This past Reformation Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching, and chose to complete a goal of mine: to re-preach a historical sermon. The specific sermon was “Christ Crucified” preached originally by Charles H. Spurgeon in 1855.
There are difficulties with preaching a sermon from an era gone by. First is the language issue. Speakers in centuries past used different words and different idioms, and so even if they spoke in English, words used then mean different things than they mean today (i.e. the old word for a bundle of sticks). Secondly, there’s the danger that the audience (and preacher) will treat the sermon as a fun historical exercise rather than as the word of God preached. And third, whenever reading a sermon, there is a danger that the delivery will be dry and monotonous. With these challenges in mind, my Dad and I set out to “modernize” the language of the sermon without changing what he said, and then I had the privileged of addressing the other two challenges.
I hope that this was helpful, and might be helpful to others who are interested in connecting to the history of the church in this way. For this reason, I am posting below the updated text of the sermon that was delivered, preceded by a link to a copy of the original and a link to the sermon audio.
Original Text: Christ Crucified the original message delivered by Charles H. Spurgeon February 11, 1855
Sermon Audio: Christ Crucified – delivered by Daniel Comings, October 27, 2013
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, 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.”
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
Oh the contempt God has poured upon the wisdom of this world! How he has brought it to naught, and made it appear as nothing. He has allowed it to work out its own conclusions, and prove its own folly. Men boasted that they were wise; they said that they could find out God to perfection; and in order that their folly might be refuted once and forever, God gave them the opportunity of so doing.
He said, “Worldly wisdom, I will try you. You say you are mighty, your intellect is vast and comprehensive, your eye is keen, and you can find all secrets; now, behold, I try you; I give you one great problem to solve. Here is the universe; stars make its canopy, fields and flowers adorn it, and the floods roll o’er its surface; my name is written therein; the invisible things of God may be clearly seen in the things which are made.
“Philosophy, I give you this problem—find me if you can. Here are the things I have done—find me. Discover in the wondrous world which I have made, the way to worship me acceptably. I give you space enough to do it—there are data enough. Behold the clouds, the earth, and the stars. I give you time enough; I will give you four thousand years, and I will not interfere; but you shall do as you will with your own world. I will give you men enough; for I will make great minds, whom you shall call lords of earth; you shall have orators, you shall have philosophers. Find me out, O reason; find me out, O wisdom; find me out, if you can; find me out completely; and if you cannot, then shut your mouth forever; then I will teach you that the wisdom of God is wiser than the wisdom of man; yea, that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
And how did the wisdom of man work out the problem? How did wisdom perform her task? Look on the nations; there you see the result of wisdom’s research. In the time of Jesus Christ, you might have beheld the earth covered with the slime of pollution, a Sodom on a large scale—corrupt, filthy, depraved; indulging in vices which we dare not mention; reveling in lust too abominable even for our imagination to dwell upon for a moment.
(And yet today we watch TV shows about them)
We find the men prostrating themselves before blocks of wood and stone, adoring ten thousand gods more vicious than themselves. We find, in fact, that reason wrote out her lines with a finger covered with blood and filth, and that she forever cut herself out from all her glory by the vile deeds she did. She would not worship God. She would not bow down to him who is “clearly seen,” but she worshiped any creature—the reptile that crawled, the viper— anything might be a god; anything but the God of heaven. Vice might be made into a ceremony, the greatest crime might be exalted into a religion; but true worship reason knew nothing of.
Poor reason! poor wisdom! how are you fallen from heaven; like Lucifer—you son of the morning—you are lost; you have written out your conclusion, but a conclusion of complete folly. “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.”
Wisdom had had its time, and time enough; it had done its all, and that was little enough; it had made the world worse than it was before it stepped upon it, and “now,” says God, “Foolishness shall overcome wisdom; now ignorance, as you call it, shall sweep away science; now, humble, child-like faith shall crumble to the dust all the colossal systems your hands have piled.”
He calls his armies. Christ puts his trumpet to his mouth, and up come the warriors, clad in fishermen’s garb, with the brogue of the lake of Galilee—poor humble mariners. Here are the warriors, O wisdom, that are to confound you; these are the heroes who shall overcome your proud philosophers; these men are to plant their standard upon your ruined walls, and bid them to fall forever; these men and their successors are to exalt a gospel in the world which you may laugh at as absurd, which you may sneer at as folly, but which shall be exalted above the hills, and shall be glorious even to the highest heavens.
