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"The light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God." 2Co 4:4
Oh! what beauty and blessedness shine forth in the gospel, when we view it connected with the Person and work of the Son of God! Take the doctrines of grace isolated from the Person of Christ; they are scattered limbs; there is no beauty in them; but view the truths of the gospel, in connection with the Person and work of the Son of God, what a heavenly light, what a divine glory is cast upon every truth connected with his sacred Person, atoning blood, finished work, and dying love! This is the way to receive the gospel—not as a thing of shreds and patches, a mere collection or scheme of certain doctrines floating up and down God’s word, as waifs and strays from a stranded ship; but as one harmonious gospel, full of grace, mercy, and truth, impregnated with divine blessedness, and all connected with, all springing out of, the Person of the God-man.
How it seems to lift us up for a time, while the feeling lasts, above sin, misery, and wretchedness, to view our completeness in Christ, to see our saving interest in his finished work, to behold ourselves members of his mystical body, to triumph in his holy triumphs, to rejoice in his victories, and to ascend with him above the smoke and stir of this dim spot that men call earth. As one might rise out of a London fog into a pure atmosphere, and bask on some mountain-top in the bright beams of the sun, so the dear saint of God, when he is privileged to read his title clear, see his name in the book of life, feel the love of God in his heart, and rejoice in Christ, is lifted up above the fog and smoke of this dim spot, and sitting with Christ in heavenly places, he feels a sweet victory over every foe internal, external, and infernal.
And there is no other way whereby we can get out of it. Like a man in the London fog, struggling on with fog in the east, west, north, south, fog and smoke all around; so it is while we are struggling onward with sin and self—north, south, east, and west, there is nothing but fog, fog, deep and dense. We must be raised out of it to the mountain-top, and this only can be by being lifted up by a sweet testimony of saving interest in the blood and love of the Son of God. This lifts up, this lifts out; this gives strength, and this alone will give victory; and so far as we fall short of realizing these precious things, we grope for the wall like the blind, and stumble in desolate places like dead men.
It is true that for the most part the saints of God only have a little of these blessed things, from time to time, just brought in and taken away, but sufficient to taste their sweetness, to know their beauty, to see their glory, and therefore sufficient, while they last, to help them onward in their course, and keep them struggling on, until they reach that eternal glory.
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2Co 4:6
When a man is walking in the darkness and death of unregeneracy, he has no true light. He may indeed have a false light, as the light of presumption, delusion, or vain-confidence; but all such borrowed light is worse than darkness; as the Lord says, "If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
The only saving light is the light of God shining into the soul, giving us to see and know "the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent." A man may have the clearest light in his judgment, and yet never have the penetrating light of the Spirit producing conviction in his soul; he may have the soundest knowledge of the doctrines of grace, and see the harmonious scheme of salvation; and yet never have seen a holy God by divine teaching, nor have ever felt the spirituality of God’s righteous law condemning him as a transgressor. But "the light of life," as the Lord calls it, is sure to guide its possessor aright. If we have it not, we shall be sure to go astray; we shall be entangled in some error, plunge into some heresy, imbibe some doctrine of devils, drink into some dreadful delusion, or fall into some dreadful sin, and "concerning faith make shipwreck."
A false light is something like the lights which pirates hold up to entrap ships to their destruction; or like the fires, which the "wreckers," those dreadful characters in Cornwall, used to kindle on their iron-bound coast, in order that the mariner might mistake them for some friendly light-house, and run his vessel on the rocks, where those heartless wretches plundered it. A false light can but wreck us on the rocks of presumption or despair. But the light of divine life in the soul is accompanied with all the graces of the Spirit. It is the light of the glory of God, the light of Jesus’ countenance, and the light of the Spirit’s teaching, and therefore an infallible guide and guard; as the Apostle says, "You have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things." And this infallible pilot will guide the soul to whom it is given safe into the harbor of endless rest and peace.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."—2Co 4:7
Be not surprised if you feel that in yourself you are but an earthen vessel; if you are made deeply and daily sensible unto what a frail body God has communicated light and life. Be not surprised if your clay house is often tottering; if sickness sometimes assails your mortal tabernacle; if in your flesh there dwells no good thing; if your soul often cleaves to the dust; and if you are unable to retain a sweet sense of God’s goodness and love. Be not surprised nor startled at the corruptions of your depraved nature; at the depth of sin in your carnal mind; at the vile abominations which lurk and work in your deceitful and desperately wicked heart. Bear in mind that it is the will of God that this heavenly treasure which makes you rich for eternity should be lodged in an earthen vessel.
