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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1.Having this ministry. He now returns to a commendation of himself personally, from which he had digressed into a general discussion, in reference to the dignity of the gospel. As, therefore, he has been treating of the nature of the gospel, so he now shows how faithful and upright a minister of it he is. He has previously shown, what is the true gospel of Christ. He now shows what he preaches to be such. “Having,” says he, “this ministry” — that ministry, the excellence of which he had extolled in terms so magnificent, and the power and usefulness of which he had so abundantly shown forth. Hence, in order that he may not seem to extol himself too much, he premises that it was not by his own efforts, or by his own merits, that he had reached such a pinnacle of honor, but had been led forward by the mercy of God exclusively. Now there was more implied in making the mercy of God the reason of his Apostleship, than if he had attributed it to the grace of God. We faint not (423) that is, we are not deficient in our duty, (424) so as not to discharge it with fidelity.


Verse 2

2.But renounce the hidden things. While he commends his own sincerity, (425) he, on the other hand, indirectly reproves the false Apostles, who, while they corrupted by their ambition the genuine excellence of the gospel, were, nevertheless, desirous of exclusive distinction. Hence the faults, from which he declares himself to be exempt, he indirectly imputes to them. By the hidden things of disgrace, or concealments, some understand the shadows of the Mosaic law. Chrysostom understands the expression to mean the vain show, by which they endeavored to recommend themselves. I understand by it — all the disguises, with which they adulterated the pure and native beauty of the gospel. For as chaste and virtuous women, satisfied with the gracefulness of natural beauty, do not resort to artificial adornings, while harlots never think themselves sufficiently adorned, unless they have corrupted nature, so Paul glories in having set forth the pure gospel, while others set forth one that was disguised, and covered over with unseemly additions. For as they were ashamed of the simplicity of Christ, or at least could not have distinction (426) from true excellencies of Apostles, they framed a new gospel, not unlike a profane philosophy, swelled up with empty bombast, while altogether devoid of the efficacy of the Spirit. Spurious ornaments of this nature, (427) by which the gospel is disfigured, he calls the concealments of disgrace, because the nakedness of those, who have recourse to concealments and disguises, must of necessity be dishonorable and disgraceful.

As to himself, he says that he rejects or disdains disguises, because Christ’s face, the more that it is seen opened up to view in his preaching, shines forth so much the more gloriously. I do not, however, deny, that he alludes at the same time to the veil of Moses, (Exodus 34:33,) of which he had made mention, but he ascribes a quite different veil to the false Apostles. For Moses covered his face, because the excessive brightness of the glory of the law could not be endured by tender and blear eyes. They, (428) on the other hand, put on a veil by way of ornament. Besides, as they would be despicable, nay, infamous, if the simplicity of the gospel shone forth, they, on this account, hide their shame under ever so many cloaks and masks.

Not walking in craftiness. There can be no doubt, that the false Apostles delighted themselves greatly in the craftiness that Paul reproves, as though it had been a distinguished excellence, as we see even at this day some, even of those who profess the gospel, who would rather be esteemed subtile than sincere, and sublime rather than solid, while in the mean time all their refinement is mere childishness. But what would you do? It delights them to have a name for acuteness, and they have, under that pretext, applause among the ignorant. (429) We learn, however, in what estimation Paul holds this appearance of excellence. Craftiness he declares to be unworthy of Christ’s servants.

As to what follows — nor handling deceitfully — I am not sure that this sufficiently brings out Paul’s meaning; for the verb δολοῦν does not so properly mean acting fraudulently, as what is called falsifying (430) as horse-jockeys (431) are wont to do. In this passage, at least, it is placed in contrast with upright preaching, agreeably to what follows.

But by manifestation of the truth He claims to himself this praise — that he had proclaimed the pure doctrine of the gospel in simplicity and without disguise, and has the consciences of all as witnesses of thisin the sight of God. As he has placed the manifestation of the truth in contrast with the disguised (432) doctrine of the sophists, so he appeals the decision to their consciences, and to the judgment-seat of God, whereas they abused the mistaken judgment of men, or their corrupt affection, and were not so desirous to be in reality worthy of praise as they were eager to appear so. Hence we infer, that there is a contrast here between the consciences of men and their ears. Let the servants of Christ, therefore, reckon it enough to have approved their integrity to the consciences of men in the sight of God, and pay no regard to the corrupt inclinations of men, or to popular applause.


