1 Corinthians i. 23-25. 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. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The foolishness of God? The weakness of God? These are strange words. But they are St. Paul's words, not mine. If he had not said them first, I should not dare to say them now.
But what do they mean? Can God be weak? Can God be foolish? No, says St. Paul. Nothing less. For so strong is God, that his very weakness, if he seems weak, is stronger than all mankind. So wise is God, that his very foolishness, if he seems foolish, is wiser than all mankind.
Why then talk of the weakness of God, of the foolishness of God, if he be neither weak nor foolish? Why use words which seem blasphemous, if they are not true?
I do not say these ugly words for myself. St. Paul did not say these ugly words for himself. But men have said them; too many men, and too often. The Jews, who sought after a sign, said them in St. Paul's time. The Corinthian Greeks, who sought after wisdom, said them also. There are men who say them now. We all are tempted at times to say them in our hearts. As often as we forget Good Friday, and what Good Friday means, and what Good Friday brought to all mankind, we do say them in our hearts; and charge God--though we should not like to confess it even to ourselves--with weakness and with folly.
Now, how is this? Let us consider, first, how it was with these Jews and Greeks.
Why did the cross of Christ, and the message of Good Friday, seem to them weakness and folly? Why did they answer St. Paul, 'Your Christ cannot be God, or he would never have allowed himself to be crucified?'
The Jews required a sign; a sign from heaven; a sign of God's power. Thunder and earthquakes, armies of angels, taking vengeance on the heathen; these were the signs of Christ which they expected. A Christ who came in such awful glory as that, they would accept, and follow, and look to him to lead them against the Romans, that they might conquer them, and all the nations upon earth. And all that St. Paul gave them, was a sign of Christ's weakness. 'He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . . . He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.' Then said the Jews-- This is no Christ for us, this weak, despised, crucified Christ. Then answered St. Paul--Weak? I tell you that what seems to you weakness, is the very power of God. You Jews wish to conquer all mankind: and behold, instead, you yourselves are rushing to ruin and destruction: but what you cannot do, Christ on his cross can do. Weak, shamed, despised, dying man as he seemed, he is still conqueror; and he will conquer all mankind at last, and draw all men to himself. Know that what seems to you weakness, is the very power of God; the power of doing good, and of suffering all things, that he may do good: and that that will conquer the world, when riches and glory, and armies, aye, the very thunder and the earthquake, have failed utterly.
The Greeks, again, sought after wisdom. If St. Paul was (as he said) the apostle of God, then they expected him to argue with them on cunning points of philosophy; about the being of God, the nature of the world and of the soul; about finite and infinite, cause and effect, being and not being, and all those dark questions with which they astonished simple people, and gained power over them, and set up for wise men and teachers to their own profit and glory, pampering their own luxury and self-conceit. And all St. Paul gave them, seemed to them mere foolishness. He could have argued with these Greeks on those deep matters; for he was a great scholar, and a true philosopher, and could speak wisdom among those who were perfect: but he would not. He determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; and he told them, You disputers of this world, while you are deceiving simple souls with enticing words of man's wisdom and philosophy, falsely so called, you are trifling away your own souls and your hearers' into hell. What you need, and what they need, is not philosophy, but a new heart and a right spirit. Sin is your disease; and you know that it is so, in the depth of your hearts. Then know this, that God so loved you, sinners as you are, that he condescended to become mortal man, and to give himself up to death, even the shameful and horrible death of the cross, that he might save you from your sins; and he that would be saved now, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow him. And to that, those proud Greeks answered,--That is a tale unworthy of philosophers. The Cross? It is a death of shame--the death of slaves and wretches. Tell your tale to slaves, not to us. To give himself up to the death of the cross is foolishness, and not the wisdom which we want. Then answered St. Paul and said,--True. The cross is a slave's and a wretch's death; and therefore slaves and wretches will hear me, though you will not. '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 hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.' For the foolishness of God is wiser than all the wisdom of men. You Greeks, with all your philosophy and your wisdom, have been trying, for hundreds of years, to find out the laws of heaven and earth, and to set the world right by them; and you have not done it. You have not found out the secrets of the world. You have not set the world right. You have not even set your own hearts and lives right. But what your seeming wisdom cannot do, the seeming foolishness of Christ on his cross will do. Does it seem to you foolish of him, to believe that he could save the world, by giving himself up to a horrible and shameful death? Does it seem to you foolishness in me, to preach nothing but him crucified, and to say, Behold God dying for men? Then know, that what seems to you foolishness, is the very wisdom of God. That God knows the secret of touching, convincing, and converting the hearts of men, though you do not. That God knows how the world is made, and how to set it right, though you do not. That God knows the law which keeps all heaven and earth in order, though you do not; and that that law is charity,--self-sacrificing love, which shines out from the cross of Christ. Know, that when all your arguments and philosophies have failed to teach men what they ought to do, one earnest penitent look at Christ upon his cross will teach them. That their hearts will leap up in answer, and cry, If this be God, I can believe in him. If this be God, I can trust him. If this be God, I can obey him. That one look at Christ upon his cross will make them--what you could never make them--new men, filled with a new thought; the thought that God is love, and that he who dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him; and that the poor slaves and wretches, whom you despise, will look unto the cross and be saved, and become new men, and lead new lives, and rise to be saints and martyrs to God and to his Christ, giving themselves up to torments and death, as Christ did before them; and that out of them shall spring that church of Christ, which shall reign over all the world, when you and your philosophies have crumbled into dust.
My friends, let us look, earnestly, humbly, and solemnly this day, at Christ upon his cross. Let us learn that love, the utter self- sacrificing love which Christ shewed on his cross, is stronger than all pomp and might, all armies, riches, governments; aye, that it is the very power of God, by which all things consist, which holds together heaven and earth and all that is therein.
Let us learn that love, the utter self-sacrificing love which Christ shewed on his cross, is wiser than all arguments, doctrines, philosophies, whether they be true or false; aye, that it is the very wisdom of God, by which he convinces and converts all hearts and souls; and let us look to the cross, and see there the wisdom of God, and the power of God, mighty to save to the uttermost all who come through Christ to him.
And let us remember this, that whenever we fancy ourselves to be strong and powerful, and think to aggrandize ourselves at our neighbour's expense, and to crush those who are weaker than ourselves, then we are forgetting the lesson of Good Friday; that whenever we fancy that the way to be wise is, to use our wit and our knowledge for our own glory, and by them to manage our fellow-men, and make them admire us and bow down to us, then we forget the lesson of Good Friday. For whosoever gives himself up to selfish ambition, or to selfish cunning, charges Christ upon his cross with weakness and with foolishness, and denies the Lord who bought him with his blood.
My friends, I have no more to say. Much more I might say. For Good Friday has many other meanings, and all the sermons of a lifetime would not exhaust them all.
But one thing seemed to me fit to be said, and I say it again, and entreat you to carry it home with you, and live by the light of it all the year round.
Do you wish to be powerful? Then look at Christ upon his cross; at what seems to men his weakness; and learn from him how to be strong. Do you wish to be wise? Then look at Christ upon the cross; and at what seemed to men his folly; and learn from him how to be wise. For sooner or later, I hope and trust, you will find that true, which St. Buonaventura (wise and strong himself) used to say,--That all the learning in the world had never taught him so much as the sight of Christ upon the cross.