2 Corinthians 1.
Restorative grace, according to the character and power of life in Christ, is the key-note of this epistle, and that accompanied by the deepest exercise of the heart under the disciplinary ways of God. If the Corinthians must learn it in a manner suited to their state, the apostle had to do so far more profoundly, that he might be enabled fittingly to carry on and complete the gracious work of humbling and self-judgment begun in them by his first epistle. The Lord called him to pass through the severest personal trial and suffering in order the more effectively to serve and sympathise with them, now that their state interpreted by love admitted of unreserved affection and its free expression to them. The influence of all this, as we may see, is very considerable on the style of his second letter, which abounds in the most rapid transitions and abrupt allusions, as he tells out for their profit his own affliction, and the faithfulness of God, intermingling experience, doctrine, comfort, and warning, most intimately; yet so far from confusion that all helps on the great aim of bringing home the lessons of grace to the annihilation of self-confidence or glorying in man.
“Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ1 by God’s will, and Timothy the brother to the assembly that is in Corinth, with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia; grace to you and peace from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ.”
The opening words of the second epistle naturally resemble those of the first, yet with well defined marks of difference. There is no repetition here of his calling to the apostolate, nor does he qualify the assembly at Corinth as sanctified in Christ Jesus, and saints by the analogous calling of God, which one cannot but judge intrinsically calculated and intended by grace to exercise their consciences in the then state of things in that city. Sosthenes was there graciously associated with the apostle, as one known to and probably of themselves, whom he could honour if they did not; as here we find Timothy from elsewhere, as to whose worthy reception by them the first epistle shows him solicitous. But in the first the apostle had joined the Corinthian church “with all that call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours,” here “with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia.” It is clear that the first gives a far wider extension than the second, and leaves room for a profession which might not be real, as indeed the apostle evidently feared for the Corinthians themselves in both epistles, especially the first. But the direct force seems to be to embrace, in the express address, saints here or there in Achaia who might not be gathered into assemblies, or such as called on the Lord’s name everywhere. As it was of moment that all these should know their heritage in the privileges given and revealed, and be kept from the snare of unbelief which denies their catholicity and continuance, so it was of moment that all the saints throughout Achaia should know and rejoice in the grace that had wrought restoratively in the Corinthian assembly, whatever might remain to be desired from the Lord. It was their common interest and profit for others as well as those immediately concerned. If one member suffer, all the members with it; and if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it. In both Epistles he could not but wish them characterised by “grace” the spring and by “peace” the effect of love above evil and need, flowing richly and freely “from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ,” the source and the channel of every blessing, but here again associated with the desired grace and peace.
“Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort, that comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those that are in any tribulation through the comfort into which we are comforted ourselves by God, because even as the sufferings of the Christ abound toward us, so through the Christ2 aboundeth also our comfort. But, whether we are in tribulation, [it is] for your comfort and salvation, that worketh in endurance of the same sufferings which we also suffer (and our hope [is] stedfast for you);3 or whether we are comforted, [it is] for your comfort and salvation, knowing that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also of the comfort.” (Vers. 3-7.)
How striking the difference as compared with the opening of the first epistle! There he thanked his God, not indeed for the spiritual state of the Corinthian saints — very far from it, whatever some might but most unintelligently have inferred — but for their rich endowments. Now he can bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the grace which turns to account all our tribulation, designating Him the Father of compassions, and the God of all comfort. And surely if one adore such a God, that adoration is enhanced when one thus comes in contact with a heart (once how far from it till purified by faith!) which could thus welcome any and every trouble, be it the sorest, comforted by God so as to comfort those that were in any conceivable trouble through the comfort with which itself had been already comforted. It is well to look at the operation of grace in a man of like passions, and not only in the fulness and perfection of all, even in Christ Himself. And certainly, if Paul was remarkable for an energy of loving labour beyond every other, he was yet more so for the variety and greatness of what he suffered for Christ’s name. So here he can speak of what he had just proved afresh. The sufferings of the Christ abounded towards us, as he says; so through Him did our comfort, he adds. His faith laid hold of the Lord’s way and end, and applied it to his own circumstances, and the working of grace in the face of all. As love never fails, so all things work together for good. And whether we are in tribulation, it is for your comfort and salvation. Love interprets boldly and liberally. He had heard enough to cheer his spirit: “whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort and salvation, that worketh in endurance of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Far other were the sufferings of the Corinthian saints from his own. But grace delights in sharing all it can; and faith gives the highest character to whatever it can discern to be of God. In this spirit the apostle seems here to regard the sufferings of the saints at Corinth, and to hope the best results, “Knowing that as ye are partakers of the suffering, so also of the comfort.”
The apostle now refers to the afflicting circumstances into which God had been pleased to bring him, in order the more deeply to teach, not merely him, but the Corinthians, and indeed all saints, His ways. The process is painful, no doubt, the profit immense to others as well as the soul itself, and this to God’s glory. How good is the God we adore!
“For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, as to4 our tribulation that came to pass5 in Asia, that we were excessively pressed beyond power, so as to despair even of our living. But we ourselves have had in ourselves the sentence of death, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth [or will]6 deliver, in whom we have hope that he will also yet deliver, ye also labouring together by supplication for us that from many persons7 the gift toward us may by many be matter of thanksgiving for us. For our boasting is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness8 and sincerity before God, not in carnal wisdom but in God’s grace, we conducted ourselves in the world, and more abundantly towards you. For no other thing we write to you than what ye read, or even recognise, and I hope that ye will recognise unto the end, even as also ye recognised us in part that we are your boast, just as ye also are ours in the day of our9 Lord Jesus.” (Vers. 8-14.)
Thus does God prove Himself rich in mercy, and this, not in conferring objective favour only in Christ, but in rendering His tried ones superior to all trouble, not by exempting those He loves from suffering and sorrow, but by giving the faith that accepts all at His hands with confidence in His love. Here we see, not the Holy One of God, who suffered as He was tempted to the uttermost, sin apart, and on the cross knew not sin indeed, but what it was for God to make Him sin; here we see a man of like passions with ourselves, strengthened with might in the inner man, and the outer crushed in every way, yet out of the eater meat coming forth, and out of the strong sweetness. Nor is this all. But he had to do, as we too, with One who knows how to order the tribulation so that its fruit, in divine consolation, should come out just at the right moment for the saints that needed succour and comfort. The apostle’s mouth is opened to the Corinthians; his heart, which had been rebelled by their evil and hardness, has expanded. He can now speak freely of deliverance, that they too, humbled, if not humble, may hear and be glad, with him magnify the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, and exalt His name together. By the trouble that happened in proconsular Asia he had been pressed excessively beyond his power, so as to despair, as he says, even of living, but grace, as suits God always, wrought unfailingly. It was not by a providential intervention to screen the apostle from suffering, still less by a miracle which might confound the adversaries, but because he had abidingly the sentence of death in himself. This Job had not, and so his long struggle, as he writhed under his sorrows from without and within; to it, as far as could be, he was brought at the last before his deliverance and blessing came. The apostle bowed to it all along, and hence was above all that Satan could do, for he has no power beyond death, and was utterly baffled by the faith which accepted such a sentence,10 and this “in ourselves, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth, or will, deliver, in whom we have our hope that he will deliver.” It is the power of the resurrection brought into the present, so as not to shrink from, but to retain, the sentence of death in himself. If Abraham learnt this in his last lesson of faith in Isaac (Heb. 11:17-19), the apostle declares that he had it in himself. Such was to him the power of life in Christ, not ascetically, so as to exalt self after all, but finding strength in faith, giving glory to God, the perfect and unlimited deliverer. But his unburdened heart brings them in also as labouring together by supplication on his behalf that the gift of grace towards him by many persons may be matters of thanksgiving from many on his behalf. Thus would he by grace bind together, at whatever cost to self, the hearts of saints in thanksgiving for him, once in danger of wanton and utter alienation through the levity which exposed them to Satan’s wiles. How far from Christ is independence, whether personal or ecclesiastical!
Yet is there nothing good, loving, or holy without God, to whom conscience, as well as the heart, purified by faith, and free, ever refers. Therefore does the apostle next turn to the ground and proof of spiritual integrity, though he writes for their sakes rather than his own. “For our boasting is this, the testimony of our conscience that in (simplicity, or rather) holiness and sincerity (literally of God, but in sense) before God, not in carnal wisdom, but in God’s grace, we conducted ourselves in the world, and more abundantly toward you.” He could the more boldly ask and count on their prayers from the persuasion that he had a good conscience as to his general conversation in the world, as before God, and especially as toward themselves. (See Heb. 13) He did not seek to conciliate men to and for himself, but as bent on pleasing God, he did not doubt that a conscience cleared in them would acknowledge a conscience void of offence in himself. Activity of self blinds the person, and genders bitter thoughts, especially of the one whose course morally condemns others; if the eye be single, on the contrary, the whole body is full of light, and love flows freely. “For no other things we write to you than what ye (well know, or) read, or even recognise, and I hope that ye will recognise unto the end, even as also ye recognised us in part that we are your boast, as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Now that self-judgment had begun to work in the saints at Corinth, they would not fail to see the folly of taxing him with inconstancy, whose life as a saint and servant of God had been one of immovable firmness and unbending truth. There is much difference as to the force here of
ἀναγινώσκετε. Elsewhere in the New Testament the meaning, beyond controversy, is to “read,” which very many hold to, like the Authorised translation; others, like Calvin, contend for “well know,” which is rarely if over found save in poets. It is a question between what they might gather from his presence in their midst, or from his epistle. But he writes with the calm confidence of one before God, which fails not to tell on the conscience of saints wherever they feel freely, apart from the heat and bias of party; and as he had ground to trust that they had thus recognised him in part at least, so also he hoped that they would to the end own that he was their boast, even as they were his in the day of our Lord Jesus. It was good for all to anticipate that day.
The apostle now explains circumstances which some in Corinth were as quick to misunderstand as ready to turn to his advantage. He is free to explain now as things are, but he is more anxious to turn all to the account of Christ and the truth, and this in the truest interests of the saints.
“And with this confidence I was intending previously to come unto you, that ye might have a second favour,11 and through you to pass into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come unto you, and by you to be sent forward into Judea. Having then this intention, did I, pray, use lightness? Or what I purpose,12 do I purpose according to flesh, that with me may be the yea yea and the nay nay? Now God [is] faithful that our word that [was] unto you is13 not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, that was preached among you by us, by me, and Silvanus, and Timothy, became not yea and nay, but is become yea in him. For as many as [are] God’s promises, in him [is] the yea; wherefore also by him14 [is] the amen for glory to God by us.” (Vers. 15-20.)
The injurious impression, and even charge, of some at Corinth against the apostle was based on the slenderest appearances, and these severed from the action in him of power and love and a sound mind. How opposed to the Spirit were not such thoughts in them! The modification of his plans in not going before to visit them was as distinctly in subjection to the Lord, as his actual desire to see and help them. It was not dread of any there, still less was it from lack of moral purpose in himself. His heart was toward them in the large and holy activity of divine love. Blessed before to them, he sought that they might be favoured of the Lord again on his way to and from Macedonia for Judea; and their affectionate care in sending him on to the East he valued and counted on, His true motives he let them know afterwards. Those who yielded to such surmisings proved both their own bad state, and their ignorance of the apostle; for character and state are according to the object before the man. If it be Christ in love to His own, and even to man generally, the result follows in a walk according to God. This is to imitate God, and serve the Lord. If there be an absence of purpose on the one hand, or on the other a planning according to flesh, in either way self governs, and there could be for others no just ground of confidence. The man is as he loves, or loves not. He that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. He that lacks an object lacks character, and can only be frivolous and inconstant; he that seeks personal influence, power, honour, money, etc., is degraded according to what his heart is set on. What is of the flesh is worthless, and its purpose untrustworthy. In God only is continuance, and His Spirit alone works it in the heart and ways, where Christ displaces self as the object. For man otherwise is incapable of walking or serving according to God. He is either and evidently fickle, or his planning, however positive, is without God’s guidance and strength.
