PAUL AT CORINTH.
Christianity in contact with gaiety, luxury, and refined sensuality.
Athens and Corinth contrasted. —Character of the Corinthians. —The Apostle's purpose.—The theme he selected.—Unlikely to be received.— The speaker a Jew.—The Saviour, also, a Jew.—The truth, about a cross.—That cross made known for men's salvation.—To the Greeks, "folly."—The adaptedness of this theme to secure the end sought.—The Gospel claims this power.—Difficulty of making the claim understood. — Impossibility of denying that the Gospel, and that alone, has such power. —Explanations of the fact.—(I.) The gift of a Saviour, the highest proof of love. —(2.) The sufferings of the Saviour, the clearest exhibition of the evil of sin.—(3.) Necessity for His sufferings, the strongest evidence of the sinner's danger.
"Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."
Acts xviii. 9—II.
ENTIRELY successful in delivering an address that was worthy of the place and the audience, but unsuccessful in convincing many of his hearers of the Divine origin of Christianity, or bringing them to the knowledge of the true God,—and not seeing sufficient encouragement to attempt to found a church in Athens, —Paul turned his steps to the neighbouring city, Corinth. Here it was the Greek mind still that was to be encountered, but under a new phase; not, as in Athens, devoted to science, to eloquence, to literature, but given to gaiety and effeminate luxury. Paul, standing on Mars' Hill, saw one class of objects,—the altars, the temples, the Lyceum, the Porch, the Academy, all indicative of the prevailing intellectual and religious tendencies of the Athenians;—approaching Corinth, the most conspicuous object was not, as in Athens, the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, but the temple of Venus erected on its acropolis, and towering high above the city, as illustrative of the taste and the character of the Corinthians. Theirs was indeed (as just remarked) the Greek mind — active, quick, penetrating, powerful — needing only proper objects to enable it to do all that mind can be made to do, capable of producing the wonderful beauties of thought, poetry, eloquence, and wisdom displayed by Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Phidias, Homer, Demosthenes, Pericles,—just as the French mind has been developed in the powers of Massillon, Laplace, Cuvier, and Lavoisier,—but in this case (as too extensively with the French mind) turned to purposes of pleasure and gaiety. The great names of Greece are associated with Athens, not with Corinth. The warriors, the orators, the poets, the statesmen, the sages, found a home in the former; we do not associate their names with the latter.
Hence, in Athens, we contemplated Christianity in contact with cultivated intellect, with proud philosophy, with idolatry in its most mature, intellectual, artistic, and refined developements ;—in Corinth we are to contemplate it in contact with all that art could devise for the amusement of life ; with all that was adapted to nourish the habits of voluptuousness; with all, refined or gross, that could be made to minister to the pleasures of sense. In Athens, we saw the Christian apostle in contact with men devoted to abstract dialectics and subtle argumentation;—in Corinth, we are to see the same apostle in contact with the pleasure-seeking and the gay. If not the first instance (as it certainly was not the last) in which Christianity encountered this class of persons, it was at least one of the most stronglymarked cases of what it has to encounter in a world where men are "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." It may not be unprofitable, therefore, to contemplate the aim, and the purpose, and the preaching of the great representative of the Christian religion, when he stood amidst the people of such a city. Our subject for the present is, accordingly, PAUL AT CORINTH; or, Chr1st1an1ty 1n Contact W1th Ga1ety, Luxury, And Ref1ned Sensual1ty.
Corinth, unlike Athens, was a commercial city, and derived its principal importance, its wealth, and its characteristics, from trade. It was the capital of Achaia; and, being situated on the isthmus which divided the Peloponnesus from Attica, it was the highway between Northern and Southern Greece. The merchandize of Italy, Sicily, and the Western nations generally, was landed at one of its ports; that from the islands of the jEgean Sea, from the coasts of Asia Minor, from Phenicia, and from the nations of the East, at the other. It became the mart of Asia and of Europe, bringing thither a multitude of strangers, increasing the wealth of the state, and leading to the habits of luxury consequent on wealth. We must add, also, to the fact of its being so favourably situated for commerce, that, on the very isthmus on which the city was built, were celebrated the games which derived their name from that fact—the Isthmian Games,—and which drew together vast numbers of people from the other parts of Greece, and from foreign lands.
