2 Corinthians 12
We have had the apostle glorying in what had no glory in men’s eyes. Now he turns abruptly, from being let down in a basket to escape a Gentile governor, to being caught up to heaven for a vision of the Lord in paradise.
“I must needs boast, though not profitable; but I will come124 unto visions and revelations or [the] Lord. I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago (whether in [the] body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not: God knoweth), such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in [the] body or without125 [or apart from] the body, I know not: God knoweth), how that he was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words which [it is] not lawful for a man to utter. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on mine own behalf I will not boast save in [my] weaknesses. For if I should desire to boast, I shall not be foolish, for I shall speak truth; but I forbear, lest any should account as to me above that which he seeth me or heareth126 of me.” (Vers. 1-6.)
The text is, from the conflict of readings, rather precarious. But the truth conveyed runs like a ploughshare through all fleshly thought and feeling. Certainly in the boast of the apostle is not one thing palatable to nature, or exalting to himself or of profit humanly. Grace alone characterises visions and revelations of the Lord, and to these he would come. Yet even though boast one must in the Lord, room for vain glory is excluded. “I know a man in Christ:” not “I knew,” as the Authorised Version so strangely misunderstands. Still even in the form which the apostle employs to convey the former, personal boasting is sedulously avoided, so much so that even our translators appear to have conceived that he was speaking not of himself but of some other man.
How blessedly Christ meets self in its need and guilt and ruin in order to deliver from its power, not only by the judgment of the first man, but by identification with the Second! It is good to be indebted to another’s grace: what is to be thus lost, if one may so say, in the blessedness of Christ? Undoubtedly Paul had the marvellous experience he so vividly alludes to; but he puts it in a way meant to convey to any “man in Christ” that it is his privilege substantially, as it was his own in fact miraculously. In 2 Corinthians 5 we were told that, if any man is in Christ, it is a new creation: the old things passed, all things made new, and all of the God who reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. Here it is one caught up to the third heaven and in paradise hearing what it is not possible or permissible for man to tell unspeakable words. The sphere he was introduced into, though the communications were beyond what could be conveyed now; but it was of great moment to have the certainty of all. And he whose province it was to make known the counsels of God as to Christ and His own for heaven was thus allowed to hear, that all in Christ should know their portion by such a chosen witness.
The entire allusion is as peculiar as wise and suited. “I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago.” Faith does not boast of visions and revelations of the Lord, any more than of its doings: of trials and sufferings one may speak if compelled, and so too of that which appertains to every man in Christ, though one alone got the vision. So David said not a word about the lion and the bear which he was enabled to kill while engaged in his lowly task, till it was needful to allay the fears of others to God’s glory; and the apostle only spoke many years after a wondrous experience which others less spiritual would have talked of everywhere for as many years or more. What would not the Corinthians or their misleaders have made of it?
Prophets of old have known what it is to look on scenes outside man’s experience. So Isaiah, the year in which king Uzziah died, beheld the Lord on His throne with the Seraphim in attendance on His glory, that he might fittingly to the people bear witness of their evil but of the virgin — born Jehovah-Messiah who should establish the kingdom and deliver the people from their sins to God’s glory. Ezekiel too was lifted up between earth and heaven and transported to Jerusalem in the visions of God and the temple (Ezek. 8 - 11), as afterwards to Chaldea (ver. 24), and finally to the land of Israel (Ezek. 40 - 48) for the future temple and city and division of the land. Nor is it only in the great Apocalyptic prophecy of the New Testament that we trace the analogy of these ways of the Spirit, but we see His power in catching away Philip bodily to Azotus or Ashdod, from the neighbourhood, one of the roads leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. As for the apostle, he says “(whether [in the] body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not: God knoweth), such an one caught up to the third heaven.” It was not dubious, but transcendent, knowledge; and God who gave it hid from the apostle whether it was in spirit only or in bodily presence also. Certainly, if caught up like Philip, there was left such a sense of the glory as was too deep and bright for human words or for present circumstances. Body there or not, he was not hindered from feeling the glory to be beyond the measure of man. There the glorified will be to enjoy all with Christ at His coming, in bodies like His own; and there the disembodied saint goes to be with Him; there too Paul as a man in Christ, but Paul actually as apostle and prophet that we might learn now, was taken up. “And I know such a man (whether in [the] body or apart from the body, I know not: God knoweth), how that he was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words which [it is] not lawful for a man to utter.” In the mysteries of the old heathen there were “unspeakable words,” but they were strange forms of language to alarm and overawe the mind. Here the things forbade communication as rising completely in their nature above all that surrounds or is natural to us.