Verse 3

3.But if our gospel is hid It might have been an easy thing to pour calumny upon what he had said as to the clearness of his preaching, because he had many adversaries. That calumny he repels with stern authority, for he threatens all who do not acknowledge the power of his gospel, and warns them that this is a token of reprobation and ruin. Should any one affirm that he does not perceive that manifestation of Christ of which I boast, he clearly shows himself, by this very token, to be a reprobate, (433) for my sincerity in the work of instructing (434) is clearly and distinctly perceived by all that have eyes. Those, therefore, from whom it is hid, must be blind, and destitute of all rational understanding.” The sum is this — that the blindness of unbelievers detracts nothing from the clearness of his gospel; for the sun is not less resplendent, that the blind do not perceive his light. (435)

But some one will say that this applies equally to the law, for in itself it is a lamp (436) to guide our feet, (Psalms 119:105,) enlightens the eyes, (Psalms 19:8,) etc., and is hid only from those that perish. I answer that, when Christ is included in the law, the sun shines forth through the midst of the clouds, so that men have light enough for their use; but when Christ is disjoined from it, there is nothing left but darkness, or a false appearance of light, that dazzles men’s eyes instead of assisting them. It is, however, a token of great confidence, that he ventures to regard as reprobates all that reject his doctrine. It is befitting, however, that all that would be looked upon as ministers of God’s word should be endued with the like confidence, that with a fearless confidence they may unhesitatingly summon all the adversaries of their doctrine to the judgment-seat of God, that they may bring thence a sure condemnation.


Verse 4

4.Whose minds the god of this world He intimates, that no account should be made of their perverse obstinacy. “They do not see,” says he, “the sun at mid-day, because the devil has blinded their understandings.” No one that judges rightly can have any doubt, that it is of Satan that the Apostle speaks. Hilary, as he had to do with Arians, who abused this passage, so as to make it a pretext for denying Christ’s true divinity, while they at the same time confessed him to be God, twists the text in this way — “God hath blinded the understandings of this world.” In this he was afterwards followed by Chrysostom, with the view of not conceding to the Manicheans their two first principles. (437) What influenced Ambrose does not appear. Augustine had the same reason as Chrysostom, having to contend with the Manicheans.

We see what the heat of controversy does in carrying on disputes. Had all those men calmly read Paul’s words, it would never have occurred to any one of them to twist them in this way into a forced meaning; but as they were harassed by their opponents, they were more concerned to refute them, than to investigate Paul’s meaning. But what occasion was there for this? For the subterfuge of the Arians was childish — that if the devil is called the god of this world, the name of God, as applied to Christ, does not express a true, eternal, and exclusive divinity. For Paul says elsewhere, many are called gods, (1 Corinthians 8:5;) but David, on the other hand, sings forth — the gods of the nations are demons. (438) (Psalms 96:5.) When, therefore, the devil is called the god of the wicked, on the ground of his having dominion over them, and being worshipped by them in the place of God, what tendency has this to detract from the honor of Christ? And as to the Manicheans, this appellation gives no more countenance to the Manicheans, than when he is called the prince of this world. (John 14:30.) (439)

There is, therefore, no reason for being afraid to interpret this passage as referring to the devil, there being no danger in doing so. For should the Arians come forward and contend, (440) that Christ’s divine essence is no more proved from his having the appellation God applied to him, than Satan’s is proved from its being applied to him, a cavil of this nature is easily refuted; for Christ is called God without any addition, (441) nay, he is called God blessed for ever. (Romans 9:5.) He is said to be that God who was

in the beginning, before the creation of the world.
(
John 1:1.)

