God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

N.B. Hardeman

Paul says: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). The Corinthians rather prided themselves on their wisdom, their knowledge, and their philosophy. They thought that the things that could not be understood by them and reasoned out from the premises toward a conclusion that would be logically true were, of course, unworthy of respect; hence, Paul said unto them:

After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

Then he said:

The foolishness of God, that which you so consider, is wiser than all the wisdom of men; and the very weakness of God is stronger than the towering strength of man. For God has chosen the foolish things of the earth to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the strong and mighty, the purpose being that no flesh should glory in his presence, and that we might fulfill the scripture that is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

The gospel plan of salvation, the scheme of redemption, is not based upon premises laid down by man from which a logical conclusion may be reached. It is none too early I to say that very frequently in God’s dealings with humanity there is absolutely no logical connection between the thing done and that for which it is done. No power of man’s wisdom has ever been able to understand a connection or to see a just reason between the hundreds of things the Lord has bidden man to do and the things to be accomplished thereby.

I am positively certain that the Israelites never did see a connection between the sprinkling of the blood of the lamb on their doors and their escape from the vengeance of the death angel. Why, there is no connection in that—absolutely none. I am sure that Abraham never did understand, never did see the point, logically speaking, based on human judgment, as to why God demanded of him the peculiar things of which we have a record.

Now, perhaps, that is further emphasized by Isaiah 55:8-9, where God says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And unless we can get it in our minds at the very outset that Christianity and the scheme of salvation is a matter of faith, rather than a matter of sight and of logical and argumentative conclusions, I think we will be handicapped and hindered and blinded and deluded in our effort to work out by human wisdom and human skill anything by which we will be able to save our souls at last.

Now, I have in mind just a few illustrations of the text to-night that I think will illustrate the very principles an pounced; and I call your attention, first of all, therefore, unto the story of Naaman, the record of which is found in 2 Kings 5:1-27; and as I recite very briefly just a few things connected with him, I want you to understand and appreciate, if possible, the philosophy and lesson God intended us to learn therefrom. Let it be understood that the record of such wonderful events was written for our learning and our admonition. There is always a principle or line of thought connected therewith that is applicable unto us in the gospel age. Now, beginning the story: “Naaman . . . was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: . . . but he was a leper.” Now I think I can appreciate Captain Naaman, as he stood honored by his official position and a great man in the country wherein he chanced to live an honorable man and by whom honorable deeds had been wrought; but the record says “he was a leper.” That is to say, there was a disease that had fastened itself upon him, that knew no earthly cure, that had baffled the skill of all the scientific, learned, and medical men of the age in which he lived. It was but a question of time until this disease should have worn himself away, until rottenness and decay would have been the result.

Throughout the entire Bible that disease is held up as typical of our sins, on the ground that there is no earthly remedy, no power known to man himself, that can rid us of our sins and wash us and make us whiter than the snow.

Now, Naaman’s company had gone out and had captured a little Hebrew maiden and made her a servant unto Naaman’s wife. After being in his home, she had learned something of the family and that Naaman was afflicted with this disease; so she chanced to make this statement: “Would God my lord [that is, Captain Naaman] were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.” Then it was that some went in and told Naaman. Like drowning men grabbing at a straw, they said: “Possibly there may be some hope of recovery.” And so the king of Syria wrote a letter and directed it to the King of Israel. Of course he misunderstood of whom the little maid spoke. He sent a great reward of silver and gold and raiment. When the king of Israel received the letter, he went into a rage and rent his clothes and said: “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man cloth send unto me? . . . He seeketh a quarrel against me.” Therefore he turned and was filled with wrath. Then it was that Elisha, quite cool, and calm, and deliberate, a prophet of God, hearing that, said: “Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariot unto the door of the house of Elisha; and Elisha sent a messenger (he did not go himself, but sent a messenger), who told Naaman to go down to the river Jordan and dip himself seven times therein and that he should be made clean. When Naaman heard that admonition, it was quite contrary to his fancy or to a theory or conception, and possibly belittling to his dignity. A man of his position, of his rank and of his standing, might naturally have expected something else; but the prophet simply sent the message: “Go down, Naaman, unto the river Jordan and dip yourself seven times, and thy flesh will come again, and you shall be cleansed.”

