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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
E. T. Winkler
From The Baptist Pulpit, 1850
Corinth was the wealthiest and most beautiful city of Greece. It is not to our purpose to expatiate upon the extent of that commerce, which constituted this city a great treasure-house of nations, and made her merchants kings, or upon that culture which gave generals to head the armies of the republics of Greece, or on that refinement which filled her streets and palaces with the choicest and most beautiful productions of art, but we would speak of her religion.
It was the religion of their fathers, and therefore venerable. It was the religion of art, and therefore beautiful. The imagination regarding it became entranced and lost in its exceeding loveliness. The reason, nicely scrutinizing it, on a sudden shrinks back, appalled from the presence and by the fear of those awful beings, the objects of a people's admiration.
For century after century, it had been interweaving the threads of its mythology among the fibres of the national heart. It was the theme of those popular ballads that, more efficiently than laws, mould and determine public character. It had inspired those loftier poetic strains, which, requiring centuries for their production, never die, and never lose their influence. To a people passionately fond of beauty, it had given streets adorned with colossal monuments and religious emblems, and had thrown open temples, in which the architect, and the painter, and the sculptor had combined to exhibit the beauty of classic taste, and upon which the merchant had lavished the treasures of commercial opulence.
And when we remember that the Corinthians sang the poems which Homer sung, and admired the works which Phidias and Protogenes wrought that the sculptured majesty of Jupiter hurling his thunderbolt, and Apollo touching his marble harp, towered from their temple pavements, and the penciled loveliness of the sea-born Venus smiled on them from the temple walls; that every grove, and spring, and mountain had its genius; that the stars were ruled by awful spirits, and the caves of the ocean inhabited by lovely shapes; and when we remember, too, that all these forms of beauty and of awe were the offspring of their religion, we can readily imagine how it must have interwoven itself into the hopes and fears, the admiration and love, of this classic people.
We can readily imagine with what a mixture of horror and disgust they saw the apostle attacking, beneath the very shadow of their gods, the religion of their fathers. A foreigner (a barbarian, as the Greeks termed him), standing in the midst of the splendors of Paganism, assaulted the religion of poetry, of beauty, and of art!
The inimitable productions of the Grecian masters were all around him, but he passed them coldly by. The pompous processions, and the Isthmean games, and the imposing ceremonies of Paganism, would naturally have attracted the curiosity of a stranger, but they had no charms for him.
The sophist reasoned in the groves and porticoes, upon the principles of nature and philosophy, but the apostle neither to dispute with the sophist, nor to gain instruction from the lips of the philosopher. Paul was a man of refinement, and versed in Hebrew, and to a considerable extent in Grecian literature, but he looked upon the refinements of Corinth as vanities. And all that was imposing to the Grecian idolater was to him but as the sounding brass and the tinkling cymbal.
Pervaded by one great idea, animated by one astonishing fact, he said nothing, heard nothing, cared for nothing, but what pertained to the great object of his mission and apostolic labors. For "I, brethren, when I came unto you," he says, "came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom; declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified." (I Cor. 2:1, 2)
It is utterly impossible for language to express the claims of Christianity more forcibly and fully than they were expressed, under these circumstances, by these words. It is as if the apostle had said:
"The religion of Jesus comprehends facts, and involves duties, compared with which, human enterprise and human thought, the accumulated wealth of centuries, and the grand intellectual and moral progress and works of a nation, sink into insignificance. I see the wings of your commerce whitening the Mediterranean. I behold the labors of the husbandman, adorning your fields with nodding harvests. I see the immortal works of art, that beautify the streets and temples of your city—but they are to me as if they were not.
“Another subject, better and nobler, occupies my thoughts and inspires my actions. It is the religion that, turning away from the marble and the canvass, from the altar and the temple, takes up its abode in the heart, even of the humblest of men, and makes it the temple of the living God. It is the worship of a Spiritual Deity. It is the doctrine, that taking its place at the feet, looks upward ever to the countenance of Jesus, that surrounds with glory the cross on which they have crucified my Lord. And this religion is the one thing needful; this is the all in all."