Sermon 587. God'S Strange Choice
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, AUGUST 28, 1864,
BY THE REV. C. H. SPURGEON, AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"For you see your calling, Brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confuse the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world toconfuse the things which are mighty. And basethings of the world and things which are despised has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing thingsthat are: that no flesh should glory in His Presence." 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.
THE Apostle Paul had been led to make the confession that Christ Jesus was despised both by Jew and Gentile. He confessedthat this was no cause of stumbling to him, for what others counted foolishness he believed to be wisdom and rejoiced thatthe foolishness of God was wiser than men, and theweakness of God stronger than men! Lest, however, any of the Corinthian Church should be confused by the fact that Christwas despised, the Apostle goes on to show that it was the general way of God's proceeding to select means which men despisedin order that by accomplishing Hispurpose through them, He might have all the Glory.
And he reminds them, for the proof of this, to the one instance of their own election and calling-"You see your calling, Brethren,"says he, "how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." But you, the poor, illiterate,the despised, you have beencalled-still for the same reason-that God may be All in All and that no flesh may glory in His Presence. It is clear toeveryone who will observe either Scripture or fact that God never did intend to make His Gospel fashionable! The very lastthing that was ever in Histhoughts was to select the elite of mankind and gather dignity for His Truth from the gaudy trappings of rank and station.
On the contrary, God has thrown down the gauntlet against all the pride of manhood. He has dashed mire into the face of allhuman excellency. And with the battle-ax of His strength He has dashed the escutcheon of man's glory in two. "Overturn! Overturn!I overturn!" seems to be the very motto ofthe Lord of Hosts and shall be so "until He shall come whose right it is to reign and He will give it Him," for His is thekingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. There is no doctrine more truly humbling than the doctrine of election.And it was for this reason thatthe Apostle Paul refers to it-that the disciples at Corinth might be quite content to follow the humble and despised Cross-bearingSavior because the election of Grace consists of the humble and despised, who, therefore, cannot be ashamed to follow One,who, like themselves,was despised and rejected of men.
Coming then, at once to our text, we observe in it very clearly, first, the Elector. Secondly, a strange election. Then theelected. And when we have considered all these a little, we shall pause over the reasons which God has given for His election-that"no flesh should glory in HisPresence."
I. First, then, let us this morning soar aloft upon the wings of thought to consider for awhile, the ELECTOR. Some men aresaved and some men are not saved. It remains as a fact never to be questioned that some enter into eternal life and some pursuethe evil way and perish. How is this differencecaused? How is it that some mount to Heaven? The reason why any sink to Hell is their sin and only their sin. They willnot repent, they will not believe in Christ, they will not turn to God-and therefore they perish willfully by their own actand deed.
But how is it that others are saved? Whose will is it that has made them to differ? The text three times most peremptorilyanswers the question. It says not "man has chosen," but it says three times, "God has chosen, God has chosen, God has chosen."The Grace which is found in any man, and theglory and eternal life to which any attain are all the gifts of God's election and are not bestowed according to the willof man. This will be clear to any thoughtful person if we first of all turn to facts. Wherever we find a case of electionin the Old Testament, it is manifestlyGod who makes it. Go back, if you will, to the very earliest time. Angels fell-a multitude of bright spirits who surroundedthe Throne of God and sang His praises were deceived by Satan and fell into sin.
The great serpent drew with him the third part of the stars of Heaven-they fell from their obedience-they were condemned tochains and to eternal fire forever. Man also sinned. Adam and Eve broke the covenant with God and ate of the forbidden fruit-werethey condemned to eternalfire? No, but God, in the plenitude of His Grace, whispered this promise in the woman's ear-"The seed of the woman shallbruise the serpent's head." Some men are saved, but no devils are saved. Why? Did man make the difference?
