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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

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Verses 1-21

2 Corinthians 5:10

Carts go along the streets; full of stript human corpses, thrown pell-mell; limbs sticking up: seest thou that cold Hand sticking up, through the heaped embrace of brother corpses, in its yellow paleness, in its cold rigour; the palm opened towards Heaven, as if in dumb prayer, in expostulation de profundis , take pity on the Sons of men! Mercier saw it, as he walked down 'the Rue Saint-Jacques from Mont-rouge, on the morrow of the Massacres': but not a Hand; it was a Foot, which he reckons still more significant, one understands not well why. Or was it as the Foot of one spurning Heaven? Rushing, like a wild diver, in disgust and despair, towards the depths of annihilation? Even there shall His hand find thee, and His right-hand hold thee, surely for right not for wrong, for good not evil! 'I saw that Foot,' says Mercier; 'I shall know it again at the great Day of Judgment, when the Eternal, throned on His thunders, shall judge both kings and Septemberers.'

Carlyle, The French Revolution, vol. III. bk. I. chap. VI.

2 Corinthians 5:10

The dying moment is the falling due of a bill. At this fatal instant one feels the coming home of a diffused responsibility. That which has been complicates that which will be. The past returns and enters into the future.

Victor Hugo.

References. V. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1076. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 406. C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 252. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 209; ibid. vol. iii. p. 274; ibid. vol. iv. pp. 61, 166; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 156. V. 13, 14. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 323. V. 13-15. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 135. V. 13-17. H. Smith, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 31. V. 14. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 349. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1411. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 58. Bishop Westcott, Sermons, 1901-2, p. 5. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 1. S. G. Maclennan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 54. Griffith John, ibid. vol. liv. p. 392. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 51. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 371. V. 14, 15. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 225. B. W. Noel, Penny Pulpit, No. 1657, p. 297.

He Died for All

2 Corinthians 5:15

The word 'death' is a cardinal word in the New Testament Scriptures. It enshrines a primary fact, out of which a great Gospel is born. 'Christ died for our sins.' But what is meant by 'to die'? Our conception is too commonly narrow and impoverished. Our emphasis is false, and false emphasis always means distorted truth.

I. We misinterpret death if we allow the body to determine our thought. Death is not primarily, but only very secondarily, an affair of the flesh. This is our Master's teaching. What we ordinarily call death, our Master insisted upon calling sleep.

II. The Master repeatedly declares that He came to save us from that which He calls death. 'If a man keep My word, he shall never see death.' Insert the common interpretation of the word death in that phrase, and the sentence becomes a dark confusion. We shall all sleep, saints and sinners alike; but we shall not all die; for if any man keep the word of the Christ, he shall never see death; he is passed from death unto life; he abideth for ever.

III. But my text tells me that 'Christ died'. He did more than sleep; He died. What, then, was the Saviour's death? Let us away into Gethsemane, at the midnight, that we may just touch the awful mystery. 'He began to be sorrowful and very heavy.' I think that marks the beginning of the dying. Go a little farther into the garden, and listen to the Master's agonised speech. 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;' exceeding desolate, 'even unto death'. He fears not the sleep, but, oh, He does shrink from the death! 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' That was death. What would follow would be only sleep. Christ Jesus walked that way of appalling darkness and alienation in place of His brethren.

IV. The Scriptures affirm that apart from Christ I am still under the dominion of 'the law of sin and death'; sin and abandonment, sin and homelessness, sin and forsakenness and terrible night. But the Scriptures further affirm that in Christ Jesus I come under the dominion of another law the 'law of the Spirit of life' and by this I am freed from the sovereignty of 'the law of sin and death'. Here, then, is the glory of the Gospel. It is declared that I, a poor struggling, self-wasted sinner, may by faith be so identified with Christ, that Christ and I become as 'one man'. This is the possible heritage of all men, made possible to all men by the Saviour's atoning death.

J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 171.

2 Corinthians 5:15

Tennyson tells of his visit to Mr. Wildman at Mablethorpe. The host and hostess were described by the poet as 'two perfectly honest Methodists'. He continues: 'When I came I asked her after the news, and she replied: "Why, Mr. Tennyson, there's only one piece of news I know, that Christ died for all men"'.

