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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 18
Verse 18. For the preaching of the cross. Greek, "the word o logov of the cross;" i.e., the doctrine of the cross; or the doctrine which proclaims salvation only through the atonement which the Lord Jesus Christ made on the cross. This cannot mean that the statement that Christ died as a martyr on a cross appears to be foolishness to men; because, if that was all, there would be nothing that would appear contemptible, or that would excite their opposition more than in the death of any other martyr. The statement that Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Paul, and Cranmer, died as martyrs, does not appear to be foolishness, for it is a statement of an historical truth, and their death excites the high admiration of all men. And if, in the death of Jesus on the cross, there had been nothing more than a mere martyr's death, it would have been equally the object of admiration to all men. But the "preaching of the cross" must denote more than that; and must mean,
(1.) that Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, and that it was this which gave its peculiarity to his sufferings on the cross.
(2.) That men can be reconciled to God, pardoned, and saved only by the merits and influence of this atoning sacrifice.
To them that perish. toiv men apollumeniov. To those who are about to perish, or to those who have a character fitting them for destruction; i.e., to the wicked. The expression stands in contrast with those who are "saved," i.e., those who have seen the beauty of the cross of Christ, and who have fled to it for salvation.
Foolishness. Folly. That is, it appears to them to be contemptible and foolish, or unworthy of belief. To the great mass of the Jews, and to the heathen philosophers, and indeed to the majority of the men of this world, it has ever appeared foolishness, for the following reasons:
(1.) The humble origin of the Lord Jesus. They despise him that lived in Nazareth; that was poor; that had no home, and few friends, and no wealth, and little honour among his own countrymen.
(2.) They despise him who was put to death as an impostor, at the instigation of his own countrymen, in an ignominious manner on the cross—the usual punishment of slaves.
(3.) They see not why there should be any particular efficacy in his death. They deem it incredible that he who could not save himself should be able to save them; and that glory should come from the ignominy of the cross.
(4.) They are blind to the true beauty of his personal character; to the true dignity of his nature; to his power over the sick, the lame, the dying, and the dead; they see not the bearing of the work of atonement on the law and government of God; they believe not in his resurrection, and his present state of exalted glory. The world looks only at the fact that the despised man of Nazareth was put to death on a cross, and smiles at the idea that such a death could have any important influence on the salvation of man. It is worthy of remark, also, that to the ancient philosophers this doctrine would appear still more contemptible than it does to the men of these times. Everything that came from Judea they looked upon with contempt and scorn; and they would spurn, above all things else, the doctrine that they were to expect salvation only by the crucifixion of a Jew. Besides, the account of the crucifixion has now lost to us no small part of its reputation of ignominy. Even around the cross there is conceived to be no small amount of honour and glory. There is now a sacredness about it, from religious associations; and a reverence which men in Christian lands can scarcely help feeling when they think of it. But to the ancients it was connected with every idea of ignominy. It was the punishment of slaves, impostors, and vagabonds; and had even a greater degree of disgrace attached to it than the gallows has with us. With them, therefore, the death on the cross was associated with the idea of all that is shameful and dishonourable; and to speak of salvation only by the sufferings and death of a crucified man, was fitted to excite in their bosoms only unmingled scorn.
But unto us which are saved. This stands opposed to "them that perish." It refers, doubtless, to Christians, as being saved from the power and condemnation of sin; and as having a prospect of eternal salvation in the world to come.
This may either mean that the gospel is called "the power of God," because it is the medium through which God exerts his power in the salvation of sinners; or, the gospel is adapted to the condition of man, and is efficacious in renewing him, and sanctifying him, It is not an inert, inactive letter, but is so fitted to the understanding, the heart, the hopes, the fears of men, and all their great constitutional principles of action, that it actually overcomes their sin, and diffuses peace through the soul. This efficacy is not unfrequently attributed to the gospel, Joh 17:17; Heb 4:12; Jas 1:18; 1 Pe 1:22,23.
When the gospel, however, or the preaching of the cross, is spoken of as effectual or powerful, it must be understood of all the agencies which are connected with it; and does not refer to simple, abstract propositions, but to the truth as it comes attended with the influences which God sends down to accompany it. It includes, therefore, the promised agency of the Holy Spirit, without which it would not be effectual. But the agency of the Spirit is designed to give efficacy to that which is really adapted to produce the effects, and not to act in an arbitrary manner. All the effects of the gospel on the soul —in regeneration, repentance, faith, sanctification; in hope, love, joy, peace, patience, temperance, purity, and devotedness to God—are only such as the gospel is fitted to produce. It has a set of truths and promises just adapted to each of these effects; just fitted to the soul by Him who knows it; and adapted to produce just these results. The Holy Spirit secures their influence on the mind; and is the grand living agent of accomplishing just what the truth of God is fitted originally to produce, Thus the preaching of the cross is "the power of God;" and every minister may present it with the assurance that he is presenting, not "a cunningly devised fable," but a system really fitted to save men; and yet, that its reception by the human mind depends on the promised presence of the Holy Spirit.
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