Beautifully does he turn, in a spirit of grace, from their insinuations against himself to the doctrine he preached. “Now God [is] faithful, that our word that [was] unto you is not yea and nay.” There is no shift of purpose, no uncertainty, in the gospel, whatever may be thought of the man. God Himself is pledged to it and concerned in it. His glory and His grace are not more bound up with it than His truth and righteousness. In the mighty work of redemption, all that God is shone out as nowhere else in past or future. There He vindicated His own nature in everlasting hatred of sin; there He demonstrated His love, rising above the worst evil of the creature. Did He compromise His word? He accomplished it, letter and spirit, to the full. Did He abandon His holiness? Never was His absolute separation from evil so manifested, nor His righteous judgment of it over so seen as then; yet then it was that every obstacle to the outflow of allovercoming grace toward sinners, whatever and wherever they might be, fell before the efficacy of the one offering and sacrifice of Christ. And as in the work which is its ground, so in the preaching, there is no inconsistency. On the contrary, every fact and thought, otherwise irreconcilable, are there brought into harmony. Our only absolute consistency is in Christ and His cross.
Here it will be observed that the apostle associates others with himself. For the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ ever enlarges the heart, and gives enduring fellowship; and this appears still more clearly in what follows. “For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, that was preached among you by us, by me, and Silvanus, and Timothy, became not yea and nay, but is become yea in him.” The glory of the person proclaimed answers to the certainty guaranteed. Doubt, difficulty, hesitation, or inconsistency can have no place in the Son of God, now the glorified Man, who suffered on the cross for the annulling of sin; and the apostle and his companions know and preached no other doctrine. As the truth is one, and they believed, so is the doctrine the same which they preached. Others might seek novelties; and it is natural to the active, restless, spirit of man. They could not so deal with such a person, such a work, or such a message. That divine person, in His infinite grace, governed their minds and filled their hearts; and out of the abundance of their hearts they preached the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation, and this as consistently each with himself, as all with each other.
Thus he declares most unequivocally that the preaching of him and his companions had none of the vacillation or conflict common to the schools of human opinion, and this because all truth is verified in Christ’s person. It is become yea in Him. It abode the same. Perfection is come in Him, and also as available for others. This is far more than the witnesses’ agreement with themselves and one another, which is eclipsed by Christ, who is personally the truth, and all is become verified in Him. Nothing more distant from the subdued, hesitating, style of Greek thought and expression, where even what was not doubted they put as opinion. Here all is sure, and unclouded, and peremptory. The gospel, as Paul preached it, admits of no doubtful answer, any more than double dealing; and this, because it is revealed in the Second man, who has set aside the first, with his darkness and doubt, no loss than with his guilt and corruption.
More than this: “For how many soever [are] God’s promises, in him is the yea; wherefore15 also through him [its] the amen to God for glory by us.” Hence it is not only that there is the affirmation of all promised of God in Christ, and therefore in the highest way, before the fulfilment in others, as the effect, and the outward display before every eye in the universe, but there is a present application of the surest character, through apostolic ministration, to God’s glory. God is glorified in the Son of man, as the Son of man is glorified; but there are results of the deepest sort which God vouchsafes now to faith, in the administration of which (not of the kingdom merely, as Peter) our apostle had the chief place, and the Christian is entitled to reap the blessing, as heartily and in the Holy Spirit assenting to the truth. So Bengel, long ago, said tersely enough, “Nae respectu Dei promittentis, Amen respectu credentium.” But to bring the believer into the enjoyment of what God has wrought in Christ more has to be said, and immediately follows. Here it is the firm foundation, not God’s promises as of old, still less the law which proved that man could not make them good, yet all accomplished in Christ, but also as surely verified through Him, for glory to God by us.
The apostle refutes yet more the insinuation of uncertainty in his preaching, by the drawing out, not merely of the verification of the truth, and accomplishment of all God’s promises in Christ, but of our firm association with it all in Him.
“Now he that establisheth us with you16 in Christ, and anointed us is [God], who17 also sealed us, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” (Ver. 21.) It is not man’s own will or effort that is able to secure us Christward, nor, consequently, is it a mere question of his fickleness, feebleness, or failure in anyway. He that binds us fast to Christ is God; and the emphasis is all the greater, because God is expressed, not objectively, but as a predicate. It is truly surprising, then, that a professed commentator, and a distinguished scholar, should have said that
ὁ δὲ βεβ . . . . . ἡμᾶς is the (prefixed) predicate, and
θεός the subject; for this is to reverse all that is certain in the language, and to lose the true force of what is here insisted on. Had
ὁ δὲ β. . . . . ἡμᾶς been affixed to
θεός, instead of prefixed, the sense had been the same, the order of the words in a sentence affecting it only as a matter of emphasis, and in no way disturbing the relation of the subject to the predicate, which it is the chief function of the article to distinguish. Compare chapter 5:5, where a precisely similar construction occurs. Nor is this a casual mistake, for it re-appears no less distinctly in the comment on Hebrews 3:4, where
θεός is said to be the subject, and
ὁ πάντα κατασκευάσας the predicate, though it is allowed that the ancient expositors, almost without exception, take q. as predicate, and
ὁ π. κ. as a designation of Christ, thus making the passage a proof of His deity. It ought not to be disputed that in all these, or the like, instances, the object before the mind, or subject of each proposition, designated as operating in the way described, as to either the saints or the universe, is declared to be God. Man is excluded by the nature of the case, as in Hebrews; or He that is said so to act is affirmed to be God, for the confirmation of the saints, as here. Had it been
ὁ θ. in these cases, the propositions would have been reciprocal, and either might have been viewed as subject or as predicate. But the effect of the absence of the article is to characterise Him who works as is described in each instance. He is divine, is God: a very different statement from saying that God so works.
Here, then, it is laid down that He who firmly attaches us to Christ is God, as elsewhere we are declared to be in Him. Man is weak and vacillating, and yet more in deed than in word; but He who binds fast unto Christ is God, and this, not the strong only, but the weakest, as needing most such securing grace and power. Hence, in a love that rises above all that wounds the spirit, the apostle adds, as coupling the saints in Corinth with himself and Timothy, “He that establisheth us with you.” Christ for both was the impregnable fortress, the rock that never can be moved.
But more than this follows we are “anointed” as believers, we receive the unction from the Holy One, whereby, as John says, we know all things. God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power the Lord Jesus, who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil. (See Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) To us who believe it is rather energy of communion with His revealed mind; still the Spirit given is of power, and love, and a sound mind; and He that anointed us is not man, but God. Hence, as the apostle with the last hour before his eyes says, the unction as surely abides as it teaches us of all things. It is no transient display of power over Satan outwardly, no qualification of apostles only, as some have thought. It is the permanent privilege of the Christian for his own soul’s entrance into the revealed mind of God; and “the babes” (
τὰ παιδία) have it as truly, if not so manifestly, as the most mature. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament received, of course, gift or energy for their work; but they are never said to be “anointed” as such.
But our apostle tells us that God also sealed us, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” Not as if the Spirit were given at so many distinct epochs according to the difference of His operation. The gift of the Spirit to us, as believing in Christ and resting on His redemption, is really the powerful source of all. He that establishes us in Christ, and anointed us, as we have seen, also sealed us, and gave us the earnest. The Father, even God, sealed the Son of man. This, we can easily understand, was only meet, for He was not only from eternity but as man His Son, the constant and perfect object of His delight. But how could we be sealed who were in sin and wretchedness, the marked contrast of the Lord Jesus? His redemption completely delivers us from Satan’s thraldom, and we are not only born of God and His sons, but washed from our sins in His blood, and sin in the flesh is condemned in His death as a sacrifice, as truly as ourselves forgiven. Hence, in virtue of that work, God also sealed us, and gave the “earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The Holy Spirit is not only the seal of redemption, but the pledge of the inheritance. The meaning is in no way the Spirit given in measure as the earnest of more. He is the witness of what has been done and accepted on our behalf; He is also the foretaste of the glory that is assuredly to follow. And all things are of God, who sent first His Son, that every promise should be verified, and then His Spirit, that we who believe should be brought into the security, knowledge, and enjoyment of all this blessedness, past, present, or to come, in Christ our Lord.
Having thus turned in grace the Corinthian disparagement of his own word to the praise of the gospel, the apostle next passes, with great solemnity, to explain his real motive for not coming before to their city. “But I call God as witness upon my soul, that to spare you I did not yet come unto Corinth; not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow-workers of your joy, for by faith ye stand.” (Vers. 23, 24.) Had he come before, it must have been with a rod. (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:21.) Desirous of uniting them in love, and in a spirit of meekness, he had deferred his coming till grace had wrought self-judgment among them. The delay, and turning elsewhere meanwhile, furnished the occasion for unworthy insinuations, already touched on. It was really as sparing them he did not come; but he carefully guards against the charge of assuming undue authority; “not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow-workers of your joy.” Nothing is truly done that is not in the soul before God. Even an apostle like Paul or John sought not for a moment to step between the faithful and God. The apostles communicated His mind, that the saints might have the same assurance of it as themselves, and so their joy be full. “For by faith ye stand.” So it must be in order to please God. Without faith it is impossible. It is not by the fear or favour of men, however blessed, that the saints stand, but by faith. A fellow-helper of their joy, he would rather expose himself to the charge of changing his mind, if any were low enough so to think and speak of him, than to deal harshly with them, as he in faithfulness must, had he come as he first purposed. He waited, that the word of God might work its salutary aim, mixed with faith in those who heard it. He wished to do his work with joy, and not groaning, for this would be unprofitable for them. Was this to lord it over them, as proud men might allege? It was to farther their joy of faith, as their servant for Jesus’ sake.
2 Corinthians 2
The apostle now explains more fully his motive for not going before to Corinth. They ought, from 1 Corinthians 4, to have gathered plainly enough why it was. But the flesh never appreciates motives of the Spirit; and the enemy takes pleasure in embroiling the saints, if he fail with those that serve them for Jesus’ sake. Now, however, that grace had begun to work in the Corinthians, the language is modified accordingly. The apostle had then asked if he was to come with a rod, or in love and a spirit of meekness. Here, as he had already stated that it was to spare them he had not as yet come to Corinth, he follows up with words that show how far from him it was to lord it over their faith, as some might have drawn from his threat of a rod.
“But I judged this for myself not to come again [or back] unto you in grief.18 For if I grieve you, who then [is] he that gladdeneth me, if not he that is grieved by me? And I wrote19 this very thing, that I might not on coming have grief from those from whom I ought to have joy, having trust in you all that my joy is [that] of you all. For out of much tribulation and distress of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that ye should be grieved, but that ye may know the love that I have very [lit. more] abundantly unto you.” (Vers. 1-4.)