The devil, on the other hand, is called thegod of this world, in no other way than as Baal is called the god of those that worship him, or as the dog is called the god of Egypt. (442) The Manicheans, as I have said, for maintaining their delusion, have recourse to other declarations of Scripture, as well as this, but there is no difficulty in refuting those also. They contend not so much respecting the term, as respecting the power. As the power of blinding is ascribed to Satan, and dominion over unbelievers, they conclude from this that he is, from his own resources, the author of all evil, so as not to be subject to God’s control — as if Scripture did not in various instances declare, that devils, no less than the angels of heaven, are servants of God, each of them severally in his own manner. For, as the latter dispense to us God’s benefits for our salvation, so the former execute his wrath. Hence good angels are called powers and principalities, (Ephesians 3:10,) but it is simply because they exercise the power given them by God. For the same reason Satan is the prince of this world, not as if he conferred dominion upon himself, or obtained it by his own right, or, in fine, exercised it at his own pleasure. On the contrary, he has only so much as the Lord allows him. Hence Scripture does not merely make mention of the good spirit of God, and good angels, but he also speaks of evil spirits of God. An evil spirit from God came upon Saul. (1 Samuel 16:14.) Again, chastisements through means of evil angels. (Psalms 78:49.)

With respect to the passage before us, the blinding is a work common to God and to Satan, for it is in many instances ascribed to God; but the power is not alike, nor is the manner the same. I shall not speak at present as to the manner. Scripture, however, teaches that Satan blinds men, (443) not merely with God’s permission, but even by his command, that he may execute his vengeance. Thus Ahab was deceived by Satan, (1 Kings 22:21,) but could Satan have done this of himself? By no means; but having offered to God his services for inflicting injury, he was sent to be a

lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.
(
1 Kings 22:22.)

Nay more, the reason why God is said to blind men is, that after having deprived us of the right exercise of the understanding, and the light of his Spirit, he delivers us over to the devil, to be hurried forward by him to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28,) gives him the power of deception, and by this means inflicts just vengeance upon us by the minister of his wrath. Paul’s meaning, therefore, is, that all are possessed by the devil, who do not acknowledge his doctrine to be the sure truth of God. For it is more severe to call them slaves of the devil, (444) than to ascribe their blindness to the judgment of God. As, however, he had a little before adjudged such persons to destruction, (2 Corinthians 4:3,) he now adds that they perish, for no other reason than that they have drawn down ruin upon themselves, as the effect of their own unbelief.

Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine upon them. This serves to confirm what he had said — that if any one rejected his gospel, it was his own blindness that prevented him from receiving it. “For nothing,” says he, “appears in it but Christ, and that not obscurely, but so as to shine forth clearly.” He adds, that Christ is the image of God, by which he intimates that they were utterly devoid of the knowledge of God, in accordance with that statement —

He that knoweth not me knoweth not my Father.
(
John 14:7.)

This then is the reason, why he pronounced so severe a sentence upon those that had doubts as to his Apostleship — because they did not behold Christ, who might there be distinctly beheld. It is doubtful whether he employed the expression, the gospel of the glory of Christ, as meaning the glorious gospel, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom; or whether he means by it — the gospel, in which Christ’s glory shone forth. The second of these meanings I rather prefer, as having in it more completeness.

When, however, Christ is called the image of the invisible God, this is not meant merely of his essence, as being the “co-essential of the Father,” as they speak, (445) but rather has a reference to us, because he represents the Father to us. The Father himself is represented as invisible, because he is in himself not apprehended by the human understanding. He exhibits himself, however, to us by his Son, and makes himself in a manner visible. (446) I state this, because the ancients, having been greatly incensed against the Arians, insisted more than was befitting on this point — how it is that the Son is inwardly the image of the Father by a secret unity of essence, while they passed over what is mainly for edification — in what respects he is the image of God to us, when he manifests to us what had otherwise been hid in him. Hence the term image has a reference to us, as we shall see again presently (447) The epithet invisible, though omitted in some Greek manuscripts, I have preferred to retain, as it is not superfluous. (448)


Verse 5

5.For we preach not ourselves Some make this to be an instance of Zeugma, (449) in this manner: We preach not ourselves to be lords, but God’s only Son, whom the Father has set over all things, to be the one Lord. (450) I do not, indeed, find fault with that interpretation, but as the expression is more emphatic (εμφατικωτερα) and has a more extensive signification, (451) when it is said, that one preaches himself. I am more inclined to retain this interpretation, especially as it is almost unanimously approved of. For there are other ways in which men preach themselves, than by arrogating to themselves dominion, as for example, when they aim at show, rather than at edification — when they are desirous in any way to have distinction — when, farther, they make gain of the gospel. Ambition, therefore, and avarice, and similar vices in a minister, taint the purity of his doctrine, so that Christ has not there the exclusive distinction. Hence, he that would preach Christ alone, must of necessity forget himself.

