FOUNDATION AND SUPERSTRUCTURE
D. M. PANTON, M. A.
There is one Apostolic statement of the believer's coming arraignment before Christ which is so simple, so clear, so incontrovertible that for forty years we have never heard it challenged, for it is simply impossible of denial; and it contains, in germ, the whole of God's handling of His servants hereafter. Everybody appeals to it; everybody admits it; everybody acknowledges that this decree of God's judgment assuredly falls on a [regenerate] believer: therefore on this passage we have our feet on rock, and all that can be proved within its limits must be accepted as indisputable certainty. And what makes it wonderfully valuable is that it shows the crucial importance of the doctrines we hold and teach, after conversion; it discloses exactly what is at stake, and what the consequences of our creed are in the day to come; and it reveals; the exact method by which we can make our teaching, our conscious and unconscious influence, an investment beyond price.
Paul begins by pouring his soul into a warning on our post-conversion creed. "According to the grace of God which was given unto me" - the call to service, and the gifts which enabled him to win souls - "as a wise master-builder I laid a foundation" - God made the foundation, but Paul laid it in the souls he won, as every soul-winner has done ever since - "and another buildeth thereon" - another rises the edifice of an expanded creed: "BUT LET EACH TAKE HEED HOW HE BUILDETH THEREON" (1 Cor. 3: 10). This superstructure erected upon simple saving faith, while it is supremely the business of the Christian ministry, also involves us all, for all teach - in class, or village, or school, or home, or (far from the least) by the doctrines we are known to hold and for which we stand. As a rule, the evangelist founds, and the pastor or teacher builds; but since our life is simply the reproduction of our creed, the passage embraces us all, and reveals the destiny of every post-conversion doctrinal structure.
So first Paul unveils, briefly and graphically, the massive, immovable, God-made foundation. "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid" - by God, and by every evangelist who has ever won a soul for God since - "which is Jesus Christ" - the personal Rock; or, that Jesus is the Christ, the doctrinal rock. "Whosoever BELIEVETH THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST IS BEGOTTEN OF GOD" (1 John 5: 1). No other foundation is needed; no other foundation is possible; no other foundation is permitted; and without it, all religious teaching is simply built upon nothing, the baseless fabric of a dream. For every converted man, the foundation is finished and can never be laid again.
now upon this solitary and uniform foundation there rises a superstructure
piebald, variegated, diverse.* All unity centres
in the one foundation; no diversity exists in the solid Rock on which rest all
the saved forever: but the after-work of a myriad hands erects structures as
different as a hovel from a palace. "If any buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly
stones; wood, hay, stubble"; golden cornices, pillars and pedestals
of silver, marble stands and stairways; wooden frame-work, wattle-work, thatch.
This passage thus provides us with the ideal and most essential balance between
Catholicity and Responsibility, each truth correcting the opposite danger. The enclosures around the
For next we see the force of the contrasted materials. Because fire appears.* - It is not wrath, for the fire equally searches the gold; nor grace, for it consumes the wood; it is analysis that searches the workmanship, whether good or bad, through and through. "Each (builder's) work shall be made manifest; for the day" - the only day in Paul's vision - "shall declare it" - declare it for what it is, not for what it was thought to be - "because it is revealed in fire"; that is, every doctrine we hold in addition to the simple fundamentals - as, in itself, not varying excellence, like silver, or gold; or of varying inflammability, as wood or straw - is either good, and therefore imperishable, or bad, and therefore only destructible. Nothing tests durability like fire. Slabs of gold are more valuable than blocks of granite, but both equally survive fire: thatch burns far quicker than the harder woods, but both equally disappear in smoke. Wattled huts are a poor shelter from fire. "THE FIRE ITSELF SHALL PROVE EACH (BUILDER'S) WORK OF WHAT SORT IT IS." Here is a very serious modification of an earlier verse (3: 8): that which is rewarded must not only be labour, but labour WITH THE RIGHT MATERIALS: labour in propagating error - however sincere, however self-denying - is lost labour. Moreover, it is a fact of which we need to take the profoundest notice that the sincerity of the builder has no influence at all on the destiny of the building, but solely the materials with which he builds: not what we thought to be true, but what was true, alone survives. Nothing spiritually rotten passes the Eyes of Fire.
[* That the Fire is as figurative as the Building dispels the Purgatory the Church of Rome builds mainly on this passage. This fire tries all saints, and not the defective only; it does not cleanse, but consumes, the hay; and it does not purge, but simply reveals, the gold.]
