‘What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.’
Our circumstances differ widely from those in which St. Paul was placed. Whatever differences may now exist amongst Christians, it can hardly be said that any ‘preach Christ of contention.’ But whilst we occupy a different position from that occupied by St. Paul, we may find much in the spirit which animated him to admire and follow.
The thought which underlies the text is that all other considerations sink into insignificance as compared with the proclamation of the Gospel.
What is implied in the expression ‘Christ is preached?’
I. Christianity consists of a twofold revelation: the revelation of a Person and the revelation of a Life; the Person is the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ; the Life is the Divine, spiritual, eternal life given to man in and through the Son; ‘God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’ (1Jn_5:11). In accordance with this St. Paul writes thus to the Corinthians: ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ (1Co_2:2). This involves the Person, ‘Jesus Christ’; and the Work, ‘Him crucified.’ We must be careful to be precise here. Our Lord, in training His Apostles to true views of His Person, asked, ‘Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ Conflicting answers were given, and then individualising the question he asked, ‘But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (St. Mat_16:13-16). This great truth pervades all St. Paul’s teaching. Writing to the Romans he defines the ‘Gospel of God’ to be ‘concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh,’ truly man; ‘and declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,’ truly God (Rom_1:3). This is a great mystery, two natures in one Person; but it is also a great fact; a rock-truth, upon which Christ builds His Church; a sure foundation.
II. The preaching of Christ includes not only the preaching of His Person, it involves also the preaching of His Work.—If St. Paul’s teaching upon the Person of Christ was definite and clear, equally so was his teaching concerning the Work of Christ; the completeness of His atoning death; the glory of His resurrection life; the work of Christ for us as our substitute, and the work of Christ in us as our quickening and sustaining life. But St. Paul did not preach a dead Christ: he preached a living Saviour: one who ‘was dead,’ but was now ‘alive for evermore.’
III. But the preaching of Christ is only a means to an end: the end is the salvation of souls: we ‘watch for souls as they that must give account’; ‘Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom: that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.’ Thus to fill up the Apostolic joy, he must not only be able to say ‘Christ is preached,’ but also that Christ is accepted, welcomed, received into the understanding and the heart.
Rev. Sir Emilius Laurie.
‘St. Paul was a prisoner at Rome when he wrote these words. He may have been referring to those Judaising Christians who taught indeed the Christian faith, but who at the same time insisted upon the strict observance of the Mosaic Law: who would make men Christians, but would make them strictly Jewish Christians, bound to observe the ceremonial law: seeking thus to bind upon men’s necks an intolerable burden, and, at the same time, to wound and annoy the great Apostle of liberty. Their teaching was probably at fault; their motives were certainly unworthy and wrong. Under one aspect of the case St. Paul was prepared to uphold, and in the Galatian Epistle does uphold, the liberty of the Gospel, as against the bondage of ritualism: but under another aspect, when, as in the present case, the choice lay between a dwarfed and mutilated Christianity and the gross licentiousness of heathenism, between Christ imperfectly exhibited and no Christ at all, he decides unhesitatingly in favour of an incomplete preaching of the Gospel.’
FOR CLERGY AND PEOPLE
The lesson to be drawn from this text is twofold.
I. For clergy.—‘It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.’ ‘Woe unto me,’ says St. Paul, ‘if I preach not the Gospel.’ But what is the Gospel? Christ is the Gospel, and the Gospel is Christ. Leave out Christ from your message, and what Gospel, what good news have you left? Fill your message with Christ, and every jot and tittle of it is good news for weary souls. There is, we fear, very much of modern preaching which has in it but little of Christ.
(a) Christ is not fully preached, wherever either side of His complex personality is exalted at the expense of the other: the human at the expense of the divine: the divine at the expense of the human.
(b) Again, Christ is not fully preached, unless Scriptural prominence is given to the completeness and all-sufficiency of His atoning sacrifice. Here, we believe, modern preaching is largely defective, and therefore erroneous. Christ as our example is insisted upon, and rightly so: but Christ as our propitiatory sacrifice is too much kept in the background, if not ignored altogether. Perfect obedience is indeed the condition of eternal life, alike under the Law and under the Gospel: but with this vast difference, that under the Law the condition of perfect obedience is required to be performed by man himself, whereas under the Gospel, the same condition is proposed as having been performed by a mediator. In this substitution of the person consists the principal and essential difference of the two schemes. Perfect obedience is the one condition of life, both under Law and under Gospel: but under the latter this obedience is rendered for the sinner, by his surety, and the life which is his due becomes his, not by working, but by believing.
(c) Once more, Christ is not fully preached unless ample prominence is given to the resurrection life of Christ, as lived now by Him, and as lived in every member of His mystical body. Christianity is built, not upon an empty tomb, but upon a living Saviour: and the three-fold truth, ruin by the Fall, righteousness by Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, is as applicable now as it ever was.
II. For people.—Wherever ‘Christ is preached,’ a deep responsibility rests upon all to whom ‘the word of this salvation’ comes.
(a) You who hear this cannot be as if the Divine message had never reached you: you cannot treat the priceless ‘talent’ of a free Gospel committed to your keeping as a thing of no importance, to be trifled with for a time, and then returned with the scornful words, ‘Lo, there thou hast that is thine.’ You have to account for the use which you have made of it.
(b) There must be a personal reception of the Saviour, or the Gospel will be to us a savour not of life, but of death.
(c) The true joy can only be yours if Christ be accepted, welcomed, received into the heart: you must know Christ as your righteousness, you must know Him as your life: you must learn to say, ‘To me to live is Christ.’
III. For all, clergy and people alike, the great lesson of the text is unity; unity of aim, that wherever our influence may extend it may be found that, both by word and by life, ‘Christ is preached’; unity of heart, that so we may ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel.’
Rev. Sir Emilius Laurie.
‘The great American statesman Daniel Webster once said, “When a man preaches to me, I want him to make it a personal matter, a personal matter, a personal matter.” Christ when upon earth dealt personally and individually with souls: “He calleth His own sheep by name”: He calleth now. Oh, beware how, when He calleth, you refuse to hearken!’