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This chapter 2 Corinthians 5:0 is closely connected with the former, and indeed has been improperly separated from it, as is manifest from the word “For” (γὰρ gar) with which it commences. It contains a further statement of reasons for what has been said in the previous chapter. The main subject there was the ministry; the honesty and fidelity with which Paul and his fellow-laborers toiled 2 Corinthians 4:1-3; the trials and dangers which they encountered in the work of the ministry 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; and the consolations and supports which they had in its various trials, 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. This chapter contains a continuation of the same subject, and a further statement of the motives which prompted them to their work, and of the supports which upheld them in the arduous duties to which they were called. It is a chapter full of exquisite beauties of sentiment and of language, and as well adapted to give consolation and support to all Christians now as it is to ministers; and the sentiments are as well adapted to sustain the humblest believer in his trials as they were to sustain the apostles themselves. The following are the points of consolation and support, and reasons for their zeal and self-denial, to which the apostle refers.
1. They had the assured prospect of the resurrection, and of eternal life, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. The body might decay, and be worn out; it might sigh and groan, but they had a better home, a mansion of eternal rest in the heavens. It was their earnest desire to reach heaven; though not such a desire as to make them unwilling to endure the toils and trials which God should appoint to them here below, but still an earnest, anxious wish to reach safely their eternal home in the skies. In the prospect of their heavenly home, and their eternal rest, they were willing to endure all the trials which were appointed to them.
2. God had appointed them to this; he had suited them for these trials; he had endowed them with the graces of his Spirit; and they were, therefore, willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord; 2 Corinthians 5:5-8. They had such a view of heaven as their home that they were willing at any time to depart and enter the world of rest, and they did not, therefore, shrink from the trials and dangers which would be likely soon to bring them there.
3. They had a deep and constant conviction that they must soon appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11. They labored that they might be accepted by him 2 Corinthians 5:9; they knew that they must give a solemn account to him 2 Corinthians 5:10; they had a clear view, and a deep impression of the awful terrors of that day, and they labored, therefore, to save as many as possible from the condemnation of the great Judge of all, and endeavored to “persuade” them to be prepared for that scene; 2 Corinthians 5:11.
4. Though to some they might appear to be under the influence of improper excitement, and even to be deranged 2 Corinthians 5:14, yet they were acting only under the proper influence of the love of Christ; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. They were constrained and urged on by his love; they knew that he had died for all, and that all people were dead in sin; and they felt themselves the constraining influence of that love prompting them to deny themselves, and to devote their all to his service and cause.
5. Their views of all things had been changed; 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. They had ceased to act under the influences which govern other people; but their own hearts had been changed, and they had become new creatures in Christ, and in their lives they evinced the spirit which should govern those who were thus renewed.
6. They had been solemnly commissioned by God as his ambassadors in this cause. They had been sent to make known the terms and the way of reconciliation, and they felt it to be their duty to proclaim those terms on as wide a scale as possible, and with the utmost zeal and self-denial. It was God’s glorious plan of reconciliation; and on the ground of the atonement made by the Redeemer, they could now offer salvation to all mankind, and as all might be saved, they felt themselves bound to offer the terms of salvation to as many as possible; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. The grand argument for urging sinners to be reconciled to God, is the fact that Christ has died for their sins, and, therefore, the apostles apprized of this fact, sought to urge as many as possible to become his friends; 2 Corinthians 5:21.
For we know - We who are engaged in the work of the gospel ministry. Paul is giving a reason why he and his fellow-laborers did not become weary and faint in their work. The reason was, that they knew that even if their body should die, they had an inheritance reserved for them in heaven. The expression “we know” is the language of strong and unwavering assurance. They had no doubt on the subject. And it proves that there may be the assurance of eternal life; or such evidence of acceptance with God as to leave no doubt of a final admission into heaven. This language was often used by the Saviour in reference to the truths which he taught John 3:11; John 4:22; and it is used by the sacred writers in regard to the truths which they recorded, and in regard to their own personal piety; Joh 21:24; 1 John 2:3, 1 John 2:5,1 John 2:18; 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:19, 1Jo 3:24; 1 John 4:6, 1Jo 4:13; 1 John 5:2, 1Jo 5:15, 1 John 5:19-20.
That if our earthly house - The word “earthly” here (ἐπιγειος epigeios) stands opposed to “heavenly,” or to the house eternal (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς en tois ouranois) in the heavens.” The word properly means “upon earth, terrestrial, belonging to the earth, or on the earth,” and is applied to bodies 1 Corinthians 15:40; to earthly things John 3:12; to earthly, or worldly wisdom, James 3:15. The word “house” here refers doubtless to the body, as the habitation, or the dwelling-place of the mind or soul. The soul dwells in it as we dwell in a house, or tent.
Of this tabernacle - This word means a booth, or tent - a movable dwelling. The use of the word here is not a mere redundancy, but the idea which Paul designs to convey is, doubtless, that the body - the house of the soul - was not a permanent dwelling-place, but was of the same nature as a booth or tent, that was set up for a temporary purpose, or that was easily taken down in migrating from one place to another. It refers here to the body as the frail and temporary abode of the soul. It is not a permanent dwelling; a fixed habitation, but is liable to be taken down at any moment, and was suited up with that view. Tyndale renders it, “if our earthly mansion wherein we now dwell.” The Syriac renders it, “for we know that if our house on earth, which is our body, were dissolved.” The idea is a beautiful one, that the body is a mere unfixed, movable dwelling. place; liable to be taken down at any moment, and not designed, anymore than a tent is, to be a permanent habitation.
Were dissolved - (καταλυθῇ kataluthē). This word means properly to disunite the parts of anything; and is applied to the act of throwing down, or destroying a building. It is applied here to the body, regarded as a temporary dwelling that might be taken down, and it refers, doubtless, to the dissolution of the body in the grave. The idea is, that if this body should moulder back to dust, and be resolved into its original elements; or if by great zeal and, labor it should be exhausted and worn out. Language like this is used by Eliphaz, the Temanite, in describing the body of man. “How much less in those that dwell in houses of clay,” etc.; Job 4:19; compare 2 Peter 1:13-14.
We have a building of God - Robinson (Lexicon) supposes that it refers to “the future spiritual body as the abode of the soul.” Some have supposed that it refers to some “celestial vehicle” with which God invests the soul during the intermediate state. But the Scripture is silent about any such celestial vehicle. It is not easy to tell what was the precise idea which Paul here designed to convey. Perhaps a few remarks may enable us to arrive at the meaning:
(1) It was not to be temporary; not a tent or tabernacle that could be taken down.
(2) It was to be eternal in the heavens.
(3) It was to be such as to constitute a dwelling; a clothing, or such a protection as should keep the soul from being “naked.”
(4) It was to be such as should constitute “life” in contradistinction from “mortality.” These things will better agree with the supposition of its referring to the future body of the saints than any thing else; and probably the idea of Paul is, that the body there will be incorruptible and immortal. When he says it is a “building of God” (ἐκ Θεοῦ ek Theou), he evidently means that it is made by God; that he is the architect of that future and eternal dwelling. Macknight and some others, however, understood this of the mansions which God has prepared for His people in heaven, and which the Lord Jesus has gone to prepare for them; compare John 14:2. But see the note on 2 Corinthians 5:3.
An house - A dwelling; an abode; that is, according to the interpretation above, a celestial, pure, immortal body; a body that shall have God for its immediate author, and that shall be suited to dwell in heaven forever.
Not made with hands - Not constructed by man; a habitation not like those which are made by human skill, and which are therefore easily taken down or removed, but one that is made by God himself. This does not imply that the “earthly house” which is to be superseded by that in heaven is made with hands, but the idea is, that the earthly dwelling has things about it which resemble that which is made by man, or as if it were made with hands; that is it is temporary, frail, easily taken down or removed. But that which is in heaven is permanent, fixed, eternal, as if made by God.
Eternal in the heavens - Immortal; to live forever. The future body shall never be taken down or dissolved by death. It is eternal, of course, only in respect to the future, and not in respect to the past. And it is not only eternal, but it is to abide forever in the heavens - in the world of glory. It is never to be subjected to a dwelling on the earth; never to be in a world of sin, suffering, and death.
For in this - In this tent, tabernacle, or dwelling. In our body here.
We groan - compare note, Romans 8:22. The sense is, that we are subjected to so many trials and afflictions in the present body; that the body is subjected to so many pains and to so much suffering, as to make us earnestly desire to be invested with that body which shall be free from all susceptibility to suffering.
Earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house ... - There is evidently here a change of the metaphor which gives an apparent harshness to the construction. One idea of the apostle is, that the body here, and the spiritual body hereafter, is a house or a dwelling. Here he speaks of it as a garment which may be put on or laid off and of himself as earnestly desiring to put on the immortal clothing or vestment which was in heaven. Both these figures are common in ancient writings, and a change in this manner in the popular style is not unusual. The Pythagoreans compared the body to a tent, or hut, for the soul; the Platonists liken it to a vestment - Bloomfield. The Jews speak of a vestment to the soul in this world and the next. They affirm that the soul had a covering when it was under the throne of God, and before it was clothed with the body. This vestment they say was “the image of God” which was lost by Adam. After the fall, they say Adam and all his posterity were regarded as naked.
In the future world they say the good will be clothed with a vestment for the soul which they speak of as lucid and radiant, and such as no one on earth can attain - Schoettgen. But there is no reason to think that Paul referred to any such trifles as the Jews have believed on this subject. He evidently regarded man as composed of body and soul. The soul was the more important part, and the body constituted its mere habitation or dwelling. Yet a body was essential to the idea of the complete man; and since this was frail and dying, he looked forward to a union with the body that should be eternal in the heavens, as a more desirable and perfect habitation of the soul. Mr. Locke has given an interpretation of this in which he is probably alone, but which has so much appearance of plausibility that it is not improper to refer to it. He supposes that this whole passage has reference to the fact that at the coming of the Redeemer the body will be changed without experiencing death; (compare 1 Corinthians 15:51-52); that Paul expected that this might soon occur; and that he earnestly desired to undergo this transformation without experiencing the pains of dying. He therefore paraphrases it, “For in this tabernacle I groan, earnestly desiring, without putting off this mortal, earthly body by death, to have that celestial body superinduced, if so be the coming of Christ shall overtake me in this life, before I put off this body.”
With our house - The phrase “to be clothed upon with our house” seems to be harsh and unusual. The sense is plain, however, that Paul desired to be invested with that pure, spiritual, and undecaying body which was to be the eternal abode of his soul in heaven. That he speaks of as a house (οἰκητήριον oikētērion), a more permanent and substantial dwelling than a tent, or tabernacle.
If so be that being clothed - This passage has been interpreted in a great many different ways. The view of Locke is given above. Rosenmuller renders it, “For in the other life we shall not be wholly destitute of a body, but we shall have a body.” Tyndale renders it, “If it happen that we be found clothed, and not naked.” Doddridge supposes it to mean, “since being so clothed upon, we shall not be found naked, and exposed to any evil and inconvenience, how entirely soever we may be stripped of everything we can call our own here below.” Hammond explains it to mean, “If, indeed, we shall, happily, be among the number of those faithful Christians, who will be found clothed upon, not naked.” Various other expositions may be seen in the larger commentaries. The meaning is probably this:
(1) The word “clothed” refers to the future spiritual body of believers; the eternal habitation in which they shall reside.
(2) The expression implies an earnest desire of Paul to be thus invested with that body.
(3) It is the language of humility and of deep solicitude, as if it were possible that they might fail, and as if it demanded their utmost care and anxiety that they might thus be clothed with the spiritual body in heaven.
(4) It means that in that future state, the soul will not be naked; that is, destitute of any body, or covering. The present body will be laid aside. It will return to corruption, and the disembodied Spirit will ascend to God and to heaven. It will be disencumbered of the body with which it has been so long clothed. But we are not thence to infer that it will be destitute of a body; that it will remain a naked soul. It will be clothed there in its appropriate glorified body; and will have an appropriate habitation there. This does not imply, as Bloomfield supposes, that the souls of the wicked will be destitute of any such habitation as the glorified body of the saints; which may be true - but it means simply that the soul shall not be destitute of an appropriate body in heaven, but that the union of body and soul there shall be known as well as on earth.
For we - We who are Christians. All Christians.
That are in this tabernacle - This frail and dying body; note, 2 Corinthians 5:1.
Do groan - see 2 Corinthians 5:2. This is a further explanation of what is said in 2 Corinthians 5:2. It implies an ardent and earnest desire to leave a world of toil and pain, and to enter into a world of rest and glory.
Being burdened - Being borne down by the toils, and trials, and calamities of this life; see the note, 2 Corinthians 3:7-10.
Not for that we would be unclothed - Not that we are impatient, and unwilling to bear these burdens as long as God shall appoint. Not that we merely wish to lay aside this mortal body. We do not desire to die and depart merely because we suffer much, and because the body here is subjected to great trials. This is not the ground of our wish to depart. We are willing to bear trials. We are not impatient under afflictions. The sentiment here is, that the mere fact that we may be afflicted much and long, should not be the principal reason why we should desire to depart. We should be willing to bear all this as long as God shall choose to appoint. The anxiety of Paul to enter the eternal world was from a higher motive than a mere desire to get away from trouble.
But clothed upon - To be invested with our spiritual body. We desire to be clothed with that body. We desire to be in heaven, and to be clothed with immortality. We wish to have a body that shall be pure, undecaying, ever glorious. It was not, therefore, a mere desire to be released from sufferings; it was an earnest wish to be admitted to the glories of the future world, and partake of the happiness which we would enjoy there. This is one of the reasons why Paul wished to be in heaven. Other reasons he has stated elsewhere. Thus, in Philippians 1:23, he says he had “a desire to depart and to be with Christ.” So in 2 Corinthians 5:8 of this chapter, he says he was “willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he speaks of the “crown of righteousness” laid up for him as a reason why he was willing to die.
That mortality might be swallowed up of life - On the meaning of the word rendered “swallowed up” (καταποθῇ katapothē); see the note on 1 Corinthians 15:54. The meaning here is, that it might be completely absorbed; that it might cease to be; that there might be no more mortality, but that he might pass to the immortal state - to the condition of eternal life in the heavens. The body here is mortal; the body there will be immortal; and Paul desired to pass away from the mortal state to one that shall be immortal, a world where there shall be no more death; compare 1 Corinthians 15:53.
Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing - The phrase “self-same thing” here means this very thing, that is, the thing to which he had referred - the preparation for heaven, or the heavenly dwelling. The word “wrought” here (κατεργασάμενος katergasamenos) means that God had formed or made them for this; that is, he had by the influences of the Spirit, and by his agency on the heart, created them, as it were, for this, and adapted them to it. God has destined us to this change from corruption to incorruption; he has adapted us to it; he has formed us for it. It does not refer to the original creation of the body and the soul for this end, but it means that God, by his own renewing, and sanctifying, and sustaining agency, had formed them for this, and adapted them to it. The object of Paul in stating that it was done by God, is to keep this truth prominently before the mind. It was not by any native inclination, or strength, or power which they had, but it was all to be traced to God; compare Ephesians 2:10.
Who also hath given - In addition to the fitting for eternal glory he has given us the earnest of the Spirit to sustain us here. We are not only prepared to enter into heaven, but we have here also the support produced by the earnest of the Spirit.
The earnest of the Spirit - On the meaning of this, see the note on 2 Corinthians 1:22. He has given to us the Holy Spirit as the pledge or assurance of the eternal inheritance.
Therefore we are always confident - The word used here (θαῤῥοῦντες tharrountes) means to be of good cheer. To have good courage, to be full of hope. The idea is, that Paul was not dejected, cast down, disheartened, discouraged. He was cheerful and happy. He was patient in his trials, and diligent in his calling. He was full of hope, and of the confident expectation of heaven; and this filled him with cheerfulness and with joy. Tyndale renders it: “we are always of goud cheere.” And this was not occasional and transitory, it was constant, it was uniform, it always (πάντοτε pantote) existed. This is an instance of the uniform cheerfulness which will be produced by the assured prospect of heaven. It is an instance too when the hope of heaven will enable a man to face danger with courage; to endure toil with patience; and to submit to trials in any form with cheerfulness.
Knowing - see 2 Corinthians 5:1. This is another instance in which the apostle expresses undoubted assurance.
While we are at home in the body - The word used here (ἐνδημοῦντες endēmountes) means literally to be among one’s own people, to be at home; to be present at any place. It is here equivalent to saying, “while we dwell in the body;” see 2 Corinthians 5:1. Doddridge renders it, “sojourning in the body;” and remarks that it is improper to render it “at home in the body,” since it is the apostle’s design to intimate that this is not our home. But Bloomfield says that the word is never used in the sense of sojourning. The idea is not that of being “at home” - for this is an idea which is the very opposite of that which the apostle wishes to convey. His purpose is not at all to represent the body here as our home, and the original word does not imply that. It means here simply to be in the body; to be present in the body; that is, while we are in the body.
We are absent from the Lord - The Lord Jesus; see the notes, Acts 1:24; compare Philippians 1:23. Here he was in a strange world, and among strangers. His great desire and purpose was to be with the Lord; and hence, he cared little how soon the frail tabernacle of the body was taken down, and was cheerful amidst all the labors and sufferings that tended to bring it to the grave, and to release him to go to his eternal home where he would be present forever with the Lord.
For we walk - To walk, in the Scriptures often denotes to live, to act, to conduct in a certain way; see the notes on Romans 4:12; Romans 6:4. It has reference to the fact that life is a journey, or a pilgrimage, and that the Christian is traveling to another country. The sense here is, that we conduct ourselves in our course of life with reference to the things which are unseen, and not with reference to the things which are seen.
By faith - In the belief of those things which we do not see. We believe in the existence of objects which are invisible, and we are influenced by them. To walk by faith, is to live in the confident expectation of things that are to come; in the belief of the existence of unseen realities; and suffering them to influence us as if they were seen. The people of this world are influenced by the things that are seen. They live for wealth, honor, splendor, praise, for the objects which this world can furnish, and as if there were nothing which is unseen, or as if they ought not to be influenced by the things which are unseen. The Christian, on the contrary, has a firm conviction of the reality of the glories of heaven; of the fact that the Redeemer is there; of the fact that there is a crown of glory; and he lives, and acts as if that were all real, and as if he saw it all. The simple account of faith, and of living by faith is, that we live and act as if these things were true, and suffer them to make an impression on our mind according to their real nature; see the note on Mark 16:16.
It is contradistinguished from living simply under the influence of things that are seen. God is unseen - but the Christian lives, and thinks, and acts as if there were a God, and as if he saw him. Christ is unseen now by the bodily eye; but the Christian lives and acts as if he were seen, that is, as if his eye were known to be upon us, and as if he was now exalted to heaven and was the only Saviour. The Holy Spirit is unseen; but he lives, and acts as if there were such a Spirit, and as if his influences were needful to renew, and purify the soul. Heaven is unseen; but the Christian lives, and thinks, and acts as if there were a heaven, and as if he now saw its glories. He has confidence in these, and in kindred truths, and he acts as if they were real. Could man see all these; were they visible to the naked eye as they are to the eye of faith, no one would doubt the propriety of living and acting with reference to them.
But if they exist, there is no more impropriety in acting with reference to them than if they were seen. Our seeing or not seeing them does not alter their nature or importance, and the fact that they are not seen does not make it improper to act with reference to them. There are many ways of being convinced of the existence and reality of objects besides seeing them; and it may be as rational to be influenced by the reason, the judgment, or by strong confidence, as it is to be influenced by sight. Besides, all people are influenced by things which they have not seen. They hope for objects that are future. They aspire to happiness which they have not yet beheld. They strive for honor and wealth which are unseen, and which is in the distant future. They live, and act - influenced by strong faith and hope - as if these things were attainable; and they deny themselves, and labor, and cross oceans and deserts, and breathe in pestilential air to obtain those things which they have not seen, and which to them are in the distant future.
And why should not the Christian endure like labor, and be willing to suffer in like manner, to gain the unseen crown which is incorruptible, and to acquire the unseen wealth which the moth does not corrupt? And further still, the people of this world strive for those objects which they have not beheld, without any promise or any assurance that they shall obtain them. No being able to grant them has promised them; no one has assured them that their lives shall be lengthened out to obtain them. In a moment they may be cut off and all their plans frustrated; or they may be utterly disappointed and all their plans fail; or if they gain the object, it may be unsatisfactory, and may furnish no pleasure such as they had anticipated. But not so the Christian. He has:
(1) The promise of life.
(2) He has the assurance that sudden death cannot deprive him of it. It at once removes him to the object of pursuit, not from it.
(3) He has the assurance that when obtained, it shall not disgust, or satiate, or decay, but that it shall meet all the expectations of the soul, and shall be eternal.
Not by sight - This may mean either that we are not influenced by a sight of these future glories, or that we are not influenced by the things which we see. The main idea is, that we are not influenced and governed by the sight. We are not governed and controlled by the things which we see, and we do not see those things which actually influence and control us. In both it is faith that controls us, and not sight.
We are confident - 2 Corinthians 5:6. We are cheerful, and courageous, and ready to bear our trial. Tyndale renders it: “we are of good comfort.”
And willing rather to be absent from the body - We would prefer to die. The same idea occurs in Philippians 1:23. “Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better.” The sense is, that Paul would have preferred to die, and to go to heaven; rather than to remain in a world of sin and trial.
To be present with the Lord - The Lord Jesus; see the note on Acts 1:24; compare Philippians 1:23. The idea of Paul is, that the Lord Jesus would constitute the main glory of heaven, and that to be with him was equivalent to being in a place of perfect bliss. He had no idea of any heaven where the Lord Jesus was not; and to be with him was to be in heaven. That world where the Redeemer is, is heaven. This also proves that the spirits of the saints, when they depart, are with the Redeemer; that is, are at once taken to heaven. It demonstrates:
- That they are not annihilated.
(2)That they do not sleep, and remain in an unconscious state, as Dr. Priestley supposes.
(3)That they are not in some intermediate state, either in a state of purgatory, as the Papists suppose, or a state where all the souls of the just and the unjust are assembled in a common abode, as many Protestants have supposed; but,
- That they dwell with Christ; they are with the Lord (πρὸς τὸν Κυρίον pros ton Kurion). They abide in his presence; they partake of his joy and his glory; they are permitted to sit with him in his throne; Revelation 3:21.
The same idea the Saviour expressed to the dying thief, when he said, “today shalt thou be with me in paradise;” Luke 23:43.
Wherefore - (Διὸ Dio). In view of the facts stated above. Since we have the prospect of a resurrection and of future glory; since we have the assurance that there is a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; and since God has given to us this hope, and has granted to us the earnest of the Spirit, we make it our great object so to live as to be accepted by him.
We labor - The word used here (φιλοτιμούμεθα philotimoumetha, from φίλος philos and τιμὴ timē, loving honor) means properly to love honor; to be ambitious. This is its usual Classical signification. In the New Testament, it means to be ambitious to do anything; to exert oneself; to strive, as if from a love or sense of honor. As in English, to make it a point of honor to do so and so - Robinson (Lexicon); see Romans 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:1 l. It means here, that Paul made it a point of constant effort; it was his leading and constant aim to live so as to be acceptable to God, and to meet his approbation wherever he was.
Whether present or absent - Whether present with the Lord 2 Corinthians 5:8, or absent from him 2 Corinthians 5:6; that is, whether in this world or the next; whether we are here, or removed to heaven. Wherever we are, or may be, it is, and will be our main purpose and object so to live as to secure his favor. Paul did not wish to live on earth regardless of his favor or without evidence that he would be accepted by him. He did not make the fact that he was absent from him, and that he did not see him with the physical eye, an excuse for walking in the ways of ambition, or seeking his own purposes and ends. The idea is, that so far as this point was concerned, it made no difference with him whether he lived or died; whether he was on earth or in heaven; whether in the body or out of the body; it was the great fixed principle of his nature so to live as to secure the approbation of the Lord. And this is the true principle on which the Christian should act, and will act. The fact that he is now absent from the Lord will be to him no reason why he should lead a life of sin and self-indulgence, anymore than he would if he were in heaven; and the fact that he is soon to be with him is not the main reason why he seeks to live so as to please him. It is because this has become the fixed principle of the soul; the very purpose of the life; and this principle and this purpose will adhere to him, and control him wherever he may be placed, or in whatever world he may dwell.
We may be accepted of him - The phrase used here εὐάρεστοι εἶναι euarestoi einai means to be well-pleasing; and then to be acceptable, or approved; Romans 12:1; Romans 14:18; Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 4:18; Titus 2:9. The sense here is, that Paul was earnestly desirous of so living as to please God, and to receive from him the tokens and marks of his favor. And the truth taught in this verse is, that this will be the great purpose of the Christian’s life, and that it makes no difference as to the existence and operation of this principle whether a man is on earth or in heaven. He will equally desire it, and strive for it; and this is one of the ways in which religion makes a man conscientious and holy, and is a better guard and security for virtue than all human laws, and all the restraints which can be imposed by man.
For we must - (δεῖ dei). It is proper, fit, necessary that we should all appear there. This fact, to which Paul now refers, is another reason why it was necessary to lead a holy life, and why Paul gave himself with so much diligence and self-denial to the arduous duties of his office. There is a necessity, or a fitness that we should appear there to give up our account, for we are here on trial: we are responsible moral agents; we are placed here to form characters for eternity. Before we receive our eternal allotment it is proper that we should render our account of the manner in which we have lived, and of the manner in which we have improved our talents and privileges. In the nature of things, it is proper that we should undergo a trial before we receive our reward, or before we are punished; and God has made it necessary and certain, by his direct and positive appointment, that we should stand at the bar of the final judge; see Romans 14:10.
All - Both Jews and Gentiles; old and young; bond and free; rich and poor; all of every class, and every age, and every nation. None shall escape by being unknown; none by virtue of their rank, or wealth; none because they have a character too pure to be judged. All shall be arranged in one vast assemblage, and with reference to their eternal doom; see Revelation 20:12. Rosenmuller supposes that the apostle here alludes to an opinion that was common among the Jews that the Gentiles only would be exposed to severe judgments in the future world, and that the Jews would be saved as a matter of course. But the idea seems rather to be, that as the trial of the great day was the most important that man could undergo, and as all must give account there, Paul and his fellow-laborers devoted themselves to untiring diligence and fidelity that they might be accepted in that great day.
Appear - (φανερωθῆναι phanerōthēnai). This word properly means, to make apparent, manifest, known; to show openly, etc. Here it means that we must be manifest, or openly shown; that is, we must be seen there, and be publicly tried. We must not only stand there, but our character will be seen, our desert will be known, our trial will be public. All will be brought, from their graves, and from their places of concealment, and will be seen at the judgment-seat. The secret things of the heart and the life will all be made manifest and known.
The judgment-seat of Christ - The tribunal of Christ, who is appointed to be the judge of quick and dead; see the John 5:25 note; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31 notes. Christ is appointed to judge the world; and for this purpose he will assemble it before him, and assign to all their eternal allotments; see Matthew 25:0.
That every one may receive - The word rendered “may receive” κομίσηται komisētai means properly to take care of, to provide for; and in the New Testament, to bear, to bring Luke 7:37; to acquire, to obtain, to receive. This is the sense here. Every individual shall take, receive, or bear away the appropriate reward for the transactions of this life of probation; see Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:25.
The things - The appropriate reward of the actions of this life. “done in his body.” Literally, “the things by or through (διὰ dia) the body.” Tyndale renders it: “the works of his body.” The idea is, that every man shall receive an appropriate reward for the actions of this life. Observe here:
(1) That it is the works done in or through the body; not which the body itself has done. It is the mind, the man that has lived in the body, and acted by it, that is to be judged.
(2) It is to be for the deeds of this life; not for what is done after death. People are not to be brought into judgment for what they do after they die. All beyond the grave is either reward or punishment; it is not probation. The destiny is to be settled forever by what is done in this world of probation.
(3) It is to be for all the deeds done in the body; for all the thoughts, plans, purposes, words, as well as for all the outward actions of the man. All that has been thought or done must come into review, and man must give an account for all.
According to that he hath done - As an exact retribution for all that has been done. It is to be a suitable and proper recompence. The retribution is to be measured by what has been done in this life. Rewards shall be granted to the friends, and punishments to the foes of God, just in proportion to, or suitably to their deeds in this life. Every man shall receive just what, under all the circumstances, he ought to receive, and what will be impartial justice in the case. The judgment will be such that it will be capable of being seen to be right; and such as the universe at large, and as the individuals themselves will see ought to be rendered.
Whether it be good or bad - Whether the life has been good or evil. The good will have no wish to escape the trial; the evil will not be able. No power of wickedness, however great, will be able to escape from the trial of that day; no crime that has been concealed in this life will be concealed there; no transgressor of law who may have long escaped the punishment due to his sins, and who may have evaded all human tribunals, will be able to escape there.
Knowing therefore - We who are apostles, and who are appointed to preach the gospel, having the fullest assurance of the terrors of the day of judgment, and of the wrath of God, endeavor to persuade people to be prepared to meet Him, and to give up their account.