Silence, you vain boaster who dreams of such a thing! It is God Himself who testifies, "I will have mercy on whom I will havemercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." It was from such sovereignty as this that the Lord virtuallydeclared, "I purpose and decree that of therace of man I will save a multitude that no man can number. They shall be the vessels of My mercy, while yonder angels,once My servants but now traitors to their liege Lord, shall, without hope forever, experience the terror of My righteousness,the majesty of My justice." Here noone ever raises a question. I have never heard the most ultra-Pelagian enter a plea for the devil!
I have heard of Origen who did seem to plead that Satan should be included in the general law of mercy, but very few personsnowadays talk so. Here is an instance of election-some of the human race saved and the angelic race left forever to perish.Who could have made this distinction butJehovah Himself? And we must say there of our favored race, "God has chosen." We are not at a loss to see the same discriminatingSovereignty at work among the individuals of our own race. All men were in the Patriarchal age sunk in heathenism with buta few exceptions. There were afew Patriarchs who still, chosen of God, held fast to the pure worship of the Most High.
The Lord determined to adopt a special people who should read the Oracles of God-preserve and maintain His Truth. He selectedAbram as the progenitor of the chosen race. Did Abram choose God, or did God call and choose Abram? Was there anything naturallyin Abram to entitle him to be theservant of the Most High? We have very plain proof in Scripture that there was not. He was, on the contrary, described asa Syrian ready to perish and his race was like the rest, tainted, to say the least, with idolatry. Nevertheless he was calledout of the east and made the fatherof the faithful by God's own special will.
What was there, let me ask you, in the Jews? Why should they be blessed with Prophets and the sacrifices and the rites andordinances of true worship, while all the nations were left to bow down before gods of wood and stone? We can only say Godhas done it-His will lights upon the race ofIsrael and leaves the rest in sin. Take any particular case of Divine Grace mentioned in the Old Testament, as, for instance,that of David. Do we find that David chose the throne and set himself apart to be the chosen messenger of God to Israel? Wasthere some manifest fitness inthe youngest son of Jesse? No, on the contrary, men had chosen his Brethren! Even Samuel said, "Surely the Lord's Anointedis before me," as he saw Abinadab go forth.
But God sees not as man sees and He had chosen the ruddy David that he might be king in Jesurun. So might we multiply casesbut your own thoughts will spare my words. All the facts of the Old Testament go to show that God does as He wills in thearmies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of thislower world. He pulls down and He raises up! He lifts the beggar from the dunghill that He may set him among the princesof His people. God has chosen, God has chosen and not man! "It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of Godthat shows mercy."
Let us look at the matter in another light. Clearly the Lord's will must determine the matter if we consider His office andposition towards men. God's office. God is a King. Shall not the king have his own will? Men may set up a constitutional monarchyand they are right in so doing. But if youcould find a being who was perfection itself, an absolute form of government would be undeniably the best. At any rate,God's government is absolute and though He never violates righteousness, for He is Holiness and Truth itself, yet He regardsthis jewel of His crown as being thedearest that He has. "I Am and there is none beside Me."
He gives no account of His matters. Unto all questions He gives this answer, "No but, O man, who are you that replies againstGod? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay,of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor andanother unto dishonor?" The absolute position of God as King demands that, especially in the work of salvation, His willshould be the great determining force.
Let us state the case and you will see this. A number of criminals are shut up in prison, all deserving to die. Their guiltis the same. If they are all taken out to execution tomorrow morning, no one can say a word against justice. Now if some ofthese persons are spared, to whose discretionshould the sparing be left? To their own? True, it will be most gracious to send a messenger and bid them all come forthand receive sparing mercy if they will come. But suppose they all, with one consent, refuse to be saved? Suppose that havingbeen invited to be saved, every oneof them refuses to accept pardon? If in such a case superior mercy determines to override their wicked wills and sets itselfto secure that some of them shall effectually be saved, with whom shall the choice be left?