Since that day, God has always raised up men and women to proclaim the foolishness of the gospel that the apostles preached and, therefore, here I stand, foolish as Paul might be, foolish as Peter, or any of those fishermen; but still with the might of God I grasp the sword of truth, coming here to “preach Christ and him 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.”
Before I enter upon our text, let me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is. My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book. I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever.
I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ’s name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit’s work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, “We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost.”
And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his giving of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not that gospel.
There are three things in the text: first, a gospel rejected, “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness”; secondly, a gospel triumphant, “unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks”; and thirdly, a gospel admired; it is to them who are called “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
I. First, we have here A GOSPEL REJECTED. One would have imagined that, when God sent his gospel to men, all men would meekly listen, and humbly receive its truths. We should have thought that God’s ministers only had to proclaim that life is brought to light by the gospel, and that Christ is come to save sinners, and every ear would be attentive, every eye would be fixed, and every heart would be wide open to receive the truth. We should have said, judging favorably of our fellow-creatures, that there would not exist in the world a monster so vile, so depraved, so polluted, as to put so much as a stone in the way of the progress of truth; we could not have conceived such a thing; yet that is exactly what happened.
When the gospel was preached, instead of being accepted and admired, one universal hiss went up to heaven; men could not bear it; its first preacher they dragged to the brow of the hill, and would have sent him down headlong; yea, they did more—they nailed him to the cross, and there they let him languish out his dying life in agony such as no man has borne since. All his chosen ministers have been hated and abhorred by world-lings; instead of being listened to they have been scoffed at; treated as if they were the off-scouring of all things, and the very scum of mankind.
Look at the holy men in down through the course of history, how they were driven from city to city, persecuted, afflicted, tormented, stoned to death, wherever the enemy had power to do so. Those friends of men, those real philanthropists, who came with hearts big with love, and hands full of mercy, and lips pregnant with warnings of heavens judgment, and souls that burned with holy influence; those men were treated as if they were spies in the camp, as if they were deserters from the common cause of mankind; as if they were enemies, and not, as they truly were, the best of friends.
Do not suppose, my friends, that men like the gospel any better now than they did then. There is an idea that you are growing better. I do not believe it. You are growing worse. In many respects men may be better—outwardly better; the heart within is still the same. If you dissected the human heart of today, it would be like the human heart a thousand years ago; the gall of bitterness within that breast of yours, is just as bitter as the gall of bitterness in that of Simon rebuked by Peter in Acts chapter 8. We have in our hearts the same latent opposition to the truth of God; and hence we find men, even as of old, who scorn the gospel.
I shall, in speaking of the gospel rejected, endeavor to point out the two classes of persons Paul references who equally despise truth. The Jews make it a stumbling block, and the Greeks account it foolishness. Now these two very respectable gentlemen—the Jew and the Greek—I am not going to make these ancient individuals the object of my condemnation, but I look upon them as members of a great parliament, representatives of a great constituency, and I shall attempt to show that the “Jew” represents the religious person to whom Christ is a stumbling block; and that the Greek represents the intellectual unto whom the gospel would be foolishness. I shall simply introduce the Jew and the Greek, and let them speak a moment to you, in order that you may see the gentlemen who represent you; the representative men; the persons who stand for many of you, who as yet are not called by divine grace.
The first is the man of religion; to him the gospel is a stumbling block. A respectable man the Jew was in his day; all formal religion was concentrated in his person; he went up to the temple very devoutly; he tithed all he had, even to the herbs in his garden. You would see him fast twice in the week, with a face all marked with sadness and sorrow. If you looked at him, he had the law between his eyes; there was the phylactery, and the borders of his garments of amazing width, that he might never be supposed to be a Gentile dog; that no one might ever conceive that he was not an Hebrew of pure descent. He had a holy ancestry; he came of a pious family; a right good man was he. He could not like those Sadducees at all, who had no religion. He was thoroughly a religious man; he stood up for his synagogue; he would not have that temple on Mount Gerizim; he could not bear the Samaritans, he had no dealings with them; he was a religionist of the first order, a man of the very finest kind; a specimen of a man who is a moralist, and who loves the ceremonies of the law.