We are to carry about a daily sense of our base original to hide pride from our eyes. We are to be despised by others; and by none so much as by our own selves. We have ever to feel our native weakness, and that without Christ we can do nothing; that we may be clothed with humility, and feel ourselves the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all saints. We thus learn to prize the heights, breadths, lengths, and depths of the love of Christ, who stooped so low to raise us up so high.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels." 2Co 4:7
Gold and silver, those precious metals, take no injury, receive no spot of corruption from the vessel in which they are contained; let them be buried in the damp earth, no tarnish or rust forms upon them.
So spiritually, the grace of God in the heart, surrounded as it is with corruption, is not tarnished by it, the heavenly treasure is not contaminated, though lodged in an earthen vessel. Christ in the heart is not defiled by the inward workings of depravity, and by the base thoughts that strive perpetually against his grace, any more than the gold of the Bank of England is defiled by the dark and damp cellars in which it is stowed.
And what a mercy it is, that our corruptions cannot tarnish the grace of God; that our unbelief cannot mix with, and adulterate the faith of God’s elect; that our despondency cannot spoil and ruin a gospel hope; that our deadness, darkness, coldness, and rebellion cannot mingle with and defile the love of God in the soul! This heavenly treasure remains still as unpolluted and pure as when God first put it there; being a part of "the divine nature," it remains uncontaminated by the filth and corruption that surround it.
Is not this a mercy for God’s tried people, that spiritual knowledge, living faith, gospel hope, heavenly love, and the fruits and graces of God’s Spirit in the soul can never be defiled; but, like the streams of a fountain, are ever gushing forth in pure water? What a blessing it is, that the pure grace of God in a man’s heart cannot be contaminated by the filthy streams that are dashing from a vile nature against it, like the torrents of water from a fire-engine against a burning house, but remains as pure as when God the Spirit first breathed it into the soul.
"Perplexed, but not in despair." 2Co 4:8
Oh! what a mercy, amid every degree of inward or outward perplexity, to be out of the reach of Giant Despair; not to be shut up in the iron cage; not to be abandoned, as Judas or Ahithophel, to utter desperation and suicide, and, after a long life of profession, concerning faith to make dreadful shipwreck! Now the child of God, with all his doubts, fears, sinkings, misgivings, and trying perplexities is never really and truly in despair. He may tread so near the borders of that black country that it may almost be debatable land whether he is walking in despair or upon the borders of it; for I believe many children of God have at times come to the solemn conclusion that there is no hope for them, for they cannot see how they can be saved or have their aggravated sins pardoned.
And though this be not black despair, nor such utter, irremediable desperation as seized Saul and Judas, for there still is a "Who can tell?" yet it certainly is walking very near the borders of that dark and terrible land. I cannot tell, nor do I believe any can, how low a child of God may sink, or how long he may continue under the terrors of the Almighty; but we have the warrant of God’s word to believe that he is never given up to utter despair, for the Lord holds up his feet from falling into that terrible pit, and being cast into that sea to which there is neither bottom nor shore.
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed." 2Co 4:8
The saint of God is "troubled on every side," because he has on every side on which he may be troubled, a spiritual side as well as a temporal side, a side in his soul as well as a side in his body, a side in his supernatural as well as in his natural life, a side in his new man of grace as well as a side in his old man of sin. And as it is necessary for him to be conformed to the suffering image of Christ, trouble comes upon him on every side and from every quarter, to make him like his blessed Lord. No, his troubles are multiplied in proportion to his grace, for the more the afflictions abound the more abundant are the consolations; and an abundance of consolation is but an abundance of grace. Thus, the more grace he has the greater will be his sufferings; and the more he walks in a path agreeable to the Lord, and in conformity to his will and word, the more will he be baptized with the baptism of sorrow and tribulation with which his great Head was baptized before him.