And ourselves your servants. Lest any one should mutter out the objection—”But in the mean time you say many things respecting yourself,” he answers, that he desires nothing farther, than that he should be their servant. “Whatever things I declare respecting myself (so loftily, and boastfully, in your opinion) have this object in view — that I may in Christ serve you advantageously.” It follows, that the Corinthians are excessively proud and ungrateful, if they reject this condition. Nay more, it follows, that they had been previously of a corrupt judgment, inasmuch as they had not perceived his holy affection.

Here, however, all pastors of the Church are admonished as to their state and condition, for by whatever title of honor they may be distinguished, they are nothing more than theservants of believers, and unquestionably, they cannot serve Christ, without serving his Church at the same time. An honorable servitude, it is true, this is, and superior to any principality, (452) but still it is a servitude, so that Christ alone may be elevated to distinction — not encumbered by the shadow of a single rival (453) Hence it is the part of a good pastor, not merely to keep aloof from all desire of domineering, but to regard it as the highest pitch of honor, at which he aspires — that he may serve the people of God. It is the duty of the people, on the other hand, to esteem the servants of Christ first of all on the ground of the dignity of their Master, and then farther on account of the dignity and excellence of their office, that they may not despise those, whom the Lord has placed in so illustrious a station.


Verse 6

6.God who commanded light to shine out of darkness. I see that this passage may be explained in four different ways. In the first place thus: “God has commanded light to shine forth out of darkness: that is, by the ministry of men, who are in their own nature darkness, He has brought forward the light of His gospel into the world.” Secondly, thus: “God has made the light of the gospel to take the place of the law, which was wrapt up in dark shadows, and thus, He has brought light out of darkness. ” Those that are fond of subtleties, would be prepared readily to receive expositions of that sort, but any one, who will examine the matter more closely, will perceive, that they do not correspond with the Apostle’s intention. The third exposition is that of Ambrose: “When all things were involved in darkness, God kindled up the light of His gospel. For mankind were sunk in the darkness of ignorance, when God on a sudden shone forth upon them by his gospel.” The fourth is that of Chrysostom, who is of opinion, that Paul alluded to the creation of the world, in this way: “God, who by his word created light, drawing it, as it were, out of the darkness (454) — that same Being has now enlightened us in a spiritual manner, when we were buried in darkness.” This transition, (455) from light that is visible and corporeal to what is spiritual, has more of elegance, and there is nothing forced in it. The preceding one, (456) however, is not unsuitable. Let every one follow his own judgment.

Hath shined in our hearts. He speaks of a twofold illumination, which must be carefully observed — the one is that of the gospel, the other is secret, taking place in our hearts. (457) For as God, the Creator of the world, pours forth upon us the brightness of the sun, and gives us eyes to receive it, so, as the Redeemer, in the person of his Son, He shines forth, indeed, upon us by His gospel, but, as we are blind, that would be in vain, if He did not at the same time enlighten our understandings by His Spirit. His meaning, therefore, is, that God has, by His Spirit, opened the eyes of our understandings, so as to make them capable of receiving the light of the gospel.

In the face of Jesus Christ. In the same sense in which he had previously said that Christ is the image of the Father, (2 Corinthians 4:4) he now says, that the glory of God is manifested to us in his face. Here we have a remarkable passage, from which we learn that God is not to be sought out (Job 11:7) in His unsearchable height,

(for He dwells in light that is inaccessible, 1 Timothy 6:16,)

but is to be known by us, in so far as He manifests himself in Christ. Hence, whatever men desire to know respecting God, apart from Christ, is evanescent, for they wander out of the way. True, indeed, God in Christ appears in the first instance to be mean, but he appears at length to be glorious in the view of those, who hold on, so as to come from the cross to the resurrection. (458) Again we see, that in the word person (459) there is a reference made to us, (460) because it is more advantageous for us to behold God, as He appears in His only-begotten Son, than to search out His secret essence.