Corinth became thus not only one of the most populous and wealthy cities of Greece, but one of the most luxurious, effeminate, ostentatious, and dissolute cities of the world. It was one of the few cities where licentiousness has been sanctioned and sustained by law and religion, having been not only practised and allowed, but consecrated by the worship of Venus; and no small part of the wealth of the city having been derived from the offerings made in the very temple of this goddess. No city of ancient times, perhaps none of modern times, has been or is more profligate. In the art of refining upon the pleasures of sense, Corinth was in the ancient world what Paris is in the modern,—the seat of splendour, gaiety, magnificence, sensuality.1
What were the feelings with which a Christian apostle approached such a city, what was the purpose which he sought to accomplish there, and what were the means by which he proposed to secure his object, are most
1 On this point it would not be proper to go into the details which the subject would admit of, and which, indeed, would be necessary in order to a full understanding of the difficulties which the Gospel had to encounter in that city. It may be sufficient to give the following statement from Anarcharsis (vol. iii. p. 378):—" The women of Corinth are distirguished by their beauty; the men, by their love of gain and of pleasure. They ruin their health by convivial debauches; and love, with them, is only licentious passion. Far from blushing at their sensuality, they attempt to justify it by an institution which seems to prescribe it as their duty. Venus is their principal deity; to her they have consecrated a number of courtezans for the purpose of interceding in their behalf; in time of public interesting questions. It is not difficult to imagine the emotions of such a man, when looking for the first time on that beautiful city, remembering the purpose of his high mission, recalling his want of success in Athens, and asking what there was in his message which could be made to interest that gay and profligate people, and secure their conversion to the Saviour. That he should feel solicitude and anxiety would not be unnatural; and we know that he did experience these feelings. Writing to the Corinthians afterwards, he says of the time when he first came among them, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Cor. ii. 3). It was to relieve this solicitude that the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace," etc.
The purpose of the apostle was deliberately formed. He resolved what to do; what to aim at; what to rely on as the ground of success. His fixed resolution, then formed, was stated afterwards in an epistle addressed to them: "I determined not to know any thing among
calamity and imminent danger, these women attend at the sacrifices, and walk in the procession with other citizens, singing sacred hymns. When Xerxes invaded Greece, recourse was had to their intercession; and I have seen the picture in which they are represented, addressing their prayer to the goddess,—and some verses of Simonides, at the bottom of the painting, which ascribe to them the glory of having preserved the Greeks. A triumph so illustrious multiplied the number of these priestesses. Individuals, to ensure the success of their undertakings, vow to present to Venus a certain number of courtezans, whom they send for to different countries. They attract hither the foreign merchants, and in a few days ruin them and their whole retinue:—hence the proverb, 'It is not for every one to go to Corinth.'"
you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. ii. 1,2). His purpose was to have but one object of interest and of thought as pertaining to himself, and to endeavour to secure but one object in reference to them. Amidst the works of art and beauty which might be supposed to be interesting to a stranger visiting Corinth, he resolved to show that there was something more attractive in his view; and even among that gay and pleasure-loving people, he would seek to introduce it as an object which would become more attractive to them than all the splendours and all the vanities around them. That object was a crucified Saviour, as able to impart more genuine happiness to the mind than all the pleasures of earth, however varied, multiplied, and refined; as more efficacious in turning men from sin than all the rules of morality and philosophy; as the only thing that would secure reconciliation with God.
To understand the Apostle's purpose, as thus declared, and to elucidate our subject—Christianity in contact with gaiety, luxury, and sensuality—it will be necessary to consider how the new topic of thought which Paul determined to introduce there, would be likely to be received; and then, the adaptedness of this theme to secure his object. These points suggest inquiry as to the purpose of the gospel in respect to the salvation of the world, and will bring before us more important, and, in some respects, more difficult questions than any which elsewhere come before the minds of men. It seems strange to many that Paul should have selected such a theme; it seems absurd to them that he should have hoped for any success in dwelling on such a theme in such a place; it is difficult for them now to see how the " cross" can become attractive to the gay and the worldly, or how it can change the entire purpose of their lives.
I. The new topic of thought which Paul proposed to introduce into Corinth, and on which alone he proposed to dwell,—Christ, and Hint crucified.
In attempting now to show how this would be likely to strike the Corinthian mind, we shall have an illustration of a general fact in regard to the manner in which such a topic appears to the gay and the voluptuous; to those intent on pleasure; and to the great mass of men, whatever may be their pursuits, in every age, and in every land. To see this, it is necessary, as far as possible, to put ourselves in the situation of the Corinthians, and then to ask how they would be likely to regard this foreign Jew and his message.
