SERMON. I. Corinthians, iii. 11.
OTHER FOUNDATION CAN NO MAN LAY THAN THAT IS LAID, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST.
A USE is sometimes made of this important text which is unauthorized by its real meaning. It is supposed that the Apostle intends to set forth Christ, as the foundation, in opposition to good works and to outward forms, rites and ceremonies; and that these are the "other foundation" to which he alludes. But, in truth, the Apostle intends no such thing. His purpose is to rebuke a habit which was growing up among the Corinthians, of attaching themselves to particular teachers, instead of resting only upon their common allegiance to Christ. Thus, one party styled themselves followers of Paul; another, followers of Apollos; another, followers of Cephas, or Peter. What St. Paul would say, is, that neither of these, nor any man, is the basis on which a Christian should rest, but only Christ Himself; for He is the sole foundation. The distinction, therefore, is not between Christ and any class of doctrines and usages, but between Christ and human teachers; and they only are rebuked who, unsatisfied with their Communion in the Church, and seeking some other point of unity, array themselves under the banner of a human authority, and take the take the name of a human leader.
Paul and Apollos, and so all who succeed them in the sacred office, are "ministers by whom the faithful have believed." They are to be accounted of as "ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." But they are not, therefore, to take the place of Christ,--as if one's faith and hope might rest I on them as the foundation of salvation. They reveal, they declare, the foundation. Their office is to bring men to it, and to fix their feet firmly upon it, even the one Foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The Apostle would rebuke parties in the Church, such as are led by men. He would rebuke the practice of Christians styling themselves followers of certain divines or teachers. His speech here has nothing to do with particular doctrines, or forms, or ceremonies, or outward usage.
Thus much seems necessary to set the meaning of the text right. I have not been able to discover, in all the writings of St. Paul, a solitary sentence in which he appears to be jealous lest Christian believers should depend upon any Christian institution instead of depending on Christ. I cannot find a passage in which he deems it needful to contrast, by way of opposition, the Saviour Himself and the ordinances which He has established in His Church. On the contrary, the two appear, in St. Paul's estimation, to be inseparable. It is Christ in the Church--Christ in the Sacraments--and Christ in the word preached,--which seem to have filled up the compass of his theology, and to have given it unity, strength and vitality.
I suppose there is no class of Church members which does not hold that the sole object of the Christian ordinances is to unite us with Christ, and to build us up in Him; that they are efficacious only as they convey to us His merits and His grace; and that they convey grace only as they are rightly received. No Christian that I have ever known, being a member of the Church, expects to be saved by those ordinances, without, or separate from, Christ. I do not believe that such a heresy exists in the mind of any one of the Faithful in our Communion. It has certainly never been taught to you, my people; and I have never discovered, the first trace of it among you. Our sole and entire hope of salvation is in Christ, our Lord. Is it not so, my beloved?
I do not believe that there is really any difference among Church members in this respect. All unite in saying, that in Christ only is our hope; and that, out of Him, and aside from Him, we are most miserable. Not baptism, nor the other sacrament, nor confirmation, nor absolution, nor priestly blessing, nor preaching, nor public worship, nor secret prayer, nor reading of the word of God, nor fasting, nor the practice of the moral virtues, can save us, unless they unite us with Christ, or strengthen our union with Him, or manifest forth the life which we have from Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Brethren, have you ever heard any other teaching than this? Do you not all so believe?
I think, therefore, that the instruction from our pulpits is, in this respect, perfectly one. All preach Christ, as the only foundation. No man preaches any other doctrine. No other doctrine would be tolerated in the Church. And, yet, there may appear, to some, to be a discordance in our preaching; and tender consciences may sometimes be troubled with the thought that the trumpet of the Gospel, from different lips, utters a different sound; and hence there may seem to be a contrariety of teaching in the Church; and this may suggest the thought, that the Church is not herself one in her doctrine,--although, if men would discriminate, the Church is to be judged solely by the voice of her standards, and not by the utterances of any individual man, or of any number of individual men, speaking elsewhere than in the Church's Council. But, to simple and, especially, to unlettered Christians, there is something distracting, confusing and discouraging in the thought, that, from different pulpits and from different teachers, there are heard doctrines which seem to be essentially diverse. It appears, at least, to indicate that the Church allows a diversity of interpretation and a clashing of tongues; and that, therefore, her own faith must be rather uncertain and unstable. I acknowledge the naturalness of the inference; but I think that it involves a serious want of discrimination in the members of the Church who entertain it.
