« PreviousContinue »
Tliere are two more expressions in our text that need explaining: the foolishness of preaching, and them that believe : 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. They who believe, are a class of people, it is plain, who take a method of knowing God opposite to that of philosophers. Philosophers determine to derive all their notions of God, and of the chief good, from their own speculations. Believers, on the contrary, convinced of the imperfection of their reason, and of the narrow limits of their knowledge, derive their religious ideas from the testimony of a superior intelligence. The superior intelligence, whom they take for their guide, is Jesus Christ : and the testimony, to which they submit, is the gospel. Our meaning will be clearly conveyed by a remarkable passage of Tertullian, who shews the difference between him, whom St. Paul calls wise, and him, whom he calls a believer. On the famous words of St. Paul to the Colossians, Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit, chap. ii. 8. says this father; “ St. Paul had seen at Athens that human wisdom, which curtaileth, and disguiseth the truth. He had seen, that some heretics endeavored to mix that wisdom with the gospel. But what communion hath Jerusalem with Athens ? The church with the academy? Heretics with true christians ? Solomon's porch is our porch. We have no need of speculation and discussion, after we have known Jesus Christ and his gospel. When we believe we ask nothing more; for is an article of our faith, that he who believes, needs no other ground of his faith than the gospel. Thus speaks Tertullian.
But why doth St. Paul call the gospel The fool
ashness of preaching? It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Beside, he calleth it The foolishness of God, The foolishness of God is wiser than men, ver. 25. And a little lower, he adds, God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.
It is usual with St. Paul, and the style is not peculiar to him, to call an object, not by a name descriptive of its real nature, but by a name expressive of the notions, that are formed of it in the world, and of the effects, that are produced by it. Now, the gospel being considered by Jews and heathens as a foolish system, St. Paul calls it foolishness. That this was the apostle's meaning two passages prove.
The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are FOOLISHNESS UNTO HIM, chap. ii. 14. You see, then in what sense the gospel is foolishness; it is so called, because it appears so to a natural man. Again, We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block and UNTO THE GREEKS FOOLISH NESS. You see in what sense the gospel is called foolishness; it is because the doctrine of Jesus Christ crucified, which is the great doctrine of the gospel, was treated as foolishness. The history of the preaching of the apostles, fully justifies our comment. The doctrines of the gospel, in general, and that of a God-man crucified, in particular, were reputed foolish.
« We are accounted fools, says “ Justin Martyr, for giving such an eminent rank ho to a crucified man.” The wise men of the « world, says St. Augustine, insult us, and ask, " Where is your reason, and intelligence, when
you worship a man, who was crucified !”
These two words wisdom and foolishness, being thus explained, methinks, we may easily understand the whole text. 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 know God is a short phrase expressive of an idea of the virtues necessary to salvation ; it is equal to the term Theology, that is science concerning God; a body of doctrine, containing all the truths, which are necessary to salvation. Agreeably to this notion, St, Paul explains the phrase to know God, by the expression, to be saved. After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knewo not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe : and, a little lower, what he had called knowing God, he calls knowing the mind of the Lord, chap. ii. 16. that is to say, knowing that plan of salvation, which God hath formed in regard to man.
When, therefore, the apostle said, The world by wisdom knew not God, he meant, that the heathens had not derived from the light of nature all the help necessary to enable them to form adequate notions of God, and of a worship suited to his perfections. Above all, he meant to teach, us that it was impossible for the greatest philosophers to discover by the light of nature all the truths, that compose the system of the gospel, and particularly, the doctrine of a crucified Redeemer. The accomplishment of the great mystery of redemption, depended on the pure will of God, and, consequently, it could be known only by revelation. With this view he calls the mysteries of revelation things, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard ; but which God hath revealed by his Spirit, ver. 9. 10.
The apostle saith, After the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God to save believers by the foolishness of preaching. That is to say, since the mere systems of reason were eventually insufficient for the salvation of mankind; and since it
was impossible that their speculations should ob. tain the true knowledge of God; God took another way to instruct them ; he revealed by preaching the gospel what the light of nature could not discover, so that the system of Jesus Christ, and his apostles, supplied all that was wanting in the systems of the ancient philosophers.
But it is not in relation to the ancient philosophers only that we mean to consider the proposition in our text; we will examine it also in reference to modern philosophy. Our philosophers know more than all those of Greece knew : but their science, which is of unspeakable advantage, while it contains itself within its proper sphere, becomes a source of errors when it is extended beyond it. Human reason now lodgeth itself in new entrenchments, when it refuseth to submit to the faith. It even puts on new armor to attack it, after it hath invented new methods of self-defence. under pretence that natural science hath made 'greater progress, revelation is despised. Under pretenee that modern notions of God the Creator are purer than those of the ancients, the yoke of God the Redeemer is shaken off.
We are Going to employ the remaining part of this discourse in justifying the proposition of St. Paul in the sense that we have given it: we are going to endeavor tu prove, that revealed religion hath advantages infinitely superior to natural religion : that the greatest geniusses are incapable of discovering by their own reason all the truths necessary to salvation : and that it displays the goodness of God, not to abandon us to the uncertainties of our own wisdom, but to make us the rich present of revelatiori.
We will enter into this discussion by placing on the one side a philosopher contemplating the works of nature: on the other a disciple of Jesus
Christ receiving the doctrines of revelation. ΤΘ which we will give for subjects to examine : the attributes of God: the nature of man : the means of appeasing the remorse of conscience : and a future state. From their judgments on each of these subjects evidence will arise of the superior worth of that revelation, which some minute philosophers affect to despise, and abwe which they prefer that rough draught, which they sketch out by their own learned speculations.
I. Let us consider a disciple of natural religion, and a disciple of revealed religion, meditating on the attributes of God. When the disciple of natural religion considers the symmetry of this universe; when he observes that admirable uniformity, which appears in the succession of seasons, and in the constant rotation of night and day; when he semarks the exact motions of the heavenly bodies; the flux and reflux of the sea, so ordered that billows, which .swell into mountaiøs, and seem to threaten the world with an universal deluge, break away on the shore, and respect on the beach the command of the Creator, who said to the sea, hitherto shalt thou come, but no further ;; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed, Job xxxviii. 11. When he attends to all these marvellous works, he will readily conclude, that the Author of nature is a being powerful and wise. But when he observes winds, tempests, and earthquakes, which seem to threaten the reduction of nature to its primitive chaos; when he sees the sea overflow its banks, and burst the enormous moles, that the industry of mankind had raised ; his speculations will be perplexed, he will imagine, he sees characters of imperfection among so many proofs of creative perfection and power.