But the apostle does boast, not exactly “of” nor “in” but” on behalf of such a one.” God did not deal thus with His servant for no reason but worthily for Himself: and Paul was led by the Spirit in speaking of it fourteen years after the fact to meet the exigencies of the testimony of Christ. It was grace to give the privilege; it was grace not to boast of it for himself meanwhile; it was grace to write of it now, and to write it in the inspired word for all saints in all time. “On behalf of such an one I will boast, but on mine own behalf I will not boast save in my weaknesses.” These we have had in the preceding chapter; they were the suffering of love for Christ’s sake in a weak body with all men and things opposed, which Satan was ever skilfully arraying against him. How beautiful are the feet of such heralds of good things! Yet philosophy and religion saw only what was despicable, as in the Master, so in the servant. Do we know what it is to live beyond the depreciation of our fellows? Let us look to it, however, that it be truly for Christ and His glory in those that are His. Nothing is more opposed to Christ, yet nothing more common among Christians than a pretentious self-asserting spirit, which will boast of the distinctive possession of the truth which we know, even though it most condemn us. God looks for reality in a world of shadows and untruth; He looks for the possession and reflection of His revealed light and truth where darkness reigns; He looks for divine love where only self is found, though in subtle forms; He looks for the faith which reckons on Him according to His word in the face of all difficulties and dangers. Assuredly the apostle thus lived and laboured: as it is for our profit to see in these two epistles how misunderstood is such a path even among saints, who are apt to welcome a high and self-exalting spirit, even though it indulge in sufficiently contumelious ways towards themselves. So the Israelites, who would have a king like the nations, received one after their own heart, who served himself, instead of ruling them in the fear of the Lord,
“For if I should desire to boast, I shall not be foolish, for I shall speak truth; but I forbear, lost any should account of me above that which he seeth me or beareth of me.” The servant was jealous of his Master’s glory, and hence his reticence as to much which would have interested us in the highest degree. “To me,” he could say as none other since nor then nor before “To me to live is Christ;” and he was as vigilant as to this in public ministry as in private walk. “On behalf of a man in Christ” he had much to say, as he does say it elsewhere; and so he boasts here, for here all is of grace. “Who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive, why dost thou glory as if thou didst not receive?” But even here, though speaking truth only, he forbears lest any should account of him beyond what he sees or hears of him. Such is the effect of a life spent in the faith of Christ and His love.
We have seen the spiritual power and tact with which the apostle handles his glorying, how he blends “the man in Christ” with that which was peculiar to himself, so as to out of all self or fleshly boasting, and yet to afford every saint intelligent of his privileges the same conscious privilege substantially as he had himself received miraculously. Now he turns to that counterpoise which the wisdom of the Lord had bound up with his own experience in order to hinder the misuse of it; for flesh was as bad in the apostle as in any other, and it needed His dealing no less than in the Corinthians, though differently as to form.
“And that I should not be uplifted by the exceeding greatness of the revelations,127 there was given to me a thorn [or stake] for the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I might not be uplifted overmuch.128 For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me; and he hath said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for [my]129 power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest on me Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits for Christ; for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (Vers. 7-10.)
Here at least is no ambiguity, no studied mysteriousness of mention. Paul boasts of nothing here below but in his weaknesses, and indeed specifies one especial trial, or thorn if not “stake” for the flesh, sent to make nothing of him in the eyes of others, rendering him contemptible, it would seem from elsewhere in his preaching. With this goes an extraordinary irregularity in the very expression which it is easier to paraphrase than to translate with any smoothness, if we adopt with some
διό “wherefore” after “revelations” and before “that.”
This the Revisers deal with ingeniously: “And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations — wherefore, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given,” etc. Otherwise, accepting the word, Lachmann was driven to make verse 6 a parenthesis, and to connect the first clause of verse 7 with the end of verse 5; and then the new sentence began with
διὸ ἵνα μὴ κ.τ.λ. which of course, if all allowed, yields a simple sense. In the text of Tregelles the insertion is beyond measure harsh. Alford brackets the word, and very oddly the last clause also, though repeatedly affirming its propriety for emphasis or solemnity; Tischendorf rejects it.
It will be observed that in the early part of the chapter the allusion is to what was communion with God’s presence, not matter for communication to His children; and in that communion the body had no part. What he saw and heard was so outside its sphere that he knows not whether he were in the body or out of it. A man in Christ thus favoured he knows, but whether in the body or apart from the body he knows not. Could anything make him feel more distinctly that all the power to enjoy is in God?
