"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
IT is upon these solemn and gracious words that I desire (as God may give me power), to preach to you, my hearers, on the great and grand subject which the words embody. May grace be given me as I here occupy this pulpit before you, to be (as Paul expresses it in a subsequent passage in this Epistle), "Determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Such was the Apostle's feeling to the Corinthian Church, and may the same Omnipotence determine me amongst you London people to know nothing but Him, the blessed, the glorious Christ, who is all, and in all to His own grace-taught, and blood-purchased people.
In dependence on the Holy Spirit, who alone can enable a minister to proclaim the Gospel, and who only can open ears to hear and hearts to receive the truth, may He give me grace rightly to divide the word of truth and faithfully to preach the Gospel.
Let me read the text again--"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
The first point I would put before you all is this--the distinguishing character of this verse. It distinctly speaks of two classes of men, and two only--"them that perish"--and "us which are saved." Now I purposely pause as I touch on this solemn point, "them that perish!" Solemn words! Observe the distinction in the pronouns here used, and depend upon it, my hearers, that whether it be in reading the Bible, or in preaching the gospel, or in sitting and hearing it preached, it is all-important to mark the pronouns in God's Holy Word, and to see how they are employed. The Apostle speaks of those "that perish" by the pronoun "them"--"them that perish"--but when he speaks of God's redeemed people, he classes himself amongst them--"us which are saved." Are there (as Augustus Toplady used to say when he preached in the City of London), are there any "election doubters," any gospel haters, ranged here before me in these galleries, or in the body of this church? Are there any such? Then let me earnestly and faithfully (if you doubt about or deny the doctrines of saving grace), again put before you the unmistakable way in which this text that I am preaching on, discriminates between the church and the world--between "us which are saved and them that perish." "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." My hearers! "profession is not POSSESSION. We are living (in our day), in a time when (so to speak), profession seems at its very noontide heat. It is fashionable now to be a professor! but if I read my Bible rightly and test the reality of what it is really to be a Christian, without in any degree narrowing the mercy of my Blessed Master, I think that that word is still true, still descriptive of the fact, even in the center, and amidst the masses, of this your own populous London--"Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32) May the very statement of this truth as I put it to any before me who may hitherto have been opposed to the doctrines of distinguishing grace, be the means of bringing you through God's mercy and power to think seriously about it--be the means of leading you to search and see under which of these two pronouns your state stands described--yea, more! be the means of bringing you as a poor, helpless, wretched sinner to HIM who is "MIGHTY TO SAVE." Every man and every woman in this church is either one that must perish in hell for ever, or else, is one of the number of those which are saved in Christ for ever! Mark me! I assume not the seat of judgment! O! no, but I do leave it on your consciences, desiring to be made a minister of God to your inmost souls--desiring to do what the Apostle did, to "Commend myself to every man's conscience in the sight of God!"
Now, let me for a moment speak on the words, "them that perish." We read in John 10:26--"But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you." And I may quote another verse that I was preaching on last Sunday to my own home flock in the country--"Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." (John 6:29) In those Scriptures we have the reason why the carnal man cannot believe, namely, "Because ye are not of MY sheep"--and also, that no man can be a believer except by "the work of GOD" on his soul--"This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." And in preaching this to you, I am insisting on the truth of God's Word, which insists on the fact "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44) But, while the Scripture declares, that "no man can come" to God, except drawn by God's own power, we are graciously assured in John 6:37--"All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." Now, my hearers, while that verse declares the decree of God that all the given ones shall come to Christ, and that, if I may use such a word, there is, and can be, no chance work about it, for that God has decreed that all HIS people shall come to Jesus Christ as a Saviour; and who can dare to controvert this fact? then, for the encouragement of every really coming sinner--"Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." But the crown must be laid on the Right Head. The SOVEREIGNTY in this is all of God. Christ is the Conqueror, and so, as some of us were singing on the past evening in Thames Street,
It is the gift of God alone! He is the salvation in every way of His own people.