The terror of the Lord - This is, of the Lord Jesus, who will be seated on the throne of judgment, and who will decide the destiny of all people, 2 Corinthians 5:10; compare Matthew 25:0. The sense is, knowing how much the Lord is to be feared; what an object of terror and alarm it will be to stand at the judgment-seat; how fearful and awful will be the consequences of the trial of that day. The Lord Jesus will be an object of terror and alarm, or it will be a subject inspiring terror and alarm to stand there on that day, because:
- He has all power, and is appointed to execute judgment;
- Because all must there give a strict and impartial account of all that they have done;
- Because the wrath of God will be shown in the condemnation of the guilty.
It will be a day of awful wailing and alarm when all the living and the dead shall be arraigned on trial with reference to their eternal destiny; and when countless hosts of the guilty and impenitent shall be thrust down to an eternal hell. Who can describe the amazing terror of the scene? Who can fancy the horrors of the hosts of the guilty and the wretched who shall then hear that their doom is to be fixed forever in a world of unspeakable woe? The influence of the knowledge of the terror of the Lord on the mind of the apostle seems to have been two-fold; first, an apprehension of it as a personal concern, and a desire to escape it, which led him to constant self-denial and toil; and secondly, a desire to save others from being overwhelmed in the wrath of that dreadful day.
We persuade men - We endeavor to persuade them to flee from the wrath to come; to be prepared to stand before the judgment-seat, and to be suited to enter into heaven. Observe here the uniqueness of the statement. It is not, we drive people; or we endeavor to alarm people; or we frighten people; or we appeal merely to their fears, but it is, we persuade people, we endeavor to induce them by all the arts of persuasion and argument to flee from the wrath to come. The future judgment, and the scenes of future woe, are not proper topics for mere declamation. To declaim constantly on hell-fire and perdition; to appeal merely to the fears of people, is not the way in which Paul and the Saviour preached the gospel. The knowledge that there would be a judgment, and that the wicked would be sent to hell, was a powerful motive for Paul to endeavor to “persuade” people to escape from wrath, and was a motive for the Saviour to weep over Jerusalem, and to lament its folly, and its doom; Luke 19:41. But they who fill their sermons with the denunciations of wrath; who dwell on the words “hell” and “damnation,” for the purpose of rhetoric or declamation, to round a period, or merely to excite alarm; and who “deal damnation around the land” as if they rejoiced that people were to be condemned, and in a tone and manner as if they would be pleased to execute it, have yet to learn the true nature of the way to win people to God, and the proper effect of those awful truths on the mind. The true effect is, to produce tenderness, deep feeling, and love; to prompt to the language of persuasion and of tender entreaty; to lead people to weep over dying sinners rather than to denounce them; to pray to God to have mercy on them rather than to use the language of severity, or to assume tones as if they would be pleased to execute the awful wrath of God.
But we are made manifest unto God - The meaning of this is, probably, that God sees that we are sincere and upright in our aims and purposes. He is acquainted with our hearts. All our motives are known to him, and he sees that it is our aim to promote his glory, and to save the souls of people. This is probably said to counteract the charge which might have been brought against him by some of the disaffected in Corinth, that he was influenced by improper motives and aims. To meet this, Paul says, that God knew that he was endeavoring to save souls, and that he was actuated by a sincere desire to rescue them from the impending terrors of the day of judgment.
And I trust also ... - And I trust also you are convinced of our integrity and uprightness of aim. The same sentiment is expressed in other words in 2 Corinthians 4:2. It is an appeal which he makes to them, and the expression of an earnest and confident assurance that they knew and felt that his aim was upright, and his purpose sincere.
For we commend not ourselves again unto you - This refers to what he had said in the previous verse. He had there said that he had such a consciousness of integrity that he could appeal to God, and that he was persuaded that the Corinthians also approved his course, or admitted that he was influenced by right motives. He here states the reason why he had said this. It was not to commend himself to them. It was not to boast of his own character, nor was it in order to secure their praise or favor. Some might be disposed to misrepresent all that Paul said of himself, and to suppose that it was said for mere vain-glory, or the love of praise. He tells them, therefore, that his sole aim was necessary self-defense, and in order that they might have the fullest evidence that he, by whom they had been converted, was a true apostle; and that he whom they regarded as their friend and father in the gospel was a man of whom they need not be ashamed.
But give you occasion - This is a very happy turn of expression. The sense is, “You have been converted under my labors. You profess to regard me as your spiritual father and friend. I have no reason to doubt of your attachment to me. Yet you often hear my name slandered, and hear me accused of wanting the evidence of being an apostle, and of being vain-glorious, and self-seeking. I know your desire to vindicate my character, and to show that you are my friends. I, therefore, say these things in regard to myself in order that you may be thus able to show your respect for me, and to vindicate me from the false and slanderous accusations of my enemies. Thus doing, you will be able to answer them; to show that the man whom you thus respect is worthy of your confidence and esteem.”
On your behalf - For your own benefit, or as it were in self-vindication for adhering to me, and evincing attachment to me.
That ye may have somewhat to answer them - That you may be furnished with a ready reply when you are charged with adhering to a man who has no claims to the apostleship, or who is slandered in any other way.
Which glory in appearance - The false teachers in Corinth. Probably they boasted of their rank, their eloquence, their talents, their external advantages; but not in the qualities of the heart - in sincerity, honesty, real love for souls. Their consciences would not allow them to do this; and they knew themselves that their boasting was mere vain pretence, and that there was no real and solid ground for it. The margin is, “in the face.” The meaning is, probably, that their ground of boasting was external, and was such as can be seen of people, and was not rather the secret consciousness of right, which could exist only in the conscience and the heart. Paul, on the other hand, gloried mainly in his sincerity, his honesty, his desire for their salvation; in his conscious integrity before God; and not in any mere external advantages or professions, in his rank, eloquence, or talent. Accordingly, all his argument here turns on his sincerity, his conscious uprightness, and his real regard for their welfare. And the truth taught here is, that sincerity and conscious integrity are more valuable than any or all external advantages and endowments.
For whether we be beside ourselves - This is probably designed to meet some of the charges which the false teachers in Corinth brought against him, and to furnish his friends there with a ready answer, as well as to show them the true principles on which he acted, and his real love for them. It is altogether probable that he was charged with being deranged; that many who boasted themselves of prudence, and soberness, and wisdom, regarded him as acting like a madman. It has not been uncommon, by any means, for the cold and the prudent; for formal professors and for hypocrites to regard the warm-hearted and zealous friends of religion as maniacs. Festus thought Paul was deranged, when he said, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad,” Acts 26:24; and the Saviour himself was regarded by his immediate relatives and friends as beside himself, Mark 3:21. And at all times there have been many, both in the church and out of it, who have regarded the friends of revivals, and of missions, and all those who have evinced any extraordinary zeal in religion, as deranged. The object of Paul here is to show, whatever might be the appearance or the estimate which they affixed to his conduct, what were the real principles which actuated him. These were zeal for God, love to the church, and the constraining influences of the love of Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The word rendered here as “be beside ourselves” (ἐξέστημεν exestēmen, from ἐξίστημι existēmi) means properly, to put out of place; to be put out of place; and then to be put out of oneself, to astonish, to fill with wonder; Luke 24:22; Acts 8:9, Acts 8:11; and then to be out of one’s mind, to be deranged. Here it means that they were charged with being deranged, or that others esteemed, or professed to esteem Paul and his fellow-laborers deranged.
It is to God - It is in the Cause of God, and from love to him. It is such a zeal for him; such an absorbing interest in his cause; such love prompting to so great self-denial, and teaching us to act so much unlike other people as to lead them to think that we are deranged. The doctrine here is, that there may be such a zeal for the glory of God, such an active and ardent desire to promote his honor, as to lead others to charge us with derangement. It does not prove however that a man is deranged on the subject of religion because he is unlike others, or because he pursues a course of life that differs materially from that of other professors of religion, and from the man of the world. He may be the truly sane man after all; and all the madness that may exist may be where there is a profession of religion without zeal; a professed belief in the existence of God and in the realities of eternity, that produces no difference in the conduct between the professor and other people; or an utter unconcern about eternal realities when a man is walking on the brink of death and of hell. There are a few people that become deranged by religion; there are millions who have no religion who act as madmen. And the highest instances of madness in the world are those who walk over an eternal hell without apprehension or alarm.
Or whether we be sober - Whether we are sane, or of sound mind; compare Mark 5:15. Tyndale renders this whole passage: “For if we be too fervent, to God we are too fervent; if we keep measure, for our cause keep we measure.” The sense seems to be, “if we are esteemed to be sane, and sober-minded, as we trust you will admit us to be, it is for your sake. Whatever may be the estimate in which we are held, we are influenced by love to God, and love to man. In such a cause, we cannot but evince zeal and self-denial which may expose us to the charge of mental derangement; but still we trust that by you we shall be regarded as influenced by a sound mind. We seek your welfare. We labor for you. And we trust that you will appreciate our motives, and regard us as truly sober-minded.”
For the love of Christ - In this verse, Paul brings into view the principle which actuated him; the reason of his extraordinary and disinterested zeal. That was, that he was influenced by the love which Christ had shown in dying for all people, and by the argument which was furnished by that death respecting the actual character and condition of man (in this verse); and of the obligation of those who professed to be his true friends 2 Corinthians 5:15. The phrase “the love of Christ” (ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ agapē tou Christou) may denote either the love which Christ bears toward us, and which he has manifested, or our love toward him. In the former sense the phrase “the love of God” is used in Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 13:13, and the phrase “love of Christ” in Ephesians 3:14. The phrase is used in the latter sense in John 15:9-10, and Romans 8:35. It is impossible to determine the sense with certainty, and it is only by the view which shall be taken of the connection and of the argument which will in any way determine the meaning. Expositors differ in regard to it. It seems to me that the phrase here means the love which Christ had toward us. Paul speaks of his dying for all as the reason why he was urged on to the course of self-denial which he evinced. Christ died for all. All were dead. Christ evinced his great love for us, and for all, by giving himself to die; and it was this love which Christ had shown that impelled Paul to his own acts of love and self-denial. He gave himself to his great work impelled by that love which Christ had shown; by the view of the ruined condition of man which that work furnished; and by a desire to emulate the Redeemer, and to possess the same spirit which he evinced.
Constraineth us - (συνέχει sunechei). This word (συνέχω sunechō) properly means, to hold together, to press together, to shut up; then to press on, urge, impel, or excite. Here it means, that the impelling, or exciting motive in the labors and self-denials of Paul, was the love of Christ - the love which he had showed to the children of men. Christ so loved the world as to give himself for it. His love for the world was a demonstration that people were dead in sins. And we, being urged by the same love, are prompted to like acts of zeal and self-denial to save the world from ruin.
Because we thus judge - Greek “We judging this;” that is, we thus determine in our own minds, or we thus decide; or this is our firm conviction and belief - we come to this conclusion.
That if one died for all - On the supposition that one died for all; or taking it for granted that one died for all, then it follows that all were dead. The “one” who died for all here is undoubtedly the Lord Jesus. The word “for” (ὑπὲρ huper) means in the place of, instead of; see Philippians 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 5:20. It means that Christ took the place of sinners, and died in their stead; that he endured what was an ample equivalent for all the punishment which would be inflicted if they were to suffer the just penalty of the Law; that he endured so much suffering, and that God by his great substituted sorrows made such an expression of his hatred of sin, as to answer the same end in expressing his sense of the evil of sin, and in restraining others from transgression, as if the guilty were personally to suffer the full penalty of the Law. If this was done, of course, the guilty might be par doned and saved, since all the ends which could be accomplished by their destruction have been accomplished by the substituted sufferings of the Lord Jesus; see the notes on Romans 3:25-26, where this subject is considered at length.
The phrase “for all,” (ὑπὲρ πάντων huper pantōn) obviously means for all mankind; for every man. This is an exceedingly important expression in regard to the extent of the atonement which the Lord Jesus made, and while it proves that his death was vicarious, that is, in the place of others, and for their sakes, it demonstrates also that the atonement was general, and had, in itself considered, no limitation, and no particular reference to any class or condition of people; and no particular applicability to one class more than to another. There was nothing in the nature of the atonement that limited it to anyone class or condition; there was nothing in the design that made it, in itself, anymore applicable to one portion of mankind than to another. And whatever may be true in regard to the fact as to its actual applicability, or in regard to the purpose of God to apply it, it is demonstrated by this passage that his death had an original applicability to all, and that the merits of that death were sufficient to save all. The argument in favor of the general atonement, from this passage, consists in the following points:
(1) That Paul assumes this as a matter that was well known, indisputable, and universally admitted, that Christ died for all. He did not deem it necessary to enter into the argument to prove it, nor even to state it formally. It was so well known, and so universally admitted, that he made it a first principle - an elementary position - a maxim on which to base another important doctrine - to wit, that all were dead. It was a point which he assumed that no one would call in question; a doctrine which might be laid down as the basis of an argument, like one of the first principles or maxims in science.
(2) It is the plain and obvious meaning of the expression - the sense which strikes all people, unless they have some theory to support to the contrary; and it requires all the ingenuity which people can ever command to make it appear even plausible, that this is consistent with the doctrine of a limited atonement; much more to make it out that it does not mean all. If a man is told that all the human family must die, the obvious interpretation is, that it applies to every individual. If told that all the passengers on board a steamboat were drowned, the obvious interpretation is, that every individual was meant. If told that a ship was wrecked, and that all the crew perished, the obvious interpretation would be that none escaped. If told that all the inmates of an hospital were sick, it would be understood that there was not an individual that was not sick. Such is the view which would be taken by 999 persons out of 1,000, if told that Christ died for all; nor could they conceive how this could be consistent with the statement that he died only for the elect, and that the elect was only a small part of the human family.
(3) This interpretation is in accordance with all the explicit declarations on the design of the death of the Redeemer. Hebrews 2:9, “that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man;” compare John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 1 Timothy 2:6, “who gave himself a ransom for all.” See Matthew 20:28,” The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many.” 1 John 2:2,” and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
(4) The fact also that on the ground of the atonement made by the Redeemer, salvation is offered to all people by God, is a proof that he died for all. The apostles were directed to go “into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature,” with the assurance that “he that believeth and is baptized shall he saved;” Mark 16:15-16; and everywhere in the Bible the most full and free offers of salvation are made to all mankind; compare Isaiah 55:1; John 7:37; Revelation 22:17. These offers are made on the ground that the Lord Jesus died for people; John 3:16. They are offers of salvation through the gospel, of the pardon of sin, and of eternal life to be made “to every creature.” But if Christ died only for a part, if there is a large portion of the human family for whom he died in no sense whatever; if there is no provision of any kind made for them, then God must know this, and then the offers cannot be made with sincerity, and God is tantalizing them with the offers of that which does not exist, and which he knows does not exist. It is of no use here to say that the preacher does not know who the elect are, and that he is obliged to make the offer to all in order that the elect may be reached. For it is not the preacher only who offers the gospel. It is God who does it, and he knows who the elect are, and yet he offers salvation to all. And if there is no salvation provided for all, and no possibility that all to whom the offer comes should be saved, then God is insincere; and there is no way possible of vindicating his character.