But this was quite contrary to Naaman’s conception, and he turned away and said: “Behold”—now note—“Behold, I thought”—not proposing to be governed at first by what that man had said, but anxious that things would be announced according to his preconceived thought; so he said: “I thought that the man would surely come out And speak to me, and call upon the name of his God, and strike his hand upon me, and the leprosy would be healed.” Now, Naaman had that thing all “cut and dried” and figured out. He had the story in his mind, and before he ever heard the glad tidings by which he was to be saved he had largely become prejudiced and biased on the ground that “I have a theory, and this is the way I am looking for the matter to be brought about” and so he is ready to turn away and forsake the demand.

But after a little reflection further, he reasoned after this fashion: “Why, up here around Damascus there are the rivers of Abana and Pharpar. Why can’t I dip in them and be cleansed?” Now, will you watch the situation? If I had been there and Naaman had said, “Hardeman, why can’t I dip in the cool, clear streams around Damascus rather than go down to the river Jordan?” I am frank to say to you that I would have said: “Naaman, I cannot answer.” It looks to me like that would do just as well, and I have never been able to understand the difference. In the first place, I do not see what good it will do; but if there is dipping to be done, instead of going way off to the river Jordan, why not dip in the waters of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, to be cleansed?”

Human judgment is lost. Human reason says: “I do not understand.” I cannot analyze and draw a logical conclusion either for or against.

So Naaman was about to give the matter up, and then it was that the servant said: “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather, then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” Human nature, ladies and gentlemen, has been just about the same all down the line. If, in the matter of becoming cleansed of leprosy, Naaman could have had a big “to do” respecting it or attracted considerable attention and some mysterious removing been characteristic thereof, his servants understood, he would be delighted to be a participant therein, and they said: “How much rather, then, go and dip and be clean?”

Now, may I stop to ask even of the physicians of Nashville: What do you think about prescribing that kind of a remedy? Suppose some man marches up to your office with some skin disease and says: “Doctor, there is something or other the matter with me. I have something like leprosy. Naturally, I am a little worried about it. I do not understand it and want you to tell me what to do.” I do not believe there is a physician in Nashville that would say: “My dear air, you just go down here to the foot of Broadway and dip in the Cumberland River seven times, and all will be well.” Why, as a matter of fact, I doubt not but that if one of your doctors were to give advice of that kind, we would ring up our Central Hospital for the Insane and ask if there was room for another. A doctor would be silly to give advice like that. In the eyes of man that is foolish. Paul said, though, be it remembered, that the very foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. Man has never been able to cure leprosy, and God’s remedy seemed exceedingly foolish, and yet I want you to watch the sequel.

When by and by Naaman looked upon his person and saw there was no hope, I can see him as he walks down to the Jordan and looks upon the rolling waters thereof and wonders what on earth that has to do with it. “I do not believe there is any virtue in the water, and yet I am a dying man, and all hope has been abandoned. I will try.” And he marches down therein and dips himself once, and possibly pulls up his sleeve to see if any of it has gone away. Not a particle—absolutely none; but he says: “I will try twice, and thrice, and four times, and five times, and six times, and now surely some of it has faded.” But not a particle had been removed. I just want to ask this audience: Suppose Naaman had stopped there with the sixth dip, what think you about the results? I am persuaded to answer for you. With one heart and one accord we say: “No cleansing from leprosy.” Why ? Because God had not promised it. There was absolutely no assurance that thus would he be cleansed. But the record says that he went down and dipped himself seven times, according to the saying of the man of God; and as he came up out of the water, behold, his flesh was like the flesh of a little child, and he was cleansed.

Now, what did it? The most simple thing imaginable that which, from any kind of human reasoning, would be considered foolish; and yet Paul said: “It is wiser than all of men’s remedies.”

Well, I think that is demonstrated. Now, do I need to stop and take your time by asking: Did the waters of the river Jordan wash away the leprosy? Do you think that the virtue inhered in the water? I presume nobody believes in a thing like that. The virtue was in God Almighty, but it was not granted until the man did what the Lord told him in the absolute; and when he obeyed by dipping the seventh time, he received the blessing and went about rejoicing, as well might he, on account of the fact that his flesh was as in the days of his youth.

Now, I think that illustrates the very text of to-night. God’s foolishness has proven wiser and better, more efficacious, than all the skill and all the learning and all the wisdom of the whole world combined.

Well, I call your attention to another simple story. After the death of Moses, when Joshua led the hosts of Israel across the river Jordan and pitched their tents at Gilgal as headquarters and started to drive out the enemy in three separate and distinct campaigns that he launched, the first city he coveted and desired was the city of Jericho, a city that was surrounded. None went in and none passed out but by permission. Now, watch carefully as I tell the story, based upon Joshua 6.