Now, on this all-important subject before us--"Them that perish and us which are saved"--The great point for you and for me--and what I say to you I say equally to myself--the great point for us, is personal interest in the blood of Jesus:--
"Though God's election is a truth,
Small comfort there I see,
Till I am told, by God's own mouth
That he hath chosen me."
The doctrine of election, "is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort of godly persons." But no mere doctrine can give peace. It is the power of the Holy Spirit alone that can apply the blood of Jesus, and so heal the broken in heart and cleanse the guilty sinner, from all his sin. And here I would faithfully warn all and every one before me, and there may be several here who at present may know nothing of God--nothing of the real conviction of sin in themselves--be not angry with me, I speak in love, I only warn you, O! that it may be with power--O! those three solemn words, "them that perish," and then the awakening contrast, "us which are saved."
I now turn to the second point in the text, and in which the "us, which are saved" are so deeply interested, namely, the subject of SALVATION, and what salvation is. It is God's command to every sent minister--"Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." There is a large body of persons assembled here, but if St. Bride's Church could contain the masses of this your great city, if the population of London was now within these walls, I would preach the Gospel to every creature amongst you; but in preaching the Gospel, I am to do so, as this text declares the truth. "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." Mark the tremendous alternative. "To them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." It has ever been so, it was so in the apostle's time, it is so in our day, it will be so till the last elect sinner is called in, and Christ shall come to gather together "His own elect" into His own KINGDOM in glory.
But now, my hearers, what do we understand by these striking words, "us which are saved?" What do we mean by salvation? What do we understand by being "saved?" Saved from what? Saved from the condemning curse of Adam's fall, and saved from all our own personal guilt and corruption. Beware, my hearers, of Pelagian error! Now salvation! What a subject it is! and I would preach it to you in a twofold point of view. 1. Salvation as it refers to the decree of God before all worlds in the salvation of THE CHURCH;--and, secondly, salvation as referring to the inward work of GOD THE HOLY GHOST in the souls of the people everlastingly saved in Christ. And here let me first of all insist on the great and cardinal doctrine--the doctrine on which the truth and the one Church stands based and founded--the doctrine of the Trinity! The Trinity IN UNITY, and the UNITY in TRINITY, and that each Person in the GODHEAD--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are each and all in harmony concerning the salvation of the Church, and that such was the case "before the foundation of the world." Let me refer here to two texts to prove the point. Paul writes to Timothy (in the 1st chapter of his 2nd Epistle), these words: "Who hath saved us, and called us, with an holy calling, not according to our works"--(you will mark that)--"but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in CHRIST JESUS BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN." There is the date of salvation. Is not that Scripture unmistakable? I take another, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the 2nd chapter--For by Grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." Now, my hearers, again mark the date! You men in business in the city know the importance of a date often! But mark the date that I now remind you of, as I read to you these words--"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him BEFORE the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him: in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by JESUS CHRIST to Himself." Now upon the authority of these two solemn texts, which you can turn to when you go home, I take my stand, and I say, what a death blow they deal to Arminianism in every way, and testify and prove that the salvation of the Church was purposed before ever man was born!
Now the Apostle speaks of the "us which are saved," and I have endeavored briefly to show you what we are to understand by what I have termed the first branch of salvation--salvation out of ourselves--that is, God's decree and purpose to save His Church! There is a remarkable description of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, on the occasion of that interesting interview when Paul assembled the elders--"The Church which He hath purchased with His own blood." Blessed description of the Church--the Church established upon Himself! built upon the Rock of Ages, founded upon His own eternal decree, and in time redeemed by His own precious blood upon the cross! Here was the climax of salvation when He hung upon the cross, and in dying accents declared "IT IS FINISHED," and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost."