Yet flesh even in a saint might work in consequence and whisper that none before had over been so caught up to the third heaven. Hence, lest by the excess of the revelations he should be uplifted, there was given him what was alike painful and humbling. What the thorn in the flesh was in Paul’s case is purposely left undetermined, even if one may gather more or less its nature; but its moral aim, its intended effect, cannot be doubted. Nor is the measure of reticence without a wise motive, for it is a general principle of divine dealing with a form suited to each person so dealt with. If we hear of a messenger of Satan on one side, we hear of something given on the other. If the enemy take pleasure in the pain of God’s servant or child, He assuredly works even by that which so distresses the flesh for the deeper blessing of the soul.
Lessons previously not learnt at all or imperfectly are now taught. “For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me; and he hath said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for [my] power is perfected in weakness.” (Vers. 8, 9.) How it reminds us of what was still more wonderful, yea of absolute perfection, in that very Lord Himself when He prayed thrice that, if the Father would, the cup might pass from Him. Here it could not, ought not, to have been otherwise; for how could He who knew His love as the Son but deprecate unsparing judgment because of sin? The Lord, in that infinite suffering according to God’s will and in doing it, was alone necessarily: but in the case before us we have as a principle what pertains to us and must be our position by grace, if indeed we are to be kept from the more humbling lesson of what the flesh is by a positive fall like Peter’s. There are exceeding precious privileges given to the Christian. And it is not in the soul’s entrance into or enjoyment of them that the danger lies, but in our natural reflection on their possession afterwards. Hence God knows how to use in grace what Satan means for hurt as in Job’s case. Only here it is far deeper and more triumphant, as it ought to be now that Christ is come and redemption accomplished. It is not only dependence on God exercised and maintained, nor is it mere resignation to inevitable trial, but the sufficiency of grace practically proved, and Christ’s power perfected in weakness.
Thus he who felt as soberly and profoundly as any man ever did can say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weakness, that the power of Christ may spread its tabernacle over me.” This is incalculably more than vanquishing mighty foes by faith and patience. It is taking pleasure in what is most trying and overwhelming to nature that Christ’s strength may be manifested. Where flesh might rise, it is put down. In such dealing with us is the life of the Spirit; but Christ makes the bitter sweet, and His power can make its dwelling in us when we acquiesce in our nothingness and rejoice in it if it be but to His praise and glory. Practically there is nothing so profitable for the soul; and the apostle was ministering in the most effectual way while thus drawing forth from his own deep experience the true glorying of the saint as he knew it in his life before God and His ways with him day by day. What did they know of it, who were boasting of themselves or their leaders at Corinth and depreciating the true path of Christ to which the apostle clave faithfully? They would willingly have persuaded themselves into the idea that such devotedness and suffering were but the eccentricities of an ill-balanced mind, and a prejudice to the gospel rather than a true and acceptable testimony to Christ. But, bear or forbear, he will tell them and us undauntedly what it is to live Christ. “Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits for Christ; for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Practical Christianity is as truly of faith as deliverance. All is of grace, though the ways differ. In every respect Christ is all. Only in redemption He suffered for us; in the path of faith we suffer with and it may be for Him. And blessed are those who thus suffer now, whether for righteousness’ sake or for His name.
But was not the apostle speaking of himself, of what grace had given him to suffer? Was it not talking of what he calls weaknesses, insults, necessities, persecutions and straits for Christ, but on his own part?
“I am become foolish,130 ye compelled me; for I ought to have been commended by you, for in nothing was I behind those surpassingly apostles if also I am nothing. The signs indeed of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by both signs131 and wonders and powers. For what is there wherein ye were made inferior to the other assemblies, unless that I myself pressed not heavily on you? Forgive me this wrong.” (Vers. 11-13.)
It is not irony, but the genuine and deep feeling of one whose heart burned with a divinely given sense of what Christ is, and of love to the saints, forced to speak of himself by those who should have been prompt rather to have vindicated him and his service in love. It was the more painful, because he is treating, not of sin in man met by the righteousness of God in Christ, but of utter weakness in the Christian displaced by the strength of Christ. Even the saints in Corinth were as to this on ground like the world, the heathen world around them. They gloried in. intellect, in learning, in eloquence — briefly in man. They had never applied the cross of Christ practically to judge it, save so far as grace may have begun the work by the first epistle; and we need His glory on high, as this second epistle shows, to deal with fleshly pretensions thoroughly. (Cf. 2 Cor. 4, 2 Cor. 5) The weakness which some detractors laid to his reproach he was so far from denying that he himself insisted on it as the condition of the display of Christ’s power.
It was real and culpable ignorance therefore to contrast him with those surpassingly apostles in this respect. Rather was it true that in nothing was he behind them, though as he says he was nothing, and quite content to be so. What his heart yearned for was Christ’s glory, Christ’s strength, not his own. As later in Philippians 3 his desire was to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own, that which is of the law, ‘but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; so here he would not be strong in himself if he could, but weak that he might be strong through Christ. He would glory of a man in Christ, but in himself of nothing but his infirmities.