If it were left with them they would all of them still choose death rather than life. Therefore it were useless to leave itwith them. Besides, to leave the attribute of mercy in the hand of the criminal would be an exceedingly strange mode of procedure.No, let it be the king! Let it be the kingwho shall say who it is that shall be spared in mercy and who shall die according to the rule of justice. The position ofGod as King and the position of men as criminals demands that salvation shall depend upon the will of God. And truly we maybetter leave it with His will thanwith our own, for He is kinder to us than we are to ourselves! He is more full of love to man than man is of love to himself.He is Justice, he is Love! Justice in full-orbed splendor-love in unbounded might. Mercy and Truth have met together in Himand kissed each other! Andit is well, it is well! It is best of all that the rule and management of salvation should be left with Him.
We will now introduce to you a few figures made use of in Scripture in connection with the work of salvation and I think youwill then see that the will must be left with God. Salvation consists in part of an adoption. God adopts sinners who wereheirs of wrath, even as others, into His family. Whois to have authority in the matter of gracious adoption? The children of wrath? Surely not. And yet all men are such! No.It stands to nature, to reason, to common sense that none but the parent can have the discretion to adopt.
As a father I have a right, if any desire to enter my family, to adopt or to refuse to adopt the persons in question. Certainlyno person can have a right to force himself upon me and say that I shall be considered as his reputed parent. The right must,I say, according to reason and common sense,lie with the parent. And in adoption it must be God who chooses His own children. The Church, again, is called a building.With whom does the architecture of the building rest? With the building? With the stones? Do the stones select themselves?Did that stone over yonder in thecorner choose its place? Or that which is buried there in the foundation, did it select its proper position? No. The architectalone disposes of his chosen materials according to his own will. And thus, in building the Church which is the great Houseof God, the great Master Builderreserves to Himself the choice of the stones and the places which they shall occupy.
Take a yet more apparent case. The Church is called Christ's Bride. Would any man here agree to have any person forced uponhim as his bride? There is not a man among us who would, for a single moment, so demean himself as to give up his rights tochoose his own spouse! And shall Christ leave tohuman will who His Bride shall be? No. But my Lord Jesus, the Husband of the Church, exercises the Sovereignty which Hisposition permits Him and selects His own Bride.
Again, we are said to be members of Christ's Body. We are told by David that in God's Book, "all our members were written,which in continuance were fashioned when as yet there was none of them"-thus every man's body had its members written in God'sBook. Is Christ's Body to be an exceptionto this rule? Is that great Body of Divine manhood, Christ Jesus, the mystical Savior-is that to be fashioned accordingto the whims and wishes of free will-while other bodies, vastly inferior, have their members written in the Book of God? Letus not dream thus-itwere to talk idly and not to know the meaning of the metaphors of Scripture! It seems clear to me, according to the figuresand illustrations of Scripture, that the final choice of the men to be saved must be left with God.
Is not this, dear Friends, most agreeable to your own experience? I am sure it is to mine. There may be some who hate thisdoctrine-there may be some whose very mouths foam while they hear us talk of the Sovereignty of God! But I confess it touchesa secret spring in my nature which cancompel me to weep when nothing else can. There is a something in my consciousness which seems to say, "He must have chosenme, for I never could have chosen Him." Determined to live in sin was I! Prone to wander! Fond of iniquity! Drinking downevil as the ox drinks his fill ofwater! And now saved by Grace! Dare I for a moment impute that salvation to my own choice?
I do choose God most freely, most fully, but it must be because of some previous work upon my heart changing that heart-formy unrenewed heart never could have chosen Him. Beloved, do you not feel at this very time that the natural bent of your thoughtsis away from God? If the Grace of Godwere taken from you, what would you be? Are you not just like the bow which is bent when the string keeps it so-but cutthat string and it flies back to its old place? Would it not be so with you? Would you not at once return to your former waysif the mighty Grace of God werewithdrawn from you? Well then, you clearly see that if even now you are regenerate, your corrupt nature does not chooseGod, much less could it have chosen Him when there was no new nature to keep it in check and to control it. My Master looksinto your faces, O you His people, andHe says, "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." And we each feel that He wakes the echo of our hearts, for wereply, "Yes, Lord, we have not chosen You in our natural estate, but You have chosen us and unto Your free and Sovereign choicebe honor forever and ever."