It is a mistake that these words imply a former visit in grief, and therefore a second intermediate and unrecorded one, distinct from the first. The work began, as described in Acts 18. The next visit of which scripture speaks was in Acts 20:2, 3, after both epistles were written — the first from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8), the second from Macedonia — but whether from Philippi (as is the traditional idea), or from some other place, as Thessalonica, does not appear. Tradition is certainly wrong in asserting that the first also issued from Philippi, as it may be about the second. 2 Corinthians 12:14, 21; 2 Corinthians 13:1, in no way indicate the fact, but the intention of a second visit, put off because of their state, and in the hope that the delay might give occasion to the intervention of grace, and thus the need of judicial severity be spared, on the apostle’s part, toward many in the assembly. Indeed 2 Corinthians 13:2 seems plainly to indicate that he had not really been a second time: “I have declared beforehand, and say beforehand, as present the second time, and now absent,” etc.
There is no evidence, in my judgment, that he had gone once to correct abuses, and to exercise discipline. He was anxious to avoid any such necessity, and therefore, instead of going as intended, he went to meet Titus, spite of work most attractive to him, that he might know how his first letter had fared at Corinth.
Actually he had not been; this was the third time he had the purpose of going; and it was the putting off the visit when intended which gave rise to the charge of light-mindedness. The change was due to their failure, and in no sense to his. On the contrary, he preferred in love to them to be grossly misconstrued, and so, instead of explaining to others, he decided this for or with himself, not to come back to them in grief.
At that time his visit would have been sorrow all round — to him certainly — at the sight of the saints, divided by party zeal, entangled by fleshly lusts, dabbling with the world, tampering with idolatry, unworthily communicating, disorderly in the assembly, and denying — implicitly at least — fundamental doctrine, and not less surely to them, if he convicted their consciences, and dealt with their state as it deserved. Graciously, therefore, had he deferred his visit till the issue of his first letter appeared, wherein he had brought the light of God to bear on all these evils and more, of which report mainly, not a fresh visit, had apprised him. The good news he had received of the effect produced by his letters opened his heart, and let out the deep affection he had for them, spite of their grievous faults. For he is convinced that their grief was his, as also that his joy was theirs. What a wondrous power there is in Christ to produce communion in grief over evil, in the joy of grace, above self and its divisive character and consequences! His desire was the happiness of the saints. No wonder, then, he shrank from going where and when his visit must be one of grief. For if I grieve you, who then is it that is to gladden me, if not he that is grieved by me?” That is, none but they could satisfy his heart. What love, and delicacy too! He individualises the saints in this phrase: And I wrote this very thing, that I might not on coming have grief from those from whom I ought to have joy: having trust in you all that my joy is [that] of you all.”
It is clear thence that it is not only inflicting, but receiving, grief of which the apostle speaks, as indeed it is always according to God in His church, whatever it be in the world. His motive in writing was the removal of what ought to pain them as it did him, that he and they might at his coming rejoice together, Christ being the spring, who can tolerate nothing offensive to God in His temple, which the saints are. And the circumstances, as well as inward feelings of the apostle, were eminently adapted to bring about the result. “For out of much tribulation and distress of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that ye should be grieved, but that ye may know the love which I have very abundantly unto you.” It was very abundant love, but hardly more than to others, as some conceive.
There is, perhaps, no place where the delicacy, as well as faithfulness, of the apostle appears more than in dealing with the case which had so deeply pained his heart, in view of the dishonour done to the Lord at Corinth. For if it betrayed how low the unjudged flesh of a Christian might carry him, it had also discovered the low state of the assembly, and made it a special trial to him who loved them, and a special danger for those who were otherwise alienated. Nevertheless, the grace and truth which came in Christ wrought so mightily by the Holy Spirit in this blessed servant, that even the light-minded Corinthians were roused to repentance quite as decidedly as to activity in discipline; and so far communion was restored between them and the apostle. It ought to be doubted that, as he commanded them to put away the wicked person from among themselves, they could not but bow, purging out the old leaven, that they might be a new lump, as they were unleavened. The paschal sacrifice of Christ is inseparable from the feast of unleavened bread we have to celebrate here below. We cannot shirk the responsibility, if we enjoy the privilege. Siincerity and truth must characterise the believer.
But if the saints in Corinth were only of late awakened to feel and act with honour and holy resentment at such an outrage in God’s temple, there was danger now of a strong reaction. Severity is as little according to Christ as laxity or indifference; and those who needed such a powerful appeal to arouse them to vindicate the injured name of the Lord, were now disposed to an extreme of judicial sternness, as far from the grace of the apostle, as before from his care for holiness. Thus fellowship of heart was imperilled from the opposite side.
The apostle, however, seizes on what was good, through the action of the Spirit in them, to labour for still more and better. Recovery from a low state is rarely immediate. Correction is needed there, as well as here; and the very fact that the call to righteousness is again heard, may, for the time, so pre-occupy the soul, that love cannot yet act freely. So it was at Corinth, till he who so blessedly represented the Master laid his hands again upon their eyes, which as yet saw men like trees walking, that, restored fully, they might look on all clearly. He had written out of much tribulation and distress of heart to them, with many tears, which refuted the charge of either levity or self-exaltation; not that they might be grieved, but that they might know his very abundant love toward them. Now he turns to the one in question, who had grieved him from the first tidings of the sin, since the first epistle had been used to put his and their sin in the light of God before their consciences.
“But if any one hath grieved, he hath grieved not me, but in part (that I may not press heavily) all of you. Sufficient to such an one [is] this rebuke, which [is] by the many; so that, on the contrary, ye should rather forgive and comfort, lest somehow such an one be swallowed up with excessive grief. Wherefore I exhort you to ratify love toward him. For I wrote also for this, and that I might know the proof of you, whether as to all things ye are obedient. But to whom ye forgive anything, I also; for I too, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, [do so] for your sake, in Christ’s person, that we might not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (Vers. 5-11.)
The sorrow which had filled the apostle’s heart had, more or less, overspread the assembly; and such is the feeling which becomes it. If the godly Israelite so took up and confessed the sins of the people, how much more those in a far nearer relation to the Lord? Yet we see it deeply in Moses and Joshua, in Hezekiah and Josiah, in Daniel and Ezra. So now grace had communicated to the saints, in measure, the apostle’s grief at the Corinthian scandal: not that they, if any, felt so deeply as he, but that he could speak of them all as affected similarly with himself. Thus the hearts of all would be conciliated, and even he that had caused the grief would feel that there was in the apostle anything but the wish to overwhelm him. He adds that the rebuke or punishment already inflicted of the many was enough. This would not have been so if the sentence of excision had not been carried out. Not a word intimates that a. mere reproof short of it had arrested the evil, and brought the evil-doer to repentance. The notion, therefore, of the French Reformers (Calvin, Beza, etc.), or others, to this effect is not only unfounded but unworthy also; for as the first epistle had peremptorily insisted on putting away the offender, the second is equally plain that mutual confidence was in measure restored by their decision and self-judgment in this very case. Verse 9, in particular, is inconsistent with anything less, not to speak of verses 7, 8, and indeed others elsewhere. Nor does verse 6 fairly bear the meaning that he is distinguishing another sort of censure which the Corinthians had administered from the excommunication he had himself enjoined; but that what was already done in accordance with inspired injunctions had effected its purpose, and should not last longer. This is entirely confirmed by the call that follows, rather to forgive and comfort, lest perhaps if he continued under so terrible a sentence, broken down as he was, he should be swallowed up with excessive grief. Wherefore he beseeches the saints to ratify love, as they had already testified abhorrence of the sin, by a formal act of the assembly. Thus too would the saints prove their obedience in all respects, in gracious restoration of the penitent, as before in solemn judgment of his heinous sin; and the apostle also had all this in view when he wrote both epistles.
But it is of deep moment to mark and learn that, though he has to awaken the assembly both to judge and to restore, for they had failed in both respects, he will have them to feel and act aright, joining them in their acts, and in no way acting for them. Hence he does not at all speak as a spiritual dictator, however real and great the authority given him of the Lord, as he takes pains to allege in both doctrine and discipline. “But to whom ye forgive anything, I also [forgive]; for also I, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, [do so] for your sake in Christ’s person, that we should not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his thoughts.” It would have been no adequate healing of the assembly to have forgiven the Corinthian offender because the apostle had done so, and commanded it. When the flagrant evil was not judged, he did command excommunication; but when grace had wrought all round in estimating as well as dealing with what was so humbling, he will have them to forgive, and go with them in it. It is not, therefore, “whom I forgive, ye also,” but “to whom ye forgive anything, I also.” He is most careful to press their own place of ratifying love, even when apostolically laying down their duty, that he might have fellowship with them throughout. In the prerogative of mercy he would follow, and what he had forgiven, if he had forgiven aught, do it on their account in Christ’s person. How blessed the seal of authority, and how gracious the sanction! May we cherish such a scene of divine affections in presence of good and of evil. Our weakness is immense, the difficulty as various as humanly insuperable, the danger from Satan’s wiles constant; but greater is He that is in the saints than he that is in the world; and we know that the enemy’s thoughts and designs are levelled pre-eminently at God’s assembly, the only divine society on earth.
The apostle resumes for a moment the account of his course, but the aim is to testify his affectionate concern for the Corinthian saints who misjudged him, and, failing in love themselves, saw not his love which spared them, as much as it sought their blessing to the Lord’s glory.
“Now when I came unto the Troad for the gospel of Christ, a door being opened to me in [the] Lord, I had no rest in my spirit at not finding Titus, my brother; but having taken leave of them, I went forth unto Macedonia. But thanks [be] to God that always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the odour of his knowledge through us in every place. Because we are a sweet odour of Christ to God in those to be saved, and in those that perish: to the one an odour from20 death unto death, but to the others an odour from21 life unto life; and who [is] sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, retailing the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ.” (Vers. 12-17.)
We see two things here: the apostle’s deep value for the gospel; his still deeper value for the saints as in danger of compromising Christ. Hence, whatever his purpose in coming into a new region, and in the face of a distinct opening for the work of reaching souls outside, he could not rest without hearing of those souls, so dear to him for the Lord’s sake, and so exposed to Satan’s wiles. He had hoped to have heard news of Corinth through Titus; but Titus he did not find; and so, turning his back on those on the eastern side where he then was, he repairs to Macedonia. His heart was on the saints. Anxiety for the assembly decided him to abandon for the time even so promising a field for the gospel. The church has the nearest claim, and the apostle acts on it. It was not only that the letter he had written bore witness of his love for them, and grief over the grave circumstances of the Corinthian assembly, but also his relinquishment of the gospel work he so valued, and this spite of the opening of a door in the Lord. His heart was tried greatly, as he thought of the saints and of his own letter. Would they accept it as of God, and judge themselves by the light? Would they resent his plain and searching, however affectionate, appeals? The situation was most critical. Taking leave, then, of the saints in Troas, he goes forth where he hoped to hear the most speedy and authentic tidings of their state, and the effect of his own letter.
But, instead of stopping to describe the intelligence conveyed by Titus, the apostle breaks forth into a burst of praise and thanksgiving. It was, no doubt, characteristic of his deep feeling and immediate appreciation that he should thus turn from the human instrument to His grace who had wrought such a happy result, where things were so painful and perilous; but no means can be conceived more admirably adapted to express at once what grace had effected in the Corinthian saints, nor any more becoming a servant of Christ. There is thus the complete absence of self-vindication, and there is no credit taken for superior wisdom.