Natural power indeed is as offensive in the service of Christ as is one’s own righteousness in justification: the latter denies Christ for us, the former denies Christ in us, or rather His power resting on us in our own felt weakness, yea, nothingness. Nothing can be more opposed to the feeling and the reasoning of flesh and blood. Human nature dislikes what is humiliating and painful; it loves ease or honour. To go on in difficulties, dependent on nothing but the Lord, is most trying, not delivered but enduring, that He may be glorified and we may prove the sufficiency of His grace. Such is the true pathway of power, and Paul trod it as none other since, in whom the first man is apt to be strong, the confusion or perplexities of others being only the greater where the Second man seems also strong, and the consequence serious for those who accept the activity of the two Adams as the right and desirable thing, to be admired in the Christian and the service of Christ. How different was his experience who took pleasure in all that made him for Christ’s sake despised before others, and crushed in himself — when weak then strong!
Yet had he far rather have not said a word of himself, even when speaking only of this suffering trying path, and absolutely silent as to himself, his family, his acquirements, or his doings. It was the Corinthians who compelled him to speak out for their own profit, even though it took the shape of reproof. Neither was Paul behind the apostles, however exalted any might be; and none the less but the more, though (and because) he was nothing; nor were the Corinthians inferior to the assemblies, save in Paul being no burden to them. And as he shows that the apostolic signs were wrought among them in all patience by both signs and wonders and powers, so he asks them to forgive him the wrong of never accepting support or favours from that rich assembly. It is calm, dignified, loving but overwhelming, in its exposure and reprimand of their fleshly conceit, as well as of their readiness to take up insinuations against him whom they ought rather to have defended when impugned.
“Behold, this132 third time I am ready to come unto you, and I will not press heavily,133 for I seek not yours but you; for the children ought not to lay up for the parents but the parents for the children. And I most gladly will spend and be spent for your souls, if even134 more abundantly loving135 you I am less loved.” (Vers. 14, 15.)
The servant would still (if now at length he revisited Corinth) cherish the portion of his Master, and give rather than receive: though entitled to live of the gospel and be cared for by the assembly, he would forego his title in the midst of those who might misuse or misunderstand it to Christ’s dishonour. He would be like a parent in unselfish affection to his children. He would fare as He whose love was the more as others hated, however pained to find the saints so like the world. How singularly close was Paul’s “imitation” of Christ!
“But be it so: I did not myself burden you, but crafty as I am I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of any of them whom I sent unto you? I exhorted Titus and sent the brother with [him]: did Titus make any gain of you? Walked they not in the same spirit? [and] not in the same steps?” (Vers. 16-18.)
Here the apostle obviates the cunningly mischievous insinuation of any who might charge him with reaping advantage indirectly through his friends. Such dishonour he repudiates. Guile like that was far from his soul, though the accusers seemed by no means above it if they suspected him; for what will not malice in the heart dare to think and say? They well knew that Titus and his companion walked in their midst with a self-abnegation kindred to his own. No wonder this unwearied witness of Christ’s glory abhorred from the bottom of his heart the sickening compulsion which drew forth such words from his pen; but we should profit by it all no less than those primarily addressed. There are many saints like those in Corinth: where the servant like him who thus pleads for Christ and like Christ?
Nothing can be conceived more untrue than the impressions which the Corinthians had received of the one to whom they were so deeply indebted; and this from the rivalry of men who boasted much, and as usual with little or nothing really to boast. So it was even in these early days, so often halcyon days in superficial estimation, unless indeed for eyes yet more superficial, which, misled by theory only, look for progress in Christendom, degrading the past to exalt the present and speculate on the future. Positive and weighty and even notorious facts were utterly opposed to the misrepresentation of his adversaries; and none ought to have known better than the Corinthians how unfounded was all this detraction. It would be unintelligible if one did not know the natural weakness of the mass to fall under high-sounding words, and the subtle activity of the enemy to take advantage of the flesh in order to ruin the church and make it an instrument to the Lord’s shame, instead of a witness in grace to His glory. Therefore did the apostle stoop to refute this miserable trash. But he was jealous lest this too should be misinterpreted, and he next proceeds to guard even this brief notice of his slanderers.
Ye long ago136 think that we excuse ourselves to you. Before137 God in Christ we speak, but all things, beloved, for your building up. For I fear lest by any means on coming I find you not such as I wish, and I be found by [or for] you such as ye wish not; lest by any means [there be] strife,138 jealousy, wraths, feuds, slanderings, whisperings, swellings, confusions; lest on my coming again my God humble me among [or before] you, and bewail many of those that have sinned heretofore and not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and indecency which they committed.” (Vers. 19-21.)