(5) If this interpretation is not correct, and if Christ did not die for all, then the argument of Paul here is a non sequitur, and is worthless. The demonstration that all are dead, according to him is, that Christ died for all. But suppose that he meant, or that he knew, that Christ died only for a part, for the elect, then how would the argument stand, and what would be its force? “Christ died only for a portion of the human race, therefore all are sinners. Medicine is provided only for a part of mankind, therefore all are sick. Pardon is offered to part only, therefore all are guilty.” But Paul never reasoned in this way. He believed that Christ died for all mankind, and on the ground of that he inferred at once that all needed such an atonement; that all were sinners, and that all were exposed to the wrath of God. And the argument is in this way, and in this way only, sound. But still it may be asked, What is the force of this argument? How does the fact that Christ died for all, prove that all were sinners, or dead in sin? I answer:
(a) In the same way that to provide medicine for all, proves that all are sick, or liable to be sick; and to offer pardon to all who are in a prison, proves that all there are guilty. What insult is it to offer medicine to a man in health; or pardon to a man who has violated no law! And there would be the same insult in offering salvation to a man who was not a sinner, and who did not need forgiveness.
(b) The dignity of the sufferer, and the extent of his sufferings, prove that all were under a deep and dreadful load of guilt. Such a being would not have come to die unless the race had been apostate; nor would he have endured so great sorrows unless a deep and dreadful malady had spread over the world. The deep anxiety; the tears; the toils; the sufferings, and the groans of the Redeemer, show what was his sense of the condition of man, and prove that he regarded them as degraded, fallen, and lost. And if the Son of God, who knows all hearts, regarded them as lost, they are lost. He was not mistaken in regard to the character of man, and he did not lay down his life under the influence of delusion and error. If to the view which has been taken of this important passage it be objected that the work of the atonement must have been to a large extent in vain; that it has actually been applied to but comparatively a small portion of the human family, and that it is unreasonable to suppose that God would suffer so great sorrows to be endured for nothing, we may reply:
(1) That it may not have been in vain, though it may have been rejected by a large portion of mankind. There may have been other purposes accomplished by it besides the direct salvation of people. It was doing much when it rendered it consistent for God to offer salvation to all; it is much that God could be seen to be just and yet pardoning the sinner; it was much when his determined hatred of sin, and His purpose to honor His Law, was evinced; and in regard to the benevolence and justice of God to other beings and to other worlds, much, very much was gained, though all the human race had rejected the plan and been lost, and in regard to all these objects, the plan was not in vain, and the sufferings of the Redeemer were not for nothing. But,
(2) It is in accordance with what we see everywhere, when much that God does seems to our eyes, though not to his, to be in vain. How much rain falls on ever sterile sands or on barren rocks, to our eyes in vain! What floods of light are poured each day on barren wastes, or untraversed oceans, to our eyes in vain! How many flowers shed forth their fragrance in the wilderness, and ‘waste their sweetness on the desert air,” to us apparently for nothing! How many pearls lie useless in the ocean; how much gold and silver in the earth; how many diamonds amidst rocks to us unknown, and apparently in vain! How many lofty trees rear their heads in the untraversed wilderness, and after standing for centuries fall on the earth and decay, to our eyes in vain! And how much medicinal virtue is created by God each year in the vegetable world that is unknown to man, and that decays and is lost without removing any disease, and that seems to be created in vain! And how long has it been before the most valuable medicines have been found out, and applied to alleviating pain, or removing disease! Year after year, and age after age, they existed in a suffering world, and people died perhaps within a few yards of the medicine which would have relieved or saved them, but it was unknown, or if known disregarded. But times were coming when their value would he appreciated, and when they would be applied to benefit the sufferer. So with the plan of salvation. It may be rejected, and the sufferings of the Redeemer may seem to have been for nothing. But they will yet be of value to mankind; and when the time shall come for the whole world to embrace the Saviour, there will be found no lack of sufficiency in the plan of redemption, and in the merits of the Redeemer to save all the race.
(A measure of truth is, doubtless, involved in this controversy concerning the universality of atonement; and the discussion of the subject in America, and more recently in this country, cannot fail ultimately to produce the most beneficial results. Yet we must express our conviction, that the seeming difference of opinion among evangelical people, has arisen from mutual misunderstanding, and that misunderstanding from the use of ambiguous phraseology. One says, Christ died for all people. No, says another, for the elect only. The dispute goes on and on, until at last the discovery is made, that while the same words were used by the disputants, each attached his own meaning to them. This ambiguity is painfully felt in the treatise of a distinguished writer, who has recently appeared on the limited side of the question. He does not explain, until he has advanced very far in the discussion, what sense be attaches to the common phraseology of “Christ dying for all men.”
He tells us afterward, however, that he understands it in the highest sense of securing salvation for them; when we are convinced, that much of the argument might have been spared, or at all events better directed, than against a position which few or none maintain. The author is himself sensible of this. “The question,” says he, “might, perhaps, have been settled at the outset by a careful definition of terms; but I have purposely deferred doing so, judging, that it might be done with better effect as the discussion proceeded. In speaking of the Saviour’s dying for people, or dying for sinners, I have used the expression in what I conceive to be the strict and proper meaning, namely, as signifying his dying with an intention to save them. This, however, is not the only meaning the expression will bear, For all people, for sinners in general, the Saviour died. He died in their nature, he died in their stead, he died doing honor to the Law which they had violated; in other words, he died removing every legal obstruction that lay in the way of their obtaining life.”
The Death of Christ the Redemption of his People, p. 70. Now, it is only in this last sense, that any rational advocate of general aspect in the atonement will maintain that Christ died for all people. Nor could he desire better language in which to express his views, than that which is furnished in the above quotation. That the atonement has certain general aspects is now nearly admitted on all hands. “General it must be in some sense,” says the author already quoted, “if in some sense it be applicable to all, and that this is the case the foregoing statement undeniably proves,” p. 68. The general aspect of the atonement is argued, from those well-known passages in which it is declared to have a reference to people, all people, the world, and the whole world. The reader will find some of these passages quoted above in the commentary. Of this universal phraseology various explanations have been given.
Some have supplied the qualifying adjective “elect” in these places, where the design of atonement is said to embrace the “world.” Modern writers of the highest name, however, and on both sides of the question, have vied with each other in their indignant repudiation of any such expletive. “I have felt myself,” says Dr. Wardlaw, “far from satisfied with a common way of interpreting some of those texts which express the extent of the atonement in universal terms by means of a convenient supplement. According to this method of explanation, the world is, in such occurrences of it, made to signify the ‘elect world,’ the word ‘elect’ being inserted as a supplement, conceived to be necessary for the consistency of scripture. An ‘elect world’ indeed, has become a phrase in common use with a particular class of commentators and divines; being employed with as much matter of course freedom, as if it had actually had the sanction of ordinary usage in the sacred volume; but it is not to be found there.”
And subjoins Dr. Marshall, writing on the limited side of the question, “It certainly is not to be found there, and with every word of this well-deserved censure I cordially agree.” Here then is one principle of interpretation fairly exploded, and few nowadays will have the hardihood to espouse it. Again, the phraseology has been explained of the world of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, Gentiles as well as Jews; and those who adopt this view tell us, that the Jewish system was narrow and exclusive, embracing only one people, the progeny of Abraham; that it was the design of God, in the fullness of time, to enlarge his church and to receive within her ample arms people of all nations, Jew and Gentile, Barbarian and Scythian, bond and free; that the death of Christ was at once the fulfillment and abrogation of the typical system with all its special and exclusive rites; that by it the middle wall of partition between the Jew and the rest of the world was thrown down; that, therefore, it was natural to represent it as having a reference to all people and to the world, even when absolute universality was not and could not be intended. Such a vast enlargement of the scale on which spiritual blessings were now to be conferred, in consequence of the death of Christ, could not well have been expressed, it is alleged, in any other or in less universal terms. See this view of the subject well exhibited in Hill’s System, vol. ii., 2 Corinthians 5:0.
To this principle of interpretation we have no great objection. There is doubtless much truth in it. It lends valuable assistance in the investigation of many passages. But is there not some sense in which that atonement has an aspect absolutely to all, and every man? As much we have seen admitted above. Now, if the Saviour “died in the nature and stead of all, removing every legal obstruction that lay in the way of their obtaining life,” how comes it to pass, that this universal aspect cannot be found in any of those confessedly the most universal passages in the Bible? If it be true, it must be found somewhere in the scriptures, and nowhere so likely, as in this class of texts; and the language, moreover, is just such as is naturally suited to express this sense. While then we allow, that the phraseology in question may be in part explained by the admission of Gentiles as well as Jews into the kingdom of God; we maintain at the same time, that there is nothing in it which prevents us from including all in each of those divisions of mankind. Nay, if the apostles had wished to express this idea, how otherwise could they have done it? “Say if you will,” says Dr. Wardlaw, commenting on John 3:16-17, “that the ‘world’ means Jews and Gentiles, still if it is not any definite number of Jews and Gentiles, it is Jews and Gentiles as together composing the world of mankind.”
That the atonement, indeed, has a certain benign aspect toward all people, appears from its very nature. The exact equivalent view, as it has been not inappropriately termed, is now nearly abandoned. Rarely do we find any one affirming, that Christ endured exactly what the elect would have suffered and deserved, and that, therefore, there can be sufficiency in his death for that favored number and for none besides. What then is the light in which the atonement of Christ ought to be viewed? We think the only rational and scriptural account of it, is that which regards it as a great remedial scheme, which rendered it consistent with the divine honor and all the interests of the divine administration, to extend mercy to guilty people at large, and which would have been equally requisite, had there been an intention to save one only, or a million; numbers indeed not forming any part of the question. Here then is something done, which removes legal obstructions and thereby opens the way to heaven for all. And if any do not enter in, their inability is moral, and lies not in any insufficiency of the divine provision. This view, however, seems to furnish a just foundation for the universality of gospel invitations, while it fastens the guilt of rejecting gospel provision on the sinner himself.
Thus far we feel disposed to agree with our author in his commentary, or rather dissertation on the verse and the subject it involves. We maintain, however, that the atonement has a special as well as a general aspect; that while it is gloriously true that it looks to all people, it has at the same time a special regard to some. We object, therefore, to the statement, “that the atonement in itself considered had no limitation and no particular reference to any class or condition of people, and no particular applicability to one class more than to another.” This is similar to certain rash assertions that have recently been current in our own country; as that “while the atonement opens the door of mercy to all, it secures salvation to none;” that “Christ died as much for those who perish, as for those who are saved.” We cannot envy that reputation for acuteness which may be gained by the free use of such language.
Is it not God’s design to save his people? Is not the atonement the means by which he does so, the means by which the purpose of electing love is fulfilled? And yet has that atonement no special reference to the elect? Further, if it be the means of saving them, does it not secure their salvation? Certainly, among people, if any effectual means were devised to accomplish a particular end, that end would be said to be secured by such means. The writer is aware of the ingenious evasion, that it is God’s gracious purpose to apply the atonement, and not the atonement itself, that connects it with the elect, and secures their salvation. We are told, moreover, that we should look on the atonement by itself, and consider it in a philosophical way. The purpose to apply is an after arrangement. But first, a purpose to apply the atonement to a special class, differs in nothing from an original design to save such class by it, for that purpose must have been present to the mind of God in determining on atonement. To say that God saves a certain number by the atonement, and that yet in making it he had no special design in their favor, however it may recommend itself to philosophical refinement, will always be rejected by the common sense of mankind. Second. If we must consider the atonement apart from any special purpose connected with it, why not divest it also of any general purpose, that we may look on it steadily per se, and in this way reduce it to a mere abstraction, about which nothing could be either affirmed or denied?
The advocates of universal atonement, or some of the more forward among them, have recently carried out their views so far, as to deny that God in providing the atonement, or Christ in making it, had any special love to the elect. An eminent writer on that side, however, to whom reference has already been made, while he goes the length of denying special design, maintains the existence of special love, and administers a reproof to those of his own party, who go to this extreme. This is indeed an important concession, for special love is not very different from special design, nor is it easy to see how, in the mind of God, the one could subsist with out the other. “The love of the Father is the same thing as election. Election is nothing but the love of the Father formed into a purpose” - Marshall. Or the point may be put in this way. Had God in providing the atonement special love to the elect? Where is the proof of it? Doubtless in that very provision. But if God in making it had no design to save them by it, the proof is not only weakened but destroyed. Special love, therefore, necessarily involves special design.
To do away with anything like speciality of design, much has been said on the order of the divine decrees, especially as to whether the decree of atonement, or that of election, be first in order of nature. If that of atonement be first, it is asserted speciality is out of the question, as that is secured only by election, which is a posterior arrangement. On this subject it is more easy to darken counsel by words without knowledge, than to speak intelligibly. It may be fairly questioned, if those who have written most on it, fully understand themselves. Nor can we help lamenting, that so great a part of the controversy should have been made to turn on this point, which has hitherto eluded the grasp of the most profound, and drawn the controvertists into regions of thought, too high for the boldest flights of human intellect. After all that can be said on the subject, it must be allowed that the whole arrangement connected with the salvation of man, existed simultaneously in the mind of God, nor will anyone rise much wiser from inquiries into which was first and which last.
The truth on the whole subject, then, seems to be, that while the atonement has a general reference toward all, it has at the same time a special reference to the elect of God, or as it is well expressed in a recent synodical decision, “The Saviour in making the atonement bore special covenant relation to the elect; had a special love to them, and infallibly secured their everlasting salvation, while his obedience unto death, afforded such a satisfaction to the justice of God, as that on the ground of it, in consistency with his character and law, the door of mercy is open to all people, and a full and free salvation is presented for their acceptance.” The special aspect, indeed, ought no more to be denied than the general. It rests on a large number of what may be called special texts; as, “Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it,” etc. “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” “I lay down my life for the sheep,” Ephesians 5:25; Isaiah 53:8; John 10:15.
Nor will it do to say of this numerous class of passages, that they find a sufficient explanation in the purpose of application, which is connected with the remedy for sin, since most of them are of a kind that connect the salvation of the elect directly with the atonement itself, and not with any after design of applying it. This idea seems but an ingenious shift to sustain a favorite theory. How direct, for example, is this connection in the following passage: “who loved me and gave himself for me.” No one who had not a theory to support, would ever think of introducing an after design of application to explain this. Indeed, as an able reviewer in one of our periodicals observes of the scheme that excludes a special design, “it separates too much the atonement from the salvation of man. It does not connect those that are saved, those that are regenerated by divine grace, at all specially with the sacrifice of Christ.” Another important branch of evidence on this point, lies in the special relation which Christ in dying sustained toward his people, as that of shepherd, husband, surety, etc., and which cannot be explained on any other principle than that of special design.
