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2 Corinthians 1:1. Timothy.—“Not later (see 1 Corinthians 4:17) and perhaps rather earlier than he wrote the First Epistle, Paul sent (Acts 19:22) Timothy to Macedonia, with instructions to go on to Corinth if he could, of which, however (1 Corinthians 16:10), Paul was uncertain. We now find Timothy with Paul in Macedonia. But Paul’s anxiety (2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:5) makes us quite certain that, before his own arrival in Macedonia and his meeting with Titus, Timothy had not brought him tidings about the reception of the First Epistle by the Church at Corinth. Now the warmth of the Second Epistle suggests that it was written very soon after the arrival of Titus; and its silence about the coming of Timothy makes it unlikely that he arrived from Corinth with Titus or between the arrival of Titus and the writing of this letter. Consequently, either, contrary to Paul’s expectation, Timothy arrived at and left Corinth before the First Epistle, or he was, for reasons unknown to us but easily conceivable, unable to go there. In either case, we have no certain indication whether Timothy remained in Macedonia till Paul’s arrival, or returned to Paul before he left Ephesus, was with him there during the tumult, and went with him to Troas and to Macedonia. But this latter supposition would more easily account for the absence (except 2 Corinthians 1:19) of any further reference to Timothy in this Epistle. Doubtless he was with Paul when Titus arrived. And his close connection with the founding of the Church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:19; Acts 18:5) accounts sufficiently for the presence of his name here, supporting the Apostle’s earnest pleading.” (Beet.) Notice margin, “the brother.” Achaia.—Not the whole Roman province, but the smaller, classical Achaia. Of the former, not Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15), but Dionysius and Damaris and others (Acts 17:34) were the “firstfruits.” Notice the evidence of a widespread work beyond Corinth (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 1:1-2
[This Salutation traverses much the same ground as that of 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, which see. Dr. Lyth’s collection of Homiletic Suggestions gives:]
2 Corinthians 1:1-2. The Happiness of the Church.
I. Its ministers are messengers of Christ; are chosen by God; are diversely gifted as Paul and Timothy. [The twelve in the ship (Mark 6:45-50) were the Church in germ, and in miniature. “The ship carried” the Church “and its fortunes.” The diversity of the twelve men, all apostles, was anticipatory and typical. No type of character, no diversity, or capacity, or education, etc., comes amiss to the hand of the Great Builder. Every style of man may be an instrument with which He can build something, if only the man be willing simply to be used.]
II. Its constitution is Divine; holy; catholic [“with all the saints,” etc.].
III. Its wealth of privilege.—Rich in its variety [“grace and peace”?]. Divine in its communication. Inexbaustible in its supply. [Such a source cannot “run dry.” “All my fresh springs are in Thee” (Psalms 87:7).]
2 Corinthians 1:1. The Christian Ministry is—
I. Ordained by the will of God [i.e. not only the “order of the ministry,” but the man, Paul or other].
II. United by bonds of brotherhood.—[Pares all, though there be a primus].
III. Devoted to the service of the Church—[I.e. the greeting “unto the Church” is typical of Paul’s whole relation to the Corinthians. The ministry is not the Church. It exists for the sake of the Church. It exists to bring “grace and peace” to the Church. If it do not, its raison d’être is gone. If a minister do not, his raison d’être is gone.]
2 Corinthians 1:3.—John calls the Son a “Comforter” (1 John 2:1). Christ calls the Spirit a “Comforter” (John 14:16, “another” also implying that He Himself had been such to the disciples). Here Paul calls the Father a “Comforter.” Notice how “comfort” runs through 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (disguised as “consolation” in A.V.); parallel to the repeated “affliction” (same in original as “tribulation,” “trouble”). Mercies.—Also Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 10:28.
2 Corinthians 1:5.—Notice the contrasted “of” and “through.” As to “of,” see 2 Corinthians 4:10; Hebrews 13:13; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; Mark 10:38; (Matthew 10:40; Acts 9:4). (Also Homily on 1 Corinthians 12:27.) Notice “unto us,” not “in”; external trouble mainly.
2 Corinthians 1:6.—Then Paul is no such masterful, self-seeking, worthless man as some at Corinth would represent (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:24). His “afflictions” as well as the “comfort” are (not strictly “vicarious,” but) directly, and in the intention of God, for the Corinthians’ sake,—“on behalf of your,” etc. Is effectual.—I.e. the “comfort” works out with practical effect in … (patient) enduring.—Good expository use and example of the word, and the thing, “patience” as exhibited in New Testament; there being always, and here, an element of fortitude in the patience.
2 Corinthians 1:7. Stedfast, knowing, etc.—Q.d. “I speak hopefully, as a man who has tried it, and who knows what to expect for you.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Great Theme: Comfort and Affliction.
I. Two counterpart facts of life.—
1. It is a world of “affliction,” but over it there rules a God of “comfort.” This pair of facts is but a special form, of another pair: “sin,” “grace.” Directly or indirectly, affliction springs from sin; not necessarily a man’s personal sin, but from the presence of evil in the world. The Bible traces “evil,” the manifest and painful disorder which has affected that which was as manifestly meant to be God’s beneficent scheme of things, to the intrusion of moral evil; and in parallel fashion, there is no “comfort” which, directly or indirectly, is not “grace,”—it “abounds through Christ,” just as the “affliction” is but a lower result of the moral evil whose climax was reached in “the sufferings of Christ,”—part of that work of God in Christ whose aim and goal is a “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21).
2. Accordingly “comfort” is very much more than a palliative; it is the beginning of a cure.—“All comfort” is thoroughly in Paul’s manner. It means “all forms and kinds and aspects of comfort,” reminding us of the many sidedness of the grace. Such “comfort” as God gives is not merely an anodyne for a smart; nor only a balm for a wound, a solace for sorrow, rest for weariness; not words of reassurance for fear and for distressful thoughts. It is a mother folding her crying babe to her bosom (Isaiah 66:13); but it is more. It is not merely tender help; it is strong help. It gives not only relief and ease; it gives strength. It is not only that the young one flies to the mother’s wing for shelter and cowers away under it, almost as full of fears there as it was when outside. It is the weak man taking his stand boldly by the side of the friend who has come to his help in answer to his call, and in the company of his strong helper finding himself strong to fight and do. Not merely pitying, sympathetic words which give solace under crushing burdens, so that the spirit is not crushed, though the strength may be overborne (2 Corinthians 7:6; Philippians 2:27); but new strength given, and help which takes hold of the burden or the cross along with us at the opposite end [see this, perhaps, in the work of the “Comforter” in the original word of Romans 8:26], so that we carry better the load of affliction. And, which comes still nearer to the root purpose of all God’s comfort, the “Comforter” gives a transformed view of, and meaning to, all “affliction,” till at last we “rejoice (exultantly) in tribulations [same word as afflictions here] also” (Romans 5:3). Thus we are not simply conquerors, but “more than conquerors,” of all the “affliction” of life; we have not simply escaped, nor escaped unharmed, nor even come off with victory, but have been served by all that came against us to hinder or overwhelm; and this is the beginning of a reconstitution of the broken order, so that all things once more serve man, their designated king (Hebrews 2:7-8). Παράκλησις in its fullest range covers no less than this. Strength must never be omitted from our conception and our expectation of it. But, no doubt, through this section the tenderness is very prominent, and it should never be forgotten in our conception of God.
II. The Divine source of comfort.—
1. Pointed out in the Critical Notes that here, and here only, the Father is made a Paraclete, a Comforter. As how should He not be, seeing that He is “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ”? I.e. as we know Him He is the God, the very thought of Whom is inseparably bound up with that of His love in the gift of Christ. We never think of Calvary but we think of Him Whose love gave us that Saviour; we never think of that Mercy but our quick heart-instinct traces all up to God. Our helper in “afflictions” is, then, the God Who is the sworn enemy of Sin, Who therefore gives a gracious help for what is fundamentally a moral evil. He comforts, as part of the work He set Himself to accomplish in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. So His other names here describe Him as well as indicate Him.—All the names of God do so. They are in detail that “Name” of God which His people know, and trust in Him accordingly (Psalms 9:10). Each several name is given according to the special phase of His one work of grace which may happen to be prominent. Manifestly the name is not here chosen at haphazard, or even for its beauty [“a nice name to use”], but is appropriate. He has always an appropriate “name” for every need of our life. He is “the Father,” Whose unfailing characteristic is so surely to be merciful, that mercies must spring from His heart in Christ toward us. [What men may find Him apart from Christ and redemption grace, is another matter altogether.] [Cf. “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15), which is more than “a bitter root.” A bitter root might bring forth pleasant fruit or flowers. A “root of bitterness” can bear nothing but bitterness. So] a “God of comfort” or “a Father of mercies” is much more than a Father Who is merciful, or a God Who is merciful, or a God Who actually comforts. It is a God, a Father, Who, as we know Him in connection with the “Lord Jesus Christ,” cannot be conceived of in any contrary association of ideas. As is His name, so is He.
3. What a plea then is “For Thy Name’s sake”!—If He were to deny His “comfort” to an “afflicted” soul, He would give the lie to His very Name. There is a promise in such a name as this which He has put into Paul’s lips, for the use of the whole Church. The man who in his need calls to his help the “God of all παράκλησις,” may take his stand on the very name he invokes. He has there a hold, so to say, upon God.
III. The end of all comfort.—
1. The immediate purpose was no doubt the help of Paul himself. One man is worth God’s helping; not only a man “of so much importance” to the world as Paul, “so necessary” to the work of Christ, but every man for whom Christ “thought it worth while” to die. “Through Christ,” the Christ Who is that man’s Christ as truly as He belongs to any other, that humblest, poorest, most obscure man may expect the “comfort,” and that “abounding.”
2. But very characteristic of the Spirit of Christ in St. Paul that he rather fastens attention upon the service which both his trials and his strength did to the Corinthians and to all believers. “We live for you” (2 Corinthians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:12-13); “we suffer affliction for your sake; we are comforted for your benefit.” The word “vicarious” has acquired a special application in the vocabulary both of formal theology and of the experimental life. It would be using words to confuse thought, therefore, to speak of Paul’s sufferings or comfort as vicarious. It would be apt to set up the idea of a parallel or a community where “the sufferings of Christ” are unique. His are all that Paul’s are here. But Paul’s sufferings stop short of being all that His were for the Corinthians. The suggestion of the very conception of such a parallelism fills Paul with horror (1 Corinthians 1:12). With that reservation, note how a Christian is partaker with Christ, in that what he suffers, and the help he gets, may benefit—and are taken up into the many-sided purpose of God’s government “that” they may benefit—others who are under tribulation.
3. The martyrdoms of the Church’s history have not been waste of life, even when some of the choicest of its men and women have gone to death. “Take, brethren, for an example of suffering and of patience,” etc. (James 5:10). Their comfort “is effectual,” in that they who behold them suffer and triumph are able in their turn to endure and go through with the like sufferings. Every sick saint, perhaps for years a sufferer, helpless,—“useless,” such are tempted to say,—has a distinct field of service open in that he is made the concrete example, the specimen case, by which God teaches those who wait upon, or who in any way come into contact with, the sufferer, how true and how real is the “comfort” of which the promises stand written in the Word (2 Corinthians 1:20), and are pledged in the very gift of Christ. The careless, the young, the incredulous, who dismiss preaching as “professional,” or at best as a beautiful but very chimerical idea, the fearful though believing Christian,—these all see and believe what they would not hear and expect for themselves. An afflicted sufferer, full of the “comfort,” is a Fact. Many turn away from a sick-room with a firmer belief in the supernatural, and Divine, and gracious; with a settled expectation that they also, after all, shall find sufficient “comfort.” Without a word being spoken, the sufferer is a sermon, a message, a revelation, a gospel, to many a visitor. If words are spoken, with what force do they come! That sufferer is an expert. He speaks out of the fulness of knowledge. You may silence an advocate, but can do nothing against a witness. How a preacher understands Paul’s logic in 2 Corinthians 1:4. With such specimen “cases” in his mental note-book, he pronounces, he preaches, he exhorts, he encourages, he pledges “the God of comfort” to the afflicted soul, with the assurance of the experienced physician who has in his own profession studied a variety of cases, of many types, ages, conditions. He speaks no theories merely, but verified truth. And if he too has been the subject upon whom the Great Teacher has been pleased to make His experiment, by him to teach the students of God’s ways gathered round his sick-bed, with what power does he afterwards, in his pulpit, or in his pastoral round, “comfort others with the comfort wherewith,” etc. None can speak with such prevalent authority. At least, God can make noblest use of, men listen most readily to, the man who “knows.” It is worth the affliction, to be able to stand by another afflicted soul and bring one’s comfort to the help of his burdened strength or failing faith. Thus God designs to make men “comforters” of men.
