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"The God of All Comfort"
2 Corinthians 1:0
Paul had promised to go a second time to Corinth, but he did not go; so there were people in the Church who said that he was afraid to go, and that he would never come. Paul always wanted a great deal of room, and there were always some people who begrudged him the space which belonged to him by natural and Divine right. Some did not understand him; a few did not care for him; a sprinkling of people may be said to have been almost dead against him. This was the chance of the last little pact: Where is he? said they. With well-assumed innocence they inquired of the Paulites where their master was: said they, Has he come to Corinth? did he arrive last night? are you expecting him to-day? And thus with quite a new spite for no spite can be so stinging as pseudo-Christian spite they reminded the followers of the greatest man that ever lived in Christ's Church that a promise had not been fulfilled. What would some people do, if there were no mischief to be done? How could they find any employment, if all possibility of wrongdoing were taken away from them? They would have nothing to speak about, if you deprived them of their slander; they would be dumb dogs, if they had not to snarl at some majesty. The Apostle had heard of all this. He writes this second letter to the Corinth Church at many sittings. We shall make great mistakes in reading the epistles if we think they were all written so as to catch the first post. The Apostle knew nothing about posts and times. When he had a letter to write he took months to do it, and he did not always ask his amanuensis where he left off last. It was a great royal soul that rolled on after a law of its own; hence the abruptness, the so-called incoherence, the sharp contrast and conflict of Paul's rhetorical style. Apollos was smooth; he rolled on like a stream of oil: Paul was rugged, often unconnected, and sometimes utterly without a copulative so as to connect the one with the other; yet all the while there was in it, not a literal, but a vital consistency.
He is very solemn in this introduction. He never excelled himself that master of noble words he never excelled himself so much as in 2 Corinthians 1:4 . He is thanking God for "all comfort," and he describes God as, "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." Mark the rhythm, the liquid plash, of this sacred ennobling music. We have often commented upon the word "comfort"as used by the Apostle Paul, and as used by other New Testament writers. "Comfort" does not mean, in their sense and use of the term, mere pacification, lulling, the creation of a species of moral and spiritual atrophy: the comfort of God is the encouragement of God, the stimulus of the most High applied to the human mind and the human heart. When God vivifies us he comforts us; instead of putting his fingers upon our eyelids and drawing them down over tired eyes and saying, Now sleep a long sleep, he sometimes gives us such an access of life that we cannot lie one moment longer; we spring forth as men who have a battle to fight and a victory to bring home. That access of life is the comfort of God, as well as that added sleep, that extra hour of slumber which is a tender benediction. Why was the Apostle comforted, vivified, or encouraged? That he should be able to comfort them which are in trouble. Why does God give us money? To make use of it for the good of others. Why does God make a man very strong? That he may save a man who is very weak, by carrying his burden for him an hour or two now and then, so as to give the man some sense of holiday. Why does the Lord make one man very penetrating in mind, very complete in judgment, very serene and profound in counsel? Not that he may say, Behold me! but that he may sit in the gate and dispense the bounty of his soul to those who need all manner of aid, all ministries of love.
The Apostle has a long passage to his point, but he comes to it in the eighth verse, there saying in effect: Now ye Corinthians, hear me: you have misunderstood this delay in my appearance altogether: there is one circumstance of which you have never heard; you do not know that in Asia I was as nearly dead a a man could be not to be in his grave: "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life"; I was in Asia hanging by the last thread; you never heard of that; now you have heard of it you will perhaps be larger and truer in your judgment of my movements: this is the first time I have really communicated this fact to my friends, but in Asia I was nearly dead; I was given up; men of medical knowledge could do no more for me; nurse and friend said it was all over. Now he praises God, in the tenth verse, in these terms, "Who delivered us from so great a death." That word "great" is a qualifying term of course, but it is a term which refers not so much to quantity "great" as to quality "great," and therefore it might be rendered, "Who delivered us from so terrible a death," a most deathly death, death in its ghastliest form. Why, saith the Apostle, this was a resurrection ( 2Co 1:9 ) "that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead;" saying in effect, I was dead; to all human intents and purposes, I was an extinct man: thus is the resurrection proved and tested in my own instance. Thus the Apostle always softened argument by experience, and substantiated reasoning by referring to something which he himself had personally gone through. Paul could have no doubt about resurrection after that Asian trouble. If it became a mere argument in words, he might have some difficulty in getting words large enough and fine enough to fit so vast and delicate a subject, but if it came to the large language of consciousness, what a man's own soul has known, Paul has no difficulty whatever about the possibility and actuality of the resurrection.
