(1) Timothy our brother.—Literally, Timothy the brother. The word is used obviously in its wider sense as meaning a fellow-Christian. The opening words of the Epistle are nearly identical with those of 1 Corinthians 1:1. Timotheus, however, takes the place of Sosthenes, having apparently left Corinth before the arrival of the First Epistle, or, possibly, not having reached it. (See Introduction.) It is natural to think of him as acting in this instance, as in others where the Apostle joins his name with his own (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1), as St. Paul’s amanuensis.
With all the saints.—On the term “saints,” see Note on Acts 9:13. The term Achaia, which does not occur in the opening of 1 Cor., includes the whole of the Roman province, and was probably used to take in the disciples of Cenchreæ (Romans 16:1) as well as those of Corinth, and possibly also those of Athens.
(2) Grace be to you.—See Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3.
(3) Blessed be God . . . the Father of mercies.—The opening words are spoken out of the fulness of the Apostle’s heart. He has had a comfort which he recognises as having come from God. The nature of that comfort, as of the previous sorrow, is hardly stated definitely till we come to 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7. At present the memory of it leads him to something like a doxology, as being the utterance of a more exulting joy than a simple thanksgiving, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3. The same formula meets us in Ephesians 1:3, where also it expresses a jubilant adoration. Two special names of God are added under the influence of the same feeling. He is “the Father of mercies,” the genitive being possibly a Hebraism, used in place of the cognate adjective; in which case it is identical with “God, the merciful Father,” in Jewish prayers, or with the ever-recurring formula of the Koran, “Allah, the compassionate, the merciful.” It seems better, however, to take the words more literally, as stating that God is the originator of all mercies, the source from which they flow. So we have the “Father of lights” in James 1:17. The precise phrase does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament; but we have the same noun in “the mercies of God” in Romans 12:1.
The God of all comfort.—The latter word, of which, taking the books of the New Testament in their chronological order, this is the earliest occurrence, includes the idea of counsel as well as consolation. (See Note on Acts 4:36.) It is used only by St. Paul, St. Luke, and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and is pre-eminently characteristic of this Epistle, in which it occurs twelve, or, with the cognate verb, twenty-eight, times.
In the balanced structure of the sentence—the order of “God” and “Father” in the first clause being inverted in the second—we may trace something like an unconscious adoption of the familiar parallelism of Hebrew poetry.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.—2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
1. Of what the heart is full the mouth will speak, and St. Paul begins this letter to the Corinthians, not, as he generally does, with compliments to the converts on their achievements and position, but with reflections on the weight of suffering that has been cast on him, what it means, and what purpose it serves. This is the theme of the whole Epistle; it is full from beginning to end of sorrow, which to the Christian turns into joy, weakness that is strength, defeat that passes into triumph. The circumstances of the Apostle when he wrote it amply explain how he was led to such thoughts. He had been looking quite recently into the face of death; in what happened to him at Ephesus he thought his end had come, and that he was to be hurried out of the world without seeing the appearance of Christ, on which he had set all his hope; and, on the other hand, the Corinthians, for whom he had done so much, from whom he hoped so much, had proved very disloyal to him. They had given ear to every kind of charge against him, had thought him weak and fickle, dishonest and designing, the preacher of an obscure and fanciful gospel, a visionary, a failure. Crushed by external calamity, disappointed, humbled, and embittered in the relations with his converts, driven to seek defences for his personal conduct and for the truth and substance of the message for which he had spent everything, he was led to think of the dark problem of suffering, and to ask why so much had been given him to bear, and what end his toil served. Of the Bible writers who have dealt with this great subject, the Apostle Paul must be reckoned not the least.
2. He begins with his usual doxology, “Blessed be God.” He will have a great deal to say in this Epistle about affliction, but he begins upon another note. He begins with the contemplation of the mercies of God, and from that standpoint he surveys the field of his own trouble.
Everything depends upon our point of view. I stood a week or two ago in a room which was furnished with wealthy pictures, and I fixed my gaze upon a Highland scene of great strength and glory. The owner of the picture found me gazing at this particular work, and he immediately said, “I am afraid you won’t get the light on the hill.” And sure enough, he was right. From my point of view I was contemplating a dark and storm-swept landscape, and I did not get the light on the hill. He moved me to another part of the room, and, standing there, I found that the scene was lit up with wonderful light from above. Yes, everything depends upon our point of view. If you are going to look upon your trouble, the primary question will be, “Where do you stand?” See where the Apostle Paul plants his feet. “Blessed be God!” That is view-point in the life of faith! Standing there we shall get the light on the hill. Paul takes his stand in the grace of God, and he gazes upon the ministry of mercies and comfort in the otherwise midnight wastes of affliction and pain. He begins, I say, in doxology. He sings a pæan of mercies and comfort, and lifts his soul in adoration to God.1 [Note: 1 J. H. Jowett.]
When Comfort Comes
“Who comforteth us in all our affliction.”
1. The desire for comfort may be a very high or a very low, a noble or a most ignoble wish. It is like the love of life, the wish to keep on living, which may be full of courage and patience or may be nothing but a cowardly fear of death. We know what kind of comfort it must have been that St. Paul prayed for, and for which he was thankful when it came. We have all probably desired comfort which he would have scorned, and prayed to God in tones which he would have counted unworthy alike of God and of himself.
(1) What picture does the word “comfort” convey to your mind? Do you not almost instinctively think of it in a passive, in a somewhat selfish sense? The concrete picture of a comfortable person would have for its essentials good health, a fixed income, and for its immediate surroundings probably an arm-chair, a fire, a well-spread table, every possible sign of material friendly circumstances.
“Comfort,” says Mrs. Pearsall Smith, “is pure and simple comfort, and it is nothing else. We none of us care for pious phrases, we want realities; and the reality of being comforted and comfortable seems to me almost more delightful than any other thing in life. We all know what it is. When as little children we have cuddled up into our mother’s lap after a fall or a misfortune, and have felt her dear arms around us, and her soft kisses on our hair, we have had comfort. When, as grown up people, after a hard day’s work, we have put on our slippers and seated ourselves by the fire, in an easy-chair with a book, we have had comfort. When, after a painful illness, we have begun to recover, and have been able to stretch our limbs and open our eyes without pain, we have had comfort. When some one whom we dearly love has been ill almost unto death, and has been restored to us in health again, we have had comfort. A thousand times in our lives, probably, have we said, with a sigh of relief, as of toil over or of burdens laid down, ‘Well, this is comfortable,’ and in that word ‘comfortable’ there has been comprised more of rest, and relief, and satisfaction, and pleasure, than any other word in the English language could possibly be made to express.”
(2) But this is only a part, and the smallest part, of the comfort of the Bible. The word “comfortable” is really an active word. The derivation of the English word illustrates that perhaps better than the Greek word which it translates—fort, strong—and one very common old use of the verb “to comfort” simply meant to communicate strength. In Wycliffe’s Bible of 1382, the words of Christ which read in our Version, “The child grew and waxed strong in spirit” are given, “The child waxed and was comforted in spirit.” In Isaiah we have it, “He fastened it with nails”; in Wycliffe it is, “He comforted it with nails”; and a century and a half later, in Coverdale’s Bible, it represents “Let your hands now therefore be comforted,” instead of, as we have it, “Therefore now let your hands be strengthened.” When our fathers used this word “comfort,” they meant clearly something more than the mere entertaining of a sentiment, however kindly, or utterance of words, however sympathetic. So we must so far clear the way by getting rid of the idea that comfort is simply soothing, right and pleasant as that may be under certain conditions.
Can we not learn something from a child’s second cry? A child comes to grief in some way, suffers some blow, and the elder sister or brother manages to quiet the child by appeals to its courage and fortitude; but soon after the crying is all over the mother enters the room, and the cry breaks out afresh. It is not because the pain has come back again, it is because there is the certainty of that kind of comfort which we mean by soothing. Now, beautiful as that was, the first was just as real, perhaps more real, comfort. Comfort and fortitude have the same root in common, and he who is strengthened is most really comforted. Soothing is not denied or left out of the reckoning, but it is not the chief thing.