II. May we feel the present influences of the Holy Spirit while we dwell upon the ELECTION ITSELF. The Lord is about to choosea people who shall give honor to the Cross of Christ. They are to be redeemed by precious blood and they are to be in somesense a worthy reward for the great sufferings ofJesus. Now observe how strange is the choice He makes. I read with astonishment, "He has not chosen many wise men afterthe flesh, not many mighty, not many noble."
If man had received the power of choosing, these are just the persons who would have been selected! "But God has chosen thefoolish things of the world to confuse the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confuse the things whichare mighty. And base things of the world andthings which are despised." If man had governed the selection, these are the very persons who would have been left out!The choice is very strange, very strange! I believe even in Heaven it will be the subject of eternal wonder, and except forthe reasons given in our text, weshould have been at a loss to know why it was that with Divine scorn He passed by the palaces of haughty kings and lookedafter the base-born and the lowly to make them the subjects of His choice.
Observe that while it is strange, it has this peculiarity about it-it is directly contrary to human choice! Man chooses thosewho would be most helpful to him-God chooses those to whom He can be the most helpful. We select those who may give us thebest return-God frequentlyselects those who most need His aid. If I choose a friend, the tendency is to him because of a certain serviceableness thatthere may be in him to myself-this is the selfishness of man. But God chooses His friends according to the serviceablenesswhich He Himself may render tothe chosen one! It is the very opposite way of choosing.
We select those who are best because they are most deserving. God selects those who are worst because they are least deservingso that His choice may be more clearly seen to be an act of Grace and not of merit. I say it is clearly contrary to man'sway of choosing. Man selects the most beautiful,the most lovely. God, on the contrary, seeing the blackness and filthiness of everything which is called lovely, will notselect that which is called so, but takes that which even men discover to be unlovely. God then makes it lovely with the lovelinesswhich He puts upon it.Strange choice! Is this the manner of men, O Lord?
You will observe that the choice is very gracious-oh, how gracious in your case and in mine! It is gracious even in its exclusion.It does not say, "Not any wise men," it only says, "Not many," so that the great ones are not altogether shut out. Grace isproclaimed to the prince and in Heaventhere are those who on earth wore coronets and prayed. How blessed is the condescending Grace of the choice-it takes theweak things, the foolish things. One would have thought that when God said, "No," to the prince, He must have said it in orderthat He might be excused fromgiving mercy to anybody-for we are in the habit of saying, "Well, we have refused Mr. So-and-So and he is a much more importantperson than you are, therefore I cannot give the favor to you. Why, the king asked me such a favor and I would not do it forhim! Do you think Iwould do it for you?"
But God reasons another way. He passes by the king on purpose that He may meet with the beggar. He leaves the noble that Hemay lay hold upon the base. He passes over the philosopher that He may receive the fool. Oh this is strange! It is unbelievablystrange! It is marvelous! Let us praise Him forthis wondrous Grace! Oh, how encouraging is this for us this morning. Some of us cannot boast of any pedigree. We have nogreat learning. We have no wealth. Our names are all unknown to fame. But oh, what a mercy! He has been pleased to choosejust such foolish things as we are!Such despised creatures as ourselves! Such things that are not-to bring to nothing the things that are!
Not to spend all the time this morning in simply pointing out this strange choice and wondering at it, let it suffice us toobserve that every Christian who finds himself chosen will think his own election to be the strangest choice that could havebeen made-
"What was there in you that could merit esteem, Or give the Creator delight? 'It was even so, Father!'you ever must sing, 'Because it seemed good in Your sight.'"