IV. Hope springing from “comfort” in “affliction.”—[The, supplying “are” instead of the “shall ye be” of the A.V., leaves the object of Paul’s hope unexpressed, and more than a little uncertain. Still, it may perhaps be taken as a hope of their safe and victorious passage through the afflictions just then pressing upon them. The difference between the A.V. and the will simply be that in the A.V. this is expressed, and the ground of his hope is his own experience; whereas in the it is left unexpressed, and the ground of his hope is what he knows to be actually their experience. In either case the general principle of the argument remains the same. In the words of Romans 5:3 sqq., “experience works hope.”]
1. A Christian’s “hope” is a very much stronger thing than sometimes expresses itself in the very equivocal phrase, “I hope so”; very much more than an earnest wish, a longing glance of desire, with perhaps a half-expectation. “Hope is everywhere in Scripture the inspiring grace of the great conflict, being both passive and active. It is a grace that, like Patience, has many aspects. The word itself has a wide range of meanings.… Hope is one of the theological graces, with Faith and Charity, being a blessed combination of the two others. It is Faith looking only to the future, but looking at it with the expectation of love” (Pope, Compendium, iii. 214; who also says, p. 118:) “As it regards the future faith is hope; its confidence somewhat changes its character. Absolute confidence as to the present, it may increase as it regards the future.… It becomes, indeed, the full assurance of hope; a subtle and most beautiful expression that only experience can comprehend; the substantiation of things hoped for.” If faith gives strength to expectation, hope gives elasticity. Faith upholds under pressure or in face of conflict; hope gives buoyancy of spirit, which itself is a strength.
2. Paul reminds us that its “stedfastness” is no mere half-enthusiastic persuasion up to which men “work themselves” until they come to believe certain what they strongly desire. It is a most reasonable inference from facts. It rests
(1) upon the character of God, “His Name,” and
(2) on the accumulated facts of the past. It says: “Because of what we know in our own life, and have passed through [A.V.], and because of what we see and know in your life , we have no doubt as to the future. What has been will be. ‘The God of all comfort’ has never yet suffered ‘affliction’ to arrive unaccompanied. These facts of life ‘hunt in couples.’ If ‘affliction’ is near, comfort is not far away. Look for it; lift up head and heart, and look around for it; you will surely see it drawing nigh. You are not going to be left to be overwhelmed. We know the past too well! And we know Him too well!” “Stedfast!”
3. No surer sign that this “hope” is not nature but grace than this, that after long years of “comfort” the heart so readily sinks under the newest pressure or in presence of the latest tribulation. Naturally, the Christian heart has perpetually to begin again with its lesson, and after nine hundred and ninety-nine deliverances quakes and fails at the thousandth trial. In fairness to the accumulated “proof” (Romans 5:3) of our God through many years of “experience” and “experiment”—indeed, in fairness to Him—accumulating experience should work accumulating hope, till at last the Christian man “exults in tribulations also, knowing that,” etc. But it is not often so. The heart argues with itself that such growing confidence is very logical, and condemns itself for doubting and fearing where it ought to hope and believe. But logic is powerless. The strength of hope is a gift, a grace, a Divine thing, not natural—the grace of the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13).
2 Corinthians 1:8.—No certainty as to the “affliction” referred to, whether some outward persecution at Ephesus (query at Ephesus at all?) known to his readers (query that of Romans 16:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:9) (“brethren”), or such acute distress about the state of things at Corinth as nearly killed him, and at any rate utterly broke down his health and threatened to interrupt his work. [How little the Acts tell of the life of Paul: cf. chaps. 4, 11, 2 Corinthians 7:5.] Notice, “mere weighed down exceedingly,” closely parallel to the original of 2 Corinthians 4:17.
2 Corinthians 1:9.—Little to choose between “answer” and “sentence.” [In A.V. and text and margin change places.] “We ask ourselves ‘Shall this end in life or in death?’ Our ‘answer,’ our ‘sentence’ upon ourselves, is ‘Death.’ ” “If we live, it will be a real resurrection by the power of God.” Cf. “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
2 Corinthians 1:10.—Notice in, “will deliver,” variant reading for “doth deliver.” If this be accepted, then the latter clause only reiterates “will” with an expression of strong “hope.” The nature of the “deliverance” is as uncertain to us as is that of the peril. “From” is almost, “out of the hand of.”
2 Corinthians 1:11.—Cf. for the thought Philippians 1:19. See the Corinthians working with and for Paul. Gift.—I.e. the “deliverance” primarily, but not excluding the “comfort,” or the “trust” (2 Corinthians 1:9), which had sustained him until deliverance came; and all is “grace,” a real “charism.” Persons.—Perhaps too technical a translation of what literally means “faces”; as if we saw a whole company with uplifted eyes and hands, and upturned faces, interceding for Paul. Also 2 Corinthians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 9:12 are parallel in thought.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Death and Deliverance.
I. Unrecorded dangers.—
1. What a glimpse of the life of Paul is given here. The Acts gives no “Life of St. Paul.” It is a chapter in the history of the growing “kingdom of God”; the things which Jesus went on to do and to teach after He was taken up. [But this lays precarious emphasis on “began” (Acts 1:1).] Paul, like Peter, is introduced, and dismissed, just when, and just so far as, the exigencies of that history demand. The whole story of the revelation and the historic evolution of the Kingdom is, in Old Testament and New Testament, written historically, and very largely biographically. But the men are secondary, the kingdom is first.
2. What adequate motive other than devotion to a Christ for the actuality of Whose life Paul had abundant evidence, would have carried him through so much? What he had surrendered is well known. What he gained in exchange he is now, and will eternally be, learning in the presence of his Christ. But the immediate return for the exchange was to be “in deaths oft,” as the climax of all other hardships. Yet through how much the love of Christ will carry a man! For wealth, or honour, or from fear of disgrace, men will do great things and will dare deaths. But to live a life of perpetual, “killing” hardship and peril, of obloquy and ignominy, of privation, of thankless and unthanked labour,—a “far more exceeding weight” of work and self-denial and shame and danger,—the only price with which to purchase such devotion is this: “The love of Christ constraineth me.”
3. The unrecorded martyrdoms, the unrecorded heroisms, of the Church are suggested. There are martyrdoms of daily life [“I die daily”] in the workshop, where one man has, with all wisdom and beauty of life, for years stood out a witness for, and a servant of, Christ; in the schoolroom and dormitory,—and there are no ingenuities of persecution and torture greater, in their proportion, than those devised by schoolboys and schoolgirls for a Christian confessor in their midst; at the table, where for years the husband has never broken a sullen silence towards his faithful wife except to complain, or sneer, or stab with keen words, because, and only because, she is a Christian; and the like. It is heroic, and has stirred the heart of the very persecutor, to see men, or even tender women, go to the stake with a song or a least a cheerful word, and stand quietly until the spirit escaped away, as in a chariot of fire, out of the midst of the flames which leaped up after it like disappointed hounds baulked of their prey. But the daily burden that presses “out of measure” until the most cheerful begin to say, “This will kill me”; the daily racking which tortures all that is finest and most sensitive in the nature; the daily danger which is faced in perilous mission-fields or in unhealthy city slums, as for Christ’s sake men and women go quietly forth morning after morning to the daily round,—this is carried, or borne, or done, without much comment, without indeed much notice. But One Heart knows it and rejoices in it. There is romance enough, heroism enough, martyrdom enough, in many quiet lives to kindle the enthusiasm of a Church or of a world, if it could only be known and read and written as He knows it, for Whom it is undertaken and faced and wrought.
4. He has a record where nothing is unwritten, nothing unrecorded; down to the last detail all is “entered up” in most perfect completeness; not a name which has borne anything, or been anything, for Him is omitted. So, too, there are—
II. Unrecorded deliverances.—What a story will some unknown saints have to tell in heaven, of their daily death indeed, but also of their daily deliverances! Not alone such foremost heroes as Paul, but many a hard-pressed, yet triumphant, “nobody,” in the knowledge and reckoning of even their Christian fellows, will have a story which is really one of perpetual miracle, a perpetual “resurrection.” Often, literally, “as good as dead” on all human lines of estimation, taking death into practical, near account every day, in the laying out of plans and the undertaking of work for Christ. Each new morning a new Easter morning, a life renewed as by a real raising up of God’s own hand. Many a burden, many a battle, many a danger, is never known outside the secrecy of the man’s own heart; and many a deliverance too. There must, moreover, be many deliverances unrecorded in even the privacy of the man’s own knowledge. In each day’s common life there must be for every man many occasions when danger, and even death, has been very really near, but, just because the deliverance has been so complete, he has passed through all in the happy, secure confidence of ignorance. Every ordinary journey has its peril. Every day’s duty offers at many points opportunity to “death.” Men could not bear to think of, or to know, through, and out of, how much they are daily being delivered.
III. Indirect blessing from these experiences.—
1. We may narrow 2 Corinthians 1:9 a little, and press its teaching with a particular application. The near prospect of death, if sanctified,
(1) Destroys all trust in ourselves. At that moment the vanity of all human endeavour and resistance to “fate,” is palpable. If the grace of God be yielded to, all trust in self for salvation may at that moment be destroyed. No lesson harder to learn, or more urgently necessary than this. Fundamental that the man should learn to put all reliance for salvation, not on anything within the circle of his own life and character, but wholly and entirely to make salvation depend upon Christ and His work. Yet not until face to face with eternity—and not always even then—is fully seen the unreliableness of everything within the man himself—everything he has been and has done, or has not been and has not done—as a resting-place for hope of acceptance before God. Thus it
(2) Disposes to trust in God. “ ‘To whom should we go?’ One moment more, and the mystery of the future will be a mystery no longer; where men have hitherto been inquiring, and speculating, and hoping or fearing, I shall know. One moment more and the world of which I do know something will have slipped from me, and I shall find myself in a world of which I know nothing. At home here, I shall be a stranger there, in a strange world. I am a sinner, and in one moment more, I shall find—what? What can I trust to for my ‘leap into the darkness’; what can assure me that I shall ‘light on my feet,’ and on sure ground of rest and peace? When I loose my hold, perforce, of a world of knowledge, and drop into a world which is entirely a matter of faith, what am I to trust to?” Nothing, except the promises of God in connection with the work of Christ. Invaluable and secure, or valueless and deceiving, will these in that supreme moment be. Trust in God, or nothing except a huge venture with an eternal risk. Happy if a man, thus shut up to trusting in his God in Christ does trust. But further there is
(3) The hope of resurrection. And this rests securely on the power and declared will of the “God who raises the dead.” “The (declarations of the) Scriptures and the power of God” were the two “heads” of an argument which Christ presented for the consideration of Sadducee doubters or unbelievers (Matthew 22:9). An argumentum ad homines, of course, like the appeal of Paul to Agrippa. The Jew, such a Jew as even Agrippa, could hardly “think it i credible that God—God—should raise the dead” (Acts 26:8).