I was struck with the words of a psalm we were reading to-day—“Because thou, Lord, hast holpen me and comforted me.” Help comes before comfort—help to bear up in the way of duty and not to murmur. We can seek this at once, and God will help us; but comfort must follow slowly, and our heart refuses it when it offers itself at once. Do not blame yourself if you do not feel it, and be satisfied if God gives you some measure of strength.1 [Note: Letters of John Ker, 339.]
Professor Henry Drummond in an appreciation of the life and work of Professor W. G. Elmslie, who was one of his fellow-students at New College, Edinburgh, writes, “One of the last things I read of Elmslie saying was that what people needed most was comfort. Probably he never knew how much his mission, personally, was to give it. I presume he often preached it, but I think he must always have been it. For all who knew him will testify that to be in his presence was to leave care, and live where skies were blue.”2 [Note: Professor Elmslie, 171.]
2. Now we must feel the need of comfort before we can listen to the words of comfort. And God knows that it is infinitely better and happier for us to need His comforts and receive them than ever it could be not to need them and so be without them. The consolations of God mean the substituting of far higher and better things than the things we lose to get them. The things we lose are earthly things, those He substitutes are heavenly. And who of us but would thankfully be “allured” by our God into any earthly wilderness, if only there we might find the unspeakable joys of union with Himself? St. Paul could say he “counted all things but loss” if he might but “win Christ”; and, if we have even the faintest glimpse of what winning Christ means, we will say so too.
Everybody is signalling for comfort. There is that boy of yours; he is young, strong, daring, dashing, vivacious, vigorous. You say the boy can take care of himself, but the boy cannot. He is always signalling comfort alongside, sometimes when his parents least suspect it. Every ribbon or cup in the boy’s room which speaks of some athletic conquest is comfort to his soul. Every time his eye rests upon it, if he is a Whitefield’s boy, I fancy he says to himself, “No quest, no conquest.” Even the things which mean defeat in your boy’s athletic life are in themselves comforts to him if only he can know that he himself put out the last ounce of strength to win the anticipated and sought for victory, and that the reason why he lost it was because in the world’s arena of fair play there was a better man than himself who conquered. As he grows in years he takes comfort out of his success and out of his defeats when those defeats mean he has done his best and has been overmastered by superior technique or skill or strength.
Every mother knows how the dear little girl in the home is continually signalling for comfort and calling alongside those words of sympathy and those deeds of interest which mean everything to her in her advancing and developing life.
There, little girl, don’t cry,
They have broken your doll, I know,
And your tea-set blue and your playhouse, too,
Are things of the long ago.
Heaven holds that for which you sigh:
There, little girl, don’t cry.
There, little girl, don’t cry,
They have broken your heart, I know,
And the rainbow gleams of your faithful dreams
Are things of the long ago.
But heaven holds that for which you sigh:
There, little girl, don’t cry.1 [Note: N. Boynton.]
3. The words “all comfort” admit of no limitations and no deduction; and one would suppose that, however full of discomforts the outward life of the followers of such a God might be, their inward religious life must necessarily be always and in all circumstances a comfortable life. But, as a fact, it often seems as if exactly the opposite were the case and the religious lives of large numbers of the children of God were full, not of comfort, but of the utmost discomfort. This discomfort arises from anxiety as to their relations to God, and doubts as to His love. They torment themselves with the thought that they are too good-for-nothing to be worthy of His care, and they suspect Him of being indifferent to their trials, and of forsaking them in times of need. They are anxious and troubled about everything in their religious life, about their frames and feelings, their indifference to the Bible, their want of fervency in prayer, their coldness of heart. They are tormented with unavailing regrets over their past, and with devouring anxieties for their future. They feel unworthy to enter God’s presence, and dare not believe that they belong to Him. They can be happy and comfortable with their earthly friends, but they cannot be happy or comfortable with God. And although He declares Himself to be the God of all comfort, they continually complain that they cannot find comfort anywhere; and their sorrowful looks and the doleful tones of their voice show that they are speaking the truth.
“Who comforteth us in all our affliction.” Let us note the word in which the Apostle describes the condition of the way-faring pilgrims. They are passing through “afflictions”; that is to say, they are in straits, in tight corners. Their way has become narrowed; they are hemmed in by cares or sorrows or temptations, and they are in a tight place. “He comforteth us” in such conditions.
Frederic Myers gives a touching extract from his mother’s diary, which indicates the extraordinary sympathy and comfort which he, then a child of eight, seems to have given her in her bereavement [the loss of her husband]. She said to him once that she could never be happy again, and the child replied, “You know God can do everything, and He might give us just once a vision of him as should make us happy all our lives after.” Of course, a sensitive and clever child can, and often does, in the presence of overwhelming grief, suggest words and thoughts of consolation of almost preternatural fineness and appositeness, purely by a precocity of intelligence—ex ore infantium—just as he can traffic with a coin whose battered heraldry he does not understand. But there does seem to be something more than that here—a loyal affection, a facing of great issues, a vitality of spirit, which cannot be passed over.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, The Leaves of the Tree, 165.]
(1) He comforts us in physical weakness.—In the breakage or decay of physical power He brings out spiritual richness and strength. This was something that St. Paul knew well. Only two chapters later in this same Epistle there comes the great verse where he describes it—“Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” It is something whose experience is repeated constantly on every side of us. It is hard for us to imagine how flat and shallow human life would be if there were taken out of it this constant element, the coming up of the spiritual where the physical has failed: and so, as the result of this, the impression, made even upon men who seem to trust most in the physical, that there is a spiritual life which lies deeper, on which their profoundest reliance must and may be placed. A man who has been in the full whirl of prosperous business fails in these hard-pressed days, and then for the first time he learns the joy of conscious integrity preserved through all temptations, and of daily trust in God for daily bread. A man who never knew an ache or pain comes to a break in health, from which he can look out into nothing but years of sickness; and then the soul within him, which has been so borne along in the torrent of bodily health that it has seemed almost like a mere part and consequence of the bodily condition, separates itself, claims its independence and supremacy, and stands strong in the midst of weakness, calm in the very centre of the turmoil and panic of the aching body.
I do not know that there is anything more trying to a man of energy and activity and pride than to find himself crippled, and to see the whole world going by him. He once had the power of the senate, he once had power over the assembly, but now his voice is feeble, and his zeal is spent, and men are saying, “What a man he was,” as if he were but a mere trembling, shivering shadow now. Although sometimes the decay of mental faculties takes off the acuteness of suffering, yet there are many men who have pride that will not be alleviated, and who cannot bear to see the world going past them, and they not keeping step but standing still. Not to be able to do what they once could do—to many souls there is anguish in that; there is grace in it too, if they only know where to find it. Autumnal days are the most beautiful days of the year, and they ought to be the most beautiful days in a man’s life. In October things do not grow any more, they ripen, they fulfil the destiny of the summer, and the thought of autumn is that it is going down, going forth. When all things in nature know and feel that death is coming near, do they sheet themselves in black as pagan Christians do? Do they turn everything to hideous mourning as pagan Christians do? They cry: “Bring forth our royal garments,” and the oak puts on the habiliments of beauty, and all the herbs of the field turn to scarlet and yellow and every colour that is most precious; and the whole month of autumn goes tramping towards death, glowing and glorious.1 [Note: H. W. Beecher.]
