BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 18th number, present volume of the SIGNS, I find a request from brother R. M. Thomas, of Missouri, for my views in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES on I Cor. i. 21, which text reads as follows:
"For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
To arrive at the object of the apostle in giving this instruction to his brethren, we must give some attention to the connection in which it stands. The subjects to whom the communication is made, and their preparation for the appreciation of it, together with the situation in which the apostle then found his brethren to be, will require a passing notice.
And 1st, The subjects were those who constituted the church of God which was at Corinth, to them that are sanctified (or set apart) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ; and 2nd, grace was given them by Jesus Christ to enrich them in utterance and knowledge, and thereby the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them, so that they came behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who should confirm them unto the end, that they might be blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ; 3rd, He then refers them to the faithfulness of God, by whom they were called to the fellowship of his Son, and beseeches them to speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among them, but that they be perfectly joined together, in the same judgment; 4th, For he had already learned that there were divisions among them, which had caused contention.
This contention seems to have originated in the preference that they had expressed for their respective preachers, a fruitful source from which contentions have arisen in all ages, and from which the preaching of Christ is well calculated to save believers. I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Here was the ground work of the contention.
It appears likely to me that the means doctrine had obtained to some extent among the brethren, and that we know by experience always causes contention, as the advocates of it are more disposed to look to the means or instruments, (as the preachers are called, and as some claim to be,) than to Christ.
It is a bad state of things when our preachers get between us and Christ, and are so large in our estimation as to conceal him from us. Hence the necessity of constantly and faithfully holding up Christ to view, and hence the great object and prime mission of the apostle to preach Christ, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect. We therefore are not to garnish with fine words, not to smooth over and palliate the preaching of the gospel so as to adapt it to the carnal mind, and thereby divert it from its legitimate use, the salvation of believers from error; "for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."
Then, where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? Only the subjects of God's grace in whom he has destroyed the wisdom and prudence of this world, and convinced them that neither their wisdom or prudence can avail them anything relating to their great salvation, can see where they are, nor can all the lore of human wisdom teach them their whereabouts, or save them from their errors. Men untaught by the Spirit of God suppose that by their wisdom and prudence they can know God, and teach others to know the Lord also; but while thus deluded God hides the things of his kingdom from them, and reveals them unto babes. But when it pleases him to destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent, and thereby make foolish the wisdom of this world to his people, he prepares them to appreciate that preaching which is to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks (those who seek after the wisdom of this world) foolishness. Let us remember, however, that it is not until after that that the preaching of Christ can have any salutary effect upon them; and so the text reads, "After that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." There is not only a salvation or deliverance of believers brought to view in the text, but a final and irrevocable veto is stamped upon the proceedings of all those will-worshippers who are arrogating to themselves capacities to know God and teach a knowledge of him to others. If the graceless professors of religion could believe that text, and then would act with a commendable degree of candor and honesty, what a smash-up there would be in the Missionary Boards, Bible Societies, Theological Seminaries, Sunday School Unions, and the various other worldly and unscriptural combinations connected with them! They would not be endeavoring to "teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord," if they believed "the world by wisdom knew not God," and would act consistently.
A knowledge of God is only attainable by those who have received the gift of eternal life, and then only by a direct revelation from the Lord. "No man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." Power was given to Jesus over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father had given him, and this eternal life was given that they might know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.
Peter was convinced that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; and said Christ, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."
How benighted, how miserably blinded by the god of this world must those be, who are engaged, as they say, in "christianizing the world." To christianize is to make christians, and the gift of eternal life is indispensable in that case. In that work "the flesh profiteth nothing," said Jesus: "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." A christian then, possessing eternal life, is the highest order of being that inhabits this earth. How presumptuous then in poor, frail man, to arrogate to himself that noblest work of God! It would be as easy for them to change the spots of the leopard and make a sheep of it, or the Ethiopian's skin and make a white man of him, as to make christians of themselves, or of those whom they profess to be christianizing. But our God will not share his glory with such impudent aspirants; will not give it to another, nor his praise to graven images. He alone can raise as up from the depths of sin and the domain of death, and the glory of his majesty is portrayed in the sublimity of the work. It crowns him with a regal diadem, such as earthly princes never wore, a crown of glory, rich, lucid and eternal, its brilliancy forever eclipsing all the glory of mortals who are professing to do his work and would rob him of his diadem, when if all their worldly wisdom was concentrated in one focus and all exhausted upon one subject, they could not make the meanest reptile that crawls upon the earth, and yet they boast of making christians, the highest order of God's beings that dwell upon the earth. O the folly of man!
Then "crown him Lord of all," and let us unite with the poet and sing:
"He raised me from the depths of sin,
The gates of gaping hell,
And fixed my standing more secure,
Than it was before I fell."
