Taken from the February, 1898 Issue of the South African Pioneer.
"It is easy for man's wisdom to win men to a cross that leaves them uncrucified."
“Christ sent me to preach the Gospel, not with the wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect.”—1 Cor. i. 17.
WHAT a solemn thought that the cross of Christ can be made of none effect! That people may love to hear of it, may bring it, as they think, their homage of reverence and trust, and yet in their lives prove that it has none effect! It has no power over them to bring them into the death that is the gate of the true life.
And what a solemn thought that it is not by great sin. or unbelief, or enmity that this comes, but simply —By the wisdom of words. The spirit of the world seeks to accept and adorn the cross, so as to make it attractive to men, and lo!—it makes it of none effect!
And what a solemn thought that just the very messengers of the cross, the men to whom Christ entrusted the preaching of it, should be guilty of this folly—spending their lives in preaching the cross, and all the while making it of none effect! Even Paul was in danger of doing this. And so Christ, when He sent him to preach the Gospel, gave him just this one warning: Sot with wisdom of words! lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect!
And, once more, what a solemn thought that this may be done all unconsciously, and that, while men are wondering and discussing why the preaching of the cross has not more power, the answer that is nearest is not thought of: It is the wisdom of words makes it of none effect.
And, saddest of all, what a solemn thought that the Church, in the way she trains her ministers, in the undue prominence given in study and education to culture and literature, may be actually fitting men most effectively to do the work that makes the cross they preach powerless—training them in wisdom of words!
Would God that ears and hearts may be opened to hear the voice from heaven to all who preach the Gospel: Not with wisdom of words! lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect.
It is often said in regard to preaching that the essential thing is the matter, and that thus our one care should be to see that what we preach is God's truth. However much this view may appear to honour the Word, it is far from correct. To know how to preach is of as vital importance as to know what to preach. Paul might have preached the truth of the cross—if he had not done so in the right way, without wisdom of words, he would have made it of none effect. Thousands have preached the cross to little purpose, because there was something wanting in the spirit in which they did it. In time of danger a man may make a patriotic speech with the matter admirable and the arguments unanswerable. If there is reason to believe that he is a deceiver or a traitor, what he is makes what he says of none effect. The truth he speaks must be truth to him and in him; it is the spirit and life that there is in him that gives his words their weight. What we preach—that has reference to Christ and His work for us on the cross. How we preach—that points to the Holy Spirit and His work in us through the cross. To both our preaching must render equal honour if it is to be effectual. It is not the doctrinal correctness of the truth, but the very truth of God firing in us, that works preaching in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
Paul's commission was thus: Beware of preaching anything but the cross as your gospel; beware of preaching in any other but its own spirit.
And what was the mark of that other spirit that was to be avoided? Throughout the first three chapters of this first Epistle to the Corinthians, there is one clear answer given, with the little word not continually repeated: Not with wisdom of words not the wisdom of the wise; not the wisdom of this world; not with excellency of speech or wisdom; not with enticing words of man’s wisdom; not the wisdom of men; not the wisdom of the princes of this world; not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise, for the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men. The Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
Let us read and take in these words of the Holy Spirit until we see how the one great temptation the preacher of the cross has to fear, the one great power by which Satan makes that preaching of none effect, is—words of man’s wisdom.
All this is the opposite of what we hear in our days. We are asked whether the mind is not indeed one of God's most wondrous gifts, indispensable to knowing Him; and whether He and His service ought not to have the best we can give. "The highest existence in the universe," it is said, "is mind, for God is mind, and the development of that principle which assimilates to God must be our supreme good." Men forget or ignore what Scripture says about the mind being carnal, corrupt, blinded, so that it is only as the believer is transformed in the progressive renewing of his mind that he can know spiritual things. We are taught that the Gospel must be adapted to the age by translation; that this can only be done when the preacher is in full sympathy with the aspirations and tendencies of the time; and that we must cast into the fair moulds which we owe to men of genius the message of heavenly peace.
Men do not see that as the student throws himself heart and soul into the literature of the Age to enter fully into its tendencies and aspirations, and to acquire the power of re-casting the message of peace into the fair forms that please men, he comes himself under its power. The kingdom of this world, even as the kingdom of heaven, refuses to unlock its treasure on any condition but that of enthusiastic devotion. And however staunchly orthodox the preacher may remain in proclaiming the atonement of the cross, the desire of meeting the men of the world halfway, and gratifying their taste, will rob the preaching of its power. And gradually the cross will become in the preaching what it has become in act—the symbol of certain truths with regard to suffering and love which the world can admire, while God's thoughts as to the necessity and effect of that suffering, the enmity and curse of man's sin, and the object and claims of that love, in atonement and a supernatural redemption, are rejected.
If once we are willing to accept the divine message "not with wisdom of words." it will not be difficult to find the reason for the prohibition. Think of the devotion of time and the intense concentration of effort needed to acquire the wisdom of man—to how many it has been the loss of their spiritual fervor? What we spend so much time and labour on we cannot but value—how natural it is, all unconsciously, to put our trust in it—a trust that leads us away from that entire dependence upon God And His Spirit which alone has the promise of power. Think of the difficulty of preaching the true cross—God's cross—man's estimate and rejection of Christ, God's revelation of sin and His curse on it, and His redemption for the guilty, the crucifixion of the believer to the world, and of the world to him, in a way to gratify the literary taste or the worldly prejudices of those who arc called the educated. It is an impossibility. The only result must be—making the cross of none effect.
No; Christ's method was a different one. He came with a message that caused offense to human wisdom, even among His own disciples. At Pentecost His disciples took up the position of bold and uncompromising antagonism to the world. Paul gloried in a cross that was a stumbling-block and foolishness: the very thought of the offense of the cross ceasing was to him a sign of compromise with the flesh. The foolishness of preaching, the foolishness of a crucified Christ, the foolishness of God,—these are for all ages, so long as the world is the world, the only power that is to be wiser and stronger than men. Instead of deluding men with the idea that the worldly mind can be coaxed or argued into the acceptance of the cross, the Gospel comes boldly to preach a cross which is to show men the innate enmity of their heart against God. and the depth of their misery under His curse. Hide this from men, or soften it down—they may accept of the cross and Christ who died upon it; it cannot be to them the power of God to salvation; they will never learn through it to die to sin and self and the world, or to glory in it because it crucifies them to the world. It is easy for man's wisdom to win men to a cross that leaves them uncrucified. True Gospel preaching is to be led by God's wisdom to offer the cross with all its sin and guilt, with all its exacting demand of unconditional surrender and crucifixion with Christ, and then to trust to God's power to give that which appears foolishness and a stumbling-block acceptance and victory.
The cross came not by man or man's wisdom. In opposition to all man's wisdom it was God's wisdom revealed on earth. Even so now, it is in its contrariety to man's wisdom that it will convert and save. If God's servants will but seek to know that which human wisdom cannot give them, which it will most surely hide from them—what God's thoughts are of the cross, and how His power works in its foolishness and weakness, they will learn to believe in its sufficiency to break its own way into the heart, to humble and to heal, to slay and make alive again. They will discover what has been the reason that the preaching of the cross has comparatively so little effect, and, in casting aside human wisdom, they will see, as never before, the need of being led by God Himself into the mysteries of the cross through a life crucified with Christ. Their preaching of the power of the cross will become the utterance of their heart-experience—a testimony to God's power in them, a proof of God's power through them.
South African Pioneer, February, 1898, 213,214