(2) He comforts in sorrow.—Sorrow is an indisputable fact of human experience. In many respects it is also an inexplicable fact; but there it is. We cannot account for it, but we all feel it. We may soar upon the wings of thought into the highest heaven, we may sink the plummet of inquiry into the depth, but we should not touch the bounds of this mystery. How did pain and grief ever enter into a universe ruled by a perfectly wise and loving God? Why, having entered, is it not by an act of the Omnipotent Will at once and for ever removed? How is it that its pangs are to all appearance so unevenly distributed, falling so heavily upon one, so lightly upon another; here harassing and cutting short a career of usefulness, there sparing a cumberer of the ground; here crushing the hopes of struggling virtue, and there leaving free and unrestrained the development of vice? These are questions which have agitated the minds of men ever since men began to think at all. And it might not be difficult to point out some considerations tending to lessen the perplexity, and to reconcile the mind to the existence and continuance of the physical evils referred to; it might be shown that, even so far as we can see, there is less real evil in their permission than there would be in their absolute compulsory removal. But when we come to deal with sorrow, not merely as a practical but as a personal fact, no general considerations suffice; speculation is powerless to assuage grief. We only know it is there, and either we must have it taken away or must be taught how to bear it; in other words, we feel the pain, and we long after either happiness or comfort. And of the two it is not happiness but comfort that God has appointed for us. “I pray not,” said Christ of His disciples, “that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil”; and He began His Sermon on the Mount by declaring that the poor, the suffering, the mourning—all whom we call unhappy—are blessed, “for they shall be comforted.”
The one thing in sorrow which makes it sometimes almost unbearable is its apparent aimlessness. Why am I made to suffer thus? What have I done? Hush, impatient spirit! thou art in God’s school of sorrow for a special purpose. Be careful to notice now how He comforts thee. Watch His methods. See how He wraps up the broken spirit, with touch so tender, and bandage so accurately adjusted. Remember each text which He suggests—put them down so as not to be forgotten: there will come a time in your life when you will be called on to comfort another afflicted as you are.1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, Present Tenses, 79.]
(3) He comforts in darkness.—This does not by any means signify that God will remove all difficulties and fill every darkness with perfect light. God may do that. God does do that often for men. No one ever ought to believe that any religious difficulty he may have is hopeless and give it up in despair. He ought always to stand looking at every such difficulty, owning its darkness, but ready to see it brighten as the east brightens with the rising of the sun. Many of our religious doubts are like buildings which stand beside the road which we are travelling. When we first come in sight of them, we cannot understand them. They are all in confusion; they show no plan. We have come on them from the rear, from the wrong side. But, as we travel on, the road sweeps round them, and we come in front of them. Their design unwinds itself and we understand the beauty of wall and tower and window. So we come to many religious questions from the rear, from the wrong side. Let us keep on along the open road of righteousness. Some day we shall perhaps face them and see their orderly beauty.
Why do I not go to God with my doubts? Perhaps I can find no certainty about religious things, and I hardly dare ask for certainty. It seems like haggling and arguing with God to tell Him of my doubts. Who am I that He should care to convince me and answer my questions? This is a bad mood, but it is common enough. But I can count my enlightenment as something greater than my own release from doubt; if I can see it as part of the process by which “the light which lighteth every man” is slowly spreading through the world, then it is no longer insignificant. I dare to hope for it. I dare to pray for it. I make myself ready for it. I cast aside frivolity and despair, the two benighteners of the human soul, and when God comes and over, under, nay, through every doubt proves Himself to me, I take Him with a certainty which is as humble as it is solemn and sure.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]
Whence Comfort Comes
“The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort.”
1. Invariably when man confronts the problem of suffering he uses his doctrine of God to aid him in the solution. The history of human thought in all times and in all religions will, it is believed, be found to verify this statement. By a companion intuition to that which prompts man to ask why he suffers, man is prompted to feel that God is in some way related to his sufferings. This would be true in the case of an atheist, if there exists such a state of mind as pure atheism. The atheist, denying the existence of God, would thereby relate the conception of a God negatively to human suffering, saying: “There being no God, the God-idea has no bearing whatever on the sufferings of the human race.” This would be true in the case of the agnostic, who declines to commit himself to a positive statement of belief on the subject of God. He would relate God tentatively to human trouble, saying: “He may send it, or He may not; in the absence of physical demonstration it is impossible to tell.” This would be true in the case of the ethnic religions; for example, in the case of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian faith, with its dualism,—two co-eternal gods, arrayed against one another in ceaseless opposition touching man’s condition. There is Ormuzd, the god of good, sending every blessing on the race; there is Ahriman, the god of evil, showering upon humanity woe, disappointment, and every form of ill. These illustrations might be indefinitely multiplied, and in each case we would discover the tendency of the human mind to place a doctrine of God in some relation, negative, tentative, or positive, to the problem of suffering. The reason for this is plain; the sufferings of the race are so tremendous, so unceasing, and in innumerable instances so out of proportion to any recognized standard of justice—there is a feeling too deep for analysis, too axiomatic to call for demonstration—that in some way, if there is a God, humanity’s one hope of present consolation or of future relief must connect itself with Him, and be evolved through Him. Deep down below all creeds, the hope of a suffering world utters that many-sided, infinite syllable “God,” and feeling the problem of suffering to be greater than man can handle alone, confesses, sometimes scarce knowing what it means: “To whom shall we go but unto thee!”
Destiny without God is a riddle: history without God is a tragedy. But if God be to you what He was to St. Paul—“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort”—does not life assume a new complexion? If you believe—not accept theoretically but believe in your heart of hearts, grasp as the fundamental fact of existence for you—if you believe in a God whom you can describe with these words of St. Paul, what can you say but, thankfully, adoringly, “Blessed be God”? What does it matter what a man believes about God? the world says. Nothing else matters. All else by comparison is a thing of indifference.
There is no real comfort in the Bible sense apart from faith. Time may mitigate or assuage or harden, the world may make us forget, life may distract, work may fill up the gap, friends may cheer and support, but only God can comfort. It is always so in the Bible. The Divine comfort is the only comfort worth speaking of. “Let thy merciful kindness be for my comfort,” prayed the Psalmist. The unfailing source of comfort in both the Old and the New Testaments is the Divine presence. “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father which loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and stablish them in every good work and word,” is Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians. “The God of all comfort” is His designation from whom alone can consolation come. It is only a man’s faith that can cut deep down to the roots of his life. His life follows the fortunes of his faith. Our faith settles everything, even the quality of our possible comfort.1 [Note: Hugh Black, Christ’s Service of Love, 52.]
2. Notice the names which St. Paul gives to God.
(1) He is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For always to the Apostle consolation abounds “through Christ.” He is the Mediator through whom it comes. To partake in His sufferings is to be united to Him; and to be united to Him is to partake in His life. The Apostle anticipates here a thought on which he enlarges in the fourth chapter: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.” In our eagerness to emphasize the nearness and the sympathy of Jesus, it is to be feared that we do less than justice to the New Testament revelation of His glory. He does not suffer now. He is enthroned on high, far above all principality and power and might and dominion. The Spirit which brings His presence to our hearts is the Spirit of the Prince of Life; its function is not to be weak with our weakness, but to help our infirmity and to strengthen us with all might in the inner man. The Christ who dwells in us through His Spirit is not the Man of Sorrows, wearing the crown of thorns, but the King of kings and Lord of lords, who makes us partakers of His triumph. There is a weak tone in much of the religious literature which deals with suffering, utterly unlike that of the New Testament. It is a degradation of Christ to our level that it teaches, instead of an exaltation of man toward Christ’s. But the last is the apostolic ideal: “More than conquerors through him that loved us.” The comfort of which St. Paul makes so much here is not necessarily deliverance from suffering for Christ’s sake, still less exemption from it; it is the strength and courage and immortal hope which rise up, even in the midst of suffering, in the heart in which the Lord of glory dwells. Through Him such comfort abounds; it wells up to match and more than match the rising tide of suffering.
