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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 65 - 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 - The Foundation, the Building and the Testing Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


It is of himself and of Apollos that Paul is specially speaking here ; or more generally, of "ministers of Christ;" "stewards of the mysteries of God" (4:1); the planters, the waterers, the labourers, the tillers, the builders (3:7, 9). Yet the great truth here taught is for all, Christians.

The special doctrine here is that there may be a right foundation and a wrong building. If the foundation be right, though the superstructure be faulty, all will not be lost; yet the loss will be great. The warning both to ministers and Christians is, to beware of building wrongly upon a right foundation.

I. The foundation. This is Christ alone. Other foundation can no man lay. Foundation stones are vast and massive; like those we see at Jerusalem, let into the solid rock of Moriah, as we see from the recent excavations. God has laid the foundation Himself (Isaiah 28:16.) Both the foundation and the laying of it are His doing. "It is finished"; the stone has been laid; once for all. When Paul says, "as a wise master builder (or architect) I have laid the foundation" (verse 10), he means that he took the great foundation-stone laid in Zion with him wherever he went to preach the gospel, and laid it as the foundation for all the different churches,—Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, or Rome. His proclamation of Christ was his laying the foundation-stone; for this is the one stone; the one living stone, "chosen of God, and precious," on which a church can be built or a soul rest.

II. The building. Ye are God's building, says the apostle, speaking of the Corinthian church. As he says in verse 6, Paul planted, and Apollos watered; so here he means to say, "I laid the foundation, and others are building on it." But there are two ways of building; the one right, enduring, precious; the other wrong, perishable, worthless; the one "gold, silver, precious stones"; the other "wood, hay, stubble." Both are on the true foundation; but the one is like Solomon's temple on Mount Moriah; the other like the present mosque of Omar on the same site. Applied to ministers, it points either to their actual teaching, or to the effects of their teaching; if to their teaching, it refers to the truths or errors taught by them in connection with the one truth of Christ; if to the effects of their teaching, it refers to their rearing a church made up of true saints or of formal professors. During the dark ages there might be some godly men in the ministry; but, cleaving to their superstitions, they taught much error, and built up churches full of superstitious formalists; mere wood, hay, and stubble; mere professors, who had no Christianity about them save the name. At the Reformation we see Calvin, Luther, Knox, Cranmer laying anew the foundation stone throughout Europe, and building on it gold, silver, and precious stones. Subsequently we find the Port—Royalists in France, though retaining the one foundation, building wood, hay, and stubble. So is it with individual Christians. Let them take heed how they build. Let them not say, We have got the right foundation. That is not enough. Look to the whole of your creed, lest you be connecting falsehoods or fables with the cross of Christ. Look to your lives, lest your lives should be made up of most worthless materials. What a description is this of the life of some who perhaps, after all, are Christians! "Wood, hay, stubble;" nothing more. No gold, no silver, no precious stones; nothing that will come up to God's estimate; nothing that will stand the fire.

III. The testing. A day is coming when the building shall be "tried." The foundation stone was "tried," and it stood the proof; it is the "tried stone" (Isaiah 28:16, 2 Peter 2:6.) But the day of trial for the superstructures is yet to come; and the process of fire which is to try them is not yet begun. But it will come. "The fire shall devour the stubble, and the flame consume the chaff" (Isaiah 5:24.) The day is coming "that shall burn as an oven" (or furnace, Malachi 3:12.) He is coming whose "eyes are as a flame of fire"; who is "a consuming fire." That is the testing day. Sometimes we read of the fan (Matthew 3:12), and sometimes of the fire; but both processes are for similar ends,—sifting, searching, separating (whether by wind or flame) the real from the unreal, the true from the false. Till then both are together. Man is not allowed to try his hand at separation; "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come"; let both (tares add wheat) grow together until the harvest. The sifting time is coming. Nothing will then be taken for granted. All will be subjected to the fiery ordeal; "every one shall be salted with fire" (Mark 9:49.) This, then, is the question with regard to all we believe and all we do, "Will it stand the fire?" It may look well, it may be praised by men, it may have "public opinion" on its side; but will it stand the fire? O man, will your life stand the fire? Will your religion, your creed, your politics, your plans and works, stand the fire? Soon will all be made manifest. The day shall declare it, "because it (or rather "He") shall be revealed by fire." Do all in anticipation of the day of fiery sifting.

IV. The result. If the work done stands the fire, and be proved to be gold and silver, then shall the doer not only be saved, but he shall receive a reward; he shall have an "abundant entrance" into the kingdom (2 Peter 1:11) If it won't stand the fire, but proves wood, and hay, and stubble, then the doer, if he be on the foundation, shall be saved; he shall not perish with his work, but he gets no reward; he is barely saved; saved so as by fire, like one escaping merely with life out of a burning house, like Lot out of Sodom.

(1.) The importance of a right foundation. There is but one rock, one stone, laid in Zion; one cross, one Saviour.

(2.) The difference between a right foundation and a right building. There maybe the former without the latter. A false life has sometimes been connected with a true creed.

(3.) The difference between the salvation and the reward. There is such a thing as being barely saved, like the thief on the cross. There is such a thing as a "starless crown,"—a low place in heaven,—deliverance from hell, without the "recompense" and the glory. There is such a thing as a saved soul, but a wasted life.

(4.) The importance of seeking the reward as well as the salvation. Some are all their lives occupied with the latter. They never get beyond it; and, not having got the great question settled between them and God, they are not in a condition to aim at the reward. Let us at once get the matter of personal forgiveness settled, and press toward the mark (or along the line or mark, (
χατά σχοπόν, Philippians 3:14) for the prize of the high calling (the "above" or "heavenly" calling, τής άνω χλήσεως), laying up treasures in heaven, seeking to "attain to the resurrection of the dead," with all its glories.

(5.) Time ditty of judging ourselves now, that we may not be judged hereafter. Anticipate the day of the fire. Have all in readiness for it. Get quit of the wood, and hay, and stubble; all false doctrine; all unbelieving works or corrupt worship. Get the gold, and the silver, and the gems.

(6.) The awfulness of being unsaved. If to lose the reward be so terrible, what must it be to lose the salvation itself; to be lost; not to be "saved even so as by fire," but to perish in the fire?[11]