Accordingly, when he heard about Christ, he asked who Christ was. “The Son of a Carpenter.” Ah! “The son of a carpenter, and his mothers’s name was Mary, and his father’s name was Joseph.” “That of itself is presumption enough,” said he; “positive proof, in fact, that he cannot be the Messiah.”
And what does this Jesus say? Why, he says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” Well, they reply”That won’t do.” Moreover, Jesus says, “It is not by the works of the flesh that any man can enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The Jew tied a double knot in his phylactery at once; he thought he would have the borders of his garment made twice as broad. He bow to the Nazarene! No, no; and if so much as a disciple of Jesus crossed the street, he thought the place polluted, and would not tread in his steps. Do you think he would give up his old father’s religion, the religion which came from Mount Sinai, that old religion that lay in the ark and the overshadowing cherubim? He give that up! not he. A vile impostor—that is all Christ was in his eyes. He thought so. “A stumbling block to me; I cannot hear about it; I will not listen to it.”
Accordingly, he turned a deaf ear to all the preacher’s eloquence, and listened not at all. Farewell, old man of religion! You sleep with your fathers, and your generation is a wandering race, still walking the earth. Farewell! I have done with you. Alas! poor wretch! That Christ, who was your stumbling-block, shall be your judge, and on your head shall be that loud curse. “His blood be on us and on our children.”
But I am going to find out Mr. man of religion here in Exeter Hall (here in this auditorium)—persons who answer to his description—to whom Jesus Christ is a stumbling block. Let me introduce you to yourselves, some of you. You were of a pious family too, were you not? Yes. And you have a religion which you love; you love all the outward trappings of it. You would not have one program altered, nor one of those dear old arches taken down, nor the stained glass removed, for all the world; and any man who should say a word against such things, you would set down as a heretic at once. Or, perhaps, you love some plain old meeting-house, where your forefathers worshiped, that old country church. Ah! it is a beautiful plain place; you love it, you love its ordinances, you love its exterior; and if any one spoke against the place, how vexed you would feel.
You think that what they do there, they ought to do everywhere; in fact, your church is a model one; the place where you go is exactly the sort of place for everybody; and if I were to ask you why you hope to go to heaven, you would perhaps say, “Because I am a Baptist,” or, “Because I am reformed” or whatever other sect you belong to. There is yourself; I know Jesus Christ will be to you a stumbling block. If I come and tell you, that all the times you have gone to the house of God is good for nothing; if I tell you that all those many times you have been singing and praying, all pass for nothing in the sight of God, because you are a hypocrite and a formalist. If I tell you that your heart is not right with God, and that unless it is so, all the external is good for nothing, I know what you will say,—”I will not hear that young man again.” It is a stumbling block.
If you had stepped in anywhere where you had heard formalism exalted: if you had been told “this must you do, and this other must you do, and then you will be saved,” you would highly approve of it. But how many are there externally religious, with whose characters you could find no fault, but who have never had the regenerating influence of the Holy Ghost; who never were made to lie on their face before Calvary’s cross; who never turned a wistful eye to yonder Savior crucified; who never put their trust in him that was slain for the sons of men. They love a superficial religion, but when a man talks deeper than that, they consider it to be simple babbling.
You may love all that is external about religion, just as you may love a man for his clothes—caring nothing for the man himself. If so, I know you are one of those who reject the gospel. You will hear me preach; and while I speak about the externals, while I plead for morality, and argue against drunkenness, or show the heinousness of Sabbath-breaking you will hear me with attention; but if once I say, “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you can in no wise enter into the kingdom of God”; if once I tell you that you must be elected of God: that you must be purchased with the Saviour’s blood—that you must be converted by the Holy Ghost—you say, “He is a fanatic! Away with him, away with him! We do not want to hear that any more.” Christ crucified, is to the Jew,—the ceremonialist, the religious man—a stumbling block.
