Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 5
1.For we know. Here follows an amplification (επεξεργασια) or embellishment of the foregoing statement. (507) For Paul has it in view, to correct in us impatience, dread, and dislike of the cross, contempt for what is mean, and in fine, pride, and effeminacy; and this can only be accomplished by raising up our minds as high as heaven, through contempt of the world. Now he has recourse to two arguments. On the one hand, he shows the miserable condition of mankind in this life, and on the other hand, the supreme and perfect blessedness, which awaits believers in heaven after death. For what is it that keeps men so firmly bound in a misplaced attachment to this life, but their deceiving themselves with a false imagination — thinking themselves happy in living here? On the other hand, it is not enough to be aware of the miseries of this life, if we have not at the same time in view the felicity and glory of the future life. This is common to good and bad alike — that both are desirous to live. This, also, is common to both — that, when they consider, how many and how great miseries they are here exposed to, (with this difference, however, that unbelievers know of no adversities but those of the body merely, while the pious are more deeply affected (508) by spiritual distresses,) they often groan, often deplore their condition, and desire a remedy for their evils. As, however, all naturally view death with horror, unbelievers never willingly quit this life, except when they throw it off in disgust or despair. Believers, on the other hand, depart willingly, because they have a better hope set before them beyond this world. This is the sum of the argument. Let us now examine the words one by one.
We know, says he. This knowledge does not spring from the human intellect, but takes its rise from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Hence it is peculiar to believers. Even the heathens had some idea of the immortality of the soul, but there was not one of them, that had assurance of it — not one of them could boast that he spoke of a thing that was known to him. (509) Believers alone can affirm this, (510) to whom it has been testified of by the word and Spirit of God.
Besides, it is to be observed, that this knowledge is not merely of a general kind, as though believers were merely in a general way persuaded, that the children of God will be in a better condition after death, and had no assurance as to themselves individually, (511) for of how very little service this would be for affording a consolation, so difficult of attainment! On the contrary, every one must have a knowledge peculiar to himself, for this, and this only, can animate me to meet death with cheerfulness — if I am fully persuaded, that I am departing to a better life.
The body, such as we now have it, he calls a house of tabernacle For as tabernacles (512) are constructed, for a temporary purpose, of slight materials, and without any firm foundation, and then shortly afterwards are thrown down, or fall of their own accord, so the mortal body is given to men as a frail hut, (513) to be inhabited by them for a few days. The same metaphor is made use of, also, by Peter in his Second Epistle, (2 Peter 1:13,) and by Job, (Job 4:19,) when he calls it a house of clay. He places in contrast with this a building of perpetual duration. It is not certain, whether he means by this term a state of blessed immortality, which awaits believers after death, or the incorruptible and glorious body, such as it will be after the resurrection. In whichever of these senses it is taken, it will not be unsuitable; though I prefer to understand it as meaning, that the blessed condition of the soul after death is the commencement of this building, and the glory of the final resurrection is the consummation of it. (514) This exposition will correspond better with the Apostle’s context. The epithets, which he applies to this building, tend to confirm more fully its perpetuity.
3.Since clothed He restricts to believers, what he had stated respecting the certainty of a future life, as it is a thing peculiar to them. For the wicked, too, are stripped of the body, but as they bring nothing within the view of God, but a disgraceful nakedness, they are, consequently, not clothed with a glorious body. Believers, on the other hand, who appear in the view of God, clothed with Christ, and adorned with His image, receive the glorious robe of immortality. For I am inclined to take this view, rather than that of Chrysostom and others, who think that nothing new is here stated, but that Paul simply repeats here, what he had previously said as to putting on an eternal habitation. The Apostle, therefore, makes mention here of a twofold clothing, with which God invests us — the righteousness of Christ, and sanctification of the Spirit in this life; and, after death, immortality and glory. The first is the cause of the second, because
those whom God has determined to glorify, he first justifies. (Romans 8:30.)
This meaning, too, is elicited from the particle also, which is without doubt introduced for the purpose of amplifying — as if Paul had said, that a new robe will be prepared for believers after death, since they have been clothed in this life also.
4.We groan, being burdened, because we desire not to be unclothed. The wicked, too, groan, because they are not contented with their present condition; but afterwards an opposite disposition prevails, that is, a clinging to life, so that they view death with horror, and do not feel the long continuance of this mortal life to be a burden. The groaning of believers, on the other hand, arises from this — that they know, that they are here in a state of exile from their native land, and that they know, that they are here shut up in the body as in a prison. Hence they feel this life to be a burden, because in it they cannot enjoy true and perfect blessedness, because they cannot escape from the bondage of sin otherwise than by death, and hence they aspire to be elsewhere.