2. The knowledge of others is to be enriched by our experience of deliverance.—“We would not have you ignorant,” etc. And so, too, God would not have them ignorant, and, for the sake of the glory of the God of the deliverance, and for the strengthening of their faith, would have His people communicate their experiences. A widely applicable principle. A reticence on such subjects, partly the result of temperament, and partly a tradition in many sections of the Christian Church, seals the lips of many, whose experience of the ways of God is most extensive, and would be most precious and helpful to other souls. A groundless and not very natural idea that such things are “too sacred to speak about,” coupled with a dislike, which has its honourable side, to be made the object of attention and to be the subject of one’s own talk, robs the Church of much testimony which would be its wealth. It is not a question of speaking of such deliverances before unsympathetic persons, “casting pearls before swine,” but of imparting them to those who are often in the like perils and trials, and need the same help and encouragements. To such hearers, often hungry for such help as testimony of deliverance would afford, and finding not their smallest difficulty in the thought that they are singular in their own experiences, it is a revelation and an inspiration to hear a fellow Christian—crucifying self, doing violence to habit and temperament, for the sake of glorifying the Deliverer and of helping souls—break the silence and tell his story of “death” and “deliverance.”
3. A wonderful unity of heart and effort is called out by Paul’s experiences (see fuller Homily on 2 Corinthians 1:11). The Pauls always owe much to the unknown pleaders in the Corinths; to those who can only “help together” by their pleading and “supplication.” How many deliverances did Paul owe to the fact that in every Church there were some who loved him, and who followed him wherever he went with “supplications.” How much of such a man’s success was by the Divine Eye—which alone can analyse the intricacies of such a problem—traceable to the many prayers put up for Paul by grateful hearts in his many Churches. “Success” is a very complex thing in itself, and in the causes which contribute to it. But not the least of these are the prayers of helpers who can only help by prayers. Paul and his work, with its accompaniments of danger, “death,” “deliverance,” rises up in a towering eminence in the view of the past of the Church’s history. But it rested upon a broad-spread, and in great part hidden, base, not the least solid stratum of which was laid in the prayers of his many helpers, “fellow-wrestlers,” with each other and with him, in their prayers for him (Romans 15:30).
2 Corinthians 1:10. The God of Deliverance.—Psalms 68:28, “He that is our God is the God of Salvation.” An old “note” of the God of the Bible; ever true.
I. Our lesson in grammar in God’s school.—
1. Can our heart conjugate the verb “deliver”? Yes. Present: “Doth deliver” [But query the reading?] Past: “Hath delivered.” Future tense: “Will deliver.” “God” in every case the “subject.” Whatever lesson we are slow to learn, we have had occasion enough to know this excellently well. He has given us plenty of practice. Yet the future tense does not at all times come very readily to our lips; we stammer at “Will deliver.” Our slow heart easily forgets “Hath delivered.” In the story of the goodness of our life, we find it hard to pick out in the sentence, in the incidents of to-day, the present tense with its nominative: “God doth deliver.” We will ask, as not the least mercy of His hand, a heart quick to pick Him out in the story, and to see His “deliverance” in every day’s common, commonplace, safety and help.
2. The difficulty is not all of our own heart’s creating. The very completeness of the “deliverance” in part creates it. We are brought through in such complete safety that we pass through in happy security, entirely ignorant that danger or need of help has been so near and so great. The monotonously ordinary security of a common day is sometimes—if only we saw it as He does who accomplishes it—a most marvellous “deliverance.” [Very often, indeed, He spreads “a table” for His people “in the presence of” their “enemies” (Psalms 23:5). He holds these back—in their impotent malice—while His guests eat His banquet of plentiful “goodness and mercy.” We see them, but banquet in peace, crying, “See how He doth deliver.”]
3. The Present is so closely linked with Past and Future that the present deliverance cannot be considered alone. It is rooted in the mercy of the past; it projects itself, inserts itself, [mortises itself,] into that of the future. The mercy of to-day—“doth deliver”—is only the newest, latest link of a chain of deliverances which reaches back to my earliest need, and will stretch onward to the latest moment of my life’s necessity. No mercy stands by itself; no deliverance is an isolated piece of goodness. No matter where the musing heart takes hold of the mercies of life, at whatever point it locates the Present Tense, it is led on backward, forward, by links of the closest association. Psalms 59:10 gets quoted with more than a verbal inaccuracy. It is false to the thought to say, “The God of my mercies.” The Psalmist says, and feels, more justly, “of my mercy.” Each incident of mercy is so closely linked with what precedes and follows, they follow so closely one upon another, that, in the review, they coalesce into one long “mercy” (Psalms 40:5). Indeed, to speak humanly, in the grammar of God’s thought there is no present, past, future. We use the words; we distinguish between the times. The deliverances emerge and present themselves to us, in order and temporal succession. But they are by no means separate and independent “deliverances.” They are incidents in one continuous deliverance. It is only human feeling which says, “Awake to help me!” (Psalms 59:4). Our God has no need to arouse Himself for each new emergency, to consider how to make at the moment some new provision for the new demand. [As in Creation, so in Grace,—and the two are one Work,—the “Father worketh hitherto” (John 5:17); He never takes His hand from the thing He is creating, from the life He is regulating and guiding. There are no briefest pauses in His attention and interest. There is no intermission, even for an instant, in His ceaselessly operative activity to “deliver.”] Must not be so overpressed as to become fatalism, with its inevitable, unalterable, predetermined order of incidents and persons, in a Christian man’s life and course. But he should thankfully remember that the daily new “deliverances” (in the widest sense) are parts of a lifelong Deliverance, details in the working out of “a Purpose” “to bring His many sons unto glory” (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 2:10). [Should be remembered also how central—as in the chapter, Romans 8:0., so in thought and fact—is the word “good” in Romans 8:28. The mere temporal “deliverance,” from perplexity, or persecution, or death, is not the main thing in the mind of the God of our “Deliverance.” These, indeed, are not always granted. [Sometimes the real “deliverance” is effected rather by His shutting up against us paths, doors, which we begged to be allowed to enter.] Such providential deliverances are given or withheld, according as will best subserve the “good,” the definition of which is the “conforming” each son of His family of adopted ones “to the image of the Son, the Firstborn amongst many brethren.” Such a deliverance from danger as Paul is thinking of, is not an unworthy thing for God to consult for, but its real purpose falls in with His larger plan of gracious working, in Paul and all whom his life may affect and influence, the goal of which is the perfected holiness of His people.] Present, past, future, are our human expression; the fact—of our deliverance, as of His purpose and love, Who is “I AM”—is a perpetually extended present of grace and power.
II. Paul’s confidence rests upon the God who delivers.—One lifelong deliverance; because One Mind, One Heart, One God, in all the deliverances of life. For this reason Paul counts upon deliverance; he counts upon Him! The future is as certain as the past, or present, because He may as certainly be reckoned with. “He cannot deny Himself”—i.e. He cannot at any point be unfaithful to His pledged word in the past, to His proved character in the past, to the precedents He has set in the past. His past acts and deliverances are “words” from His heart; He has declared in them what manner of God He is, and will be. He cannot turn His back upon the Self of past days, or upon His past principles of action. He can do no other, and can be no other, than His record in the past. Present, Past, Future, therefore, proceed in orderly, secure development. He can so guide and deliver His people to-day that the present shall fit harmoniously on to the past, and prepare the way for the future, with perfect sequence and adaptation; and the future deliverance is a certainty. [Has stamped His own unity upon His work in creation. This truth in modern theories of “development” is that no new created thing is isolated, a mere new beginning; it is always in close relation to the past; it is the next stage in the unfolding of an Idea upon which the Creator is ceaselessly at work; however modified, the lines of the preceding forms are in it; in its turn it preludes, and suggests, the coming forms. So His own unity is stamped upon the working of His delivering providence. Deliverance follows upon, grows out of, deliverance; deliverance preludes, and leads up to, deliverance. The heart that knows God finds the analogy run very closely; and the argument in it is: “One God; the God of my mercy.”] [Or, with another natural analogy. Give the astronomer six weeks, six months, six years—the longer the better—to make and collate and study observations of a new planet; and he will soon tell you where it may be looked for six years, or sixty, or six hundred years hence. He has “found the law” of its orbit and its motion. Paul records: “Hath delivered,” and “doth deliver.” Not two observations, but many a thousand, are embodied in that; he has “found the law” of the providence of his God. He says “Will deliver” with all confidence. He knows where to look for and to find his God.]
I. “We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
II. We’ll trust Him for all that’s to come.”
—Hymn by J. Hart.
2 Corinthians 1:11. Two Features in the Life of Citizens of the Kingdom of God.
I. “Circulation” in the life of the kingdom of God.—The cycle of life begins in, and returns to, prayer. “Prayer” first wins a “Gift”; then, the “Gift” won, and exhibited in its blessed fruits, calls out “Praise.” Then the-grateful, adoring Church begins the round again: making known its fresh requests once more; again getting the new answer; and then again acknowledging the mercy with new Praise. [Observe how the objective efficacy of Prayer is here assumed; prayer which is petition, and not merely adoration, contemplation, communion, with God, etc. Prayer—the consentaneous prayer of many persons—prevails, not only to their own blessing, but to secure for another person, Paul, not merely a spiritual grace, but an actual deliverance from very extreme peril.]
II. Union in the life of the kingdom.—The gift is bestowed in answer to the prayers of many; the thanks are given by many; many then help together in praying for the new deliverance.
1. There is solitary prayer which is of the mightiest; there is an offering of thanksgiving, in the holy privacy of the sanctuary within the heart, which is grateful exceedingly to God, but is a holy secret between the heart and Himself. But united prayer has a power all its own; united thanksgiving has a beauty and value all its own. [Cf. the strong figure in Romans 15:30 : “that ye strive [wrestle, agonise] together with me in your prayers for me.” As though, not one “wrestling Jacob,” but a Church every member of which is a “wrestling Jacob,” had all taken hold of, and were hanging upon, God, with “We will not let Thee go.”]
2. No Church is strong unless its individual members are strong, for prayer and for work. It is in secret prayer that they learn to pray. But the Church, meeting as such, for prayer and for thanksgiving, has a mighty power. United waiting upon God brought Pentecost; united waiting upon God had secured “deliverance” for Paul. There is a principle in the Church prayer meeting; a special promise belongs to it (Matthew 18:19).
3. The missionary agents of the Churches, in difficulty and peril, should be remembered in Church prayer, and thanksgiving rendered for their “gift” and mercy. [
4. All the efficacy of Sympathy is utilised by such united prayer and thanksgiving; the Church does well to have its thanksgiving meetings, as well as its prayer meetings; sluggish hearts are stirred, flagging interest in one is aroused by zeal in another; beginners learn to pray, and learn to discover matter for praise, as they listen to the older and more experienced members.] [Further, remember that this “agreeing to ask” is very much more than that a given number of persons, all convinced that some certain object of desire is laudable or needful, concur in making request for the same thing. It goes deeper; it is a union of conviction and desire and petition, born of the common presence in each of them of One and the Same Spirit of prayer. They are one in the Body and in the Head. It is the one Mind, Life, Heart, of the Body breathing out its desire through each of the company who “agree to ask.” (“Prayer in the Holy Ghost,” Jude 1:20.)]
