Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15
Chapter One - The Consistency of Paul's Preaching and its Acceptance.
THE CONSISTENCY OF PAUL'S PREACHING AND ITS ACCEPTANCE
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also you received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. - 1Corinthians 15:1,2
The first sentence in this chapter, taken in connection with the closing verse of the chapter before it, seems to mark the relief which the apostle feels in passing from the discussion about spiritual gifts, now beginning to be irksome, to a more congenial and welcome theme. He dismisses, almost impatiently, the former topic. One way or other let there be an end of it. Let us have no more trouble about these questions as to the conduct of your gifted men and women in your assemblies. Only "let all things be done decently and in order" (xiv. 40). And now let us turn to what is far more vital. Let me remind you of "the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received." What the substance of that gospel was, appears from the summary of its facts or doctrines afterwards given.
In the meanwhile, and as preliminary to that summary, the apostle describes the treatment which it got at the hands of the Corinthians when he first preached it to them - the treatment which he is entitled to presume that it gets, and will get, at their hands still. He puts them in remembrance of what it once was to them. He points out what it must still be to them, if they are not to stultify or falsify their whole Christian profession. And he does so, that he may found upon their own past, if not present, esteem of the gospel, a protest against their listening to any doctrine that would damage or disparage it. He appeals to their own better judgment regarding it, against that startling corruption of it which he is about to expose - that denial of the resurrection of the dead which cuts up by the roots its whole significancy and value. He would bring them back, at the very outset of the discussion on which he is entering, to the first freshness of their early trust in Christ, and the sure hold which they had of his great salvation.
The gospel which I declare to you, of which I remind you, and which I would have you to keep pure, is the very gospel which. I preached to you from the first, and all along, - the very gospel which you once received, standing fast in it, and hoping to be saved by it. It is the gospel which surely you retain and grasp firmly still, unless the entire fabric of your faith is to be levelled with the dust.
I. "I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received" (verse 1). I declare it as the gospel which I preached, and which you received. I have nothing new to tell on the subject to which it relates - the subject of your peace with God, and your walk with God. It is to the old gospel that I would bring you always back - to the gospel which I used to preach to you in all simplicity, and which in all simplicity you were wont to receive. There is an affecting allusion here to past times. There is a touch of tenderness, as the apostle delicately recalls his own early ministry among the Corinthians, and their reception of it. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" So Paul somewhat indignantly remonstrates with another church (Gal i. 6). So he virtually addresses the Corinthians here.
I would have you to remember what sort of reception you once gave to the gospel which I preached to yoi! It is the same gospel that I declare to you still The change, if there be any, is not in it but in you. If it is not to you now what it was then, may it not be good for you to look back and ask yourselves how I preached it then, and how you then received it? There are occasions in Christian experience when such a retrospect may be most seasonable and profitable; when it may be most useful to remind Christians of the kind of welcome which they were accustomed to give to the gospel in days gone by. I am subjected, in some spiritual trial, to the temptation of having novelties in doctrine or in practice urged on my acceptance. It is proposed to me that I should contemplate the matter of which the gospel treats in a new light. I am to look from a new point of view on the old question of my reconciliation to God, and the settlement of my peace with God. The righting of my state in relation to him and the renewing of my nature in conformity to his image - these, my essential and indispensable wants, are somehow to be met upon a new plan. Some new aspect of the Divine character - some new ideal of the Divine government - seems to flash on me, so as to fascinate and charm me. I feel as if I had made a fresh and great discovery as to what God is to me, and what he would have me to be to him.
Am I summarily to discard the new suggestions of my inquiring spirit, and shut my eyes to the new light which I think has dawned on me? Surely no. But just as surely I do well, at such a crisis, to call to mind the Lord's former dealings with my soul, and my own experience under them. I am not rashly to set aside as fallacious or fictitious the whole of Paul's preaching of the gospel to me, as if it were a "song of the olden time," and the whole of my believing reception of the gospel which he preached, as if it had been all a delusion and a dream. The doctrine of the resurrection, or any other doctrine touching the life of the soul and the destiny of the race, may be presented to me in a new light. It may commend itself, or be commended to me, in the form of a sort of improved edition of the original message issuing from the cross, the grave, the opened heavens. And the new edition of it may appear to furnish a more satisfactory solution of difficulties, and a shorter and more royal road to faith, than the old system, encumbered as it is with ideas of guilt and wrath; sin and condemnation; eternal punishment; vicarious suffering; an imputed justifying righteousness; a lost world; an elect people; a redemption; a. renewal; an adoption; a bodily rising from the dead; a real and local inheritance of glory.