As, however, it is natural for all animals to desire existence, how can it be, that believers are willing to cease to exist? The Apostle solves this question, when he says, that believers do not desire death for the sake of losing any thing, but as having regard to a better life. At the same time, the words express more than this. For he admits, that we have naturally an aversion to the quitting of this life, considered in itself, as no one willingly allows himself to be striped of his garments. Afterwards, however, he adds, that the natural horror of death is overcome by confidence; (515) as an individual will, without any reluctance, throw away a coarse, dirty, threadbare, and, in one word, tattered garment, with the view of his being arrayed in an elegant, handsome, new, and durable one.
Farther, he explains the metaphor by saying —
that what is mortal may be destroyed (516) by life. For as flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,
it is necessary, that what is corruptible in our nature should perish, in order that we may be thoroughly renewed, and restored to a state of perfection. On this account, our body is called a prison, in which we are confined.
5.Now he that hath fitted us. This is added in order that we may know, that this disposition is supernatural. For mere natural feeling will not lead us forward to this, for it does not comprehend that hundredfold recompense which springs from the dying of a single grain. (John 12:24.) We must, therefore, be fitted for it by God. The manner of it is at the same time subjoined — that he confirms us by his Spirit, who is as it were an earnest At the same time the particle also seems to be added for the sake of amplification. “It is God who forms in us this desire, and, lest our courage should give way or waver, the Holy Spirit is given us as an earnest, because by his testimony he confirms, and ratifies the truth of the promise.” For these are two offices of the Holy Spirit — first, to show to believers what they ought to desire, and secondly, to influence their hearts efficaciously, and remove all their doubt, that they may steadfastly persevere in choosing what is good. There would, however, be nothing unsuitable in extending the word fitted, so as to denote that renovation of life, with which God adorns his people even in this life, for in this way he already separates them from others, and shows that they are, by means of his grace, marked out for a peculiar condition.
6.Therefore we are always confident That is, as exercising dependence on the earnest of the Spirit; for, otherwise, we always tremble, or, at least, are courageous or alarmed by turns, and do not retain a uniform and even tenor of mind. Hence, that good courage of which Paul speaks has no place in us, unless it is maintained by the Spirit of God. The connecting particle and, which immediately follows, ought to be understood as meaning because, in this way: We are of good courage, Because we know that we are absent, etc. For this knowledge is the cause of our calmness and confidence; for the reason, why unbelievers are constantly in a ferment of anxiety, or obstinately murmur against God, is, that they think they will ere long cease to exist, and they place in this life the highest and uppermost summit of their felicity. (517) We, on the other hand, live in the exercise of contentment, (518) and go forward to death with alacrity, (519) because a better hope is laid up for us.
We are absent from the Lord Scripture everywhere proclaims, that God is present with us: Paul here teaches, that we are absent from him. This is seemingly a contradiction; but this difficulty is easily solved, when we take into view the different respects, in which he is said to be present or absent. He is, then, present with all men, inasmuch as he upholds them by his power. He dwells in them, because
in him they live and move and have their being.
He is present with his believing people by the energy of his Spirit; he lives in them, resides in the midst of them, nay more, within them. But in the mean time he is absent from us, inasmuch as he does not present himself to be seen face to face, because we are as yet in a state of exile from his kingdom, and have not as yet attained that blessed immortality, which the angels that are with him enjoy. At the same time, to be absent, in this passage, refers merely to knowledge, as is manifest from the reason that is afterwards added.
7.For we walk by faith (Εἰδος) I have here rendered aspectum , (sight,) because few understood the meaning of the word species , (appearance.) (520) He states the reason, why it is that we are now absent from the Lord — because we do not as yet see him face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) The manner of that absence is this — that God is not openly beheld by us. The reason why he is not seen by us is, that we walk by faith Now it is on good grounds that faith is opposed to sight, because it, perceives those things that are hid from the view of men — because it reaches forth to future things, which do not as yet appear. For such is the condition of believers, that they resemble the dead rather than the living — that they often seem as if they were forsaken by God — that they always have the elements of death shut up within them. Hence they must necessarily hope against hope. (Romans 4:18.) Now the things that are hoped for are hid, as we read in Romans 8:24, and faith is the
manifestation of things which do not appear.
It is not to be wondered, then, if the apostle says, that we have not as yet the privilege of sight, so long as we walk by faith For we see, indeed, but it is through a glass, darkly; (1 Corinthians 13:12,) that is, in place of the reality we rest upon the word.
8.We are confident, I say He again repeats, what he had said respecting the confidence of the pious — that they are so far from breaking down under the severity of the cross, and from being disheartened by afflictions, that they are made thereby more courageous. For the worst of evils is death, yet believers long to attain it, as being the commencement of perfect blessedness. Hence and may be regarded as equivalent to because, in this way: “Nothing can befall us, that can shake our confidence and courage, since death (which others so much dread) is to us great gain. (Philippians 1:21.) For nothing is better than to quit the body, that we may attain near intercourse with God, and may truly and openly enjoy his presence. Hence by the decay of the body we lose nothing that belongs to us.”