The gracious power of God is celebrated immediately as His victory. Not merely is every means attributed to Him, and the blessing, from Him, which piety would always feel and utter gladly, but he speaks in the most forcible way of God always leading us in triumph in the Christ. The best proof of its peculiarity is that so many commentators, Protestant and Catholic alike, pare down and alter the meaning. Among the rest, our own Authorised translation was so affected by this impression, that they rendered
θριαμβεύειν, “to cause to triumph,” instead of lead in triumph, as they should. The other has been attempted to be sustained by the Hellenistic causative usage of
μαθητεύειν, βασιλεύειν, κατηλεύειν, and
χορεύειν, even in classical Greek. But the usage of the apostle in Colossians 2:5 is adverse, nor am I aware of a single instance in which it can be proved to be ever thus employed. Besides, it really weakens, if it does not destroy, the beauty of the apostle’s image, and makes it to be his triumph rather than God’s. The one would be a rather unseasonable, and perhaps galling, reminder to the Corinthians that he was as right as they were wrong; the other, a singularly beautiful, though bold, prediction of a divine victory, in which he has part as a willing captive, or part of the train.
There is no over-colouring of the figure, no representation of himself as humbled and conquered, still less any reference to their fighting against God or His servant. But he turns his joy over their being brought to repentance, and a recognition of his apostolic authority, as well as of his loving services, into a thanksgiving to God, who, instead of letting him feel his abandonment of evangelistic work, always loads us in triumph in the Christ, and makes manifest the odour of His knowledge through us in every place. The allusion is to a Roman triumph, where aromatics were burnt profusely; and on this, too, he seizes to illustrate the going forth everywhere around of his testimony to Christ in the gospel. But the sweet perfumes in a triumphal procession were accompanied by life to some of the captives, and by death to others; and this is as naturally as powerfully turned to point the twofold issues of the gospel.
The unbelieving Jew or Gentile saw no more in Jesus crucified than a dead man; how could the message founded on Him be of power to such? They might not deny the gracious words of it, any more than of Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth, where He announced His mission in the wondrous citation from Isaiah 61; yet they saw not, heard not, God in either. But as God delighted in His Son, a Saviour, so He pronounced beautiful the feet of those that announced glad tidings of peace, of those that announce glad tidings of good things; and so, too, He smells a savour of rest sweeter than that of Noah’s offering, or any other. “Because,” says the apostle, “we are a sweet odour of Christ to God in those to be saved, and in those that perish;” and this he explains carefully: “to the one an odour from death unto death,” which we have seen; “but to the other an odour from life unto life.” Such is the message where it is mixed with faith; for faith sees and hears Him as the Son of God, yet Son of man, who died for man, for sins, but rose in the power of an endless life, that we might live also, and live of His life, where sin can never enter, nor death have dominion more.
No wonder, as the apostle weighs the responsibility of a service so blessed on the one side, so tremendous on the other, that he exclaims, “And who [is] sufficient for these things?” For if the gospel is a word of delivering grace, it causes the truth to shine out so as to intensify the servant’s estimate of responsibility. This is just what should be — full liberty imparted, instead of bondage; but solemn responsibility, realised as it never was before, and could not be in any other way. But here the mass of the Corinthians sadly fell short, not the apostle, whom they had slighted in their self-sufficient folly. “For we are not, as the many, retailing (or, adulterating) the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ.” He did not, like the many, traffic in the word of God; but as of transparency, nor this only, but as of God, and this too with a present sense of having to do with Him, as all must later, “before God,” “we speak in Christ,” which is far more intimate and forcible than merely of Him. Yet even such solemn words did not hinder men, and even saints, too soon and down to our day, to make the ministry of the gospel a stepping-stone to earthly gain and worldly honour, in manifest discord with the cross of Christ, and to the utter eclipse of His heavenly glory, not to speak of the grievous loss of all concerned.
2 Corinthians 3
From this the apostle turns in a peculiarly touching way to the saints at Corinth. His spirit felt that his last allusions to a triumph, in contrast with those who trafficked in truth (never then given out with genuine purity), might expose to unkind personality. He therefore, in disclaiming the need of human commendation in any form, lets out what grace forms in the heart before contrasting the law with the gospel.
11 Begin we again to commend ourselves? or22 need we, as some, recommendatory epistles unto you or23 from you? Ye are our epistle inscribed in our24 hearts, known and read by all men, being manifested that ye are Christ’s epistle ministered by us, having been inscribed, not with ink, but [the] Spirit of [the] living God, not on tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of [the] heart (or, hearts) 25. And such confidence have we through the Christ toward God; not that we are competent from ourselves to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our competency [is] of God, who also made us competent [as] servants of [the] new covenant, not of letter but of spirit, for the letter killeth but the spirit quickeneth.” (Vers. 1-6.)
It is plain that there was then, as now, the practice of giving and receiving letters in commending stranger brethren to the assemblies. And a valuable means of introduction as well as guard it is, provided we hold it in spirit, not in letter: otherwise we might fail doubly, in refusing those who ought to be received, where circumstances have hindered the requisite voucher, and in receiving those who, being deceivers, can supply themselves with any letter which may the more effectually mislead. The aim of all such provisions is to afford adequate testimony to the assembly of God, which is in no way bound to a form however excellent, if wanting, provided perchance other means of godly satisfaction leave no reasonable hesitation to those who judge fairly and in love. It is mischievous when that which God uses for our mutual comfort is perverted by legalism into an instrument of spiritual torture, as may be sometimes the lack of a commendatory note, or some kindred informality.
But the apostle turns, from the supposed imputation of seeking to commend himself, to foster in the Corinthian saints somewhat of the love which burned so warmly in his own bosom. If he, if an apostle, could be supposed to need a commendatory epistle, surely not Paul to or from the assembly in Corinth! As he adds, with as much beauty as affection, “Ye are our epistle,” not in process of being “written,” but this already done and abidingly (
ἐγγεγραμμένη) “in our hearts,” whereas it was but becoming “known and read by all men,” as was also their manifestation that they were Christ’s epistle, “ministered” as a past fact (
διακονηθεῖσα) by us, “written” as it has been and was (
ἐγγεγραμμένη) “not with ink, but the living God’s Spirit,” not on tablets of stone, but on fleshy tablets — hearts, or of the heart.
It was a wonderful thing to call any company of saints in this world Paul’s epistle, that which set forth his mind and heart, the fruit of his testimony in the Spirit to the world. Such he declares the Corinthian assembly to be, no mere tongue-work this, but “written in our hearts,” yet without doubt intended for men generally to learn by, as he says, “known and read by all men.” Such is the church, not a thing of creedism, or a subscription to paper-and-ink articles, however pure in their place, but an epistle to set forth livingly what the apostle taught and felt. Here he goes farther still; for even of those saints, who had caused him such shame and pain, but now consolation and joy, he does not hesitate to say that they were manifestly showing themselves to be Christ’s epistle ministered by him. Paul might be the means, but Christ was the end; and just as God wrote the law on stone for Israel, so now does the Spirit grave Christ on the fleshy tablets of the Christian’s heart, that the world may read Christ in the church. It will be noticed too, that this epistle says they are; it is no mere question of a duty, but of a positive relationship which is the ground of the duty. If we are Christ’s epistle, as the apostle declares to the Corinthians, we should assuredly convey His mind and affections truly and without blot. The truth abides for us, which wrought on them; and so does the Spirit of the living God; and thus we are inexcusable in our failure. At least may we own and feel it, that grace may work in us as in those who had fallen so short!
“And such confidence have we through the Christ toward God.” Christianity not only excludes despair but gives assurance, and this on the firmest ground with God, even Christ, whose work puts the believer into the same acceptance, nearness, and favour as our Lord enjoyed through His own personal relationship and perfection as man. This is the meaning, aim, and effect of a Saviour such as He is: less than this would be to slight Him and His work, and the new creation and relationships which are the fruit of it. But here the apostle speaks of confidence as regards his ministry, which is no less true and flows from the same grace. For it is all the expression of God’s love in Christ to us and to Christ in the delight of His glorification of God; and in the power of one so able to give it effect as the Holy Spirit. Therefore the apostle could not doubt, but cherishes a confidence, measured by God’s estimate of what was due to Christ whom He had sent to testify and prove His love, and now had glorified on high in witness of the perfection of His work. But along with it goes the most earnest disclaimer of any intrinsic competency, while owning it given of God to serve in new covenant order, but even here of spirit, not of letter. For literally it remains to be applied to the houses of Israel and of Judah, though the blood is shed and accepted, on which its efficacy rests. But this only the more suits the genius of Christianity, where the principles stand out in the light, and the truth is told plainly as here: “for the letter killeth, but the spirit [that is, the mind of God couched under the forms which unbelief never seizes] quickeneth.” And this is universally true; for if the letter were more glaringly perilous of old, there is always the danger of deserting the spirit for it, even under the gospel.
The apostle proceeds next, in a long parenthesis (7-16) to contrast the respective services of the law and of the gospel, the ever rising debate wherever Christ is named and known. And no wonder, for sovereign grace is not natural to the heart, though it alone reveals God fully. The believer himself never keeps grace fresh, pure, or even true, save as consciously in God’s presence, with Christ before him. As in Christ thus, it is simple and appreciated as the one principle and power which suits either God on the one hand, or those He saves on the other. Grace alone puts each in the place which befits them. But the effect or assumption of the mind even in the believer to take up grace and reason it out, apart from present dependence, is as bad or worse than misuse of the law; for conscience answers to the law when it condemns every evil way, but faith is needed for grace. Outside God’s presence it is but allowance of sin. In His presence grace deals with sin far more overwhelmingly than law, as is evident in the cross of Christ. Only there can the believer enjoy grace safely, happily, and holily: and there is no possibility of having peace in His presence but through grace — grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
“But if the ministry of death in letter,26 graven on stones, came in with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently toward the face of Moses for the glory of his face, that was to be done away, how shall not the ministry of the Spirit more be in glory? For if the ministry of condemnation [have]27 glory, much more doth the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For even that which hath been glorified, hath not28 been glorified in this respect on account of the surpassing glory. For if that to be done away [was] with glory, much more what abideth [is] in glory.”
It is of moment to notice that the apostle reasons here on Exodus 34 not on Exodus 20 as in Hebrews 12 It is a question, not of law pure and simple, when God’s voice shook the earth, with a sight of terror which caused even Moses to be full of trembling; but of law when given the second time, accompanied by the mercy which not only forgave but accepted mediation. It was a mixture of law with grace, and precisely what people now conceive to be Christianity. But this is what is designated the ministry of death in letter, engraven on stones. For on the second time, not on the first, it was introduced with glory (
ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ) and then, not before, was there any difficulty for the sons of Israel steadily to gaze at his face. Only then are we told that the skin of the face of Moses shone (Ex. 34), and that the Israelites were afraid to come nigh him. It was the glory of Jehovah which caused his face thus to shine, an effect entirely peculiar to the second occasion. Nevertheless this is styled “the ministry of death.” The mercy which had spared Israel did not alter its character, nor did the glory which shone in the Mediator’s face. How different is that which the Spirit now ministers in a dead, risen, and glorified Christ! The reflection of glory in Moses’ case was but a passing fact: it was neither intrinsic nor permanent, but to be done away. Not so Christ’s. Here all that is the fruit of His work abides. It has everlasting value. It is no question of letter, nor of graving on stones, but of a divine Saviour yet a man, who has glorified God atoningly as to sin, not in living obedience only but up to death, the death of the cross, and is thereon glorified in heaven, yea, in God Himself, and gives the believer, once a wretched, guilty, and lost sinner, now washed, sanctified and justified, a righteous title to stand in perfect grace, to be with Him in glory, one with Him even now by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. This is the gospel, this the ministry of the Spirit which abides and is assuredly abundant “in glory.”
