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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 1

Verses 9-10


‘We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver us.’

2 Corinthians 1:9-2 Samuel :

The first duty of a child of God is to exercise faith by believing God’s Word and submitting to His authority; but in order to secure the true blessings of life in action instead of enjoyment we must turn the objective gifts of God into subjective experience of man. We must do this by the exercise of the quality which the Scriptures call trust. Faith is totally distinct from trust; they may be called co-partners, but are not the same in any sense, and it is essential that we should understand the difference not only of the terms, but also of the action involved in the exercise of faith and of trust. No life of rest, no life of peace and joy and power, can ever be enjoyed until the Christian takes God’s gifts by faith, and by trust gives himself into God’s hands. By faith we claim our privileges; by trust we prove that we have taken possession of the gifts of God, and that they have become to us what God intended them to be.

I. This idea of trust is illustrated in the case of St. Paul in connection with the trouble which befell him in Asia, and for which he sought relief on every hand ( 2 Corinthians 1:8). There has been much argument as to what was the trouble of which he speaks, but I care not what the occasion was; it suffices to say that in Paul’s experience there came a moment when he realised that he was in the very face of death, and the pressure upon him was so great that it seemed impossible for him to obtain deliverance. He looked out, he looked around, he even looked up; but it seemed as if there was no possibility of escape. At last he looked in; and then he says, ‘Moreover, we have the sentence of death in ourselves.’ He looked in as a man might who is in a sinking ship in the midst of the broad Atlantic, and who realises from the face of the captain and the sailors that there is no hope, no possibility of a near sail, no lifeboat ready, and who at last looks within and says, ‘It is death; there is no escape.’ But just as human despair seizes upon him, St. Paul turns from man, he turns from circumstances, he turns from all earthly conditions, and he looks up into the face of God and says, ‘We have the sentence of death in ourselves,’ that what?—‘that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Which raiseth the dead.’ Like Abraham on Mount Moriah, in one instant his gaze goes up to God, and he feels that God can deliver, but no one else can. So St. Paul felt that there was no deliverance in man, no hope in himself, but that this was the moment for trusting God, for giving up his whole being to Him. This is trust far more than faith; faith takes, trust gives; by trust you commit into the hand of God, with perfect certainty of deliverance and blessing, that which in itself brought you nothing but the absolute certainty of death.

II. But there is something further which is meant by this word ‘trust.’—It is very distinct in the original from our word faith. The noun only comes six times in the New Testament, and is only once translated trust ( 2 Corinthians 3:4). In the other five passages it is translated confidence—a very blessed word, but it is not the same as trust, because confidence and boldness are the outcome of faith and trust. Faith takes into the soul what God in His mercy reveals, and believes God against all comers. Trust hands over to God what God has given us, and says, ‘Keep, Lord, and use, for I cannot.’ Then comes a holy confidence and assurance of soul which prevents us from ever being disturbed under any circumstances whatever, and out of that confidence there comes a boldness which enables us to act for the glory of God. Faith, when it has conceived, bringeth forth trust; and trust, when it is finished, bringeth forth confidence and boldness.

III. In the Bible faith is distinguished from trust in that by faith we take Jesus Christ, and trust takes us to God through Christ.—Let us see how it acts. Notice how sin is treated of in the Epistle to the Romans. First there is the sense of guilt. Faith takes the doctrine that in Christ God was satisfied in regard to me as a sinner; trust goes to God through Christ and says, ‘I have now no fear of judgment. I walk up to God with perfect confidence as to my guilt, for it is put away.’ Then faith takes the word of God that Christ is a Saviour from the power of sin; trust steps out into the place of difficulty into which God calls me, believing that the Christ will really deliver me. Faith takes the doctrine that I am delivered from the action of death in sin; trust, when I yield myself to God as a man that is alive from the dead, passes my whole being into God’s hands for keeping, for power, for service. Faith takes the fact that there is no condemnation; trust believes that there is no separation, and that I am joined to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus trust is to be exercised in every department of salvation. God alone knows your trial, and He will help you.

—Rev. Prebendary Webb-Peploe.