There may be, there is, risk and danger in our being solicited to put such "new wine" into our "old bottles." Surely, before we yield to the temptation, we may well be exhorted to consider what sort of gospel once satisfied us; what sort of gospel we once received. "No man, having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new; for he saith, The old is better" (Luke v. ~9). 2. Again, apart from any suggestion of novelties, I find my heart becoming cold, my conscience callous, my mind listless, in going through the routine of my customary religious exercises, and reading or hearing the commonplaces of ordinary religious instruction. Sacred duties, devotions, discourses, studies, all begin to pall upon me; to become "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable." Somehow the plain gospel, setting forth man s utter ruin and helplessness, and God's free and full salvation, fails to impress me; it is felt to be trite and tiresome. I am conscious, when I am brought into contact with it, of a languid and lethargic sort of apathy, which I feel as if I could not shake off. I become morbid and gloomy. It seems as if it were all in vain for me to try to believe, or have peace, or be at liberty, on the terms of that mere free and sovereign grace whose offer is so constantly dinned in my ears. It "contents me not." And having nothing else to look to, I am driven almost to dark and blank despair.
May it not be good for me, in that extremity, to bethink me of what once, at least, appeared to meet my case, and satisfy the cravings of my anxious and awakened soul ; - to be reminded of the gospel which Paul once preached to me, and which I once received? Was I in a worse frame then than now for appreciating its real evidence, power, and va.lue? Nay, were there not circumstances in my state, and elements in my experience then - perhaps largely wanting now - that did conduce to a right estimate of Christ, and of his suitableness to my case, and of his free gift of himself to me? Was it not a time when there was less room than there is now for refining and objecting, - for starting scruples and making difficulties? Was there not more of straightforward singleness of eye? There was no dallying or hesitating then. There was an urgent necessity for prompt decision. And whatever I may think of the opportunities of calm reflection which prolonged leisure and comparative security have given me, was not the instinct of my first alarm when the terror of the Lord flashed upon me, - was not the fresh fervour of my first faith and love in my eager closing with his offered mercy, - as trustworthy, at least, as any of my more recent questionings and speculations? Let me "ask for the old paths, where is the good way." Let me try again, if "walking therein I may find rest for my soul" (Jer. vi 16).
Surely, it may be good for us, when our confidence and affection are beginning to fail, and we are tempted to throw the blame of the failure on the gospel as preached to us in the old fashion, fancying that it might tell on us more in a new dress, - to go back to the old time, and recall our warm welcome of it in the days of on soul's spiritual birth, - our "life's morning march when our bosom was young." Let us hear the Lord's voice - " I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Rev. ii. 4, 5). And let us be sure, that with reference to our believing now, as well as with referenoe to our believing at first, his saying holds true - " If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (Luke xvi. 31).
II. "And wherein ye
stand" (verse 1). The gospel which I declare unto you is the gospel in which
you have got a standing. This the apostle urges as another recommendation of
that old gospel which some among the Corinthians would now, it seems, amend and
improve upon. It commanded your assent and consent once; your close embrace and
cordial acceptance; at a time, too, when you were in the best possible frame
for appreciating it's glorious excellency as a revelation of the character and
will of God, and its gracious adaptation to your case, as guilty, lost,
miserable sinners. And it might well do so; you might well be willing to
receive it as you did. For in it you have now a position which you never
otherwise could reach; a position of secure, stable, settled righteousness and
peace; a strong position; a sure habitation ; - " Our feet shall stand within
thy gates, 0 Jerusalem" (Psalm cxxii. 2). Yes, the apostle virtually says to
the Corinthians, You may be thoroughly assured that none of those refinements
on the gospel system - none of those fresh and original exhibitions of it,
whether in the new light of a higher philosophy or on the field of a wider and
larger philanthropy, which have a certain attraction for you in certain moods
of mind - possess the element of stability; none of them have power to impart
the security which the gospel itself, rightly apprehended, gives; in none of
them can you stand at all so safely, or so surely, or so uprightly, as in it.
They may seem to have some advantages in the way of overcoming initial
difficulties on the heavenly road, or in the way of leading that road
subsequently along a loftier range of vision and attainment. The first and
primary act of faith, in closing with Christ, may apparently be rendered
simpler and easier by substituting, for the free and universal gift of Christ
to sinners as their Saviour, some vague notion of the Creator's equal fatherly
favour for all his creatures, even apart from their being converted by his
Spirit and reconciled to himself by the blood of his Son.