There need be no question, I think, as to the reading in verse 19. It is not “again” as in the Authorised Version, but “this long time,” which does not suit the interrogative form. If others sought self-justification, not so the apostle, whatever their surmisings. For those who are not occupied with Christ readily conceive of others what fills their own minds. He whom they misjudged turns to the presence of God and in His sight speaks in Christ. His speech was not only in the consciousness of the divine presence, but characterised by Christ, not by the natural man. In His name does not seem the thought, nor yet conformably to His doctrine. He stood consciously over against the highest tribunal, and spoke in Christ accordingly, not in the flesh; as he thus disposed of any self-complacency on their part in judging him, so he disclaims as carefully all thought of self-interest or fear: “but all things, beloved, for your building up.” Love never fails, and it builds up. For this he spoke and toiled and suffered.
And the more because he could not but have the gravest apprehensions of not a few in Corinth, whatever his comforting hopes of the rest. “For I fear, lost by any means on coming I find you not such as I wish, and I be found by you such as ye wish not.” It was the dread of their state and its consequences for themselves and to his own heart which had hindered his going when he had intended; and the delay had exposed him to evil tongues long since. And he still feared that the work of restoring grace meanwhile was not so complete, but that much which was amiss remained feebly if at all judged in many. For rather would he come in love and a spirit of meekness, than with a rod which their condition might demand. If he found any failing not in grace merely but in righteousness, those who were thus putting the Lord to shame must be as unwelcome to His servants, as he must prove to them in vindication of His name. The evils he hints at as still at work are those which he had so unsparingly rebuked in his first epistle; strife and jealousy, outbursts of angry passion and cabals, outspoken slanderings and privy whisperings, manifestations of proud insolence, and open disorders. It is a long list of sad evils; but how soon these might characterise true believers, where there is a party or parties to take up and spread and give effect to the word of leaders!
Some see it hard to reconcile the warm expressions of loving confidence found elsewhere, especially in the central part of the Epistle, with these forebodings. They even venture to conjecture that the latter portion from 2 Corinthians 10 formed another letter written at a different epoch, and under circumstances widely differing from those supposed in the preceding part; or at least that a considerable period elapsed between the writings of the former and the latter parts. But there is really no special difficulty, as the apostle does not here speak of all, but of many; and the attentive reader will not fail to discern, even in the earliest chapters of the first portion, quite enough to prepare him for the solemn anxieties which press on the apostle’s spirit before he closes the Epistle with his parting appeals.
Indeed, it has been pre-eminently remarked of this very chapter with truth that it contains the most striking contrasts among those that bear the name of the Lord. There is, on the one hand, the man in Christ, viewed in an extraordinary measure of enjoying the privileges of a Christian; there is, on the other, the most distressing exhibition of the worst possible state of the saints practically in both violence and corruption; and there is between these extremes the way of the saint, in being made nothing of, that the power of Christ might rest on him. Thus there is really no difficulty for those who accept God’s word in simplicity; and the intellectual activity which musters objections is spiritually as infirm and unintelligent, as it also dishonours the Lord.
Verse 21 seems naturally inconsistent with the notion of a second visit as yet, though it is admitted on all hands that the apostle had intended ere this to have paid it. “Again” goes with coming, not with “humble,” though some prefer giving it to the entire clause. What an expression of love lurks in the apostle’s words! To find saints thus in sin was God humbling him in their presence, not them in his, as it looked as a fact. But he felt as he spoke “in Christ.” It was God humbling him at the evil condition of his saints, and what it rendered necessary. And what does he say as he thinks of the grossest forms of it? “And I bewail many of those who have sinned beforehand, and not repented of the uncleanness, and fornication, and indecency which they committed.” It is not that his hand would fail to wield the rod, but it was surely with a wounded heart which bled because of shameless evil among those who called on the name of the Lord. Doubtless the corruptions were characteristic of heathen Corinth; and old habits soon revive, even in young converts, when the heart turns from Christ to other objects. But what a tale is told of feeble faith? For faith it is that overcomes; and they were overcome with evil, not overcoming it with good. Nature is an important fact for the enemy; but the Holy Spirit lifts above all hindrances, forming, exercising, and strengthening the new life we have in Christ our Lord.
2 Corinthians 13
The apostle reverts to his intention of visiting the Corinthian saints once more, and in such a way as to give a solemn force to the visit when it should be accomplished.
“This third [time] I am coming unto you. At [the] mouth of two witnesses and three shall every word [or, matter] be established. I have foretold and foretell, as if present the second [time] and now absent, to them that have sinned before and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare. Since ye seek a proof of the Christ speaking in me (who toward you is not weak, but is powerful in you, for although he was crucified in weakness, yet he liveth by God’s power; for indeed we are weak in him, but shall live with him by God’s power toward you), try your own selves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves. Or recognise ye not as to your own selves that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed ye be reprobate?” (Vers. 1-5.)