Paul now lays down, once for all, the doctrine of reward. "If any (builder's) work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive reward" - that is, some recompense (repayment) suited to the quality and amount of the truth with which he has transfigured other hearts and lives. This is decisive of the doctrine of reward. The reward is not for being on the foundation, but solely for the afterlife; and it is so totally severable from the underlying salvation that it can be totally lost with no damage of the basic life. While a position on the Rock, with power [from the Holy Spirit] to build, is purely of grace, the building itself is judged solely on the contrasted principle of justice.* For we need to mark with extreme care that it is valuable metal or worthless straw only from the point of view of the fire: as a matter of actual experience, on all hands the gold is now mistaken for stubble, and the stubble for gold: only the day to come, with its searching flame, discloses the exact material as it is. But today's gilded woodwork will survive judgment only when hay survives fire. So everything that is of the nature of reward, everything stated in its context to be conditional on service and suffering [for Christ], is reward pure and simple, and is completely severable from [eternal] salvation. It is glorious to observe that we have perfect control over the materials; so that these hands, by the materials they select, are erecting their own reward: therefore we can work in stuff which will outlast all judgment fires, and be itself immortal.
[* Simple Indian Christians have a quaint distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism they call "cat-hold," and Arminianism "monkey-hold"; for the young monkey clings to its mother, while the cat grips her kitten by the scull of the neck and carries it with no help from the kitten. The Scripture truth is that the "cat-hold" is for eternal salvation and the "monkey-hold" is for reward.]
For now, since the consequences of error are appalling, so are its disastrous losses. "If any (builder's) work shall be burned - (burnt up), he shall SUFFER LOSS"; the sprayed life, playing on his wattle-work, consumes it: "but he himself" - as contrasted with his workmanship - "shall be saved; yet so as through fire" - that is, escaping down a corridor of flame, and out from blazing ruins. This is a perfect revelation that what we build after conversion and teach on the foundation of Gospel truth - even so totally erroneous as to be totally consumed - in no way jeopardizes our personal [eternal] salvation. For the fire, we observe, does not search the standing of the believer; his foundation* comes into no manner of judgment: on the other hand, nothing which is lesser and later than fundamental [initial] salvation escapes an investigation so searching as to be compared to an incendiary fire, a mass of flame deliberately kindled on the stone-work of a ground-floor. The Apostle assumes (in doubtless an extreme case) an entire post-conversion edifice of doctrine razed to the ground by flame, while the builder himself, since his foundation is in tact, succeeds in barely escaping with his life through the ordeal by fire which the creed of every one of us must undergo.** A life-work consumed in an hour! All he hears at the Bema is the crash of his life-structure! He loses the labour of a life-time; he looses all that he built; he loses the recompense which others receive; he loses everything in the nature of reward, and that is named as reward in Scripture; and he loses the applause of his fellow-builders and the commendation of the Great Architect. ***
The foundation was searched at Calvary, when God "laid
** It is obvious that the hitherto dominant view in prophetic circles - namely, that for all believers the Advent means sudden glory and enthronement - is irreconcilable with this, the elementary and introductory passage to all revelation on reward, and a revelation admitted as applicable to the [regenerate] believer alone by all students of prophecy.
***Even if universal and immediate rapture were a fact, it would scarcely lessen the solemnity of the truth; for rapture, while it escapes whatever follows on earth, is merely removal to the Bema, and after his removal by rapture this man barely escapes with his life. The supreme thing is not the moment of arrival - important though that is - but what we receive when we arrive. Nevertheless it also solves the problem of rapture; for the act of rapture, which is the resumption of miracle on the grand scale, is the very first event of "the Day," and therefore falls within the Day of Fire; and so is itself not an act of grace, but the first action of the discriminating, judging flame, sifting golden vigilance from wooden sleep.]
then, as this is a dead certainty coming in the experience of us all, it stirs
the blood like a trumpet-blast. When the underground tunnelling shook
Westminster Abbey, the advice of the architects was: - "Underpin the structure with the same material with which the
foundations are built." Only slabs of the written Word can
match and dovetail into the massive underlying rock of the Personal Word. The Scriptures are the underground quarries
where all valuable and durable minerals and metals are to be found, but
found only if dug for; whereas wood, hay, and stubble are surface growths
found everywhere in "the field which is the world,"
and are to be had merely for the gathering, and by anybody. Gold, silver,
and marbles are always costly - they can cost reputation, employment, life;
but wood, hay, and stubble are the whole assembled