1 Corinthians 1:19-21
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.…
We have here —
I. THE INFERENCE DRAWN FROM THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL UPON THOSE WHO HAD RECEIVED IT.
1. It had accomplished that which the wisdom of the world had failed to do (vers. 20, 21). The wise, the scribe, the disputer, include respectively the thinker, the writer, and the speaker. Thought and its two mediums of expression were the great agents in the world's education, and had succeeded in creating a literature which remains unparalleled. But what had they done towards the regeneration of mankind? Nothing. "Where is the wise?" &c. In the world of philosophy, of poetry, of art, I can see their work; but in the realm of the spiritual they have left the world as they found it. God turns the tables upon those boastful wise ones. They call His plan "foolishness," but its effectiveness proves the folly to be with them. And Christianity is not alone in its frustration of the predictions of the wise. When Fulton constructed a steamship to cross the Atlantic they cried, "There goes Fulton's Folly." Subsequent history has, however, proved them to be the fools, and Fulton the wise man. So when Christianity was starting on its grand voyage, laden with salvation to a sin-afflicted world, the wise called it "foolishness." But how strangely has history proved their own infatuated folly.
2. This glorious result the gospel achieved whilst disregarding men's preconceived notions and prejudices (vers. 22-24). The Jews and the Greeks had their own theories of what ought to be the character of any religious message that might be addressed to them. The Jew, from the standpoint of his expectation of an all-conquering political Messiah, heralded by supernatural marvels, looked for a sign. The Greek, from his standpoint of intellectual culture, sought for wisdom. Of these, however, the apostle took no cognisance, but interpreting correctly the spirit of Christianity, boldly preached "Christ crucified." There is something sublimely unique and grand in this attitude. Other religions seek to accommodate themselves to the thoughts and ways of those whom they seek to win.
II. But notwithstanding its bold defiance of cherished preferences, THE GOSPEL, BEING THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD, supplied in their highest form the very things which its rejectors desiderated.
1. It was the "power," i.e., the miracle "of God" corresponding with the "sign" which the Jews sought. The ordinary operations of nature, though the expressions of His power, yet are never called the "power of God." But the gospel is such a transcendent revelation of God's love, such an extraordinary interruption of the ordinary course of dealing with sin, that it may well be called a miracle; and its moral effects upon those who come within the scope of its influence are so wonderful, as to render it a moral miracle far beyond any physical miracle.
2. It is "the wisdom of God." Wisdom to the Greek meant learning and knowledge, but mostly only ingenuity in the use of dialectics. But that which is deserving of the name is "the use of the best means for attaining the best ends." And the Cross proposes the best end within the entire scope of Divine benevolence to conceive of deliverance from sin, and forms the best means for attaining it.
III. THE GOSPEL EXERTED SUCH POWER ON THE CONSCIENCES OF MEN BECAUSE IT WAS DIVINE. If it be foolishness, still it is the foolishness of God; and the foolishness of "God must be wiser than men. If it be weakness, still it is the weakness of God; and the weakness of God must be stronger than men. Thus is the success of the gospel assured by the simple fact of its relation to God.
IV. THE THOUGHTS FORMING THE BURDEN OF THE ARGUMENT.
1. The comparative value of the Cross and human culture in the moral regeneration of men. The apostle shows that it is not a question of degree of efficacy, but of absolute failure in the one case, and of transcendent success in the other. Culture has its mission, and a most important one in its own proper sphere. But the human heart, with its sin and guilt, has needs which the highest culture cannot meet in the remotest degree. The moral history of those communities that have attained to the highest degree of cultivation testifies most unmistakably to this. The only remedy for sin is Christ crucified. The faith of some still is, that "the sweetness of light," of intellectual discipline and refinement, will dissipate the gross moral darkness in which men lie. A little of any of the salts of sodium introduced into the flame of a gas lamp gives that flame the power of imparting to every coloured object a greenish yellow tint; but any black in that object remains still black. The sodium flame has no power of affecting this sombre hue. Just so is it with education in relation to sin.
2. The simple method of preaching as against the rhetorical. The apostle sets against the "wisdom of words," so esteemed by the Corinthians, his own customary "plainness of speech." He seems peculiarly apprehensive lest anything should stand between the truth and the conscience it is intended to influence. The more the mind is charmed by the style of the message, the less likely it is that the conscience will be pricked by its truth. Religion is so much a thing of the heart, that its truths come into the soul much more through spiritual insight and quickened sympathy than by logical processes. At one of the Westminster Industrial Exhibitions a workman exhibited two beautiful metal violins. The highest prize, however, was not awarded to him, for the reason that the instrument made of such material did not realise the purpose of a violin. The superior metal looked pretty, but the coarser material gave forth by far the sweeter sound. So high scholarly attainments may produce sermons, but they will, like the metal violin, fail in their purpose, while the discourses of the less polished preacher give forth music, often more capable of touching the heart. The cultured genius of Milton produced "Paradise Lost," but the uncultured mother-wit of Bunyan produced "The Pilgrim's Progress." The refined acumen of Butler produced the "Analysis," but it was the untutored fervour of Whitefield aroused the heart of England from its spiritual torpor.
(J. A. Parry.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.