(1) ‘A friend went one morning to the house of the great Sir Robert Peel, and found him with a large number of letters lying before him: he was bowed over them in prayer. The friend retired, and returning a little later, said, “I beg your pardon for intruding upon your private devotions.” Sir Robert replied, “No, those were my public devotions; I was just giving the affairs of State into the hands of God, for I could not manage them.” If you will just hand the letter-bag over to the Lord you will find that you can trust it to Him. It may contain vital matters to your firm, to your nation, perhaps, which you think only you can manage. Try trusting the living God with your letter-bag or your housekeeping; do not ever fret or fidget again; put everything into His hands, and say, “Now, Lord, undertake for me.” That is quite distinct from faith.’

(2) ‘When in York Minster I was suddenly moved by the beauty of the place to say aloud, “What a grand building! what a wonderful building! how splendid! thank God!” A voice at my side said, “Yes, it is very beautiful.” I turned, and there at my left sat an old man about seventy-five years of age, in a smock-frock, with a stick in his hand; he looked very sad, and very, very hungry. After talking with him for a moment I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out eighteen-pence. I know not why I did it. In an instant the old man said, as I rose up to go, “Stop, sir; you won’t be ashamed to take an old man’s blessing, will you? Do you know what you have done for me? You have just saved my life. I had word last evening that my daughter was dying, so I started off and walked into York last night, and arrived with fourpence in my pocket. I went to a lodging-house, and found they would give me a dirty bed for twopence and a clean one for fourpence. My Father told me always to keep clean, and I did not think, though I was hungry, that He would wish me to go to bed dirty; so I took the clean bed for fourpence, and trusted Father. I came here at seven o’clock this morning to Father’s house, that I might talk to Him, and I have been waiting until Father sent the bread. I knew He would send it, and you are His messenger.” I said, “You don’t mean that you have been here since seven o’clock this morning?” “Yes.” “It is seven o’clock at night; and have you had nothing?” He said, “I have just been waiting Father’s time. It is Father’s time now, and He has sent you.” That old man knew what it was to trust God.’

Verse 12


‘For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.’

2 Corinthians 1:12

Conscience is a power, perhaps it will not be too much to say the greatest power in the world; a power which resides in every man.

A man is responsible for his conscience, whether to weaken or destroy, or to increase it and secure it in healthiness and strength. There may be a morbid conscience, and there may be a mistaken conscience; but

I. If a man will only faithfully obey two or three small rules all will be right.

( a) Pray to God that your conscience may be a right one in everything, and expect it in answer to your prayers.

( b) Square it with the Bible. Bring it constantly to that test, and that measure of all truth.

( c) Honour your conscience; never trifle with it in the smallest thing. Accept it as the echo of God’s voice, and listen for the echo’s return.

( d) Disobey instantly, whatever is against your conscience, however pleasant it may be, whatever worldly advantage it may be, however others may do the same, whatever the world may judge of it, give it up at once. It is enough, my conscience is against it!

( e) Do not be afraid to take the comfort of your conscience when it tells you that you are right. What it tells you, for instance, that you have made a little progress in the religious life. Accept the encouragement it gives; accept an approving conscience; but take care to give God the glory.

II. There are two lines which conscience should take.

( a) In worldly things, in all my dealings with my fellow-creatures; in money matters; in my various relations of life; in society; in my way of spending my time; my expenses, my amusements, my family, my servants, my employers, my private habits, what must conscience say? Has it all been with a single eye? Will it bear the light? Not after the world’s way of accepting a thing; but as the grace of God acts. Has it worked in me? Has it been ‘in simplicity and godly sincerity?’

( b) And in more decidedly religious points, what does conscience say? Have I been true to my Church, to my conscience, to my God? Could my Church’s walls bear witness, could my Baptismal font bear witness, could the Holy Table bear witness to the frequency, to the earnestness, to the reality of my worship? Have I loved God’s house? Am I the better for it? Could my own room testify to the truth and fervour of my private devotions? Have I done what I might in Church work for the bodies and souls of those around me, for my own friends, for my own family, for my Lord and Master? Is any one the better because I am a Christian?

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘Have you ever noticed the great clock of St. Paul’s Cathedral? At midday, in the roar of business, how few hear it but those who are close to it! But when the work of the day is over, and silence reigns in London, then it may be heard for miles around. That is just like the conscience of an impenitent man. While in health and strength he will not hear it; but the day will come when he must retire from the world and look death in the face; and then the clock of conscience—the solemn clock—will sound in his ears, and, if he has not repented, will bring wretchedness and misery to his soul.’

Verse 19


‘In Him was yea.’