We cannot read the New Testament intelligently without being impressed that a new sense of power and a new source of comfort came to men who had learned to know God through Jesus Christ. The contrast is most marked when we know the world into which the new message came, and this we can do today as never before. The epitaphs and papyri which are being discovered in such numbers in Egypt and elsewhere tell us of the customs of the common people, and show us the common point of view in the time of early Christianity before it had laid hold of the world. We see the mass of the people hungering for religion, and with nothing substantial to satisfy the hunger, and on that account open to all manner of superstition. We see them in their helplessness before the inevitable distress of death and before the great problem of life, usually either with a hopeless resignation or with a forced gaiety that is more pathetic still. One of these witnesses to a past life is suggestive as indicating the comfortless state of the world. In Yale University Library there has been deposited a Greek Papyrus of the second century, which is a letter of comfort sent over a bereavement. It reads thus: “Eirene to Taonnophris and Philon good cheer! I was as much grieved and shed as many tears over Eumoiros as I shed for Didymus, and I did everything that was fitting, and so did my whole family. But still there is nothing one can do in the face of such trouble. So I leave you to comfort yourselves. Goodbye.” It is quite evidently not meant to be heartless, but there was not anything more to be said before the final passion of life. Paul’s word is thrown into bold relief when he wrote to his converts “that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, which have no hope.”1 [Note: Hugh Black, Comfort, 10.]
(2) God is also “the Father of mercies.” He is the Father of pity, of compassion, the Father of that gracious spirit to which we have given the name “Samaritanism.” That is the kind of mercy which streams from the hills. Mercy is the very spirit of Samaritanism. It stops by the wounded wayfarer, it dismounts without condescension, it is not moved by the imperative of duty, but constrained by the tender yearnings of humanity and love. It is not the mercy of a stern and awful judge, but the compassion of a tenderly-disposed and wistful friend. Our God is the Father of such mercies. Wherever the spirit of a true Samaritanism is to be found, our God is the Father of it. It was born of Him. It was born on the hills.
It streams from the hills,
It descends to the plain.
Wherever we discover a bit of real Samaritanism we may claim it as one of the tender offspring of the Spirit of God. With what boldness the Apostle plants his Lord’s flag on territory that has been unjustly alienated from its owner, and claims it for its rightful King! “The Father of mercies.”
(3) And he is the “God of all comfort.” What music there is about the word! It means more than tenderness: it is strength in tenderness, and it is tenderness in strength. It is not a mere palliative but a curative. It not merely soothes, but heals. Its ministry is not only consolation but restoration. “Comfort” is “mercy” at work, it is Samaritanism busy with its oil and wine. And again let us mark that whenever we find this busy goodness among the children of men, exercising itself among the broken limbs and broken hearts of the race, the Lord is the fountain of it. He is the “God of all comfort,” of every form and kind and aspect.
I have always found, in talking to my people in private, that all second-hand talk out of books about the benefits of affliction was rain against a window-pane, blinding the view but never entering. But if I can make a poor wretch believe that God is the foe of all misery and affliction, that He yearns to raise us out of it, and to show us that in His presence is the fulness of all life and joy, and nothing but our own wilfulness and imperfection keeps us in it for an instant, that the moment he will allow God to remove those sorrows, the Lord will rejoice in doing so,—it is enough.1 [Note: Charles Kingsley.]
Let me count my treasures,
All my soul holds dear,
Given me by dark spirits
Whom I used to fear.
Through long days of anguish,
And sad nights, did Pain
Forge my shield, Endurance,
Bright and free from stain!
Doubt, in misty caverns,
’Mid dark horrors sought,
Till my peerless jewel,
Faith to me she brought.
Sorrow, that I wearied
Should remain so long,
Wreathed my starry glory,
The bright Crown of Song.
Strife, that racked my spirit
Without hope or rest,
Left the blooming flower,
Patience, on my breast.
Suffering, that I dreaded,
Ignorant of her charms,
Laid the fair child, Pity,
Smiling, in my arms.
So I count my treasures,
Stored in days long past—
And I thank the givers,
Whom I know at last!1 [Note: Adelaide Procter, Legends and Lyrics, i. 60.]
Why Comfort Comes
“That we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction.”
1. God’s dealing with a particular man is not an end in itself but is designed for a larger end for which the particular man is used. St. Paul saw this fully, and therefore his life has been the wonder of Christian history. The moral and spiritual ends involved in salvation can be secured only by the working of God’s love through loving men. St. Paul blessed God for the personal comfort he had received in his affliction, but he saw beyond that to the great wide purpose in the heart of God. He saw himself to be not an end but an instrument. He blessed God not so much for the personal comfort as because through the personal comfort he was enabled to continue the work to which he had given his life. Most of us never see much beyond ourselves. We hedge ourselves in within our own borders. We desire the sunshine for ourselves and, it may be, bless God for every ray of it. But we do not always understand the object of God’s love and comfort, that for which He gives us it. We do not always see that we are blessed in order that we may bless, comforted that we may comfort, and get that we may give.
No man has come to true greatness who has not felt in some degree that his life belongs to his race, and that what God gives him He gives him for mankind. It is the different degrees of this consciousness that make the different degrees of greatness in men. If you take your man full of acuteness, at the top of his speciality, of vast knowledge, of exhaustless skill, and ask yourselves where the mysterious lack is which keeps you from thinking that man great—why it is that, although he may be a great naturalist, or a great merchant, or a great inventor, he is not a great man—the answer will be here, that he is selfish; that what God gives him stops in himself; that he has no such essential humanity as to make his life a reservoir from which refreshment is distributed, or a point of radiation for God’s light. And then if you take another man, rude, simple, untaught, in whom it is hard to find special attainments or striking points of character, but whom you instinctively call great, and ask yourself the reason of that instinct, I think you find it in the fact that that man has this quality: that his life does take all which it receives, not for its own use but in trust; that in the highest sense it is unselfish, so that by it God reaches man, and it is His greatness that you feel in it. For greatness after all, in spite of its name, appears to be not so much a certain size as a certain quality in human lives. It may be present in lives whose range is very small. There is greatness in a mother’s life whose utter unselfishness fills her household with the life and love of God, transmitted through her consecration. There is greatness in a child’s life who is patient under a wrong and shows the world at some new point the dignity of self-restraint and the beauty of conquered passions. And thence we rise until we come to Christ, and find the perfection of His human greatness in His transmissiveness; in the fact that what He was as man, He was not for Himself alone but for all men, for mankind. All through the range of human life, from lowest up to highest, any religious conception of human greatness must be ultimately reducible to this: a quality in any man by which he is capable first of taking into himself, and then of distributing through himself to others, some part of the life of God.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]
Dr. Wilson was a physician of souls, because he had, in a very high degree, what physicians call the cor medicum, and the mens medica—what one of the most famous of them explains as “that gentle womanliness of heart which the sick in depression and pain often desire, look for, and profit by.” His warm sympathy gave his voice the tone which tells at a sick-bed, and also, when fitting, that sympathetic silence which is sometimes better than speech, and which made him an attentive listener to a tale of grief that relieved the over-burdened heart. “His sympathy,” writes one, “was full of tact. He was able to touch the sore places of the heart without hurting the wound. One always felt at one’s best when with him.” To many he was an under-paraclete through whom the Paraclete fulfilled His Divine mission. For in the language of the New Testament, to console means to play the Paraclete.1 [Note: J. Wells, Life of James Hood Wilson, 237.]
Ask God to give thee skill
In Comfort’s art,
That thou may’st consecrated be
And set apart
Unto a life of sympathy.
For heavy is the weight of ill
In every heart;
And comforters are needed much
Of Christ-like touch.2 [Note: A. E. Hamilton.]
2. If we would be able to comfort we must ourselves be comforted. They are the expert comforters who have sought and found their comfort in the Lord. They are able to “speak a word in season to him that is weary.” They who have been comforted in doubt are the finest ministers to those who are still treading the valley of gloom. They who have been comforted in sickness know just the word which opens the pearly gates and brings to the desolate soul the hosts of the Lord. They who have been comforted in turning from sin and wickedness know just the word to speak to the shrinking prodigal when he is timidly approaching his father’s door. Let us get away to our God, let us bare our souls to Him, and let us receive His marvellous gifts of comfort and mercy. And then let us use our glorious wealth in enriching other people and by our ministry bringing them to the heights.
