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‘The simplicity that is in Christ.’
2 Corinthians 11:3
I propose to consider the text under four heads. Simplicity in doctrine, leading to simplicity in motive, followed by simplicity in practice, connected with simplicity in hope.
I. Simplicity in doctrine.—Man, alarmed about eternity and ignorant of the way to be delivered from his fears, asks, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ The answer to this question ought to be plain because of its tremendous and awful importance—and because it needs to be understood by men of every age and condition. The question was asked by a crowd of many thousands from different countries in Jerusalem when Peter had preached to them; it was asked by the jailer at Philippi in the midst of the terrors of a midnight earthquake; and it was asked by Saul of Tarsus when struck to the ground at midday by a glorious vision from heaven. To all these the reply given was in spirit and meaning the same: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ Acknowledge thy misery and danger; confess thy sin and corruption; look to Jesus Christ, Who died in thy behalf, for pardon—seek to be reconciled with thy heavenly Father through Him—and in Him thou wilt find forgiveness and peace. Here is the doctrine, and ‘he may run that readeth it.’
II. Simplicity in motive.—It is confessedly a great advantage gained when a large body of men can be swayed by some one powerful motive common to them all. Hence it is that so much has been achieved at times by the spirit of patriotism and loyalty. When foreign agression has united all the inhabitants of a land in one body, forgetting their differences, and yielding to the common impulse of love for their country—at such times wonderful results have been achieved. So in that memorable instance when the signal was given, ‘England expects every man to do his duty’—the simplicity of the motive appealed to constituted its power. So it is with the Church of Christ. One powerful constraining motive at once actuates every man who receives into his heart the free salvation of Jesus Christ. That motive is the love of Christ. It is a natural one, a powerful one, it is one adapted for every age and condition in life, for every time and for every place. You see an Apostle going through the most laborious and perilous work, from year to year, in Europe and Asia, among Jews and Gentiles, and you ask him his motive, and he tells you. ‘The love of Christ constrains us.’
III. Simplicity in practice.—How is this to be carried out? Various duties are pressed in this way. Romans 12, ‘He that giveth let him do it with simplicity’; not from any combination of various reasonings and motives, not from any foolish wish to gain the praise of men and at the same time please God, but with the simple feeling that love to Christ calls for benevolence in His name. So St. Paul to the Corinthians, after pressing claims of distressed brethren, says, ‘Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.’ So in another place, ‘Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.’ Once more the Apostle, in directing to discharge of daily duty, says, ‘In singleness of your heart as unto Christ.’ And our Saviour thus puts the matter before us in the well-known passage, St. Matthew 6:22, ‘The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.’ If a man sees objects in a false light, if he does not rightly judge of their size, distance, position, he will walk in a confused, irregular manner, will use much exertion to little purpose, and will often rather wander from the way than advance in it. So is it in religion.
IV. Simplicity of hope.—Perhaps there is no affection of the mind which more requires definite, solid ground for its exercise than hope. If hope is to work strongly it must work definitely; it must have some firm ground for its expectation—some clear warrant for its aspirations. When hope comes to bring a message of comfort to the heart in sorrow, the question will arise, What is your authority for that announcement? The message is good and cheering, but where are its credentials? And if hope cannot give them in a satisfactory manner, then the rays of light and comfort become dim and expire. Such is not the Christian’s hope. In the sorrows and dangers, the toils and difficulties of life, hope says to him, ‘In every sorrow and danger, strength will be given you according to your need. With the temptation a way will also be made to escape.’ And when you come to die you will find with you the presence of your Saviour, and beyond the grave ‘a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’; where there shall be no more sorrow, but fullness of joy and pleasure for evermore. This is a hope which from its very simplicity is suited for all men.
‘In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.’
2 Corinthians 11:23
The world now knows for what principles the great Apostle of the Gentiles suffered; but he was regarded by his contemporaries as a subverter of ancient customs, as a bringer-in of strange doctrines, as one who was ‘turning the world upside down.’