The record says that God spoke unto Joshua, saying: “Joshua, behold, I have given unto thee the city of Jericho.” Now, watch the expression, “I have given it unto you.” “Now, Joshua, arrange your men after this fashion: Put your armed men in front; right after them put seven priests with rams’ horns, then the ark, then the rearward. That is the order in which you are to arrange them, and you march around this city once a day for six days and back into camp. On the seventh day march around it seven times. After that, let the priests give a long blast with the rams’ horns; then let all the people shout, and down will fall the walls of the city.”

Well, in the first place, I want to picture Joshua as first having said this: “Lord, did you not say you were going to give me this city? Now, if I have to work for it, that knocks out its being a gift, and that will put it on the ground of being of works; but it is not of works, lest any man boast. Therefore, I can do nothing except let you give it to me. I with Jut sit down here and wait till you turn the keys over.”

My friends, as a matter of fact, because it is a gift, that certainly does not prohibit a man’s doing what the Lord bids him to do with respect to the same.

But I want to ask any of your military men—you soldiers, captains, colonels, or officers of whatsoever kind: What do you think about that kind of remedy or that kind of a way of securing a city in the hands of the enemy? Was that ever tried by any military men of earth? No, sir. Did General Foch ever think about a suggestion of that kind to capture a German city—just have the American boys march around it, blow rams’ horns, and shout? That is absolutely foolish. I do not think there is any sense in such tactics.

I stood to-day and gazed upon our Capitol Building. I believe if every man, woman, and child in the city of Nashville were to march around the Capitol for a thousand days, and then blow all the rams’ horns in this country, and everybody break loose and give a tremendous shout, I do not think it would in the least affect the gigantic walls thereof. There is no sense in that. It is trifling, weak, foolish. But remember the text: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” I want to see if this thing will work and where the power is. Now, if Joshua had had some few sticks of dynamite and planted them well under the walls and had got off and touched the fuse and blown the whole thing up, of course we could understand that. I would say: “Now, Joshua, that has sense in it.” I can see that. But what is the logical connection between blowing a ram’s horn and tearing down a brick wall? I plead my absolute inability to understand one single point of connection. What is the connection between marching around and tearing down a stone wall? What is the connection between giving a shout and the walls coming down? If Joshua had been like a great many of us, he would have said: “Well, look here. I cannot see any sense in that. It does not appeal to me to nor intelligence. That may do for some folks! but I know there is nothing to it.” Well, that is what Paul said. You count it foolish, and that is what the Greeks did back there. They said preaching the cross of Christ was foolish; but how does it work?

Joshua went straight forward—not by human wisdom, not by human reason; but he set out after the aforesaid order and marched around the city once a day and back into camp at night. I guess some of that crowd looked about and said: “We ought to see some mortar breaking out by now.” Thus he did for six days, and still that wall stood there in its power and strength, bidding defiance unto all marching. Not a stone moved. On the seventh day the Bible says Joshua had his crowd out early, about the dawn of the day; and thus they marched around it once, twice, and three times, four, five, and six times, and not a single crack in the wall as yet. Not a brick has moved.

Suppose he had stopped? What think you about the results ? Absolutely nothing would have come therefrom. Upon what does it all now depend? Upon one time more around, blowing the trumpets, and the shout of the people. Finally, in anxiety, Joshua marched around the seventh time; and then he said unto the priests: “Give a long blast.” And thus they did, but not a stone as yet turned loose. Let me ask you now: Suppose they had just quit and had refused to shout? I think I can speak the truth in saying that God would not have given unto Joshua the city of Jericho. But when finally he bade all the people to shout and thus they did, the Bible says down came the walls of Jericho, and they walked in.

Was it foolishness with men? Absolutely. Did it look silly? Was it a weak thing? Indeed so. And yet what about it? It beat all the battering rams and the mighty guns that the world has ever seen, It worked, and down the walls came. What is the philosophy? God’s hand was in it all. The power and the virtue were not in the footsteps around the city, nor yet in the trumpet that was sounded, nor yet in the shout of the people, but were inherent in God Almighty, who, according to an eternal principle, never bestows a blessing until man does what he tells him.

Well, let’s try another. The Bible is just full of them.