Either as the result of experience, or of inspiration, this same apostle, in a letter subsequently sent to the Corinthians, has stated how the cross of Christ is naturally regarded by that class of minds. "The preaching of the cross," he says, "is to them that perish, foolishness" (1 Cor. i. 18). "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor. i. 23). "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" (1 Cor. i. 21.)
The circumstances of the case were such as the following ;—
(1.) He who came to them to preach this doctrine was a Jew; and, as such, would be able to advance but feeble claims to a hearing from an assembly of Greeks. The Jew had almost no science, and no literature, except his sacred books. His country had produced no philosophers celebrated like those of Greece. To this subject allusion has already been made, and it is a circumstance important to be borne in mind.
(2.) He of whom Paul came to speak—" Christ"—was a Jew also. He was of lowly origin; had lived mostly in an obscure part of his own country; had enjoyed almost no advantages of education; had laboured at a humble mechanical employment; had been associated mainly with fishermen; had been rejected as an impostor by his own countrymen. What -claims had He to the attention of foreign nations? His fame had not reached Corinth before Paul went there; but at every step an interest was to be created for Him, if it was to exist at all. Why should an inhabitant of Corinth feel any interest in a poor and unknown man, who had dwelt in Nazareth, and been crucified at Jerusalem?
(3.) The theme was one that was little likely to be attractive to those who lived in Corinth, (a.) Paul could not have hoped that the mere fact that one had been thus crucified would interest and arouse them, for occurrences of that kind were not uncommon, and why (among the hundreds who had been crucified in Judaea under the Roman government) should this particular case be selected as having a claim to universal attention? (!>.) It could not have been supposed that this would interest them because a great wrong- had been done to Him as a Roman citizen, for Jesus was not a Roman citizen, and did not claim to be such, (c.) It could not have been hoped that an interest would be awakened in Him as a martyr, for there had been others in Judaea, who, it might be said, were not less eminent as martyrs than He was; and there had been martyrs in Greece, in the cause of liberty, justice, and truth, whom the Corinthians would be likely to regard as not less worthy of honour than any who had suffered martyrdom in other lands.
The "cross," moreover, little as it has now to make it attractive to the gay and the worldly, had then everything that could make the mention of it repulsive. Even in our day, there is almost nothing more incongruous and uncongenial to the prevailing tastes and feelings of that class of persons than the topics connected with a crucified Saviour. In the social intercourse of those whose feelings and condition of life would be represented by the Corinthians, there is almost no subject so seldom introduced in conversation, and none whose introduction would be regarded as more out of place, or more offensive, than a reference to Christ and His cross. By common consent the subject is banished from such circles. Who will venture to make an allusion to it in a ball-room? Who, at the opera? Who, in the theatre? No one could introduce a topic that would be regarded as more out of place; more repellent; more certain to give offence.
And this topic would have been much more unattractive—much more repellent—in Corinth, than it would be in such circles among us. The human heart has not, indeed, been changed in its aversion to the cross, nor will it ever be except by the grace of God; but there has been a change, in some respects, in regard to the way in which it is contemplated by the world at large. It is impossible to put ourselves, even in imagination, in the condition of those to whom the Gospel was first preached. There has been such a sacredness thrown around the cross,—there are such hallowed associations connected with it,—the world has learned to regard the very name, "the cross," as so identified with all that is sacred, with all that is self-denying, that even the votaries of gaiety and vanity might be shocked by such a statement as would place the reality before their minds. The cross, even in popular estimation, has become the symbol of honour, of glory, of goodness, and of mercy. We have read of it as a standard in war, under which armies have marched to victory; it is embalmed in the sweetest poetry; it is found in magnificent cathedrals; it is a sacred emblem on the altars of churches; it is engraven on the marble which affection rears to mark the graves of those we loved; it is often worn by beauty and piety as an ornament near the heart; it is associated with all that is pure in love, great in self-sacrifice, and sacred in religion. As a mode of punishment, it is now unknown; and when we think of the cross, it is not of the multitude of slaves, and thieves, and robbers, and vagabonds, who have died on it, but of the one great Victim whose death has ennobled even this instrument of torture, and encircled it with a halo of glory. But at the time when Paul resolved to know nothing but "Christ crucified,"—at the time when he said, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. vi. 14), the word had but one idea attached to it, and was regarded as more dishonourable than are now the words, "guillotine," "block," "gallows," "gibbet." To say among such people as were found in Corinth that he thought of nothing else, and desired tl1em to think of nothing else,— that he would mention nothing else, and glory in nothing else,—had more in it to shock, and repel, and offend, and disgust than there would be now in saying to a similar assembly that he resolved to think of nothing, to know nothing, to commend to them nothing but the gibbet—the gallows,—the unknown foreigner, of a despised race, who had been put to death as slaves, and thieves, and robbers, and vagabonds were,—as actually dying between two such men, put to death in the same way at the same time,—and as dying there because it was believed, even by his own countrymen, that by eminence of guilt He deserved the central place. How could it be hoped by Paul that the gay citizens of Corinth could be made to overcome this revulsion of feeling, and to find an object of attraction in a cross?