I. What was St. Paul’s object in recounting these labours and trials of his?—We are sure that it was in no spirit of boasting. Self-assertion or even self-vindication must have been painful to a mind like his. It was simply to vindicate his Master’s cause, and his own right to represent that cause. There were those who had disputed his claim because he had not been originally called by the Master Himself. He had to show what were the real tokens of the Divine acceptance. They were not such as would dazzle the world. The world was not to be won to the cause of the Crucified by human learning, grace, or eloquence. But the world was to be won by suffering. The Saviour Whom St. Paul preached was a crucified Saviour, the glory in which St. Paul gloried was in the Cross. And it was by suffering that the world was won to the cause of Christ.
II. Several lessons may be drawn from St. Paul’s recounting of his sufferings.
( a) The sure triumphs of truth.
( b) ‘ The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’
( c) The impulse which he gave for sending forth holy men who are even now winning over the heathen for the Redeemer’s inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. And not by his example only, but by his writings.
III. May the example of him who was ‘in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,’ rebuke the easy self-indulgence of our times. May the contemplation of the life of the great Apostle show us what are the true signs and tokens of God’s acceptance. May the meditation on his writings convince us of the truth for which he was called on both to do and to suffer. Days of persecution may yet be in store for us; how should we endure them? Dare we suffer as well as do for Christ’s sake?
‘St. Chrysostom beautifully says: “The Apostle endured shipwreck, but in those sufferings he stayed the shipwreck of the world. A night and day he was in the depth of the sea that he might draw mankind from the depth of that error in which they lay. He suffered weariness that he might refresh the weary. He gave his back to the smiters that he might bind up the wounds of those who had been wounded by the devil. He went down to prison that he might lead forth the captives of sin lying bound in their prison-house and restore those to light who lay in darkness. He was in death oft that he might deliver his brethren from more grievous death. Three times he received forty stripes, save one, that he might free those who persecuted him from the scourge of the devil. He was beaten with rods that he might make them know the blessing of that rod and staff by which man is comforted. He was stoned that he might lead them to prefer the Bread of Life to senseless stones—the idols to which they had been long time subject. He was in the wilderness that he might lead them out of their wanderings in the ways of error and in the wilderness of sin, and might lead them to heaven. He was in perils in the city that he might show them that City which is above, and make them citizens of the New Jerusalem. He suffered in hunger and thirst to deliver them from the hunger of the soul, and to satisfy their thirst for the waters which fail not. He endured nakedness in order that they might be clothed with the robe of righteousness. He burned that he might quench for them the fiery darts of the devil. The martyr dies but once; but this blessed saint, the chosen vessel of the Lord, endured countless troubles that he might win souls to Christ.” (St. Chrysostom on the “Priesthood.”)’
‘If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.’
2 Corinthians 11:30
What a strange saying, what an astonishing paradox, and from such a man! St. Paul is one of the very few men, everyone must admit, who have exercised a real influence on the whole current of the world’s history. There are some scholars who would set down almost the whole of Christ’s teaching as we have it now to him. There are many who still discuss and dissect his writings to find in them a system of Paulism which shall be set beside the great philosophies of ancient and modern times. And there can be no doubt at all that, system or no system, what he taught as he taught it has had far more influence on the world than any of the philosophies. It certainly does sound strange that such a man, when he looks back upon his experience, for the purpose of helping others by what he has seen and done and suffered, should find the best part of it all to lie in his weaknesses.