But there is another specimen of this man of religion to be found. He is thoroughly orthodox in his doctrine. As for forms and ceremonies, he thinks nothing about them. He goes to a place of worship where he learns sound doctrine. He will hear nothing but what is true. He likes that we should have good works and morality. He is a good man, and no one can find fault with him. Here he is, regular in his Sunday pew. In the market he walks before men in all honesty—so you would imagine. Ask him about any doctrine, and he can give you a thorough analysis of it. In fact, he could write a treatise upon anything in the Bible, and a great many things besides. He knows almost everything: and here, up in this dark attic of the head, his religion has taken up its abode; he has a fine living room down in his heart, but his religion never goes there—that is shut against it. He has money in there—Mammon, worldliness; or he has something else—self-love, pride. Perhaps he loves to hear experimental preaching; he admires it all; in fact, he loves the sound of most anything. But that is his problem he is all sound and there is no substance.
He likes to hear true doctrine; but it never penetrates his inner man. You never see him weep. Preach to him about Christ crucified, a glorious subject, and you never see a tear roll down his cheek; tell him of the mighty influence of the Holy Ghost—he admires you for it, but he never had the hand of the Holy Spirit on his soul; tell him about communion with God, plunging in Godhead’s deepest sea, and being lost in its immensity—the man loves to hear, but he never experiences, he has never communed with Christ; and accordingly, when you once begin to strike home; when you lay him on the table, take out your dissecting knife, begin to cut him up, and show him his own heart, to let him see what it is by nature, and what it must become by grace—the man reacts, he cannot stand that; he wants none of that—Christ received in the heart, and accepted. Albeit that he loves it enough in the head, ’tis to him a stumbling block, and he casts it away.
Do you see yourselves here, my friends? See yourselves as God sees you? For so it is, here be many to whom Christ is as much a stumbling block now as he ever was. O you formalists! I speak to you; O you who have the nutshell, but abhor the kernel; O you who like the trappings and the dress, but care not for that fair virgin who is clothed therewith; O you who like the paint and the tinsel, but abhor the solid gold, I speak to you; I ask you, does your religion give you solid comfort? Can you stare death in the face with it, and say, “I know that my Redeemer lives?” Can you close your eyes at night, singing as your evening song—
“I to the end must endure
As sure as the earnest is given”?
Can you bless God for affliction? Can you plunge in, accounted as you are, and swim through all the floods of trial? Can you march triumphant through the lion’s den, laugh at affliction, and bid defiance to hell? Can you? No! Your gospel is an effeminate, wimpy, thing—a thing of words and sounds, and not of power. Cast it from you, I beseech you; it is not worth your keeping; and when you come before the throne of God, you will find it will fail you, and fail you so that you shall never find another. You shall find that Christ, who is now “a stumbling block,” will be your Judge.
I have found out the man of religion, and I have now to discover the Greek. He is a person of quite a different exterior to the man of religion. As to the religious trappings, to him they are all rubbish, and he despises them. He does not care for the forms of religion; he has an intense aversion, in fact, to broad-brimmed hats, or to everything which looks like outward show. He likes eloquence; he admires a smart saying; he loves a quaint expression; he likes to read the last new book; he is an intellectual, and to him the gospel is foolishness.
The intellectual is a gentleman found everywhere, now-a-days; manufactured sometimes in colleges, constantly made in schools, produced everywhere. He is on the exchange, in the market; he keeps a shop, rides in a carriage; he is noble, a gentleman; he is everywhere, even in court. He is thoroughly wise. Ask him anything, and he knows it. Ask for a quotation from any of the old poets, or any one else, and he can give it you. If you are a Muslim, and plead the claims of your religion, he will hear you very patiently. But if you are a Christian, and talk to him of Jesus Christ, “Stop your babbling,” he says, “I don’t want to hear anything about that.”
This intellectual gentleman believes all philosophy except the true one; he studies all wisdom except the wisdom of God; he likes all learning except spiritual learning; he loves everything except that which God approves; he likes everything which man makes, and nothing which comes from God; it is foolishness to him, confounded foolishness. You have only to discourse about one doctrine in the Bible, and he shuts his ears; he wishes no longer for your company—it is foolishness.
