VIEWS ON FIRST CORINTHIANS 3:12-15.

DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - If you are not too busy, I want your views on I Cor. 3:12-15, especially on the 15th verse.

In haste, yours in Christ,
W.C. Smith.

REPLY. “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

As a wise master builder, according to the grace of God given to him, Paul, as an apostle, had in his preaching and in his epistles laid the foundation upon which all gospel instruction must rest. No other foundation can any man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Paul had, officially, as an apostle, taught that Christ is the Foundation which God has laid in Zion, and they who believe on him shall not be driven from their confidence, or be ashamed, or make haste. This foundation was laid by God himself, independently of Paul, and of all other beings in heaven and in earth, for it is the foundation of God which standeth sure, having this seal; The Lord knoweth them that are his. Neither Paul nor any other man can lay any other foundation than that is laid, but that foundation is presented in the ministry of the gospel as the only substantial and reliable basis for the faith and practice of all the children of God.

Only as an inspired apostle did Paul claim to be a wise master builder; for he says in verse five, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” In expounding to them the word ministerially, so that they could understand and believe it, even as the Lord gave unto every man. For no man had power to receive or believe in Christ, except by the special gift of God. Nor had this great apostle, this wise master builder, power to make even the saints at Corinth, or anywhere else, profit by his ministry, until God supplied to them a capacity. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”

Paul then, ministerially and officially, as an apostle, has laid down the fundamental principles of the doctrine of Christ, and of the order and ordinances of the gospel, which fundamental teachings are called the apostles’ doctrine. These foundational instructions embrace all that belongs to the faith and practice of the gospel church. In laying ministerially this foundation of doctrine and order, the apostles were in their commission commanded to teach all baptized believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them. No more, no less! Hence Paul came to these Corinthians, repudiating human wisdom and excellence of speech, and determined to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified. And his speech and his preaching was not with enticing {or as in the margin, persuasive} words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that their faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. The faith of God’s elect must have a better foundation than that of human wisdom or human excellence. Hence the apostle preached to them Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and all things which the crucified and risen Jesus had commanded them.

Here then we have in the Acts of the Apostles and in their epistles, the foundation of all gospel doctrine, and of all gospel practice. “And other men build thereon.” A succession of ministers shall be supplied to the church throughout all time, but none of them master builders, as were the apostles; for all the doctrine and order of the church must, to be approved of God, rest upon and be supported by the foundation of the apostles. Fearful judgments are written for any who may add to, or diminish from what they have laid down.

“Now if any man build upon this foundation.” We think the apostle here discriminates between the ministers of Christ, and those of anti-christ; for the latter do not build upon the apostolic foundation at all. They laugh at the idea of men illiterate, and destitute of that excellence of speech which man’s wisdom teaches, being called to the work, as was Aaron to the Hebrew priesthood, and qualified by the Holy Ghost with gifts to preach the gospel and defend the truth. How can it be said that those who have received all their religious qualifications from the schools of men, are building upon the foundation of divine inspiration laid by the apostles? “Christ and him crucified,” as preached by the apostles, whom Christ has made wise master builders, is a foundation on which none but the people of God do build. This is the foundation which all anti-christian builders refuse, but God has made it the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto they also were appointed. They predicate their doctrines upon the wisdom of this world, and build up their institutions on Infant Schools, Sunday Schools, and Theological Schools; and all the religion they have or teach is founded upon human wisdom and human inventions. The apostle John testifies of them, “They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.” And their faith stands not in the power of God, but in the wisdom of men; therefore when their works shall be burned, then the Lord shall also consume them with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy them with the brightness of his coming.