(4.) The cross was to be made known to them as a method of salvation; as an instrument in turning the wicked from their ways; as a means of inducing the gay and the worldly to forsake their vanities and follies. It was this alone which it was Paul's object to proclaim. It was not that He who had been crucified had a claim to glory that might be compared with the fame of Grecian warriors on a battle field; it was not that He had been, like many of their own countrymen, a sufferer in the cause of liberty, and that His name on that account was worthy to be enrolled with theirs; it was not that He had suggested new truths in philosophy which might interest a Greek mind; it was not the announcement that new sources of pleasure had been opened to vary the scenes of sensual enjoyment, and to give new attractiveness to social life; it was not the discovery of new methods to prolong the gratifications of sense, or to repair the wasted vigour of those who had been enervated by carnal indulgences. Any or all of these things might have been matters of interest to the inhabitants of Corinth. But it was solely with reference to religion—to salvation—to a method of securing the favour of God,—that Paul sought to make the cross attractive to those whom he purposed to address. And it was on this alone that he relied for success. It was not grace of manner, or attractive rhetoric, or balanced periods and rounded sentences; it was not philosophy, or argument, or dialectical skill; it was the theme itself, however presented—the truth—the fact of the crucifixion—the "power" that there was in the cross,—and that alone. "My speech and my preaching," said he to them, afterwards, "was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. it. 4). "Christ sent me to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" (1 Cor. i. 17).
It was easy to see (and Paul has not left us to doubt that he saw) how this would be likely to appear to dwellers in Greece. He has, in writing to the Corinthians, stated with philosophical accuracy, precisely Iww this would strike their mind. "We preach Christ crucified," said he,—" unto the Greeks foolishness"—fiwplav, —folly; in their estimation, absolute unqualified /oily. This word expresses exactly the idea; it describes precisely the impression which the attempt would make on the mind of a Greek. The word "folly" is thus defined: "weakness of intellect; imbecility of mind; want of understanding ;—a weak or absurd act; an act inconsistent with the dictates of reason, or the ordinary rules of prudence" (Webster). All this would to a Greek appear to be true of the Gospel. To his apprehension, there would be, there could be, no adaptedness in the idea of a "cross" to the work of salvation; to the elevation of the race; to the reformation of mankind. He would see no connexion between the one and the other; no fitness in the means for the end. The Greeks had their own ideas of what was necessary to raise, to civilize, to reform, to save men. It was to be done by truth; by philosophy; by teaching; by knowledge. Between these things and the end proposed, they saw, or thought they saw, a close connexion. If men were instructed, if pure morality were inculcated, if there were just and equal laws, if right principles of philosophy prevailed, they hoped—they believed—that the world might be elevated, that prevailing evils might be removed, that the debased might be exalted; that the corrupt might be reformed. To attempt this was wise,—was wisdom. But what connexion could there be between the idea of a cross, or a crucified man, and the attainment of such an end? What relation could the one have to the other? What element of power, which would be apparent to a Greek mind, could there be connected with that instrument of cruelty and death, to reclaim the intemperate, to render the gay serious, to make the corrupt pure, or elevate the degraded? A Greek philosopher would ask these questions, as philosophers do now; the gay and the voluptuous of Corinth, if their attention could be arrested at all, would ask this question, just as the frivolous and worldly-minded do now.
II. This leads us to notice the adaptedness of this topic to arrest the minds of the gay, the refined, and tlu worldly; to secure the conversion and salvation of those wlw live for pleasure, or who are sunk in gross sensuality.
(1.) I begin this part of my subject by remarking that the Gospel claims this to be the only effectual mode of reforming and recovering sinners of all grades and classes. Thus Paul afterwards says to the Corinthians, "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, 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 (1 Cor. i. 23, 24); —and to the Romans, he says (i. 16), "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." This claim lies at the very foundation of the Gospel, for it is based on the idea that all other schemes of reforming and saving men have failed, and that this is the last hope of man.