Verse 7

7.But we have this treasure. Those that heard Paul glorying in such a magnificent strain as to the excellence of his ministry, and beheld, on the other hand, his person, contemptible and abject in the eyes of the world, might be apt to think that he was a silly and ridiculous person, and might look upon his boasting as childish, while forming their estimate of him from the meanness of his person. (464) The wicked, more particularly, caught hold of this pretext, when they wished to bring into contempt every thing that was in him. What, however, he saw to be most of all unfavorable to the honor of his Apostleship among the ignorant, he turns by an admirable contrivance into a means of advancing it. First of all, he employs the similitude of a treasure, which is not usually laid up in a splendid and elegantly adorned chest, but rather in some vessel that is mean and worthless; (465) and then farther, he subjoins, that the power of God is, by that means, the more illustrated, and is the better seen. “Those, who allege the contemptible appearance of my person, with the view of detracting from the dignity of my ministry, are unfair and unreasonable judges, for a treasure is not the less valuable, that the vessel, in which it is deposited, is not a precious one. Nay more, it is usual for great treasures to be laid up in earthen pots. Farther, they do not consider, that it is ordered by the special Providence of God, that there should be in ministers no appearance of excellence, lest any thing of distinction should throw thepower of God into the shade. As, therefore, the abasement of ministers, and the outward contempt of their persons give occasion for glory accruing to God, that man acts a wicked part, who measures the dignity of the gospel by the person of the minister.”

Paul, however, does not speak merely of the universal condition of mankind, but of his own condition in particular. It is true, indeed, that all mortal men are earthen vessels Hence, let the most eminent of them all be selected, and let him be one that is adorned to admiration with all ornaments of birth, intellect, and fortune, (466) still, if he be a minister of the gospel, he will be a mean and merely earthen depository of an inestimable treasure Paul, however, has in view himself, and others like himself, his associates, who were held in contempt, because they had nothing of show.


Verse 8

8.While we are pressed on every side. This is added by way of explanation, for he shows, that his abject condition is so far from detracting from the glory of God, that it is the occasion of advancing it. “We are reduced,” says he, “to straits, but the Lord at length opens up for us an outlet; (467) we are oppressed with poverty, but the Lord affords us help. Many enemies are in arms against us, but under God’s protection we are safe. In fine, though we are brought low, so that it might seem as if all were over with us, (468) still we do not perish.” The last is the severest of all. You see, how he turns to his own advantage every charge that the wicked bring against him. (469)


Verse 10

10.The mortification of Jesus (470) He says more than he had done previously, for he shows, that the very thing that the false apostles used as a pretext for despising the gospel, was so far from bringing any degree of contempt upon the gospel, that it tended even to render it glorious. For he employs the expression — the mortification of Jesus Christ — to denote everything that rendered him contemptible in the eyes of the world, with the view of preparing him for participating in a blessed resurrection. In the first place, the sufferings of Christ, (471) however ignominious they may be in the eyes of men, have, nevertheless, more of honor in the sight of God, than all the triumphs of emperors, and all the pomp of kings. The end, however, must also be kept in view, that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together with him. (Romans 8:17.) Hence he elegantly reproves the madness of those, who made his peculiar fellowship with Christ a matter of reproach. At the same time, the Corinthians are admonished to take heed, lest they should, while haughtily despising Paul’s mean and abject appearance, do an injury to Christ himself, by seeking an occasion of reproach (472) in his sufferings, which it becomes us to hold in the highest honor.

The word rendered mortification, (473) is taken here in a different sense from what it bears in many passages of Scripture. For it often means self-denial, when we renounce the lusts of the flesh, and are renewed unto obedience to God. Here, however, it means the afflictions by which we are stirred up to meditate on the termination of the present life. To make the matter more plain, let us call the former the inward mortification, and the latter the outward. Both make us conformed to Christ, the one directly, the other indirectly, so to speak. Paul speaks of the former in Colossians 3:5, and in Romans 6:6, where he teaches that

our old man is crucified, that we may walk in newness of life

He treats of the second in Romans 8:29, where he teaches, that we were predestinated by God to this end — that we might beconformed to the image of his Son. It is called, however, a mortification of Christ only in the case of believers, because the wicked, in the endurance of the afflictions of this present life, share with Adam, but the elect have participation with the Son of God, so that all those miseries that are in their own nature accursed, are helpful to their salvation. All the sons of God, it is true, have this in common, that they bear about the mortification, of Christ; (474) but, according as any one is distinguished by a larger measure of gifts, he, in that proportion, comes so much the nearer to conformity with Christ in this respect.

