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The Triumph of Continuance
2 Corinthians 4:1
'We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as from a Lord who is Spirit.' St. Paul follows these sublime words with a reference to his own life labour. 'Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.' 'We faint not.' We expect, perhaps, a clearer, prouder, more triumphant note. The word, for its place, seems tame and quiet The Apostle is not stricken in spirit, but neither does he seem flushed with hope. When, however, we look closely at the expression, it yields us the truth that in the service of the Gospel continuance is triumph. The Christian has some humble task alloted to him to teach in a Sunday school, to preach in a village church. The years pass; old associates depart, make their fortunes, return. They find their friend where he was older, feebler perhaps, graver certainly, obscure and unmarked as before, but still at his post They compassionately contrast his lot with more dazzling destinies, and he, too, may be inclined to self-pity. But to St. Paul the prophetic promise, 'They shall walk and not faint,' was the climax of Covenant grace. 'Having obtained help of God, I continue unto this day,' was to him the crown of mercies.
I. The thing was true, but the time appointed was long. For us the conditions are unaltered. Changes are superficial; all that is deepest remains unchanged. The elements of a soul's tragedy are still the same. What we have to remember is that we are dealing with a foe not affected by the progress of civilisation or the march of reason, not to be conciliated or disarmed. We are fighting the ancient enemies of God and man. This is not to daunt us from the wise and reasonable undertaking of hard things. It must not deepen our despondency over the work God wills us to do.
II. Next the Apostle reminds us that he had to meet his inveterate foes with an outward strength that was continually failing. In the ordinance of nature the physical force surely diminishes, whilst the calls on energy and courage grow more urgent. For St. Paul there was no respite. His place was ever in the front of battle. Yet his outward man was perishing. He was pressed on every side, perplexed, pursued, smitten down, always bearing about in the body the putting to death of Jesus.
The passing of youth takes something from us all something of charm, ardour, venturesomeness, power over the minds of our fellows. The inroads of physical weakness take more. When we bid farewell to days of long, unwearied labour, to nights of sweet, unbroken sleep, something has gone from us never truly prized till it was lost. But the Apostle tells us that the inward man may be renewed from day to day. Whoever and whatever left him, he had staying power for his long struggle, and abode at the end of it in strength and hope. The bright visions did not forsake him; he did not falter in his great task; he was never sullen, never despondent, never rebellious; in his darkest hours he was helped by that Spirit who is the restorer of energy and the quickener of hope.
III. Thus when St. Paul said, 'We faint not,' he claimed, and claimed truly, that he had mastered circumstances. He had not seen things go as he fain would. He had not been cheered by an experience of unbroken outward success. But he had not failed. Even when he had not succeeded, his soul had gathered strength and calm from the very arrest of progress. The energy of the spirit had not been foiled. Suffering had proved an annealing force by which he not only endured, but comprehended and believed while enduring. Every condition had in it the Divine spring of energy which left him unfainting that is, neither apathetic nor supine. He had yielded to no dwindling tendencies; there had been no shrinking or contracting of the heart. 'We faint not.' Again, was it a little thing?
It is the triumph of all saints. We glory most not in their brilliant and victorious hours, but in their steadfast perseverance through light and shadow to the end. Remembering that, we bless God 'for their faith, their hope, their labour, their truth, their blood, their zeal, their diligence, their tears, their purity, their beauty.'
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 35 (see also pp. 43-50).
The Christian Ministry
2 Corinthians 4:1
The word 'ministry' has a general meaning, as it has, indeed, all through the New Testament. It applies to all God's people, as witnesses for the Lord Jesus and as bearers of the glorious Gospel of the grace of God. The text may be divided into three sections:
I. There is a glorious ministry. (1) The ministry is a ministration of righteousness. The Gospel is based upon the righteousness of God, who is absolutely just in dealing with sin. (2) It is also a ministry of life and blessedness. (3) It is the true ministry of the spirit.
II. The text refers to a glorious experience, and that is the sine qua non for all Christian workers. Those who have not received God's mercy cannot by any means take the ministry of God to others.