There is no difference of preaching that I am aware of, in respect to that which is essential; namely, that Christ is the life of the believer; and that every true Christian hope must rest fundamentally upon Him. The difference, (for a difference we acknowledge,) is this: the two classes of divines, which have always existed in the Church from the beginning, and are, by no means, either of them, peculiar to the present time, while agreeing perfectly in preaching Christ as the foundation, differ in their application of that truth to the spiritual wants of men; some taking a more direct view of the relation of the Saviour to the believer, while others dwell more particularly upon the media through which the Saviour manifests Himself. There is, however, no more difference between them than there was between St. Paul and St. James, when the one declared that "a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law," and the other, in terms apparently opposite, affirmed, that "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." A Christian of those days might have suspected an essential contrariety in the Church's teachings, from reading the epistles of those two eminent preachers of the Gospel: he might have suspected it with as much justice as a Christian of the present time may make the same inference from the apparently discordant utterances of our pulpits. And the mistake, in the two cases, is the same,--namely, the supposition that the strong and prominent setting forth of one side of the truth is a necessary denial of the other side.
It is, doubtless, difficult for any human mind to grasp both poles of a truth at once; and the preacher will ordinarily be found to present that most earnestly which is most habitual to his mind, and suits best his own spiritual experiences. Thus, if one preacher enlarges most particularly upon the necessity of faith in Christ, another will, with equal truth and equal zeal, expatiate upon the need of the use of those means through which faith is to be operative. Let me illustrate by an example. An unbaptized adult seeks admission to the Church. The course of teaching which he will receive, depends very much upon the peculiar views of the minister to whom he resorts for instruction. One will dwell, with largeness and fervor, upon the necessity of his exercising a strong faith in Christ, as his Saviour: another will urge, with equal ardor and explicitness, the need of his receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. Do those two guides, therefore, contradict each other? I trow, not. But the one dwells most prominently upon one portion of the truth, and the other upon another, each portion being an essential part of the whole truth. The one who insists so largely upon faith, does not expect to admit the man to the Church excepting through the gate of baptism; while he who insists, with equal prominence, upon baptism, knows full well, and teaches most clearly, that that blessed Sacrament will be null and void, if the man approach it without faith. There is, really, no essential difference between them; and yet the main presentation of truth in the two cases, is manifestly, and, to a partial observer it may seem, contradictorily, different.
But, there is a real evil, which sometimes appears, and which we may sincerely deplore. It is when a preacher, carried away by a partial view of his subject, thinks it necessary, in order to sustain his position, to vilify, or even to oppose, the other half of the truth, which he is not fond of insisting upon. Thus, one may be so taken up with Sacramental efficacies, as to deride, or depreciate, the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith; while another, equally zealous for the solifidian system, may, with equal harshness, inveigh against reliance on the Sacraments. Here, there is negative error, combined with a positive teaching of the truth; and, unhappily, there are few minds so justly balanced in their theology, that they do not tend to one or the other of these two extremes. That is the least evil of the two which tends most to correct the prevailing error of the day, whatever that may be. Thus, in a community where the value of the Sacraments is generally depreciated, and a solitary faith in Christ, irrespective of ordinances, is the favorite religion, a tendency to strong statements on the subject of the Sacraments is rather to be desired; while there is there, least of all places, occasion to decry dependence on sacramental forms and visible ordinances. The people, generally, are in no danger of it; and, therefore, need not to be frequently warned against it. But it is always an evil, and a dangerous one, when it is deemed necessary to abate from the value of one truth in order to secure esteem for another. St. Peter could see, in his beloved brother Paul's epistles, some things hard to be understood, which they that were unlearned and unstable wrested unto their own destruction. But, he did not think it necessary, therefore, to undertake to overthrow his brother's reasonings upon justification by faith or upon election; nor did he feel at liberty to abuse either of the doctrines so fearfully perverted. It were well if the same care and discrimination were always observed at the present day. The only real and substantial appearance of discord in the teachings of different pulpits arises when this error is fallen into. No one can too strongly and earnestly urge the entireness of our dependence on Christ; and no one will be misled by positive statements on that subject. But, if there be combined with it a depreciation of sacramental efficacy, of priestly benediction and absolution, the preacher goes quite beyond his limit, and is in danger, if not of inculcating error, at least of confusing and perplexing the minds of hearers who have not been accustomed to such depreciation.
