‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the ex-cellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, ‘which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:6-18).
The verse with which we began our reading links very clearly with the first chapter of the book of Genesis. You remember we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Some people imagine that we who are generally dubbed “fundamentalists” believe that that took place at about 10 o’clock in the morning in the year 4004 B.C. We do not believe anything of the kind. I have never yet met a fundamentalist who had any such crude conception of the time of creation. What we do believe is that whenever creation took place, no matter how many millions or billions of years back, it was God who brought everything into existence—“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” We do not know the exact condition of the earth at that time, except that we are told in Isaiah 45:18 that “He created it not ‘in vain’ (or void), He formed it to be inhabited.” The earth, as God originally created it, was absolutely perfect, but the second verse of Genesis tells us that “the earth became without form, and void.” Something happened to that first creation; there was a fall, some great catastrophe happened, and so we have the condition depicted in that second verse. Therefore God began to work again in order to fit up this earth that it might be the stage upon which would be played the wondrous drama of redemption.
We are told that, “The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Notice two things: the Spirit of God brooded—God spake. “The entrance of Thy words giveth light” (Ps. 119:130). We think of man as in very much the same condition as at that fall. “God hath made man upright” (Eccl. 7:29), but he fell and lost the robe of glory. We say, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the first invention was that of the fig-leaf apron. Realizing his nakedness Adam made for himself an apron of fig-leaves. Through sin man fell into this chaotic condition, but God was going to work in order to lift him out of it. Man is in darkness, he is lost and wretched, and in redeeming him two great things are involved: first, the brooding of the Holy Spirit over the soul of man, for no man has ever been saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The second thing is the message of the gospel. “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” And here we read, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And so we to whom that light has come, we who have believed the gospel message, have been brought out of nature’s darkness into this marvelous light of God, through the gospel.
The apostle now shows that we are intrusted with this message, to carry it to poor, lost men and women. We ourselves are just feeble, sinful creatures, not perfect by any means, but having a perfect Saviour to proclaim and perfect salvation to preach. And so he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels (he means our bodies), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” I think you can see that the reference here is to the battle in the days of Gideon when his little army of three hundred surrounded the great camp of the Midianites. To every one of those soldiers had been intrusted an earthen vessel, and in that vessel was a light, a lamp of some kind. Gideon told the soldiers to surround the camp and to do whatever he did, and so at a given time he cried, “The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon,” and he broke the earthen vessel and the light shone out. The moment he did that, all the others did the same thing, and the Midianites sprang to their feet and thought there must be a tremendous army surrounding them. They felt there was no hope, and in their distress in the darkness they began to kill each other, and so Gideon’s army was victorious. It was a great victory won in a peculiar way. That is what every Christian is, an earthen vessel with a light in it. To you and to me there has been committed the glorious light of the gospel. We were once in darkness but are now in the light of the Lord. In order for a light to shine out of a vessel it has to be broken. Do you know why some people who know the gospel intellectually never win a soul to Christ? It is because the earthen vessel has never been broken, they have never been humbled and cast down in the presence of God. One may know all about the way of life and yet never communicate light to others, because that one has never been broken in the presence of God. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” The vessel has nothing to boast of; it is the light that accomplishes everything.
The apostle is thinking particularly of himself and his fellow-workmen when he says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed.” We to whom has been committed the glorious ministry of the gospel, realize that we are to expect trouble. “We are perplexed,” often we hardly know which way to turn. But we are not in despair because we are assured that our blessed Master understands, and we are waiting word from Him. “Persecuted, but not forsaken.”
“Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Saviour too,
Human hearts and looks deceive me,
Thou art not like them untrue.”
“In the world,” says the Lord Jesus, “ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our risen, glorified, triumphant Saviour backs up every one of His persecuted, suffering people. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” That simply means that we who are Christians are daily delivered over to death; that is, the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being made manifest in our daily lives. The Lord Jesus says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). If you had been living in the days when the Lord uttered those words, and you had seen a company of soldiers coming down the road, and a man in the midst bearing a cross on his shoulders, you would have said, “That man is going out to death.” Very well, “That is the place I want you to take for Me,” our Lord is saying. “He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39). Take that place for Me, take the cross and follow Me. No matter what comes you are simply to be yielded, even to death, in order to glorify Me. That is what we glory in. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” Elsewhere the apostle says, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). I wonder if any servant of Christ has ever suffered and endured more than the apostle Paul. But he gloried in it all because as he suffered for Jesus’ sake, the life of Jesus was being made manifest in his mortal body. Men could look at him and say, That is the way Christ would have us live. And so you and I are called upon to manifest the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“We which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” He is speaking, you see, as a servant of Christ who had been broken in order that the light might shine, in order to illuminate the darkened hearts of those Corinthians. We have been given up to tribulation, trial, and persecution that the light may shine through us to a lost world. That was so with the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24), and the same principle applies in regard to His servants. If you want to be of use to the Lord Jesus Christ, you must be prepared to take the place of death.
It was Arthur T. Pierson, I believe, who when visiting George Mueller asked him, “Mr. Mueller, would you be willing to tell me the secret of your great work and the wonderful things that God has done through you?”