After the people of Israel had left Mount Sinai, and also Kadesh-barnea, from whence the spies had been sent out, they started out from old Mount Hor, and the people began to complain and to murmur against God and Moses. “Why,” they asked, “have you brought us out here into the wilderness? There is no bread, there is no water, and we loathe this light bread upon which we have been living. Let us go back into the land of Egypt.” And then it was that the Lord caused fiery serpents to come out and to bite the hosts of Israel until numbers of them died. Well, of course, they began to be wonderfully penitent; and they took the matter unto the Lord and to Moses in prayer, and said: “Moses, intercede for us, lest we die.” Well, there they are, every man back in his tent, filled with poison, his body swollen, and with death staring him in the face.

Now, what is the remedy? Oh, if I had been there or if some of us had been present and they had called upon us for a remedy, I would have said: “Well, sir, I don’t know whether it can be had or not; but if you just had a full quart, bottled in bond, and could just fill up on it, I believe that would remove the poison.” Some of my brethren would say: “Hardeman, you are talking sense now. That has some sense to it. I have tried it.” Why, my friends, if that had been true, we would have been wholly convinced that national prohibition should never be adopted.

Suppose some good mother present had said: “Gentlemen, I think I know what is good for this. If you can spare somebody that is able to get out upon the hillside yonder, along the old fence row, and if you can find some mullein leaves, we will make a good, strong ooze, and then apply it unto the parts affected, just as hot as it can be borne, and that will reduce the swelling.” Now, that has some sense to it. That is our remedy. We have tried poultices and things of that kind, and such is according to human judgment. But if they had done that and success had followed their efforts, they would have attributed the whole matter to their own good sense and judgment.

Now, Lord, what do you have to suggest?” Why, the Lord said: “Moses, I will tell you what to do. You take a piece of brass, and beat it into the likeness of a serpent, and put it on a pole out in the midst of the camp, and it shall come to pass that every soul that looks upon that shall live.”

Now, physicians and doctors, I challenge your intelligence again. What think you of the remedy? What does any man of learning think about that kind of remedy for snake bite? I am frank to say to you that I don’t believe there is enough brass in Tennessee or anywhere else to take away the poison or effect a cure. With all the power of logic, with all the power of human wisdom and of human reasoning, there is absolutely no connection between a piece of brass and the removing of their affliction. No man can get the connection. How is the remedy? It is weak; it is silly, foolish. Paul, what did you say? “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God bath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”

Moses, make your serpent. Well, he did so, and put it on a pole, and set it up in the midst of the camp. And what is the suggestion now? Every soul that looks upon it shall live. Oh, but here is a man away back over in the corner of the camp suffering so badly, so filled with pain, that he says: “I cannot bear to be moved. I believe, Moses, that it will work, and just let me be cured by my faith without doing anything. Faith, and faith only, is my hope. I do not care to look.” Oh, no! There was no cure; for in addition to the man’s faith, there had to be the act of looking.

Let me announce to you that no man was ever blessed on account of his faith until that faith was rendered expressive in some act of obedience. I care not if it be but the putting forth of the hand and touching the border of His garment, if it be but the turning of the eyes unto the serpent of brass upon the pole, it is the expression of the faith in the act of obeying God’s command; and when they looked, they lived; for it was faith plus action, it was faith plus obedience, and the blessing came always as the result. No man can find an exception to that principle. Go where you will in all the Bible, from first to last, and there is this general, broad, sweeping principle that runs through the book of God.

Where was the virtue? Not in the piece of brass. They did not so understand it. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord;” for God has ordained just such things that are trifling, small, trivial, silly, and insignificant, “that no flesh should glory in his presence.” God proposes to have the honor and the authority and the power, but He bestows the blessing when men do what He bids them.

Now, just one or two things in the New Testament, and I think the lesson is before you for the evening.

In John 9:1-41 we have an account of a young man born blind, who never had been privileged to look out upon the beauties and the light of God’s day. He had lived in the world and had walked in darkness all of his years, until finally the great Physician, the Healer of all ailments, met up with him, and this is the remedy he used for restoring the sight to the blind. Now, what is it? He just simply spat upon the ground, made an ointment of the clay, and anointed this young man’s eyes, and said: “Now, sir, go down to the pool of Siloam and wash, and all will be well.” Mr. Physician, what do you think about the remedy ?