That the life of Jesus. Here is the best antidote to adversity — that as Christ’s death is the gate of life, so we know that a blessed resurrection will be to us the termination of all miseries, (475) inasmuch as Christ has associated us with himself on this condition, that we shall be partakers of his life, if in this world we submit to die with him.

The sentence that immediately follows may be explained in two ways. If you understand the expression delivered unto death as meaning to be incessantly harassed with persecutions and exposed to dangers, this would be more particularly applicable to Paul, and those like him, who were openly assailed by the fury of the wicked. And thus the expression, for Jesus’ sake, will be equivalent to for the testimony of Christ. (Revelation 1:9.) As, however, the expression to be daily delivered unto death, means otherwise — to have death constantly before our eyes, and to live in such a manner, that our life is rather a shadow of death, (476) I have no objection, that this passage, also, should be expounded in such a way as to be applicable to all believers, and that, too, to every one in his order. Paul himself, in Romans 8:36, explains in this manner Psalms 44:22. In this way for Christ’s sake would mean — because this condition is imposed upon all his members. Erasmus, however, has rendered it, with not. so much propriety, we who live. The rendering that I have given is more suitable — while we live. For Paul means that, so long as we are in the world, we resemble the dead rather than the living.


Verse 12

12.Hence death indeed. This is said ironically, because it was unseemly that the Corinthians should live happily, and in accordance with their desire, and that they should, free from anxiety, take their ease, while in the mean time Paul was struggling with incessant hardships. (477) Such an allotment would certainly have been exceedingly unreasonable. It was also necessary that the folly of the Corinthians should be reproved, inasmuch as they contrived to themselves a Christianity without the cross, and, not content with this, held in contempt the servants of Christ, because they were not so effeminate. (478) Now as death denotes all afflictions, or a life full of vexations, so also life denotes a condition that is prosperous and agreeable; agreeably to the maxim: “Life is — not to live, but to be well. (479)


Verse 13

13.Having the same spirit. This is a correction of the foregoing irony. He had represented the condition of the Corinthians as widely different from his own, (not according to his own judgment, but according to their erroneous view,) inasmuch as they were desirous of a gospel that was pleasant and free from all molestation of the cross, and entertained less honorable views of him, because his condition was less renowned. Now, however, he associates himself with them in the hope of the same blessedness. “Though God spares you, and deals with you more indulgently, while he treats me with somewhat more severity, this diversity, nevertheless, will be no hinderance in the way of the like glorious resurrection awaiting both of us. For where there is oneness of faith, there will, also, there be one inheritance.” It has been thought, that the Apostle speaks here of the holy fathers, who lived under the Old Testament, and represents them as partakers with us, in the same faith. This, indeed, is true, but it does not accord with the subject in hand. For it is not Abraham, or the rest of the fathers, that he associates with himself in a fellowship of faith, but rather the Corinthians, whereas they separated themselves from him by a perverse ambition. “However my condition,” says he, “may appear to be the worse for the present, we shall, nevertheless, one day be alike participants in the same glory, for we are connected together by one faith.” Whoever will examine the connection attentively, will perceive, that this is the true and proper interpretation. By metonymy, he gives the name of the spirit of faith (481) to faith itself, because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

As it is written What has given occasion for the mistake (482) is, that he quotes the testimony of David. It ought, however, to be taken in connection with the confession — not with the oneness of faith, or if you prefer it, it agrees with what follows — not with what goes before, in this way: “Because we have an assured hope of a blessed resurrection, we are bold to speak and preach what we believe, as it is written, I believed, therefore have I spoken ” Now, this is the commencement of Psalms 116:0, (483) where David acknowledges, that, when he had been reduced to the last extremity, he was so overpowered that he almost gave way, but, having soon afterwards regained confidence, he had overcome that temptation. Accordingly, he opens the Psalm thus: I believed, therefore will I speak. For faith is the mother (484) of confession. Paul, it is true, stirring himself up to imitate him, (485) exhorts the Corinthians to do the same, and, in accordance with the common Greek translation, has used the preterite instead of the future, but this is of no consequence (486) For he simply means to say, that believers ought to be magnanimous, and undaunted, in

confessing (487) what they have believed with their heart.
(
Romans 10:9.)