2 Corinthians 1:19

This is an uncommon passage of Scripture; there is not another quite like it in the whole range of the New Testament. Apparently it came to be written in this way: Certain Corinthian Christians called in question the authority of St. Paul, and not only his authority as an Apostle, but even his veracity as a man. The personal question the Apostle felt he could afford to treat with disregard, allowing the facts and events to speak for themselves; but his consistency as a teacher was another and a more important matter. Because the Apostle felt, and frequently expressed himself to the effect, that in his teaching he spoke as the oracles of God. The Son of God, he says in this chapter, preached among you by us, even by me and Sylvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea. In other words, the trumpet which I sounded gave no uncertain sound.

It is on the affirmation of the Apostle with regard to his Divine Master that I should wish to dwell on the present occasion.

I. It is a great and rich and suggestive statement, ‘In Him was yea.’ The self-consciousness of Christ has often been observed upon; is indeed in itself quite unique and without parallel in the whole history of man. Men in our time, as in His own, have come to doubt about Christ. But whatever the doubts are or have been, Christ had no doubt whatever about Himself. His whole being was as the body of heaven in its clearness. There was about His utterance an absolute asseveration, a sublime dogmatism which was as unmistakable as it was irresistible. The people who heard Him, we are told, were astonished at His doctrine, for He spake as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. And again, on the memorable occasion, some who heard Him returned exclaiming, ‘Never man spake like this Man.’ ‘In Him was yea.’

II. Let us take some illustrations of a practical kind of the truth set before us in the text.

( a) Man from the beginning has asked questions like these, Is there a God? and if there be, may I approach Him? Has He any knowledge of us, His poor, sorrowful, sin-stricken children here upon earth? Is He accessible? Is He mindful of us who live here below? To such questions our Lord brought the most positive affirmative answers to men. Yes, there is a God, and He is your Father in heaven, and you may draw nigh unto Him and make known your requests unto Him, for He loves you with an infinite love. Of course we may not know all that is to be known of God, or all that we may know of Him yet in a future state of being; the revelation of God which we have in Christ Jesus is in one sense an imperfect revelation; that is to say, it is not without its difficulties and mysteries; it contains much which the mind of man cannot grasp; but why should we be surprised at that, because mystery may be said to be omnipresent.

( b) Men have the sense of sin overshadowing them; that sense of sin in one form or another we all feel; it causes to some of us occasional twitches of pain; in other instances it causes the most acute agonies of distress. O sin, sin, cries the weary heart, the remembrance of it is grievous unto me, the burden is intolerable. Is the pardon of my sin possible? To this deepest and often most agonising question of the human spirit the Lord brings strong affirmative answer. ‘The Son of Man,’ He says, ‘has power on earth to forgive sins.’

( c) Men from the beginning have asked questions like these: Is there a life beyond the life that now is? Is there another world? Is there anything beyond the sphere of sense which we see? the world to come—life everlasting. But Christ brought life and immortality to light; ‘In Him was yea.’ And therefore, for you and me as Christians, death is no terrible enemy, no ghastly spectre, no impending shadow, death is for us the gate of life. An heir of heaven, I fear not death; in Christ I live, in Christ I draw breath of the true life; let earth, sea, and sky combine against me; in vain they strive to end my life, who can but end my woe; is that a deathbed where a Christian dies? Yes, but not his, ’tis Death himself that dies. ‘In Him was yea.’

( d) The material world is full of mysteries. Humboldt it was who said that a child might ask more questions in five minutes than the philosophers could answer in a century. A great man of science, lately departed, asked us if we ever thought what would happen if we were to be lifted off the surface of this earth and to proceed vertically ad infinitum, where should we arrive at last? Depend upon it, there is no refuge under such terrible trials; no refuge but simply to try and rest in a belief, in the infinite love, in the absolute wisdom, in the unchanging goodness of God.

III. We must have our hope in what is yet to be revealed, up in the glory of God, in Whose light we shall see light; resting meanwhile in His promises, exceeding great and precious, which are all yea and Amen in Christ Jesus our Lord. So let us be at peace, let us seek to rejoice and be happy as we put our trust in the revelation of God which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord, for ‘In Him was yea.’

—Dean Forrest.



‘For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us’ (A.V.).

‘For how many soever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea: wherefore also through Him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us’ (R. V.)

2 Corinthians 1:20

The Authorised Version puts before us Christ, as the Faithful Witness for God, in Whom all God’s promises are affirmed and ratified.