If the question were put, how we preserve our consistency, in thus maintaining both the general and special view, we reply, first, that if both views are found in scripture, it matters not whether we can explain the consistency between them or no. But second, it is not so difficult as some would imagine, to conceive of God appointing a remedy with a general aspect toward the race, but specially intended to secure the salvation of his chosen people.)
Then were all dead - All dead in sin; that is, all were sinners. The fact that he died for all proves that all were transgressors. The word “dead” is not unfrequently used in the scriptures to denote the condition of sinners; see Ephesians 2:1. It means not that sinners are in all senses, and in all respects like a lifeless corpse, for they are not. They are still moral agents, and have a conscience. and are capable of thinking, and speaking, and acting. It does not mean that they have no more power than one in the grave, for they have more power. But it means that there is a striking similarity, in some respects, between one who is dead and a sinner. That similarity does not extend to everything, but in many respects it is very striking.
(1) The sinner is as insensible to the glories of the heavenly world, and the appeals of the gospel, as a corpse is to what is going on around or above it. The body that lies in the grave is insensible to the voice of friendship, and the charms of music, and the hum of business, and the plans of gain and ambition; and so the sinner is insensible to all the glories of the heavenly world, and to all the appeals that are made to him, and to all the warnings of God. He lives as though there were no heaven and no hell; no God and no Saviour.
(2) There is need of the same divine power to convert a sinner which is needful to raise up the dead. The same cause does not exist, making the existence of that power necessary, but it is a fact that a sinner will no more be converted by his own power than a dead man will rise from the grave by his own power. No man ever yet was converted without direct divine agency, anymore than Lazarus was raised without divine agency. And there is no more just or melancholy description which can be given of man, than to say that he is dead in sins. He is insensible to all the appeals that God makes to him; he is insensible to all the sufferings of the Saviour, and to all the glories of heaven; he lives as though these did not exist, or as though he had no concern in them; his eyes see no more beauty in them than the sightless eyeballs of the dead do in the material world; his ear is as inattentive to the calls of God and the gospel as the ear of the dead is to the voice of friendship or the charms of melody; and in a world that is full of God, and that might be full of hope, he is living without God and without hope.
And that he died for all ... - This verse is designed still further to explain the reasons of the conduct of the apostle. He had not lived for himself. He had not lived to amass wealth, or to enjoy pleasure, or to obtain a reputation. He had lived a life of self-denial, and of toil; and he here states the reason why he had done it. It was because he felt that the great purpose of the death of the Redeemer was to secure this result. To that Saviour, therefore, who died for all, he consecrated his talents and his time, and sought in every way possible to promote his glory.
That they which live - They who are true Christians, who are made alive unto God as the result of the dying love of the Redeemer. Sinners are dead in sins. Christians are alive to the worth of the soul, the presence of God, the importance of religion, the solemnities of eternity; that is, they act and feel as if these things had a real existence and as if they should exert a constant influence upon the heart and life.
(“They which live.” This spiritual life, doubtless, implies that a man is alive to the worth of the soul, the presence of God, etc.; but it intimates something deeper too, which is the foundation of those things, and without which they could not exist. Scott paraphrases thus, “were quickened and pardoned, and so passed from death to life;” and Guyse still more explicitly, “were made supernaturally alive by his quickening spirit and by faith in him.” This is the root; the things mentioned in the comment, the fruit; this the cause, these only the effects.)
It is observable that Paul makes a distinction here between those for whom Christ died and those who actually “live,” thus demonstrating that there may be many for whom he died who do not live to God, or who are not savingly benefitted by his death. The atonement was for all, but only a part are actually made alive to God. Multitudes reject it; but the fact that he died for all; that he tasted death for every man, that he not only died for the elect but for all others, that his benevolence was so great as to embrace the whole human family in the design of his death, is a reason why they who are actually made alive to God should consecrate themselves entirely to his service. The fact that he died for all evinced such unbounded and infinite benevolence that it should induce us who are actually benefitted by his death, and who have any just views of it, to devote all that we have to his service.
Should not henceforth live unto themselves - Should not seek our own ease and pleasure; should not make it our great object to promote our own interest, but should make it the grand purpose of our lives to promote his honor, and to advance his cause. This is a vital principle in religion, and it is exceedingly important to know what is meant by living to ourselves, and whether we do it. It is done in the following, and perhaps in some other ways:
(1) When people seek pleasure, gain, or reputation as the controlling principle of their lives.
(2) When they are regardless of the rights of others, and sacrifice all the claims which others have on them in order to secure the advancement of their own purposes and ends.
(3) When they are regardless of the needs of others, and turn a deaf ear to all the appeals which charity makes to them, and have no time to give to serve them, and no money to spare to alleviate their needs; and especially when they turn a deaf ear to the appeals which are made for the diffusion of the gospel to the benighted and perishing.
(4) When their main purpose is the aggrandizement of their own families, for their families are but a diffusion of self. And,
(5) When they seek their own salvation only from selfish motives, and not from a desire to honor God. Multitudes are selfish even in their religion; and the main purpose which they have in view, is to promote their own objects, and not the honor of the Master whom they profess to serve. They seek and profess religion only because they desire to escape from wrath, and to obtain the happiness of heaven, and not from any love to the Redeemer or any desire to honor him, Or they seek to build up the interests of their own church and party, and all their zeal is expended on that and that alone, without any real desire to honor the Saviour. Or though in the church, they are still selfish, and live wholly to themselves. They live for fashion, for gain, for reputation. They practice no self-denial; they make no effort; to advance the cause of God the Saviour.
But unto him ... - Unto the Lord Jesus Christ. To live to him is the opposite to living unto ourselves. It is to seek his honor; to feel that we belong to him; that all our time and talents; all our strength of intellect and body; all the avails of our skill and toil, all belong to him, and should be employed in his service. If we have talents by which we can influence other minds, they should be employed to honor the Saviour. If we have skill, or strength to labor by which we can make money, we should feel that it all belongs to him, and should be employed in his service. If we have property, we should feel that it is his, and that he has a claim upon it all, and that it should be honestly consecrated to his cause. And if we are endowed with a spirit of enterprise, and are suited by nature to encounter perils in distant and barbarious climes, as Paul was, we should feel like him that we are bound to devote all entirely to his service, and to the promotion of his cause.
A servant, a slave, does not live to himself but to his master. His person, his time, his limbs, his talents, and the avails of his industry are not regarded as his own. He is judged incapable of holding any property which is not at the disposal of his master. If he has strength, it is his master’s. If he has skill, the avails of it are his master’s. If he is an ingenious mechanic, or labors in any department; if he is amiable, kind, gentle, and faithful, and adapted to be useful in an eminent degree, it is regarded as all the property of his master. He is bound to go where his master chooses; to execute the task which he assigns; to deny himself at his master’s will; and to come and lay the avails of all his toil and skill at his master’s feet. He is regarded as having been purchased with money; and the purchase money is supposed to give a right to his time, his talents, his services, and his soul. Such as the slave is supposed to become by purchase, and by the operation of human laws, the Christian becomes by the purchase of the Son of God, and by the voluntary recognition of him as the master, and as having a right to all that we have and are. To him all belongs; and all should be employed in endeavoring to promote his glory, and in advancing his cause.
Which died for them, and rose again - Paul here states the grounds of the obligation under which he felt himself placed, to live not unto himself but unto Christ.
(1) The first is, the fact that Christ had died for him, and for all his people. The effect of that death was the same as a purchase. It was a purchase; see the note, 1Co 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; compare 1 Peter 1:18-19.
(2) The second is, that he had risen again from the dead. To this fact Paul traced all his hopes of eternal life, and of the resurrection from the dead; see Romans 4:25. As we have the hope of the resurrection from the dead only from the fact that he rose; as he has “brought life and immortality to light,” and hath in this way “abolished death” 2 Timothy 1:10; as all the prospect of entering a world where there is no death and no grave is to be traced to the resurrection of the Saviour, so we are bound by every obligation of gratitude to devote ourselves without any reserve to him. To him, and him alone should we live; and in his cause our lives should be, as Paul’s was, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in his sight.
Wherefore henceforth - In view of the fact that the Lord Jesus died for all people, and rose again. The effect of that has been to change all our feelings, and to give us entirely new views of people, of ourselves, and of the Messiah, so that we have become new creatures. The word “henceforth” (ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν apo tou nun) means properly from the present time; but there is no impropriety in supposing that Paul refers to the time when he first obtained correct views of the Messiah, and that he means from that time. His mind seems to have been thrown back to the period when these new views burst upon his soul; and the sentiment is, that from the time when he obtained those new views, he had resolved to know no one after the flesh.
Know we no man - The word “know” here (οἴδαμεν oidamen) is used in the sense of, we form our estimate of; we judge; we are influenced by. Our estimate of man is formed by other views than according to the flesh.
After the flesh - A great many different interpretations have been proposed of this expression, which it is not needful here to repeat. The meaning is, probably, that in his estimate of people he was not influenced by the views which are taken by those who are unrenewed, and who are unacquainted with the truths of redemption. It may include a great many things, and perhaps the following:
(1) He was not influenced in his estimate of people by a regard to their birth, or country. He did not form an attachment to a Jew because he was a Jew, or to a Gentile because he was a Gentile. He had learned that Christ died for all, and he felt disposed to regard all alike.
(2) He was not influenced in his estimate of people by their rank, and wealth, and office. Before his conversion he had been, but now he learned to look on their moral character, and to regard that as making the only permanent, and really important distinction among people. He did not esteem one man highly because he was of elevated rank, or of great wealth, and another less because he was of a different rank in life.
(3) It may also include the idea, that he had left his own kindred and friends on account of superior attachment to Christ. He had parted from them to preach the gospel. He was not restrained by their opinions; he was not kept from going from land to land by love to them. It is probable that they remained Jews. It may be, that they were opposed to him, and to his efforts in the cause of the Redeemer. It may be that they would have dismissed him from a work so self-denying, and so arduous, and where he would be exposed to so much persecution and contempt. It may be that they would have set before him the advantages of his birth and education; would have reminded him of his early brilliant prospects; and would have used all the means possible to dissuade him from embarking in a cause like that in which he was engaged. The passage here means that Paul was influenced by none of these considerations.
In early life he had been. He had prided himself on rank, and on talent. He was proud of his own advantages as a Jew; and he estimated worth by rank, and by national distinction, Philippians 3:4-6. He had despised Christians on account of their being the followers of the man of Nazareth: and there can be no reason to doubt that he partook of the common feelings of his countrymen and held in contempt the whole Gentile world. But his views were changed - so much changed as to make it proper to say that he was a new creature, 2 Corinthians 5:17. When converted, he did not confer with flesh and blood Galatians 1:16; and in the school of Christ, he had learned that if a man was his disciple, he must be willing to forsake father and mother. and sister and brother, and to hate his own life that he might honor him, Luke 14:26. He had formed his principle of action now from a higher standard than any regard to rank, or wealth, or national distinction; and had risen above them all, and now estimated people not by these external and factitious advantages, but by a reference to their personal character and moral worth.
Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh - Though in common with the Jewish nation we expected a Messiah who would be a temporal prince, and who would be distinguished for the distinctions which are valued among people, yet we have changed our estimate of him, and judge of him in this way no longer. There can be no doubt that Paul, in common with his countrymen, had expected a Messiah who would be a magnificent temporal prince and conqueror, one who they supposed would be a worthy successor of David and Solomon. The coming of such a prince, Paul had confidently expected. He expected no other Messiah. He had fixed his hopes on that. This is what is meant by the expression ‘to know Christ after the flesh.’ It does not mean that he had seen him in the flesh, but that he had formed, so to speak, carnal views of him, and such as people of this world regard as grand and magnificent in a monarch and conqueror. He had had no correct views of his spiritual character, and of the pure and holy purposes for which he would come into the world.
Yet now henceforth know we him no more - We know him no more in this manner. Our conceptions and views of him are changed. We no more regard him according to the flesh; we no longer esteem the Messiah who was to come as a temporal prince and warrior; but we look on him as a spiritual Saviour, a Redeemer from sin. The idea is, that his views of him had been entirely changed. It does not mean, as our translation would seem to imply, that Paul would have no further acquaintance with Christ, but it means that from the moment of his conversion he had laid aside all his views of his being a temporal sovereign, and all his feelings that he was to be honored only because he supposed that he would have an elevated rank among the monarchs of the earth. Locke and Macknight, it seems to me, have strangely mistaken this passage. The former renders it, “For if I myself have gloried in this, that Christ was himself circumcised as I am, and was of my blood and nation, I do so now no more any longer,” The same substantially is the view of Macknight. Clarke as strangely mistakes it, when he says that it means that Paul could not prize now a man who was a sinner because he was allied to the royal family of David, nor prize a man because he had seen Christ in the flesh.
The correct view, as it seems to me, is given above. And the doctrine which is taught here is, that at conversion, the views are essentially changed, and that the converted man has a view of the Saviour entirely different from what he had before. He may not, like Paul, have regarded him as a temporal prince; he may not have looked to him as a mighty monarch, but his views in regard to his person, character, work, and loveliness will be entirely changed. He will see a beauty in his character which he never saw before. Before, he regarded him as a root out of dry ground; as the despised man of Nazareth; as having nothing in his character to be desired, or to render him lovely Isaiah 53:1-12; but at conversion the views are changed. He is seen to be the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely; as pure, and holy, and benevolent; as mighty, and great, and glorious; as infinitely benevolent; as lovely in his precepts, lovely in his life, lovely in his death, lovely in his resurrection, and as most glorious as he is seated on the right hand of God. He is seen to be a Saviour exactly adapted to the condition and needs of the soul; and the soul yields itself to him to be redeemed by him alone.
There is no change of view so marked and decided as that of the sinner in regard to the Lord Jesus Christ at his conversion; and it is a clear proof that we have never been born again if our views in reference to him have never undergone any change. “What think ye of Christ?” is a question the answer to which will determine any man’s character, and demonstrate whether he is or is not a child of God. Tyndale has more correctly expressed the sense of this than our translation.” Though we have known Christ after the flesh, now henceforth know we him so no more.”