"Yet not distressed." The words "not distressed" literally signify that we are not shut up in a narrow spot from which there is no outlet whatever. It corresponds to an expression of the Apostle’s in another place where he says, "God will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape that you may be able to bear it;" and tallies well with the words of David—"You have known my soul in adversities." There is the trouble on every side. But he adds, "And have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a large room." "Not being shut up into the hand of the enemy" is not being abandoned of God to the foeman’s death-stroke; and having "the feet set in a large room" is to have a place to move about in, one which affords an escape from death and destruction.
Thus, the dying Christian has a God to go to; a Savior into whose arms he may cast his weary soul; a blessed Spirit who from time to time relieves his doubts and fears, applies a sweet promise to his burdened spirit, gives him resignation and submission to the afflicting hand of God, and illuminates the dark valley of the shadow of death, which he has to tread, with a blessed ray of gospel light.
"Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." —2Co 4:9
You may be cast down by many doubts and fears, and lose the sense of the Lord’s love to your soul, but you cannot lose the reality, nor is your faith destroyed by the hottest flame. It is like gold; the fire melts away and separates the dross and tin, but never touches the gold. In your hottest trials your faith will not have lost a particle. Neither will your hope be destroyed, however you may be cast down about your state or standing; for not a particle of hope, or of any one Christian grace can ever be lost. They may seem to suffer diminishing as the apostle speaks, "If a man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss" (1Co 3:15); but it is no real loss—it is merely the dross taken away, that he may come forth a vessel for the refiner.
The work of the Holy Spirit is as indestructible as the work of Christ; and thus every grace which he implants in the soul remains there untouched, unharmed in all its divine integrity. Love, patience, submission, and humility all remain unhurt in the flame, though the dross which is mixed with them is taken from them, that they may shine all the brighter. Thus though you may be plunged into the hottest fires, you will not be destroyed, any more than the three Hebrew children were destroyed in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, or Jonah in the belly of the whale.
"Persecuted, but not forsaken." 2Co 4:9
Whatever injury persecutors may do or attempt to do to a Christian, they cannot rob him of his God. They may destroy his body; they cannot destroy his soul. They may wound his reputation; but they cannot wound his conscience. They may strip him of all his earthly goods; but they cannot lay their unhallowed hands upon the treasure which God has lodged in his breast. Yes, all may forsake him as they forsook his divine Master; but God has said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." Why, then, need we dread persecution for righteousness’ sake? If the Lord be on our side, whom need we fear? And who can harm us if we be followers of that which is good?
But bear in mind that it must be persecution for righteousness’ sake. Do not call it persecution if you are buffeted for your faults. Do not think yourselves persecuted if by your inconsistencies you have brought upon yourselves the reproach of men, or the just censure of those who fear God. But if your persecutions are brought upon you from doing the will of God from the heart, you will find the approbation of God in your conscience; no, you will find that your very persecutions will draw down more into your soul a blessed sense of the sympathy of your great High Priest, so that as your afflictions abound, so will your consolation.
Sad indeed it would be for the Church of God, if, amid her persecutions, the Lord added to the weight of her trouble by withdrawing from her the light of his countenance and the consolations of his sensible presence. But she never more sensibly reclines on his bosom than when he gives her to drink of his cup, and thus conforms her to his suffering image.
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." 2Co 4:10
The two aspects, if I may use the expression, of our gracious Lord, in which are wrapped up all our faith, and hope, and love, are a dying Jesus and a risen Jesus—Christ in his sufferings and death, Christ in his resurrection and life. This is the Christ of God, this is the Son of God in whom we believe unto life eternal, as he is presented to our view in the Scriptures of truth, and by the inward teaching and testimony of the Holy Spirit. If, then, you do not believe in a dying Christ and in a risen Christ, your faith is not the faith of a Christian. Now just see how this bears upon our text.
WHY do we bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus? It is that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. As then we bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus; as we suffer with Christ, die with Christ, and enter by faith into the mystery of his crucifixion so as to be mystically and spiritually crucified with him, we rise, so to speak, out of this death into union with the risen, living Christ, so as to derive life and strength, grace and power out of his glorious fullness. For he is risen from the dead—he is no more in the tomb, into which he sank in all the weakness of death; but is risen again, and was thus "declared to be the Son of God with power." Yes, he has gone up on high, and now sits at the right hand of God in the highest heavens. He is gone within the veil, to be the High Priest over the house of God; there, also, he rules and reigns as King in Zion; and there he ever lives as our glorified and risen Head. As, then, we bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, as crucified with him and conformed to his death, so as "risen with him," there is even now in our body a manifestation of his risen life.