III. We will now turn to THE ELECTED. The chosen ones are described negatively and positively. They are described negatively."Not many wise men after the flesh." Observe, it does not say, "Not many wise men merely," but, "not many wise men after theflesh," because God has chosen truly wise men,since all His people are made truly wise, but it is the "wise after the flesh" that God has not chosen. The "sophoi," asthe Greek calls them. The philosophers, the men who pretend to have wisdom or to love wisdom. The cunning, the metaphysical,the great students, the keenobservers, the rabbis, the doctors, the infallibles-the men who look down with profound scorn upon the illiterate and callthem idiots-and treat them as if they were the dust beneath their feet. These are not chosen in any great number.
Strange, is it not? And yet a good reason is given. If they were chosen, why then they would say, "Ah, how much the Gospelowes to us! How our wisdom helps it!" If the first twelve Apostles had all been twelve doctors or sages, everybody would havesaid, "Why, of course the Gospel was mighty! Therewere the twelve picked wise men of Judea, or of Greece, to support it." But instead of that, God looks round the creeksand bays after twelve poor fishermen who are as ignorant as any He can find! He takes them and they become the Apostles. Theyspread the Gospel and the Gospel hasthe glory and not the Apostles. The wise are passed by in the wisdom of God.
Observe next, He says, "Not many mighty." The wise might have forced their way to Heaven by their wit, one would think, butthere they are with their blind learning, fumbling for the latch of Heaven's door-while the illiterate and simple-minded havealready entered in! Blind wisdom gropes inthe dark and like the wise men, it goes to Jerusalem in vain, while poor, humble shepherds go to Bethlehem and find Christat once! Here comes another order of great men! The mighty men, the valiant champions, the princes, his Imperial Highness,the conquerors, the Alexanders, theNapoleons- are not these chosen? Surely when the king becomes a Christian, he can, with his sword, compel others to receiveChrist-why not choose him?
"No," says the text, "not many mighty." And you see why-because if the mighty had been chosen, we should all say, "Oh, yes,we see why Christianity spreads so-it is the good temper of the sword and the strength of the arm that wields it." We canall understand the progress ofMohammedanism during its first three centuries. Men like Ali and Khaled were ready to strike whole nations! They leapedupon their steeds, waved their scimitars over their heads and dashed against hundreds, fearless of the fight! And it was onlywhen they met such men as our RichardCoeur de Lion that Mohammedanism was put back for awhile. When the sword met sword, then they that took it perished withit!
Christ chose no warriors-one of his disciples used a sword but it was to very poor effect-for he only cut off a man's earand Christ touched that and healed it! And that was the end of poor Peter's fighting. So the glory of the Lord's conquestsdoes not depend upon the mighty! God hasnot chosen them. Then he says, "Not many noble," by which he means those with a long pedigree, descended through a lineof princes, from the loins of kings, with blue blood in their veins. "Not many noble," for nobility might have been thoughtto stamp the Gospel with its prestige."Oh, yes, there is no wonder that the Gospel spreads when My Lord This and the Duke of That bends to it."
Yes, but you see there were few such in the early Church. The saints in the catacombs were poor, humble men and women. Andit is a very memorable fact that out of all the inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome written by the early Christians, thereis scarcely one which is properly spelled. Butnearly all of them are as bad in grammar as they are in spelling-a clear proof that they were scratched there by poor, illiterate,ignorant men who were then the defenders of the faith and the true conservators of the Grace of God. We have thus the negativeside-not thewise, not the mighty, not the noble.
But now the positive side and I want your careful attention to the expression used by the Apostle. "God has chosen the foolishmen"?-no, it does not say so! "The foolish things," as if the Lord's chosen were not by nature good enough to be called men,but were only "things." As if the worldlooked down on them with such scorn that they did not say, "Who are these men?" but, "Who are these things?" Once or twicein Luke you will observe Christ called a "fellow," but the word "fellow" is put in italics, not being in the original-forthe Greek runs, "as for this, weknow not where He is." They did not say what He was, did not even call Him a "fellow," though the translation is very good,as giving a correct idea to the ordinary reader.