I have met this gentleman a great many times. Once, when I saw him, he told me he did not believe in any religion at all; and when I said I did, and had a hope that when I died I should go to heaven, he said he dared say it was very comfortable, but he did not believe in religion, and that he was sure it was best to live as nature dictated. Another time he spoke well of all religions, and believed they were very good in their place, and all true; and he had no doubt that, if a man were sincere in any kind of religion, he would be alright at last. I told him I did not think so, and that I believed there was but one religion revealed of God—the religion of God’s elect, the religion which is the gift of Jesus. He then said I was a bigot, and wished me good morning. It was to him foolishness. He had nothing to do with me at all. He either liked no religion, or every religion.
Another time I demanded his attention, and I discussed with him a little about faith. He said, “It is all very well, I believe that is true Protestant doctrine.” But presently I said something about election, and he said, “I don’t like that; many people have preached that and turned it into something bad.” I then hinted something about free grace; but that he could not endure, it was to him foolishness. He was a polished intellectual, and thought that if he were not chosen, he ought to be. He never liked that passage, “God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” He thought that it discredited the Bible and when the book was revised, he had no doubt that verse would be cut out.
To such a man—for he is here this morning, very likely come to hear this reed shaken of the wind—I have to say this: Ah! you wise man, full of worldly wisdom; your wisdom will stand you here, but what will you do in the swellings of Jordan? Philosophy may do well for you to learn upon while you walk through this world; but the river of death is deep, and you will want something more than that. If you have not the arm of the Most High to hold you up in the flood and cheer you with promises, you will sink, man; with all your philosophy, you will sink; with all your learning, you shall sink, and be washed into that awful ocean of eternal torment, where you shall be forever. Ah! Intellectual man, it may be foolishness to you, but you shall see the man your judge, and then shall you rue the day that e’er you said that God’s gospel was foolishness.
II. Having spoken thus far upon the gospel rejected, I shall now briefly speak upon the GOSPEL TRIUMPHANT. “Unto us who are called, both Jews and Greeks, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Yonder man rejects the gospel, despises grace, and laughs at it as a delusion. Here is another man who laughed at it, too; but God will rescue him and bring him down upon his knees. Christ shall not die for nothing. The Holy Ghost shall not strive in vain. God has said, “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall accomplish the thing for which I sent it” He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be abundantly satisfied.” If one sinner is not saved, another shall be. The man of religion and the intellectual shall never depopulate heaven. The choirs of glory shall not lose a single songster by all the opposition of Jews and Greeks; for God has said it; some shall be called; some shall be saved; some shall be rescued.
“Perish the virtue, as it ought, abhorred,
And the fool with it, who insults his Lord.
The atonement a Redeemer’s love has wrought
Is not for you—the righteous need it not.
See’st you yon harlot wooing all she meets,
The worn-out nuisance of the public streets
Herself from morn till night, from night to morn,
Her own abhorrence, and as much your scorn:
The gracious shower, unlimited and free,
Shall fall on her, when heaven denies it thee.
Of all that wisdom dictates, this the drift,
That man is dead in sin, and life a gift.”
If the righteous and good are not saved, if they reject the gospel, there are others who are to be called, others who shall be rescued; for Christ will not lose the merits of his agonies, or the purchase of his blood.
“Unto us who are called.” I received a note this week asking me to explain that word “called”; because in one passage it says, “Many are called but few are chosen,” while in another it appears that all who are called must be chosen. Now, let me observe that there are two calls.
As my old friend, John Bunyan, says, the hen has two calls, the common cluck, which she gives daily and hourly, and the special one, which she means for her little chickens. So there is a general call, a call made to every man; every man hears it. Many are called by it; all you are called this morning in that sense, but very few are chosen. The other is a special call, the children’s call. You know how the bell sounds over the workshop, to call the men to work—that is a general call. A father goes to the door and calls out, “John, it is dinner time”—that is the special call. Many are called with the general call, but they are not chosen; the special call is for the children only, and that is what is meant in the text, “Unto us who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” That call is always a special one.
While I stand here and call men, nobody comes; while I preach to sinners universally, no good is done; it is like the sheet lightning you sometimes see on the summer’s evening, beautiful, grand; but whoever heard of anything being struck by it? But the special call is the forked flash from heaven; it strikes somewhere; it is the arrow sent in between the joints of the harness.