III. There is a glorious optimism expressed 'We faint not'
C. B. Sawday, The Baptist, vol. LXXI. p. 443.
References. IV. 1. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 242. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 238. IV. 1-6. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 92. IV. 2. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 285. J. Caird, Sermons, p. 1. Archbishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 295. Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 79. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1674, p. 431. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 90. IV. 3. T. Arnold, Christian Life; Its Hopes, p. 339. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 201. IV. 3, 4. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 117. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1663. IV. 4. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 114. Penny Pulpit, No. 1665, p. 359. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2077; and vol. xxxix. No. 2304. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 285; ibid. vol. x. p. 42; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 88; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 278; ibid. vol. ix. p. 233. IV. 5. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 52. H. H. Henson, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 596. H. Harries, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 267. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 272.
The World's Indictment of Christianity
2 Corinthians 4:6
I. There are in the Main Three Counts in the In dictment which the spirit of the age brings against Christianity.
(a) In a tone of tolerant benevolence the educated man of the world says to us: 'Your ethics on the whole are sound and good, but they are entangled in a mythology which has become incredible and almost barbarous. Keep the best of the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, and the mystical emotion of St. Paul and St. John, and let the rest go. Then we are prepared to accept you along with other teachers of enlightened morality. We can give you no exclusive place.'
(b) There speaks the student of evolutionary science. 'For my part,' he says, 'I do not altogether like Christian morality. It is founded on sentiment, not on reason. It thwarts the beneficent action of Nature by protecting the weak against the strong. It preaches forgiveness, whereas Nature never forgives. It encourages the good to sacrifice themselves for the bad, whereas the bad ought to be sacrificed for the good. In short, instead of furthering progress it obstructs it It is a conspiracy of inferiority against strength.'
(c) Much more clamorously, we hear all around us a very different complaint, couched in less academic language. 'You sky pilots offer us a chance of another world in order that we may tamely submit to be trampled on in this. We do not want to hear about heaven and hell; we want better wages and shorter hours. If your religion will help us to get what we want here and now, well and good. Otherwise we have no use for it.'
II. The Conscious Weakness of the Church is Shown in the Way in which all these Attacks are met. As for the first, we are in a state of genuine perplexity about the miracles. We have made a good many concessions, and are quietly preparing to make more.
III. The Faith cannot be Defended in this Timorous Fashion. The only worthy defence of Christianity, as it seems to me, is, by essential principles of the religion of Christ as a faith and hope, involving a definite rule of life, without any anxiety as to whether such a presentation will satisfy the ambitions of the masses or assuage the fears of the classes. To the Christian the unseen world is the real world. Christ declared Himself to be the light of the world, Who was come that men might have life, and have it more abundantly.
IV. It is this Consciousness of a New Life and a New Light that is the Driving Force of Christianity. How and why it came, who can say? But the new light was a fact, and a most potent fact. It lifted its possessor clean out of the ordinary ruts along which we plod and draw our burdens. It bore fruit at once in love, joy, and peace, that triad which gives us the Christian version of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
(a) It bore fruit in love through the spontaneous expansion of the sympathies.
(b) It bore fruit in joy. The Greek vocabulary had to be enriched with two almost new words for love and joy. Christian optimism is something quite distinct and peculiar. It does not say complacently with Robert Browning, 'God's in His heaven, all's right with the world'. It is inclined to say, 'God has come to us on earth because all was wrong with the world'. It is an optimism which has grappled with and overcome the deepest pessimism.
(c) It bore fruit in peace. As the Christian is sorrowful but always rejoicing, so he is at war but always at peace. His deepest life is hid with Christ in God. He does not fret himself concerning the ungodly. He does not doubt that good is stronger than evil, and therefore he is not tempted to be unscrupulous in his methods to do evil that good may come.
References. IV. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1493. B. J. Snell, The All-Enfolding Love, p. 1. T. Phillips, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 202. E. M. Geldart, Faith and Freedom, p. 1. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 348. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 84. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 321.
The Weapons of the Saints
2 Corinthians 4:6-7
The thought in the preceding verse is that God has made us light-bearers. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ has shined upon our hearts, filled our inner lives, spread thence to the outward life, and made us Divinely kindled lamps, mirrors to show Him to the world. Then, as the Apostle thinks of the feeble and unworthy instruments which are employed for this high purpose, he glides into another figure. The light is Divine, the light-holder is weakly human. The thing which holds has no intrinsic beauty and dignity; it derives them from the treasure entrusted to it.