"That the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." 2Co 4:10
It is in this earthen vessel, our poor mortal body, that both the death of Jesus and the life of Jesus are manifested. In the trouble, the perplexity, the being cast down, is the dying of Jesus. In not being distressed, in not being in despair, in not being forsaken, in not being destroyed, is the life of Jesus. Thus in the same body there is a dying Christ and a living Christ, Christ in his cross in his weakness—and Christ at the right hand of God in his power. To know these two things is to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, those two divine blessings which the soul of Paul so longed to realize and experience.
In the knowledge then, the experimental knowledge, I mean, for all other knowledge is of no avail, of Christ crucified and Christ risen, consists the spiritual life of a child of God. So to live is to live a life of faith in the Son of God. So to live is to be baptized with that Spirit with which Paul was baptized when he said, "I am crucified with Christ—nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me—and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
The present life of Christ at the right hand of God the Father, is the source and foundation of all our present life. "Because I live, you shall live also," was his gracious promise when here below; and he has gone up on high, to fulfill that promise and make it effectual. He is "our life," and this life must be made manifest in our mortal flesh, manifest to ourselves, and manifest to others; manifest to ourselves by the communication of light, life, liberty, and love, manifest to others by the fruits of a life and conversation adorning the gospel, and by walking in all holy obedience to its precepts.
"For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." 2Co 4:11
What is meant by the expression, "our mortal flesh?" It does not mean the carnal mind, but our earthly tabernacle; and the expression is similar to another in this chapter, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." It is, then, in this poor body, compassed with infirmities, that the life of Jesus is made manifest. This divine life will often spring up in fervent breathings after God, in the actings of living faith, in the sweet communion the people of God have with one another, in reading the Scriptures, in the application of precious promises, and under the preached word. From time to time it bubbles up like a spring from its source. Sometimes indeed it runs underground, buried as it were under the load of "our mortal flesh;" but again and again it reappears, drawn up by the Sun of righteousness. "Spring up, O well." But its risings are ever proportionate to its sinkings. Thus in proportion as we cease to pray naturally, do we pray spiritually; as we cease to hope in the flesh, do we hope in the Lord; as we cease to believe with the head, do we believe with the heart; when we see an end of all perfection in self, then we begin to find perfection in Christ; and when we see nothing in our hearts but sin, misery, and wretchedness, then we begin to taste spiritual consolation. Thus in proportion as nature sinks, the life of Jesus rises, and is made manifest in our mortal flesh.
Is the soul, then, longing to have sweet manifestations of the life of Jesus? Where must it go to get them? What does the word of God say? "Whence comes wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept closed from the fowls of the air. Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears" (Job 28:20-22).
Until, then, we get to "destruction and death," the destruction of fleshly hopes and the death of creature religion, we do not so much as ever hear the fame of true wisdom with our ears. Thus, when we get into darkness, then light springs up; when we get into despondency, hope arises; when we are tempted with unbelief and infidelity, faith appears. Thus those are the wisest in whom creature wisdom has most ceased; those are the strongest who have learned most experimentally their own weakness; those are the holiest who have known most of their own filthiness; those are the most religious in a true sense who have least religion of their own. So that just in proportion as we are delivered unto death, and execution takes place on what the creature loves, so does the life of Jesus begin to rise and make itself blessedly manifest.
"We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak." 2Co 4:13
There is a distinction to be made between faith and the spirit of faith. The spirit of faith is faith in exercise. Faith sometimes is like a day in which there is no wind blowing. It is so calm, that there scarcely appears to be any air stirring to move a leaf. But after a time a gentle breeze comes and blows over the earth. Thus it is with faith and the spirit of faith. Faith in repose is like the calm air of a summer’s day, when there is nothing moving or stirring; faith acting, faith in exercise, is like the same air in the gentle breeze which makes itself sensibly felt. If God has given me faith, that faith is never lost out of my breast. If once a believer, I always am a believer; for if I could cease to believe, I would cease to be a child of God; I should lose salvation out of my heart, for I am saved by grace through faith.