Observe here — what has been once stated already — that true faith begets not merely a contempt of death, but even a desire for it, (522) and that it is, accordingly, on the other hand, a token of unbelief, when dread of death predominates in us above the joy and consolation of hope. Believers, however, desire death — not as if they would, by an importunate desire, anticipate their Lord’s day, for they willingly retain their footing in their earthly station, so long as their Lord may see good, for they would rather live to the glory of Christ than die to themselves, (Romans 14:7,) and for their own advantage; (523) for the desire, of which Paul speaks, springs from faith. Hence it is not at all at variance with the will of God. We may, also, gather from these words of Paul, that souls, when released from the body, live in the presence of God, for if, on being absent from the body, they have God present, (524) they assuredly live with him.
Here it is asked by some — “How then did it happen that the holy fathers dreaded death so much, as for example David, Hezekiah, and the whole of the Israelitish Church, as appears from Psalms 4:0, from Isaiah 38:3, and from Psalms 115:17 ?” I am aware of the answer, that is usually returned — that the reason, why death was so much dreaded by them was, that the revelation of the future life was as yet obscure, and the consolation, consequently, was but small. Now I acknowledge, that this, in part, accounts for it, but not entirely, for the holy fathers of the ancient Church did not in every case tremble, on being forewarned of their death. Nay more, they embraced death with alacrity, and with joyful hearts. For Abraham departed without regret, full of days. (525) (Genesis 25:8.) We do not read that Isaac was reluctant to die. (Genesis 35:29.) Jacob, with his last breath, declares that he is
waiting for the salvation of the Lord. (Genesis 49:18.)
David himself, too, dies peacefully, without any regrets, (1 Kings 2:10,) and in like manner Hezekiah. As to the circumstance, that David and Hezekiah did, each of them, on one occasion deprecate death with tears, the reason was, that they were punished by the Lord for certain sins, and, in consequence of this, they felt the anger of the Lord in death. Such was the cause of their alarm, and this believers might feel even at this day, under the reign of Christ. The desire, however, of which Paul speaks, is the disposition of a well-regulated mind. (526)
9.Wherefore we strive. Having shown how magnanimous Christians ought to be in the endurance of afflictions, (531) so that even in dying they may be conquerors over death, and that too, because by afflictions and death they attain to a blessed life, he now from the same source draws also another conclusion — that they must, by all means, make it their main desire to please God. And indeed it cannot but be, that the hope of a resurrection, and thoughtfulness as to the judgment, will awaken in us this desire; as, on the other hand, the true reason why we are so indolent and remiss in duty is, that we seldom, if ever, think of what ought to be constantly kept in remembrance, (532) that we are here but lodgers (533) for a short time, that we may, after finishing our course, return to Christ. Observe, however, what he says — that this is the desire both of the living and of the dead, by which statement the immortality of the soul is again confirmed.
10.We must be manifested. Though this is common to all, yet all without distinction do not raise their views in such a way as to consider every moment, that they must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. But while Paul, from a holy desire of acting aright, constantly sisted himself before the bar of Christ, he had it in view to reprove indirectly those ambitious teachers, who reckoned it enough to have the plaudits of their fellow-men. (534) For when he says, that no one can escape, he seems in a manner to summon them to that heavenly tribunal. Farther, though the word translated to be manifested might be rendered to appear, yet Paul had, in my opinion, something farther in view — that we shall then come forth to the light, while for the present many are concealed, as it were, in the darkness. For then the books, which are now shut, will be opened. (Daniel 7:10.)
That every one may give account. As the passage relates to the recompensing of deeds, we must notice briefly, that, as evil deeds are punished by God, so also good deeds are rewarded, but for a different reason; for evil deeds are requited with the punishment that they deserve, but God in rewarding good deeds does not look to merit or worthiness. For no work is so full and complete in all its parts as to be deservedly well-pleasing to him, and farther, there is no one whose works are in themselves well-pleasing to God, unless he render satisfaction to the whole law. Now no one is found to be thus perfect. Hence the only resource is in his accepting us through unmerited goodness, and justifying us, by not imputing to us our sins. After he has received us into favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying, that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously. On this point I have expressed myself more fully in the preceding Epistle, and my Institutes will furnish a full discussion of it. (535) When he says in the body, I understand him to mean, not merely outward actions, but all the deeds that are done in this corporeal life.