But the law requires righteousness, and man being a sinner cannot yield it. The law is necessarily, therefore, a ministry of death (ver. 7), and the more brightly God’s goodness shines, the worse it is for the sinner, for he is only the more proved worthless and guilty. In the gospel righteousness is revealed to faith, not required: for Christ Himself is the righteousness of the believer, and the work was done and accepted before God sent out the gospel of His grace to man. The Spirit, therefore, testifies to a man at God’s right hand, who suffered once for sins on the cross, and declared that by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. Hence the Holy Spirit, as He sealed Christ the righteous One without blood when on earth, now seals us when washed from our sins in His blood, and rests on us as the Spirit of glory and of God. (Ver. 8.) We are put, therefore, in association with Christ on high and await His coming to bring us there. The law, on the contrary, not only hills but condemns; it brings sense of guilt on the conscience, and God as a judge of the evil actually done. Hence it can only be a ministry of condemnation (ver. 9), as well as of death, whatever the glory that marked its enactment; whereas the gospel is the ministry of righteousness already accomplished in Christ and the portion of the believer; and that righteousness abides unchanged and glorious in Christ above. Hence the ministry of the Spirit is also that of righteousness.
As the righteousness is a fact of free grace in One who loves no perfectly, so has the glory the same attraction, unlike the glory which alarmed Israel, even in the face of Moses. The light which shines from Christ glorified speaks of the efficacy of His sacrifice; the brighter the light, the clearer the proof that our every sin is cleansed away by His blood. It is the light of divine glory, doubtless, but flowing from redemption. His title to be in heaven is not His person only, but the work which God His Father gave Him to do, that as surely as we know Him in the Father, we should also know that we are in Him and He in us. Most wondrous! yet the simple truth of Christ and the Christian. But what is so wonderful as the truth? Yet Christ accounts for it all, and His work brings us who believe into it all. Such is grace in the ministry of the Spirit by righteousness.
And as the glory of God’s grace in Christ completely dims by excess of brightness His glory in the law (ver. 10), so also does the transitory or temporary character of the latter proclaim its incomparable inferiority to the former which abides (ver. 15), as indeed it ought; inasmuch as it flows from and expresses the will of God, while the other only condemns and executes sentence on the evil of man already fallen and disobedient.
A few details may be useful in helping the reader to appreciate the remarkably compressed phraseology of these verses.
ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ means that the law was introduced in or with glory, rather than that it existed in glory. The verb is changed when we come to the Spirit and His ministry, subsisting in glory. It is an error, however, to suppose that the future
ἔσται is one of time; it is rather of inference. There is no allusion here to the coming glory. The apostle points emphatically to what the Spirit is ministering now. It is hard to express, but important to bear in mind, the abstract nature of the contrast
, τὸ καταργούμενον and
τὸ μένόν, the present participle of character, apart from time, not of actual fact.
Lastly, it is at best oversight to affirm that
διὰ δόξης and
ἐν δόξῃ present a mere variation of expressions without a difference of meaning. Never does scripture thus change words without a fresh thought and a distinct purpose.
ἐν δ. is admirably adapted when connected (not with
ἐγενήθη, but) with
μένον, to set forth permanence of glory;
διὰ δ. a mere accompanying condition of what was to pass away. Romans 3:30; 5:10, prove difference, not sameness, of force, whatever Winer may say (Moulton’s edition, pp. 453, 512), or the commentators misled by such laxity, as Alford, Hodge, etc.
This leads the apostle in the Spirit to apply the incident of Moses with and without a veil, as before of the glory of his face. He glories that in the gospel all is open. It is no longer the unhappy though wholesome detection of sin in man, but the plain revelation of good from God in Christ, and this righteously through His cross, yea, gloriously in His place at God’s right hand in heaven: the ground of our association with heaven now, and of glory there not in spirit only but in body at His coming. In Judaism man could not bear to hear the truth, which was the sentence of death to flesh; in Gentilism all was doubt or deception. In the gospel we can speak plainly: it is God’s good news of His Son. There is no reason or motive for reserve, but just the contrary. We cannot be too open. So the love of God who gave such a treasure would have it. Leave darkness to Rabbis and philosophers, who love it rather than light.
“Having then such hope we use much openness of speech: and not as Moses used to put a veil on his own face, that the sons of Israel should not look stedfastly unto the end of that to be done away, But their thoughts were darkened [lit. hardened]; for until this very day the same veil at the reading of the old covenant abideth unremoved [lit. unveiled], which in Christ is done away.29 But unto this day when Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whenever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken off.” (Ver. 12-16.)
Christianity is no system of restraint on evil in the first man, with ordinances suited to the flesh in the world, and God afar off in the dark, but founded on the grace of Christ, who, after establishing righteousness by the cross, is gone up into heavenly glory, and is ministered by the Holy Ghost in power. Hence the unseen, the future, and the everlasting converge on the believer now; and having such a hope one can be thoroughly outspoken: there are the strongest motives for openness in every way, in contrast with the dimness, distance, and reserve of the law. Not only did God in Christ come down to man, but, now that his evil has been judicially and conclusively dealt with in the cross, man can go up — nay, has already sat down at His right hand — in the person of our Saviour and Head. The accomplishment of redemption, as it closed the ministry of death, opened the way and became the basis of the ministry of the Spirit, to abide in glory. The previous state of concealment, where man had such reason to dread the sight of glory according to the law, is set forth in Moses putting a veil on his face when he spoke with the children of Israel outside.30 whereas he in variably put it off whenever he went in before Jehovah.
The christian position is in the fullest contrast with that of Israel, to which tradition and human thoughts of unbelief would ever in principle reduce us. It suits reason and conscience guided by it, and our estimate of self as well as of God, where Christ and His work have no distinctive and commanding place. Hence not only do the utmost extremes meet here, popish and puritanical, but also that via media, which pleases the moderate men of all parties, rationalist or nonconformist, who on the one hand rightly venerate the law as clothed with God’s authority, but on the other see not the wholly new position grace has placed us in by redemption, answering to Christ glorified on high, who has sent down the Spirit that we might enjoy it to the full, and walk accordingly. For we find our privilege Godward typified in Moses unveiled, not with the veil on. We behold Christ and His work in the ritualistic system, which conveyed to the Israelite only precepts to kill a lamb, a goat, or a bullock, with the blood brought in before God, and to sprinkle themselves with the water of separation, or the like. The law made nothing perfect. It (and not the speculative thought of the Greek, nor the political wisdom of Rome) was the true nursery of man in his nonage, the divine pro-paedeutic, shutting up to the faith about to be revealed.
Israel through unbelief slighted grace when shown to them abundantly, and forgot the promises which God had made to the fathers, which faith would have remembered and felt the need of. They therefore doubted not for a moment their ability to keep His law, and so maintain their place with Him. Granted that this was their deepest ignorance, both of God as a judge according to law, and of themselves as guilty and powerless sinners; and that scripture reveals their ruin under law, that the Gentile should avoid the snare and find their resource, strength, and blessing, all and only in Christ by God’s sovereign grace. How awful then the darkness which has deliberately put Christendom back into the self-same position of law, as the rule of people to live by, after the proclamation of God’s mercy! This is what not only the multitude believe but the doctors have taught, Protestant no less than popish; this is the prevalent doctrine, alike Presbyterian and Prelatical, Methodist or Congregational. It is the mind active and exercised on what God used as a probationary system, but as unable to look to the end of it as the Jew of old, rebellious against its transitory character, and blind to the surpassing glory of what is now revealed in Christ.
It is solemn to reflect on those once the people of God, now Lo-Ammi, in zeal for their forms rejecting Christ who gives them their real meaning and chief, if not only, value. But so it is and must be. How could the infinite gift of the Son of God, and then the witness of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, in virtue of redemption, have, if refused, any other consequence than utter ruin for those who have despised God? It is the rejection of God’s fullest grace and heavenly glory, not merely of the law which demanded and defined a man’s duty. God would be a partner to His own utter dishonour if He passed by the refusal of His Son dying in love for man’s sin, or despite to the Spirit of grace who testifies of it and Him. This the Jews did formally, before God swept them from their land by the Romans, not because the scriptures are not express as to Christ and His work, but because of their own unbelief. “But unto this day, when Moses is being read, a veil lieth upon their heart.” (Ver. 15.)
It is humbling however to know that their hardening is but the shadow of a guiltier and incomparably wider unbelief which is settling down on Christendom, not profane only but even religious after the flesh, into more and more dense delusion and self-complacency in resistance of the Holy Spirit and an ignorant contempt of Christ’s glory as of our own portion in and with Him. So proceeded the Jew with his darkened thoughts till divine judgment fell on their temple and capital. Their (it was no longer God’s) house was left to them desolate; yet do they persist in their most ruinous infatuation, to be punished with a yet more awful tribulation, not (thank God) for ever but till they say, as they will ere long, Blessed He that cometh in the name of Jehovah, and own in their rejected Messiah their Lord and their God. “Whenever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken off.”31 (Ver. 16.) Alas! it is not so with Babylon as with Jerusalem. For the Gentile city of confusion there will be exterminating judgment without Lope of recovery. It behoves then all the faithful to beware of the evils which end in such strokes from God; it becomes them to inquire whether they may not have fellowship with her sins, which dishonour the excellent name which He called upon them. To the law and to the testimony: if men speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in (or morning for) them.
“Until this very day,” says the apostle, “the same veil at the reading of the old covenant abideth unremoved, which in Christ is done away.” (Ver. 14.) So it was and so it is, but it is graver still and no less sure, that the same veil rests on the hearts of the baptised at the reading of the latest revelation of God, when they refuse to submit to the righteousness of God, and their eyes and hearts are turned away to self, or to the church so called, from the only true Light. They do not truly acknowledge the Son, nor own the present efficacy of His work. The veil will envelop the heart for them (perhaps we may say) no less than for Israel; and what greater danger can there be than that such darkness should prevail where Paul is read no less, yea, far more, than Moses? Is it not that, though it be for the Gentile the day of grace, their thoughts are increasingly darkened? Those born of God will no doubt come out of Babylon; for His grace will work, and it may be in ways we little anticipate, to extricate souls that they may await His Son from heaven. But there is no revival, no restoration, for corrupted Christendom. It is salt that has lost its savour, fit neither for land nor for dunghill, only to be cast out, or burnt with fire, recompensed at last as the great city recompensed during her unrighteous career. For strong is the Lord God that judges her.
The central portion of the chapter, from verse 7, contains not only the remarkable allusion to Moses veiled and unveiled, but the contrast between the ministry of letter in the law with that of the Spirit. The parenthesis being closed, he forthwith recurs to that contrast of letter and spirit which preceded it. “Now the Lord is the spirit, but where the Spirit of the Lord [is, there is] liberty.” (Ver. 17) Scarce any scripture shows more instructively than this the necessity of understanding the mind of God, in order even to present it correctly in form. For it is an utter mistake to give “the spirit” in the first clause a capital letter, which would imply the Holy Ghost to be meant; and where would be the sense, where so much as the orthodoxy, of identifying the Lord with the Holy Ghost?32 To me the meaning, without doubt, is that the Lord Jesus constitutes the spirit of the forms and figures and other communications of the old covenant. These, if taken in the letter, killed; if in the spirit, quickened. “The Lord” was their real scope; and now this comes out into the fullest evidence. Faith sees in Him contrast with Adam, analogy with Abel; the light of which shines even on Cain and Lamech. Yet more manifestly do we see types of Him in Joseph and Moses, and in that vast system of sacrifice and priesthood which, coming in by Moses, furnished those shadows so abundantly. Unbelief never laid hold of the coming One, faith always did; though it might not apprehend the bearing of all, nor perhaps fully of anything, till He actually died and rose. But “the Lord is the spirit,” and the new testimony is so precise, that there is no excuse for misapprehending the old longer. “The true Light now shineth,” and “we who were once darkness are now light in the Lord.” In the light we walk, and we ought to walk as children of it; and an immense help it is to our souls intelligently to apprehend the Lord in every part of the word. It is this which gives the deepest interest, and truest solemnity, and living power, to every part of the Old Testament. Thus only have we communion with the mind of God with positive and growing blessing to our own souls. Now that He is revealed, all is plain.