I think, that so unhappy an occurrence is to be taken, simply, as an instance of one-sided devotion to a particular truth, and not as indicating a real and positive disbelief of the truth which is apparently set at nought. We are apt to fall into this error on all subjects, where our minds are greatly interested. It is, by no means, confined to religion. Nor is it always so extreme in religion as may at first sight appear. I have seen the very same preacher who, in his ordinary teaching, made the least of the Church's instrumentalities, defend them bravely, and assert their full authority, when they were attacked from a quarter whence he did not like the opposition. There is far less of real disagreement in the preachings of our different pulpits than we are apt to suppose. There is always, also, a practical check, in the fact, that the instrumentalities of religion, the visible means of grace which the Church has appointed, must be used, even by him who thinks least of their value; and this use alone must always tend to correct the low views of them which might otherwise be propagated. The Church requires a priest to pronounce absolution, however little he may be disposed to exalt its efficacy. And so of other ordinances. The practice, therefore, speaks louder for them than does any depreciating language against them. It declares, at least, the voice of the Church; and so saves her from responsibility, if the teachings of any of her Ministers do not come quite up to the tone of her standards. Her skirts are clean. She must be judged by her own prescriptions. The Church is seen in her Prayer Book.
I am glad, my brethren, at length, to release myself from the shackles of tedious explanation and a delicate weighing of opposites, and come to the positive teaching of the truth. There is no other foundation than Christ, our Lord, however ye may choose to interpret the sentiment. No other foundation is set forth among you, or, while I am your appointed teacher, ever will be, the Lord being my helper. If I have ever failed to declare to you the whole counsel of God in this matter; if I have ever made the Adorable Redeemer to appear in your eyes other than the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely; if I have attributed to Sacraments, or other means of grace, any vital efficacy, excepting as they centre in Him, and convey His life to the believer, I have not only fallen short of the requisitions of my office, but of my own sincere intention and purpose. For, my desire has ever been to know nothing among you, save Christ, and Him crucified; and while I would avoid a partial obscuration of the truth, by presenting to your minds the external means of grace without Him, I have, I trust, labored diligently to present Him, in the fulness of His life-giving power, as the Source of all vital energy and spiritual growth to the Christian. To do otherwise than this, were to shroud the truth in a total eclipse.
The truth, the whole truth, is this: Christ in the Sacraments, Christ in Confirmation, Christ in holy Absolution, Christ in Benediction, Christ in the offering of the Daily Morning and Evening Sacrifice, Christ in the word preached, Christ in the Ministrations to the Sick, Christ in the teaching of the Penitent, Christ in the sacred institution of Matrimony, the type of His own union with His Church, and Christ, (for, is He not the Resurrection and the Life?) Christ in the Burial of the Dead: this, this only, this entirely, is the unadulterated, the uncrippled, the whole, the sound, theology of the Church.
If it be so, who shall dare to deride, or lower, any means of grace which has Christ in it, or is designed to convey his immortal benefits to men? Or who, on the other hand, will venture to present those means with a veil thrown over the face of Him who shines and lives in them all? Either extreme were implied dishonor to Him, even though it may seem to be done in his honor and defence. I say, and I cannot say it too distinctly, that the Preacher who thinks to exalt Christ by degrading His ordinances, does necessarily derogate from the glory of Him who has been pleased to appear, and to convey Himself and His manifold blessings, through those appointed instrumentalities. Christ desires no honor that must come from the depreciation of His Laws. And, on the other hand, the presentation of the means of grace void of the life of faith, is the robbing them of all which imparts to them obligation or utility. Without Christ, they are barren and dead forms.