11.Knowing therefore. He now returns to speak of himself, or he again applies the general doctrine to himself personally. “I am not ignorant,” says he, “nor devoid of the fear of God, which ought to reign in the hearts of all the pious.” To know the terror of the Lord, then, is to be influenced by this consideration — that an account must one day be rendered before the judgment-seat of Christ; for the man who seriously considers this must of necessity be touched with fear, and shake off all negligence. (536) He declares, therefore, that he discharges his apostleship faithfully and with a pure conscience, (2 Timothy 1:3,) as one that walks in the fear of the Lord, (Acts 9:31,) thinking of the account to be rendered by him. As, however, his enemies might object: “You extol yourself, it is true, in magnificent terms, but who is there that sees what you affirm?” He says, in reply to this, that he discharges indeed the work of a teacher in the sight of men, but that it is known to God with what sincerity of mind he acts. “As my mouth speaks to men, so does my heart to God.”
And I trust This is a kind of correction of what he had said, for he now boasts that he has not merely God as the witness of his integrity, but also the Corinthians themselves, to whom he had given proof of himself. Two things, therefore, are to be observed here: in the first place, that it is not enough that an individual conducts himself honorably and assiduously (537) among men, if his heart is not right in the sight of God, (Acts 8:21;) and secondly, that boasting is vain, where evidence of the reality itself is wanting. For none are more bold in arrogating everything to themselves, than those that have nothing. Let, therefore, the man who would have credit given him, bring forward such works as may afford confirmation to his statements. To be made manifest in their consciences is more than to be known by proofs; for conscience reaches farther than carnal judgment.
12.For we commend not ourselves. He confirms what he had said immediately before, and at the same time anticipates a calumny that might be brought against him. For it might seem as if he were too careful as to his own praise, inasmuch as he spoke so frequently respecting himself. Nay, it is probable that this reproach had been cast upon him by the wicked. For when he says — We commend not ourselves again, he says this as if speaking in his own person. To commend is taken in a bad sense, as meaning to boast, or to brag.
When he adds — that he gives them occasion of glorying, he intimates in the first place, that he pleads their cause rather than his own, inasmuch as he gives up all with a view to their glory, and he again indirectly reproves their ingratitude, because they had not perceived it to be their duty to magnify, of their own accord, his Apostleship, so as not to impose upon him this necessity; and farther, because they had not perceived, that it was their interest rather than that of Paul himself, that his Apostleship should be accounted honorable. We are here taught, that Christ’s servants ought to be concerned as to their own reputation, only in so far as is for the advantage of the Church. Paul affirms with truth, that he is actuated by this disposition. (538) Let others see that they do not on false grounds pretend to follow his example. (539) We are taught farther, that that alone is a minister’s true praise, that is common to him with the whole Church, rather than peculiar to himself exclusively — in other words, that redounds to the advantage of all.
That ye may have something in opposition to those He intimates, in passing, that it is necessary to repress the vanity of those that make empty boasts, and that it is the duty of the Church to do so. For as ambition of this nature is a peculiarly destructive pestilence, it is dangerous to encourage it by dissimulation. As the Corinthians had not taken care to do this, Paul instructs them how they should act for the future.
To glory in appearance, not in heart, is to disguise one’s self by outward show, and to regard sincerity of heart as of no value; for those that will be truly wise will never glory but in God. (1 Corinthians 1:31.) But wherever there is empty show, there is no sincerity, and no integrity of heart.
13.Whether we are beside ourselves. This is said by way of concession; for Paul’s glorying was sane, or it was, if we may so term it, a sober and most judicious madness; (542) but as he appeared foolish in the eyes of many, he speaks according to their views. Now he declares two things: in the first place, that he makes no account of himself, but has this one object in view — that he may serve God and the Church; and, secondly, that he fears not the opinion of men, so that he is prepared for being reckoned either sane or insane, provided only he transacts faithfully the affairs of God and the Church. The meaning, therefore, is this: “As to my making mention so frequently of my integrity, persons will take this as they choose. It is not, however, for my own sake that I do it, but, on the contrary, I have God and the Church exclusively in view. Hence I am prepared to be silent and to speak, according as the glory of God and the advantage of the Church will require, and I shall be quite contented that the world reckon me beside myself, provided only it is not to myself, but to God, that I am beside myself. ” (543) This is a passage that is deserving not merely of notice, but also of constant meditation; for unless we shall have our minds thus regulated, the smallest occasions of offense will from time to time draw us off from our duty.
For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God, or whether we be sober, it is for your cause, (2 Corinthians 6:13,)
defends his speaking so much of his integrity. Though some men would count him out of his wits for it, yet he regards not their judgment; for if he were in an ecstasy, or beside himself, his purpose was to serve God and his Church, and therefore he did not regard the opinion of men, whether he were accounted mad or sober, so he might perform the end of his Apostleship. The sense, therefore, of it, as Calvin renders it, is this — ’Let men take it as they will, that I speak so much of my integrity, I do it not upon my own account, but have respect to God and the Church in speaking of it; for I am as ready to be silent as to speak, when my silence may glorify God and advantage the Church as much as my speech.’” — Charnock’s Works, (Lond. 1684,) volume 2, p. 65. — Ed.