My hearers, have you ever contemplated that tremendous scene? Have you realized by the power of God a personal interest in that wondrous death? Have you ever had a solemn inward manifestation, and a holy hope, that when the Redeemer of the Church declared "it is finished," that it was for you He died? Now the salvation of the Church has been wholly and entirely accomplished by the decree of God in Christ Jesus! But what I mean by the inward reality of salvation, a salvation within us, is the work of the Holy Spirit of God in the soul. I referred just now to that passage--"This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." Now here we have the work of the Holy Ghost insisted on: but have you each received the Spirit? Or is that stirring passage in the Acts of the Apostles applicable to you--"We have not so much as heard whether there be any HOLY GHOST."
Now, my hearers, this is a tremendous subject to set before you. But mark me, unless the Holy Ghost has begun a work in our souls, we are at this instant without God, and have no ground for hope at all. The Holy Spirit begins, carries on, and finishes the work in a man--"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Or as it is in the Greek--"Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Cannot understand the meaning of the Gospel. The Apostle declares in the context of the passage on which I am preaching, that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) He cannot receive them, neither can he know"--mark the words!--the "natural man" has no power; and the reason is assigned by the Holy Ghost through the pen of Paul--"Because they are spiritually discerned." There is a solemn text in the Epistle to the Romans--"If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His." This is God's Word, and the solemn point for us is, have we received the Spirit? Has He manifested to us by Grace our state as sinners, and made us flee for refuge to the hope set before us in the Blood of Christ? Whenever God begins His work in the sinner, He convinces that man of sin--"When He is come He will convince the world of sin!" O! this is real work! My hearers, it is one thing for the sinner to begin with God, it is another thing when God begins with the sinner! When God begins a work in the soul He will carry it on and finish it! So Paul states the fact--"Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6) In this we have the great doctrine of the final perseverance of the Church set forth! Toplady well defines this truth in one short sentence--"God's preservation is the Christian's final perseverance!" He will keep the feet of His saints." "Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe."
Now, my hearers, as to the "us which are saved," and to the solemn subject of the inward work of God the Holy Ghost in such souls. How does Jehovah school all such? He brings them under power of the new birth! "Ye must be born again!" Except a man be born again," (said Jesus Christ to a master of Israel), he cannot see the kingdom of God." Observe the peculiar emphasis on the indefinite article, "a," "Except A man!" that is, any man, including Nicodemus himself. But this is not in man's power. It is the SOVEREIGN work of God alone. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17) Mark! "cometh down!" so that man cannot help himself to it--it must be given from above. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And so Paul exclaims--"Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift." Emphatically the gift of His Co-equal, Co-eternal Son! Now the effect of this inward work of God on and in the soul, this new birth, is, a conviction of sin! and accompanying this, a real heart-contrition for it, deep self-abasement. This is a heart-conviction effected by the Spirit's work distinct from a mere moral sense of sin! Your policemen know, or ought to know, what sin is morally and legally, but no man can know what sin is, in the spirituality of it, but by the Holy Ghost! O! when the soul is melted down, and when the heart is breaking, then the Publican's cry is poured forth and felt and known--"God be merciful to me a SINNER!" And when we have been brought here, and cry for mercy out of a broken contrite heart, it is a "token for good," an incontestable evidence of the work begun in the soul, and that such an one is of the number of the "us which are saved"--that your sins "are all cast into the depths of the sea." This tests the work of God, and evidences salvation in the sinner who experiences it. No man ever cried to God in earnest but the man who deeply felt and feelingly groaned beneath his guilt and sin, and who really, experimentally knew the meaning of Isaiah's words, "From the sole of the foot even unto the head no soundness in it; wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."