The most painfully tried, the most proved in suffering, the souls that are best acquainted with grief, provided their consolation has abounded through Christ, are specially called to this ministry. Their experience is their preparation for it. Nature is something, and age is something; but far more than nature and age is that discipline of God to which they have been submitted, that initiation into the sufferings of Christ which has made them acquainted with His consolations also, and has taught them to know the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. Are they not among His best gifts to the Church, those whom He has qualified to console, by consoling them in the fire?
This discipline (doubt as to his being saved) was part, I believe, of a merciful training, to teach him what he could learn effectually no otherwise. It is a discipline through which all who are to guide successfully perplexed consciences and timid Christians are made sooner or later to pass—“that they may be able to comfort them that are in any trouble with the comfort wherewith they themselves are comforted of God.” Some have it at the outset of their Christian life, and so are long before they can venture to cherish the hope of salvation; others get so quietly into joy and peace in believing, that, as Dr. Kidd said to Mr. Duncan, “they cannot understand the difficulties of others.” And some of these never do understand those difficulties. Living in sunshine themselves, they wonder that all other Christians are not as they are, and they die very much as they live—strangers to doubt and fear, but strangers also to much soul-humbling insight into the plagues of their own heart, and to that most entrancing of all Christian experiences, when, after deep, protracted, and apparently hopeless backsliding, they hear a voice saying unto them in melting accents, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for mine anger is turned away from him,” and they are constrained in return to say with Ephraim, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Mr. Duncan’s first Christian experience was indeed very genuine—fresh and beauteous as a new-blown rose sparkling with dew-drops in the morning sun. But it was superficial. It needed deepening, solidifying, invigorating, both for his own sake and for that of others. This he got in a way which, though by no means peculiar, was in his case intensified to the utmost. Not but that there were in this second experience unsatisfactory elements, as I judge; but the real and permanent value of that experience was immense.1 [Note: David Brown, Memoir of John Duncan, 210.]
Livingstone, speaking of his friend, Dr. Philip, “Liberator of the Hottentots” [who, previous to going to South Africa, was a young Independent minister in Aberdeen], relates that Philip, when in Aberdeen, once visited an old woman in affliction. The youthful pastor began to talk very fair to her of the duty of resignation, trusting, hoping, and all the rest of it. The old woman after listening attentively looked up into his face, and said: “Puir thing, ye ken naething aboot it!”
My daughter Eppie had an album in which she wrote appropriate mottoes under the various portraits; under Dr. John Brown’s she wrote these lines from one of the elegies on Sir Philip Sidney:—
A sweet attractive kind of grace;
The full assurance given by looks;
Perpetual comfort in a face;
The lineaments of Gospel books.
What “perpetual comfort” I found in him as the years went on, bringing with them the inevitable cares and troubles, joys and sorrows, is known only to my own heart. Only one dreaded to draw too deeply on his sympathy, so real was the shadow cast on his sensitive spirit by the sorrows of others. Nor was it only his friends’ sorrows that he shared; firmly and tenderly he could face their failures, their defeats, even their sin. To be worthy of Dr. Brown’s friendship was an incentive, to more than he knew, to make the best of themselves.1 [Note: Mrs. E. M. Sellar, Recollections and Impressions, 93.]
3. Just as with God, so also with us, comfort is not merely consolation. There are times when we come to God, as a child to its father, to be soothed and quieted, and it is His pleasure to soothe and quiet those who are in any affliction. But there are days when the most comforting thing God can do for us is to nerve us to duty. In both these ways we are to comfort each other. The recognition of the difference will have a very practical effect upon some of our dealings. We have come to believe a little too readily that the supreme way of using Christian sympathy and comfort is always in the attempt to alleviate circumstances. If we do otherwise we are supposed to be hard, inhuman, dictating to others a course which we are not prepared to follow ourselves. The only gospel to the poor and unfortunate, we are told, is the gospel of better wages, better homes, less work, more play. But there is more than that, and we simply rely on the evidence of fact when we say that in the circle of each one of us some of the noblest and strongest characters we have known have been the product of very hard and, as it seemed, cruel circumstances. Mark, the secret of it was not that there was produced in them a hard, stoical, passive endurance. That was not it at all; it was that they were strengthened to serve even under such conditions. They were taught by God that no man could sink so low that he could not contribute something to the common life. They have been helped by being taught that even they can help and comfort others.
To the Christian soul many a time a personal sorrow, or disappointment, or loss has been a turning-point of life, an occasion for deeper consecration and wider service. In Morley’s Life of Cobden there is a quotation from one of John Bright’s speeches, which explains how he was led to devote his life first of all to the anti-Corn Law agitation and so to many noble causes. “At that time I was at Leamington, and I was, on the day when Mr. Cobden called on me, in the depths of grief, I might almost say of despair; for the light and sunshine of my house had been extinguished. All that was left on earth of my young wife, except the memory of a sainted life and of a too brief happiness, was lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr. Cobden called upon me as his friend, and addressed me, as you might suppose, with words of condolence. After a time he looked up and said, ‘There are thousands of houses in England at this moment where wives, mothers, and children are dying of hunger. Now,’ he said, ‘when the first paroxysm of your grief is past, I would advise you to come with me, and we will never rest till the Corn Law is repealed.’” That was chastening yielding its noble fruit, sympathy born of sorrow. John Bright’s rich, useful life might have been lost to England, if he had only brooded over his grief and hardened his heart, and refused to listen to the evident call which came to him.1 [Note: Hugh Black, Comfort, 136.]
4. We scarcely need consider how we may comfort others. If we ourselves are comforted of God, the ways in which our comfort will pass to others are endless. Our very troubles have probably more influence than we suspect on the moral condition of those about us who care for us. We may often see this in a home where there is perhaps a sick child, or a sick mother; there is a tender-heartedness, a kindness, and patience towards the weak in that family, even including the boys, which are the direct result of the presence of suffering. The meaning of that mysterious suffering may be, in part, the development in others of features of character necessary to their well-being, and of maintaining in them that softness of heart so needful to spiritual receptivity. We who are strong little know how much we are indebted for what is best in us to some we love who have gone through suffering, in part, for our sakes. But if that is true of the family, may it not be true of a much wider circle? May not the sufferings of every sufferer under heaven be an instrumentality by which God develops the moral and spiritual character of his fellows? May not our suffering be a means of grace to many whom we do not know we touch? But it is not so much the suffering, it is the comforted suffering, by which we are made ministers of consolation, even when we say not a word. It is the suffering God has helped us to bear, the suffering He has cheered us in and sanctified to us, that is the highest good, and that in the way of illustrating what God and goodness are.
A father tries to teach his little son self-restraint, but it is a long task. One day that father’s pride and indignation are touched to the quick, and the boy looks on and sees the inward conflict, and that a strong hand is laid on the rising anger, and the evil conquered. He has learnt the lesson; the father’s sanctified suffering has taught what self-restraint is, when nothing else could. A mother tries in vain to make her child know what patience is. After a time she is in trouble, in which nothing is harder than to “stand still and see the salvation of God.” But she does stand still, and in her trustful waiting she has taught what words could not. A teacher seeks in vain to make his scholars understand the worth of godliness; but in the way he endures the trials which God presently sends, he carries home the fact to their inmost heart. Sufferers little know how much they are doing for the Master and His world! For myself I have learnt many of my best lessons in sick rooms where they thanked me for going, as though they were the gainers, and not I. “Bearing about in the body”—says St. Paul—“the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” It was a sufferer’s face, says one; men saw “as it had been the face of an angel.”1 [Note: C. New, Sermons, 90.]