Let now our pretended followers of Nicodemus (488) mark, what sort of fiction they contrive for themselves in the place of faith, when they would have faith remain inwardly buried, and altogether silent, and glory in this wisdom — that they utter, during their whole life, not a single word of right confession.


Verse 15

15.For all things are for your sakes He now associates himself with the Corinthians, not merely in the hope of future blessedness, but also in these very afflictions, in which they might seem to differ from him most widely, for he lets them know, that, if he is afflicted, it is for their benefit. Hence it follows, that there was good reason why they should transfer part of them to themselves. What Paul states, depends first of all on that secret fellowship, which the members of Christ have with one another, but chiefly on that mutual connection and relationship, which required more especially to be manifested among them. Now this admonition was fraught with great utility to the Corinthians, and brought with it choice consolation. For what consolation there is in this — that while God, sparing our weakness, deals with us more gently, those that are endowed with more distinguished excellence, are afflicted for the common advantage of all! They were also admonished, that, since they could not aid Paul otherwise, they should, at least, help him by their prayers and sympathy.

That the grace which hath abounded. That agreement (489) between the members of Christ he now commends on the ground of the fruit that springs from it — its tendency to advance the glory of God. By a metonymy, according to his usual manner, he means, by the term grace, that blessing of deliverance, of which he had made mention previously — that,

while he was weighed down, he was, nevertheless, not in anxiety: while oppressed with poverty, he was not left destitute, etc.,
(
2 Corinthians 4:8,)

and in fine, that he had a deliverance continually afforded him from every kind of evil (490) This grace, he says, overflows. By this he means, that it was not confined to himself personally, so that he alone enjoys it, but it extends itself farther — namely, to the Corinthians, to whom it was of great advantage. When he makes the overflowing of God’s gift consist in gratitude, tending to the glory of its Author, he admonishes us, that every blessing that God confers upon us perishes through our carelessness, if we are not prompt and active in rendering thanks.


Verse 16

16.For which cause we faint not (491) He now, as having carried his point, rises to a higher confidence than before. “There is no cause,” says he, why we should lose heart, or sink down under the burden of the cross, the issue of which is not merely so desirable to myself, but is also salutary to others.” Thus he exhorts the Corinthians to fortitude by his own example, should they happen at any time to be similarly afflicted. Farther, he beats down that insolence, in which they in no ordinary degree erred, inasmuch as under the influence of ambition, they held a man in higher estimation, the farther he was from the cross of Christ.

Though our outward man. The outward man, some improperly and ignorantly confound with the old man, for widely different from this is the old man, of which we have spoken in Romans 4:6. Chrysostom, too, and others restrict it entirely to the body; but it is a mistake, for the Apostle intended to comprehend, under this term, everything that relates to the present life. As he here sets before us two men, so you must place before your view two kinds of life the earthly and the heavenly. The outward man is the maintenance of the earthly life, which consists not merely in the flower of one’s age, (1 Corinthians 7:36,) and in good health, but also in riches, honors, friendships, and other resources. (492) Hence, according as we suffer a diminution or loss of these blessings, which are requisite for keeping up the condition of the present life, is our outward man in that proportion corrupted. For as we are too much taken up with the present life, so long as everything goes on to our mind, the Lord, on that account, by taking away from us, by little and little, the things that we are engrossed with, calls us back to meditate on a better life. Thus, therefore, it is necessary, that the condition of the present life should decay, (493) in order that the inward man may be in a flourishing state; because, in proportion as the earthly life declines, does the heavenly life advance, at least in believers. For in the reprobate, too, the outward man decays, (494) but without anything to compensate for it. In the sons of God, on the other hand, a decay of this nature is the beginning, and, as it were, the cause of production. He says that this takes place daily, because God continually stirs us up to such meditation. Would that this were deeply seated in our minds, that we might uninterruptedly make progress amidst the decay of the outward man!