It had been already explained why the second visit had fallen through. It was to spare them he had not come. When he should revisit them, they must not expect such forbearance. His patience had been misconstrued by some, if others had profited. But this third time he was coming; and when he did, everything should be established with due evidence. The previous warnings he had given, to not only those that had sinned heretofore but all the rest, only strengthened his resolve not to spare at his coming again. The, language most naturally conveys that he had not gone to Corinth the time when he had intended his second visit. Hence he says, “I have foretold and foretell, as if present the second time and now absent, to them that have sinned before and to all the rest,” etc. There is no ground apparent to my mind that this was literally a third visit, rather on the contrary the second in fact, though third in purpose.
It helps greatly to the understanding of what follows to see that, whether marked externally or not, there is a parenthesis after the first clause of the third verse which runs through the fourth also; so that the connection of the first clause of verse 3 is really with verse 5. Since ye seek a proof of the Christ speaking in me, . . . . try your own selves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves.” It is a final notice of and answer to their unworthy questioning of Paul’s apostleship. Did they demand a proof of Christ speaking in him? Were not they themselves proof enough? Had He not spoken to their souls in that servant of His who first caused His voice to be heard in Corinth? As surely as they were in the faith, which they did not at all question, he was an apostle — if not to others, assuredly to them. The many Corinthians who, hearing the apostle, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, were the last who ought to gainsay the messenger if they appreciated the message and Him who sent the messenger. If they were reprobate, having confessed Christ in vain, there was no force in the appeal, which derives all its power from their confidence that Christ was in them as the fruit of the apostle’s preaching.
This also shows how baseless is the too common abuse of the passage, as well as of 1 Corinthians 11:28, to sanction a doubting self-examination, as one often hears, not only in the practical history of souls, but in the teaching of doctrinal schools otherwise opposed. Here, say they, we are taught to search ourselves and see that we be not too confident: does not the apostle in the first Epistle to the Corinthians call on each habitually to examine or prove himself before partaking of the Lord’s Supper? and does he not pursue that special call by the general exhortation in the second Epistle to examine or try themselves whether they be in the faith? The truth is that an examination of the context in each case dispels the error as to both — an error which strikes directly at the peace of the believer, if not also the truth of the gospel. For the gospel is sent by God, founded on the personal glory and the work of His Son, to bring the believer into communion with the Father and the Son in full liberty of heart and with a purged conscience. These misinterpretations, under cover of jealousy for holiness, tend immediately to plunge the soul into doubt through questions about itself.
What then do the passages respectively teach? 1 Corinthians 11:28-31, the duty, need, and value of each Christian testing himself by the solemn truth of the Lord’s death expressed and confessed and enjoyed in His supper. How slur over sin of any kind, were it but levity in word or deed, in presence of that death in which it came under God’s judgment unsparingly for our salvation? Nor is it enough to confess our faults to God or man, as the case may require; but as on the one hand we discern the body, the Lord’s body, in that holy feast of which we are made free and which we can never neglect without dishonouring Him who thus died for us, so on the other hand are we called to discern ourselves, scrutinising the inward springs and motives of all, and not merely the wrong which appears to others. But this intimate self-searching, to which we are each called who partake of the Lord’s Supper, is on the express ground of faith, and has no application whatever to an unbeliever. This last doubtless has been mischievously helped on by the error of “damnation” in the Authorised Version of verse 29, which verses 30-32 clearly refute, proving that the judgment in question is the discipline of sickness or death which the Lord wields over careless or faulty saints in positive contrast with the condemnation of the world. As for the passage in our chapter, we have already seen that the argument derives all its force from the certainty that those appealed to were in the faith, not in the least that they were uncertain. That they were in the faith through Paul’s preaching ought to have been an unanswerable proof that Christ spoke through him; if Christ was not in them, they were reprobate; and was it for such to question his apostleship Scripture never calls a soul to doubt, always to believe. But self-judgment is ever a Christian’s duty; and our privileges, we being in ourselves what we are, only deepen the importance, as representing Christ, of dealing with ourselves truly and intimately before God, as well as of reminding our souls habitually of the Lord’s death and of its infinite and solemn import as shown forth in His Supper.