There is one feature of Dr. Rainy’s character in these years of which it is more easy to speak. That is the tenderness which more and more revealed itself in his words and acts as, indeed, on his very countenance. Many persons have spoken to me of this, and declared they can never forget his sympathy in times of sorrow, nor could they even tell of its sacredness. This was no new feature of Dr. Rainy’s life; but in these later years, with a ripened Christian and human experience, and with the chastened sense that age must bring of the pathos of life, it seems more than ever to have been a deliberate part of his work to try to comfort and heal and sympathize. In these years his own family life was visited with a very sore sorrow. His third daughter, Annie, who was in many things his right hand, became ill and was sent with a friend to Algiers, where, soon after landing, she died on 9th March, 1903. She accepted with promptness and sweetness, when she realized it, the call to give up her young life, and her father in his sorrow wrote, “We have very great consolations—indeed every consolation we could have.”2 [Note: P. Carnegie Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, ii. 292.]
Soon after I became a minister, and while I was still a very young man, a great loss fell on a family in my congregation. The husband died a year or two after marriage. I went to see the widow. Her anguish was of that silent, self-restrained sort which it is always most terrible to witness.… Her grief was dumb. I was oppressed by it; I could say nothing. The sorrow seemed beyond the reach of comfort; and after sitting for a few minutes I rose in some agitation and went away without saying a word. After I had left the house, and when I had recovered self-possession, I felt humiliated and distressed that I had not spoken; I thought that perhaps it would have been better not to have gone at all. I do not feel so now. Sometimes the only consolation we can offer our friends is to let them know that we feel that their sorrow is too great for any consolation of ours.3 [Note: R. W. Dale, The Laws of Christ in Common Life, 133.]
Do you long to bring relief
For the burden of a grief
Even Hope has barely stirred?
You may compass this, perchance,
By the sunbeam of a glance,
Through the music of a word.
Is the casket of a heart
Double-locked, and set apart
With its treasure all untold?
Did you only understand,
In the hollow of your hand
Lies the master-key of gold.
Do you hesitate to seek
For the souls who never speak
Of their sorrow, nor their sin?
Hasten forth to them, and wait,
Standing humbly at their gate,
Till they beckon you within.1 [Note: M. Bartleet, in Sunday Magazine, 1905, p. 792.]
Beecher (H. W.), Henry Ward Beecher in England, 205.
Black (H.), Christ’s Service of Love, 52.
Brent (C. H.), The Consolations of the Cross, 1.
Brooks (P.), Sermons, 1.
Denney (J.), The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Expositor’s Bible), 10.
Hall (C. C.), The Gospel of the Divine Sacrifice, 179.
Illingworth (A. L.), The Resurrection and the Life, 105.
Jenkinson (A.), A Modern Disciple, 239.
Kitto (J. F.), in Religion in Common Life, 82.
Little (W. J. K.), Sermons in Manchester, 282.
Meyer (F. B.), Present Tenses, 74.
New (C.), Sermons Preached in Hastings, 83.
Newman (J. H.), Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, 106.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, v. 300.
Raleigh (A.), Thoughts for the Weary, 68.
Romanes (E.), Thoughts on the Collects, 30.
Smith (H. W.), The God of all Comfort, 26.
Spurgeon (C. H.), My Sermon Notes: Romans to Revelation, 233.
Stewart (A.), in The Divine Artist, 41.
Thompson (J. R.), Burden Bearing, 107.
Williams (I.), Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels, iii. 256.
Wilson (S. L.), Helpful Words for Daily Life, 363.
Christian World Pulpit, xviii. 211 (W. J. Cuthbertson); xxi. 147 (H. W. Beecher); xxx. 193 (H. W. Beecher); lii. 70 (W. H. Harwood); lvii. 214 (G. Body); lxxi. 187 (G. C. Britton); lxxviii. 113 (N. Boynton); xxiv. 392 (H. W. Beecher).
British Congregationalist, Sept. 1, 1910 (N. Boynton).
Examiner, November 2, 1905 (J. H. Jowett).
Homiletic Review, lix. 312 (A. Menzies).
National Preacher, xxi. 77 (J. P. Thompson).
Sunday Magazine, 1905, p. 792 (C. S. Horne).
(5) Abound in us.—Better, overflow to us. The sufferings of Christ, as in 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:1 (the Greek in 1 Peter 1:11 expresses a different thought), are those which He endured on earth; those which, in His mysterious union with His Church, are thought as passing from Him to every member of His body, that they too may drink of the cup that He drank of. For the thought that in our sufferings, of whatever nature, we share Christ’s sufferings, comp. 2 Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 4:13. The use of the plural, “our tribulations,” “overflow to us,” is dependent partly on the fact that St. Paul has joined Timotheus with himself in his salutation, and partly on the fact that it is his usual way of speaking of himself unless he has distinctly to assert his own individuality.
So our consolation also aboundeth.—Better, as before, overflows. The consolation which has come to him through Christ, as the channel through whom it flows down from the Father, has, like the suffering, an expansive power, and pours itself out on others.
(6) And whether we be afflicted . . .—The better MSS. present some variations in the order of the clauses, some of them giving the words “and our hope of you is steadfast” after “which we also suffer” in this verse. The variation hardly affects the sense in any appreciable degree. That sense is that each stage of the Apostle’s experience, that of affliction no less than that of consolation, tended to make others sharers in the latter and not in the former.
For your consolation and salvation.—The latter word is added as presenting, in modern phrase, the objective side of the result of which St. Paul speaks, while the former gives prominence to the subjective. There was not only the sense of being comforted: there was also the actual deliverance from all real evil, expressed by the word “salvation.” But this deliverance is seen, not in a mere escape from, or avoidance of, sufferings, but in a patient, steadfast endurance of them.
Which is effectual.—Better, which worketh. The word is the same as in “faith working by love” in Galatians 5:6.
Which we also suffer.—What these are has not yet been specifically stated. It is assumed that the sufferings of all Christians have much in common. All have to suffer persecution from without (Acts 14:22). All have anxieties, sorrows, disappointments, which bring a keener pain than the ills that threaten the spoiling of goods or even life itself.
(7) And our hope of you is stedfast.—Better, our hope on behalf of you. The sentence is brought in as a kind of parenthesis connected with the word “enduring.” He had not used that word lightly, still less as a tacit reproach, as though they were wanting in endurance. His hope for them, for their salvation in the fullest sense of the word, had never been stronger than it was at that moment.
So shall ye be also of the consolation.—Better, so are ye also. The verb is not expressed in the Greek, but it is more natural to supply it in the tense which had been used before. The English version practically dilutes the hope by throwing it into a future, which may be near or distant, instead of connecting it with the actual present. The Apostle could not doubt for a moment that they were at that very time sharers in the comfort as well as in the sufferings.
(8) We would not, brethren, have you ignorant.—From the generalised language of the previous verses he passes to something more specific. The phrase by which he calls attention to the importance of what he is about to write is characteristic of the Epistles of this period (Romans 1:13; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Our trouble which came to us in Asia.—The allusion may possibly be to the Demetrius tumult of Acts 19:24-41, or to some like time of danger, such as that referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:32. On the other hand, however, he would probably, in that case, have spoken of a definitely localised danger, as he does in the last reference as being “in Ephesus.” The words “in Asia” suggest a wider range of suffering, such as we find referred to in the speech to the elders at Miletus (Acts 20:19), and the context leads us to think of bodily illness as well as of perils and anxieties.
We were pressed out of measure.—The adverbial phrase is specially characteristic of the Epistles of this period. We find it in the “exceedingly sinful” of Romans 7:13; the “more excellent (or, transcending) way” of 1 Corinthians 12:31; and again in 2 Corinthians 4:17; Galatians 1:13.
Insomuch that we despaired even of life.—The language is obviously more vividly descriptive of the collapse of illness than of any peril such as those referred to in the previous Note. St. Paul could hardly have despaired of life during the tumult of Acts 19.
