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17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

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17. For Christ sent me not. He anticipates an objection that might, perhaps, be brought against him — that he had not discharged his duty, inasmuch as Christ commands his Apostles to baptize as well as teach. Accordingly he replies, that this was not the principal department of his office, for the duty of teaching had been principally enjoined upon him as that to which he should apply himself. For when Christ says to the Apostles, (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15,) Go, preach and baptize, he connects baptism with teaching simply as an addition or appendage, so that teaching always holds the first place.

Two things, however, must be noticed here. The first is, that the Apostle does not here absolutely deny that he had a command to baptize, for this is applicable to all the Apostles: Go and baptize; and he would have acted rashly in baptizing even one, had he not been furnished with authority, but simply points out what was the chief thing in his calling. The second thing is, that he does not by any means detract here, as some think, from the dignity or utility of the sacrament. For the question here is, not as to the efficacy of baptism, and Paul does not institute this comparison with the view of detracting in any degree from that; but because it was given to few to teach, while many could baptize; and farther, as many could be taught at the same time, while baptism could only be administered to individuals successively, one by one, Paul, who excelled in the gift of teaching, applied himself to the work that was more especially needful for him, and left to others what they could more conveniently accomplish. Nay farther, if the reader considers minutely all the circumstances of the case, he will see that there is irony 7171     “Ironie, c’est a dire, mocquerie;” — “Irony, that is to say, mockery.” tacitly conveyed here, dexterously contrived for making those feel acutely, who, under color of administering a ceremony, endeavor to catch a little glory at the expense of another’s labor. Paul’s labors in building up that Church had been incredible. There had come after him certain effeminate masters, who had drawn over followers to their party by the sprinkling of water; 7272     “Seulement en les arrousant d’eau: c’est a dire, baptizant;” — “Simply by sprinkling them with water, that is to say, baptizing.” Paul, then, giving up to them the title of honor, declares himself contented with having had the burden. 7373     “Toute la charge et la pesanteur du fardeau;” — “The whole charge and weight of the burden.”

Not with wisdom of words There is here an instance of anticipation, by which a twofold objection is refuted. For these pretended teachers might reply that it was ludicrous to hear Paul, who was not endowed with eloquence, making it his boast that the department of teaching had been assigned to him. Hence he says, by way of concession, that he had not been formed to be an orator, 7474     “Vn Rhetoricien ou harangueur;” — “A Rhetorician, or declaimer.” to set himself off by elegance of speech: but a minister of the Spirit, that he might, by plain and homely speech, bring to nothing the wisdom of the world. Now, lest any one should object that he hunted after glory by his preaching, as much as others did by baptism, he briefly replies, that as the method of teaching that he pursued was the farthest removed from show, and breathed nothing of ambition, it could give no ground of suspicion on that head. Hence, too, if I mistake not, it may readily be inferred what was the chief ground of the controversy that Paul had with the wicked and unfaithful ministers of the Corinthians. It was that, being puffed up with ambition, that they might secure for themselves the admiration of the people, they recommended themselves to them by a show of words and mask of human wisdom.

From this main evil two others necessarily followed — that by these disguises (so to speak) the simplicity of the gospel was disfigured, and Christ was, as it were, clothed in a new and foreign garb, so that the pure and unadulterated knowledge of him was not to be found. Farther, as men’s minds were turned aside to neatness and elegance of expression, to ingenious speculations, and to an empty show of superior sublimity of doctrine, the efficacy of the Spirit vanished, and nothing remained but the dead letter. The majesty of God, as it shines forth in the gospel, was not to be seen, but mere disguise and useless show. Paul, accordingly, with the view of exposing these corruptions of the gospel, makes a transition here to the manner of his preaching. This he declares to be right and proper, while at the same time it was diametrically opposed to the ambitious ostentation of those men. 7575     “Ces vaillans docteurs;” — “Those valiant teachers.” It is as though he had said — “I am well aware how much your fastidious teachers delight themselves in their high-sounding phrases. As for myself, I do not simply confess that my preaching has been conducted in a rude, coarse, and unpolished style, but I even glory in it. For it was right that it should be so, and this was the method that was divinely prescribed to me.” By the wisdom of words, he does not mean λογοδαιδαλία, 7676     The term λογοδαιδαλία properly denotes speech ingeniously contrived. It is compounded of λογος (speech) and Δαιδαλος (Daedalus,) an ingenious artist of Athens, celebrated for his skill in statuary and architecture. Hence everything that was skilfully contrived was called Daedalean. See Lucr. 4. 555, and 5. 235; Virg. G. 4. 179; and Aen. 7. 282. — Ed which is mere empty talk, but true eloquence, which consists in skillful contrivance of subjects, ingenious arrangement, and elegance of expression. He declares that he had nothing of this: nay more, that it was neither suitable to his preaching nor advantageous.

Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect As he had so often previously presented the name of Christ in contrast with the arrogant wisdom of the flesh, so now, with the view of bringing down thereby all its pride and loftiness, he brings forward to view the cross of Christ. For all the wisdom of believers is comprehended in the cross of Christ, and what more contemptible than a cross? Whoever, therefore, would desire to be truly wise in God’s account, must of necessity stoop to this abasement of the cross, and this will not be accomplished otherwise than by his first of all renouncing his own judgment and all the wisdom of the world. Paul, however, shows here not merely what sort of persons Christ’s disciples ought to be, and what path of learning they ought to pursue, but also what is the method of teaching in Christ’s school. “The cross of Christ (says he) would have been made of none effect, if my preaching had been adorned with eloquence and show.” The cross of Christ he has put here for the benefit of redemption, which must be sought from Christ crucified. Now the doctrine of the gospel which calls us to this, should savor of the nature of the Cross, so as to be despised and contemptible, rather than glorious, in the eyes of the world. The meaning, therefore, is, that if Paul had made use of philosophical acuteness and studied address in the presence of the Corinthians, the efficacy of the cross of Christ, in which the salvation of men consists, would have been buried, because it cannot come to us in that way.

Here two questions are proposed: first, whether Paul here condemns in every respect the wisdom of words, as opposed to Christ; and secondly, whether he means that eloquence and the doctrine of the gospel are invariably opposed, so they cannot agree together, and that the preaching of the gospel is vitiated, if the slightest tincture of eloquence 7777     “Eloquence et rhetorique;” — “Eloquence and rhetoric.” is made use of for adorning it. To the first of these I answer — that it were quite unreasonable to suppose, that Paul would utterly condemn those arts which, it is manifest, are excellent gifts of God, and which serve as instruments, as it were, to assist men in the accomplishment of important purposes. As for those arts, then, that have nothing of superstition, but contain solid learning, 7878     “Vne bonne erudition, et scauoir solide;” — “Good learning, and solid wisdom.” and are founded on just principles, as they are useful and suited to the common transactions of human life, so there can be no doubt that they have come forth from the Holy Spirit; and the advantage which is derived and experienced from them, ought to be ascribed exclusively to God. What Paul says here, therefore, ought not to be taken as throwing any disparagement upon the arts, as if they were unfavorable to piety.

The second question is somewhat more difficult, for he says, that the cross of Christ is made of none effect if there be any admixture of the wisdom of words I answer, that we must consider who they are that Paul here addresses. The ears of the Corinthians were tickled with a silly fondness for high sounding style. 7979     “Les Corinthiens auoyent les oreilles chatouilleuses, et estoyent transportez d’vn fol appetit d’auoir des gens qui eussent vn beau parler;” — “The Corinthians had itching ears, (2 Timothy 4:3,) and were carried away with a silly eagerness to have persons that had a good manner of address.” Hence they needed more than others to be brought back to the abasement of the cross, that they might learn to embrace Christ as he is, unadorned, and the gospel in its simplicity, without any false ornament. I acknowledge, at the same time, that this sentiment in some respects holds invariably, that the cross of Christ is made of none effect, not merely by the wisdom of the world, but also by elegance of address. For the preaching of Christ crucified is simple and unadorned, and hence it ought not to be obscured by false ornaments of speech. It is the prerogative of the gospel to bring down the wisdom of the world in such a way that, stripped of our own understanding, we show ourselves to be simply docile, and do not think or even desire to know anything, but what the Lord himself teaches. As to the wisdom of the flesh, we shall have occasion to consider more at large ere long, in what respects it is opposed to Christ. As to eloquence, I shall advert to it here in a few words, in so far as the passage calls for.