Verse 17

17.Momentary lightness. As our flesh always shrinks back from its own destruction, whatever reward may be presented to our view, and as we are influenced much more by present feeling than by the hope of heavenly blessings, Paul on that account admonishes us, that the afflictions and vexations of the pious have little or nothing of bitterness, if compared with the boundless blessings of everlasting glory. He had said, that the decay of the outward man ought to occasion us no grief, inasmuch as the renovation of the inward man springs out of it. As, however, the decay is visible, and the renovation is invisible, Paul, with the view of shaking us off from a carnal attachment to the present life, draws a comparison between present miseries and future felicity. Now this comparison is of itself abundantly sufficient for imbuing the minds of the pious with patience and moderation, that they may not give way, borne down by the burden of the cross. For whence comes it, that patience is so difficult a matter but from this, — that we are confounded on having experience of evils for a brief period, (495) and do not raise our thoughts higher? Paul, therefore, prescribes the best antidote against your sinking down under the pressure of afflictions, when he places in opposition to them that future blessedness which is laid up for thee in heaven. (Colossians 1:5.) For this comparison makes that light which previously seemed heavy, and makes that brief and momentary which seemed of boundless duration.

There is some degree of obscurity in Paul’s words, for as he says, With hyperbole unto hyperbole, (496) so the Old Interpreter, and Erasmus (497) have thought that in both terms the magnitude of the heavenly glory, that awaits believers is extolled; or, at least, they have connected them with the verb worketh out. To this I have no objection, but as the distinction that I have made is also not unsuitable, I leave it to my readers to make their choice.

Worketh out an eternal weight Paul does not mean, that this is the invariable effect of afflictions; for the great majority are most miserably weighed down here with evils of every kind, and yet that very circumstance is an occasion of their heavier destruction, rather than a help to their salvation. As, however, he is speaking of believers, we must restrict exclusively to them what is here stated; for this is a blessing from God that is peculiar to them — that they are prepared for a blessed resurrection by the common miseries of mankind.

As to the circumstance, however, that Papists abuse this passage, to prove that afflictions are the causes of our salvation, it is exceedingly silly; (498) unless, perhaps, you choose to take causes in the sense of means, (as they commonly speak.) We, at least, cheerfully acknowledge, that

we must through many tribulations (499)
enter into the kingdom of heaven, (
Acts 14:22,)

and as to this there is no controversy. While, however, our doctrine is, that the momentary lightness of afflictions worketh out in us an eternal weight (500) of life, for this reason, that all the sons of God are

predestinated to be conformed to Christ, (Romans 8:29,)

in the endurance of the cross, and in this manner are prepared for the enjoyment of the heavenly inheritance, which they have through means of God’s gracious adoption; Papists, on the other hand, imagine that they are meritorious works, (501) by which the heavenly kingdom is acquired.

I shall repeat it again in a few words. We do not deny that afflictions are the path by which the heavenly kingdom is arrived at, but we deny that by afflictions we merit the inheritance, (502) which comes to us in no other way than through means of God’s gracious adoption. Papists, without consideration, seize hold of one little word, with the view of building upon it a tower of Babel, (Genesis 11:9,) — that the kingdom of God is not an inheritance procured for us by Christ, but a reward that is due to our works. For a fuller solution, however, of this question, consult my Institutes. (503)


Verse 18

While we look not. Mark what it is, that will make all the miseries of this world easy to be endured, — if we carry forward our thoughts to the eternity of the heavenly kingdom. For a moment is long, if we look around us on this side and on that; but, when we have once raised our minds heavenward, a thousand years begin to appear to us to be like a moment. Farther, the Apostle’s words intimate, that we are imposed upon by the view of present things, because there is nothing there that is not temporal; and that, consequently, there is nothing for us to rest upon but confidence in a future life. Observe the expression, looking at the things which are unseen, (504) for the eye of faith penetrates beyond all our natural senses, and faith is also on that account represented as a looking at things that are invisible. (Hebrews 11:1.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2-corinthians-4.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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