Therefore if any man be in Christ - The phrase to “be in Christ,” evidently means to be united to Christ by faith; or to be in him as the branch is in the vine - that is, so united to the vine, or so in it, as to derive all its nourishment and support from it, and to be sustained entirely by it. John 15:2, “every branch in me.” John 15:4, “abide in me, and I in you.” “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me.” See also John 15:5-7, see the note on John 15:2. To be “in Christ” denotes a more tender and close union; and implies that all our support is from him. All our strength is derived from him; and denotes further that we shall partake of his fullness, and share in his felicity and glory, as the branch partakes of the strength and vigor of the parent vine. The word “therefore” (Ὥστε Hōste) here implies that the reason why Paul infers that anyone is a new creature who is in Christ is that which is stated in the previous verse; to wit, the change of views in regard to the Redeemer to which he there refers, and which was so great as to constitute a change like a new creation. The affirmation here is universal, “if any man be in Christ;” that is, all who become true Christians - undergo such a change in their views and feelings as to make it proper to say of them that they are new creatures. No matter what they have been before, whether moral or immoral; whether infidels or speculative believers; whether amiable, or debased, sensual and polluted yet if they become Christians they all experience such a change as to make it proper to say they are a new creation.
A new creature - Margin, “Let him be.” This is one of the instances in which the margin has given a less correct translation than is in the text. The idea evidently is, not that he ought to be a new creature, but that he is in fact; not that he ought to live as becomes a new creature - which is true enough - but that he will in fact live in that way, and manifest the characteristics of the new creation. The phrase “a new creature” καινὴ κτίσις kainē ktisis) occurs also in Galatians 6:15. The word rendered “creature” (κτίσις ktisis) means properly in the New Testament, creation. It denotes:
- The act of creating Romans 1:20;
- A created thing, a creature Romans 1:25; and refers:
- To the universe, or creation in general; Mark 10:6; Mar 13:9-11; 1 Peter 3:4.
- To man, mankind;Mark 16:15; Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23.
Here it means a new creation in a moral sense, and the phrase new creature is equivalent to the expression in Ephesians 4:24, “The new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” It means, evidently, that there is a change produced in the renewed heart of man that is equivalent to the act of creation, and that bears a strong resemblance to it - a change, so to speak, as if the man was made over again, and had become new. The mode or manner in which it is done is not described, nor should the words be pressed to the quick, as if the process were the same in both cases - for the words are here evidently figurative. But the phrase implies evidently the following things:
- That there is an exertion of divine power in the conversion of the sinner as really as in the act of creating the world out of nothing, and that this is as indispensable in the one case as in the other.
(2)That a change is produced so great as to make it proper to say that he is a new man. He has new views, new motives, new principles, new objects and plans of life. He seeks new purposes, and he lives for new ends.
If a drunkard becomes reformed, there is no impropriety in saying that he is a new man. If a man who was licentious becomes pure, there is no impropriety in saying that he is not the same man that he was before. Such expressions are common in all languages, and they are as proper as they are common. There is such a change as to make the language proper. And so in the conversion of a sinner. There is a change so deep, so clear, so entire, and so abiding, that it is proper to say, here is a new creation of God - a work of the divine power as decided and as glorious as when God created all things out of nothing. There is no other moral change that takes place on earth so deep, and radical, and thorough as the change at conversion. And there is no other where there is so much propriety in ascribing it to the mighty power of God.
Old things are passed away - The old views in regard to the Messiah, and in regard to people in general, 2 Corinthians 5:16. But Paul also gives this a general form of expression, and says that old things in general have passed away - referring to everything. It was true of all who were converted that old things had passed away. And it may include the following things:
(1) In regard to the Jews - that their former prejudices against Christianity, their natural pride, and spirit of seducing others; their attachment to their rites and ceremonies, and dependence on them for salvation had all passed away. They now renounced that independence, relied on the merits of the Saviour, and embraced all as brethren who were of the family of Christ.
(2) In regard to the Gentiles - their attachment to idols, their love of sin and degradation, their dependence on their own works, had passed away, and they had renounced all these things, and had come to mingle their hopes with those of the converted Jews, and with all who were the friends of the Redeemer.
(3) In regard to all, it is also true that old things pass away. Their former prejudices, opinions, habits, attachments pass away. Their supreme love of self passes away. Their love of sins passes away. Their love of the world passes away. Their supreme attachment to their earthly friends rather than God passes away. Their love of sin, their sensuality, pride, vanity, levity, ambition, passes away. There is a deep and radical change on all these subjects - a change which commences at the new birth; which is carried on by progressive sanctification; and which is consummated at death and in heaven.
Behold, all things are become new - That is, all things in view of the mind. The purposes of life, the feelings of the heart, the principles of action, all become new. The understanding is consecrated to new objects, the body is employed in new service, the heart forms new attachments. Nothing can be more strikingly. descriptive of the facts in conversion than this; nothing more entirely accords with the feelings of the newborn soul. All is new. There are new views of God, and of Jesus Christ; new views of this world and of the world to come; new views of truth and of duty; and everything is seen in a new aspect and with new feelings. Nothing is more common in young converts than such feelings, and nothing is more common than for them to say that all things are new. The Bible seems to be a new book, and though they may have often read it before, yet there is a beauty about it which they never saw before, and which they wonder they have not before perceived. The whole face of nature seems to them to be changed, and they seem to be in a new world. The hills, and vales, and streams; the sun, the stars, the groves, the forests, seem to be new. A new beauty is spread over them all; and they now see them to be the work of God, and his glory is spread over them all, and they can now say:
“My Father made them all.”
The heavens and the earth are filled with new wonders, and all things seem now to speak forth the praise of God. Even the very countenances of friends seem to be new; and there are new feelings toward all people; a new kind of love to kindred and friends; and a love before unfelt for enemies; and a new love for all mankind.
And all things are of God - This refers particularly to the things in question, the renewing of the heart, and the influences by which Paul had been brought to a state of willingness to forsake all, and to devote his life to the self-denying labors involved in the purpose of making the Saviour known. He makes the statement general, however, showing his belief that not only these things were produced by God, but that all things were under his direction, and subject to his control. Nothing that he had done was to be traced to his own agency or power, but God was to be acknowledged everywhere. This great truth Paul never forgot; and he never suffered himself to lose sight of it. It was in his view a cardinal and glorious truth; and he kept its influence always before his mind and his heart. In the important statement which follows, therefore, about the ministry of reconciliation, he deeply feels that the whole plan, and all the success which has attended the plan, was to be traced not to his zeal, or fidelity, or skill, but to the agency of God; see the note on 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.
Who hath reconciled us to himself - The word “us” here includes, doubtless, all who were Christians - whether Jews or Gentiles, or whatever was their rank. They had all been brought into a state of reconciliation, or agreement with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Before they were opposed to God. They had violated His laws. They were his enemies. But by the means of the plan of salvation they had been brought into a state of agreement, or harmony, and were united in feeling and in aim with him. Two people who have been alienated by prejudice, by passion, or by interest, are reconciled when the cause of the alienation is removed, on whichever side it may have existed, or if on both sides, and when they lay aside their enmity and become friends. Thenceforward they are agreed, and live together without alienation, heart-burnings, jealousies, and strife. So between God and man. There was a variance; there was an alienation.
Man was alienated from God. He had no love for Him. He disliked His government and laws. He was unwilling to be restrained. He sought his own pleasure. He was proud, vain, self-confident. He was not pleased with the character of God, or with his claims, or his plans. And in like manner, God was displeased with the pride, the sensuality, the rebellion, the haughtiness of man. He was displeased that His Law had been violated, and that man had cast off his government. Now reconciliation could take place only when these causes of alienation should be laid aside, and when God and man should be brought to harmony; when man should lay aside his love of sin, and should be pardoned, and when, therefore, God could consistently treat him as a friend. The Greek word which is used here (καταλλάσσω katallassō) means properly to change against anything; to exchange for anything, for money, or for any article - Robinson. In the New Testament it means to change one person toward another; that is, to reconcile to anyone; see the note on Romans 5:10.
It conveys the idea of producing a change so that one who is alienated should be brought to friendship. Of course, all the change which takes place must be on the part of man, for God will not change, and the purpose of the plan of reconciliation is to effect such a change in man as to make him in fact reconciled to God, and at agreement with him. There were indeed obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God, but they did not arise from any unwillingness to be reconciled; from any reluctance to treat his creature as his friend; but they arose from the fact that man had sinned, and that God was just; that such is the perfection of God that He cannot treat the good and evil alike; and that, therefore, if He should treat man as His friend, it was necessary that in some proper way He should maintain the honor of His Law, and show His hatred of sin, and should secure the conversion and future obedience of the offender.
All this God proposed to secure by the atonement made by the Redeemer, rendering it consistent for him to exercise the benevolence of his nature, and to pardon the offender. But God is not changed. The plan of reconciliation has made no change in his character. It has not made him a different being from what he was before. There is often a mistake on this subject; and people seem to suppose that God was originally stern, and unmerciful, and inexorable, and that he has been made mild and forgiving by the atonement. But it is not so. No change has been made in God; none needed to be made; none could be made. He was always mild, and merciful, and good; and the gift of a Saviour and the plan of reconciliation is just an expression of his original willingness to pardon. When a father sees a child struggling in the stream, and in danger of drowning, the peril and the cries of the child make no change in the character of the father, but such was his former love for the child that he would plunge into the stream at the hazard of his own life to save him. So it is with God. Such was his original love for man, and his disposition to show mercy, that he would submit to any sacrifice, except that of truth and justice, in order that he might save him. Hence, he sent his only Son to die - not to change his own character; not to make himself a different being from what he was, but in order to show his love and his readiness to forgive when it could be consistently done. “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son,” John 3:16.
By Jesus Christ - By the agency, or medium of Jesus Christ. He was the mediator to interpose in the work of reconciliation. And he was abundantly qualified for this work, and was the only being that has lived in this world who was qualified for it. Because:
(1) He was endowed with a divine and human nature - the nature of both the parties at issue - God and man, and thus, in the language of Job, could “lay his hand upon both,” Job 9:33.
(2) He was intimately acquainted with both the parties, and knew what was needful to be done. He knew God the Father so well that he could say, “No man knoweth the Father but the Son,” Matthew 11:27. And he knew man so well that it could be said of him, he “needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man,” John 2:25. No one can be a mediator who is not acquainted with the feelings, views, desires, claims, or prejudices of both the parties at issue.
(3) He was the friend of both the parties. He loved God. No man ever doubted this, or had any reason to call it in question, and he was always desirous of securing all that God claimed, and of vindicating him, and he never abandoned anything that God had a right to claim. And he loved man. He showed this in all his life. He sought his welfare in every way possible, and gave himself for him. Yet no one is qualified to act the mediator’s part who is not the common friend of both the parties at issue, and who will not seek the welfare, the right, or the honor of both.
(4) He was willing to suffer anything from either party in order to produce reconciliation. From the hand of God he was willing to endure all that he deemed to be necessary, in order to show his hatred of sin by his vicarious sufferings, and to make an atonement; and from the hand of man he was willing to endure all the reproach, and contumely, and scorn which could be possibly involved in the work of inducing man to be reconciled to God. And,
(5) He has removed all the obstacles which existed to a reconciliation. On the part of God, he has made it consistent for him to pardon. He has made an atonement, so that God can be just while he justifies the sinner. He has maintained His truth, and justice, and secured the stability of His moral government while He admits offenders to His favor. And on the part of man, He, by the agency of His Spirit, overcomes the unwillingness of the sinner to be reconciled, humbles his pride, shows him his sin, changes his heart, subdues his enmity against God, and secures in fact a harmony of feeling and purpose between God and man, so that they shall be reconciled forever.
And hath given to us - To us the apostles and our fellow-laborers.
The ministry of reconciliation - That is, of announcing to people the nature and the conditions of this plan of being reconciled. We have been appointed to make this known, and to press its acceptation on people; see 2 Corinthians 5:20.
To wit - (Greek, Ὡς ὄτι Hōs oti), namely This verse is designed further to state the nature of the plan of reconciliation, and of the message with which they were entrusted. It contains an abstract, or an epitome of the whole plan; and is one of those emphatic passages in which Paul compresses into a single sentence the substance of the whole plan of redemption.
That God was in Christ - That God was by Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ en Christō), by means of Christ; by the agency, or mediatorship of Christ. Or it may mean that God was united to Christ, and manifested himself by him. So Doddridge interprets it. Christ was the mediator by means of whom God designed to accomplish the great work of reconciliation.
Reconciling the world unto himself - The world here evidently means the human race generally, without distinction of nation, age, or rank. The whole world was alienated from him, and he sought to have it reconciled. This is one incidental proof that God designed that the plan of salvation should be adapted to all people; see the note on 2 Corinthians 5:14. It may be observed further, that God sought that the world should be reconciled. Man did not seek it. He had no plan for it, he did not desire it. He had no way to effect it. It was the offended party, not the offending, that sought to be reconciled; and this shows the strength of his love. It was love for enemies and alienated beings, and love evinced to them by a most earnest desire to become their friend, and to be at agreement with them; compare note on Romans 5:8. Tyndale renders this very accurately: “For God was in Christ, and made agreement between the world and himself, and imputed not their sins unto them.”
Not imputing their trespasses - Not reckoning their transgressions to them; that is, forgiving them, pardoning them. On the meaning of the word impute, see the note, Romans 4:3. The idea here is, that God did not charge on them with inexorable severity and stern justice their offences, but graciously provided a plan of pardon, and offered to remit their sins on the conditions of the gospel. The plan of reconciliation demonstrated that he was not disposed to impute their sins to them, as he might have done, and to punish them with unmitigated severity for their crimes, but was more disposed to pardon and forgive. And it may be here asked, if God was not disposed to charge with unrelenting severity their own sins to their account, but was rather disposed to pardon them, can we believe that he is disposed to charge on them the sin of another? If he does not charge on them with inexorable and unmitigated severity their own transgressions, will he charge on them with unrelenting severity - or at all - the sin of Adam? see the note on Romans 5:19. The sentiment here is, that God is not disposed or inclined to charge the transgressions of people upon them; he has no pleasure in doing it; and therefore he has provided a plan by which they may be pardoned. At the same time it is true that unless their sins are pardoned, justice will charge or impute their sins to them, and will exact punishment to the uttermost.
And hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation - Margin,” put in us.” Tyndale renders this: “and hath committed unto us the preaching of the atonement.” The meaning is, that the office of making known the nature of this plan, and the conditions on which God was willing to be reconciled to man, had been committed to the ministers of the gospel.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ - We are the ambassadors whom Christ has sent forth to negotiate with people in regard to their reconciliation to God, Tyndale renders this: “Now then are we messengers in the room of Christ.” The word used here πρεσβεύομεν presbeuomen, from πρέσβυς presbus an aged man, an elder, and then an ambassador) means to act as an ambassador, or sometimes merely to deliver a message for another, without being empowered to do any thing more than to explain or enforce it - Bloomfield. See Thucydides 7, 9. An ambassador is a minister of the highest rank, employed by one prince or state at the court of another, to manage the concerns of his own prince or state, and representing the dignity and power of his sovereign - Webster. He is sent to do what the sovereign would himself do were he present. They are sent to make known the will of the sovereign, and to negotiate matters of commerce, of war, or of peace, and in general everything affecting the interests of the sovereign among the people to whom they are sent.
