Nowhere have we more forcibly brought into view the utter worthlessness, blindness and criminal stupidity of the flesh, as well as its complete removal from the sphere of relationship with God, than in this first chapter of first Corinthians. The New Testament abounds with dilatations, as well as with terse statements, regarding its rejection, judgment, and removal from before God, but in this chapter the uncontrovertible proofs of its unprofitableness are concentrated into the compass of a few sentences, and with a convincing clearness sufficient to silence every caviller who is not so obstinate as to sin against the reason given to him of God.
In certain other Scriptures is brought into evidence what may be called the bad side of the flesh—its hypocrisy, its covetousness, its malice, its violence, its corruption; but here is what may be called its good side—its wisdom; what, if the thing were genuine, might be made a subject of boast; and the cross of Christ is that which is used to show it up in its true character.
The statement is made, that “the world by wisdom knew not God.” But how is this statement to be substantiated? Where is the proof of it? The worldling might say, It is easy to make statements, but we want more than mere arbitrary statements: we want proofs.
And the proofs are easily given. The cross of Christ is the one mighty proof, crushing into the dust every opposing force that would rise up in the assertion of the contrary. The cross is the utter condemnation of all man’s boasted wisdom, for it is the estimate that man formed of his Creator come in grace into His own world By its rejection of Him the world’s affectation of knowledge is proven to be the mere conceit of a heart steeped in ignorance and alienation from God: for He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not (John 1:10).
Jesus was God manifest in flesh, and the life of God shone out in His words, works, and ways; but the leaders of this world knew Him not, neither could they believe that that which shone out in all its moral glory, in Him was really, the light of the invisible God. The gibbet upon which they impaled Him is the witness of their ignorance of who He was, as also of their hatred of all that came to light in Him. As He says, “They have seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24). Who would trust the wisdom of man after such a display of it as this?
And it is the same in regard of the preaching of the Gospel, “The Jews require a sign,” and that with the sign visibly before them; for what greater sign could be given of the intervention of God on behalf of man than the Son come in manhood’s lowly guise into a world dominated by the devil, invested with power sufficient to deliver the race from the whole consequences of the Fall? He Himself was the sign, if they had had eyes to see it, and wisdom enough to avail themselves of it.
“And the Greeks seek after wisdom,” and that with the wisdom of God proclaimed in their ears in the Gospel of His grace. What mind but that of Him who is infinite in wisdom could have invented such a way for the recovery of His fallen creature? No one could, for no one knew of the resources that lay in the mind of the Creator. But when it was revealed it should have appealed to men as the only possible solution of the question of good and evil, and the only means by which, consistently with the nature and character of God, man could be brought out of his lost condition and set before his Maker in peace and blessing.
But no: man, be he Jew or Gentile, knew nothing regarding his lost condition, and he was a great deal too proud to acknowledge himself as needing the grace of God. To be accounted helpless sinners, deserving nothing but banishment from the presence of their Creator, was more than the haughty leaders of this world could accept. Hence “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound, the things that are mighty; and base things, and things that are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
In the pride of their heart, and overlooking their utterly sinful condition, the Jews expected the Messiah to establish them as head of the nation; and with His throne in their midst to subjugate the world; and indeed with a proposal of this nature they were tested, when our Lord took His place of public testimony among them. He gave abundant witness of His power and readiness to dispel all the evils that afflicted them, to raise all the departed saints, and to establish the nation in peace, security, and blessing. But all this was presented to them in a way that tested the state of their souls with reference to the God whom they professed to reverence and serve, and here they were found wanting. There was nothing in Him that ministered to the pride of their natural hearts, but everything that was a severe rebuke to it. He was not a man after their heart: the Antichrist will be that, and of this the Lord warns them: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive” (John 6:42).
The Greeks had no promises, and were not looking for the Messiah, and having no true knowledge of their wretched condition as the servants of sin and slaves of the devil, they were not looking for the advent of a deliverer. But to turn their attention to such a necessity, and to tell them that One had made His appearance, and then to be informed that He had died a malefactor’s death upon a gibbet, was to their cultivated minds absolute folly. Such a gospel had no attraction for them.
The Jews required a sign, and the Greeks sought after wisdom; but, says the Apostle, “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” And how infinite that power and wisdom have shown themselves to be!
The cross is the witness of man’s refusal of God come in grace into the midst of a world of sinners, and it is also the witness of Gods refusal of the sinful flesh, and of man as characterized by it. At the cross God condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3), and there the whole ground was cleared from the presence of the man after that order. Such a man has no longer any existence in relationship with God. His sinful history is still continued in this world which rejected God when He came in grace, but in the cross of Christ his end has been reached in the judgment of God. For God—as in relationship with Him—as on probation—as one from whom any good is expected—the man after the flesh does not really exist. As I have said, he is here in this world, prosecuting his sinful career, and accountable to God for his actions; but he is not in, nor is God seeking to bring him into, any permanent relationship of blessing with Himself. His day is over. The cross has been the end of him judicially. What God is seeking to do is to save him out of that state and position, so that he might be no longer in the flesh but in the spirit (Rom. 8); no longer in Adam but in Christ (Rom. 5).