2 Corinthians 1:12. Rejoicing.—stronger and more correct. Cognate word in Romans 5:2-3; Romans 5:11, where notice the varying translation; an exultant, sometimes defiantly exultant, joy. The “rejoicing” looks not backward to 2 Corinthians 1:17, but forward to the “testimony” etc., which occasions it. For.—Q.d. “You will thus pray, and give thanks, for us; we are not yet estranged; I have done, so far as I know, nothing on my part to estrange us.” Notice “holiness,” by a better reading; and “sincerity of God,” by a more literal translation; i.e. no sincerity of any innate goodness of character, but such sincerity as is the gift and work “of God.” “Unfolded, open, patent motive; pure and holy simplicity of motive; transparent sincerity of motive,” the three illustrations. Fleshly.—See 1 Corinthians 3:1, where, however, the reading is discredited. In … in.—For “with” and “by”; by a more exact translation and exposition of Paul’s thought of the contrasted life elements in which conduct might be rooted, and from which it might derive its inspirations and strength. Conversation.—In the wide sense of “conduct”; “If we so bore ourselves to any Church, much more did we to you at Corinth, although we be so misunderstood and misrepresented amongst you.”
2 Corinthians 1:13.—“There is no double sense, no under-thought, no arrière pensée, in either what I write, or what you read in the words. What you yourselves know or by my letters and speech may know, of the writer;—that is all.”
2 Corinthians 1:14. Glorying.—I.e. the matter of “glorying”; in 2 Corinthians 1:12, the act. “You were once proud of us, as you knew us; at least, ‘part’ of you were; you will have as good reason to be proud of us, to the end, I hope [cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12]; we were your boast, as you are ours.” No insincerity in such words of praise. They were true, and there was good reason that they should be true.
2 Corinthians 1:15-16. In this confidence.—“I had no reason to fear to come, as some fancy and allege, when I changed my plan.” The change of plan referred to in 1 Corinthians 16:6-7. “Before” going to Macedonia, instead of to Corinth viâ Macedonia. In his original plan he had intended to return to Corinth from Macedonia, thus giving them a “second” visit, a “second grace” (“benefit”). As a fact, therefore, they had what was to have been the “second,” without having had the “first.” The “journey to Judæa” was in Paul’s mind in Acts 19:21, and, in spite of the passing uncertainty mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:6, it was accomplished, Acts 21:15.
2 Corinthians 1:17. Flesh.—Cf. “fleshly wisdom,” 2 Corinthians 1:12. “Was I a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ man? Not knowing my own mind, or not keeping to my decisions, when I thought I did know it.”
2 Corinthians 1:18.—The personal matter is of importance, because the character of the messenger may involve that of the message. “It was not a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ Gospel.”
2 Corinthians 1:19.—Observe the accumulated names of Christ. No “Yes” and “No” Christ either! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:10.) Silvanus.—The “Silas” of the Acts. Trace him in Acts 15:22; Acts 15:27; Acts 15:32; Acts 15:34; Acts 15:40; Acts 16:19; Acts 16:25, etc., Acts 17:4; Acts 17:10; Acts 17:14; Acts 18:5. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1.) Then he suddenly disappears from the Acts and Epistles, unless he be intended in 1 Peter 5:12.
2 Corinthians 1:20.—See Separate Homily. gives well the corrected readings here and exact translation. Through us.—By whose instrumentality all this is proclaimed to men.
2 Corinthians 1:21.—Notice the margin “into” for “in Christ.” The process of uniting which ends in union with, and life “in, Christ” is made prominent and, so to speak, visible. Cf. Ephesians 1:13-14. Prefer the text of A.V. and to the margin of the These are not, even in the order of thinking, respectively antecedent and consequent blessings, but one blessing, one gift of the Spirit, under two aspects.
2 Corinthians 1:23.—Chap. 2 should begin here; no break after 2 Corinthians 1:24. Notice that the principle of a judicial oath is here, as in Matthew 26:63-64; as bearing upon Matthew 5:34. Notice “witness” for “record” in To spare you.—Q.d. the penalties he must have inflicted if he had come and been witness of their flagrant offences against Church order and even morality. What an implied power lies behind this restraint! (1 Corinthians 4:21). So he felt, and hastens to guard this claim to authority and to power to punish, against misconception and misrepresentation.
2 Corinthians 1:24. Dominion.—For the (original) word, cf. 1 Peter 5:2, and for the thought Mark 10:42. Faith.—Q.d. the personal life of which faith is the characteristic (they are believers if they are Christians at all), and the great foundation secret. No question of their “creed” here. Not “lords” over, but “helpers” with, that their life might be made bright with “joy” (an object worth aiming at in itself). By faith ye stand.—Not, as used here, a general maxim, one of the axioms of the Gospel, but a statement of fact in regard to the Corinthians. I.e. the emphasis is not upon “faith” but upon “stand”; not, “It is by faith that you win and keep your status” but, “Imperfect as you are, yet you are still so far believers that you do keep your standing in Christ.” Q.d. (also) “We cannot overthrow you; you overthrow yourselves, if ye be overthrown at all.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 1:12-22
I. Observe how Paul meets criticism.—
1. Every public man gets it; invites it. We are perpetually, whether public persons or private, running the gauntlet of somebody’s scrutiny and “judgment.” If criticism be that of those who presumably are competent critics, a wise man will pocket his resentment at any unfair animus which may be associated with it, and, with the aid of the objective estimate of him, not too graciously furnished, will endeavour to see how much of truth there is in it.
2. Paul shows no bitterness against his Corinthian critics, nor does he “ride off on the high horse” and disdain reply altogether. There is a silence in the presence of criticism which is really obstinacy and pride. “If I cannot be trusted, I will say nothing.” To play at “despising criticism” is a game at which two parties can play, so far as the “despising” goes. Paul explains. It was not an unreasonable demand that he should explain his change of plan. The Christian minister, above all, must not “cut” or “drop” hastily, or in personal pique, even his unfairest critic. This may prove to be the necessity of the case in the end. But it should be the last step, reluctantly taken. If, moreover, he is the man’s pastor, he is under obligation to the man’s soul, even that man’s. Better to answer him temperately, and offer all reasonable explanation. Anybody can cut men off from friendship or from a Church. It is a greater thing to conquer, or keep, by winning the opponent’s judgment or respect and perhaps his esteem or affection. Sometimes—not always—patience, transparent sincerity, holiness, and explanation will do this.
3. Not resentfully, but solemnly, Paul offers his conduct to God’s examination. “I call God for a witness” etc. He can look himself in the face; he has “the testimony of his conscience,” etc. Under the penalty of God’s judgment “upon his soul,” he can challenge God to look into his heart and to examine his motives. We are reminded of the frequent protestations of innocence made by David in the Psalms [early in his life], made as before God. No real difficulty in them, to any man with any practical experience of life. It is one thing to lay bare before God that inmost life, which is for the most part only known to God, and to confess its sinfulness, not daring or desiring to do anything else; it is quite another thing, in regard to the official life, or even the private life so far as it is known (“acknowledged,” 2 Corinthians 1:14) to men by ordinary observation, and in regard to particular charges, to lay it before God for His verdict, appealing from man’s unfair, or prejudiced, or malicious, judgment of it to His perfect knowledge of the inmost motive and heart. In doing this there is no Pharisaism, no spiritual pride, no self-righteousness. God is on the side of right; the man who has walked in “holiness and sincerity of God” before Him may claim His judgment, and will not claim it in vain.
4. Happy then the man who has the “testimony of his conscience,” and can appeal even to his very critics in their honest mood (2 Corinthians 1:14). If a man will keep conscience and character right before God, he may leave God to take care for his reputation amongst men. If he can confront God, he may carry his head, not “high,” but with calm assurance, in the face of men.
II. Observe for what reason Paul is sensitive to criticism.—
1. For one thing only. It is not necessary to suppose that he cared nothing for the goodwill, or even the good opinion, of his Corinthian people. “I don’t care for anybody’s judgment” need not necessarily be a Christian indifference (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:3). But there is a sensitiveness as to “what people think,” which is vanity and pride, hungry for praise.
2. To Paul his character is here a matter of concern chiefly because of his responsibility in connection with the Gospel he had in trust for God. “I don’t care about the character of the preacher, if I get a good sermon!” “The seed will grow, if it be real and have the life in it, whoever sows it!” “Cannot God save—has He not before now saved—by the word of wicked men?” All these are heard, and have enough truth in them to make them serviceable. But, as usual, they need a complementary truth to balance and guard them, and to give the whole round of what is true in the matter. Paul at any rate felt that if he were a man whose promises could not be relied upon—lightly made, lightly kept, lightly broken—there might be a question whether his view of the Gospel had been lightly come by, and accepted; whether it were a thing lightly held. A man who says and unsays in a breath, or in quick succession, who is shallow and fickle in the simple matters of everyday life, is he the man to whom God will really have revealed His Son and His Gospel? [For it is to be remembered that Paul, like every apostle, was not simply an expositor of a fixed and complete body of teaching, a record quite independent of him; as the modern preacher is. He was an original source, through which God was giving new truth to the world; through Paul, in part, was being given the growing Gospel of God in Christ. His character therefore stood in closer relation to his preaching than a modern preacher’s can. Still, it is true that] a minister may, must, be specially jealous of his good name, inasmuch as, justly or unjustly, any imputation upon him will be reflected upon the Gospel he preaches. Equivocation, falsehood, acted deception, no dependence to be placed upon principles, or character, or promises, are serious blots on the ministerial character. The mere suspicion of such things were serious.
3. And this goes higher. As the Gospel, so the Giver of the Gospel. If it were not Truth, absolute, reliable (1 Timothy 1:15), infallible, it might either compel us to modify our idea of the Christ Himself, or at best might be discredited or dismissed, as not from Him at all. Christ’s character cannot, as Paul’s conceivably might, be dissociated from that of the Gospel. As He is, it is. He repeatedly—it is one of the marked characteristics of His teaching—identifies Himself with the Gospel. He is the Gospel.
4. And yet again, as is the Gospel, as is the Christ of the Gospel, so is the God who gives the Christ. God is faithful, Christ is faithful, every promise is faithful, the Gospel which contains them all is faithful, and the very preachers are not unworthy of the Gospel they represent and proclaim.
2 Corinthians 1:12. [May be made the occasion of a sermon upon] Conscience.
1. Man, alone of God’s earthly creation, can know himself.—Paul can be the subject and object of an act of cognition and reflection. Paul can talk to himself about himself. One of the marks of his personality; one thing which marks in him the “image of God.” Also Godlike in this: can know and judge between “right” and “wrong,” in the moral sense, and according to God’s standard. [The creatures find out what brings pleasure, or what brings their master’s punishment. Men quickly find what is advantageous, or what means pain, trouble, loss. But moral “wrong” and “right” are more than this.] By self-consciousness man can know himself; by conscience can judge of himself, his thoughts, words, acts. Conscience can even judge conscience! [
2. The “cor—” is a real personification. A man can, if he will, keep his inner self a secret, locked up from those who know and love him best; an inner shrine of privacy whose door he can close against all comers (1 Corinthians 2:11). “All,” except another Self who shares this knowledge along with him; from whom no secret can be hid; who knows everything, and will “have its say,” and pronounce its judgment, upon everything.]