And yet there may be many times and seasons when I may not have much of the spirit of faith. Faith may be very inactive, I will not say stagnant, for that would almost imply death, but still, quiet, calm, sleeping like a bird with its head under its wing. But in due time there is a stirring, a movement, a gracious blowing of the Spirit—"Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind; blow upon my garden" (Song 4:16). "Come from the four winds, O breath" (Eze 37:9). This heavenly breath of the Holy Spirit acts upon faith, awakens it, revives and reanimates it, and draws it forth into lively operation. It thus becomes a spirit of faith, acting spiritually and energetically according to its measure. John was "in the Spirit on the Lord’s day" (Re 1:10). He was not always in the Spirit by lively action, though he was never out of the Spirit by his extinction. So faith is sometimes, so to speak, in the Spirit; and then its eyes are open, like the eyes of John, to see spiritually what he saw visibly, the Person of Christ, and its ear open to hear inwardly what he heard outwardly, the words of Christ.
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." — 2Co 4:17
O suffering saints of God! tried and afflicted children of the most High! raise up your thoughts as God may enable you—lift up your eyes, and see what awaits you. Are you tried, tempted, exercised, afflicted? It is your mercy. God does not deal so with every one. It is because you are his children, that he lays on you his chastening hand. He means to conform you to the image of his Son in glory, and therefore he now conforms you to the image of his Son in suffering. ’O but,’ you say, ’I cannot believe it is so!’ No; if you could, it would not be much of a trial.
This is the trial of faith—to go groaning on, struggling on, sorrowing on, sighing on; believing against unbelief, hoping against hope; and still looking to the Lord, though there is everything in nature to damp the hopes and expectations of your waiting souls. Yet all will end well with the people of God. Their life here is a life of temptation, of suffering and trial; but heaven will make amends for all. And if our faith is now tried as "with fire," it will one day "be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." In that day when the secrets of all hearts will be brought to light, the faith of thousands will be found to be little else than presumption; but the faith of God’s dear family will then be crowned with "praise and honor and glory;" and they shall see the Lamb as he is face to face, when all tears are wiped away from all faces.
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 2Co 4:17
The Hebrew word "glory" literally signifies "weight;" and the Apostle seems to have some allusion to that circumstance by connecting, as he does, the two words together. There is indeed a natural connection between what is weighty and what is solid and substantial. He would thus represent future glory as something solid, lasting, and durable, and therefore utterly distinct from the light, vain trifles of time, and even the passing afflictions of the day or hour.
But he seems chiefly to be alluding to the exceeding greatness of that glory which is to be revealed as compared with our present faculties of body and mind and all our present conceptions. It is as though he should say, "In our present imperfect state, with our limited faculties of mind, and our weak, frail tabernacle, we could not bear the weight of that immortal glory which is prepared for the saints in the realms of bliss." "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him."
Heaven, with its opening bliss, would crush our present body and soul at once into the dust. "No man," said God to Moses, "can see me and live." When John in Patmos had a view of the glory of his risen Lord, though he had lain in his bosom at the last supper, yet he fell at his feet as dead. Therefore, we must have our soul purified from all stain of sin and expanded to the utmost of its immortal powers, and our body glorified and conformed to the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, that soul and body may alike be able to bear the weight of eternal glory with which they are to be clothed. As the Apostle speaks, "Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
But there is something in the word "glory" that I must not pass by. The Lord, in that touching chapter, Joh 17:1-26, thus prays, or rather thus expresses his heavenly will, "Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me." This is the "weight of glory" that the Apostle speaks of, not merely freedom from sin and sorrow, not merely seeing Christ as he is, but beholding and enjoying that unutterable glory which the Father gave him, which is all the glory of Godhead as revealed in, and shining through his human nature. The fullness and perfection of this glory is reserved for the saints of God to enjoy when they shall see him as he is, and know even also as they are known. We see a gleam of it when Christ is revealed to the soul; when the heavens are opened to faith; when his beauty and blessedness are manifested to our heart by the power of God. But the "exceeding and eternal weight of glory" can never be fully comprehended in this present life.
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Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25