At all times, and in all countries, an ambassador is a sacred character, and his person is regarded as inviolable. He is bound implicitly to obey the instructions of his sovereign, and as far as possible to do only what the sovereign would do were he himself present. Ministers are ambassadors for Christ, as they are sent to do what he would do were he personally present. They are to make known, and to explain, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled to people. They are not to negotiate on any new terms, nor to change those which God has proposed, nor to follow their own plans or devices, but they are simply to urge, explain, state, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled. Of course they are to seek the honor of the sovereign who has sent them forth, and to seek to do only his will. They go not to promote their own welfare; not to seek honor, dignity, or emolument; but they go to transact the business which the Son of God would engage in were he again personally on the earth. It follows that their office is one of great dignity, and great responsibility, and that respect should be showed them as the ambassadors of the King of kings.
As though God did beseech you by us - Our message is to be regarded as the message of God. It is God who speaks. What we say to you is said in his name and on his authority, and should be received with the respect which is due to a message directly from God. The gospel message is God speaking to people through the ministry, and entreating them to be reconciled. This invests the message which the ministers of religion bear with infinite dignity and solemnity; and it makes it a fearful and awful thing to reject it.
We pray you in Christ’s stead - (ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ huper Christou). In the place of Christ; or doing what he did when on earth, and what he would do were he where we are.
Be ye reconciled to God - This is the sum and burden of the message which the ministers of the gospel bear to their fellow-men; see the note on 2 Corinthians 5:19. It implies that man has something to do in this work. He is to be reconciled to God. He is to give up his opposition. He is to submit to the terms of mercy. All the change in the case is to be in him, for God cannot change. God has removed all the obstacles to reconciliation which existed on his part. He has done all that he will do, all that needed to be done, in order to render reconciliation easy as possible. And now it remains that man should lay aside his hostility, abandon his sins, embrace the terms of mercy, and become in fact reconciled to God. And the great object of the ministers of reconciliation is to urge this duty on their fellow-men. They are to do it in the name of Christ. They are to do it as if Christ were himself present, and were himself urging the message. They are to use the arguments which he would use; evince the zeal which he would show; and present the motives which he would present to induce a dying world to become in fact reconciled to God.
For he hath made him to be sin for us - The Greek here is, ‘for him who knew no sin, he hath made sin, or a sin-offering for us.’ The design of this very important verse is, to urge the strongest possible reason for being reconciled to God. This is implied in the word (γὰρ gar) “for.” Paul might have urged other arguments, and presented other strong considerations. But he chooses to present this fact, that Christ has been made sin for us, as embodying and concentrating all. It is the most affecting of all arguments; it is the one that is likely to prove most effectual. It is not indeed improper to urge on people every other consideration to induce them to be reconciled to God. It is not improper to appeal to them by the conviction of duty; to appeal to their reason and conscience; to remind them of the claims, the power, the goodness, and the fear of the Creator; to remind them of the awful consequences of a continued hostility to God; to persuade them by the hope of heaven, and by the fear of hell 2 Corinthians 5:1 l to become his friends: but, after all, the strongest argument, and that which is most adapted to melt the soul, is the fact that the Son of God has become incarnate for our sins, and has suffered and died in our stead. When all other appeals fail this is effectual; and this is in fact the strong argument by which the mass of those who become Christians are induced to abandon their opposition and to become reconciled to God.
To be sin - The words ‘to be’ are not in the original. Literally, it is, ‘he has made him sin, or a sin-offering’ ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν hamartian epoiēsen . But what is meant by this? What is the exact idea which the apostle intended to convey? I answer, it cannot be:
- That he was literally sin in the abstract, or sin as such. No one can pretend this. The expression must be, therefore, in some sense, figurative. Nor,
- Can it mean that he was a sinner, for it is said in immediate connection that he “knew no sin,” and it is everywhere said that he was holy, harmless, undefiled. Nor,
- Can it mean that he was, in any proper sense of the word, guilty, for no one is truly guilty who is not personally a transgressor of the Law; and if he was, in any proper sense, guilty, then he deserved to die, and his death could have no more merit than that of any other guilty being; and if he was properly guilty it would make no difference in this respect whether it was by his own fault or by imputation: a guilty being deserves to be punished; and where there is desert of punishment there can be no merit in sufferings.
But all such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are abhorrent to the whole strain of the Scriptures. In no form, in no sense possible, is it to be maintained that the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner stone of the whole system of religion, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of the divine approbation. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is “prima facie” a false view, and should be at once abandoned. But,
(4) If the declaration that he was made “sin” (ἁμαρτίαν hamartian) does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering - an offering or a sacrifice for sin; and this is the interpretation which is now generally adopted by expositors; or it must be taken as an abstract for the concrete, and mean that God treated him as if he were a sinner. The former interpretation, that it means that God made him a sin-offering, is adopted by Whitby, Doddridge, Macknight, Rosenmuller, and others; the latter, that it means that God treated him as a sinner, is adopted by Vorstius, Schoettgen, Robinson (Lexicon), Dr. Bull, and others. There are many passages in the Old Testament where the word “sin” (ἁμαρτία hamartia) is used in the sense of sin-offering, or a sacrifice for sin. Thus, Hosea 4:8, “They eat up the sin of my people;” that is, the sin-offerings; see Ezekiel 43:22, Ezekiel 43:25; Ezekiel 44:29; Ezekiel 45:22-23, Ezekiel 45:25.
See Whitby’s note on this verse. But whichever meaning is adopted, whether it means that he was a sacrifice for sin, or that God treated him as if he were a sinner, that is, subjected him to sufferings which, if he had been personally a sinner, would have been a proper expression of his hatred of transgression, ands proper punishment for sin, in either case it means that he made an atonement; that he died for sin; that his death was not merely that of a martyr; but that it was designed by substituted sufferings to make reconciliation between man and God. Locke renders this: probably expressing the true sense, “For God hath made him subject to suffering and death, the punishment and consequence of sin, as if he had been a sinner, though he were guilty of no sin.” To me, it seems probable that the sense is, that God treated him as if he had been a sinner; that he subjected him to such pains and woes as would have been a proper punishment if he had been guilty; that while he was, in fact, in all senses perfectly innocent, and while God knew this, yet that in consequence of the voluntary assumption of the place of man which the Lord Jesus took, it pleased the Father to lay on him the deep sorrows which would be the proper expression of his sense of the evil of sin; that he endured so much suffering, as would answer the same great ends in maintaining the truth, and honor, and justice of God, as if the guilty had themselves endured the penalty of the Law. This, I suppose, is what is usually meant when it is said “our sins were imputed to him;” and though this language is not used in the Bible, and though it is liable to great misapprehension and perversion, yet if this is its meaning, there can be no objection to it.
(Certainly Christ’s being made sin, is not to be explained of his being made sin in the abstract, nor of his having actually become a sinner; yet it does imply, that sin was charged on Christ, or that it was imputed to him, and that he became answerable for it. Nor can this idea be excluded, even if we admit that “sin-offering” is the proper rendering of ἁμαρτία hamartia in the passage. “That Christ,” says an old divine commenting on this place, “was made sin for us, because he was a sacrifice for sin, we confess; but therefore was he a sacrifice for sin because our sins were imputed to him, and punished in him.” The doctrine of imputation of sin to Christ is here, by plain enough inference at least. The rendering in our Bibles, however, asserts it in a more direct form. Nor, after all the criticism that has been expended on the text, does there seem any necessity for the abandonment of that rendering, on the part of the advocate of imputation. For first ἁμαρτία hamartia in the Septuagint, and the corresponding אשׁם 'aashaam in the Hebrew, denote both the sin and the sin-offering, the peculiar sacrifice and the crime itself. Second, the antithesis in the passage, so obvious and beautiful, is destroyed by the adoption of “sin-offering.” Christ was made sin, we righteousness.
There seems in our author’s comment on this place, and also at Romans 5:0, an attempt to revive the oft-refuted objection against imputation, namely, that it involves something like a transference of moral character, an infusion, rather than an imputation of sin or righteousness. Nothing of this kind is at all implied in the doctrine. Its advocates with one voice disclaim it; and the reader will see the objection answered at length in the supplementary notes at Romans 4:0 and Romans 5:0. What then is the value of such arguments or insinuations as these: “All such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings he endured, border on blasphemy,” etc. Nor is it wiser to affirm that “if Christ was properly guilty, it would make no difference in this respect, whether it was by his own fault or by imputation.” What may be meant in this connection by “properly guilty,” we know not. But this is certain, that there is an immense difference between Christ’s having the guilt of our iniquities charged on him, and having the guilt of his own so charged.
It is admitted in the commentary, that God “treated Christ as if he had been a sinner,” and this is alleged as the probable sense of the passage. But this treatment of Christ on the part of God, must have some ground, and where shall we find it, unless in the imputation of sin to him? If the guilt of our iniquities, or which is the same thing, the Law obligation to punishment, be not charged on Christ, how in justice can he be subjected to the punishment? If he had not voluntarily come under such obligation, what claim did law have on him? That the very words “sin imputed to Christ” are not found in scripture, is not a very formidable objection. The words in this text are stronger and better “He was made sin,” and says Isaiah, according to the rendering of Dr. Lowth, “The Lord made to meet upon him the iniquities of us all. It was required of him, and he was made answerable.” Isa, Isaiah 53:6.)
Who knew no sin - He was not guilty. He was perfectly holy and pure. This idea is thus expressed by Peter 1 Peter 2:22; “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth;” and in Hebrews 7:26, it is said he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” In all respects, and in all conceivable senses, the Lord Jesus was pure and holy. If he had not been, he would not have been qualified to make an atonement. Hence, the sacred writers are everywhere at great pains to keep this idea prominent, for on this depends the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation. The phrase “knew no sin,” is an expression of great beauty and dignity. It indicates his entire and perfect purity. He was altogether unacquainted with sin; he was a stranger to transgression; he was conscious of no sin; he committed none. He had a mind and heart perfectly free from pollution, and his whole life was perfectly pure and holy in the sight of God.
That we might be made the righteousness of God - This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as divinely righteous. It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin; we are made righteousness; that is, he was treated as if he were a sinner, though he was perfectly holy and pure; we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is, that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured in our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and bad never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase “righteousness of God,” there is a reference to the fact that this is his plan of making people righteous, or of justifying them.
They who thus become righteous, or are justified, are justified on his plan, and by a scheme which he has devised. Locke renders this: “that we, in and by him, might be made righteous, by a righteousness imputed to us by God.” The idea is, that all our righteousness in the sight of God we receive in and through a Redeemer. All is to be traced to him. This verse contains a beautiful epitome of the whole plan of salvation, and the uniqueness of the Christian scheme. On the one hand, one who was perfectly innocent, by a voluntary substitution, is treated As if he were guilty; that is, is subjected to pains and sorrows which if he were guilty would be a proper punishment for sin: and on the other, they who are guilty and who deserve to be punished, are treated, through his vicarious sufferings, as if they were perfectly innocent; that is, in a manner which would be a proper expression of God’s approbation if he had not sinned. The whole plan, therefore, is one of substitution; and without substitution, there can be no salvation. Innocence voluntarily suffers for guilt, and the guilty are thus made pure and holy, and are saved. The greatness of the divine compassion and love is thus shown for the guilty; and on the ground of this it is right and proper for God to call on people to be reconciled to him. It is the strongest argument that can be used. When God has given his only Son to the bitter suffering of death on the cross in order that we may be reconciled, it is the highest possible argument which can be used why we should cease our opposition to him, and become his friends.
(See the supplementary notes on Romans 1:17; note at Romans 3:21. See also the additional note above on the first clause of the verse. The “righteousness of God,” is doubtless that righteousness which the divine Saviour worked out, in his active and passive obedience, and if ever any of the guilty race of Adam are “treated as righteous” by God, it must be solely on the ground of its imputation.)
1. It is possible for Christians to have the assurance that they shall enter into heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:1. Paul said that he knew this; John knew this (see the note on 2 Corinthians 5:1), and there is no reason why others should not know it. If a man hates sin he may know that as well as anything else; if he loves God, why should he not know that as well as to know that he loves an earthly friend? If he desires to be holy, to enter heaven, to be eternally pure, why should we have any doubt about that? If he loves to pray, to read the Bible, to converse of heaven - if his heart is truly in these things, he may know it, as well as know anything else about his own character of feelings.
2. If a Christian may know it, he should know it. No other knowledge is so desirable as this. Nothing will produce so much comfort as this. Nothing will contribute so much to make him firm, decided, and consistent in his Christian walk as this. No other knowledge will give him so much support in temptation; so much comfort in trial; so much peace in death. And if a man is a Christian, he should give himself no rest until he obtains assurance on this subject; if he is not a Christian be cannot know that too soon, or take too early measures to flee from the wrath to come.
3. The body will soon be dissolved in death, 2 Corinthians 5:1. It is a frail crumbling, decaying dwelling, that must soon be taken down. It has none of the properties of a permanent abode. it can be held together but a little time. It is like a hut or cottage, that is shaken by every gust of wind: like a tent when the pins are loose, and the cords unstranded, or rotten, and when the wind will soon sweep it away. And since this is the fact, we may as well know it, and not attempt to conceal it from the mind. All truth may be looked at calmly, and should be, and a man who is residing in a frail and shattered dwelling, should be looking out for one that is more permanent and substantial. Death should be looked at. The fact that this tabernacle shall be taken down should be looked at; and every man should be asking with deep interest the question whether there is not a more permanent dwelling for him in a better world.
4. This life is burdened, and is full of cares, 2 Corinthians 5:2, 2 Corinthians 5:4. It is such as is suited to make us desire a better state. We groan here under sin, amidst temptation, encompassed by the cares and toils of life. We are burdened with duties, and we are oppressed by trials; and under all we are sinking to the grave. Soon, under the accumulated burdens, the body will be crushed, and sink back to the dust. Man cannot endure the burden long, and he must soon die. These accumulated trials and cares are such as are adapted to make him desire a better inheritance, and to look forward to a better world. God designs that this shall be a world of care and anxiety, in order that we may be led to seek a better portion beyond the grave.