I. We have here the lowly confession, the self-depreciatory language of all the saints, that they are the feeblest of instruments made strong and serviceable by the indwelling power of the Almighty. Left to ourselves we are among the creatures that crawl and grovel; united to the Holy One we receive power to become the sons of God. In that simple truth there is the casting down of every proud imagination, and the lifting up of the soul to a throne of power. There man loses himself, and finds his lost self again glorified. The secret of all religious strength lies in this profound conviction. It is to be conscious of a Divine power that raises us from the dust and upholds our feeble goings.
II. The second thought is that through these feeble instruments God manifests Himself to the world. Human souls irradiated with His light are the best and truest, and in one sense the only certain, witness of His presence and working on the earth. The Church does not win way in the world by her creeds and defences, but by her moral superiority. The real power of the Church has always been in the heroic, self-forgetting, saintly lives that it produced.
III. The human instrument is to forget itself in the work, to hide itself as far as possible that the Divine power may have full play, that God alone may be magnified, 'that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us'. Wherever the Divine fire burns, in the heart with purest flame, there the servant will most forget himself in the enthralling desire to make the Master all in all. The best of the old Greek vases, those which were fashioned with most delicate and exquisite skill, were so thin and transparent that they showed all the treasure within and could hardly be seen themselves. And surely those are Christ's best workmen who seek to make their own lives like that.
J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 134.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7
Fra Bartolomeo, the great Italian painter, stole into a monastery to get away from the din and guilt of the world, and threw his paints and canvas away because he thought they were stealing his heart from God. But then his fellow-monks said to him, 'Why should you not paint again for the glory of God?' and he painted those charming, thrilling pictures of Gospel scenes and holy martyrs which are still seen in Italy today, and before which men stand, and even kneel, with tears in their eyes. Now, when his brother-monks bade him, as was the custom in those days, to write his name at the foot of each picture, he said: 'No; I have not done it for my own glory, but to show forth Christ to men'; and so he just scratched on each work: 'Pray for the picture, or pray for the painter for the painter that he may do his work in a better way, for the picture that it may more clearly show the Lord: and let the name of the artist be forgotten'.
Reference. IV. 6, 7. J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 307.
The Treasure in Earthen Vessels
2 Corinthians 4:7
I. What is the special treasure to which Paul refers? It is definitely mentioned in the preceding verse: 'The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'. Knowledge of any kind has a certain value. But though in a broad sense 'knowledge is power,' many things we learn are of small account, and of transient advantage. Indeed, some knowledge we should be better without, for there is no fallacy more fatal than that which tempts a young man to 'know life,' which usually means to have experience of its doubtful or its wicked enjoyments. Whether in literature or in amusement it is infinitely better to remain, as far as possible, ignorant of evils which God hates, and sent His Son to put away. But as the heavens are high above the earth, so the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is exalted above all knowledge of that kind. This knowledge, supreme above all others, may come in glimpses to the student of nature with her marvels, or to the student of history with its evidences of Divine control; but it only shines radiantly and constantly in the face of Jesus Christ. Remember, we cannot cany the treasure unless we receive it. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ must shine in our hearts; or else we shall never help to irradiate the world with it.
II. Let me now suggest a few thoughts on the earthen vessels which contain this treasure. Paul always acknowledged that the vessel existed for the treasure, not the treasure for the vessel. Therefore he recognised that it was of little consequence that he was personally frail, knowing as he did that the truth in him the Christ in him was not dependent on his life, nor on his eloquence, nor on his excellence. It is a lesson which it would be well for us all to learn, for self-abnegation is very rare, and very unpopular. It is the treasure, not the vessel, we are to be anxious about; just as Aladdin cared much for the gold and jewels in his cavern and little for the earthen jars which contained them. (1) Now from this we may learn a lesson of humility. (2) Again, if it be true that the treasure is in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power (the cause of success, and therefore the credit of it) may be of God and not of us, we may be hopeful as well as humble. God will take care of His own treasures, though the earthen vessels which hold them are exchanged for others, or are broken into fragments.
A. Rowland, Open Windows and other Sermons, p. 102.
The Ministering Vessel
2 Corinthians 4:7
Let us examine the passage as workers for Jesus Christ.