(2.) Yet it is to be remarked that there is not in the whole compass of the Christian theology any one point more difficult of explanation than this; one which is less understood by unconverted men; one which it is more difficult to make them comprehend. It is probable that even Paul, while he resolved to know only this theme among the Corinthians,—while he relied on this alone as the means of the renovation and conversion of the inhabitants of that gay and guilty city,—while he expected to be able to arrest their attention by this, and to lead them, like himself, to glory only in the cross of Christ, —would have despaired of being able to state to them (so that they would have comprehended it) how this was to be done, or to show them (so that tluy could appreciate it) what was the real power of that cross, or what was the source of that power. It is certain that a gay and thoughtless world sees no such wisdom in that Gospel now, and equally certain that we cannot so explain it to ,them that they will perceive it. As a means to an end, as adapted to convert and save, as having any inherent power, as fitted for the salvation of mankind, they now regard it, as the Greek philosophers of Athens and as the gay inhabitants of Corinth did,—as "foolishness;"— foolishness, in the sense that, in their apprehension, it has no adaptedness to such a result. And there is no "wisdom of words" which we can employ that will so explain it to unconverted men that they will understand it, until they are led to see it, as these Corinthians did, by the result of experience, and then it will become to them, as it did to the Corinthians, "the wisdom of God, and the power of God" "unto salvation."
(3.) While, however, there is this difficulty, or this impossibility of explaining it, there cannot be any real doubt of the fact. Nothing is better established in history than that the Gospel of Christ—the preaching of the cross—is an effectual means of leading the sinner to abandon his sins and to turn to God. No fact, moreover, is better established than that this is the only means on which reliance can be placed for producing a permanent reformation, and for saving sinners. For (a) Law, as such, cannot effect this. It checks; it restrains; it rebukes; it punishes; but it does not melt the heart; it does not reform and save. If a condemned and punished man is reformed, it is not by the sentence of the law, or by imprisonment, or by stripes. It is by a side influence introduced into his dungeon; by some visitation of mercy, of kindness, of compassion. It is by the minister or teacher of religion, not by the officer of the law. (b.) The Greek philosophy saved and reformed none. It failed to raise up the abject; to change the corrupt heart; to call back the trifler and the wanderer to seriousness and truth; to lead any up to God. When Paul was at Athens and at Corinth, all had been done which philosophy could accomplish, and the result was seen in the universal idolatry of the one, and the universal profligacy of the other, (c.) It is equally true that science, literature, and art, are insufficient. The lessons of morality are feeble in the attempt to restrain men from sin,—else such a man as Chalmers (in his early ministry before conversion) would not have found them powerless; and the rewards which virtue has to offer to men are ineffectual in overcoming the power of temptation, and recovering the intemperate, the dissolute, and the profane. The realms of science have no truths or revelations in answer to the great questions which men ask about themselves, about God, about a fallen world. Who goes into the laboratory of the chemist to find an answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" Who goes into the dissecting-room of the anatomist to learn how an atonement may be made for sin? Who looks through a telescope with any hope that he may see God? Who studies the "safety-lamp" of the miner to learn how he may escape from hell?
As a matter of fact, therefore, while all other things have failed, the Gospel of Christ has proved the effectual means of the conversion and the salvation of sinners. By its effects in Antioch, in Ephesus, in Philippi, in Corinth, in Rome,—by its influence on the world now for eighteen hundred years,—it has shown that there is power, whether it can be explained or not, in the preaching of Christ crucified, to restrain, to reform, to save. This power was illustrated, in the case of the Corinthians themselves, by an appeal which could not be called in question,—" Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God; and such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. vi. 9—n). In Corinth Paul did what he could not do in Athens; he founded a church; he won the hearts of many to the love of Christ. His preaching in Athens and in Corinth illustrated what has indeed been illustrated everywhere, that there is more in a proud philosophy to oppose the Gospel than there is in even the love of pleasure. To such a class of men, substantially, as Paul found in Athens, the Saviour said, "Verily, I say unto you that publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of G d before you;" and it is true everywhere that while the Gospel may be preached before Epicureans and Stoics in vain, there may be hope even in such a place as Corinth, and that amidst the gay and dissipated some may listen to the history of the cross, and turn to God.
(4.) With all that is discouraging, and apparently hopeless, in endeavouring to explain this so that it will be appreciated by an unrenewed heart, there are things which are in fact really explanatory of this power.