3. Very little use in discussing whether this be a distinct faculty, or only the judgment exercising itself upon moral questions, as it might upon the wisdom or unwisdom of actions or motives. “Words, to no profit” (2 Timothy 2:14). Surest basis of any attainable knowledge is found in the Scriptural distinction between “soul” and “spirit.” [Primary text on this topic, 1 Thessalonians 5:23; the only complete enumeration of the elements of the (so-called) trichotomy of man’s nature. All three are mentioned elsewhere. Scripture consistent throughout in the distinctive use of “soul” and “spirit,” in both Old and New Testament. All Paul’s vocabulary of the religious life is built up upon the distinction. Notably in 1 Corinthians 2:0).] No animal is more than body + “soul.” The life of “body + soul,” with all their powers and faculties, in varying degrees of development and training, is the “natural” life. The “natural man’s” life finds there its range and limit. What is (often only in very rudimentary, but germinal, form) found in the activities of the material and immaterial part of the animal, “from the oyster to the eagle” (Alford), but developed, cultured, to largest range and highest pitch of perfection,—these are the life of the “natural man,” except that in him also there remains personality, with its self-knowledge and its self-determining will,—part of the “image of God” not lost. [But some would include this within the life of the “spirit” also. The line of demarcation is not easy, perhaps not possible, to draw. Certainly] the conscience belongs to the “spirit,” the Godlike, God-capable, side of human nature. It is its “eye” (Matthew 6:22; Ephesians 1:18 [N.B. var. reading]). It is the organ of all knowledge of “spiritual” things; its possession puts man into communication with that “spiritual” world, in which God, sin, redemption, guilt, holiness, are ruling facts. The judgment of the intellect is per se, neutral, non-moral; the judgment of the conscience is moral, concerned with the ethics whose basis is the law of God.
II. In any case a distinction must, very helpfully, be drawn between the faculty for knowing moral differences and the actual and correct knowledge of them.—
1. Conscience is the Judge seated on the bench, ready to administer, and apply to any cases and questions proposed, any law supplied to It. It makes no law; It may administer a bad, or imperfect, or mistaken law; It may judge by an imperfect standard. It is the Eye, made for the purpose of distinguishing Light from Darkness; possessing the power to distinguish, even while there is no Light actually given. It can of itself supply no Light; of itself it can enact no code, can establish no tests of Beauty or Deformity. It is a moral sense, analogous, say, to the æsthetic sense (Philippians 1:9, Greek). The Law and all knowledge of it, what actually is Beautiful or Evil, Light or Darkness,—these must come, must be given, to Conscience from without. It recognises, but cannot by itself originate or discover, truth. Truth is a revelation; Conscience is only organon. [Said Rabbi Duncan, similarly, of Reason: “It is certainly more of an instrument of discovery than a discoverer. At least, I don’t think it has discovered much. It is of use to show its own impotence, and of use to welcome revelation” (Colloquia Peripat., 62).]
2. No race, no man, is ever actually found with nothing but the bare faculty; the Judge is never left without some knowledge of the law and will of God; the eye is always visited with some light with which to deal. But this is grace, not conscience. It is something added to, an endowment of, the bare faculty. “Innate” ideas of morals are really implanted ideas. The most elementary knowledge of “right” and “wrong” according to the mind of God; the response which the heart and conscience sooner or later always make—approving, accepting, applauding—to the “right” as God estimates it, whenever it is proposed to their judgment,—these are the fruits of the Redemption of the Race by Christ; part of the “free gift which has come upon all men,” designed to issue in, and lead “unto, justification of life” (Romans 5:18); they are rays, dim and scanty perhaps, of “the light that lighteth every man” (John 1:9). The heathen have some (Romans 2:14-15); it needs supplementing, guiding, training, by the use of the written Word. The inner light needs the check, the direction, the interpretation of the objective Standard. And if, of the two selves and their utterances and judgments, there can be no doubt to a man in any degree of spiritual health which is the worthy and true; if the Judge knows God’s law at all, and responds to it, and gives right judgment as before God; if the Eye has any light, and recognises it, and loves it,—this is all grace, the working and gift of the Holy Spirit, Whom the death of Christ has made in some measure the birthright privilege and possession of every human soul.
III. How far are the judgments of conscience authoritative and final?—
1. As the æsthetic sense, the sense for beauty, may, by being accustomed to bad models, be perverted or depraved, until it may even come to prefer the poor, and mean, and unworthy, and ugly; or as it may be developed, and its sensitiveness may be cultivated, to a very high pitch of delicacy, till it judges rightly, by a swift, infallible instinct which does not stop to reason, nor could always give its “reasons”; so may the moral sense, the Conscience. As the judge from the bench may grow accustomed to a bad, defective, or iniquitous law, or may even come to rejoice in injustice, whilst knowing it unjust; or, as he may get continually a wider knowledge of a perfect Code, and may develop a growing readiness and delicacy of just perception of its applicableness to particular cases; so may the inward judge, the Conscience. The eye may grow diseased until the very light is painful, and it seeks darkness; so may the moral eye, the Conscience. [Hence Paul’s perfectly conscientious persecution was sin. Its conscientiousness did not make it right. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”—but they needed “forgiving.” Ignorance in their case, conscientiousness in Paul’s, left the door open for mercy. In him the judge wanted a better law; though how much of pride, self-will, hatred of Jesus of Nazareth, mingled with his conscientious, zealous activity in persecution, perhaps only his Lord could tell.] Hence the need for the objective, absolute, Divine Standard. The “light within” may “become darkness.” The eye may cease to be “single.” [“Right by my clock.” But what of the “clock”? “Correct by my scales,” “true by my yard measure.” But what of the “scales” and “measure”? They need bringing constantly before the (Divine) Office of Weights and Measures for examination, and perhaps adjustment. Tell me the moral company you make your Judge keep—both in reading and in actual social intercourse; he may have become corrupted, and be giving, not the judgments of God, but the foolish or wicked decisions of an evil age or set, and may even have come to judge as your own wicked heart desires. (In some handicrafts the workers always, day and night, wear gloves, so as to keep the delicate sensitiveness of touch unimpaired).]
IV. Hence conscience may be trained.—Like any other faculty. We learn not only to walk, but to see with eyes which, as organs for sight, -were perfect at birth. Give more and more of knowledge; keep the best standard before conscience; live in the company of holy people, and of the Holy One Himself; conscience will thus learn to think and judge after the standard of God.
V. The only morally hopeless man is the man who has so grieved the Spirit of God that He has withdrawn not the capacity, indeed, but the modicum of knowledge—which was His original gift, and was only maintained, like all “good,” by His ceaseless grace. The eye may die with ill-usage, or with disuse. The judge who is never appealed to, or is disregarded, may slumber on the bench more and more deeply, until he seems past awakening, or sits practically dead upon the very judgment seat; representative of the King though he is, he may cease to speak, or may be past speech. Yet note, these are figures which may be pushed until they become falsehoods. The eye may seem dead from disease or disuse, yet we should never assume that it is past awakening to its old activity. If the light return, it may, except in the rarest instances, still be opened, and may resume its old function of seeing and distinguishing. Perhaps the judge seldom or never really vacates his seat; he may be roused, and indeed will rouse himself, at the sound of the judgment trumpet, if not before. He will resume his office, if it be only eternally to condemn. [Manhood came into the world in its complete equipment, personal, capable of God, and will go complete into eternity. Children had a conscience before they knew it. The lost have not lost it. The saved in heaven have it still, though there it has only occasion to approve.]
VI. Conscience may approve, as well as condemn; may be a real comfort, a very effective strength.—So here. Through misconceptions and misrepresentations and opposition Paul holds on his way. Men at Corinth or elsewhere may say and do what they please in regard to him, he can look them, and still more can look himself, in the face and say, “In simplicity” etc. [In a qualified sense: “Which of you convicteth me of sin?”] Majorities do not settle morals for the Christian man; he may have to be solitary, singular, with nobody on his side, or agreeing with his judgment, except his Master above him, and his Judge within him. “Our rejoicing is this,” etc. [May illustrate the topic by the barometer on board the vessel sailing between the Tropics. It is the soul’s aneroid, giving early, decisive warning of danger otherwise perhaps unseen. Or by the little dog which lies carved in marble at the feet of his master, on the tomb of William the Silent at Delft. By barking, and scratching his face, he had awoke his master and so saved his life, on the occasion of a night attack on the tent of William by the Spaniards in the camp before Mons. William had only just time to escape. Good to have such a friend. Men have, in Conscience.] [Some men have this “candle of the Lord” only to put it out, that they may better sleep sin’s sleep in undisturbed darkness.] [“A stony, benumbed, bribed, deluded, muzzled conscience” (Bunyan).]
2 Corinthians 1:20. Christ the “Yea” and the “Amen.”
I. The promises of God.—
1. “How many soever be,” etc. What a suggestion of their number. No stint in His measure in this, as there is in nothing else which He provides for man. He gives promises “with both hands earnestly” (Micah 7:3). “Good measure, pressed down, running over, into our bosom” (Luke 6:38). It is God’s style of dealing with us. He promises worthily of Himself.
2. What a suggestion of their variety. Such old-fashioned books as Clarke’s Faithful Promiser may have been too mechanical in their tabulation of the promises, and their apportionment to the different needs and occasions, so that the reader might look for a promise, as it were, docketed and put away in a labelled “pigeon-hole,” ready for reference and production at a moment’s notice. But such a book was at least the product of a familiar and thorough knowledge of the Word of God, which had led up to the conviction that no need could arise, or had ever arisen, in the life of a child of God, but it had been anticipated by the Father, and that for it the Father had said the exactly right and sufficient thing. The style of book may go out of fashion—and may come into fashion again—but the fact remains. St. Paul’s Bible—the Old Testament Scriptures—is a mine of wealth for the heart of the child of God. He hardly had in his thought here any cento of promissory “texts” from the Old Testament, though the fulness and appropriateness of these is a fact which every year’s fuller knowledge of the Word of God will confirm, with more abundant reason for strong conviction. In every direction in which need may lead or drive us, we find words which “might have been”—is that all we should say?—“written for the occasion.” [An old missionary in Fiji (known to H. J. F.), crossing over the island where he resided, to his Sunday morning’s work, found, at the crest of a long and toilsome hill which he had to climb in the sun’s full heat, and in the enervating, relaxing atmosphere, a stick planted in the ground, and to it were attached two or three fresh-gathered cocoa-nuts, whose sweet, cool “milk” might refresh him on his journey to preach. A paper tied to the stick explained that a native, knowing that the preacher must needs pass that way that morning, had so provided beforehand refreshment for his wearied teacher.] [Or the illustration may be the cache of preserved meats or vegetables, put away beneath a cairn of stones by Arctic explorers, as a provision for any lost or starving party who may pass that way.] Turn we in any direction, in the day of any distress, a promise confronts us, made for the occasion. The promise is at any rate the paper tied to the stick, the flag left flying over the cache, to call attention to the substantial help which is “laid up for those that fear God” (Psalms 31:19). The promise is there, the help is there. [Often difficult to defend in cool reason such a use of a mere “scrap” of Scripture, torn away from all context and history, as Bunyan once made, when greatly distressed as to what might become of his family if he were taken from them. He found comfort in Jeremiah 49:11, “Leave thy fatherless children, and let thy widows trust in Me”; words spoken to Edom, the enemy of the people of God. Yet such a use of a fragment of Scripture is but one of innumerable examples in the life and practice of some of the wisest, holiest, most spiritual people in every age and Church, and is not lightly to be despised or set aside as unwarranted. Does not the Spirit of God in such cases guide the instincts of God’s people, and give intuitions of truth which reason afterwards justifies? In this particular instance there is at any rate in the words a revelation of the heart of God which, if thus disposed even to Edomite enemies, surely warranted the faith and hope of the Bunyans of all time.] No need without its promise of supply, in infinite variety.
3. What a suggestion of the “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). Stars of first magnitude in the expanse of revealed mercy, which overarches all the need and weakness of man’s life. [There are many of smaller magnitude. With the trained eye, the closer scrutiny, the more help, the more of such “stars” are brought into view. Heaven would be poorer without any one smallest “star.” Not the magnitude, but the steadiness, of the pole-star makes it valuable to steer by.] Extraordinary promises of extraordinary help for extraordinary needs, needs perhaps occurring but once in a lifetime, but not forgotten or left unprovided against. [In a banker’s private room may now and again be seen a £10,000 bank-note; a rare thing, a curiosity—cancelled, of course. “I promise to pay,” etc. “An exceeding great and precious promise.” There are £5 promises, £10, £100, in the Word—and still more truly in the heart—of God; and there are £10,000 promises, and these never “cancelled”!] Their number, variety, fulness, and sufficiency are all worthy of, and quite “natural” to expect from.