But, my hearers, not only must we have an inward sense of sin, of our own guilt and corruption, but, mark me! we must be brought under the killing power of the law. This very Apostle who wrote the text I am trying to preach on, declares of his own state--"I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came sin revived and I died;" and again--"the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death." Do you understand any thing of a law work in yourselves? Do you know what it is to be condemned under the law, feeling its killing power? Do you know what it is to have the sentence of death upon you under the law, and not only so, but to be shut up in the condemned cell, out of which you find it impossible to get till OMNIPOTENCE opens the door and admits you into the glorious freedom of the Gospel! How many are there here longing, hoping, desiring above every thing to be able to say--"My Lord and my God?" But though you are now under the law there is the promise--"Ye shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free." (John 8:32) And so, mark me! as in the Epistle to the Galatians--"Before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:23-26)
I want to set before you and preach to you what is the test of God's Word on these things--on the real work of grace in every one that is saved in CHRIST. The bondage and condemnation of the law must be first known before the liberty of the Gospel can be either understood or experienced in the soul. No hypocrite can be in the school of God! "Who teacheth like Him?" And every one now in this church who knows what it is to cry out of a broken heart--(for remember David's words)--"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise?--Every one who sensibly feels the burden of sin, and longs to know Jesus Christ as a Saviour, may hope, may feel, may believe that he is a child of God, redeemed by blood from all and each sin, and that the Spirit of God has wrought that work in his soul, which nothing shall destroy nor undermine. You may not have faith strong enough to feel this now--you cannot take it home to yourself, and rejoice in it because I preach it to you. The power to apply this home to your heart is of God and of God Alone--it may now be the day of small things in your case, but there is in reserve for you--(and for all such who feel the same honestly and truly)--that blessed moment of liberty and joy when the command shall be issued--"Loose him and let him go;" and then, and not till then, "you shall know the truth and the Truth shall make you FREE."
But the clock reminds me that the time is come when I should cease preaching. I have a great, a glorious subject before me, and I feel that I have not got half into it. But whilst the time warns me that now I cannot much more fully enter into all that I would say on the subjects which my text supplies--"the preaching of the Cross"--the effect of that preaching on two classes specified therein--"them that perish and us which are saved"--to the one, "foolishness"--to the other, "the power of God"--Let me before I stop, before I leave this pulpit, and conclude this service--let me remind each one who hears me--and who has felt and known the work of God with power in a broken heart--to whom the preaching of the cross has been blessed as the very "power of God"--Let me, I say, give you, as an evidence of your being amongst the "us which are saved"--that you must bear the Cross. Some one has expressed it--"Cross bearers shall be crown wearers!" Is that your motto? The aristocracy of this land pride themselves on the armorial bearings, and the motto which from generation to generation they have worn. But there is another, a brighter and a higher aristocracy descended from everlasting love, and described by John--"Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13)--a family which includes within its blood-redeemed circle some of every station and every grade--from a Hezekiah downwards to a poor despised beggar sitting at the rich man's gate--a family which has but one motto, and in that motto its one hope expressed--"No cross, no crown." To all other except to this one family, the preaching of the cross is "foolishness." We prove it daily. I have proved it time after time--"The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God." But there is another "foolishness" recorded in the Word! "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Faithful, FREE GRACE preaching is always accounted "foolishness" by the carnal professor and the world, but--"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but 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." The world now, like the Jews then, must have a "sign"--and the professor now, like the Greeks then, "seek after wisdom"--but we know nothing, we want nothing, and we preach nothing but Christ crucified; "a stumbling block" it may be, "foolishness" it may be, but mark my text, and on that I take my stand--"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." It is the poor, the needy, the Spirit taught ones who value these things--such as are really taught of God. We do not in any way undervalue human learning--mistake me not--but the wisdom that cometh from above is what we prize; and we do glory to see, as we continually do, the pupils God has taught--(peasants they may be in a cottage here, uneducated and untaught in the wisdom of this world, but schooled and instructed by the living God), better and sounder divines than all that mere human learning and scholarship can produce--for in such is the promise of God's word fulfilled--"And all Thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of Thy children." (Isa. 54:13)
Thus have I endeavored to preach on the text before me--may it have been with power! with a great blessing! The Gospel whenever and wherever faithfully preached is always with a victory. It must be so here tonight--"Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16)
And now, my hearers, I leave this great and blessed subject, trusting that the Holy Ghost may apply it. We cannot apply our sermons.