They seem to say of Christ, "as for this-well, call Him a beast if you like-a thing if you like." And so Paul has put it here-"thefoolish things"-not simply foolish men whom the world should consider to be unlearned, ignorant, stupid dolts led by the noseand easilydeceived into believing this or that, but-"foolish things," which are nothing but stupidity has God chosen.
Next, God has chosen, "The weak things." Do observe the word "things" with care. They were not merely weak men, but the worldthought them weak things. "Ah," said Caesar in the hall, if he said anything at all about it-"Who is King Jesus? A poor wretchwho was hanged upon a tree! Who arethese men that are setting Him up? Twelve poor fishermen who could hardly muster one single talent of gold between them!Who is this Paul who raves so lustily about Christ? A tentmaker! Who are his followers? A few despised women who meet himat the waterside! Is Paul a philosopher?No, he was publicly laughed at upon Mars' Hill-they counted what he said to be mere babbling." No doubt Caesar thought theywere altogether too inconsiderable to be worthy of his notice. But the "weak things" God has chosen.
Observe the next description, "The base things." The word there signifies things without pedigree, things without a father,things which cannot trace their descent-no Sir Harry, no Right Honorable is akin to them. Their father was a nobody and theirmother was a nothing. Such were theApostles of old-they were the base things of this world and yet God chose them! As if this were not enough, it is written,"Things that are despised," sneered at, persecuted, hunted about, or treated with what is worse-with indifference-which isworse than scorn.They are not worth notice- inconsiderable fools-pass them by and let them alone." And yet these had God chosen!
Once more, as if to outdo all and sum it up in one word, "Things that are not" has God chosen. Nothings, nonentities. "Oh,"says the man of the world, "yes, I did just hear that there were a parcel of fanatics of that kind." "Oh," says another, "Inever even heard of them! I never mix myself up inany way with such a low-bred, vulgar set. Did they ever have a bishop among them? A Right Reverend Father in God?" "No,nothing of the kind, Sir, they are foolish, base, mean, despised. The world, therefore, rejects them." "Yet," says God, "/choosethem." They are the very peoplethat He chooses.
Now observe that what was true in Paul's day is true now. The Bible does not change as years revolve. And in 1864 God choosesthe things which are despised just as much as in the year 64. And He will yet let the world know that those who are ridiculed,styled fanatics, thought to be mad and wicked,are yet, after all, His chosen ones destined for God and for His Truth to rally the sacramental host of the elect and winfor God the battle of the last day! In this we are not ashamed to glory, that God chooses the things which are despised. Andwe can take our place with thedespised people of God, hopeful to partake in the election of His Sovereign Grace.
IV. To conclude, you have THE REASONS WHY GOD HAS CHOSEN THESE PEOPLE. There are two reasons given-the first is the immediatereason. The second is the ultimate reason. The first, or immediate reason, is contained in these words, "God has chosen thefoolish things of the world to confuse thewise. And God has chosen the weak things of the world to confuse the things which are mighty. And base things of the worldand things which are despised has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are."
Observe, then, the immediate reason is, first, to confuse the wise. For one wise man to confuse another wise man is remarkable.For a wise man to confuse a foolish man is very easy. But for a foolish man to confuse a wise man-ah, this is the finger ofGod! You know how it was with the firstApostles. A philosopher listened to Paul and when he had heard him, he said, "There is nothing in it! Perfect foolishness!Pack of stuff from beginning to end! No need for us to take the trouble to answer it." Years rolled on and when the philosopherwas getting very gray, thatpestilent heresy of Christianity was spreading everywhere-his own daughter was converted-even his wife used to steal outat night to the secret assembly!