The call which saves is like that of Jesus, when he said “Mary,” and she said unto him “Rabonni.” Do you know anything about that special call, my beloved? Did Jesus ever call you by name? Can you recollect the hour when he whispered your name in your ear, when he said, “Come to me”? If so, you will grant the truth of what I am going to say next about it—that it is an effectual call; there is no resisting it. When God calls with his special call, there is no standing out. Ah! I know I laughed at religion; I despised, I abhorred it; but that call! Oh, I would not come. But God said, “You shall come. All that the Father gives to me shall come.” “Lord, I will not.” “But you shall,” said God. And I have gone up to God’s house sometimes almost with a resolution that I would not listen, but listen I must. Oh, how the word came into my soul! Was there any power in my resistance? No; I was thrown down; each bone seemed to be broken; I was saved by effectual grace. I appeal to your experience, my friends. When God took you in hand, could you withstand him? You stood against your pastor times enough. Sickness did not break you down; disease did not bring you to God’s feet; eloquence did not convince you; but when God puts his hand to the work, ah! then what a change.
Like Saul, with his horses going to Damascus, that voice from heaven said, “I am Jesus whom you persecute.” “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” There was no going further then. That was an effectual call.
Like that, again, which Jesus gave to Zaccheus, when he was up in the tree; stepping under the tree, he said, “Zaccheus, come down, today I must abide in your house.” Zaccheus was taken in the net; he heard his own name; the call sank into his soul; he could not stay up in the tree, for an almighty impulse drew him down.
And I could tell you some singular instances of persons going to the house of God and having their characters described to perfection, so that they have said, “He is describing me, he is described me.” Just as I might say to that young man here, who lusted after a woman or an image, that Jesus calls him to repentance. It may be that there is such a person here; and when the call comes to a specific character, it generally comes with a special power. God gives his ministers a brush, and shows them how to use it in painting life-like portraits, and thus the sinner hears the special call. I cannot give the special call; God alone can give it, and I leave it with him. Some must be called. Jew and Greek may laugh, but still there are some who are called, both Jews and Greeks.
Then, to close up this second point, it is a great mercy that many a man of religion has been made to drop his self-righteousness; many a legalist has been made to drop his legalism, and come to Christ; and many an intellectual has bowed his genius at the throne of God’s gospel. We have a few such. As Cowper says:
“We boast some rich ones whom the gospel sways,
And one who wears a crown, and prays;
Like gleanings of an olive tree they show,
Here and there one upon the topmost bough.”
III. Now we come to our third point, A GOSPEL ADMIRED; unto us who are called of God, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Now, beloved, this must be a matter of pure experience between your souls and God. If you are called of God this morning, you will know it. I know there are times when a Christian has to say,
“Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?”
But if a man never in his life knew himself to be a Christian, he never was a Christian. If he never had a moment of confidence, when he could say, “Now I know in whom I have believed,” I think I do not utter a harsh thing when I say, that that man could not have been born again; for I do not understand how a man can be killed and then made alive again, and not know it; how a man can pass from death unto life, and not know it; how a man can be brought out of darkness into marvelous liberty without knowing it. I am sure I know it when I shout out my old verse,
“Now free from sin, I walk at large,
My Saviour’s blood’s my full discharge;
At his dear feet content I lay,
A sinner saved, and homage pay.”
There are moments when the eyes glisten with joy and we can say, “We are persuaded, confident, certain.” I do not wish to distress any one who is under doubt. Often gloomy doubts will prevail; there are seasons when you fear you have not been called, when you doubt your interest in Christ. Ah! what a mercy it is that it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but his hold of you! What a sweet fact that it is not how you grasp his hand, but his grasp of yours, that saves you.
Yet I think you ought to know, sometime or other, whether you are called of God. If so, you will follow me in the next part of my discourse, which is a matter of pure experience; unto us who are saved, it is “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
The gospel is to the true believer a thing of power. It is Christ the power of God. Yes, there is a power in God’s gospel beyond all description. Once, I, bound on the proverbial wild horse of my lust, bound hand and foot, incapable of resistance, was galloping on with hell’s wolves behind me, howling for my body and my soul, as their just and lawful prey. There came a mighty hand which stopped that wild horse, cut my bands, set me down, and brought me into liberty.