But there is more than this, for “where the Spirit of the Lord [is, there is] liberty.” Here the truth requires that there should be a capital, for the apostle means not merely the true inner bearing of what was communicated of old, but the presence and power of the Holy Ghost now; and He is not a spirit of bondage unto fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind; not a spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of the Son, whom God had sent into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Hence the effect is liberty, not alone because it is the Son that makes us free, but the Spirit of life in Him risen from the dead, after the mighty work in which God, sending Jesus in the likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Thus all was condemned that could be condemned, and we by grace are delivered — free indeed. “Where the Spirit of the Lord [is, there is] liberty,” as opposed to Gentile license as to Jewish bondage.
It is liberty to do the will of God, “for sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace.” Yet do we yield ourselves slaves for obedience; and having got our freedom from sin, and become slaves to God, we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life. We are no longer in the flesh, and are clear from the law, so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter. “Where the Spirit of the Lord [is, there33 is] liberty.” It is not yet the liberty of the glory of the children of God; it is the liberty of grace before glory dawns at Christ’s coming.
But we are creatures, though a new creation in Christ, and we need an object that we maybe kept and grow, and be formed and fashioned spiritually according to God, while here below. Without the cross of Christ all this were vain; yet are we not called simply to be at the foot of the cross, or to behold no object but Jesus Christ crucified, as men misuse the passage. Not so; “but we all beholding34 the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from [the] Lord [the] Spirit.” Such is the present business, we may say, of the Christian. It is alike the duty and the privilege of all Christians, not the perquisite of a favoured few who attain to it. It is not a state reached in a moment by an act of faith, but a gradual process, which ought to characterise every Christian all the way through. At the coming of Christ we shall be conformed to His image — that of the Son, the First-born among many brethren. Meanwhile thus does “the Lord the Spirit” (for such, I suppose, is the meaning in the last clause) work in us from glory to glory, as all that Christ is glorified on high becomes more familiar and real to our souls by faith. We need, most assuredly, the lowly grace which came down as a servant, obeying to the uttermost, even to the death of the cross, if we would have the mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus. But, blessed and indispensable as it is thus to know His love, faith in the Christian does not rest there, nor ought it, but, holding all this fast, to look on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, and thus be changed, according to the Same image, from glory to glory. For the Spirit, though Lord equally with the Father and the Son, does not work independently of Christ, but by presenting Him to us, from first to last.
It is scarcely needful to add, that one rejects the translation of the closing phrase, which pleases Olshausen, De Wette, Meyer, etc., “Lord of the Spirit,” as being clearly against the truth of scripture — a serious fault in a Subject of this kind. So Macknight, who paraphrases it, “the Lord of the covenant of the Spirit,” but those who expect either spiritual intelligence or sound scholarship from that divine, must be bitterly and uniformly disappointed. Dr. Thomas F. Middleton, in his able “Doctrine of the Greek Article,” mistakes the margin of the Authorised Version, which agrees with my view against its own text. So Luther, Beza, etc., had rendered it. The reader may compare
ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρός (Gal. 1:2; Eph. 6:23), and analogous phrases in many other passages.
2 Corinthians 4
The apostle returns to the manner and spirit of his service in the gospel. Such a hope, such glory, demands and by grace inspires good courage, as well as conduct, of a divine sort. “On this account, having this ministry, according as we obtained mercy, we faint35 not, but refused the hidden things of shame, not walking in deceit, nor guilefully using the word of God, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every conscience of men in the sight of God. But if even our gospel is veiled, in those that perish it is veiled, in whom the god of this age blinded the minds [or, thoughts] of the faithless, that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is [the] image of God, should not shine forth.” (Vers. 1-4.)
It was not only the surpassing and abiding excellence of this ministry, but the possession of it, which touched the heart with the sense of divine mercy, and took away all disposition to be craven-hearted in presence of the gravest difficulties, and the keenest and constant sufferings. It is true that the Corinthians knew but little of such experience, but therefore was it the more needful that the apostle, who knew little else here below, should bring it out clearly. On the other hand, men admire cleverness in baffling adversaries, and in evading dangers or difficulties, alas! too often in glossing over what cannot bear the light, and in turning aside the edge of what exposes and condemns. Here also the saints at Corinth were not without the contagion of their city and its schools. Could they, like the apostle, say that they refused the secret things of shame? — that they did not walk in trickery? — that they did not falsify the word of God? Some among them certainly gave too much appearance of being thus lacking in the faith that counts on God, and declines secret influence, and shrewd, if not unscrupulous, plans after the flesh. The ways of the servant should harmonise with His blessed service, as they did in Paul’s case, leaving to the children of darkness all that shrinks from the light, which it does not suit, no less than evil surmisings of the good they cannot sympathise with. It is not only what is scandalous, but all cunning, which is abhorrent to Christ, who needs nothing that is not of the Spirit. And if Satan lures us to the path of selfseeking, the desire to win others soon slips from hesitation into a guileful handling of that word which breathes only light and love, like its source.
The apostle, far from uncertainty in his own soul, acted and spoke in the consciousness of divine authority, as he says, “by the manifestation of the truth” (what a blessing in a world of darkness!) “commending ourselves to every conscience of men in the sight of God.” Activity of mind, which likes to propagate its ideas, and to produce common action, was not wanting at Corinth; but where was this conscious possession of truth which formed the ways in accordance with it, an cl sought no other influence, but only thus in love to appeal to conscience in God’s sight? To shine before men, to gain applause, to have a party, are snares to avoid, unworthy of Christ’s servants. To seek, or even to receive, glory one of another, instead of seeking the glory which is from the only God, is the ruin of faith, and wrought not in the Jewish unbeliever, but in many a Corinthian believer. The apostle, in unwearied love, and unquailing before difficulties, and unflinching in candour, pressed the truth in season, out of season, whether men heard or forbore, assured that, while he preached as in God’s presence, every conscience bowed inwardly, even if the will were set on its own way in defiance of God.
Moreover, the vividness of the heavenly vision, to which he was not disobedient, reproduced itself by the Spirit in his evangelising. All was out, without disguise, radiant with the light of heaven and the glory of the Christ he had seen on high. Hence he could add, that even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in the perishing, in whose case the god of this age blinded the minds of the faithless. He had no veil like Moses: the gospel effectually repudiates it — at least the gospel as he and his fellows preached it. As he believed, so he preached. There was for him no affectation of depth or sublimity. The truth needs no arts to set it off. Nothing else is so lofty, nothing else so deep. It is Christ, the Word, who was God and yet was made flesh, life eternal yet dying for sinners, who descended into the lower parts of the earth, and also ascended up above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. If such glad tidings were veiled, they were veiled in the lost, not by those that preached the truth. In their case, the god of this age blinded the thoughts, or understandings, of the unbelieving. It was no defect in the truth, nor obscurity in the message from God, nor insincerity in the messenger, who gave it out as purely as he received it.
Alas! there is a subtle and energetic adversary of God and man; there are men who have not faith but passions and lusts, which expose them to his influence in blinding them to the truth. And such are all by nature since sin ruined mankind, till grace work repentance to acknowledgment of the truth. But men who are feeble in owning the power of the Spirit are apt to be slow to perceive Satan’s workings; and controversial zeal increases this unscriptural bias. Hence we see that the fathers in general, early and late, Greek and Latin, misapplied this simple and weighty statement of scripture, and denied the devil to be meant here, construing it as God blinding the minds of the unbelievers of this age! (See Cranmer’s Cat. Patr. Gr. v., 373, 374, Oxon. 1844; Iren. Haer. iv. 392; Tert. advers. Marc. 11; Aug. c. adv. Leg. iii., vii. 29.) Hilary, in his zeal against the Arians, and among the Greeks, Chrysostom, would not allow Satan to be called god of this age, lest it might tell against the deity of Christ; and so OEcumenius and Theodoret, etc., down to Theophylact; as others, like Origen, against other early heretics, Marcionites, Manicheans, etc. It is instructive as a plain proof of patristic shallowness, where they agreed, as they rarely did, on an interpretation. They failed to distinguish between “God” used absolutely, and “god” with a distinct and restricted qualification. And as the Lord, in view of His own rejection unto death, spoke of the devil as the prince of this world (John 12; 14), so the apostle here designates him, with striking propriety, as “god of this age.” During the new age, when the Lord takes the sovereignty of the world (Rev. 11), it will not be so; he will be bound, and thereby kept from his old deceits. Now he takes advantage of all truth to dishonour God and destroy men, his wretched slaves, who, in doing their own will, serve him effectually. Thus are they blinded, that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine forth.36
Here also it is well to notice that “the glorious gospel,” as in the Authorised Version, is not only inadequate, but incorrect. For “the glory” is definitely of Christ exalted to God’s right hand, in virtue of not His person only but redemption, that we who now believe might see Him, and have our place in Him, there. What enlightenment can compare with this? It is part of what the apostle calls “my” and “our gospel.” Christ was, and is, God’s image, alone fully representing Him; but the gospel, as Paul preached it, was not of His descent and life here only, nor of His death and resurrection, but of His glory in heaven also. Hence the appropriateness of the language, with which the reader may contrast the vague platitudes of the Cat. Patr. v. 374, 375.
There is no defect, then, in “our gospel.” There is not only the firmest foundation of righteousness, but the brightest heavenly glory in the display of that righteousness. In Christ exalted is love with us made perfect. How could it, indeed, go farther? because as He is, so are we in this world. It is the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is God’s image. We are not yet ourselves in possession of the glory as an actual fact, but we have it in Him in whom it shines most fully, and through whom it shines into our hearts. No greater proof, then, of the blinding power of Satan, than that men should be insensible to such glory. But an evil conscience cannot endure the light of God, whatever the love from which the light of that glory springs. For they cannot endure the discovery and judgment of their sins, even though the rejection of His testimony exposes them to everlasting ruin. They believe themselves, or really Satan, the god of this age, rather than the only true God; they are lost. This is what the gospel supposes, though it fully provides for it. But the blessing is inseparable from faith; for God is not saying only, but making the saved vessels on earth to reflect the glory of Christ in heaven.
Such pre-eminently was the apostle. He himself, the stoutest of combatants against the name of Jesus, was struck down in mid-career by the glory of Jesus shining from heaven. He therefore knew, if any soul over did, the gospel of the glory of Christ. Lost, spite of all that law could give or boast of; saved by sovereign grace, spite of all that the strongest enmity could breathe against the Lord and His own, he became the suited witness of a Saviour and Lord on high. Where was self now in his eyes? and what the worth of religious authority in Israel, any more than of that philosophy which leaves men groping in the dark, whatever the vauntings of its several schools? The worthlessness of all here below he had proved; for him henceforward Christ was all, as indeed He is all, and in all.
“For not ourselves do we preach, but Christ Jesus as Lord,37 and ourselves your bondmen, for Jesus’38 sake, because [it is] the39 God that bid light shine40 out of darkness, who shone into our hearts for the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God41 in the face of Jesus Christ.” (Vers. 5, 6.) Others might preach themselves; the apostle, Christ Jesus as Lord. He was content to be servant of Christ, and, for that very reason, of the saints, for the Sake of Jesus. This alone is true service; anything else a snare, both to him who serves, and to those who are served, who, in such circumstances, alike serve themselves to His dishonour.