I. If we were to look into this strange paradox we should not find it so inexplicable.—Why does St. Paul glory in the things that belong to this weakness? Not, I imagine, in themselves. He does not say that, like some of the mediæval ascetics or the ancient monks and hermits, that he thought pain, illness, and hunger, others’ treachery, his own failure in themselves good—that he rejoiced and gloried in them as they were. He was quite ready, I think, to avoid them when they did not mean giving up the great object of his life—the effective preaching of Jesus Christ. But he gloried in his weakness, surely, because of the use, when it came to him in its different forms, he put it to. It is because all these things—poverty, distress, failure, sickness—throw the soul back unto God; they all demand and cry out for faith in God. It is not that man in weakness realises the needs more than in health and strength, but that he knows better that he needs when he is thrown back upon the ultimate realities, the spiritual and the eternal. And the man or woman who will feel this most profoundly is the man or woman who has suffered most. Let us look at St. Paul’s experience; it explains what he says. The great impression of his life, if he were to sum it up after studying it carefully, would be, I think, how much he had lost. So far as we can judge, he had lost, as life went on, everything he had, and, most of all, all his friends. His life was a continual surrender.
II. There are two ways in which to bear trial and weakness.
( a) The one is to let them drive us into ourselves, to dwell on our own sufferings, our own sorrows, the things that we have lost and the shadows that close slowly round us. That way always makes men hard and cruel, though they do not know it; always makes them dwell on the faults of others and not on their own; dwell on them and find a strange sort of pleasure in fancying—for it is a fancy—that others are less wise, less thoughtful, less good than themselves. That is the way to increase unhappiness, not to lighten it.
( b) The one way to find happiness, however much you suffer, is always to look out for the good points in other people, always to think the best of them; for, after all, if you are honest, you know the worst about yourself.
III. There is a wonderful power that comes with weakness and loss.—It comes not only to the heroes and saints, but to men and women who seem cast in quite different moulds. Life, history, as you look below the surface, are full of this great wonder—how men grow strong through weakness and happy by what they have had taken away. So we enter the deepest lesson of weakness—the lesson that comes from the Cross. If you feel that you are losing your sense of the nearness of God; that when the things you have been brought up to believe in are questioned, denied, mocked at, you have no answer ready because the questionings have eaten into your own heart; even if you feel as if the love of God was failing you, because you cannot tell if there be a God at all—then remember the things that you do know, that to be brave and true and pure is better than to be cowardly and false and foul. You do know that right is right; that the serious work, the happy companionship, the unselfish sympathy with others who, perhaps, are not strong or industrious or happy does bring its own reward. Your time of weakness, for weakness it is to be for the time bereft of God, may bring you to see clearly what is real goodness, real work, real duty—what lies behind all these overlaying cares in our beset and hurried life. Only let your true desires be set on character, duty, goodness, and God will bring you to them—through the weak things that are temporal to the things of power that are eternal. That is the lesson of the Cross. It was a great victory. Weakness, failure, desertion—so it seemed; but not one word from the Lord of blame of others, not one word that does not mean love and patience and forgiveness and trust. Those are the greatest things in the world because the links between us and God. They are the strongest, because they cast the soul simply and entirely on Our Father Which is in heaven.
—Rev. W. H. Hutton.
‘St. Paul’s view is not what we find in the opinions of other great men. Who can imagine the great Napoleon, or Bismarck, the creator of modern Germany—why, they would not have acknowledged that they had any weakness. Who can imagine Darwin, almost the greatest of all men of science, or even that great statesmen of ours who so deeply influenced the politics of fifty years of Queen Victoria’s reign, saying that—saying quite that—that the weaknesses in their lives were the things they most gloried in? No, most great men, most good men, even, would say that their glory came when they saw something that ought to be done and had strength to do it. But here is a great thinker, a great man of action, a man who by his particular presentment of the truth as it came to him has almost certainly more deeply and enduringly influenced the world than any of those four I named, laying a special stress on the very thing that would seem to conflict with his power to make the truth effective. His weakness, his physical “thorn in the flesh,” the messenger of Satan, as he calls it, his continual suffering, labour, peril, apparent failure, the greatness of his task so heroically undertaken and seemingly rewarded with such infinitesimal success—that is a thing that he will glory in.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25