Yet that delicacy, that large refinement, that supreme gentle-manliness, in the old rich sense of the word, so characteristic of Paul, comes into play in 2 Corinthians 1:11 . He would have the Corinthians made out to be really the helpers or allies of God in this great resurrectional act, saying, "Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf." The argument is this: As you prayed for me in all things, not knowing the particulars, so you may now on hearing the particulars turn up your faces, that is the literal signification of this image, "many persons," many upturned faces, may throw back heaven's light upon itself, that so there may be a great sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Apostle told the Corinthians that he was under the impression that they were always praying for him. It may have been delicate satire, it may have been one of those characteristic ironies which make Paul's style so varied and so surprising: but he always gave men credit for doing what they ought to have done, and thus made a tremendous thrust upon their consciences; as who should say, You have always been liberal, you have always been kind, I have never been one hour out of your thoughts. And the people said, That is the opinion he has been forming about us! what a false judgment I may he never know! For months together we never thought of him, and we have let the flowers wither in the garden rather than send him one little nosegay, and the poor deluded soul has been under the impression that all the time we were thinking about him. O Paul, thou wast many men in one!
Returning to the personal side of the question, he said, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to youward": we have heard the rumours, we understand what is going on in slanderous circles about my not coming to Corinth, but our rejoicing is this, that the conscience says, they are wrong and you are right; they do not know what they are talking about, but your conduct is founded upon solid and just reasoning: that is where we stand. "In simplicity," in a single folio, or, as it were, one open sheet, so that every one can see the four corners and all that is written between. That is simplicity, the opposite of duplicity, which is the doubled sheet, so that you cannot tell what is written upon it without turning it over, as if by some stroke of cunning, as if quietly, so that nobody might suspect the action. Simplicity is an open hand, duplicity is a clenched fist: Paul always acted the part of an open-handed gentleman. "And godly sincerity," literally, the sincerity of God: either a Greek or a Hebrew expression, as you please; if a Hebrew expression, how simple, for the Hebrew has no superlative. The English says, Good, better, best: but the Hebrew cannot take that course. If the Hebrew would describe a beautiful garden, it says, A garden of God: if a noble forest, the Hebrew would say, These are trees of God, meaning the finest, grandest, shaggiest old kings that ever adorned the mountain side. So the Apostle says, "that sincerity of God," a new grammar, requiring the very highest term in thought to express the very highest quality in character. "Not with fleshly wisdom:" we are not so much statesmen as God's-men; we are not merely acute, we are spiritually enlightened; we are not only sagacious, we have the gift of the Spirit, which is a gift of discernment: do not credit us with cleverness, credit us and credit God with inspiration.
He makes this more clear in the thirteenth verse: "For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge." That is to say, we do not write in an unnatural sense; when a child reads my word a child knows my meaning. Paul does not need any moral glossary in order to explain what he has been talking about. When he says, Yes, he means yes; Nay, nay; there is an end of him. "We write none other things unto you than what ye read," in its plain, simple, natural, straightforward sense, "or acknowledge" have knowledge of: we have not a private verbal mint in which we coin words of ecclesiastical meaning and pass these amongst people, so that we may have a commerce of our own; we use our mother's speech in our mother's sense. That is apostolic sincerity. "Sincerity" itself is a pictorial word. It is the act of the wary chapman who, having somewhat to sell or buy, holds it to the sun. That is sincerity, transparency; that which the sun goes through and through without discovering speck or flaw. This was the man whom certain nameless Corinthians were slandering, and saying that he had talked of coming to Corinth but he knew better than to come. Many persons were bold in Paul's absence. Many persons go to the Zoological Gardens who are religiously thankful for the bars of iron. Oh, the boldness of these people! What makes them bold? The bars. Remove the bars where are they? So many people were exceedingly critical and bold and even denunciatory in the absence of Paul who were not at home when he arrived on the spot. Paul never needed to strike