We see that God from the beginning ordered matters so, that, the gospel should be administered in simplicity, without any aid from eloquence. Could not he who fashions the tongues of men for eloquence, be himself eloquent if he chose to be so? While he could be so, he did not choose to be so. Why it was that he did not choose this, I find two reasons more particularly. The first is, that in a plain and unpolished manner of address, the majesty of the truth might shine forth more conspicuously, and the simple efficacy of his Spirit, without external aids, might make its way into the hearts of men. The second is, that he might more effectually try our obedience and docility, and train us at the same time to true humility. For the Lord admits none into his school but little children. 8080     “Les humbles;” — “The humble.” Hence those alone are capable of heavenly wisdom who, contenting themselves with the preaching of the cross, however contemptible it may be in appearance, feel no desire whatever to have Christ under a mask. Hence the doctrine of the gospel required to be regulated with this view, that believers should be drawn off from all pride and haughtiness.

But what if any one should at the present day, by discoursing with some degree of elegance, adorn the doctrine of the gospel by eloquence? Would he deserve to be on that account rejected, as though he either polluted it or obscured Christ’s glory. I answer in the first place, that eloquence is not at all at variance with the simplicity of the gospel, when it does not merely not disdain to give way to it, and be in subjection to it, but also yields service to it, as a handmaid to her mistress. For as Augustine says, “He who gave Peter a fisherman, gave also Cyprian an orator.” By this he means, that both are from God, notwithstanding that the one, who is much the superior of the other as to dignity, is utterly devoid of gracefulness of speech; while the other, who sits at his feet, is distinguished by the fame of his eloquence. That eloquence, therefore, is neither to be condemned nor despised, which has no tendency to lead Christians to be taken up with an outward glitter of words, or intoxicate them with empty delight, or tickle their ears with its tinkling sound, or cover over the cross of Christ with its empty show as with a veil; 8181     “Ni a offusquer de sa pompe la croix de Christ, comme qui mettroit vne nuee au denant;” — “Nor to darken the cross of Christ with its empty show, as if one were drawing a cloud over it.” but, on the contrary, tends to call us back to the native simplicity of the gospel, tends to exalt the simple preaching of the cross by voluntarily abasing itself, and, in fine, acts the part of a herald 8282     “Brief, a seruir comme de trompette;” — “In short, to serve as a trumpet.” to procure a hearing for those fishermen and illiterate persons, who have nothing to recommend them but the energy of the Spirit.

I answer secondly, that the Spirit of God, also, has an eloquence of his own, but of such a nature as to shine forth with a native luster peculiar to itself, or rather (as they say) intrinsic, more than with any adventitious ornaments. Such is the eloquence that the Prophets have, more particularly Isaiah, David, and Solomon. Moses, too, has a sprinkling of it. Nay farther, even in the writings of the Apostles, though they are more unpolished, there are notwithstanding some sparks of it occasionally emitted. Hence the eloquence that is suited to the Spirit of God is of such a nature that it does not swell with empty show, or spend itself in empty sound, but is solid and efficacious, and has more of substance than elegance.

18. For the preaching of the cross, etc. In this first clause a concession is made. For as it might very readily be objected, that the gospel is commonly held in contempt, if it be presented in so bare and abject a form, Paul of his own accord concedes this, but when he adds, that it is so in the estimation of them that perish, he intimates that no regard must be paid to their judgment. For who would choose to despise the gospel at the expense of perishing? This statement, therefore, must be understood in this way: “However the preaching of the cross, as having nothing of human wisdom to recommend it to esteem, is reckoned foolishness by them that perish; in our view, notwithstanding, the wisdom of God clearly shines forth in it.” He indirectly reproves, however, the perverted judgment of the Corinthians, who, while they were, through seduction of words, too easily allured by ambitious teachers, regarded with disdain an Apostle who was endowed with the power of God for their salvation, and that simply because he devoted himself to the preaching of Christ. In what way the preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation, we have explained in commenting upon Romans 1:16