I. In the first place Paul thinks very humbly of himself. He calls himself a vessel, an earthen vessel. A vessel, something which is carried, carried by his Master, or else something which merely carries that which his Master puts into it. (1) In the first place, of course, it is necessary that the vessel shall be a clean vessel. The Master will not use dirty vessels. 'Be ye clean,' says Isaiah, 'that bear the vessels of the Lord.' (2) The second characteristic of these vessels is, that they are anointed vessels. Every power which we have should be reserved for Jesus, our lips to speak for Him, our lives to be used for Him. The anointing from the Holy One gives power. (3) And then, in the third place, they must be empty vessels. You must be empty of self, you must be empty of pride and of ambition, you must be willing to be nothing, only an empty vessel for the Master's use made meet. (4) And then the fourth characteristic of these vessels is that they must be filled. For this is the strange paradox: that it is only as we are empty that we can be filled. (5) They must be broken vessels. We must let our light shine before men, there must be nothing to hinder the shining of this light; we must be willing to be broken vessels. (6) The vessel must be at hand. I am more and more convinced that the reason why some men are more used by God than other men, is simply that they are living closer to God than other men. (7) Then, lastly, those vessels which are meet for the Master's use must be, as it were, always at the pump, so that they are always overflowing.
II. But if the Apostle thinks very humbly of himself, he thinks very highly of his message. It is a treasure. 'We have this treasure in earthen vessels.' Though it is only in earthen vessels, we have it. And what was the treasure? (1) It was, in the first place, the knowledge of God. St. Paul felt certainty about it. As Prof. Westcott says: 'The knowledge of God is not the acquaintance of certain facts as external to ourselves; nor is it merely intellectual conviction of their truth and reality. But it is the appropriation of these facts as an influencing power into the very being of the man who knows them.' St. Paul's" treasure was the knowledge of the glory of God. It was an all-round view of God that St. Paul obtained, and this it was which made him so stable. (2) And where did he get it? 'In the face of Jesus Christ.' As he saw the character of Christ, as he followed the work of Christ, as he looked at the cross of Christ, he saw there a revelation of God as he had never seen elsewhere.
E. A. Stuart, The New Commandment and other Sermons, vol. VII. p. 41.
References. IV. 7. J. R. Cohn, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 166. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 277. IV. 8, 9. Hugh Price Hughes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 397.
Life Manifested Through Death
2 Corinthians 4:10
The modern Christian need not seek to make a martyr of himself, yet he may still bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus in other ways.
I. Bearing about the Remembrance . First of all by bearing about the remembrance of what the Lord Jesus did, and how He died for us, so that the thought of it may unconsciously affect our views of things, and may give a tone and colour to all our thoughts and ideas and opinions. Most of us know what it is to mourn over relatives and friends. Some of us can never quite forget father or mother, child or brother or sister who has gone. We always carry in our secret hearts a fond and loving remembrance of all that they were to us when they were here a reverent and affectionate regard for the carrying out of their wishes. The old librarian at the Bodleian used every morning to look up at the portrait of John Bodley at the top of the staircase and say to himself, 'I will try to do today all that I am sure you would wish me to do'.
II. Bearing about its Transforming Power. And then there is another way in which we may bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus. We may show in our daily life the transforming power of His death. Our whole life ought to be changed and affected by the fact that Christ died for us, so that all with whom we have any intercourse may see we have been affected and influenced by that death; may see upon us, in fact, the mark of the Christian, not outwardly, of course, but in the inward tone, in the general manner and demeanour of those who are so affected.
III. Bearing about its Victory over Sin. And then, too, we will show the dying of the Lord Jesus in that daily dying to sin and living unto holiness, which is so essential to the Christian, and in the mortifying, killing, and extinguishing the evil thoughts, the bad desires, the crooked, perverse ways, and the aggravating temper, which are today our inheritance from the first Adam. In thus ruling and controlling ourselves we shall be carrying about in our body the dying of our Lord Jesus, we shall be showing to the world that His death has enabled us to have the victory over sin.
IV. Bearing it about Always. Lastly, let us remember the word 'always'. Always bear it, never lay it down. Always bear it, not in discontent, but in humility.
From Death Unto Life
2 Corinthians 4:10
The greatest truth of the life and death and resurrection of Christ must be found in the lives of Christians. It always has been so and always will be so. The early Apostles realised this, and so they made it their aim not only to preach Christ but to live Christ. If Christianity is ever to be a power in the world it must first be seen to be such in the lives of those who profess it, and if this was necessary in the first century it is just as necessary in this twentieth century. The world does not ask so much for Christ to be preached as it does for Christ to be lived. That is the meaning of our text.