II. The God of the promises.—
1. They are worth nothing, they are nothing, but for their connection with Him. The cheque or the bank-note is in itself a nearly valueless piece of a rather special make of paper, but it passes from hand to hand, as full of value, not only because “there is money at the back of it,” but because there is a person at the back of it somewhere. It is part of that “transfer of credit” which forms so much of the money-settlements of modern business; the credit is that of the credible and solvent person somewhere. So the heart does not so much rely upon a promise as upon a Promiser. Behind the word of promise there is indeed the store of provision for its redemption; but the real guarantee and ground of its helpfulness is that it is His promise, who is the “faithful God” (2 Corinthians 1:18). There is no ultimate rest in propositions, or in promises, but in a Person.
2. What a view of God’s character. May dwell with adoring, grateful wonder upon the reputation He has earned in the story of the Church, or in our personal life as a “promise-keeping God.” Filled with astonishment as we see how perfectly, and in face of what “difficulties” (as we humanly speak), He has fulfilled His promises; so that, with accumulating wealth of proof, the testimony always is, “There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken, … all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). “There hath not failed one word of all His good promise” (1 Kings 8:56). But there is an earlier, perhaps a greater wonder, that He is a “promise-making God.” Moreover, not waiting to be asked to promise to help or to save, but promising [“answering,” Isaiah 65:24] before men ask; providing for our fears and our needs before they have arisen, and in that fact binding Himself to help, or bless, or make holy. His are the promises of a God Who has volunteered them; Who in His loving forwardness towards us, proffers His help. And since the words are from His lips, promises are prophecies. He promises that things shall be; then they shall be. There is no doubt, so far as the fulfilment depends upon Him. And in cases where man’s own act or his moral attitude is the necessary condition of the fulfilment, then the very moment the condition is fulfilled on man’s side, there is no delay, no reluctance, on God’s side to finish the matter—He does not need a moment’s persuasion to induce Him to follow up the fulfilment of the condition by doing his own part; He fulfils His part on the instant. He is a God Whose willingness to give is indicated by His unsolicited readiness to promise. A promise-making God!
3. It may almost be said that He is a God of more promises than there are in the Bible. Let the old-fashioned bookmaker compile laboriously, and classify, and codify, every scrap of Scripture language which can be made to exhibit the shape of a promise, yet the book would not meet all needs of man’s life. So far as finding an explicit and applicable “text” goes, many an emergency may arise which does not readily range itself under any of the categories for which corresponding promises have been selected. There is something—if not exactly “a text”—in the many-sided, perfect Word of God for every heart in every demand which its life makes. But if it should not be at once, or readily to be found, at least there is something in God. His very nature and character are a fruitful ground of new promises. If it were so, that an absolutely unique and novel need had arisen, not provided with its discoverable written promise in the storehouse of the Bible, the heart might turn with its need to God. The certain, prompt, sufficient response of the heart of God would be, as it were, a new promise coined at the instant. A promise is His will expressing itself toward the cry of man’s need. The up-leaping of His ready heart and will towards the soul that seeks Him with its appeal for help, is an offer of help, a promise of it. The heart of the promise-making God bears within itself, and brings forth on the occasion, an infinite wealth of new “promises.” In all this He is the God the highest expression, and the most complete, of Whose will and heart toward mankind is Christ. Which leads to
III. Christ the great Promise and the Ratification of all other promises besides.—
1. “How many … be the promises” they are all in Him. All approach of God to man has always, and only, been in Christ. He is the Condition sine quâ non of all intercourse between God and man, in both directions. In Him God has approached man, has offered to man, has promised to man, not so much this or that gift or grace or mercy or help, as in effect all gifts, all grace, all mercy and help. The whole attitude of God toward redeemed Humanity is “bodily-wise” (Colossians 2:9) expressed and exhibited in Him Whose significant name is “Immanuel.” A God in His holiness arrayed against a sinful Race in necessary antagonism, is a thing more than conceivable. A God holding aloof in supreme indifference would not be an impossibility. In point of happy fact, the God with whom our Race has had to do has been a “God with us.” The whole attitude of God towards man, as we know Him in Christ, is a proffer and a promise, containing within it implicitly a promise for every need of man’s soul. Each single promise with its fulfilment is but a particular expression of all that whole approach, that volunteered offer of Himself—with all the infinite “contents” of that thought—which is made in the very fact of the gift of Christ. Each single promise and its fulfilment is a detail of the one first, summarising gift and grace—Christ. [Romans 8:32 approaches this, but translating the ineffable fact into human thought with a difference, rather argues: “If He began with the greatest He had to give, He has so set the fashion and precedent of His bounty that, after that Gift, man may well expect anything. He who has given the thousands of pounds, will not hesitate to add the odd shillings and make them into guineas. After the first Gift, every smaller bounty man may need or ask, is a trifle.” Here we go beyond this.] Every new promise, and every new gift or mercy or deliverance by which it is redeemed and fulfilled, is not here conceived of as an additional act of God’s bounty. It was already given in Christ. To speak in human language, it would be inconsequent, illogical, for the God Who gave “His Son Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:19), to refuse to fulfil any word of promise which may be pleaded by a soul in need of help. It would be to “go back upon” what was said and done, upon “the Word” which God uttered, when He sent His Son, “His unspeakable Gift,” into the world. The One Gift was in effect a Promise; it anticipated, summarised, pledged, all subsidiary detailed promises besides; it also pledged their fulfilment.
2. So then Christ is God’s “Yes.” Men come asking large things. “Is it really of any use to ask or expect so much?” they say with honest misgiving. They come asking again and again; He never denies them, but their heart wonders whether “by their continual coming they may not weary Him.” They are filled with a sense of unworthiness, none more deeply than the holiest of His people: “I am not fit to come, not worthy to be heard.” They have ill-employed grace given in the past: “He might justly ‘upbraid’ (James 1:5) for our neglect or waste of past bounty.” And so on, through all the round of the varying and abundant reasons for doubt, for expecting nothing. Here is one abundant reason for expecting anything, everything. Like His own “in no wise” (John 6:37) which anticipates all difficulties, answers beforehand all disheartening “reasons,” takes in every variety of case and age and sin, among the guilty souls who “come” to Him, so this word by anticipation silences all questions, meets all fears, replies to all misgivings, makes all unfitness and past unfaithfulness to be of no practical bearing upon the matter in hand. Is there a real need? Is there an actual promise of supply and help? That is all. Or do men half hope that they may find the heart of God to be willing, and yet hardly dare to come with much definite hope? God has said “Yes” beforehand, in the gift, and the very person and work, of Christ. He gave the petitioner the answer, before the petitioner brought his prayer. “In Him is the Yea.”
3. “Through Him is the ‘Amen.’ ” Granted that a man wins his answer, has his need supplied, his promise fulfilled to him, what guarantee has he of secure enjoyment, of long possession of his blessing? The answer is once more, “Christ.” God’s mercy in Christ both anticipates the gift, and rounds it off, when given, with a holy ratification. The same Heart which desired to give, and actually gave, desires that the gift should be kept and added to; desires, moreover, to give further grace to keep the first grace. God clenches His gift with His own “Amen.” If such a distinction must be made, the Spirit Himself, the Author of all strength to follow up and keep any grace given in, and for the sake of, Christ, is a gift bestowed “through” the Mediator-work of the Son. God’s acceptance of the prayer is a very real “Amen” to it, but the following it up and sealing it by further grace, is a very real ratification of the fulfilled promise. And this is through Christ.
And as such glorious truth is preached, is it not “to the glory of God”?
2 Corinthians 1:21-22. A Fourfold Grace of the Spirit.—[Three homilies may be here suggested.]
1. The Spirit gives strength and stability to Christian character.—
1. The figure here implied in the word is different, but the thought is the same as in “rooted and grounded” (Ephesians 3:17), “rooted and built up” (Colossians 2:7). The Christian is no “chaff driven before the wind” (Psalms 1:4); he is the “tree planted.” He is no tent or frail tabernacle of boughs, easily set up, as easily struck or swept down by the violence of a storm; he is a solid and substantial building. He is no mere “house upon the sand,” but “founded upon a rock.”
2. Our word here says that the grafting “into Christ has made no temporary union, nor one easily destroyed. There is strength in it; it gives strength to the character, stability and fixedness of purpose and principle and course. Men can “count upon” such a Christian. They know what to expect from him. He is a fixed quantity in all their reckoning. They know that he will always act as “a man in Christ.”
3. The man is, to himself and to others, reliable. An old pastor returning to his former Church is not afraid to ask about him, lest he should have sadly to learn that he has fallen out of his place in the Church and “in Christ.” Rather the “tree planted” (Psalms 1:0), “rooted in” Christ, is like those age-old olives and terebinths of Palestinian landscape, which, amidst the ephemeral growths that clothe the hillsides for a few brief weeks after the spring rains have fallen, stand ever in the same place by “the rivers of water”; Christians once, Christians to the end.
4. In the jungle at the mouth of the Ganges are whole forests of luxuriantly growing trees whose roots spread widely, but barely take hold of the soil; the burst of the monsoon uproots them by the hundred: as the first rush of temptation or persecution sweeps down or roots up the men in Christ who are not “stablished.” Great havoc in some Churches is wrought by a time of sharp testing!
5. How the pyramids of Egypt sit age after age foursquare to every wind, bearing indeed the marks of years and violence, but unmoved by earthquake or time. That broad based, immovable stability is the very ideal of the steadfastness of the Christian life; not the unstable equilibrium of the “pyramid upon its apex” or even of the beautiful but slender column. There are characters in every Church which need buttress and prop and “under-pinning”; and, when pastor and Church have done all they can for such, they never arrive at any real steadiness or stability.
6. A false idea of “humility” has often misled sincere souls in this matter. The will and grace of God, Who by His Spirit “stablished us in Christ” have, without intention, been dishonoured. Men have expected to fall, at least “occasionally.” They have supposed that only spiritual pride or presumption could claim to have stood firm for a whole day, or still less for a whole week or year. It has been deemed “humble” to understate, when bearing testimony, the measure of strength and stability which the Spirit of God has actually wrought in them. But God’s Spirit deserves the credit of all He has wrought; other souls need the testimony to encourage and hearten them to expect larger possibilities, a keeping and a strength not unworthy of the grace of God. If only all the glory be given to “God Who stablisheth,” the man in Christ cannot expect, or get, and testify to, too much of stability.
7. Or conceive of it as the strength of full and healthy life; the strength of a branch in a healthy vine, of a vigorous limb in a healthy body; the stability of a strength-bringing, life-giving, lifelong union to Christ.
8. Also the connection between the steadiness of union with Christ, and steadiness of belief in the great doctrines which are of the foundation of the Faith, is of the closest. The settled experience does something to give or to keep a settled faith. The great doctrines of the Christian Gospel are by no means matters of correct knowledge only, even on such supremely important themes; they are translated into experience in every spiritual man. When he speaks of or engages in discussion or controversy about the Atonement or the Trinity, it is not chiefly his creed that is in question, but his very life. The articles of his Creed are the elements of his life; really “vital” points. The man who year after year is steadily “in Christ” is at this immense advantage in controversy, that with a growing, experimental knowledge he knows the great foundation truths of Christianity to be truths indeed. He is a witness, and his testimony cannot readily be shaken. He himself is not easily “shaken in mind, nor troubled neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). With “an experience,” he may, if need require, hear or read what would grievously unsettle many souls. He is “stablished.”