The Revised Version has a slight alteration in the text, and puts the same picture before us with more emphasis. It suggests the idea of the response of a true Christian life to the assurance of faith with which the Christian rests on Christ, and realises the preciousness and the permanence of God’s saving love, as revealed and proffered in Jesus. ‘For how many soever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea, wherefore also through Him is the Amen,’ etc.

‘How can a man’ (this is the Apostle’s implied argument)—‘How can a man who rests on and proclaims a Saviour like this lead an insincere life, or be a vacillating, unfaithful, selfish, timeserving person?’ The Christian believer’s life is (so far as it is really Christian) throughout honest and faithful; it is animated by an assured hope; it takes a straightforward course, it maintains a persistent and consistent truthfulness; it is carried on ( 2 Corinthians 1:12) “in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.’ It is a life, which is not ‘confounded of contradictions,’ not a varying between ‘yea’ and ‘nay,’ but an affirmative life which rests on, and is moulded by the unshaken faithfulness of God Himself.

Let me endeavour to show you this positive aspect of a truly Christian life, i.e. the life of one who, seeing that all the promises of God have their ‘yea’ in Christ, says ‘Amen’ to the message of Divine love, and glorifies God thereby.

I. Such a life is (in the first place) an affirmative one in its general character.

( a) There are those who try to live a double-minded life—to serve God and mammon—to reconcile ‘the purpose according to the flesh’ with the profession of respect for spiritual realities. They affirm nothing for God—their life is of a neutral tint—they do not set such an example in their family, in society, and in their whole manner of life, as to commend the religion of Christ as a reality, and to say in effect: ‘Come with us, for the Lord has spoken good concerning us.’

( b) Again, there are those who seem to have no certain standing-place of moral judgment. They are like ‘children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine’; they sometimes say ‘Yes’ when they should say ‘No,’ and sometimes say ‘No’ when they should say ‘Yes.’

( c) There are some well-meaning, and in some respects earnestly religious persons who have not sufficient moral courage to say ‘Amen’ to Christ’s ‘Yes,’ who are apt to be either afraid or ashamed when it is needful to give a bold testimony on behalf of Christ and Christian truth. They shrink from the sneers of their companions, or the general opinion of ‘society.’

The true Christian life is not double-minded, is not vacillating, is not timid—it is opposed to that which is negative, dubious, fearful; it is, in its whole character, affirmative.

II. But it is, moreover, affirmative in its particular principles. And what does it affirm?

( a) It affirms the reality of God’s love as manifested in Christ Jesus. A Christian cannot be an ‘agnostic,’ in the sense in which this term is now used.

( b) The true Christian life also affirms the faithfulness of God’s Word. How many soever be the promises, they are true in Christ, and the Christian responds to them with a life of sustained trust in what God has thus spoken.

( c) There is another thing affirmed by the life of Christ’s true disciples, and that is, that God’s glory is the final cause of all human development, the very topstone of all religious faith (‘unto the glory of God through us’).

These affirmations of the Christian life are, you will see, compatible with many varieties of Christian opinion. They are not invalidated by the fact that Christians differ much and widely on points both of dogma and of discipline. All Christians, just in proportion as they act according to their professed belief in Jesus Christ as Revealer of God and Redeemer of men, affirm the reality of God’s love, the faithfulness of God’s Word, and the final goal of things to be God’s glory.

III. And these affirmations comprise a practical hope which is the mightiest moral motive which can stimulate and direct conduct.—It is the hope of perfection, the hope of a completed and full salvation from sin, sorrow, and death, and of an harmoniously adjusted universe in which there shall be no more curse, a city of God, where there shall enter nothing that defileth. No man who has not faith in God can sustain hope, or calmly face, either perplexities of the present world or the mysteries beyond it. But what says the Christian believer? ( 2 Corinthians 1 : 1 Peter 1:1-Deuteronomy :.) I say this hope is practical. Some would call it mystical. And so, indeed, it is; for without ‘mystery’ of some sort life can neither exist, nor make progress, nor have anything for us of hope or joy. But the Christian’s hope is no dreamy, unreal, speculative ‘mysticism.’ It is found in elevating ideas which are based upon historic revelation of God, whose Gospel of peace and goodwill in Christ Jesus again and again says to those who will listen, Lift up your hearts! Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice. The Christian’s ideal of beauty, and purity, and wisdom, and joy is not a mere product of poetic imagination. It is the reflex of God’s righteousness and love, manifested in Christ Jesus for man’s deliverance; and having this idea, we reach forth unto those things that are in store, for all who ‘press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’

Will men tell me that this is unpractical, because it transcends our ordinary life, and goes beyond the range of physical science, and is connected with what we term the supernatural? My answer is that there can be no reasonable limitation of our thoughts, and plans, and hopes to the ordinary and actual present conditions of our being if we believe in God, and in a Divine purpose, and in Divine promises. And for the Christian there is no doubt of a Divine interposition in the affairs of men, whereby the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.