But the foundation of God is in his holy mountain, the church, and God has said, “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, “ &c. And as a wise master builder, Paul presents in the church of God – Christ and him crucified, as the only sure, tried, elect and precious foundation for our faith, hope and confidence. Any faith held by even the saints that is not sustained by the doctrine of the apostles, is delusive and vain, and any hopes that they may cherish that does not rest on Christ as preached by the apostles, is vain, and whatsoever confidence we may repose in anything else, will fail in the trying day. The apostle here uses the figurative idea of building, just as we understand our Lord to have used it in the conclusion of his sermon on the mount. Matt. 7:24-27. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” The sayings of Christ are here likened to a rock, as a sure substantial foundation for the saints to build upon. A doing of them, or a strict adherence, or obedience to the sayings of Christ, is in the figure what we are to understand as building thereon, recognizing Christ’s sayings, as presented by the inspired apostles, as our foundation. No religious works or doctrines can be in obedience to the sayings of Christ, unless they are commanded by him, and enjoined by his apostles.

“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones.” These are materials that can endure the fiery ordeal, and they represent the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and the things which become sound doctrine; things which are divinely authorized, and which are approved of God. In the ministry of the gospel, “words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” While any departure from the divine rule in doctrine or practice, by the child of God, is like using hay, wood and stubble in a building that is to be tested by fire. It was said of the Galatian churches, that they did run well, when they obeyed the gospel, when they began in the Spirit; but when the Judaizing teachers bewitched them, they thought to be made perfect by the flesh. This was an attempt to build with hay, wood and stubble, materials that could not stand the trial by fire. In preaching the word, perhaps all the ministers of Christ since the days of the apostles, have worked into their discourses more or less hay, wood and stubble, and frequently have labored much harder to sustain some cherished speculation, than to build with the pure and precious metals, because error always requires more hammering and toiling to make it seem like truth, than is required in setting forth the truth as it is in Jesus. Not only the ministers, but the members also, while they desire to build only on the foundation, and to do, and walk only in the way that God will approve, sometimes take counsel of their carnal minds, walk after the light of their own eyes, think their own thoughts, and speak their own words, and thereby they build with combustible matter.

“Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Observe, it is the work that is to be tried by fire. The wise master workman has, by authority of Christ, given full instructions to all the saints, the works of righteousness which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them, are not in vain in the Lord. God, who hath wrought all our works of righteousness in us, and who worketh in all his saints both to will and to do of his own good pleasure, will establish our work upon us, for they are founded on his word, and are well pleasing in his sight, and the man of God is in the inspired scriptures thoroughly furnished to them all; therefore they cannot be burned. But the works of the flesh, even of the flesh of christians, are hay, wood and stubble. If we live after the flesh we shall die; for the body is dead because of sin; and in our flesh dwelleth no good thing. “But if ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” And, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”

Many who have been honestly laboring to build up some favorite theory, have suffered loss, having labored in vain; not only in doctrine, but also in practice; but no farther than our works are sustained by the foundation of the apostles, can they stand in the day of trial. Jesus our Lord has said, “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like. He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:47-49, and Matt. 7:24-27. The rains, the winds and floods are used to signify the day that shall try every man’s works of what sort they are, the same as the fire, in the figure in our text; but in both cases it is the works which shall be swept away by the flood, blown away by the wind, or consumed by the fire.

“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” Not a reward of merit, for when we have done all that is our duty, faithfully and implicitly obeyed all that is commanded, still we are unprofitable servants; but the reward that the apostle himself desired, that he might have the assurance that he had not labored in vain.

“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.” The loss of his labor. He shall have labored in vain. But as his salvation does not depend upon his own works, “he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” The experience of all the saints affords an illustration. We all who are building on the apostles’ foundation, have much hay, wood and stubble about us; it is a mercy that our God sitteth as a refiner’s fire, and we are not to count it strange, as though some strange thing had happened to us; these fiery trials are to cleanse and purify us, and fit us for our Master’s use. He himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. The fire into which the three Hebrew children were cast, burned off their fetters, and made them free to walk at large with their beloved Lord in the midst of the burning furnace; and so these light afflictions are but for a moment, do work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not on the things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. If salvation were conditional, and by works, our works being condemned and burned up, would consign us all to perdition. But, “by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” And our fiery trials are to purge and save us from the pollutions of the world, and make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

Middletown, N.Y.
September 1, 1870.
Elder Gilbert Beebe