(9) We had the sentence of death in ourselves.—The word translated “sentence” (apokrima) does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, nor indeed in the LXX. Literally, it means answer, and was probably a half-technical term, used in medical practice, which St. Paul may have adopted from St. Luke, expressing the “opinion” which a physician formed on his diagnosis of a case submitted to him. The Apostle had found himself in a state in which, so far as he could judge for himself, that opinion would have been against the prospect of recovery. He ceased to trust in himself, i.e., in any remedial measures that he could take for himself. He could only fold his hands and trust in God. Recovery in such a case was a veritable resurrection. It may be noted, however, that a cognate word (apokrisis) is frequently used by Hippocrates in the sense of a morbid or virulent secretion, and possibly the word here used may also have had that meaning. In this case, what he says would be equivalent to “We had the symptoms of a fatal disease in us.”
(10) Who delivered us from so great a death.—Death in itself seems hardly to admit of such a qualifying adjective, but the words appear to have been used to represent the incidents of the death which seemed so near, the bodily anguish, the sense of prostration, almost, one might venture to say, the very presence of the king of terrors. As the word translated “so great” is strictly speaking, used of quality rather than quantity, we might almost translate it, so terrible a death.
And doth deliver.—The words are wanting in some of the better MSS., and others give them in the future. They may possibly have been inserted to carry the thought of the deliverance into the present as well as through the past and the future.
In whom we trust.—Better, in whom we have hoped. The verb is not the same as the “trust” of the preceding verse. The words imply that he was not yet altogether free, as man would judge, from the danger of a relapse. Life was for him, in relation both to bodily infirmities and perils of other kinds, a perpetual series of deliverances.
(11) Ye also helping together by prayer . . .—They too to whom he writes can help him as he helps them. Indirectly he asks their prayers for him, but he does so with a refined delicacy of feeling, by assuming that they are already praying, and that their prayers are helpful.
That for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons.—The Greek word for “person” (prosôpon) is elsewhere throughout the New Testament translated “face” or “countenance,” or “person” in the sense of “outward appearance.” It has been suggested that that may be its meaning even here: that thanksgiving may be offered from many upturned faces. The use of the word prosopopœia, however, for “personifying,” and of prosôpon for the characters in a drama, indicates that the noun was beginning to be used in a different sense, and this must clearly have been well established when it came to be used in theological language for the three “persons” of the Godhead. It is interesting to note, however, as a fact in the history of language, that, if this be its meaning here, it is probably one of the earliest extant instances of its being so used.
The “gift,” in this instance, is the deliverance from danger and suffering spoken of in the previous verse. Safety and health deserved the name not less truly than prophecy and the gift of tongues. He assumes, with the same subtle refinement as before, that they will be as ready to give thanks for his recovery or deliverance as they were to pray for it.
(12) For our rejoicing is this. . . .—Better, our boast, as in Romans 3:17; Romans 15:17; 1 Corinthians 15:31. With the feeling of jubilant thankfulness which has hitherto characterised his language there mingles another of a different character. It had, perhaps, been in the background of his thoughts all along. He had seemed, in 1 Corinthians 4:21, to imply that he was coming to take strong measures against evil-doers (“Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love?”). In 1 Corinthians 16:2-8 he had spoken yet more definitely, “I will come unto you, when I shall have passed through Macedonia.” And yet he had not come. Titus would seem to have told him what was said of this: “He was fickle, and changeable; said Yes one day, and No another. Perhaps he was afraid to come.” He is eager to refute the charge without a formal pleading as in answer to it, and seems to cast about for an opening. He finds it in the words which he had just dictated. He has a right to assume that the Corinthians will pray and give thanks for him, for he can boast that he has never failed, conscience bearing him witness, in transparent sincerity to them.
The testimony of our conscience.—The words present an obviously undesigned coincidence with St. Paul’s language in Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16, and again with that of Romans 9:1. To have nothing on his conscience, to “know nothing by (i.e., against) himself” (1 Corinthians 4:4), was the great law of his life. And this was true, as of his whole life in relation to the Corinthians, so especially of the supposed change of purpose with which he had been taunted.
In simplicity.—The better MSS. give “holiness” instead of “simplicity.” The Greek word for the latter is very characteristic of this Epistle (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3), but then it is used in these passages in quite another sense, as of a single-minded generosity. The word for “holiness” is not a common one, but it appears in Hebrews 12:10. It was, however, the natural correlative of the term “saints” applied to all believers. St. Paul’s conscience told him that he had not been false to the consecrated character which that term involved.
Godly sincerity.—Better, sincerity which is of God. It is seldom satisfactory to tone down the bold vigour of the Greek, or perhaps Hebrew, idiom into the tameness of an English adjective. The sincerity which St. Paul claims had come to him as God’s gift: he could submit it to God’s judgment. The word for “sincerity” (literally, transparency of character, or, perhaps, that which bore the test of the strongest light) had been used in 1 Corinthians 5:8.
Not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.—Better, in or with in both clauses. The words indicate the same line of thought as those of 1 Corinthians 2:1-6. Men made invidious comparisons between his plainness of speech and the eloquent wisdom of some other teachers. That kind of “fleshly,” i.e., worldly, wisdom he disclaims. It was not that, but the favour or the “grace” of God which was the motive-force of his action, the sphere in which he lived and moved.
We have had our conversation.—Better, we conducted ourselves. The tense of the Greek verb implies a special reference in thought to the time when he had been at Corinth. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to note that “conversation” means “conduct,” but as the first occurrence of the word in the New Testament, it may be well to trace the several stages through which it has passed. On its appearance in English, as in Chaucer, it has its full etymological force as indicating, as it does here, habitual conduct. “Enquire of his conversation and of his life before” (Tale of Melibœus). So in Wiclif’s version of the Bible it is used, as in that of 1611, in Galatians 1:13. In somewhat later writers, e.g., in Sidney and Strype, the sense becomes that of “conduct with others,” “converse, intercourse,” a sense still prominent in the familiar legal term for adultery. In Swift and Cowper it has come to be all but absolutely identified with the intercourse which is carried on by talking. In its fullest sense, the Apostle can say that he had striven to live everywhere so as to avoid giving grounds for suspicion. Nowhere had he been more careful so to live than at Corinth, where men were suspicious in proportion to their own viciousness. (Comp. Notes on 2 Corinthians 7:1-2.)
(13) For we write none other things . . .—The Greek presents a play on the two words “read” (ana-ginoskein) and “acknowledge,” or “know fully” (epiginoskein), which it is impossible to reproduce in English. It is as though he said: “I have no hidden meaning in what I write and you read. What you read you read aright in its plain and simple sense. I hope” (the very hope implies that it had been otherwise) “that the more you know me the more will you so read me and judge me even to the end, the great day when the Lord shall come and all things shall be made plain.” (Comp. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.) Possibly, however, the words “even to the end” may be merely equivalent to “completely.” (See Note on John 13:1.)
(14) As also ye have acknowledged.—The parenthetical clause (better, ye did acknowledge) comes in to qualify the fear which had been partly veiled by the hope. They had done him some, though not adequate, justice. The phrase “in part” may be noted as specially characteristic of the Epistles of this period (Romans 11:25; Romans 15:15; Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 12:27; 1 Corinthians 13:9).
That we are your rejoicing . . .—Better, a ground of exultation to you, as you are to us. The words must be connected with the future rather than the past. “I trust that you will one day recognise that you have as much reason to be proud of me as I have to be proud of you.” The word for “rejoicing,” “boasting,” “glorying,” &c., is specially characteristic of this period of St. Paul’s life, occurring forty-six times in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, and only six times in his other Epistles. The “day of the Lord Jesus,” of His great advent to judge the world (comp. Romans 2:16), defines the “end” to which the previous verse had pointed.