The parenthesis connects the apostle’s ministry, Christ’s speaking in him, with all he had laid down before as its true principle throughout the epistle, as well as in the preceding chapter. Christ certainly had shown Himself toward them not weak, but powerful in them. Let them only bethink themselves of the past, and weigh what His grace and truth had done for them. And if they found fault with the apostle as indifferent to, yea, as despising and abominating, fleshly power and worldly wisdom, let them think again of the Saviour, who “was crucified in [lit. out of] weakness, yet he liveth by [lit. out of] God’s power.” Let them judge then who was consistent with Christ, His cross and His resurrection — they with their natural thoughts; or the apostle with his ministry so despicable in the eyes of some? “For indeed we are weak in him, but shall live with him by God’s power toward you.” Where was dependence in faith of the crucified One? Where real power, as became the witness of resurrection and glory on high? Where unselfish devotedness and practical grace answering to Him who loved the church and gave Himself for it?
Thus did the apostle turn the unworthy demand of some in Corinth as to his apostolate to their own souls’ blessing as well as to the overthrow of their argument. So at the beginning of this epistle he had dealt with their imputation of fickle levity if not of untruthfulness by insisting on the immutable truth of what he preached of Christ, and the power of God in the Holy Ghost’s blessing that confirmed it in the believers. Not less does he here overwhelm those who, in their anxiety to dishonour his commission from Christ, were bringing to nought their own title to Christ. Did they seek evidence of Christ that spoke in Paul, and that was not weak toward them but was mighty in them? Let them try their own selves whether they were in the faith. The apostle was content with no better evidence than his Corinthian converts, unless indeed they were reprobate, which was far from the ground they took or he. He had far rather give them, and that they required, no proof of his apostolic power in severe discipline.
“But I hope ye shall know that we are not reprobate. But we pray139 unto God that ye may do nothing evil, not that we may appear approved, but that ye may do the right though we be as reprobate. For we can do nothing against the truth but for the truth. For140 we rejoice when we are weak and ye are strong: this also we pray for, your perfecting. For this cause I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal severely according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for casting down.”
It is impossible to conceive a more admirable dealing with a state of mind which must have been as grievous as it was humiliating to the apostle. Their high-minded ingratitude and short-sightedness only brought out an answer complete and withering, yet dignified, lowly, and loving. His heart was occupied with their further blessing, more than with his apostolic office, which he asserted for their sakes more than his own. To stand in doubt of him might jeopardise their own faith rather than his apostleship, which was there to he exercised if need were in vindication of the Lord against their evil, as it had already been by grace in their conversion. But he prayed that they might give no such occasion, not that the validity of his claim might appear, but that they might do that which became saints, even though he might lack such proofs or be ever so depreciated. There would then be no occasion for the display of power, as their honourable walk would testify for the truth; and as for the apostle, he could say “we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak and ye are strong.” And he prayed for this too, their perfecting.
It was reserved for the anti-church to claim irrevocable authority along with immunity from error. Where difference exists among the faithful, it is folly to claim a character which attaches only to their agreement in the power of the Spirit. And the apostle disclaims what the Roman pontiff arrogates, that clave errante the decision binds. The inevitable effect, soon or late, will be destruction, not edification. It is not Christ, but human assumption, not to say presumption.
Whether it be an individual’s assumption or an assembly’s, or whether as in one notable theory it be the chief along with that which represents the church as a whole, such a claim is fictitious and destructive of the Lord’s glory. The promise is strictly conditional, not absolute; and never was there an apparent failure save when the condition was broken, and then in very faithfulness the Lord gave not His sanction. To be unconditionally true, there ought also to have been infallibility, which belongs not even to an apostle but to God alone. The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way; and this now in the church by His own guaranteed presence and lending, though nothing seem harder to conceive where the several wills of so many would naturally act diversely. But He is there in the midst to make good His gracious power when truly waited on, with subjection in the Spirit to the written word which casts its divine light on facts and persons; that all without force or fraud may act as one in the fear of God, or those who dissent may he manifested in their self-will, whether they be few or many.
But the taking for granted that a given sentence is irrevocable, because it is the opinion of a majority or even of a whole assembly, in the face of facts which overthrow its truth or righteousness, is not only fanatical (I do not say illogical only) but wicked fighting against God. In such a case, humbling as it is, most humbling for an assembly to judge itself hasty and mistaken in pretending to the mina of the Lord, where it was only the illusive influence of prejudiced leaders or the weakness of the mass who prefer general quiet in floating with the stream at all cost, or both causes or others also, the only course at all pleasing to the Lord is, that the error when known be confessed and renounced as publicly as it was committed, being due to Him and to the church, as well as to the individuals or company, if there he such, more immediately concerned. To keep up appearances in deference to men however respected if mistaken and misleading, to give expression to high-sounding terms or to vague begging the question of truth and right, in order to cloak an evident miscarriage of justice, is unworthy of Christ or of His servants. This was far from the apostle, who, as at the beginning of this epistle he disclaimed lording it over the faith of the saints, at the end proves his sincere desire, even when grievously slighted, to avoid if possible sharp dealing with those who had afforded grave occasion, and to use the authority which the Lord gave him for building up and not for casting down.
“For the rest, brethren, rejoice [or, farewell], be perfected, be encouraged, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit [be] with you all141.”
May our souls be corrected and strengthened and refreshed by so benignant a conclusion! It well befits the epistle of restorative grace. The work of bringing back the saints in Corinth to meet thoughts in the Lord as to themselves and His servants, and the apostle especially, was only begun. Much remained to be done, both in fulfilling obedience and in avenging all disobedience. But the apostle was encouraged of God, and would comfort them on his part. He bids them, not merely farewell, but rejoice; he wishes what was lacking supplied, what was awry adjusted; he desires them to be not discouraged by or in occupation with themselves, but cheered on as they looked at his exhortation to the Lord; he would have them cultivate, not crotchety points of difference, but the same mind; he calls them, not to indulge in questions gendering strife, but to live in peace; and he assures them that the God of love and peace, as one combined blessing in the power of His presence, should be with them. What a spring of consolation for those who in the measure of deepening self-judgment might otherwise have been cast down! Nor was it only of that divine source of blessedness he assures them, but he calls on the expression to one another of mutual and holy love, as he sends it from all the saints in that part of Macedonia whence he wrote.
The benediction that closes all has the same suitability which we see in each epistle, admirably adapted to the state of the Corinthian saints, and of course not only to all others in similar experience but instructive and wholesome for all that believe. Yet for this very reason one feels the unintelligence which turns such pointed words of blessing into a standing invariable form for all sorts of different occasions, as if we were reduced to one ouch mode of dismissal, or that it was of the Spirit of God to select that which might seem the most comprehensive and comforting. As God gives no licence to confusion in the assemblies, so does He not sanction those who walk in pride and passion, in self-will, railing, and contention, however graciously He may act, when they begin to judge themselves. We need, not the word of God only, but His Spirit to apply it aright: else we May unwittingly pervert even that word to real mischief, with cheer where reproof is rather called for, and rebuke where consolation would be more seasonable. But what grace is told out in this inspired servant sending under all the circumstances such a parting message to all the saints in Corinth! “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Poor, weak, unworthy, what can saints lack to help them when this is made good? and what simple soul among the faithful would on such a warrant doubt it? or desire less or different for himself and his brethren? The free and full favour of Him who for us died and rose; the love of that God against whom we had without cause sinned to our utter ruin, yet who sent the Saviour to redeem us; the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, the power and seal of this infinite blessing, who gives us a common and abiding share in it all, yea, with the Father and the Son: what a portion to be with us all, and assured for ever!
κ. δὴ οὐ συμφέρει μοι, ἐλ, γάρ T. R. after K M and most cursives, etc.; the more ancient support
κ. δεῖ, οὐ σον μέν, ἐλ. δέ, D, etc., having
κ. δέ and B 213
ἐλ. δὲ καί.
125 B Dp.m. Ep.m. read
χωρίς, the rest
τι is added by T. B. and Lachmann.
διό A B F G, etc.
128 The last clause is omitted by the best MSS. p.m. A D E F G, etc., Vulg. Aeth., etc.; but it can hardly be doubted that it was done in error to correct a supposed repetition, which was meant for emphasis. This is an instructive fact.
μου is added in T. Rec. with many but not the highest authorities. It is implied.
130 Text. Rec. adds
καυχώμενος on large but inferior authority.
131 Good and numerous authorities support Text. Rec.
ἐν σ., as some read
τε σ., and p.m. * B, etc.,
τοῦτο, omitted in Text. Rec. with three uncials and most cursives, is attested by A B F G, many cursives, and most ancient versions etc.,
ὑμῶν “on you” being added in Text. Rec. with most but not the oldest.
καί is very doubtful, being rejected by p.m. B F G, etc., but given in most other authorities.
ἀγαπῶ instead of the participle in p.m. A and a few other witnesses.
136 Text. Rec. has
πάλιν supported by the later uncials and most cursives, versions, etc.;
πάλαι p.m. A B F G and most of the Latins, Vulgate, etc.
κατέναντι on similar grounds, and rather stronger than the received
138 There is the highest, though not the largest, authority for the singular form, which seems to have been assimilated to the words following.
εὐχόμεθα A B D F G P many cursives and all the ancient versions save the Pesch. Syr. and the Gothic, instead of the sing.
εὐχόμαι of the Text. Rec.
140 Text. Rec. adds
δέ contrary to the best authorities.
141 Text. Rec. adds
ἀμήν with most manuscripts (not the most early) and most ancient versions, etc.