any man twice. When he erects himself and says, "But as God is true, our word toward you" was true, he shows what Christianity does for a man when it has free course and is glorified in his nature. There are heroic moments in which earnest souls link themselves to God and say, We stand or fall together. These moments make us men; these moments make immortality possible. To live under this sense of truth, to know that through and through we are true in every particle and jot and iota, to know that our meaning is after the pattern of God's sincerity, that is the supreme joy of Christian life. Paul will not have yea, yea, nay, nay, and yea and nay mixed up together, as if he were trying to pronounce both the words in one hot breath. He will have each word pronounced distinctly. Paul believed in moral articulation; no jumbling of syllables in this mighty rhetoric. Paul was an honest man. When he said Yes, he said it subject to an inscrutable Providence, I may be killed, 1 may be drawn to death in the wilds of Asia, I may be subject to contingencies which do not come within human calculation. Every man's yes must be subject to these possibilities, but when he says, Yes, his soul must mean it. Why? Because the Christian is of the same quality as Christ himself, for the Son of God Jesus Christ was not yea and nay; Christ did not walk on both sides of the road, Christ was not hail-fellow-well-met with people who told lies and made a convenience of language: Christ was the eternal Yes, or the eternal No. Paul says, We belong to Christ; because, therefore, we belong to Christ we cannot palter with language. Thus Paul was more than a merely metaphysical theologian. Paul brought his theology down into his morality, into his conduct, into his daily speech; Paul's words were sacraments. All this is worth dwelling upon, because it shows what Jesus Christ does for every man who really trusts him, loves him, obeys him. This is what Christianity would do in the world. It would put an end to all ambiguity, to all ambidextrousness, so that a man shall not be as clever with the left hand as he is with the right. Christianity does not make conjurors, Christianity makes honest men. When Jesus said, "Let your Yea be yea, and your Nay be nay," he revolutionised the world. If this could be brought about in the simplicity and fulness of its meaning, the world would be at peace for evermore. Yet how a simple a thing to say! The Preacher on the Mount said to us to-day, Let your Yea be yea, and your Nay be nay; such commonplace did that man talk, though robed as rabbi and speaking ex cathedra , the mountain being his chair. You are wrong. If Jesus Christ had never said one word more, he would have revolutionised the whole construction of society. When you say Yes, mean yes; when you say No, mean no; do not becloud a subject with words; do not be having one word on the tongue and another word in the heart; be sincere, transparent, through-and-through men. That is what Jesus Christ himself said. The Apostle, having partaken of that quality by the grace of God, is annoyed when he hears it is possible for some vagabonds even in Corinth that most drunken, dissolute, disorderly church that ever existed to suspect his sincerity. He falls back on the same thread of argument even in his sublime statement of the doctrine of the resurrection; he says, "If Christ be not risen from the dead, then we are liars." And we cannot conceive of the possibility of any man thinking that the Apostles were liars. May we live on these lofty mountains! They are the first to catch the sunlight.
The Everlasting Yea
This is the very finest conception of the personality and the purpose, the kingship and the rule of the Son of God. We may get at the meaning of these words by paraphrase rather than by translation. Any translation is rugged. In him was Amen. That "Amen" was his own word. No man used it so frequently. It was only his own word because it was his own self. That is one of his names: "These things saith the Amen." When did Jesus say Amen? I answer by putting another inquiry When did he ever say anything else? He said it thirty-one times in the Gospel according to Matthew; in the Gospel according to Mark we have fourteen instances of it; in the Gospel according to Luke he says Amen seven times, and in the Gospel according to John we find this same Amen, single and double, five-and-twenty times. Now we see what the text is: In him was So-be-it Yes Amen. That is the Christ of God. Not a double-minded man, not here and there, not going east and west, but the same yesterday, to-day, for ever; not the empty mocking No, but the everlasting satisfying Yes. Christ has well been called the incarnate Amen of God. In him all the promises are Yea and Amen; in him God says, Now take what you will: you call for my promises, there they are; you ask for my redemption, here it is; you have been praying to me for centuries for some great positive answer, behold it: this Son of Mary, Son of Man, is the Amen of God.