We have a school for the blind in Nashville. How would it do to go out there tomorrow and try that? Some doctor says: “You would not get me into a thing of that kind. I am not going to be made a laughing-stock.” Why, of course it won’t work. You know there is no virtue in it. Nobody would undertake it. It looks silly; it looks foolish. That is what Paul said in the text: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

After this young man, with his eyes anointed, not walking by sight, but walking by faith, went down to the designated place and washed, he came back seeing and rejoicing on account of the sight that was granted unto him.

What did it? Not the clay, not the ointment, not the water of the pool of Siloam. There was no virtue in them, and blindness did not flow out upon the bosom of that pool.

God bestowed the blessing, and the point of practical import is: When did God do it? Answer: After the young man obeyed him. Had he stopped to walk by sight and to understand the philosophy and the “why?” and “wherefores,” he would have died blind to the beauties of God’s world.

My friends, in the gospel plan of salvation the principle likewise prevails. When all the sons and daughters of Adam, a lost and ruined and wretched race, were groping their way in darkness, God Almighty provided a scheme of redemption. What was it? The suffering, the dying, the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. Numbers of people in the world think that is silly. They talk about how ridiculous it is. I have had a letter since I have been in your city saying that I had gone crazy over the Christ idea, that no such person as the Son of God ever lived; and the man said he was sorry to see a young man of what he termed my intelligence lose his head, believing in the Christ as the Son of God. And many people likewise so consider it.

The scheme of redemption offered through the service and sacrifice of the immaculate Child of Mary is considered a silly thing, belittling to the intelligence and to the wisdom of men. No power, no virtue, no beauty attaches thereto, they think; and to others like those to whom Paul wrote here even the preaching of the gospel is considered foolishness. That is the way some of them think about it. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

Well, what else? I come now to the very climax of the thought—that about which so many people are worried. In the gospel plan of salvation there is a command to be baptized. Who is it that does not know that? I am sure that there is nobody in the city of Nashville accountable unto God and unto Christ that fails to understand that the New Testament authorizes baptism, authorizes people to be baptized. But how does the world look upon it? “Why,” they say, “it is foolish to think about such. It is absolutely silly. There is nothing to it. You know there is no virtue, no power, and no cleansing effect in the waters of baptism.” You say: “I don’t see any sense in it.” Well, I just want to join you. You see as much in it as I do. I never have seen any logical connection nor any reason why it is that being baptized has anything under heaven to do with the washing away of sin. I don’t believe there is a logician in any of your universities who can take the statement, “be baptized,” and from it reach the conclusion that remission of sins follows. I do not think that any logical connection is there. What virtue is there in the water in a baptistery or pool? I think not any. What good does it do? I cannot see a particle to save my life. What change is there in it? Well, I can see this, just from a human point, if you will let me say it. I can see that folks go in dry and come out wet. I can understand that much about it. But what is the logical connection between the act and the result, between baptism and the remission of sins ?

I want to say, if you are going to walk by sight and by reason, I can understand why the world rebels; and unto that kind of a man baptism is not the thing he needs. That sort of a character needs faith in God’s word, confidence in Jehovah’s statements, trust in the Father’s promise. He does not need to be baptized. He is not prepared. But when he believes what God says, when he looks not to the water nor yet to the act for the blessing, but looks beyond that and centers his faith not in the act or ordinance or thing done, but in the Christ that is back of it, there is the man that is ready to obey God; and that kind of a heart never halts, never stumbles, never rebels, but is prepared to take God at his word, to believe what he says, to do what he requires, to trust him for the promise. If it be foolish, my friends, it is wiser than the schemes of men.

It looked silly to Naaman, but it was wiser than all of his philosophies, and it wrought the desired effect.

Forgiveness of sins lies with God himself and with Christ Jesus our Lord. When does God bestow that blessing? When does God forgive sin, after I bow like Naaman, like Joshua, like the Israelites, like the blind man—after I do what the Lord tells me. And when I have a change of heart sufficient to lead me to do God’s commandments, then pardon, which always takes place in heaven and not on earth, is mine to share, and the promises are mine in which to rejoice.

And so I would have you learn from this lesson tonight not to walk by sight nor by human reason nor wisdom, but to walk by faith and trust and confidence in God Almighty and his truth.

If there are those of you therefore, that are willing to look to him for pardon and for blessing—that have a disposition of heart and mind to obey, to bow in subjection to his will, and to do his bidding, and then to trust him for the promise made you are the ones that are always invited; you are prepared to serve God and to become a disciple, a Christian, a child of the heavenly King. (Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, delivered in the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn., March 28-April 16, 1922, 161-175).

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