We have then these striking promises from the lips of God. If we are
separate from the world, and face whatever loss that may involve, we
shall find God acting as Father toward us, and we shall enter
consciously into the good and sweetness of the relationship in which we
are set. Now having such promises we are exhorted (as we open chapter
7) to purify ourselves, and thus perfect holiness in the fear of God.
Notice that it says, "from all filthiness of the flesh and
spirit." This is a very important word, and very sweeping. Our
attention has just been directed to the necessity of a purification
from all fellowship with the world in outward things. Yet if we merely
practised separation in outward things, confining ourselves to that, we
should just become Pharisees; a most undesirable thing. The separation
we are to practice goes much deeper. All filthiness or pollution of the
flesh is to be avoided, and all filthiness of the spirit too.
Both forms of separation are called for; the inward and the outward
too. The outward without the inward is just hypocrisy. The inward
without the outward is at best a very defective thing. At the worst it
descends to the plight in which Lot was found in Sodom, though not
himself descending to the shocking morals of that city. Abraham was in
the happy path of God's will; clean outside the place as well as free
from the evil. There are the pollutions of the world: the pollutions of
the flesh: the pollutions of the spirit: the last of the three the most
subtle of all, because the most refined form of sin. May God awaken us
to great carefulness as to it. Holiness when carried to its perfection
covers all three. But we are to be carrying it on towards its
perfection even now. May God help us to do so.
The Apostle had delivered his soul thus as to the Corinthians, and
was conscious that the threatened breach between himself and them had
been averted in the mercy of God; and those from outside, who had
fomented trouble and had been his detractors, had lost something of
their power. The Corinthians, under the influence of these men, had
been inclined to turn their backs on Paul. Things however were now
changed, and he can say simply, "Receive us." They knew the integrity
that had ever characterized him, and the fervent love towards them that
was in his heart; he was identified with them in his affections whether
in life or in death. Moreover, confident now as to their affection for
him, he was filled with encouragement and joy. He could tell them now
of the happy experience that was his, when tidings of the effect of his
first epistle reached him.
Verse 5 picks up the threads of happenings from 2 Cor. 2: 13. One
can read from one verse to the other as though nothing came between
them. He had left Troas, in spite of the door for the Gospel opened of
the Lord, because he had no rest in his spirit as to the Corinthians;
yet when he got into Macedonia conditions were even worse. There were
not only fears within but also fightings without. One can imagine a
little perhaps of what he felt as he plunged deeply, and yet more
deeply, into sorrows and troubles. Suddenly however Titus appeared,
bringing good news as to the effect of his first epistle, which
ministered to him great comfort. He had the companionship of Titus, and
the assurance that God had intervened in His mercy.
His first epistle had been used to effect two things: first, a
thoroughgoing repentance as to the evils he had denounced; second, a
revival of their affection for himself. There was of course a very
distinct connection between them. As they realized the error of their
ways so they saw that his plain and faithful remonstrances were
actuated by love; and responsive love was kindled in their hearts
towards him. For a time he had been tempted to regret that he ever
wrote the letter, but now that its good effect had been manifested he
could only rejoice.
This scripture shows us very clearly what genuine repentance really
is. It is not exactly sorrow for sin, though godly sorrow of that sort
is an ingredient of it. Verse 11 shows what repentance involved in
their case, and with what zeal and fear they cleared themselves.
Repentance of a right sort is repentance to salvation; that is, it
means deliverance from the thing repented of. Mere sorrow for sin, when
confronted with its consequences, is the kind of which the world is
capable, and it only works death and not salvation. Judas Iscariot is a
sad example of this.
One great thing, then, that had come out of all the troubles at
Corinth and the sending of the first epistle had been a mutual
expression of love as between Paul and the saints there. Verse 7
mentions, "your fervent mind toward me;" and verse 12, "our care for
you in the sight of God." It was no small thing to put things right as
between the one who did the injury and the one who was injured, but it
was even greater to bring into display that love which is the fruit of
the Divine nature in the saints.
A striking feature of this chapter, from verse 5 and onwards, is the
way in which all these happenings are traced to the hand of God. Having
sent his first epistle, Paul was agitated and cast down in spirit to
the point of regretting that he had written it-even though, as we know,
it was a letter inspired of God. Then at last, when things seemed at
their lowest, Titus appeared with good news as to its effect upon the
Corinthians. This was the mercy of God intervening to comfort the
downcast Apostle, as also it had been the mercy of God effecting a
godly repentance in the hearts of the Corinthians. The word, "godly,"
occurring three times (verses 9, 10, 11), is really in each case,
"according to God." God had intervened, and this was the real basis and
cause of Paul's comfort and joy.
Moreover Titus had come back thoroughly refreshed and joyful. This
evidently had far exceeded Paul's hopes. There had been much anxiety as
to them, and many things to blame, as the first epistle shows; and yet
the way in which they had received him had gone beyond his
expectations. True he had boasted of them to Titus. He had spoken of
them with warmth of affection and with assurance of their reality. And
now all had been found as he had said. The Apostle's distress had been
turned into exultant joy and thankfulness.
In all this we see how God delights to lift up and encourage His
tried servants. The God who thus acted with Paul is just the same
today. Why are we not filled with greater and more implicit confidence
The Corinthians had received Titus "with fear and trembling;" they
had been marked by obedience. Paul's letter had come to them with an
authority that was Divine. In it he had called upon them to recognize
that the things he wrote to them were "the commandments of the Lord."
Being the inspired Word of God, it had authenticated itself as such in
their consciences, and it commanded their obedience. Nowadays some
would like to persuade us that we have no logical reason for accepting
any given scripture as the Word of God unless we are prepared to
receive it as authenticated by "the Church," unless it carries the
imprimatur of pope and cardinals. Nothing could be farther from the
truth. It was not so at the beginning, and is not so today. The Word of
God is self-authenticating in the hearts and consciences of those who
are born of Him.
The obedience of the Corinthians to the Word of the Lord gave the
Apostle full confidence as to them. He could say with joy, "I have
confidence in you in all things." Are we inclined to look upon this as
a rather exuberant overestimate on his part, the fruit of the revulsion
of feeling he had undergone? It was not so at all. It was the
expression of a sober judgment. Saints may be very defective and
blameworthy as to many things, but if they recognize the Word of God
when they hear it, and yield obedience to its instructions, one need
have no fear as to them. All will be well.
It was not that they had any fear of Titus, or that Paul's letters,
though weighty and powerful, put the fear of Paul upon their spirits.
It was rather that in spite of all their errors they did tremble at the
Word of the Lord, when they heard it.
Are we equal to the Corinthians in this respect? Our day is
peculiarly marked by disrespect for the Word of God. In many quarters,
professedly Christian, the Bible is looked upon as subject matter for
criticism. Let us beware lest we catch the infection of it. Would Paul
have confidence in us as to all things? Only if he saw that we too were
marked by subjection and obedience to the Word of God.