II. The Spirit gives an “anointing.”—
1. The foundation of this frequently asserted truth is laid deep in the community, the unity of Christ and His people. He is par excellence the Anointed of God. It is His Name as Messiah. All that anointing meant in history, and symbol, and ritual in Israel; all that it meant to king or priest to receive the outpouring of the sacred oil,—that it meant in pre-eminent fulness of meaning to Him. “He is anointed … above His fellows” (Hebrews 1:9; [Psalms 45:7]) indeed, but they are “His fellows,” in this as in all besides. The “thing is true in Him and in them” (1 John 2:8). It is one of the many instances where New Testament language, used of the Incarnate Son of God, may be applied to and used by the “adopted” (Romans 8:15) “sons of God.” In a very pregnant sense they too are “Christs”; anointed ones, like Him. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One” (1 John 2:27).
2. They have a very real “priesthood,” not in heaven only [Revelation 1:6, if this be not retrospective; but see again Revelation 1:10, and (? in the opposite direction)Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:6], but on earth. They fulfil better, though not perfectly, the ideal which was scarcely more than a beautiful ideal in ancient Israel; they are a “kingdom of priests” [Exodus 19:6; which Peter expounds correctly as “a royal priesthood” (1 Corinthians 3:9)], i.e. a royal dynasty, every one of whom is a priest. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege and the endowment of their high character and function amongst men and toward God.
3. Their “royalty” it one of dignity of character, rather than of function. “Royal” because their Father is King. So far as they may be said to rule mankind, it is by moral force and by the power of ideas. So far as each Christian man is so “filled with the Holy Ghost and power” that he moves in and out amongst his fellows, in the home, or the world, or the Church, a power to repress evil and banish it by his very presence, and a power to encourage good to declare itself and be bold in the assurance of his support; so far is he king. [The artisan in the workshop, the medical student in the dissecting-room, the clerk in the office, the very schoolboy in the playground, who so bear themselves that foul language or foul doing or selfishness are ashamed in their presence, and hide themselves or are silenced, are in their circle in virtue of the royalty of holiness true kings. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” What a real victory and supremacy does the quiet but thorough Christian girl enjoy in many a home!] Christian ideas rule the world, and, along with that active, progressive civilisation which owes so much to, and is found in so nearly exclusive association with, Christianity, surely, though too slowly, are taking possession. So far as in the senate, in the press, in the business, in the daily labour, in the family and personal life, each Christian man is exhibiting them, and so is propagating them, and helping forward their wider predominance and sway, so far is he sharing in His Master’s dominion and royal rule in the earth; in his little measure he is a king. God’s modern Israel, with their sacred deposit of Christian truth, are, like ancient Israel amongst the nations, and like Him who gathers up into Himself all the characteristics of the Ideal Israel, given for “leaders and commanders to the peoples” (Isaiah 55:4). There is a very real rule over evil in their own hearts, exercised in virtue of the Spirit poured out upon them. In the dim perspective of the future the “saints shall take the kingdom” (Daniel 7:18); and there are mysterious suggestions of a share with Christ in the royal rule of the consummated “kingdom of God” [e.g. Revelation 3:21; and, earlier, Matthew 19:28].
Two things are to be noted. First, if the character be lost, the royalty is lost. They are only kings thus, in so far as, and so long as, the “anointing” rests upon them. [Saul’s royalty lingered later in historical fact, but, theocratically, his royalty was gone when “the Spirit of God departed from him.”] There is no caste of men to-day by birth an indefeasibly royal Israel. Secondly, noblesse oblige. The Christian man should live up to his character. With all humility will he wear his honour, because it is all of grace; but he has an honour to wear, and in his friendships, his pleasures, his business, every occupation of his life, should remember that there are things this Divine “royalty” cannot do, places to which it cannot go, there is company which it cannot keep, there are friends which it may not choose to cultivate. If one of this royal race will persist in forgetting his high honour, he will grieve, and may grieve away, the Spirit Whose anointing is his patent of royal dignity.
4. Their priesthood is one of function.—For a special purpose the Law “came in beside,” came in episodically (Romans 5:20), in the course of the development of God’s ideas. Its specialised priesthood was a necessity, and relatively a good thing. Absolutely it was a retrogression from the more perfect ideal of a priesthood, which belonged to manhood, though in patriarchal days it was accidentally and prudentially localised in the father of the family or the head of the tribe. Still, the idea was not forgotten in Israel. Not to quote again Exodus 19:6, the slaying of the Passover lamb by the head of the family was contemplated as a permanent point of the Passover ritual, and the lamb was a true sacrifice, though not that alone; it had other meanings also. Prophets like Samuel or Elijah might offer their sacrifices, though in, e.g., Samuel’s days these were priests fully appointed. David once wore the ephod of the priesthood (2 Samuel 6:14); and there is no need to reconstruct the religious history of Israel in order to account for 2 Samuel 8:18, where David’s sons are called “priests” [so literally, Heb.]. The older, wider, patriarchal idea of priesthood, and the, true priesthood of every Israelite—perfectly valid, although, as a matter of convenient and didactically serviceable arrangement, it had been concentrated in a special, representative order of men chosen out of one tribe—made it possible for at least a titular honorary priesthood to be conferred upon the king’s sons. The analogy of all this to the priesthood of Christian men is exceedingly close. The ministerial and teaching office is seen, e.g., in 1 Corinthians 14:0, early to have begun to specialise and localise itself in particular men amongst the whole body of believers. But this means no “clerical” caste in the Church; it is but a prudential and, as things are, salutary, necessary concentration of a ministry belonging to every believer. And there is no “priestly” caste at all which has any office or prerogative that may not on occasion, at the call of God, be exercised by any member of a Church. It would be an ill day for any Church when the ministry was recruited only from the families of the ministry; when ministers’ sons should, in any degree as a matter of course, “take up their fathers’ profession.” So, too, every “lay preacher,” and in lower degree every Sunday-school teacher, every one who speaks to a soul for Christ, keeps up the needful protest that the teaching, saving function is no special right of any clerical order. (As to woman’s part in public worship, see under 1 Corinthians 14:34.) In the Christian Church manhood-priesthood is again the order; the original order, obscured by the episodic priesthood and ritual of Mosaic Law, is now once more brought into prominence and use. The priesthood is inherent in every “anointed,” every “spiritual,” man.
5. With one marked and emphatic reservation.—Christ does not share with His people the atoning work of His priesthood. He alone makes atonement for guilt. Needing to make none for Himself [unlike the old High Priest (Hebrews 9:7)], He reserves to Himself the offering of the one sacrifice “for sins for ever” [query, better connect “for ever” with “sat down” (Hebrews 10:12)]. The Christian year has become one long “Day of Atonement”; the yearly cycle of the old sacrificial order has gathered itself up into one, the Sin-offering of that Day, now made perpetual after the one first and final consummation upon the Cross. And, as of old, the sacrifice and its presentation in our Christian Day of Atonement are the unshared act and honour of our High Priest. A guilty conscience, or a heart full of fear, must look to, and rely on, Him and His good offices alone. Guilty souls have “their access unto the Father” only by Him (Ephesians 2:8; Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 4:16).
6. But, with that exception, His people share His priesthood.—
(1) In a very true sense their intercession for the world around them is effectual for the world’s great blessing. If the Church ceased to pray for the world, or were removed from out of it altogether; if the world were left to its own evil, godless heart (Ephesians 2:8), the very world itself would account it no small calamity and curse. The Church says, as did Samuel of Saul, “God forbid that I should sin in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). One of the most precious prerogatives of the manhood priesthood of the “anointed” believer is “to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks for all men,” etc. (1 Timothy 2:1-4). God would have all men saved; the Church of God should never cease to have a heart with a world-wide outlook and yearning. Priesthood should mean no aloofness or exalted separateness from the general mass; the truest priesthood means the closest brotherhood, the most intimate nearness. Christ in heaven, His people on earth, interceding for the world,—in that is the world’s hope. Every Christian priest may covet and cultivate, as part of his “anointing” for his office, the fulness of “the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10). A noble work, open to the simplest, poorest, humblest; and very mighty are some such in every Church in their pleading, interceding prevalence with God.
(2) Several passages bring out other typical characteristics of the priesthood of “anointed” believers; e.g. 1 Peter 2:5, “To offer up spiritual sacrifices,” i.e. sacrifices which are not, as aforetime and now in heathenism, things fleshly or material at all. They present themselves before God with hearts full, e.g., of praise [“whoso offereth praise,” Psalms 50:23]. Any material gift is valueless unless it embody and express a “spiritual” sacrifice. No point more needful for the Christian priest to note and guard than this. The heart always gravitates towards the material; it is easier to bring the gift than the heart. [1 Samuel 15:22, where “better than” means that “sacrifice,” be it never so costly, abundant, slavish in its devotion, is of no value without “obedience.”] Hebrews 13:15 well comments on this: “By Him [i.e. Christ; our praises, as our prayers, can only come up to God in virtue of His mediation] let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips [cf. Hosea 14:2, which anticipates this thought, the “calves of our lips”], giving thanks to [“making confession to,” margin and R.V.] His name.” Every anointed priest has his temple, with its altar of this incense, within his own heart. Within him is a shrine in whose holy secrecy there may go on the perpetual offering of a man who “prays without ceasing, and in everything gives thanks.” Paul is a priest at an altar in Philippians 2:17, but with another kind of offering. His offering, his sacred service, is the body of Philippian believers, or, more exactly, their “faith,” which, by the blessing of his Master, he can bring and show as the fruit of his work in Philippi. He asks his Master’s gracious acceptance of their “believing” life and character. His life is in danger; any day may see him brought to trial; the issue may be death. If his Master ask his life as the crowning act of a career of self-devotion, well and good. Paul is more than content; he will “rejoice” to pour out—as (in heathen phrase) a libation, or (in Hebrew ritual order) a drink-offering—by the altar, or even as it were “over the sacrifice” which he brings and lays upon it, his very life. The type of a “priesthood” fulfilled by many a busy, fruitful toiler, whose life may not, indeed, have issued in a technical “martyrdom,” but which has not less really been “spent and spent out” over the work, accumulated results of which are the offering with which he appears at the altar before his Lord. Unhappy that “priest” whose “anointing” has been practically in vain, and who appears before God empty-handed, having no fruit to show, nothing to lay upon the altar for acceptance and reward. Romans 12:1 takes up the self-devotion which perhaps culminates in some day of martyrdom, but which in every case will have been the keynote of the whole life, the great foundation principle of it all: “Present yourselves a living sacrifice.” [So the text is naturally quoted, with a perfectly correct appreciation of its force. But there is terrible point and force in “present your bodies.” Paul’s readers were only too familiar with fact that (as in some Oriental cults of to-day) women—“sacred slaves”—and even men, literally “presented their bodies” to the divinity of a temple, and enriched its treasury with the proceeds of abominable and unnameable lusts. “Present your bodies … a sacrifice … holy.” Heathen sin often ran into sensual sin; the fact in part gives a colour and emphasis to Paul’s use of the phrase “the flesh” (see under 2 Corinthians 7:1); his exhortation here is but the summary of many an injunction such as Romans 6:12-13; Romans 13:14. Heathen sin had showed itself most obviously open to observation and censure, in fleshly sins; Christian holiness would most obviously begin and would be appreciable in a sanctification of the very body itself. “Present your bodies.”] The man who thus “presents his body” has first offered much more; he has devoted himself. The offering of the body is the act of a man who is himself an offering, and is himself the priest who presents it. And such a daily, detailed consecration (John 17:19) of self and activities and life—needs a perpetual “anointing.” It is the offering of a man “filled with the Spirit.” In the Old Testament, Samuel was an early and beautiful example of a life thus wholly given to do nothing and to be nothing except for the Lord, its Tabernacle, its service. His mother “presented his body,” presented her boy, as her offering to the Lord. Nor, we may believe, did he go back from the spirit and the terms of his mother’s gift [“I have returned him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent unto the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28)], when he came out from “dwelling in the house of the Lord” (Psalms 23:6) into the busy life of practical government, and into the “secularities” of the life of a family and household. The happy days spent in ceaseless ministration in the tabernacle with Eli were days of a “living sacrifice.” Happy those on whom rests continually the Spirit’s “anointing” for this form of priestly function. John 17:19, above quoted, brings such a life into very close parallelism to that of “God’s Anointed One.” Is not He—are not His people—both Sacrifice and Priests?