What does it mean, and how is it to be done? We must now die the death that Christ died in order that we may live again here and now, and be ourselves proofs of the truth of this resurrection.
Consider what the death of Christ means.
I. It was an Act of Complete Self-renunciation the voluntary death of self. There was no thought of self in the death of Jesus. What a large place self occupies in our hearts. Self must die and Christ must reign in its place. That is one way in which we may bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that His life may be made manifest, that men may know that self indeed is dead in us and that Jesus lives instead.
II. It was a Death to the World. Christ might have been an earthly king surrounded with all pomp and power, but His kingdom was not on this earth. It is as hard to die to the world as it is to die to self, and yet if we are to bear about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus we must die to the world as He did. It takes time for people to say that the business and pleasures of the world cannot satisfy, and yet it is perfectly plain that any man serving Jesus Christ properly must put Him first in all things.
III. The Death of Christ was an Act of Completion. For some of us this struggle goes on through all our life, and is only ended with actual, physical death, yet this death to self and the world should take place now and here. Jesus Christ did not remain in death, and as He rose so we must rise to a new life altogether.
References. IV. 10. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 142. IV. 10-12. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 119. IV. 13. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 199. IV. 14. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 107. IV. 15. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 198.
Progress Through Decay
2 Corinthians 4:16
It will be well for us at once to set this triumphant utterance of the Apostle Paul in a wide and universal setting. He assures us of an experience in which decay and renewing go on together. It is surely of importance to know that this striking statement is not an isolated and unrelated fact; that it is not a peculiarity of Christian faith which is not repeated anywhere else in the wide world.
I. All progress must take place through change, all growth must be accompanied by decay. When we look deep enough, the antagonism between decay and renewal disappears, for the former is seen to be one of the necessary elements of progress. It is the superficial glance at decay that constitutes our danger, and is likely to lead us into grave mistakes and pessimistic fears. (1) To infer that the man is perishing because his body is decaying is not only a violation of Christian faith, but also an unjustifiable ignoring of all pervading principles of life and thought. (2) Turn to nature, and you find the principle in unceasing action. What is the real meaning of this continual change and decay? They are simply the external sheath of an unresting development. (3) In the world of human thought the same principle is written in characters so large that he that runs may read. The history of our race is strewn with the wrecks of human systems of thought. Can the wisdom of the wise and the visions of the good and great perish utterly? History supplies the answer with unmistakable clearness. By submitting to outward decay, they secure continuance, progress, and immortality. (4) Turning to the sphere of religion, and even that of the Divine revelation, we find the obvious manifestation of the same principle of development through decay. (5) Nor can we fail to discern the same process in the development of Christian thought. (6) In the general development of life, whether of nations or of individuals, the same law is in manifest operation.
II. No destruction of the outward form of things can injure the living spirit within. The greatest hindrance to the advancement of the inward life, whether in nature or in human progress, lies in the tardiness of that which is decaying to fall away, and to give room for the expansion of fresh life.
III. The Apostle's application of this principle now stands out in clear relief. The body perishes that we may be set free. When it falls asunder, we shall spread our wings like the chrysalis, and soar into the sun.
John Thomas, Concerning the King, p. 140.
2 Corinthians 4:16
The visible man feels the wear and weight of years; the friction of life gradually exhausts; the eye grows dim, the ear loses its sensitiveness, the limbs miss their firmness and flexibility, the feet their elasticity and fleetness; but the interior man need know no ageing. An unintermitting growth in inward strength and joy is the duty and privilege of every one of us. We are too apt to care for the soul by fits and starts, and against this error the text warns us. God does not perfect us at a stroke, but by constant and protracted discipline. Little by little does God by His spirit bring out of us the infinite beauty and glory which He first put into us when we were made in His own image and likeness.
I. Let us daily instruct and uplift our mind through communion with the truth. Goethe said that we ought every day to see at least one fine work of art, to hear one sweet strain of music, to read one beautiful poem. Wherever such inspirations are practicable they are unquestionably most desirable. But far more than we need this bread of mental delight do we need daily bread for our spiritual imagination and reason, for the building up of our highest life in the glory and contentment of righteousness.