References. V. 15. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 134; ibid. vol. vi. pp. 30, 347; ibid. vol. viii. p. 468; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 45; ibid. vol. x. p. 31. V. 15-17. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 208. V. 16. R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 330. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 129. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 196. J. N. Bennie, The Eternal Life, p. 190. R. W. Dale, Fellowship with Christ, p. 31. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 92; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 216; ibid. vol. vi. p. 192; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 207. V. 17. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 10. A. Bradley, Sermons Chiefly on Character, p. 77. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 881; vol. xx. No. 1183, and vol. xxii. No. 1328. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 290. F. Ferguson, Peace With God, p. 191. T. V. Tymms, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 187. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1553, p. 61. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Beading, p. 435. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 263. W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 409. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 204. V. 17, 18. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 274. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons (2nd Series), p. 279. V. 18. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 318, and vol. xlix. No. 2837. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd Series), p. 183. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 143. V. 18-20. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 435. V. 18-21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1124. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 291. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons (2nd Series), p. 51.

Reconciliation in Christ

2 Corinthians 5:19

I. 'God was in Christ.' This truth, which the Apostle Paul profoundly believed, and which was the starting-point of all his thought upon the things of God, is supposed to be of all others the one peculiarly acceptable to religious minds today. From the first dawn of the Christian era each age has had its special theological fashion; for good or for evil, men have laid emphasis on some one side of Christian doctrine to the exclusion or the minimising of others. And these latter days have witnessed a widespread revival of belief in the Incarnation, as the most fundamental of all Christian verities. 'That we only know God in Jesus Christ,' 'that Christ has for us the religious value of God,' have become the new shibboleths of a great body of religious thinkers. We need not seriously object to this. The Incarnation, with its implications, is the very foundation of the edifice of Christian truth. Apart from it Christian revelation would be a mystery and almost a fraud. The coming of God in Christ to dwell with the children of men was in the fulness of the times. All investigations into the history of the times immediately preceding and following the birth of Jesus show how marvellously a place was made for Him, and how He fitted into the place that had been made. Just as we find in the physical world that an organism is prepared by slow microcosmic stages for the performance of some higher function and entrance into some higher plane of being, so men had by the word of God been prepared for the new and higher spiritual possibilities which were to be made actual in Jesus Christ. The word became flesh when the world was capable of receiving the message which the Incarnation involved. In Christ man became created anew, for he then entered into the larger inheritance which had been prepared for him, and which he was of an age to receive. That he did not enter upon it fully and at once was but of a piece with all God's action in the past.

II. 'Reconciling the world unto Himself.' Then the world needed to be reconciled. It was estranged, alienated from God. It is so still, though the fact is not always acknowledged. And if it is so, why? Why the need for reconciliation? How did it come about, it is often objected, that God so mismanaged affairs that men did not know Him and serve Him instinctively and needed to be reconciled? These are some of the difficulties that the very use of the word 'reconciliation' raises.

In the history of the race sin is independence of God. It has many forms, and manifests itself openly in a variety of ways. But in essence it is rebellion against God, impatience of His control, determination to be one's own master and to go one's own way. Sin may also be described as a disease an unnatural and an unhealthy state that involves ceaseless and unavailing struggle. For this there can be no remedy save one which goes to the root of the mischief, and seeks to restore man once again to true and natural relations with God. This conclusion is confirmed not only by the history of revelation, but by man's own efforts to retrieve his position for himself.

III. We may say, in a word, that the supreme purpose of pre-Christian revelation is to vindicate the majesty of God's law and prove man to be a transgressor. But a very little study of this revelation serves to bring out its great educational purpose. The law is ever a schoolmaster. It docs not exist for its own sake, nor is it an end in itself. It is the outcome of God's love and pity for the weakness of man; it serves to vindicate His righteousness and to bring transgressors to a better mind. The new law in Jesus Christ was a means of grace such as the old could never be, because it lifted man at once on to a higher plane in his relation with God. And it was made necessary not only by the insufficiency of the old order, but by the blunders and impotence of man. While we believe profoundly that man was made in God's image and has in him the spark of the Divine, we cannot but believe also in what theologians call his depravity. There is almost a perverse ingenuity in the way in which man has fallen short of his opportunities and wilfully turned light into darkness. The history of revelation, while on one side it is the story of God's love and willingness to save, is on the other a dismal tale of man's hostility to God and peevish aversion from His will.

W. B. Selbie, The Servant of God, p. 8.

Reference. V. 19. Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 140.

Reconciliation After Conversion

2 Corinthians 5:20

There are two reconciliations, if I may so put it, and I shall not be deterred by pedantry from so declaring my gospel. There is a reconciliation before conversion, necessary to conversion, and in itself a species of complete conversion; there is another reconciliation, which seems to me oftentimes to be harder, deeper, as it were more exacting; a never-ceasing reconciliation; a reconciliation of growth, progress, advancement, perfectness. We have all, it is but reasonable to suppose, passed the first conversion or the first reconciliation; we carry no arms against God, no gun, or sabre or sword or cruel spear; we do not dare the Almighty to battle. I hear, as it were, the clash of falling arms, which, being interpreted, means, We fight no longer against our God; we say to Christ, Galilean, Thou hast conquered. We are no more scoundrels, ruffians. We may have passed into a still more dangerous state, and it is that second reconciliation which unmans and overpowers me. Have we received the second reconciliation? Some Christians do not hesitate about talking concerning the second blessing. It is a richly evangelical term; we have no need to be ashamed of it or to apologise for it. I will venture to ask, Have we received the second reconciliation? are we far away from the gate of Damascus, where our wrath was hot against the Lord and against His Christ? and have we passed into serener conditions, into a nobler and ampler, a saintlier and tenderer manhood? 'Be ye reconciled to God.'

I. We are reconciled to God in the matter of sin, through our Lord Jesus Christ, but are we reconciled to God in the matter of providence?

II. We are reconciled to God in the rougher sins and the initial sins, but what about God's discipline with our souls?

III. Are we reconciled to God in the distribution and in the allotment of talent and position and prize of a social kind? If so, we have got rid cf the devil jealousy, envy. Are we reconciled to God when we see that the man standing next us has got five talents, and we have got but two?

When we enter into this blessing and security of the second reconciliation we shall have peace, we shall know that it is all right because God did it.

When we enter into this second reconciliation we shall get the best out of life, and until we enter the second reconciliation we shall not get the best out of life; it will be a mere scramble for existence, it will be a misreading of the Divine purpose, and it will be a great heat and unrest and irreligious tumult, until we get to the centre of things and know that God is bringing us into the second reconciliation, so that in the presence of the wilderness and the serpent and the great sea and deep river we shall be able to say, I can do all things through Christ which enableth me.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 280.

References. V. 20. J. Watson, Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 440. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 380.

Ah, the Bitter Shame and Sorrow

2 Corinthians 5:20-21

There is a fine Welsh poem in which the poet imagines that the Sun, and all the attendant planets and satellites in his sphere, passed before the Great White Throne of the Creator; and as each passed, He smiled; but when Earth came in her turn, He blushed. There appear to be five reasons in this text why man, the tenant of this world, may blush why earth may blush why we all, indeed, may blush.

I. Because we have never realised the awful character and nature of sin. That sin is heinous, black, and dreadful, we are all prepared to admit; but, probably, he who has most lamented sin has had but a very slight and superficial conception of its true nature and character. But after all, none could thoroughly understand how base and vile sin was until Jesus entered our world in the flesh, born of the pure Virgin. How often we only notice the real blackness of black when it is set against a white background; and we only know the real blackness of sin when we see it against the resplendent background of our Saviour's perfect character.

II. Let us remember how much sin cost God. 'God made Him to be sin.' How the nature of Jesus Christ must have shrunk from contact with sin! Martin Luther says that, 'For the time Jesus Christ was the greatest sinner that ever lived'. But this statement needs qualification. Still, Jesus became so closely identified with the sin of the race, that He stood before the universe as though it had all met in Him: 'He was made sin for us'.

III. Let us confess, with shame, our reluctance to believe in God's invitations. God beseeches men to be reconciled. The Greek word is most interesting. It might be rendered, God beseeches men to let His reconciliation have effect.

IV. God's ambassadors are sadly slack in His work. Here, surely, there is cause for shame.

V. We may be ashamed that we have not availed ourselves of the blessedness of the Divine righteousness. If it be asked how we may attain to this most blessed state, we may answer, take ten looks at Christ for one at self.

F. B. Meyer, In the Beginning God, p. 163.

References. V. 20, 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1910. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i. p. 222.


2 Corinthians 5:21

What is sin? Sin is the difference between what I was meant to be and what I am. What were we meant to be? This we gather from observing what Jesus Christ was. Evidently each human being was intended to live the life of God, to carry out His will. to love Him, and to obey Him. That is what you and I were meant to be. What we are, we ourselves and God alone can know. But it is not that. It is very different from that. And the whole margin, in some cases very broad, in other cases narrower, but to the best of men always seeming much broader than to the worst the margin between the man you are now, and the man that God meant you to be, is sin. There is much sin in us for which we are not responsible; there is much also for which we are. That for which we are not responsible evokes the cry of horror; that for which we are, evokes the cry of guilt But we shall get a clearer notion of what sin is if we endeavour to distinguish it from some other common ideas with which it is frequently confused; ideas like Crime, Vice, Wickedness.

I. Crime, for instance, is a breach of a human law, a gross offence against the constitution of civil society. But as there may be a great divergence between the law of a given society and the law of God, it by no means follows that a crime must be a sin. A crime is a sin only when and in so far as the human law against which it is a trespass is identical with the Divine law.

II. Vice and Immorality, as the most obvious illustrations of sin, are frequently treated as if they were co-extensive with sin. But it must be remembered that the notion of vice, and even the notion of immorality, is largely determined by the customs and the accidents of human society. Neither notion is like that of sin, definite and absolute.

III. Wickedness, which is a very vague term, comes much nearer to the idea of sin, because in Scripture the terms 'wicked' and 'sinners' are used almost interchangeably. But we fling about the word wicked in a wild fashion, and often declare a man is wicked because he has offended us, while the proper meaning of wickedness is that it offends God. Let us note one or two of the characteristics of sin as it appears in the practice of life. For one thing, note how sin works like a disease. Can the irreparable be repaired? And if so, how? Nothing in this universe can ever be undone. The question is not so much, Can God forgive? God can do anything. But it is rather, Can you forgive yourself?

R. F. Horton, Brief Sermons for Busy Men, p. 15.


2 Corinthians 5:21

If we would bear in mind the definition of sin as the difference between what men are and what they were meant to be, we should readily perceive that the remission of sin involves nothing short of making men what they were meant to be. A humanity fulfilling the intention of God in its creation, and every individual filling the appointed place in such a restored humanity; that is the sublime dream which is suggested by the destruction of sin in the light of the definition of sin which we have derived from the New Testament. That such a result could only be effected by the Omnipotence of God is evident; but in the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ the Apostles saw the demonstration that the Divine Power was set upon that result; they saw also, and inwardly experienced, the potency and the process by which the splendid purpose was to be achieved.

I. For the removal of sin men had to learn what they were meant to be. That is given to the world in the person of the Divine Man, Jesus Christ; and it is expounded to men in that body of teaching which is preserved for us in the Four Evangelists. 'I am always amazed,' said Tennyson, 'when I read the New Testament, at the splendour of Christ's purity and holiness, and at His infinite pity.'

II. But the thought of what we should be only awakens us to a sense of our helplessness in the coils of sin which are round us from our birth. It was therefore the work of Christ to become the head of a new humanity, a second Adam, as St. Paul would say, or, in the simpler language of St John: 'As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the children of God, to them that believe on His name, which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God'.

III. But when Christ came there were sinners inheriting the curse of nature and far gone in the corruption of the will, who needed to be re-made if they were to be freed from sin. And, because the Church has so imperfectly understood the evangel of the New Humanity in Christ, by far the larger proportion of persons even in a Christian country go so far in sin that their deliverance is a question of re-making. Jesus Christ announced the power which could thus re-make man in the simple but exalted language of John.

IV. 'Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' It was Jesus 'lifted up' that was to be to sinful men what the serpent had been to the diseased Israelites. He who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf. Made sin! Yes, indeed, made sin in such a way that the law which condemned sin was fulfilled, and the sin it condemned was abolished.

R. F. Horton, Brief Sermons for Busy Men, p. 29.

References. V. 21. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 61. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. Nos. 141 and 142; and vol. vi. No. 310. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 209. J. D. Thompson, ibid. vol. xlviii. p. 42. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 255. W. L. Lee, British Congregationalist, 1st August, 1907, p. 93. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 164; ibid. vol. vii. p. 281; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 376; ibid. vol. xi. p. 46. V. 25. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 20.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/2-corinthians-5.html. 1910.
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