(a) The gift of a Saviour was the highest possible expression of love—of the love of the universal Father for man. There is no higher love than that which gives up a son to die. No man evinces a higher love for his country than that, for he has no higher sacrifice which he could make. Even God Himself could manifest no higher love for the world than to give His own Son to die. That fact conveys to men the deepest possible expression of His sense of the danger of the sinner; of the worth of the soul; of the necessity of religion; of the vanity of worldly pursuits. Nothing could be better fitted to arrest the attention of mankind than this; nothing more adapted to cause the wicked, the gay, and the worldly to pause in their career, and to fix their thoughts on higher things than those which pertain to this fleeting world of shadows. It could be for no trifling object that the Son of God became incarnate; that the Incarnate One was subjected to poverty and sorrow; that He lived on earth a wanderer; that He died on a cross; that He was laid in a tomb. Admitting these things to be true, what expression of love higher than this could even the Eternal Father make? what is there which even God could do, that would, when appreciated, be more likely to arrest the attention of mankind?
(b) The evil of sin is most clearly seen, and most deeply felt when it is viewed in connexion with the cross of Christ, and with the fact that this was the cause, the sole cause of His death, and that His unspeakable sufferings were the proper expression and measure of its ill-desert. For (1.) He suffered (as far as the nature of the case would allow) what sin deserves, and what the sinner would himself suffer if he were to endure in his own person the penalty of God's violated law. (2.) We feel the evil of a wrong course of life more deeply when it brings calamity on the innocent, than when it brings woe upon ourselves. An intemperate man will be more likely to be affected by the sufferings which he brings on his family than by the consequences which he brings on himself. To the loss of property, of health, of reputation,—to sickness and disgrace,—he may be insensible. He can bear all this. But not so with the tears and pleadings of those whose hearts are crushed by his misconduct,—the aged parent, sad and sorrowful; the weeping, broken-hearted wife; the pale and drooping daughter or sister; the sorrow and desolation of what was once his cheerful and happy home. In like manner, if the heart of man ever feels the evil of sin, if the eyes ever weep over the consequences of depravity, it is when the sinner contemplates the Saviour enduring the sorrows ot Gethsemane and of the cross, as the effect of his iniquity; as made necessary by the fact that he is a sinner.
(c.) The deepest sense of the danger of the sinner is produced by the contemplation of the cross of Christ. "If these things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" If these sufferings came on the innocent Son of God as a substitute for the guilty, then the sinner, if his sin is not pardoned, must endure in his own person what will be a proper expression of the Divine sense of the evil of the transgression. If, when the innocent Redeemer approached the last scenes,—if when in the garden of Gethsemane He besought so earnestly that the cup might pass away,—if, when He shrank back from the horrors of death as an expiation for sin,—the Eternal Father did not interpose and rescue His own Son, His innocent and spotless Son, when about to die for human guilt,—then how shall the sinner escape when the wrath of God is coming on his own soul? No man can be safe in sin, in a life of gaiety, vanity, sensuality, pollution, when it was necessary that the Son of God should bleed and die to save the lost; and just in proportion as the sinner contemplates the sufferings of the Redeemer, just in that proportion will he see his own danger.
I have been speaking of Corinth, a city of pleasure, of gaiety, of fashion. Its inhabitants lived for these objects, and had no other aim. How many, in like manner, are now living for no other end,—the sum total of whose present existence, and modes of living, would all be comprised in the single word pleasure. In show and splendour, in amusements and pastimes, or in more ignoble forms, this word would comprehend all that they think of as making up "life." Here is their end of being. Here their morning, their mid-day, their evening thought . O, ye triflers, who live only for pleasure and vanity, what think you of Christ? What think you of His cross? Is the soul so precious that it demanded such a sacrifice,—is eternity so important that it made proper such an incarnation,—is hell so fearful that it demanded such tears and blood to redeem us from it,— and have you nothing else to do but to live for vanity, and spend your days in mirthfulness and folly? When a Saviour bleeds and groans and dies, can you pass by His sorrows unheeded, and live and die as if there were no Saviour, and no hell, and no heaven? I entreat you to devote one solemn hour of thought to a crucified Saviour—a Saviour expiring in the bitterest agony. Think of the cross, the nails, the open wounds, the anguish of His soul. Think how the Son of God became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, that you might live for ever. Think, as you lie down upon your beds to rest, how your Saviour was lifted up from the earth to die. Think, amid your plans and anticipations of future gaiety, what the redemption of your soul has cost, and how the dying Saviour would wish you to act. His wounds plead that you will live for better things.