(15) And in this confidence.—What has been said hitherto paves the way for the explanation of his apparent change of purpose which he is anxious to give, though he will not formally plead at the bar of the tribunal of those who accused or suspected him. It was because he trusted that they would judge him rightly that he had done that which had led some to judge him wrongly. His plan had been at first to go straight by sea from Ephesus to Corinth, then to pass on to Macedonia, thence to return to Corinth, and thence set sail for Jerusalem. When he wrote 1 Corinthians 16:5-6, he had already modified his plan by deciding to go to Macedonia first. His original scheme had shown his wish to see as much of the Corinthians as possible. They were to have two visits (“a second favour”), and not one only. Had he shown less regard, he asks, in the change with which he had been taunted?
(16) To be brought on my way.—The change of word is significant. He did not intend merely to go from Corinth to Judaea. He expected the Corinthians to further his intentions, to help him on, to escort him solemnly to the ship in which he was to sail, perhaps to accompany him to Asia. (Comp. the use of the word in Acts 15:3; Acts 20:38, “accompanied”; 21:5; Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:6-11.) The wish had been stated in 1 Corinthians 16:6, but without more than a hint (1 Corinthians 16:4), that his destination might be Jerusalem,
(17) Did I use lightness?—This, then, was the charge which he is anxious to refute. The question meets us, however, When had the Corinthians heard of the plan thus detailed? It had been already abandoned, as we have seen, before the first Epistle was despatched. Had it been communicated in a lost letter (see Note on 1 Corinthians 5:9)? or was this what Timotheus, who started before the first letter was written (1 Corinthians 4:17), had been authorised to announce? Either alternative is possible, and there is no evidence to enable us to decide which is most probable.
Do I purpose according to the flesh . . .?—The construction is somewhat involved. He may mean: (1) “Do I form my purposes after the flesh” (i.e., from worldly motives), “so as to catch the praise of consistency from those who harp on the rule that ‘Yes should be yes, and No, no’?” or (2) “Am I weak and worldly in my purpose, changing my plans, and saying ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in almost the same breath?” On the whole, (2) seems to give the better sense. It is obvious that the words on which he dwells had been used of him by others. Some teacher of the party of the circumcision had, apparently, quoted the rule of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37) and of St. James (James 5:12), and had asked, with a sneer, when the First Epistle came and showed that the original plan had been abandoned, whether this was the way in which St. Paul acted on it? The passage has accordingly the interest of being indirectly a reference to our Lord’s teaching, showing, like Acts 20:35, that “the words of the Lord Jesus” were habitually cited as rules of life.
(18) As God is true.—Literally, as God is faithful. The words were one of St. Paul’s usual formulæ of assertion. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3.) In other instances it is followed commonly by a statement as to some act or attribute of God. Here it is more of the nature of an oath: “As God is faithful in all His words, so my speech” (the vague term is used to include preaching, writing, personal intercourse) “is true and faithful also.” There had been no “Yes” and “No” in the same breath; no saying one thing when he meant another.
(19) By me and Silvanus and Timotheus.—We note an undesigned coincidence with Acts 18:5, where Silas (whose identity with Silvanus is thus proved) is related to have come with Timotheus to join St. Paul at Corinth. The three names are joined together in the same order in 1 Thessalonians 1:1, and 2 Thessalonians 1:1.
Was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.—From the forensic point of view, this was, of course, hardly an adequate defence against the charge of inconsistency. The argument was, so to speak, one of ethical congruity. It was infinitely unlikely that one who preached Christ, the absolutely True Christ, who enforced every precept with the emphatic “Amen, Amen” (the word occurs thirty-one times in St. Matthew, fourteen times in St. Mark, seven times in St. Luke, and in its reduplicated form twenty-five times in St. John), “Verily, verily,” should afterwards be shamelessly untruthful, and use words that paltered with a double sense.
But in him was yea.—Better, but in him Yea has been and still is so, as His great characterising word.
(20) All the promises of God . . .—Literally, as many as are the promises of God. Many of the better MSS. give a different reading: “In him is the Yea, wherefore also by him is the Amen to God for glory by our means.” The thought in either case is the same. The promises of God have been fulfilled and ratified in Christ. He was, as it were, a living incarnate “Amen” to those promises. Comp. St. John’s use of the word Amen as a name of Christ, the “faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14). The words “by us” are determined by the context as referring to the preacher rather than to the hearers of the Word.
(21) He which stablisheth us with you . . .—For a moment the thought of an apology for his own conduct is merged in the higher thought of the greatness of his mission. The word “stablisheth,” or “confirmed,” as in 1 Corinthians 1:8, is connected with the previous “Amen” as the emphatic formula of ratification. In the insertion of “with you” we note St. Paul’s characteristic anxiety to avoid the appearance of claiming for himself what others might not claim with equal right. He repeats the confident hope which he had expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:8.
In Christ.—Literally, into Christ, as though the result of the “establishing” was an actual incorporation with Him. This seems a truer interpretation than that which paraphrases, “confirms us in believing on Christ.”
And hath anointed us.—Literally, and anointed, as referring to a definite moment in the life of the disciples. The verb follows naturally on the mention of Christ the Anointed One. The time referred to is that when, on baptism or the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17), they had received the first-fruits of the gift of the Spirit, as in Acts 2:38; Acts 8:17; Acts 10:44; Acts 19:6; the “unction from the Holy One” (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27).
(22) Who hath also sealed us.—Better, who also sealed us. The thought thus expressed is that the gift of the Spirit, following on baptism or the laying on of hands, is as the seal of the covenant which God makes with His people, attesting its validity. (Comp. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; and, for the Jewish use of seals, Jeremiah 32:10.)
And given the earnest of the Spirit.—Better, for the same reason as before, gave. The Greek word for “earnest” (arrhabôn), which occurs here for the first time, and is used only by St. Paul in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14), has a somewhat interesting history. Originally a Hebrew word, from a verb meaning “to mix,” “to change,” “to pledge,” and so used, as a cognate noun, with the last of the three senses, it appears simply transliterated in the LXX. of Genesis 38:17-18. It would seem to have been in common use among the Canaanite or Phoenician traders, and was carried by them to Greece, to Carthage, to Alexandria, and to Rome. It was used by the Greek orator Isæus, and by Plautus and Terence among the earlier Latin writers. The full form came to be considered somehow as pedantic or vulgar, and was superseded in Roman law by the shortened “arrha,” the payment of a small sum given on the completion of a bargain as a pledge that the payer would fulfil the contract; and it has passed into Italian as “arra;” into modern French, as “les arrhes;” into popular Scotch even, as “arles.” As applied by St. Paul, it had the force of a condensed parable, such as the people of commercial cities like Corinth and Ephesus would readily understand. They were not to think that their past spiritual experience had any character of finality. It was rather but the pledge of yet greater gifts to come: even of that knowledge of God which is eternal life (John 17:3). The same thought is expressed, under a more Hebrew image, in the “firstfruits of the Spirit” in Romans 8:23. Grammatically, the “earnest of the Spirit” may be taken as an example of the genitive of apposition, “the earnest which is the Spirit.”
(23) I call God for a record.—Better, I call upon God as a witness against my soul. The thought seems to come across St. Paul’s mind that the Corinthians will require a more specific explanation of his change of plan, and he finds this in what had been in part suggested in 1 Corinthians 4:21. Had he carried out his first purpose, he would have come to punish or chastise. He had been, on this account, reluctant to come. His not coming was an act of leniency.
I came not as yet.—Better, I came no more—i.e., not a second time after his first visit. The Greek adverb cannot possibly mean “not yet.”
(24) Not for that we have dominion over your faith.—Better, are lording it over. He has scarcely written, or uttered, the words which imply authority, when the thought comes to him that he may seem to claim too much. He shrinks from “lording it over God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3), and half apologises for so strong a word as “sparing.” He puts forward, therefore, the other side of his work. He was really seeking, not to domineer, or cause pain, but to be a fellow-worker with their “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). He knows that they have a standing-ground, independently of him, in their faith in Christ, and he seeks to confirm that faith.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany