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TUE ADVANTAGES OF REVELATION.
I Cor. i. 21.
After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
is a celebrated saying of Tertullian, my
brethren, that every mechanic among Christians knew God, and could make him known to others. Tertullian spoke thus by way of contrast to the conduct of the philosopher Thales toward Croesus, the king. Cresus asked this philosopher, What is God? Thales, (by the way, some relate the same story of Simonides.) Thales required one day to consider the matter, before he gave his
When one day was gone, Cresus asked him again, What is God? Thales intreated two days to consider. When two days were expired, the question was proposed to him again; he besought the king to grant him four days. After four days, he required eight: after eight, sixteen; and in this manner he continued to procrastinate so long, that the king, impatient at his delay, desired to know the reason of it. O king! said Thales, be not astonished that I defer my answer. question in which my insufficient reason is lost. *The oftener I ask myself, What is God ? the more incapable I find myself of answering. New difficulties arise every moment, and my knowledge diminisheth as my enquiries increase.
It is a
Tertullian, hereupon, takes an occasion to triumph over the philosophers of paganism, and to make an eulogium on christianity. Thales, the chief of the wise men of Greece; Thales, who hath added the erudition of Egypt to the wisdom of Greece; Thales cannot inform the king what God is! The meanest christian knows more than he. What man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him : even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. ii. 11. The christian hath more understanding than all his teachers, according to the expression of the psalmist : Psal. cxix. 99. for as far as the light of revelation is above that of nature, so far is the meanest christian above the wisest heathen philosopher.
Of this superiority of knowledge we intend to treat to-day. This St. Paul had in view in the first chapters of this epistle, and particularly in the text. But in order to a thorough knowledge of the apostle's meaning, we must explain his terms, and mark the occasion of them. With this explication we begin.
Greece, of which Corinth was a considerable ci-' ty, was one of those countries which honored the sciences, and which the sciences honored in return. It was the opinion there, that the prosperity of a state depends as much on the culture of reason, and on the establishment of literature, as on a well disciplined army, or an advantageous trade: and that neither opulence nor grandeur were of any value in the hands of men, who were destitute of learning and good sense. In this they were worthy of emulation and praise. At the same time,
it was very deplorable that their love of learning should often be an occasion of their ignorance. Nothing is more common in academies, and universities, (indeed it is an imperfection almost inseparable from them) than to see each science alternately in vogue; each branch of literature becomes fashionable in its turn, and some doctor presides over reason and good sense, so that sense and reason are nothing without his approbation. In St. Paul's time, philosophy was in fashion in Greece; not a sound, chaste philosophy, that always took reason for its guide, a kind of science, which has made greater progress in our times than in all preceding ages: but a philosophy full of prejudices, subject to the authority of the heads of a sect, which was then most in vogue, expressed politely, and to use the language of St. Paul, proposed with the words which man's wisdom teacheth, 1 Cor. ii. 13. Without this philosophy, and this eloquence, people were despised by the Greeks. The apostles were very little versed in these sciences. The gospel they preached was formed upon another plan ; and they who preached it, were destitute of these ornaments : accordingly, they were treated by the far greater part with contempt. The want of these was a great offence to the Corinthians. They could not comprehend, that a doctrine, which came from heaven, could be inferior to human sciences. St. Paul intended in this epistle to guard the Corinthians against this objection, and to make an apology for the gospel, and for his ministry. The text is an abridgment of his apology.
The occasion of the words of the text is a key to the sense of each expression; it explains those terms of the apostle, which need explanation, as well as the meaning of the whole proposition ; After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
The wisdom, or the learning, of which St. Paul speaks, is philosophy. This, I think, is incontestible. The first epistle to the Corinthians, I grant, was written to two sorts of christians, to some, who came from the profession of Judaism, and to others who came from the profession of paganism. Some commentators doubt, whether by the wise, of whom St. Paul often speaks in this chapter, we be to understand Jews, or pagan philosophers: Whether by wisdom we be to understand the system of the synagogue, or the system of the porch. They are inclined to take the words in the former sense, because the Jews usually called their divines and philosophers, wise men, and gave the name of wisdom to every branch of knowledge. Theology they called wisdom concerning God; natural philosophy they called wisdom concerning nature ; astronomy they called wisdom concerning the stars ; and so of the rest. But although we grant the truth of this remark, we deny the application of it here. It seems very clear to us, that St. Paul, throughout this chapter, gave the pagan philosophers the appellation wise, which they affected. The verse, that follows the text, makes this very plain : the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom : that is to say, the Greeks are as earnestly desirous of philosophy as the Jews of miracles. By wisdom, in the text, then, we are to understand philosophy. But the more fully to comprehend the meaning of St. Paul, we must define this philosophy agreeably to the ideas of St. Paul. Philosophy, then, is that science of God, and of the chief good, which is grounded not on the testimony of any superior intelligence, but on the speculations and discoveries of our own reason.