would be likely to appear to dwellers in Greece. "We preach Christ crucified — unto the Greeks foolishness," weakness of intellect, imbecility of mind. To the apprehension of the Greek there could be no adaptedness in the idea of a "cross" to the work of salvation. He had his own ideas of what was necessary to save men. It was to be done by philosophy. But what element of power could there be connected with that instrument of cruelty and death, to make the corrupt pure, or elevate the degraded? A Greek philosopher would ask these questions, as philosophers do now.
II. THE ADAPTEDNESS OF THIS TOPIC TO ARREST THE MINDS OF THE GAY, THE REFINED, AND THE WORLDLY; to secure the conversion of those who live for pleasure, or who are sunk in gross sensuality.
1. The gospel claims this to be the only effectual mode (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24).
2. Yet there is not in the whole compass of the Christian theology any one point more difficult of explanation than this. It is probable that even Paul would have despaired of being able to state to their comprehension how this was to be done, or to show them what was the real power of the Cross. A gay and thoughtless world sees no such wisdom in that gospel now, and we cannot so explain it to them that they will perceive it.
3. However, notwithstanding this, there cannot be any real doubt of the fact. Nothing is better established than that the gospel is the only effectual means of leading the sinner to abandon his sins and to turn to God. For —
(1) Law, as such, cannot effect this. If a condemned and punished man is reformed, it is not by the sentence of the law, but by a side influence of mercy.
(2) The Greek philosophy saved and reformed none. When Paul was in Greece, all had been done which philosophy could accomplish, and the result was idolatry and profligacy.
(3) Science, literature, art, ethics, cannot restrain men from sin — else such a man as Chalmers would not have found them powerless. As a matter of fact, therefore, while all other things have failed, the gospel of Christ has proved the effectual means of the conversion and the salvation of sinners. This power was illustrated in the case of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
4. With all that is discouraging and apparently hopeless, in endeavouring to explain this so that it will be appreciated by an unrenewed heart, there are things which are in fact really explanatory of this power.
(1) The gift of a Saviour was the highest possible expression of love. Nothing could be better fitted to arrest the attention of mankind than this. It could be for no trifling object that the Son of God became incarnate and died on a cross. What is there which even God could do that would, when appreciated, be more likely to arrest the attention of mankind?
(2) The evil of sin is most clearly seen and deeply felt when it is viewed in connection with the Cross of Christ, and with the fact that His unspeakable sufferings were the proper expression and measure of its ill-desert. For —
(a) He suffered (as far as the nature of the case would allow) what sin deserves, and what the sinner would himself suffer if he were to endure in his own person the penalty of God's violated law.
(b) We feel the evil of a wrong course of life more deeply when it brings calamity on the innocent. An intemperate man will be more likely to be affected by the sufferings which he brings on his family than by the consequences which he brings on himself.
(3) The deepest sense of the danger of the sinner is produced by the contemplation of the Cross of Christ. If these sufferings came on the innocent Son of God as a substitute for the guilty, then the sinner, if his sin is not pardoned, must endure in his own person what will be a proper expression of the Divine sense of the evil of the transgression.
(A. Barnes, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;