But after God makes foolish the wisdom of this world in the estimation of his people, and enables them to "believe according to the working of his mighty power," it pleases him to save them in a certain sense by the foolishness of preaching, or that preaching which is to them that perish foolishness. "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." Thus we are taught that it is to them that perish, and to them that seek after the wisdom of this world, and not after Christ, who is the wisdom of God and the power of God, that the preaching of Christ crucified is foolishness to, and no wonder. What use have they for Christ crucified? What do they want him for? Not to get up their worldly institutions; they neither have his commandment or example for all that. Not to prepare them for their ministry, they can do that themselves. Not to furnish their outfit, the Missionary Board can do that sufficiently to enable them to compass land and sea to make proselytes. Not to teach them doctrine to promulgate, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men.
Now if they can do all this, I repeat, no marvel that the preaching of the cross is to them foolishness. "But, unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God," and that preaching is calculated to save the believer from trusting in the wisdom of this world, or the power that it confers upon mortality.
The salvation here alluded to, is not that salvation which Christ completed when he laid down his life for the sheep. That salvation was exclusively "of the Lord." Said he, "I looked and there was none to help, I wondered that there was none to uphold, therefore mine own arm brought salvation." But in addition to the salvation from sin and from its condemning power, we often need salvation from such divisions as were amongst the brethren at Corinth at that time, and other errors that the wisdom of this world invent, and upon which a worldly religion is based. Many such errors throng the pathway of the christian while here. A sound ministry, therefore, is a most important gift that the Lord has conferred upon his people to save them from division and false doctrine.
I have long observed that preachers who confine themselves to the doctrine of the Bible are not the most successful in multiplying members in the churches they preach for, but those churches who are blessed with such a ministry are less subject to contentions and divisions, as a general thing. On the other hand, when the preachers are in the habit of exhibiting a system partly of grace and intermingled with conditions to be performed by men to aid in the saving of sinners, so as to ensnare some of the children of God, who are taught by the Lord in their experience that salvation is by grace, and also to induce others to unite with the church who depend upon their own wisdom and prudence to qualify them for church membership, we see at once the foundation laid for divisions; and many of us have witnessed, within the last thirty years, the blighting consequences of this "linsey-woolsey" garb, or sowing of "divers seeds" system in the many divisions that have rent the church within that period. The history of the church in all ages proves that it has not been the case that the greatest ingatherings have been attended with the greatest blessings to the church, but as a general consequence, contentions and divisions have been the result.
But again, when she has presented to view an afflicted and poor people, trusting in the name of the Lord, when there was nothing in her external appearance to court the fancy of worldly religionists, when she had to suffer reproach and persecution for the name of Jesus, when she has been content with receiving such only as "the Lord added to the church," when her watchmen have lifted up their voice together, determined to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified, they have been saved from these unhappy contentions, divisions and false doctrines, and peace has flowed among them like a river. This should encourage us not to be cast down and troubled, from the fact that we present a strait gate, a narrow way, and that there are but few that find it. Then, as we profess to have nothing to do with making christians, let us be satisfied with such as the Lord will have to be saved. And as every true minister of the gospel knows that "salvation (from sin) is of the Lord" altogether, and that he is fully able to accomplish all that pertains to that glorious work, and will no doubt certainly and eventually raise every one of his believing children up at the last day; and further, as it has pleased him to give them eternal life, and thereby to qualify them to know the truth that makes them free, or liberates them from error and delusion, to bless them with capacities to receive and appreciate the doctrine of God our Savior, with all its wholesome lessons of instruction; and as it has further pleased him to prepare his servants for the work of the ministry, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood, to teach them to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded, and to "save them that believe," from the errors and inroads that their enemies are ever endeavoring to propagate and make among them, let us make full proof of our ministry in faithfully watching over the flock for their good.
Brethren, do we really love the children of God? Surely, if we love him that begat, we love those also that are begotten of him. Let us then, manifest our loyalty to our King, and our love to our brethren, his children, by faithfully laboring for their present salvation. It is reasonable to suppose that men will bestow the greatest amount of labor upon what they esteem most highly. We may mark this as a general rule, and I think it is a good one, by which to discriminate between faithful and false ministers.
When a servant is circumcised in heart to love the Lord, (and of course his people,) he will be found toiling among them, laboring for their good and to save them from delusion. But where the love of the world predominates amongst the preachers, they will be heard whining for money to save the world, and endeavoring by every available stratagem to secure the friendship of the world, which is "enmity to God." We are then reminded of the expression of the apostle, "The friend of the world is the enemy of God," and measuring them by the scriptures, we set them down as such; and when we weigh them in those balances and find them wanting, we should judge and deal accordingly. The faithful shepherd, then, will be found doing the commandments of his Master, which are, "Feed my lambs," "Feed the church," "Feed the flock of God," "Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church." In short, his labors will be confined within the church, among the children of God, who are most dear to him, and be calculated "to save them that believe." The false shepherd, or hireling, will be found laboring "without (the church where there) are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie," and we must therefore judge them by the company they keep.
I submit the foregoing remarks, first to the consideration of brother Beebe, and if he thinks best to publish them, then to my much esteemed young brother Thomas, and to all my dear brethren and sisters who may think them worth their perusal; and still remain, as I trust, their humble servant, bound to them in the love and fellowship of the gospel, though unworthy in myself, as the most unworthy amongst them.
J. F. JOHNSON
Signs of the Times Nov. 1859.