But as Christ Jesus is Lord, and the believer owns and proclaims it according to his measure, so is He the one true and safe motive for the ready service of His saints. Personal interest, or honour, vanishes before His name. And such a servant was the apostle to the Corinthians. What a change, from the prejudiced, law-bound, yet impassioned Jew of Tarsus! How came so complete and sudden a revolution to be brought about in the heart of one naturally most averse to change? It was, it is always, the effect of God’s power in grace. The Creator-God is the Saviour-God, through His Son.
It was as truly light spiritual from God, as that which shone at God’s bidding where darkness had reigned before the earth was prepared for man. “Because God, that bid light to Shine out of darkness, [is he] who shone in our hearts for [the] illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Thus, for faith does the first man give instant place to the second; and we, who were once darkness, become light in the Lord. The apostle, no doubt, had vividly before him the never to be forgotten circumstances of his own conversion, suggestive of the light at mid-day, above the brightness of the sun shining from heaven. With this he brings in the allusion to Genesis 1:8, so as the better to contrast the light with the previous darkness, and connect all with the power, as well as the word, of God. But he gives both references the precision requisite to the case in hand.
It was a question here, not of an external miracle, but of God’s shining “in our hearts” — a thing, after all, far more blessed than even the light of old which answered the bidding of God to dispel the world’s deep gloom. If the enemy blinds the thoughts of the unbelieving, grace shines in the believer’s heart for the shining forth of the knowledge of His glory in the face, or person, of Christ. So had God operated in the apostle’s heart, not merely for his own enjoyment of that heavenly light (though this primarily), but also that it might shine on others, as a testimony to them and for Christ. Grace thus identifies the two things, as Christ gave Himself up “for us,” an offering and sacrifice “to God,” for an odour of sweet savour. The energy of the Holy Spirit alone can effect so mighty a work in any heart, as it did most abundantly in him for a pattern of those about to believe on Him to life everlasting. So, when taken out from among the people and the Gentiles, he could say that the Lord sent him to the last, with a view to open their eyes, that they might turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.
There is, therefore, in the gospel, as it reached the apostle, a wondrous double action: not only an inshining of God in his own heart; but this also with a view to giving forth the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in Christ’s face. If the law was addressed to a people already formed, and in a definite relationship with God, the gospel, especially as Paul knew and preached it, went out to any, to all, to the lost. It was not requirement of man’s duty, it was the communication of the knowledge of God’s glory, a glory which shone in Christ’s face, consequent on the infinite work of redemption, whereby God could justify man in free grace, instead of judging him for his iniquities. If men are inexcusable who reject the gospel, no wonder that the apostle should say, We preach such a Saviour, blending as he does the glory of God with the salvation of sinners. But that glory of God which is thus bound up with salvation is seen not in the heavens, whatever they may declare, but in the face of Jesus Christ. The expanse shows His handy work; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared God Himself, the God whom no one has seen at any time; and so blessedly does He reveal the Father, that, as He said Himself, he that had seen Him had seen the Father.
Such then is the ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness in Christ, the revelation of God’s glory in His face. This is the treasure which grace gives.
“But we have this treasure in earthenware vessels, that the surpassingness of the power maybe God’s, and not of us; in everything being afflicted, yet not straitened, sorely yet not utterly perplexed, persecuted yet not forsaken, cast down yet not destroyed, always bearing about in the42 body the dying [or, putting to death] of Jesus.43 that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.44 For we that live are ever being delivered up unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus45 may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (Vers. 7-11)
Thus does the apostle meet the natural thought of men which the carnal mind among the Corinthians had taken up against himself, to their loss and his grief. In an apostle they had looked for a grand style of speech, for lofty speculation and subtle argument, as well as a dignified and attractive presence, backed up by such a display of power as would overawe all the world. They could not understand therefore that one who was not a whit behind the chiefest apostles should be with them in weakness and fear and much trembling; and that on principle he should forego every advantage of intellectual ability and acquired learning, of all that which is a matter of boast to the flesh; nay more, that he should glory in infirmities, and treat as his foolishness all reference to his devoted service and mighty deeds, signs and wonders, with the vast and deep effects of his preaching. He was indeed the most remarkable of sufferers no less than of labourers; but he insists that, when he was weak, then was he strong. What he gloried in was the Lord, and His strength made perfect in weakness. Doubtless, as the apostle surpassed all others in depth of heart and all — endurance for Christ and the church and the gospel, so in this also, the most abiding consciousness of weakness and insufficiency keeping him in dependence on the Lord.
Here he lays down the general principle. “We have this treasure in earthenware vessels,” and this “that the surpassingness of the power may be God’s, and not of us.” The deposit was none the less precious because laid up in the coarsest ware. The very object is to make evident, by the contrast of man, weak and fragile and suffering, that the power is God’s. On the one hand a revelation of grace and truth which goes down into all depths of evil, and extricates so completely as to put those who were once slaves of Satan into the closest living association by the Spirit with the Christ glorified in heaven; on the other, the vessels of this delivering power exposed not to an occasional assault of the enemy, but kept up by God in the face of constant pressure and excessive trial and extreme weakness, yet with blessing flowing out on every side: hard pressed, but not straitened; at a loss, but not absolutely so; pursued but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
What was it then that the Spirit set before those who thus hold on their way? What gave patience in a path so strange to flesh and blood? “Always bearing about in the body the putting to death of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.” Such was the habitual course of the apostle himself. He went about everywhere as one that realised Christ’s portion in the world, at all times applying death to the body, keeping it down as dead. It is the power of the cross applied to that which otherwise craves present case and enjoyment, in order that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.” For the believer lives of the very same life as the Saviour, in contrast with his old Adam life shared by all the race; and it is the activity of the natural life which hinders the working and manifestation of the life of Jesus. Hence the importance of ever applying by faith the putting to death (
νέκρωσιν) of Jesus, in its moral power, to the body, disallowing its energy by holding it for dead, that the life of Jesus also may be shown out.
And as this is the constant bent of those who are true to the cross practically, so God helps such souls in fact by continuous exposure to sorrow and suffering, difficulty, to danger, and death itself for Jesus’ sake, in order that the blessed end of manifesting the life of Jesus may be the more effectuated. “For we that live are ever being delivered up unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” A far weightier testimony, in such unwearied and unceasing trial, to God’s power with His servant, than enduring a martyr’s death through some sudden outburst of the world’s hatred, however blessed and honourable such a death undoubtedly is.
Verse 12 is the conclusion of this part of the subject, the service of Christ in divine love and self-abnegation which works death to the servant as surely as life to the saints he serves. This was true of the Master in the fullest way; it is verified in those who follow Him in the labour of love, just so far as they are true to Him.
“So that46 death worketh in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, wherefore [also]47 I spoke: we also believe, wherefore also we speak; knowing that he that raised up the Lord48 Jesus shall raise up us also with49 Jesus, and shall present [us] with you. For all things [are] for your sakes, that the grace having multiplied through the greater number might make the thanksgiving abound unto the glory of God.” (Vers. 12-15.)
It is a total misapprehension of the opening words to suppose that the least approach to a withering rebuke lies hid here, as in 1 Corinthians 4:8-14. Calvin and others have thought so, but there is no real ground to doubt that the apostle very simply states the present effect of serving Christ when His mind and grace govern in such a world and state as this. It is death to kiln who in the work shares the affections and thoughts of Christ. Continual exposure to trial, habitual experience of grief, ridicule, detraction, opposition, enmity on the one hand; on the other, hopes, fears and disappointments; a never ceasing succession of all that can draw out, and withal distress, the spirit cannot fail to do their work in him who thus serves Christ and the saints for His sake. But in the face of all, in spite of evil, and in virtue of grace, the saints are helped, strengthened, cleared, comforted, and blessed. “Death worketh in us, and life in you.” The apostle habitually toiling and suffering was thoroughly content, and rejoiced in the gain of others: if he was wearing away bodily, those ministered to were being led on in what is imperishable. The service of Christ truly carried out costs all here below, but the blessing is commensurate even now; and what will be the result in glory? Not only was life in Christ given to those that believed, but it was fed, exercised, and developed by ministrations of truth, of which grace was the spring and character and power, in presence of the deepest shame and pain and all calculated to dishearten, yet ever rising above the obstacles and persevering, no matter what the weakness, not only in view of death, but death working already.
But in Christ is the power of resurrection, now to faith, by-and-by in fact, even as the Spirit of Christ gave the Psalmist of old to sing in days of sorrow, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, wherefore I spoke; we also believe, wherefore also we speak.” No trial or suffering, not death itself in view, can stop the believer’s mouth: he confides in God, and can speak out and well of Him.
New Testament accomplishment also exceeds Old Testament promise, for we can read all in the light of Christ dead and risen. Such is our conscious knowledge, before we too are raised and glorified. And thus we are to be on a common principle with Jesus, in contrast with the wicked who refuse to believe on Him, and are only raised by divine power for judgment. It is not so with the righteous or saints, who live of His life, and have the Spirit of God dwelling in them since redemption. They look to be changed at His coming, to enjoy His glory and love in perfection of their state, as now they do in His person. The resurrection of those who fall asleep meanwhile is from among the dead as His was. His resurrection declares that there is no judgment for the believer, as surely as it proclaims its certainty for the world, as the apostle teaches in Romans 4:25, and Acts 17:31. But it is a mistake to use Ephesians 2:6, or Colossians 2, 3:1, to illustrate the critical reading
σύν “with” against the more common
διά “by” or “through.” For these epistles, pre-eminently treating of our association with Christ, insist that we are already dead and risen with Christ, whilst our text speaks solely of the future. Perhaps the nearest to it is 1 Thessalonians 5:10, where it is taught that our Lord Jesus Christ died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Mm. It is in the one living the life of glory, as in the other raising us in order to it.
And it is added that He “will present us with you.” All efforts of Meyer and others now, as of some in former times, to lower the meaning to extrication from dangers or difficulties, are vain. Here it is the presentation of all together in glory, whether the servants or those served in grace, all being raised on a common principle with their Master who is their life after dying for them. What are present trials in comparison of such a prospect! How blessed that as nothing shall be able to separate the saints from the love of God which is in Christ, so God will have together in glory those who on earth were exposed to all kinds of divisive and destructive influence!
“For all things [are] for your sakes, that the grace having multiplied through the greater number might make the thanksgiving abound unto the glory of God.” (Ver. 15.) What an answer in the apostle to the affections of Christ! And certainly it was not in word or feeling only, but in deeds and sufferings which proved its reality and depth. It was endurance with joyfulness in a love like its source for the saints of God. And he looked for fruit accordingly, that if it fell to such as himself to suffer in the service of the many, the grace which so wrought might be the more diffused and cause thanksgiving to go up from all that reaped the blessing to the glory of God.
There are thus, along with the consciousness of utter weakness and exposure, spiritual forces of the most powerful kind, which sustain in the face of all trial and suffering the faith of what God has already wrought in Christ risen; the hope of what He will do for us who believe on Him; and the love which bears all for the blessing of those so precious to both the Father and the Son.
“Wherefore we fail not; but even if our outer man is consuming, yet the inner is being renewed day by day. For the momentary lightness of our affliction worketh out for us in surpassing measure an eternal weight of glory: while we have the eye not on the things that are seen, but on those not seen, for the things seen [are] temporary, but those not seen, eternal.” (Vers. 16-18.)