5. The Christian has a permanent home in heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:4. There is a house not made with hands; an eternal home; a world where mortality is unknown. There is his home; that is his eternal dwelling. Here he is a stranger, among strangers, in a strange world. In heaven is his home. The body here may be sick, feeble, dying; there it shall be vigorous, strong, immortal. He may have no comfortable dwelling here; he may be poor, and afflicted; there he shall have an undecaying dwelling, an unchanging home. Who in a world like this should not desire to be a Christian? What other condition of life is so desirable as that of the man who is sure that after a few more days he shall be admitted to an eternal home in heaven, where the body never dies, and where sin and sorrow are known no more?
6. The Christian should be willing to bear all the pain and sorrow which God shall appoint, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. Why should he not? He knows not only that God is good in all this; but he knows that it is but for a moment; that he is advancing toward heaven, and that he will soon be at home. Compared with that eternal rest what trifles are all the sufferings of this mortal life!
7. We should not desire to die merely to get rid of pain, or to be absent from the body, 2 Corinthians 5:4. It is not merely in order that we may be “unclothed,” or that we may get away from a suffering body, that we should be willing to die. Many a sinner suffers so much here that he is willing to plunge into an awful eternity, as he supposes, to get rid of pain, when, alas, he plunges only into deeper and eternal woe. We should be willing to bear as much pain, and to bear it as long as God shall be pleased to appoint. We should submit to all without a complaint. We should be anxious to be relieved only when God shall judge it best for us to be away from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
8. In a mere readiness to die there is no evidence that we are prepared for heaven; compare 2 Corinthians 5:4. Many a man supposes that because he is ready to die, that, therefore, he is prepared. Many a one takes comfort because a dying friend was ready and willing to die. But in a mere willingness to die there is no evidence of a preparation for death, because 100 causes may conspire to produce this besides piety. And let us not be deceived by supposing that because we have no alarm about death, and are willing to go to another world, that therefore we are prepared. It may be either stupidity, or insensibility; it may be a mere desire to get rid of suffering; it may be because we are cherishing a hope of heaven which is altogether vain and illusive.
9. The Christian should, and may desire to depart and to be in heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:2. Heaven is his home; and it is his privilege to desire to be there. Here he is in a world of trial and of sin. There he shall be in a world of joy and of holiness. Here he dwells in a frail, suffering, decaying body. There he shall be clothed with immortality. It is his privilege, therefore, to desire, as soon as it shall be the will of God, to depart, and to enter on his eternal inheritance in heaven. He should have a strong, fixed, firm desire for that world; and should be ready at the shortest notice to go and to be forever with the Lord.
10. The hopes and joys of Christians, and all their peace and calmness in the prospect of death, are to be traced to God, 2 Corinthians 5:5. It is not that they are not naturally as timid and fearful of dying as others; it is not that they have any native courage or strength, but it is to be traced entirely to the mercy of God, and the influence of his Spirit, that they are enabled to look calmly at death, at the grave, at eternity. With the assured prospect of heaven, they have nothing to fear in dying; and if we have the “earnest of the Spirit” - the pledge that heaven is ours - we have nothing to fear in the departure from this world.
11. The Christian should be, and may be, always cheerful, 2 Corinthians 5:6. Paul said that he was always confident, or cheerful. Afflictions did not depress him; trials did not cast him down. He was not disheartened by opposition; he did not lose his courage by being reviled and persecuted. In all this he was cheerful and bold. There is nothing in religion to make us melancholy and sad. The assurance of the favor of God, and the hope of heaven, should have, and will have, just the opposite effect. A sense of the presence of God, a conviction that we are sinners, a deep impression of the truth that we are to die, and of the infinite interest of the soul at stake, will indeed make us serious and solemn, and should do so. But this is not inconsistent with cheerfulness, but is rather suited to produce it. It is favorable to a state of mind where all irritability is suppressed, and where the mind is made calm and settled; and this is favorable to cheerfulness. Besides, there is much, very much in religion to prevent sadness, and to remove gloom from the soul. The hope of heaven, and the prospect of dwelling with God and with holy beings forever, is the best means of expelling the gloom which is caused by the disappointments and cares of the world. And much as many persons suppose that religion creates gloom, it is certain that nothing in this world has done so much to lighten care, to break the force of misfortune and disappointment, to support in times of trial, and to save from despair, as the religion of the Redeemer. And it is moreover certain that there are no persons so habitually calm in their feelings, and cheerful in their tempers, as consistent and devout Christians. If there are some Christians, like David Brainerd, who are melancholy and sad, as there are undoubtedly, it should be said:
- That they are few in number;
- That their gloom is to be traced to constitutional propensity, and not to religion;
- That they have, even with all their gloom, joys which the world never experiences, and which can never be found in sin; and,
(4) That their gloom is not produced by religion, but by the lack of more of it.
12. It is noble to act with reference to things unseen and eternal, 2 Corinthians 5:7. It elevates the soul; lifts it above the earth; purifies the heart; and gives to man a new dignity. It prevents all the grovelling effect of acting from a view of present objects, and with reference to the things which are just around us. “Whatever withdraws us,” says Dr. Johnson, “from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings” - Tour to the Hebrides, p. 322, ed. Phil. 1810. Whatever directs the eye and the heart to heaven; whatever may make man feel and believe that there is a God, a Saviour, a heaven, a world of glory, elevates him with the consciousness of his immortality, and raises him above the groveling objects that wither and debase the soul. Man should act with reference to eternity. He should be conscious of immortality. He should be deeply impressed with that high honor that awaits him of standing before God. He should feel that he may partake in the glories of the resurrection; that he may inherit an eternal heaven. Feeling thus, what trifles are the things of the earth! How little should he be moved by its trials! How little should he be influenced by its wealth, its pleasures, and its honors!
13. The Christian, when he leaves the body, is at once with the Lord Jesus, 2 Corinthians 5:8. He rushes, as it were instinctively, to his presence, and casts himself at his feet. He has no other home than where the Saviour is; he thinks of no future joy or glory but that which is to be enjoyed with him. Why then should we fear death? Lay out of view, as we may, the momentary pang, the chilliness, and the darkness of the grave, and think of that which will be the moment after death - the view of the Redeemer, the sight of the splendors of the heavenly world, the angels, the spirits of the just made perfect, the river of the paradise of God, and the harps of praise, and what has man to fear in the prospect of dying?
Why should I shrink at pain or woe,
Or feel at death dismay?
I’ve Canaan’s goodly land in view,
And realms of endless day.
Apostles, martyrs, prophets there,
Around my Saviour stand;
And soon my friends in Christ below.
Will join the glorious band,
Jerusalem! my happy home!
My soul still pants for thee;
When shall my labors have an end.
In joy, and peace, and thee!
- Charles Wesley.
14. We should act feeling that we are in the immediate presence of God and so as to meet his acceptance and approbation, whether we remain on earth, or whether we are removed to eternity, 2 Corinthians 5:9. The prospect of being with him, and the consciousness that his eye is fixed upon us, should make us diligent, humble, and laborious. It should be the great purpose of our lives to secure his favor, and meet with his acceptance; and it should make no difference with us in this respect, where we are - whether on earth or in heaven; with the prospect of long life, or of an early death; in society or in solitude; at home or abroad; on the land or on the deep; in sickness or in health; in prosperity or in adversity, it should be our great aim so to live as to be “accepted of him.” And the Christian will so act. To act in this manner is the very nature of true piety; and where this desire does not exist, there can be no true religion.
15. We must appear before the judgment-seat, 2 Corinthians 5:10. We must all appear there. This is inevitable. There is not one of the human family that can escape. Old and young; rich and poor; bond and free; all classes, all conditions, all nations must stand there, and give an account for all the deeds done in the body, and receive their eternal doom. How solemn is the thought of being arraigned! How deeply affecting the idea that on the issue of that one trial will depend our eternal weal or woe! How overwhelming the reflection that from that sentence there can be no appeal; no power of reversing, it; no possibility of afterward changing our destiny!
16. We shall soon be there, 2 Corinthians 5:10. No one knows when he is to die; and death when it comes will remove us at once to the judgment-seat. A disease that may carry us off in a few hours may take us there; or death that may come in an instant shall bear us to that awful bar. How many are stricken down in a moment; how many are hurried without any warning to the solemnities of the eternal world! So we may die. No one can insure our lives; no one can guard us from the approach of the invisible king of terrors.
17. We should be ready to depart If we must stand at the awful bar; and if we may be summoned there any moment, assuredly we should lose no time in being ready to go. It is our great business in life; and it should claim our first attention, and all other things should be postponed that we may be ready to die. It should be the first inquiry every morning, and the last subject of thought every evening - for who knows when he rises in the morning but that before night he may stand at the judgment-seat! Who, when he lies down on his bed at night, knows but that in the silence of the night-watches he may be summoned to go alone - to leave his family and friends, his home and his bed, to answer for all the deeds done in the body?
18. We should endeavor to save others from eternal death, 2 Corinthians 5:11. If we have ourselves any just views of the awful terrors of the day of judgment, and if we have any just views of the wrath of God, we should endeavor “to persuade” others to flee from the wrath to come. We should plead with them; we should entreat them; we should weep over them; we should pray for them, that they may be saved from going up to meet the awful wrath of God. If our friends are unprepared to meet God; if they are living in impenitence and sin, and if we have any influence over others in any way, we should exert it all to induce them to come to Christ, and to save themselves from the awful terrors of that day. Paul deemed no self-denial and no sacrifice too great, if he might persuade them to come to God, and to save their souls. And who that has any just views of the awful terrors of the day of judgment; of the woes of an eternal hell, and of the glories of an eternal heaven; can deem that labor too great which shall be the means of saving immortal souls? Not to frighten them should we labor, not to alarm them merely should we plead with them, but we should endeavor by all means to persuade them to come to the Redeemer. We should not use tones of harshness and denunciation; we should not speak of hell as if we would rejoice to execute the sentence, but we should speak with tenderness, earnestness, and with tears (compare Acts 20:31), that we may induce our friends and fellow-sinners to be reconciled to God.
19. We should not deem it strange or remarkable if we are charged with being deranged for being active and zealous in the subject of religion, 2 Corinthians 5:13. There will always be enough, both in the church and out of it, to charge us with over-heated zeal; with lack of prudence; or with decided mental alienation. But we are not to forget that Paul was accused of being “mad;” and even the Redeemer was thought to be “beside himself.” “It is sufficient for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord;” and if the Redeemer was charged with derangement on account of his special views and his zeal, we should not suppose that any strange thing had happened to us if we are accused in like manner.
20. The gospel should be offered to all people, 2 Corinthians 5:14. If Christ died for all, then salvation is provided for all; and then it should be offered to all freely and fully. It should be done without any mental reservation, for God has no such mental reservation; without any hesitation or misgiving; without any statements that would break the force, or weaken the power of such an offer on the consciences of people. If they reject it, they should be left to see that they reject that which is in good faith offered to them, and that for this they must give an account to God. Every man who preaches the gospel should feel that he is not only permitted but required to preach the gospel “to every creature;” nor should he embrace any opinion whatever which will in form or in fact cramp him or restrain him in thus offering salvation to all mankind. The fact that Christ died for all, and that all may be saved, should be a fixed and standing point in all systems of theology, and should be allowed to shape every other opinion, and to shed its influence over every other view of truth.
21. All people by nature are dead in sins, 2 Corinthians 5:14. They are insensible to their own good; to the appeals of God; to the glories of heaven, and to the terrors of hell. They do not act for eternity; they are without concern in regard to their everlasting destiny. They are as insensible to all these things, until aroused by the Spirit of God, as a dead man in his grave is to surrounding objects. And there is nothing that ever did arouse such a man, or ever could, but the same power that made the world, and the same voice that raised Lazarus from his grave. This melancholy fact strikes us everywhere; and we should be deeply humbled that it is our condition by nature, and should mourn that it is the condition of our fellowmen everywhere.
22. We should form our estimate of objects and of their respective value and importance by other considerations than those which are derived from their temporal nature, 2 Corinthians 5:16. It should not be simply according to the flesh. It should not be as they estimate them who are living for this world. It should not be by their rank, their splendor, or their fashion. It should be by their reference to eternity, and their bearing on the state of things there.
23. It should be with us a very serious inquiry whether our views of Christ are such as they have who are living after the flesh, or such only as the unrenewed mind takes, 2 Corinthians 5:16. The carnal mind has no just views of the Redeemer. To every impenitent sinner he is “a root out of a day ground.” There is no beauty in him. And to every hypocrite, and every deceived professor of religion, there is really no beauty seen in him. There is no spontaneous, elevated, glowing attachment to him. It is all forced and unnatural. But to the true Christian there is a beauty seen in his character that is not seen in any other; and the whole soul loves him, and embraces him. His character is seen to be most pure and lovely; his benevolence boundless; his ability and willingness to save, infinite. The renewed soul desires no other Saviour; and rejoices that he is just what he is - rejoices in his humiliation as well as his exaltation; in his poverty as well as his glory; rejoices in the privilege of being saved by him who was spit upon, and mocked, and crucified, as well as by him who is at the right hand of God. One thing is certain, unless we have just views of Christ we can never be saved.
24. The new birth is a great and most important change, 2 Corinthians 5:17. It is not in name or in profession merely, but it is a deep and radical change of the heart. It is so great that it may be said of each one that he is a new creation of God; and in relation to each one, that old things are passed away, and all things are become new. How important it is that we examine our hearts and see whether this change has taken place, or whether we are still living without God and without hope. It is indispensable that we be born again; John 3:0. If we are not born again, and if we are not new creatures in Christ, we must perish for ever. No matter what our wealth talent, learning, accomplishment, reputation, or morality; unless we have been so changed that it may be said, and that we can say, “old things are passed away, and all things are become new,” we must perish forever. There is no power in the universe that can save a man who is not born again.
25. The gospel ministry is a most responsible and important work, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. There is no other office of the same importance; there is no situation in which man can be placed more solemn than that of making known the terms on which God is willing to bestow favor on apostate man.
26. How amazing is the divine condescension, that God should have ever proposed such a plan of reconciliation, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21. That he should not only have been willing to be reconciled, but that he should have sought, and have been so anxious for it as to be willing to send his own Son to die to secure it! It was pure, rich, infinite benevolence. God was not to be benefitted by it. He was infinitely blessed and happy even though man should have been lost. He was pure, and just, and holy, and it was not necessary to resort to this in order to vindicate his own character. He had done man no wrong: and if man had perished in his sins, the throne of God would have been pure and spotless. It was love; mere love. It was pure, holy, disinterested, infinite benevolence. It was worthy of a God; and it has a claim to the deepest gratitude of man.
Let us then, in view of this whole chapter, seek to be reconciled to God. Let us lay aside all our opposition to him. Let us embrace his plans. Let us be willing to submit to him, and to become his eternal friends. Let us seek to heaven to which he would raise us; and though our earthly house of this tabernacle must be dissolved, let us be prepared, as we may be, for that eternal habitation which he has prepared for all who love him in the heavens.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25