The truth of the INCARNATION underlies, nay, is the germ of, all true theology. Christ was made man, for us men, and for our salvation. He was to save us, by uniting us to Himself Incarnate, and so re-uniting us with God. In Him, the Manhood and the Godhead are, each, complete; and they are bound together, in indissoluble union, in Him. From Him we receive life and nourishment and growth; and these we receive, not by merely contemplating Him as a Saviour, outside of us, and far distant from us, sitting upon a Throne and judging us, but by an incorporation into Him, a real and living union with Him. Thus only do we ourselves live the life of God on earth: thus only do we bring forth fruit to His glory.
Baptism, therefore, is nothing but as we are "baptized into Christ," made one with Him, grafted into Him and incorporated with Him, being thereby made "members of His Body, of His Flesh and of His Bones." But, as such, it is everything; and who dares depreciate it? who can depreciate it, without robbing Christ of His dory? So of the other Sacrament: what is it but the feeding upon Christ, the Communion, [or common participation,] of His Body and His Blood, so that, therein, our union with Him is renewed and strengthened and perpetuated, we being "made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us and we in Him." So, of Absolution. It is the conveying to us, through the office of those who are Christ's commissioned "ambassadors," and "stewards" [that is to say, keepers and dispensers] "of the mysteries of God," of the pardon which He has purchased for us upon the cross. We honor, therefore, Him, if we honor this ordinance, as appointed by Him, and designed to convey to us the grace of His inestimable sacrifice. So, also, of Confirmation: it bestows the gift of the Holy Ghost, as purchased, promised and sent by Christ. He who honors Christ must honor channel of His love and bounty; and no one honors it aright who does not discover Christ in it. So, indeed, of everything else which has come down to us as an ordained means of grace. It is Christ, manifesting Himself for our salvation, through an appointed instrumentality.
You will see, therefore, that doing honor to the Christian ordinances is doing honor to your Lord. There is no fear of your exalting them too highly, so long as you see Christ in them, and esteem them for His sake, and as the channels of His love. There is, doubtless, a danger of receiving them in a perfunctory manner, and hoping for the benefit which they convey, as if the mere administration of them insured their efficacy. But, the condition, faith in Christ, is indispensable; and there is no priestly power which can compensate for the want of it. Without it, they may become even a "savor of death unto death:" with it, they are healthful, life-giving and saving.
The ruling principle of the Christian life must be that faith in the Saviour which worketh by love. The ruling aim must be to deny and sacrifice ourselves for Him. His glory must be the main object of our life, daily and constantly. Union with Him must be coveted as the source of all sanctification and holiness. Then will everything connected with Him, everything flowing from Him, His institutions and His laws, be dear to us, because they associate us with Him whom our soul supremely loveth. There will gather around each holy ordinance somewhat of the same deep and reverent affection which we bear towards the Saviour Himself; for, in it, we see and we receive Him.
Did Christians always view these matters aright, they would no more think of derogating from the honor due to the Sacraments and Rites of religion than one would think of despising or abusing a messenger who brought him a precious gift from a dear absent friend; and no one would any more forget Christ in them than he would, in such a gift, fail of gratitude to the giver, or expend all his thankfulness and love upon the messenger who conveyed it. There is no danger, I say, of over-estimating the channel, if we remember, faithfully, the Source from which the blessings which it conducts to us, start and flow. In a word, we shall love the Church aright when she is to us, in very deed and realization, the "fulness" of Christ.
One word more. Faith in Christ and love for Christ are, I fear, too often vague, general and indefinite; whereas, they should be strongly personal, as direct, positive, palpable and conscious as our trust and love towards a merely human friend, but higher, far, both in kind and degree. True Christian heroism, those nobler attainments of the divine life to which so few reach, are but the outgrowth of a personal and direct devotion to the Saviour, as one who wins the deepest and strongest love of our hearts. It combines the enthusiasm of a fervent zeal with the steadiness of an unalterable attachment, concentrated upon the person of Him whose charms ravish our inmost soul, who is the idol of our heart, the very Life of our life.