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THE EXCELLENCY OF THE SUBJECT.
"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."-1 Cor. 2:2.
The former verse contains an apology for the plain and familiar manner of the apostle's preaching, which was "not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom :" he studied not to gratify their curiosity with rhetorical strains, or philosophical niceties; for he says, "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
"I determined not to know." The meaning is not, that he despised or contemned all other knowledge; but so far only as it might stand in competition with, or opposition to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. As if he had said, "It is my stated, settled judgment; not a hasty, inconsiderate censure, but the result of my most serious inquiries. After I have well weighed the case, viewed it exactly on every side, balanced all advantages and disadvantages, pondered all things that are fit to come into consideration about it; this is the issue and final determination, that all other knowledge, how profitable, how pleasant soever, is not worthy to be named in comparison with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. This, therefore, I resolve to make the scope and end of my ministry, and the end regulates the means; such pedantic toys and airy notions as injudicious ears af
fect, would rather obstruct than promote my grand design among you; therefore, wholly waving that way, I applied myself to a plain, popular, unaffected dialect, fitted rather to pierce the heart and convince the conscience, than to please the fancy.
"I determined not to know any thing,'—to study nothing myself, to teach nothing to you, but 'Jesus Christ.' Christ shall be the centre to which all the lines of my ministry shall be drawn. I have spoken and written of many other subjects in my sermons and epistles, but it is all as consequent upon preaching and making known Jesus Christ: of all the subjects in the world, this is the sweetest; if there be any thing, on this side heaven, worthy our time and studies, this is it." Thus he magnifies his doctrine, from the excellency of its subject, accounting all other doctrines but airy things, compared with this.
"Jesus Christ and him crucified." This topic he singled out from all the rest of the excellent truths of Christ, on which to spend the main strength of his ministry Christ as crucified: and the rather, because hereby he would obviate the vulgar prejudice raised against him upon the account of his cross; for Christ crucified was "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness." 1 Cor. 1:23. This also best suited his end, to draw them on to Christ; as Christ above all other subjects, so Christ crucified above all things in Christ.
The manner in which he discoursed on this transcendent subject to them, is also remarkable; he not only preached Christ crucified, but he preached him assiduously and plainly. He preached Christ frequently; "and whenever he preached of Christ crucified, he preached him in a crucified style." This is the sum of the words; to let them know that his spirit was intent upon this subject, as if he neither knew nor cared to
speak of any other. All his sermons were so full of Christ, that his hearers might have thought he was acquainted with no other doctrine. Hence,
No doctrine is more excellent, or necessary to be preached and studied, than Jesus Christ, und him crucified. All other knowledge, how much soever it be magnified in the world, is, and ought to be, esteemed but dross, in comparison with the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3:8. "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Col. 2: 3. Eudoxus was so affected with the glory of the sun, that he thought he was born only to behold it: much more should a christian judge himself born only to behold and delight in the glory of the Lord Jesus.
I. Consider the excellency of the knowledge of Christ in itself.
1. It is the very marrow and kernel of all the Scriptures; the scope and centre of all divine revelations. The ceremonial law is full of Christ, and all the Gospel is full of Christ: the blessed lines of both Testaments meet in him; and how they both harmonize, and sweetly concentre in Jesus Christ, it is the chief scope of the excellent epistle to the Hebrews to unfold; for we may call that epistle the sweet harmony of both Testaments. This argues the unspeakable excellency of this doctrine, the knowledge whereof must needs, therefore, be a key to unlock the greatest part of the sacred Scriptures. For it is in the understanding of Scripture, much as in the knowledge of logic and philosophy: if a scholar once come to understand the foundation-principle, upon which, as upon its hinge, the controversy turns, the true knowledge of that principle shall carry him through the whole controversy, and furnish him with a solution to every argument. Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the Scriptures.
2. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is a fundamental knowledge; and foundations are most useful, though least seen.
It is fundamental to all graces; they all begin in knowledge. "The new man is renewed in knowledge." Col. 3:10. As the old, so the new creation begins in light; the opening of the eyes is the first work of the Spirit: and as the beginnings of grace, so all its growth depends upon this increasing knowledge; "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour." 2 Pet. 3:18. See how these two, grace and knowledge, keep equal pace in the soul of a christian; in what degree the one increases, the other increases also.
It is fundamental to all duties. The duties, as well as the graces of all christians, are all founded in the knowledge of Christ. Must a christian believe? that he can never do without the knowledge of Christ: faith is so much dependent on his knowledge, that it is denominated by it, "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many," Isa. 53: 11; and hence, John, 6: 40, seeing and believing are made the same thing. Would a man exercise hope in God? that he can never do without the knowledge of Christ, for he is the author of that hope, 1 Pet. 1: 3; he is also its object, Heb. 6: 19, its groundwork and support. Col. 1:27. And as you cannot believe or hope, so neither can you pray acceptably without a competent degree of this knowledge. The very heathen could say, "Men must not speak of God without light." The true way of conversing with, and enjoying God in prayer, is by acting faith on him through a Mediator. Oh, then, how indispensable is the knowledge of Christ to all who address themselves to God in any duty!
It is fundamental to all comforts: all the comforts of believers are streams from this fountain. Jesus Christ is the very object of a believer's joy; "We rejoice in
Christ Jesus." Phil. 3:3. Take away the knowledge of Christ, and christians would be the most sad and melancholy beings in the world: again, let Christ but manifest himself, and dart the beams of his light into their souls, it will make them kiss the stake, sing in the flames, and shout in the pangs of death, as men that divide the spoil.
This knowledge is fundamental to the eternal happiness of souls: as we can perform no duty, erjoy no comfort, so neither can we be saved without it, This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." John, 17: 3. And if it be life eternal to know Christ, then it is eternal damnation to be ignorant of Christ: as Christ is the door that opens heaven, so knowledge is the key that opens Christ. The excellent gifts and renowned parts of the moral heathen, though they purchased to them great esteem and honor among men, yet left them in a state of perdition, because of this great defect, that they were ignorant of Christ. 1 Cor. 1:21.
3. The knowledge of Christ is profound and large: all other sciences are but shadows; this is a boundless, bottomless ocean; no creature hath a line long enough to fathom the depth of it; there is height, length, depth, and breadth ascribed to it, Eph. 3: 18; yea, it passeth knowledge. There is a manifold wisdom of God in Christ. Eph. 3:10. It is indeed simple, pure, and unmixed with any thing but itself, yet it is manifold in degrees, kinds, and administrations. Though something of Christ be unfolded in one age, and something in another, yet eternity itself cannot fully unfold him. I see something, said Luther, which blessed Augustine saw not; and those that come after me, will see that which I see not. It is in the studying of Christ, as in the planting of a new-discovered country; at first men sit down by the sea-side, upon the skirts and borders