How did he use the Amen so frequently? for we do not remember to have heard it, unless it be at the close of what is known as the Lord's Prayer; then the word Amen does occur. But the word Amen is not a word to be used in prayer only, unless we make prayer the greatest exercise of the soul, which it ought to be made, the finest and completest expression of life, thought, purpose, and design. Jesus Christ began his speeches with Amen: "Amen, amen, I say unto you." In our old quaint English we have it, "Verily, verily:" what Christ said was in our English pronunciation, Amen, amen, So-be-it, Yes, the everlasting affirmation. That is our Saviour. We know what it is to have to deal with some people who never can be brought to Yes. They speculate, they doubt, they wonder, they conjecture, they make hypotheses, they invent theories; you can bind them down to nothing. It is so with all the other teachers of the world; they have a genius in the matter of conjecture; they guess well, they reason strongly, but they are always afraid of their own reason; throughout their strongest asseverations there runs a tone hesitant, double, equivocal, it may be so or thus, and some other man may be right when he suggests the contradiction of this theory. In Christ on the contrary is "Yea" that which is decisive, definite, positive, complete, unchangeable. "Other men have said unto you... but I say unto you; other men have brought you proverbs, I bring you philosophies; other men have been liberal in conjectures, I am the revelation of God." That is his tone; that is the standard by which he wishes to be judged.
We cannot live on negations. Yet we are deluded into the belief that negation is at least one aspect of cleverness. Negations have never done the best work in the world. They have been useful, but in a limited and measurable degree. We have known negations in arithmetic. Arithmetic is not the art of doubting. Arithmetic has its points, lines, conclusions, but if you do not accept them you cannot be an arithmetician, you cannot calculate, you cannot reckon upon this planet. Euclid has his axioms. He would not talk to us if we did not accept them all at once. He says, You have no business in this book if you doubt the axioms; they must be accepted. They are no negations, they are affirmations; they are the everlasting Yes in geometry. Law aims to be definite, positive, conclusive. It has to struggle its way up very far before it reaches the point of settlement; yet law is always aiming at finality. It begins a long way down, before the well-meaning magistrate, who is glad to hand it on to the next court, which in its turn is very thankful to get rid of it so that it may be discussed in the Court of Appeal, which mumbles over it, and clouds about it, and stupefies itself over it, and says silently, Thank God, it must go to the House of Lords. But when it gets there it is written in the books, and there it is. That was the object from the beginning, to get at definiteness, to get at Yes. Christ begins where all other men begin, and whilst they end hesitantly he ends positively, as he began positively: Verily, verily, Amen, amen, Yes, yes, I say unto you.
Why this tone of decision and clearness? Why this pomp of definiteness? Because the Lord Christ is not a speculator but a Saviour. When the life-boat goes out it does not go out to reason with the drowning men but to lay hold of them. When the sea is sunny, when the air is a blessing, then boats may approach one another, and talk to one another more or less merrily and kindly, and as it were upon equal terms; but when the wind is alive, when the sea and sky seem to have no dividing line, and death has opened its jaws to swallow up, as if in a bottomless pit, all its prey, then the life-boat says, We have not come out here to reason and to conjecture and to bandy opinions with you, but to seize you and save you. That is what Christ has come for, The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life: I am not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. You never can save a man by saying no to him; the only thing that can save the soul is the everlasting Yes, the Verily of everlasting love. There were two classes of men in the Middle Ages, both about as busy as they could be. The one class was called the Crusaders. They were up early in the morning, they were up late at night; they handled their weapons well, they had keen ears for the approach of the enemy; they were fighters, they were inflamed with an infatuated enthusiasm. The other men were not fighters, they were cathedral-builders. Where are the Crusaders? I do not know. Where are the other men? At Canterbury, at Westminster, at York; all through the area of Europe. But the Crusaders were stalwart men and made a noise whenever they went from home; but they were "No" men, they were men who put down, they were aggressive, they were soldiers, in a sense they were madmen: destruction was their accompanying evil angel. The other men were builders, and the builders last longer than the fighters. Blessed be God, this is true. Why not build more? Why not do the positive, constructive, edifying work? All this red-coated demonstration, all this thirst for glory and for blood, is, for the moment, very dazzling and very wonderful, and constitutes in posse a magnificent newspaper property; but building slow, stately, tranquil building it abides when the mere mechanical assistants and contractors have passed away. It is even so with this Christ of God. He is a cathedral-builder; he has his fighting times; none can fight like Christ: but he only fights that he may have room to build in; he is building the cathedral of manhood, he is putting up the temple of regenerated human nature; he is the everlasting Yes: and as we work for him and work with him a great voice fills the air like music poured out from some larger world, Verily, verily, I say unto you. Christ is a builder. The Church is a building. There are very