Is there power, sir? Indeed, there is power, and he who has felt it must acknowledge it. There was a time when I lived in the strong old castle of my sins, and rested in my works. There came a trumpeter to the door, and bade me open it. I with anger rebuked him from the porch, and said he should never enter. There came a goodly personage, with loving countenance; his hands were marked with scars, where nails were driven, and his feet had nail-prints too; he lifted up his cross, using it as a hammer; at the first blow the gate of my prejudice shook; at the second it trembled more; at the third down it fell, and in he came; and he said, “Arise, and stand upon your feet, for I have loved you with an everlasting love.” A thing of power! Ah! it is a thing of power. I have felt it here, in this heart; I have the witness of the Spirit within, and know it is a thing of might, because it has conquered me; it has bowed me down.
“His free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Has won my affection, and held my soul fast.”
The gospel to the Christian is a thing of power. What is it that makes the young man devote himself as a missionary to the cause of God, to leave father and mother, and go into distant lands? It is a thing of power that does it—it is the gospel.
What is it that constrains yonder minister, in the middle of an epidemic, to climb up that creaking staircase, and stand by the bed of some dying creature who has that contagious disease? It must be a thing of power which leads him to risk his life; it is love of the cross of Christ which bids him do it.
What enables one man to stand up before a multitude of his fellows, although unprepared he may be, but determined that he will speak nothing but Christ and him crucified? What is it that enables him to cry aha! like the war-horse of Job in battle as he moves glorious in might? It is a thing of power that does it—it is Christ crucified.
And what emboldens that timid female to walk down that dark lane in the wet evening, that she may go and sit beside the victim of a contagious fever? What strengthens her to go through that den of thieves, and pass by the decadent and profane? What influences her to enter into that room of death, and there sit down and whisper words of comfort? Does gold make her do it? They are too poor to give her gold. Does fame make her do it? She shall never be known, nor written among the mighty women of this earth. What makes her do it? Is it love of merit? No; she knows she has no reward here on earth. What impels her to it? It is the power of the gospel on her heart; it is the cross of Christ; she loves it, and she therefore says—
“Were the whole realm of nature mine.
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
But I behold another scene. A martyr is going to the stake; the soldiers are around him; the crowds are mocking, but he is marching steadily on. See, they bind him, with a chain around his middle, to the stake; they heap bundles of sticks all about him; the flame is lighted up; listen to his words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” The flames are kindling round his legs; the fire is burning him even to the bone; see him lift up his hands and say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and though the fire devour this body, yet in my flesh shall I see the Lord.” Behold him clutch the stake and kiss it, as if he loved it, and hear him say, “For every chain of iron that man binds me with, God shall give me a chain of gold; for all this wood, and this humiliation and shame, he shall increase the weight of my eternal glory.” See all the under parts of his body are consumed; still he lives in the torture; at last he bows himself, and the upper part of his body falls over; and as he falls you hear him say, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit.”
What wondrous magic was on him, sirs? What made that man strong? What helped him to bear that cruelty? What made him stand unmoved in the flames? It was the thing of power; it was the cross of Jesus crucified. For “unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”
But behold another scene far different. There is no crowd there; it is a silent room. There is a poor cot, a lonely bed: a physician standing by. There is a young girl: her face is blanched by disease; long has the disease eaten her flesh, and though sometimes the color returned, it was simply a sign of the deceitful disease. There she lies, weak, pale, worn, dying, yet behold a smile upon her face, as if she had seen an angel. She speaks, and there is music in her voice. Joan of Arc of old was not half as mighty as that girl. She is wrestling with dragons on her death-bed; but see her composure, and hear her dying song:
“Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to your bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high!
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!”
And with a smile she shuts her eye on earth, and opens it in heaven. What enables her to die like that? It is the thing of power; it is the cross; it is Jesus crucified.
I have little time to elaborate upon the other point, and far be it from me to weary you by a lengthened and flowery sermon, but we must glance at the other statement: Christ is, to the called ones, the wisdom of God as well as the power of God. To a believer, the gospel is the perfection of wisdom, and if it appear not so to the ungodly, it is because of the perversion of judgment due to their depravity.