II. By daily fellowship with God let us preserve the soul pure and vigorous. We need daily cleansing. All reputable persons are ever solicitous concerning their physical purity; they scrupulously attend to their personal appearance many times a day; the satirist reproaches some of us for living between 'the comb and the glass'; and the cleansing of the soul must be maintained with the same system and ardour if it is to abide in strength and beauty.
III. Make the best of everyday discipline. Carefully improve life's routine and commonplace as well as study to improve its extraordinary occasions. The fullest sanctification of daily routine is one of the greatest secrets that the serious have to learn.
IV. Day by day let us do all the good we can. What a source of sanctification is the life of service! We clamour for large opportunities which are rarely, if ever, granted, missing meanwhile the little openings of daily life. 'No day without its line' was the canon of the great painter of antiquity; and thus, one by one, his masterpieces came to perfection. Let our motto be: 'No day without its helpful word and deed, however obscure our sphere'; and we too in the kingdom of souls shall turn out masterpieces which no artist in marble or colour may rival.
W. L. Watkinson, Themes for Hours of Meditation, p. 1.
2 Corinthians 4:16
I. Note that spiritual renewal is the demand and the gift of the Gospel.
II. This spiritual renewal is progressive and constant. Day by day. The fundamental idea is that this renewal does not accomplish itself at a bound, but by slow stages, by constant approximation to a goal far ahead.
III. This progressive renewal is continuous only while we adopt the means. (1) By the steady contemplation of Christ and eternal realities. (2) By the resolute excision and destruction of the old nature.
References. IV. 16-18. Hugh Price Hughes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 337. IV. 17. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 216. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 34. IV. 17, 18. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 248. G. Body, ibid. vol. lvii. p. 228. W. Page Roberts, Reasonable Service, p. 66.
Seen... Not Seen
2 Corinthians 4:18
I have been thinking much about words you will find in the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter IV., verse 18. 'Seen... not seen; temporal... eternal,' the two languages each with a grammar of its own; two styles of music, two gamuts, two different ranges altogether of utterance. Here is a new standard of proportion and a new light of colour and a new expression of life; here, indeed, is a new language bigger and better than our mother tongue. 'Our light affliction' of which we made so much and groaned so deeply; we turned the summer into winter and the day into night: and, lo, a voice came to us suddenly, and found our hearts in a thrilling whisper saying, 'light affliction,' hardly anything worth mentioning, quite a matter of the surface; there is no duration in it. You should look in the right direction if you would see your own self, O soul; what is now accounted by you as a severe affliction is working out something beyond itself; it is working out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. What does 'eternal weight' mean? I never heard these two words put together before; what is the relation of 'eternal' to 'weight' or of 'weight' to 'eternal'? It should be thus expressed: Weight upon weight of glory, dawn upon dawn of light, morning upon morning of blaze and radiance. And how does this wondrous vision come about? It comes about whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.
I. The creed is seen; faith is unseen; that is the distinction. You can alter a creed, you cannot alter faith.
Denominationalism is a thing seen; worship is a thing not seen. Sectarianism is temporal, the Church is eternal.
We might apply the same thought in even the highest direction of all. The Bible in a certain sense is but a book; it was written by men, copied by men, printed by men. We do not look at the merely mechanical book; when we speak of the Bible in our highest moods we speak of the revelation. We do not ask the printer's permission to read it, we know it; we do not ask the priest, the robed fraud, to read it for us, we claim to read it for ourselves, for it is the Father's speech to the son's heart, and between the Father and the son, meaning by son the whole human race, there is a confidence, subtle, impenetrable, all but omnipotent All the controversy rages about the mechanical book: Who wrote it? was this written in the Maccabean period? can we trace this psalm to postexilian sources or pre-exilic dates? Hence the controversy and the expensive communication between man and man. The critic says that David could not have written the twenty-third psalm because he says he will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, and David did not build the Temple. Oh, the folly, the madness! Jacob, long before David was ever thought of, said in the rocky place where he slept, This is none other than the house of God the unbuilt house, not built by hands; not seen, but eternal; the house in the clouds, in shadow, in outline; the precursor of all the temples and altars yet to be reared by human hands. Why not look into the poetry, spirituality, and the true idealism of things, and catch the morning ere it dawns?