Mr. Mueller looked up for a moment, and then bowed his head lower and lower until it was down between his knees, and he was silent a moment or two, and then said, “Many years ago there came a day in my life when George Mueller died. As a young man I had a great many ambitions, but there came a day when I died to all these things, and I said, ‘Henceforth, Lord Jesus, not my will but Thine,’ and from that day God began to work in and through me.”
General Booth expressed it in a different way. J. Wilbur Chapman said to him, “Will you tell me the secret of the great work that you have accomplished?”
He said, in his straightforward way, as he looked right into the face of Doctor Chapman with that eagle eye of his, “Dr. Chapman, when I was a lad of seventeen, I determined that God should have all there was of William Booth.”
That is it! When I come to the place where I am through with my own ambitions, when I can say, “None of self, but all of Thee,” I understand what Paul means when he talks about “Bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.”
“So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” No man can live the life that Paul speaks of unless he has by faith seen the Lord Jesus Christ, the risen One up yonder. Who would want to identify himself with a dead Christ? But Christ has been raised again, and believing we speak of the mighty triumph of faith.
“Knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Notice the many striking contrasts in these verses. First observe the contrast between perishing and being renewed. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” The outward man perisheth. How well we know that! What is the outward man? It is the physical man, the body, and many of us realize that the outward man is perishing. There is not the elasticity in the step that there used to be, there is not the physical vigor that there once was. We tire a great deal more easily than we did some years ago. We do not remember things as well as we once did. And some of us have noticed a very strange thing about memory. We can recall very vividly things that happened away back in our early years; we remember the little incidents of childhood days, we remember the people who were kind to us in those days, and some of us have never gotten over the remembrance of those who were very unkind to us. We remember very vividly the experiences of our early school-days and many of our early spiritual experiences, the time when God spoke to our young hearts, the exercises we went through, and then the moment of decision when we accepted Christ. These things we remember very well, but have a great deal of difficulty remembering what happened yesterday. We even go home from a meeting and some one says, “Was it a good sermon?”
And we say, “I think it was; yes, reasonably so.”
“Well, what was the text?”
“Well, I declare, I forget,” and we cannot call it back. Memory plays all kinds of queer tricks on us. Yes, the outward man is perishing, but “the inward man is renewed day by day.”
The inward man is the spirit, the soul, the real man, regenerated by the power of the Holy Ghost. The body gets weaker and weaker, but the inward man gets stronger and stronger. The nearer we get to heaven, the more real the precious things of the Lord become to us. I think Bunyan’s picture is a very lovely one. He saw the aged saints lying on the shores of the river of life in the land of Beulah, and they could get glimpses every now and then of the glory of the celestial city. At times they could actually see the shining ones from the other side, and at others they thought they could even hear the voices of the saints and their songs of praise. I think the aged know much of that. God’s saints who have lived for Him through the years, and now have gotten very close to the end of this life, already seem to get the sounds and sights from the celestial city yonder to which they are going; and be assured that these things will become more and more real to you the closer you get to the end. “At eventide, it shall be light.”
“Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Here again we see a vivid contrast; first, the contrast between affliction and glory. You have known much of affliction as you have gone along the way. You have not lived your life without knowing a great many trials and afflictions; you have not failed to know suffering and bereavement and disappointment. There are times when the tears will flow. But now God puts in contrast to the affliction which you have known down here the glory that is coming by-and-by, and if the affliction has oppressed your heart, how the glory will overwhelm you when you are at Home with Christ.
He speaks of the affliction as “light affliction,” but of the glory as a “weight” of glory. You have sometimes felt as though your affliction was very heavy, but it has no real weight at all in comparison with the glory that is coming. Therefore, if the affliction seems to have been very heavy when God calls it light, you can get some idea of the glory that awaits us. He says, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” It does not seem as though it has been just “for a moment.” I was talking to a dear saint who for over twenty years had been sitting in a wheelchair, and I said, “It is good to know that the Lord is coming, and then all this trouble will be over.”
“Oh, yes,” she said; “but it is so long, it has lasted so long. I wonder when it ever will come to an end.”
It seemed a long time, yet he says it is but for a moment. Suppose that one had spent his whole lifetime in this world in affliction and had lived to be seventy, eighty, or ninety years of age; after all, what is that compared with eternity? “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Ps. 90: 9). Our years pass as “a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). “Our light affliction is but for a moment.”
But notice what awaits us on the other side. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” How strongly he puts that! It gives some conception of what is coming, what it will be by-and-by, when earth’s trials are past and we are at last in the glory with the Lord Jesus.
In the meantime, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” We are not to be occupied with present things that we see, but we should seek to be occupied with the things that are not seen, for they are, after all, the real things, the eternal things. The things that no human eye has seen are the things that are lasting. When everything that the eye looks upon will have vanished, we shall have Christ, we shall have Heaven, we shall have the Holy Spirit, we shall have the love of the Father, we shall have communion with the people of God for all eternity, when earth’s vain shadows have passed away.