The philosopher could not understand it. "There," he said, "I proved without a doubt that it was all stupidity and yet thesepeople stick to it! I answered all their arguments, did I not? I not only answered and confuted, but I clinched my argumentsin such a way that I thought I had put an end tothe folly altogether. But here I see it, in my own household!" Sometimes the philosopher had to stand with tears in hiseyes and say, "I feel it in my own heart, it has beaten me. It has confused me-I could reason and rationalize and beat poorPaul-but Paul has beatenme! What I thought was folly has confused my wisdom."
Within a few centuries after the death of Christ the Christian religion had spread over the civilized world, while Paganismwhich had all the philosophy of the east and of the west to back it up, had fallen into disrepute and was laughed to scorn.Again, God has chosen the weak things to confusethe mighty. "Oh," said Caesar, "we will soon root up this Christianity-off with their heads." The different governors hastenedone after another of the disciples to death, but the more they persecuted them the more they multiplied. The proconsuls hadorders to destroyChristians. The more they hunted them, the more Christians there were, until at last men pressed to the judgment seat andasked to be permitted to die for Christ!
The State invented torments. They dragged the saints at the heels of wild horses. They laid them upon red-hot gridirons. Theypulled off the skin from their flesh piece by piece. Thy were sawn in two. They were wrapped in skins and daubed with pitch-andset in Nero's gardens at night to burn.They were left to rot in dungeons. They were made a spectacle to all men in the amphitheatre. The bears hugged them to death.The lions tore them to pieces-wild bulls tossed them upon their horns-and yet Christianity spread! All the swords of the legionarieswhich hadput to rout the armies of all nations and had overcome the invincible Gaul and the savage Briton could not withstand thefeebleness of Christianity-for the weakness of God is mightier than men.
If God had chosen the mighty men they would have turned round and said, "God is beholden to us." If He had chosen the wisethey would have said, "Our wisdom has done it." But when He chooses the foolish and weak, where are you now, philosopher?Has not God laughed you to scorn? Where are you now, Osword and spear? O mighty man who wields them, where are you? God's weakness has routed you! It is said that He chose thethings that are not to bring to nothing the things that are. This is even more than confusing them to bring them to nothing-"thethings that are."
What were they in the Apostle's days? Jupiter seated upon his lofty throne holds the thunderbolt in his hand. Saturn reclinedas the father of the gods. Venus delighted her votaries with her lustful pleasures. The chaste Diana sounded her horn. Herecomes Paul with, "there is no God but God andJesus Christ whom He has sent." He represents "the things that are not." So contemptible is the heresy of Christianity thatif a list were made out of the religions of different countries, Christianity would have been left out of the catalog!
But see the result! Where is Jupiter now? Where Saturn? Where Venus and Diana? Except as classical names in the dictionariesof the learned, where are they? Who bows before the shrine of Ceres in the day of harvest, or who lifts up his prayers toNeptune in the hour of storm? Ah, they have gone."The things that are" have been brought to nothing by the "things that are not." Let us reflect that what is true in Paul'sday is true today. This year 1864 shall see repeated the miracles of the olden times-the things that are shall be broughtto nothing by the things thatare not.
See in Wickliffe's time. The things that are were the holy crucifixes in every Church. St. Winifred, St. Thomas of Canterburyare worshipped by all the multitudes of Englishmen. There comes My Lord Archbishop through the street! Yonder is the popeworshipped by thousands and there is the Virginadored of all! What do I see? A solitary monk at Lutterworth begins to preach against the begging friars. And in preachingagainst them he finds out the Truth of God and begins to preach that Christ is the only ground of salvation and that theywho trust in Him are saved!
Well, it was such a contemptible thing that at first they did not care to persecute him. It is true at last he was broughtup before His Grace at St. Paul's, but there was a strong man, one John O'Gaunt, who came up with him and said a word or twoin his rough way and Wickliffe was allowed to sitdown. And though condemned, he returns to his parish of Lutterworth. "The thing that was not!" It was not worthy to be putdown by blood, it would die out of itself. Did it die out? Where are your holy crucifixes today? Where is St. Thomas of Canterbury,where are St. Agnes and St.Winifred?