Such a hope is a very practical thing in a world of sin, and sorrow, and suffering, and death.

—Archbp. W. Saumarez Smith.


(1) ‘Some there are who proclaim a kind of Gospel of fatalism. “Everything must be what it must, therefore it is no good to complain. Evolution results in the survival of the fittest. We are the product of our antecedents and shaped by our environment.” When the Divine will is thus put out of sight, the human will is dwarfed and degraded until it drifts with the stream of circumstance instead of striving after highest ideals and contending against moral evil, and in this struggle laying hold, through faith which is in Christ, upon the eternal life. If there is no Divine purpose there can be no Divine promises. But there are promises—of guidance, help, enlightenment, pardon—and their “Yea” is in Christ, and we know them to be true, feel them to be precious, and assert their faithfulness by living as those to whom belongs a happy and a holy future in the more immediate presence of God.’

(2) ‘See how this affirmation contravenes that materialistic philosophy which would confine man’s attention to the things of earth and to the life of our present body. It is, indeed, quite right that we should use the world, but we do not use it as if there were nothing beyond it, knowing that the fashion of this world passeth away. Secularism has important elements of truth in it; and the mere visionary who neglects his body, and his business, and his relations of duty and social intercourse among his fellow-men for an alleged higher life, is not wisely religious. But the common danger is that this world should engross too much care; and “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in choke the word,” which God would sow in the heart and conscience, “and it becometh unfruitful.” ’

Verse 24


‘We are helpers of your joy.’

2 Corinthians 1:24

What is the object of a sermon? Among other things it is to make men happier. ‘We are helpers of your joy.’

There is great force in joy and gladness. Foreigners can never understand why our soldiers are not taught to sing on the march—the Germans and Russians do. Christianity is not the ‘worship of sorrow.’ It does not worship sorrow, it transforms it. It teaches that it is a blessing and not a curse to every believer in Christ. Christianity conquered at first on account of the love and joy and hope it brought, for certainly there were never brighter, gladder souls than those early Christians. They sung their way through sorrow and death.

Let me tell you three simple things about this joy.

I. It is found in Christ.—He is the One in Whom alone ‘true joys are to be found.’ For example, Goethe the German philosopher possessed splendid health and a sufficiency of this world’s goods, in fact, he was the most cultured man in Europe, and yet he wrote in 1824: ‘I can affirm that during the whole of my seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being.’ When he was dying the great philosopher cried, ‘More light! More light!’

II. This joy is independent of earthly things.—‘And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up’ ( 1 Kings 17:7). So reads the history of all earthly things. The happy home is invaded by the angel with the veiled face for Lazarus sleeps.

III. This joy reaches beyond the gates of time.—As to the future, without Christ there is no hope, with Christ there need be no fear.

IV. Never forget where joy begins.—It is born at the Cross.

If we would be useful to others we must be happy ourselves. If we are sour and inconsistent and malicious, men will say, like Donovan, ‘If this is Christianity, I’ll have none of it.’ Remember how David prayed: ‘Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.’ What then? ‘Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.’

—Rev. F. Harper.


(1) ‘When the Revised New Testament was being published, there lay a girl at the point of death who had solaced her heart with the text, “To be with Christ, which is far better.” They told her that there would be many changes in the new translation, and a great fear came upon her that her text would disappear. When they brought her the New Testament, she found, as she had expected, that it was altered, but, as she did not expect, it was made even more empathic by the change: it now read, “To be with Christ, which is very far better,” and straightway she fell to praising the Lord.’

(2) ‘John Bunyan tells how, when Christian came in sight of the Cross, his burden fell into the deep grave at its foot, and “three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with ‘Peace be to thee.’ So the first said to him, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment, the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it.… Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on his way singing.” That picture is true to spiritual fact.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.