And there may be a doctrine or discipline of so-called perfection, connected with mystical conceptions of the spiritual life; or there may be an assumption and affectation of a humanity less straitened than that of ordinary, old fashioned godliness; such as may leave far behind the tame and narrow routine of a humble and holy walk with God in the midst of an evil world.
But after all, where but in the old gospel of the free grace of God in Christ is a poor tempest-tossed dove to find a resting-place for the sole of its foot? Where but in the ark is a weary spirit to find safe repose? it is in the gospel that we "stand." For it is the gospel alone that can furnish, what is the indispensable condition of our standing securely, the means of a thorough healing of the breach, a thorough settlement of the misunderstanding, which sin has caused between us and our God. In the gospel alone, in the gospel system of a free and full justification by grace, through faith in Christ as "the righteousness of God," "the Lord our righteousness," - we have guilty man confronted face to face with his Judge, and made to see how in righteousness his guilt is cancelled, and he is himself restored to the place and privilege of a child. There alone we have, in the cross of Christ, the Ruler and the criminal, the Father and the prodigal, the Holy One and the sinner, righteously reconciled. This is our standing in the gospel "Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. v. 1, ).
"By which also ye are saved" (verse 2). This gospel is indeed "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." And it is so, because "therein is the righteousness of God revealed The Full Salvation of the Gospel (15:1,2) 27 from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith" (Rom. i. 16,17). "Christ crucified" may be to some a stumbling-block, for "he was crucified through weakness" (2 Cor. xiii. 4). "But the weakness of God is stronger than man ;" and "to them that are called, Christ crucified is the power of God." A]1 the elements of salvation are provided for us and secured to us in this gospel In it we have free forgiveness, complete acceptance in the sight of God, a sure standing in his favour, present peace. In it we have also renewal of nature, a new heart, a right spirit, a new principle implanted in us of holy loyalty and love to him who first loved us. And in it we have, moreover, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and his in dwelling in us, to shed abroad in. our hearts the love of God to us, to quicken our love to God, to cry in us Abba Father, to "witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ ;" - to be thus in us "the earnest of our inheritance," giving us, more and more, in our growing sense of God's fatherly love to us, and our growing exercise of filial love to God, - in our advancing likeness to him, and our increasing capacity for knowing, trusting, and delighting in. him, - an ever brightening foresight, an ever deepening foretaste, of the eternal blessedness of heaven. Such salvation is there in "the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand."
Surely, then, it is not a gospel to be lightly abandoned, or superseded, or changed. So the apostle, in substance, reasons, when he puts it, as it were, to the Corinthians to say if they mean to "keep in memory," - or rather simply to keep, to retain and hold fast, - " what he preached unto them~~ ; - "if ye keep what I preached unto you" (verse 2). Is it not worth the keeping? Is it not still, as at the first, "a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation If it is a gospel which you once received; if it is a gospel which is of such power to "strengthen, stablish, settle you: to give you a firm footing and sure standing in the favour and in the family of heaven; and if it is a gospel which conveys and secures to you, in present possession and in future prospect, such a fulness of saving benefits; is it to be supposed possible that you will hesitate about keeping it? It cannot, of course, minister to you either stability or salvation, unless you keep it; grasping it tenaciously and refusing to let it go. It's satisfying and saving only if you keep it. If you keep it! Can that be matter of doubt? If so, it comes to this, that "ye have believed in vain" (verse 2). You make void and vain all the Lord s gracious dealings with you, and all your experience hitherto of his love and mercy. All that you have ever heard and seen of Christ is of none effect !
You in effect nullify your whole past Christianity. Surely you are not prepared for such a result! An alternative like that you cannot face! And yet that is the inevitable consequence of your giving up and parting with the gospel which "I have preached unto you." You are at sea again; unsettled and unquiet. Questions that concern your best interests for time and for eternity - questions which once seemed to be well adjusted - are again involved in all their old perplexing uncertainty. You have to begin the search for saving light and solid peace anew. And the probability is that, if you yield to the temptation, you may become like those who are "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. iii. 7). Keep therefore what you have received. Hold fast that which is good. When at any time you are in danger of being seduced from your steadfastness, let the still small voice of Christ sound in your ear, "Will ye also go away?" And let your reply he prompt, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John vi 67, 68).
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