And the One in whom that judgment was set forth in the sight of the universe is risen from the dead, and is in the glory of God, the last Adam, life-giving Head of a new heavenly race who derive from Him, as the old race from the old sinful head, the first Adam. The past history of such has been closed by means of the cross, and a new history has been begun by the quickening power of God, who has thus linked them up in life with Himself.
Therefore the Apostle says, “Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus.” In Christ is new creation; old things are there passed away, and all things have become new, and all these new things are of God (2 Cor. 5:17-18). Of God are we in Christ. There is nothing of the old order there. We have a new life and a new nature, and all that we want is a new body to have parted with the old altogether.
The individuality remains, but the life and nature are entirely different. The life is the life that is in Christ Jesus; the nature is divine, for we are born of God; the relationships are new, for Christ’s Father is our Father, and His God our God; the affections are new, for he that loves is born of God, he knoweth God; the prospects are new, for the Father’s house is our eternal abiding-place, there to be for ever with our Lord, conformed to His image. What a glorious prospect!
And He is made unto us wisdom. All the wisdom of God centres in Him. It is in Him we learn it. Men of this world may be wise in their generation, and indeed they are, even much wiser than the children of light are in their generation, for the temporal interests of the worldling occupy all his thoughts, and it is not true of the child of light that his eternal interests are always paramount.
But if we compare the puny mind of man, and the limited circle in which it revolves, with the infinite mind of the Creator, and the illimitable expanse in which that mind employs itself, how the paltry thoughts of the creature fade into nothingness! If we study the wisdom of God as seen in Creation it is simply overwhelming, and the mind becomes giddy in the contemplation of its wonders, but in the subject of redemption we have the inventiveness (if I may use the expression) of eternal wisdom, when that wisdom was tested to the uttermost limits of its power. The feverish activities of the human mind when contrasted with the wonders of redemption are seen to be beggarly in the extreme. Let us therefore patiently, persistently, and prayerfully apply our hearts and minds to the study of the wisdom of God, as it is set before us in Christ.
But He is also made unto us righteousness. He is our subsisting righteousness before the face of God. We have none of our own, for we are sinners by nature and practice; that is, as in our natural condition, children of Adam, our fallen head. But because we have no righteousness of our own, and because without it we would be lost for ever, God has intervened on our behalf in Christ, and that in consistency with His own nature And character, and found righteousness for us in Him risen from the dead.
Now we have righteousness, and we have it where we want it; that is, in the presence of God: for He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We have this righteousness, it is ours: it is in the very place we need it. We cannot do without it, for we are sinners every one of us; and even after we have known the Lord, in many things we all offend. Even with the best intentions we fail repeatedly. But does out righteousness fail? No, it is always there, at cannot be tarnished by my failure. We are made the righteousness of God in Him. We are always that. Our privilege is to enjoy the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord will not at all reckon sin. Our sins were borne by Christ on the tree, and His blood has cleansed us from them. They are gone as completely as though they never had been committed. Every one of them is gone in the judgment of the cross, and He who bore them is our righteousness before the face of God.
But He is also our holiness. The measure of the believer’s separation to God is Christ in heaven. I know no standard of holiness short of that. On my side I may not have reached it, and surely I have not, but it is set before me in Him. That my sins are gone I know. That I am clean every whit cannot be questioned, if I am born of water and of the Spirit; but in myself, as one set apart to God by baptism, which is the initiatory ordinance into the Christian profession upon earth, do I walk as He walked? Alas, I fail, and there was no failure in Him. I am not practically what He was: I am, as to my standing in Him, for that is perfect. I did not gain it by my conduct, neither can I lose it by my conduct. What I am in Christ I am by the work of God. To that I have contributed nothing.
But if I know that I am to be conformed to His image in a day that is coming, I shall desire to be purifying myself according to that standard. I shall not be dabbling in the things of this world, as though I were a citizen of earth, but the Word of the Father, and the hope of that to which He has called me, will awake new motives within me, to which I was, in my natural state, a total stranger.
In the risen Christ I see the goal which God has placed before me, and that to which I shall have come when His purpose regarding me is completed, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified, and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). Therefore I desire with all my heart to bees like Him now as possible.
The power of redemption also is in Him. We have redemption now, as far as forgiveness of sins goes (Eph. 1:7), and we are in the life of Christ, and by the Holy Spirit taste the blessedness of the new and eternal relationships into which we have been introduced by the Word of the truth of the Gospel, but for complete redemption we await our Saviour from heaven, “who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He as able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).
In Christ and by His cross the whole ground is cleared for a completely new order of things, and in Him that new order of things is established. Outside Him it is all chaos, corruption, and condemnation. Righteousness, life, salvation, and complete redemption, are found only in Him; and all are the portion of the weakest believer, and that through the grace of a Saviour God.