An idea has long possessed the public mind, that a religious man can scarcely be a wise man. It has been the custom to talk of infidels, atheists, and deists, as men of deep thought and comprehensive intellect; and to pity for the Christian apologist, as if he must surely fall by the hand of his enemy. But this is purely a mistake; for the gospel is the sum of wisdom; an epitome of knowledge; a treasure-house of truth; and a revelation of mysterious secrets. In it we see how justice and mercy may be married; here we behold an unstoppable law entirely satisfied, and sovereign love bearing away the sinner in triumph.
Our meditation upon it enlarges the mind; and as it opens to our soul in successive flashes of glory, we stand astonished at the profound wisdom displayed in it. Ah, dear friends! if you seek wisdom, you shall see it displayed in all its greatness; not in the balancing of the clouds, nor the firmness of earth’s foundations; not in the measured march of the armies of the sky, nor in the perpetual motions of the waves of the sea; not in vegetation with all its fairy forms of beauty; nor in the animal with its marvelous tissue of nerve, and vein, and sinew: nor even in man, that last and loftiest work of the Creator. But turn aside and see this great sight!—an incarnate God upon the cross; a substitute atoning for mortal guilt; a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of Heaven, and delivering the rebellious sinner. Here is essential wisdom; enthroned, crowned, glorified. Admire, you men of earth, if you be not blind; and you who glory in your learning bend your heads in reverence, and own that all your skill could not have devised a gospel at once so just to God, so safe to man.
Remember, my friends, that while the gospel is in itself wisdom, it also confers wisdom on its students; she teaches young men wisdom and discretion, and gives understanding to the simple. A man who is a believing admirer and a hearty lover of the truth as it is in Jesus, is in a right place to follow with advantage any other branch of science. I confess I have a shelf in my head for everything now. Whatever I read I know where to put it; whatever I learn I know where to stow it away. Once when I read books, I put all my knowledge together in glorious confusion; but ever since I have known Christ, I have put Christ in the centre as my sun, and each science revolves round it like a planet, while minor sciences are satellites to these planets. Christ is to me the wisdom of God. I can learn everything now. The science of Christ crucified is the most excellent of sciences, she is to me the wisdom of God. O, young man, build your studio on Calvary! there raise your observatory, and scan by faith the lofty things of nature. Let the Bible be your standard classic—your last appeal in matters of debate. Let its light be your illumination, and you shall become more wise than Plato, more truly learned than the seven sages of antiquity.
And now, my dear friends, solemnly and earnestly, as in the sight of God, I appeal to you. You are gathered here this morning, I know, from different motives; some of you have come from curiosity; others of you are regular attenders; some have come from one place and some from another. What have you heard me say this morning? I have told you of two classes of persons who reject Christ; the religionist, who has a religion of form and nothing else; and the intellectual man of the world, who calls our gospel foolishness.
Now, put your hand upon your heart, and ask yourself this morning, “Am I one of these?” If you are, then walk the earth in all your pride; then go as you came in: but know that for all this the Lord shall bring you unto judgement; know you that your joys and delights shall vanish like a dream and be swept away forever. Know you this, moreover, O man, that one day in the halls of Satan, down in hell, you may be seen among those myriad spirits who revolve forever in a perpetual circle of judgment and torment. And there you shall revolve forever with the worm which shall never die gnawing within your heart!
Good God! Let not these people here still reject and despise Christ; but let this be the time when they shall be called.
To the rest of you who are called, I need say nothing. The longer you live, the more powerful will you find the gospel to be; the more deeply Christ-taught you are, the more you live under the constant influence of the Holy Spirit, the more you will know the gospel to be a thing of power, and the more also will you understand it to be a thing of wisdom. May every blessing rest upon you; and may God bring us blessings as we return in the evening!
“Let men or angels dig the mines
Where nature’s golden treasure shines;
Brought near the doctrine of the cross,
All nature’s gold appears but dross.
Should vile blasphemers with disdain
Pronounce the truths of Jesus vain,
We’ll meet the scandal and the shame,
And sing and triumph in his name.”