Tuesday, November 25, 2008

God's Word is greater than grand rhetoric

In preparing to preach from 1Corinthians 2:1-5 I have once again come up against Paul's words concerning his lack of rhetorical flair. He points out to the Corinthian believers that he was with them in "weakness, fear, and much trembling." What is more, he writes, "my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom" (v. 4). Now, we know that Paul was no backwoods yokle. He was well educated and had a sharp mind. He was certainly a compelling writer. But Paul was persuaded, and rightly so, that if sinners were to be regenerated then what was needed was God's powerful Word, not the apostle's impressive rhetoric.

In studying this week I found this little gem:
For it was not without an admirable arrangement of Providence, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have cavilled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

Hence there was good ground for the Apostle’s declaration, that the faith of the Corinthians was founded not on “the wisdom of men,” but on “the power of God,” (1 Cor. 2:5), this speech and preaching among them having been “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Cor. 2:5). For the truth is vindicated in opposition to every doubt, when, unsupported by foreign aid, it has its sole sufficiency in itself. How peculiarly this property belongs to Scripture appears from this, that no human writings, however skilfully composed, are at all capable of affecting us in a similar way. Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any other of that class: you will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, pleased, moved, enchanted; but turn from them to the reading of the Sacred Volume, and whether you will or not, it will so affect you, so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow, that, in comparison of the impression so produced, that of orators and philosophers will almost disappear; making it manifest that in the Sacred Volume there is a truth divine, a something which makes it immeasurably superior to all the gifts and graces attainable by man.

John Calvin, from his Institutes of the Christian Religion

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