Ask our Puseyite friends, for they, alone, can tell you. True consorts of the moles and of the bats-they know where the idolshave been cast-they seek to restore the superstitions of the past. But by God's Grace their task shall be no easy one. Thepresent system of Englishsuperstition, with its water regeneration, its baptismal grace, its confirmations and its giving of grace through breadand wine-though it is attacked by those who are things that are not-shall yet cease to be! And the Truth as it is in Jesus-thepure simple faiththat no man is a priest distinctively above his fellows-that every Christian is a priest unto God. The pure Truth, I say,that no water can necessarily bring the Spirit of God with it, and that no outward forms and rites have any virtue in them-apartfrom the faith ofthose who receive them-these, backed by the Spirit of God, shall bring to nothing the things that are.
Here we fall back upon the strength of God. I would not have God's champions stronger. Brethren, were they stronger they wouldtake glory to themselves. Let them be weak and let them be few and let them be despised. Their fewness, their poverty, theirweakness shall make the shout of praise untothe eternal Conqueror yet more loud and the music shall be undivided! There shall only be this refrain, "Not unto us, notunto us, but unto Your name give glory for Your Truth's sake." This, then, is God's immediate object in choosing foolish things,weak things, things that arenot-to confuse the mighty.
But His ultimate reason is "that no flesh may glory in His Presence." I want you to notice that last sentence and I have done.He does not say, "that no man." No, the text is in no humor to please anybody. It says, "that no flesh." What a word! Whata word, I say! Here are Solon and Socrates, thewise men. God points at them with His finger and calls them, "flesh." Flesh is sold in the shambles, is it not? Dogs tearit. Worms eat it-nothing but flesh. There is Caesar with his imperial purple cast about him and as he stands erect, the mightyImperator, how thePraetorian guards unsheathe their swords and shout, "Great is the Emperor! Long may he live!" "Flesh," says God's Word,"flesh."
Here they come tramping on, hundreds in a line, the strong legionaries of Rome! Who can stand against their swords and shields?"Flesh," says the Word, "flesh." Here are men whose sires were of royal lineage and grandsires of imperial rank and they cantrace back the long line of honor. "Flesh,"says God, "flesh, nothing but flesh." Dogs' meat. Worms' meat when God wills it. "That no flesh may glory in His Presence."Do you see, then? God puts this stamp upon us all- that we are nothing but flesh-and He chooses the poorest flesh and themost foolish flesh andthe weakest flesh-that all the other flesh that is only flesh and only grass may see that God pours contempt on it and willhave no flesh glory in His Presence!
Now what is your spirit this morning towards this subject? Do you kick at it? Do you say you cannot bear it? I am afraid youwant to glory in God's Presence. Your views of things and God's views of things differ, and therefore you need to have a newheart and a right spirit. But, on the contrary,do you say this morning, "I have nothing to boast of. I would not glory in Your Presence, but I would lie in the very dustand say, 'Do with me as You will' "? Sinner, do you feel that you are nothing but flesh and sinful flesh? Are you so brokenbefore God that you feel let Him doas He will with you? Do you know that He will be just and you can only appeal to His Sovereign Mercy?
Then God and you are one, you are reconciled! I can see that you are reconciled. When God and you are agreed that God shouldreign, then God is agreed that you should live! Sinner, touch the scepter of His Grace! Jesus Crucified stands before younow and bids you look to Him and live! That you arebid to look is an instance of mighty Grace-and that you are enabled to look this morning will be a wonder of Divine lovefor which you will have to bless Him in time and eternity! And now may that God whose name we have sought to honor this morningbless these stammering ofours, for Jesus' sake. Amen.