On such divine ground the apostle repudiates all thoughts of succumbing, and declares for moving on undauntedly. Enjoyment, ease, honour, are out of the question as a present thing; nay, pain, tribulation, detraction, contempt, opposition, all that can wear away the outer man are sure as the path of Christ is trodden. But in all these things is the life of the Spirit. Grace turns to our account by Christ, and this, even now, the things which seem most contrary to man’s life in this world. Be it that it perishes, yet the inner man is renewed day by day. (Ver. 16.) It is not that the saint becomes more meet for partaking of the inheritance of the saints in light, for this rests on Christ and His redemption; but there is growth spiritually, a new nature and sure judgment of things around us, there is less value for what once attracted, and a more undivided deepening joy in the Lord and His objects here as well as in heavenly things. The babe becomes not a young man only, but a father. (1 John 2) Christ is more unwaveringly the attraction and the standard of thought, feeling, conduct, everything; while flesh and world not only sink, but are judged unsparingly, as one passes through all that would otherwise disappoint and torture, now regarded with calm and even thanksgiving.
This is so true that the apostle does not hesitate to designate so withering and pitiless a storm of trial, ever repeating itself in fresh blows and continual grief, as “the momentary lightness of our affliction.” Yet who ever beheld, yea conceived, such suffering, save in the One with whom none can compare? And His grace it is that so works, and strengthens thus to reckon. Lightness of affliction! in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in death often. But why recite what no reader of feeling can have forgotten? Momentary! in him who scarce knew cessation of unexampled perils, inflictions, and labours. Yet was he full of good cheer. “For the momentary lightness of our affliction worketh out for us in surpassing measure an eternal weight of glory.” (Ver. 17.) To this he looked onward, reaping withal no small return of blessing even now, and thus binding together what was spiritual along the way with the end in the presence of the Lord by-and-by, in words which labour for adequate expression of the truth.
We must not lay unfounded stress on the “while” which introduces the last verse in our tongue. It is not here the expression of time emphatically, as if the blessing were only going on during the soul’s regard of the things set before our faith, however important it may be that our regard should go on unbrokenly. The apostle says no more than that such is the due object for our contemplation, our heed paid not to the things that are seen, but to those that are not seen; with the explanation or reason assigned, “for the things that are seen [are] temporary, but those that are not seen [are] eternal.” (Ver. 18.) Who does not own, save the basest of sceptics, that deliverance from the present and fleeting is true power? Who feels as he ought the simplicity with which Christ, as now revealed to us, and revealing the unseen and eternal things, makes good this mighty work in those who believe? How ought not the Christian to appreciate the gospel of His glory?
Ἰ., B M P, etc.
Ἰ Χ., as in Text. Rec., A D B G K L, the mass of cursives, and most ancient versions, etc.
2 Text. Rec. on very slight authority omits
3 Verse 6 is in a varied order in the MSS and edd. Text. Rec. puts
καὶ ἡ ἐλπὶς β. ὑπ. ὑμ. at the end, and
τῆς ἐν κ. τ. λ. after
σωτηρίας, which seems an unauthorised conjecture. Tisch. follows A C M, etc., in reading
εἴτε δὲ θλ., ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑπῶν π. κ. σ.· εἴτε π., ὑπὲρτ. ἡμ. π. (omitting
τῆσ ἐνεργ. I follow B D F K L, etc., except that B. omits the first
περί A C D E F G P many cursives, etc.,
ὑπέρ, Text. Rec. with B and most uncials and cursives.
ἡμῖν Text. Rec. with most MSS, but the oldest and best authorities do not read “to us.”
ῥύσεται B C P, etc., with some of the best versions,
ῥύεται, Text. Rec. and most others, save A D, etc., which omit either.
7 The Elz. ed. of 1633 without sense inserts
εὐχ. The MSS and even edd. strangely interchange and
ἁπλότητι is the reading of Text. Rec. with the mass,
ἁγιότητι of the oldest.
9 Text. Rec. with most omits
10 I see no reason to doubt that not “answer” but “sentence,” as Hesychius says, is the true meaning.
χαράν the reading of B L etc., is not entitled to shake the common
χάριν. There is more question between the received
σχῆτε, which last is supported by B C etc.
12 For the vulgar
βουλευόμενος, the best MSS, etc., give
ἐγένετο Text. Rec. with later witnesses, but the earlier show
καὶ ἐν αὐτῳ Text. Rec. with some later authorities, but
διὸ καὶ δἰ αὐτοῦ A B C F, etc.
καὶ ἐν αὐτῳ Text. Rec. with some later authorities, but
διὸ καὶ δἰ αὐτοῦ A B C F, etc.
16 So A D B F G K L O P, most cursives, and Text. Rec. C, etc.,
ὑμᾶς σὺν ἡμῖν, B and another the absurdity of
ὑμᾶς σὺν ὑμῖν.
17 So corr. B Ccorr. D E L O, etc., Text. Rec.; F G, etc.,
καὶ ὁ, but p.m. A Cp.m. K P, etc., omit the article.
18 The true order is
πάλιν ἐν λύπῃ πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐλθεῖν with the best and most MSS.
19 There is no
ὑμῖν ιν p.m. A, B, Cp.m. O, P, etc.
ἐκ twice ( A B C, etc.), with the genitive.
εἰ as A K L P, etc., which follows)
μή B C D E F G etc. The Auth. V. here rejects Er. Compl. St. Be. for the reading of Colinaeus and the Vulg.
23 The second
συστατικῶν added in Text. Rec. following most MSS is rejected by the best witnesses.
24 , half a dozen cursives, and versions too, exhibit the strange blunder of
ἡμ. “in your hearts.”
καρδίαις “hearts” in apposition with pl., “tablets,” is read by high authority ( AB C D E G L P, five and twenty cursives, etc.); the common reading
καρδίας “of the heart,” by F K, most cursives, and almost all ancient versions; etc.
γράμματι (sing.) B D F G, Pesch., Arm.;
γράμμασιν (plur.) in much the more numerous copies, and versions, and all the fathers.
τῃ δ. A C Dp.m. F G, Syrr., etc.; but
ἡ δ. most MSS., versions, etc.
οὐ the best MSS. and versions and Fathers;
οὐδέ Text. Rec. following many cursives. etc.
29 Or, It not being unveiled (that is, revealed) that (or, because) in Christ it is done away.
30 I am aware that the late Dean Alford affirms in his Greek Testament (ii. 645, 5th ed., 1865) that “a mistake has been made with regard to the history in Exodus 34:33-35 which has considerably obscured the understanding of the verse . It is commonly assumed that Moses spoke to the Israelites, having the veil on his face; and this is implied in our version -’Till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.’ But the LXX (and Heb.) gave a different account:
καὶ ἐκειδῃ κατέπαυσεν λαλῶν πρὼς αὐτούς, ἐπέθηκεν ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ κάλυμμα. He spoke to them without the veil, with his face shining and glorified; — when he had done speaking, he placed the veil on his face: and that not because they were afraid to look on him, but as here, that they might not look on the end, or the fading of that transitory glory,” etc. But the mistake is in Dean A. following the Septuagint and at most the letter of the Heb. in verse 33, so as to contradict or neutralise the plain force of the context, and especially verse 35. The meaning ought never to have been questioned, that, while Moses talked to the people without, he covered This face, but removed the veil when he went in to speak with Jehovah. Verse 30 is clear that, because his face shone, the people were afraid to come nigh, and he therefore put on the veil which he took off when he went in before Jehovah till he came out. The Vulgate, like the Sept., sacrifices the sense to the letter; and the two have misled many.
31 Calvin in his comment on this verse indulges in a whimsical conceit, which is the more singular as it is meant for correcting other Greek and Latin writers who were in this nearer the truth than himself. “Locus hic male hactenus versus fuit: putarunt enim tam Graeci quam Romani subaudiendum nomen Israelis, quum de Mose loquatur Paulus. Dixerat velamen esse impositum Iudaeorum cordibus, dum legitur Moses. Continuo addit, Simulatque conversus fuerit ad Dominum, velamen ablatum iri. Quis non videt de Mose hoc dici, hoc est, de Lege?” (I. Calv. Nov. Opera Omnia, vii. 233, Amst. 1667.) It is quite true that the Jews in shutting out Christ lost the truth of scripture, its aim and scope; but the heart of Israel is the true subject, and not Moses as representing the law.
32 It is not denied that the Spirit is Lord, which seems to me conveyed in verse 18. Still this, if put in the form of a proposition. would be expressed by
τὸ πνεῦμα κύριός ἐστιν, and not in the reciprocal form which would exclude the Father and the Son from the same title. The fathers, therefore, who regarded this clause as an assertion of the Holy Ghost’s divinity, were as wrong grammatically as exegetically. Neither words nor context can admit of this interpretation. The late Dr. Hodge amazes one, on the other hand by saying that Christ is the Holy Spirit, in the same sense as the Lord says, “I and the Father are one.” There is not the least reason that the Spirit should mean the same thing in both clauses, especially as the phrase differs (“Spirit of the Lord”), which we have already traced in the burning, yet weighty, words of the apostle.
ἐκεῖ in Text. Rec. is supported by many MSS., but not A B C D, etc.
κατοπτριζόμενοι means neither “reflecting,” nor “seeing in a mirror.” though this last be etymologically the source, but “beholding,” without reference to the mirror, as in so many words which thus cast their primitive shell.
35 The more ancient MSS. read (some
ἐνκ.) ἐγκακοῦμεν, the great mass (some old)
ἐκκ., and the critics, as well as lexicographers. fancy a difference of reading and word, where there seems but variety in spelling. Thus Dean Alford takes
ἐνκ. as not “shrinking back,” quailing, or acting cowardly; while he assigns to
ἐκκ. the sense of “fainting.” But he is not consistent, for, though he reads
ἐγκ. in Luke 18:1, he rightly treats it as “fainting.” so also in Galatians 6:9, Ephesians 3:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:14. In Polyb. iv. 19, 10 it is properly the same (not
ἐνεκάκησαν), the Lacedemonians failed to send, not that they behaved badly, etc. They were faint-hearted about it. Liddell and Scott, as well as Rost and Palm, should revise the words, or rather word. I see Bishop Ellicott had been before me in coming to a judgment which I had formed independently.
αὐτοῖς. “unto them,” is not an omission as Dr. Bloomfield says, but rather an addition of the more recent copies followed by the Text. Rec., against the oldest MSS, and versions and fathers.
37 The MSS. fluctuate between
Ἰ. K., supported by the Vatican, some few uncials, and most cursives, versions, etc.;
Ἰ. Χ. K. as the Sinaitic, Alex., Rescript of Paris, and some other good authorities; K
Ἰ. Χ. with some few witnesses; and finally
Ἰ. Χ. or
Ἰ. omitting K.
38 The weight of authority is in favour of
Ἰησοῦν, but the Sinaitic and Paris Rescript, etc., read
Ἰησοῦ, as some others have
39 The Vatican, etc., omit
λάμφαι, as in Text. Rec. following most, the oldest read
λάμψει (= God that said, Out of darkness light shall shine).
41 Some MSS. (D F G, etc.) omit
ὅς, as others beside (C D, etc.) for
τοῦ θ. have
αὐτοῦ. Most give
Ἰ. Χ., others
Ἰ., A B, etc.. simply
42 Many authorities give “our.”
43 Some three uncials, etc. add
χριστοῦ “Christ’ as Text. Rec. with two uncials and most cursives prefix
κυρίου “the Lord,” but the best support the text followed here.
44 etc., read
χριστοῦ “Christ” instead of “Jesus;” others give both.
μέν is not read by the best authorities.
καί “also” F G, etc.
48 B, etc. omit
Ἰ. p.m. B C D E F G P, a few uncials with most cursives, etc.