II. Remember that the great things in life are all not seen. You cannot see love; you can only see its incarnations. You cannot see faith; you can only see its conduct, for it becomes a motive and turns the soul into action and into deeds of purity and charity. Thus would I rest. The little child can see the rosy-cheeked apple that its mother brought away from the orchard; the child can see the apple, but not the love that plucked it. As a little child it must begin where it can; the apple is an apple to the child, the metaphysical or penetrating force of the soul has not yet begun to assert itself, and therefore the little fingers and knuckles clutch the apple, and the little mouth shapes itself into an unspeakable doxology, and the whole earth is a beautiful place so long as that apple continues to exist. But the little child did not see the love that thought of it, the love that asked for it, the love that put it in a safe place, the love that dreamed for the child a sweet surprise; the child does not see the love that folded the apple in the tissue paper, and the fingers that moved so deftly and opened the cotton wool in which the little prize lay snugly. All the little child could see was the rosy-cheeked apple; all the ministry of preparation and love and forecast the little child knows nothing about. One day it will be explained in heaven!
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 128.
The Eternal and the Temporal
2 Corinthians 4:18
Everything reminds us that what we see is shortlived, a passing show, a bit of stage scenery, a bird on the wing, perishable and perishing; and yet, hidden in the midst of all that, and unseen, there is always something which abides, which outlasts time and decay, which speaks to us of immortality, which bears the mark of a changeless and eternal God.
I. There is decay and death in all things, and imperishable life in all things. God preaches a sermon to us on this text with the coming of every season, and it is but a sample of what He is teaching us every day. It is only the outside that perishes. The tree has life within itself, which will break into joyous beauty again when the springtime comes; the very flowers drop their seed and live again; nature only casts its garments and sleeps awhile, and awakes again, when morning comes, as strong and beautiful as ever. Each human life reads the same lesson if we have only wisdom to receive it. We are always changing as we grow in years; yet there is something deeper in us which changes not We are always dying, yet behold we live. You get the same lesson if you look at human life on a larger scale. The fashions of the world change, and there is perpetual flux, waste, and decay. Humanity puts on new garments, takes up new thoughts, opinions, ambitions, and desires, yet there is something everlasting which abides. God has written eternity in the hidden heart of all things, not to mock us with vain dreams, but to make us certain that there is a happier and nobler life behind the veil.
II. If you would live well and sweetly, you must believe at every point that there are unseen eternal things beneath all that is temporal and seen; you must believe it concerning your own moral endeavour. Look through your worrying weaknesses and failures to that deeper, nobler self which the Spirit of Christ is making for you the man that is to be the man of faith and love and goodness, meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. You will need it, as St. Paul needed it, in the dark and cloudy days when the heart has its trouble and fears, when there is perhaps more pain than joy, and when one thing after another which has been dear to you slips away as the day fades into the night. Then you will be happy again, as he was, when you remember that it is only the outward man that perishes, and that all the deeper things remain; that, of all which God has given you, nothing will be permanently taken away which it is good for you to have; and that the pain, whatever it may be, is the short night's discipline which prepares you for the joy in the morning.
J. G. Greenhough, The Divine Artist, p. 61.
References. IV. 18. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 186. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 245. H. S. Lunn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 349. C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 278. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 49. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 316. C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 1. H. Drummond, The Ideal Life, p. 127. T. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 40. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 171. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 90. John Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 348. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts on Past Years, p. 59. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 70. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1380. Bishop Moule, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. p. 9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 34, 208; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 383. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 323. V. 1. R. Rainy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 387. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1719. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 135. C. Cross, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 323. J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 220. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 34, 138; ibid. vol. x. p. 303. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 333. V. 1, 2. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 28. V. 1-3. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 169. V. 2. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 195. V. 2-4. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 192. V. 3-6. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 210. V. 4. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 237. J. S. Flynn, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 1028. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 177. V. 5. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 168. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 912. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. pp. 187, 274. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 343. V. 5-10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1303. V. 7. E. J. Boyce, Parochial Sermons, p. 1. C. S. Macfarland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 235. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 142. A. H. Bradford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 136. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines (1st Series), p. 214. C. Voysey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 43. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 263. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 677. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 144. V. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 413. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 353. V. 5. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 35. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 220. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 59. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 361.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13