14.For the love of Christ. The term love may be taken either in a passive signification, or in an active. I prefer the latter. For if we be not harder than iron, we cannot refrain from devoting ourselves entirely to Christ, when we consider what great love he exercised towards us, when he endured death in our stead. Paul, too, explains himself when he adds, that it is reasonable that we should live to him, being dead to ourselves. Hence, as he had previously stated: (2 Corinthians 5:11,) that he was stirred up to duty by fear, inasmuch as an account was one day to be rendered by him, so he now brings forward another motive — that measureless love of Christ towards us, of which he had furnished us with an evidence in his death. “The knowledge,” I say, “of this love, ought to constrain our affections, that they may go in no other direction than that of loving him in return.
There is a metaphor (544) implied in the word constrain, denoting that it is impossible but that every one that truly considers and ponders that wonderful love, which Christ has manifested towards us by his death, becomes, as it were, bound to him, and constrained by the closest tie, and devotes himself wholly to his service.
If one died for all. This design is to be carefully kept in view — that Christ died for us, that we might die to ourselves. The exposition is also to be carefully noticed — that to die to ourselves is to live to Christ; or if you would have it at greater length, it is to renounce ourselves, that we may live to Christ; for Christ. redeemed us with this view — that he might have us under his authority, as his peculiar possession. Hence it follows that we are no longer our own masters. There is a similar passage in Romans 14:7. At the same time, there are two things that are here brought forward separately — that we are dead in Christ, in order that all ambition and eagerness for distinction may be laid aside, and that it may be felt by us no hardship to be made as nothing; and farther, that we owe to Christ our life and death, because he has wholly bound us to himself. (545)
16.Therefore we henceforth know no man. To know, here, is taken as meaning to reckon. “We do not judge according to external appearance, so as to reckon that man to be the most illustrious who seems so in appearance.” Under the term flesh, he includes all external endowments which mankind are accustomed to hold in estimation; and, in short, every thing which, apart from regeneration, is reckoned worthy of praise. At the same time, he speaks more particularly of outward disguise, or appearance, as it is termed. He alludes, also, without doubt, to the death of which he had made mention. “Since we ought, all of us, to be dead to the present life, nay more, to be nothing in ourselves, no one must be reckoned a servant of Christ on the ground of carnal excellence.”
Nay, though we have known Christ. The meaning is — “Though Christ lived for a time in this world, and was known by mankind in those things that have to do with the condition of the present life, he must now be known in another way — spiritually, so that we may have no worldly thoughts respecting him.” This passage is perverted by some fanatics, such as Servetus, (546) for the purpose of proving, that Christ’s human nature is now absorbed by the Divinity. But how very far removed such a frenzy is from the Apostle’s intention, it is not difficult to perceive; for he speaks here, not of the substance of his body, but of external appearance, nor does he affirm that the flesh is no longer perceived by us in Christ, but says, that Christ is not judged of from that. (547)
Scripture proclaims throughout, that Christ does now as certainly lead a glorious life in our flesh, as he once suffered in it. (548) Nay more, take away this foundation, and our whole faith falls to the ground; for whence comes the hope of immortality, except from this, that we have already a pattern (549) of it in the person of Christ? For as righteousness is restored to us on this ground, that Christ, by fulfilling the law in our nature, has abolished Adam’s disobedience, so also life has been restored to us by this means, that he has opened up for our nature the kingdom of God, from which it had been banished, and has given it a place in the heavenly dwelling. Hence, if we do not now recognize Christ’s flesh, (550) we lose the whole of that confidence and consolation that we ought to have in him. But we acknowledge Christ as man, and as our brother in his flesh — not in a fleshly manner; because we rest solely in the consideration of his spiritual gifts. Hence he is spiritual to us, not as if he laid aside the body, and became a spirit, but because he regenerates and governs his own people by the influence of his Spirit.
17.Therefore if any man is in Christ. As there is something wanting in this expression, it must be supplied in this way — “If any one is desirous to hold some place in Christ, that is, in the kingdom of Christ, or in the Church (551) let him be a new creature ” By this expression he condemns every kind of excellence that is wont to be in much esteem among men, if renovation of heart is wanting. “Learning, it is true, and eloquence, and other endowments, are valuable, and worthy to be honored; but, where the fear of the Lord and an upright conscience are wanting, all the honor of them goes for nothing. Let no one, therefore, glory in any distinction, inasmuch as the chief praise of Christians is self-renunciation.”
Nor is this said merely for the purpose of repressing the vanity of the false apostles, but also with the view of correcting the ambitious judgments of the Corinthians, in which outward disguises were of more value than real sincerity — though this is a fault that is common to almost all ages. For where shall we find the man that does not attach much more importance to show, than to true holiness? Let us, therefore, keep in view this admonition — that all that are not renewed by the Spirit of God, should be looked upon as nothing in the Church, by whatever ornaments they may in other respects be distinguished.
Old things are passed away. When the Prophets speak of the kingdom of Christ, they foretell that there will be new heavens and a new earth, (Isaiah 65:17,) meaning thereby, that all things will be changed for the better, until the happiness of the pious is completed. As, however, Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, this change must take place chiefly in the Spirit, and hence it is with propriety that he begins with this. There is, therefore, an elegant and appropriate allusion, when Paul makes use of a commendation of this kind, for the purpose of setting forth the value of regeneration. Now by old things he means, the things that are not formed anew by the Spirit of God. Hence this term is placed in contrast with renewing grace. The expression passed away, he uses in the sense of fading away, as things that are of short duration are wont to fall off, when they have passed their proper season. Hence it is only the new man, that flourishes and is vigorous (552) in the kingdom of Christ.
18.All things are of God. He means, all things that belong to Christ’s kingdom. “If we would be Christ’s, we must be regenerated by God. Now that is no ordinary gift.” He does not, therefore, speak here of creation generally; but of the grace of regeneration, which God confers peculiarly upon his elect, and he affirms that it is of God — not on the ground of his being the Creator and Artificer of heaven and earth, but inasmuch as he is the new Creator of the Church, by fashioning his people anew, according to his own image. Thus all flesh is abased, and believers are admonished that they must now live to God, inasmuch as they are a new creature. (2 Corinthians 5:17.) This they cannot do, unless they forget the world, as they are also no longer of the world, (John 17:16,) because they are of God
Who hath reconciled us Here there are two leading points — the one relating to the reconciliation of men with God; and the other, to the way in which we may enjoy the benefit of this reconciliation. Now these things correspond admirably with what goes before, for as the Apostle had given the preference to a good conscience above every kind of distinction, (2 Corinthians 5:11,) he now shows that the whole of the gospel tends to this. He shows, however, at the same time, the dignity of the Apostolical office, that the Corinthians may be instructed as to what they ought to seek in him, whereas they could not distinguish between true and false ministers, for this reason, that nothing but show delighted them. Accordingly, by making mention of this, he stirs them up to make greater proficiency in the doctrine of the gospel. For an absurd admiration of profane persons, who serve their own ambition rather than Christ, originates in our not knowing, what the office of the preaching of the gospel includes, or imports.
I now return to those two leading points that are here touched upon. The first is — that God hath reconciled us to himself by Christ This is immediately followed by the declaration — Because God was in Christ, and has in his person accomplished reconciliation. The manner is subjoined — By not imputing unto men their trespasses Again, there is annexed a second declaration — Because Christ having been made a sin-offering for our sins, has procured righteousness for us. The second part of the statement is — that the grace of reconciliation is applied to us by the gospel, that we may become partakers of it. Here we have a remarkable passage, if there be any such in any part of Paul’s writings. Hence it is proper, that we should carefully examine the words one by one.
The ministry of reconciliation Here we have an illustrious designation of the gospel, as being an embassy for reconciling men to God. It is also a singular dignity of ministers — that they are sent to us by God with this commission, so as to be messengers, and in a manner sureties. (553) This, however, is not said so much for the purpose of commending ministers, as with a view to the consolation of the pious, that as often as they hear the gospel, they may know that God treats with them, and, as it were, stipulates with them as to a return to his grace. Than this blessing what could be more desirable? Let us therefore bear in mind, that this is the main design of the gospel — that whereas we are by nature children of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3,) we may, by the breaking up of the quarrel between God and us, be received by him into favor. Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God’s fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, might also be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel, that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.
19.God was in Christ. Some take this as meaning simply — God reconciled the world to himself in Christ; but the meaning is fuller and more comprehensive — first, that God was in Christ; and, secondly, that he reconciled the world to himself by his intercession. It is also of the Father that this is affirmed; for it were an improper expression, were you to understand it as meaning, that the divine nature of Christ was in him. (554) The Father, therefore, was in the Son, in accordance with that statement —
I am in the Father, and the Father in me. (John 10:38.)
Therefore he that hath the Son, hath the Father also. For Paul has made use of this expression with this view — that we may learn to be satisfied with Christ alone, because in him we find also God the Father, as he truly communicates himself to us by him. Hence the expression is equivalent to this — “Whereas God had withdrawn to a distance from us, he has drawn near to us in Christ, and thus Christ has become to us the true Emmanuel, and his coming is God’s drawing near to men.”
The second part of the statement points out the office of Christ — his being our propitiation, (1 John 2:2,) because out of Him, God is displeased with us all, inasmuch as we have revolted from righteousness. (555) For what purpose, then, has God appeared to men in Christ? For the purpose of reconciliation — that, hostilities being removed, those who were aliens, might be adopted as sons. Now, although Christ’s coming as our Redeemer originated in the fountain of Divine love towards us, yet until men perceive that God has been propitiated by the Mediator, there must of necessity be a variance remaining, with respect to them, which shuts them out from access to God. On this point we shall speak more fully ere long.
Not imputing to them. Mark, in what way men return into favor with God — when they are regarded as righteous, by obtaining the remission of their sins. For so long as God imputes to us our sins, He must of necessity regard us with abhorrence; for he cannot be friendly or propitious to sinners. But this statement may seem to be at variance with what is said elsewhere — that, we were loved by Him before the creation of the world, (Ephesians 1:4,) and still more with what he says, (John 3:16,) that the love, which he exercised towards us was the reason, why He expiated our sins by Christ, for the cause always goes before its effect. I answer, that we were loved before the creation of the world, but it was only in Christ In the mean time, however, I confess, that the love of God was first in point of time, and of order, too, as to God, but with respect to us, the commencement of his love has its foundation in the sacrifice of Christ. For when we contemplate God without a Mediator, we cannot conceive of Him otherwise than as angry with us: a Mediator interposed between us, makes us feel, that He is pacified towards us. As, however, this also is necessary to be known by us — that Christ came forth to us from the fountain of God’s free mercy, the Scripture explicitly teaches both — that the anger of the Father has been appeased by the sacrifice of the Son, and that the Son has been offered up for the expiation of the sins of men on this ground — because God, exercising compassion towards them, receives them, on the ground of such a pledge, into favor. (556)
The whole may be summed up thus: “Where sin is, there the anger of God is, and therefore God is not propitious to us without, or before, his blotting out our sins, by not imputing them. As our consciences cannot apprehend this benefit, (557) otherwise than through the intervention of Christ’s sacrifice, it is not without good reason, that Paul makes that the commencement and cause of reconciliation, with regard to us.
And hath committed to us. Again he repeats, that a commission has been given to the ministers of the gospel to communicate to us this grace. For it might be objected, “Where is Christ now, the peacemaker between God and us? At what a distance he resides from us!” He says, therefore, that as he has once suffered, (558) (1 Peter 3:18,) so he daily presents to us the fruit of his suffering through means of the Gospel, which he designed, should be in the world, (559) as a sure and authentic register of the reconciliation, that has once been effected. It is the part of ministers, therefore, to apply to us, so to speak, the fruit of Christ’s death.
Lest, however, any one should dream of a magical application, such as Papists contrive, (560) we must carefully observe what he immediately subjoins — that it consists wholly in the preaching of the Gospel. For the Pope, along with his priests, makes use of this pretext for giving a color of warrant for the whole of that wicked and execrable system of merchandise, which they carry on, in connection with the salvation of souls. “The Lord,” say they, “has furnished us with a commission and authority to forgive sins.” This I acknowledge, provided they discharge that embassy, of which Paul here makes mention. The absolution, however, which they make use of in the Papacy, is entirely magical; and besides, they inclose pardon of sins in lead and parchment, or they connect it with fictitious and frivolous superstitions. What resemblance do all these things bear to the appointment of Christ? Hence the ministers of the Gospel restore us to the favor of God in a right and orderly manner, when they bear testimony to us by means of the Gospel as to the favor of God having been procured for us. Let this testimony be removed, and nothing remains but mere imposture. Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the Gospel.
I do not, indeed, deny, that the grace of Christ is applied to us in the sacraments, and that our reconciliation with God is then confirmed in our consciences; but, as the testimony of the Gospel is engraven upon the sacraments, they are not to be judged of separately by themselves, but must be taken in connection with the Gospel, of which they are appendages. In fine, the ministers of the Church are ambassadors, for testifying and proclaiming the benefit of reconciliation, only on this condition — that they speak from the Gospel, as from an authentic register.
20.As if God did beseech you This is of no small importance for giving authority to the embassy: nay more, it is absolutely necessary, for who would rest upon the testimony of men, in reference to his eternal salvation? It is a matter of too much importance, to allow of our resting contented with the promise of men, without feeling assured that they are ordained by God, and that God speaks to us by them. This is the design of those commendations, with which Christ himself signalizes his Apostles:
He that heareth you, heareth me, etc. (Luke 10:16.)
Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven, (Matthew 18:18,)
and the like.
We entreat you, in Christ’s stead. Hence we infer, with what propriety Isaiah exclaims,
How blessed are the feet of them that preach the Gospel!
For that one thing, that is of itself sufficient for completing our felicity, and without which we are most miserable, is conferred upon us, only through means of the Gospel. If, however, this duty is enjoined upon all the ministers of the Church, in such a way, that he who does not discharge this embassy is not to be regarded either as an Apostle, or as a Pastor, we may very readily judge from this, as to the nature of the Pope’s entire hierarchy. They are desirous, indeed, to be looked upon as Apostles and Pastors; but as they are dumb idols, how will their boasting (561) correspond with this passage of Paul’s writings. The word entreat is expressive of an unparalleled (562) commendation of the grace of Christ, inasmuch as He stoops so low, that he does not disdain to entreat us. So much the less excusable is our depravity, if we do not, on meeting with such kindness, show ourselves teachable and compliant.
Be reconciled. It is to be observed, that Paul is here addressing himself to believers. He declares, that he brings to them every day this embassy. Christ therefore, did not suffer, merely that he might once expiate our sins, nor was the gospel appointed merely with a view to the pardon of those sins which we committed previously to baptism, but that, as we daily sin, so we might, also, by a daily remission, be received by God into his favor. For this is a continued embassy, (563) which must be assiduously sounded forth in the Church, till the end of the world; and the gospel cannot be preached, unless remission of sins is promised.
We have here an express and suitable declaration for refuting the impious tenet of Papists, which calls upon us to seek the remission of sins after Baptism from some other source, than from the expiation that was effected through the death of Christ. Now this doctrine is commonly held in all the schools of Popery — that, after baptism, we merit the remission of sins by penitence, through means of the aid of the keys, (564) (Matthew 16:19,) — as if baptism itself could confer this (565) upon us without penitence. By the term penitence, however, they mean satisfactions. But what does Paul say here? He calls us to go, not less after baptism, than before it, to the one expiation made by Christ, that we may know that we always obtain it gratuitously. Farther, all their prating as to the administration of the keys is to no purpose, inasmuch as they conceive of keys apart from the Gospel, while they are nothing else than that testimony of a gratuitous reconciliation, which is made to us in the Gospel.
21.Him who knew no sin. Do you observe, that, according to Paul, there is no return to favor with God, except what is founded on the sacrifice of Christ alone? Let us learn, therefore, to turn our views in that direction, whenever we desire to be absolved from guilt. He now teaches more clearly, what we adverted to above — that God is propitious to us, when he acknowledges us as righteous. For these two things are equivalent — that we are acceptable to God, and that we are regarded by him as righteous.
To know no sin is to be free from sin. He says, then, that Christ, while he was entirely exempt from sin, was made sin for us. It is commonly remarked, that sin here denotes an expiatory sacrifice for sin, and in the same way the Latin’s term it, piaculum (566) Paul, too, has in this, and other passages, borrowed this phrase from the Hebrews, among whom אשם (asham) denotes an expiatory sacrifice, as well as an offense or crime. (567) But the signification of this word, as well as the entire statement, will be better understood from a comparison of both parts of the antithesis. Sin is here contrasted with righteousness, when Paul teaches us, that we were made the righteousness of God, on the ground of Christ’s having been made sin. Righteousness, here, is not taken to denote a quality or habit, but by way of imputation, on the ground of Christ’s righteousness being reckoned to have been received by us. What, on the other hand, is denoted by sin? It is the guilt, on account of which we are arraigned at the bar of God. As, however, the curse of the individual was of old cast upon the victim, so Christ’s condemnation was our absolution, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5.)
The righteousness of God in him In the first place, the righteousness of God is taken here to denote — not that which is given us by God, but that which is approved of by him, as in John 12:43, the glory of God means — that which is in estimation with him — the glory of men denotes the vain applause of the world. Farther, in Romans 3:23, when he says, that we have come short of the glory of God, he means, that there is nothing that we can glory in before God, for it is no very difficult matter to appear righteous before men, but it is a mere delusive appearance of righteousness, which becomes at last the ground of perdition. Hence, that is the only true righteousness, which is acceptable to God.
Let us now return to the contrast between righteousness and sin How are we righteous in the sight of God? It is assuredly in the same respect in which Christ was a sinner. For he assumed in a manner our place, that he might be a criminal in our room, and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offenses, but for those of others, inasmuch as he was pure and exempt from every fault, and might endure the punishment that was due to us — not to himself. It is in the same manner, assuredly, that we are now righteous in him — not in respect of our rendering satisfaction to the justice of God by our own works, but because we are judged of in connection with Christ’s righteousness, which we have put on by faith, that it might become ours. On this account I have preferred to retain the particle ἐν, (in,) rather than substitute in its place per, (through,)for that signification corresponds better with Paul’s intention. (568)
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