clever men who are doing nothing. They are reading very able papers to most reverential audiences of wood audiences which never stop nor interrupt them or find fault with them, and which care nothing about them. They can prove to demonstration that if x be multiplied by x, and the whole be squared up by y and w, no power in the universe can tell what the end will be: and the wood stands there, and so the matter ends. This is no Gospel; it is a kind of intellectual quarrel with some other intellectual thing, both invisible, both anonymous, both fighting in the dark, both stone-blind: and thus it comes to nought multiplied by nought, equal to nought. Jesus Christ comes in with definite offers, special promises, with an eternal affirmation, Yes, yes, is the music-speech of Christ. See if this be not so. Hear him; never man spake like this Man. Why art thou here, thou Son of God, an angel far from home? Listen: "I am come that they might have life." That is the everlasting Yea, the eternal Positive. Why art thou here, thou Son of God? this world is not for thee; we have spoiled it hence 1 Listen: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is the eternal constructive, the donation positive. Other men will give me a new argument, will turn the subject round and ask me to view it in various phases; they will try to alleviate my disquietude by changing its points and its balances, but never reducing its solid quantity. This Man, come whence he may, says he will give me what I want "rest." Let us go and see what he is about What is he giving? Bread. But if there be no more bread? That is impossible; when he touches it he multiplies it; when he gives it away he has more of it. But if the bread in a literal sense should fail, he will give us his flesh; and as for wine, he will tap the fountain of his heart that we die not for want of sustenance. This is his scheme; this is his way of doing things; this is the everlasting Yea, the Verily, Verily of God. But death will overcome us, death will take us away; what will Jesus do then? He has provided a Yes with which to oppose the negative of death. What is the Yes of Christ in relation to the No of death? It is hear it a long word, long as the duration of God, it is resurrection! He hunts negation out of its last den, robs it of its last prey, and sits himself down at the right hand of God, the Amen the everlasting Yes. Why do we not seek for the positive, the constructive, and the eternal? You hear a discourse, and what is the suggestion of the enemy to your soul? It is to disagree with it. Satan lives in negation; he would have no ministry but for denial; he began by contradicting, and his whole genius is limited to that meanest of ministries. Instead of retiring from the service, saying, "I had bread to-day, my soul feasted bountifully at the table of the Lord," the enemy says, Now, how far did you agree with it? and you say, I did not agree with that view There you are lost. It is not what you do not agree with, but what you accept, that is going to save you. Ye are saved by faith.
Here then we stand. This is how Christ must be preached. He must be preached in his own spirit. Christ is not yea and nay; Christ is not hesitant, variable, uncertain, double-minded. Yet Christ is being preached negatively to-day. We want the Gospel offered, not the Gospel defended. We want the Gospel preached, and not preached about. The word "about" is the pit that swallows up many a ministry. All that Jesus asks of us is to tell positive truth, to offer positive blessing, to call men to the positive Christ, which means the positive pardon, the positive peace, and the positive heaven. So the Apostle preached Christ, the positive Christ, the living Christ, the present Christ, the Christ of the Cross, the Christ who shed his blood to save the world.
Nothing is easier than to suggest doubts and difficulties, and to ask questions. There are some lines of inquiry along which it is right to ask questions because only by asking them can we make progress; there are other questions of an elementary kind which can be asked with a sincere, simple heart; the Lord invites us to put such inquiries to him, and he will answer us; but there are other questions which are born of conceit and intellectual pedantry and mere vanity of soul, and these vex and torment the mind, and heaven will not condescend to answer them. Heaven has nothing to say to pride, heaven only speaks to humbleness of soul. From contrition of heart heaven will withhold no blessing, no good thing will the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly. This holds good in the communication of spiritual truth and spiritual blessing, as well as in the conferring of physical comfort and physical protection. Think of Christ as a great Yes. When you lay your case of distress before your friend what you want from him is not a critical argument upon your imprudence in having brought yourself into a state of destitution, you want his genial, generous Yes. There are many men wonderfully able in telling other people that they ought not to have come into trouble. If rebukes could feed the world such men would make gluttons of the universe. They point out where the man got wrong; they tell him with a tongue sharper than a two-edged sword that he ought not to have got wrong at that point; they lacerate him, scalp him, and vivisect him, and turn him out into the cold. They represent the everlasting No. One little loaf of bread would have been better than all the lecturing; it would have prepared the way for the right sort of exhortation. This is Christ's representation of himself to the world, and this is his representation of God. He says that, if we will go back with a prayer of confession upon our lips, the Lord will not allow us to get through it; he will allow us to begin it, but before we have ended it he will smother us in his arms. Blessed be God for the eternal verity!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25