III. The Spirit is a “seal” and an “earnest.”—Upon this word “sealed,” thus simply introduced and left for the pondering of the Corinthians, we may cast the illumination of Paul’s fuller explanation of his thought in Ephesians 4:30, itself lighted up, as Ephesian listeners on whose ears the word fell for the first time would instinctively light it up, by 2 Corinthians 1:13-14. Indeed, Ephesians 1:14 is only a little fuller statement of what is, evidently, from its occurrence here, a sample of Paul’s habitual thought about the work of the Holy Spirit.
1. The “seal” is a person, the same Divine Person Who is the “earnest.”—Ephesians 4:30 contributes to make that clear. We might not infer very much from the word “grieve,” if it were an isolated turn of phraseology; though, whilst one could speak, not unnaturally, of “resisting” or of “yielding to” an influence or a personified Force, it would not be as natural to speak of “grieving” it. Poetically one might speak of “obeying” a force; but men “grieve” a person. But the expression is not isolated. It is a sample case of a whole group of New Testament terms of expression, beginning with John 15:16, which assume, imply, and so indicate, a personal Holy Spirit. Men not infrequently can gather with utter certainty—very frequently in a court of justice will a shrewd counsel do so—from a passing phrase or a single word, spoken or written, what is in the mind of the speaker or writer, though he did not intend it to be discovered. Very often may be thus inferred a man’s habitual opinion upon a topic. When the disciples in the upper room heard Jesus speaking of “the other” Comforter, repeatedly say, “He,” “Himself,” “Whom,” they could only believe that to their Teacher the Comforter was not something, but somebody, another personal Friend for them comparable to Himself. [The geologist may find a deep lying and extensive stratum “crop up” at the surface, only in one very narrow area. He follows the indication of the one single narrow spot, and finds the vast beds beneath. The silver mines of Peru were discovered because, where a dislodged rock had rested, an Indian noticed the shining metal showing.] In Paul’s word “grieve” there is the cropping up of a great underlying and extensive and precious truth, the personality of the “sealing” Spirit.
2. The sealing has been done in view of a “day of redemption,” i.e. of “the redemption of the purchased possession.”—Thus is the matter viewed from the side of Him Who “seals.” Viewed from our side who are the “sealed” persons, that “day of redemption” is the day of coming into “our inheritance” (Eph., ubi supr.). The “purchased possession” is God’s or Christ’s (Acts 20:28). The “inheritance” is that of His people. When in “the Day” He enters into full possession, they enter into possession also.
(1) Man’s “day of redemption” was the Friday of Calvary; Christ’s “day of redemption” is in the future. (See the fuller, future sense of “redemption” in 1 Corinthians 1:30.) On the cross, for man’s sake, was Christ with His own blood “paying down the price” [an expression which has hardly more than this one point of contact and analogy with the fact] of man’s freedom from the results of the curse and penalty of sin. For His own sake He was also paying down the purchase money for a “peculiar people” [1 Peter 2:9, lit. “a people of possession”], an Israel which, in a world where all are “His own,” should be His “very own” acquired for Himself, specially precious to His heart. In the manward aspect of the “redemption,” it was complete at Calvary, when He said “It is finished.” Yet all that He intended “redemption” to include, will not be fulfilled until, in the resurrection morning, the very body itself stands, like the whole redeemed Manhood, freed from the latest trace and touch of the curse of sin. In the Godward, Christward aspect, “redemption” will not be complete till the whole company of those whose faith in His atoning death turned their “redemption” into “salvation,” stand thus gloriously complete by His side in their “inheritance,”—that “of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12). [Roughly illustrate by the purchase in the factory of a vase of costly marble, which is as yet in the rough. Price paid, purchase complete, ownership absolute; but a sense in which the purchaser does not regard possession or ownership realised until the finished vessel is safely delivered at his home. Or the buyer in the cattle market chooses, pays for, becomes the owner of, sheep from the “pens” of several sellers. Ownership is “finished” before he leaves the market. But in a very real sense he looks forward to a completed and finished ownership, when at last the selected sheep have all been brought safely home. The purchase was “finished,” the sheep were “his own,” in the market; the purchase is not “finished,” the flock are not assuredly and in fulness of possession his own, until they are safe in the home-fold; the two “redemptions.”] The presence and work of the Spirit is a significant thing for the present of our religious life, but it is significant also—to Christ and to His people, both—for the future “day” and its hope. It is the buyer’s mark of ownership put upon the sheep he has purchased. It is “the broad-arrow,” the “seal” of the King, stamped upon, to identify and to claim, His own purchased “vessel.”
(2) To His people themselves it is the “earnest,” i.e. a pledge, of some future good, which consists in a sample of that “good” (Romans 8:28). It is the shilling given to the recruit as the first money of his future pay. It is the deposit paid on account towards the fuller payment of a completed bargain. It is, more exactly in analogy with the fact illustrated, the maintenance paid to the minor under his father’s will, until he comes of age, and the whole estate is at his disposal and enjoyment. The life and grace and work of the Spirit now within the Christian man, are the sample, the first taste, the beginnings, of the fuller life of “the inheritance” when it comes. That life hereafter and this life here are not two, but one. This is the eternal life. The division line between the old and the new is not before the Christian, located at death or judgment; it is behind him, located at conversion. Then began one life which has become his true life, the natural life having become a subsidiary one, which soon drops off and leaves the eternal life to go on into eternity with unbroken continuity. Further, the fact of this life binds the Divine Giver of it to complete His gift hereafter. “Our hope” does not leave us by-and-by to wake up befooled, deceived, “ashamed,” “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts [so here] by the Holy Ghost given unto us” [Romans 5:5; the whole argument of “an earnest”]. If on the Christian’s own part there be faithfulness, kept up in the grace which is itself part of the “earnest,” there will also be, there is pledged, a faithfulness on the part of God. Having given the Spirit, He cannot go back and withhold the “inheritance.” The sample binds Him. “Will He give me ‘glory’?” “Yes; He has given me ‘grace.’ ”
3. Similarly, the seal is in no arbitrary or accidental connection with the completed ownership and full possession by Christ towards which it points. A seal very commonly bears the initials, it may bear the image, of him whose seal it is. The presence and work of the Spirit of God “in our hearts” are restoring “the image of God”; they ought to bring out “a conformity to the image of God’s Son” (Romans 8:29). Christlikeness, inwrought, brought out, by the Spirit, is, to others and to the man himself, the seal. The argument of ownership thus lies upon the surface: “The man belongs to Christ, for he is like Christ, getting more like Him day by day.” When Christ comes to get His own together, the “Firstborn” (Rom., ubi supr.) will look for and claim the “many brethren” in whom there shows that family likeness of which He is the first and best exponent. Thus, then, the “seal” may be lost; the earnest may be forfeited. They—it, the complex, and yet one, blessing—are grace imparted, maintained, only by the ceaselessly renewed gift and indwelling of the Personal Spirit of God “in our hearts.”
2 Corinthians 1:12. The Testimony of Our Conscience.—[A companion, complementary, “witness” to that of the Spirit of God (Romans 8:16).]
I. What is this conscience?—
1. We are made conscious beings, and can perceive things past and present relating to ourselves, both tempers and outward behaviour. But conscience implies somewhat more: its main business is to accuse or excuse, to approve or disapprove, to acquit or condemn. By some called “moral sense.” Scripturally it is: “A faculty or power, implanted by God in every soul which comes into the world, of perceiving what is right or wrong in his own heart or life, in his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions.”
2. The rule of conscience is
(1) for heathens, “the law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15);
(2) for Christians, the Word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testament; the purpose of which is stated in 2 Timothy 3:16. “He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, either directly or by plain consequence; nothing evil, but what is here forbidden, either in terms, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor enjoins either directly or by plain consequence, he believes … indifferent, … in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.”
1. The testimony of conscience,—If (as here) approving, depends upon
(1) a right understanding of the Rule, the Word of God;
(2) a knowledge of ourselves;
(3) an agreement of our life, inward and outward, with the rule; and
(4) an inward perception of this agreement. “This habitual perception, this inward consciousness itself, is properly a good conscience.”
2. This presumes a moral basis, “a spiritual condition,” a saving faith in Christ, which gives the “evidence” of Hebrews 11:1, accompanied by love “shed abroad in the heart,” and the fulfilment in us of Hebrews 8:10.
III. The matter of the testimony.—
1. Briefly, “our conversation”; this “in the world,” even that of the ungodly; “in simplicity,” all the actions and conversation full of the light of heaven, love, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, the eye of the mind steadily, singly, fixed upon God; “simplicity” in intention, “godly sincerity” in the execution of it, much more than heathen sincerity; “not with fleshly wisdom,” not by the force of good sense, good nature, good breeding; this is only attained to “by the grace of God.”
2. This is the ground of “our rejoicing.” “Our” joy is no natural joy, or physical lightness of spirits; nor the joy of ignorance of the law which is broken; nor that of a dull or callous conscience. It is the joy of holy love and happy obedience.—Wesley, “Sermons,” xii.
2 Corinthians 1:15. Benefit (= “Grace”). To have the Gospel and its ministers is—
I. An unspeakable benefit.
II. One not easily exhausted. [“A second.”]
III. One to be diligently improved.—[J. L.]
For 2 Corinthians 1:23-24, see under chap. 2.
2 Corinthians 1:15-18. A Christian Man’s Promises are:—
I. Sincere.—Duly considered in the making; carefully worded (2 Corinthians 1:14, “ye read”); honestly intended.
II. Held binding.—In the sight of God; in spite of inconvenience and self-sacrifice.
III. May sometimes be superseded.—By higher obligations; by circum stances beyond his control.—[J. L.]
[Of God’s promises III. is never true! The “Amen” of completed fulfilment always crowns the “Yes” of the initial promise!]
2 Corinthians 1:17. A Christian Man’s Steadfastness of Purpose.
I. What it includes.—Due consideration; the purpose must not be lightly formed. Conscientious prosecution; it may not be lightly given up. This does not exclude the propriety of a change of mind under the force of new and imperative circumstances. [So the true immutability of God does not consist in His never altering His course of action, or what, speaking humanly, looks like changing his purpose toward the man; but in His never changing the principles of His dealing with men, with sin, with holiness. If the man changes, then God, remaining in Himself unchanged, must deal otherwise with him than before.]
II. Upon what it ought to rest.—Not on worldly considerations. [“Not with fleshly wisdom.”] “According to the flesh.” Not on the mere force of human will [this may be only pride or obstinacy], but on Christian principle.
III. Why it is necessary.—As an essential of Christian character. As a foundation of human confidence.—[J. L.]
2 Corinthians 1:23. An Apostle’s Word confirmed by an Oath.
I. Under what circumstances an oath admissible?
II. How reconcile with “swear not at all”?
III. What is “profane swearing,” therefore?—[J. L.]
[Be a Yea, Yea, Nay, Nay, man; but not a Yea, Nay, Yea, Nay, man.]
(N.B.—The paragraph really begins at 2 Corinthians 1:23.)
2 Corinthians 1:1. Determined.—As in 1 Corinthians 2:2. For myself.—So R.V., meaning, “For my own sake as well as for yours.” Again.—To be linked with “come” only? (q.d. “To come again, and to have a sorrowful visit”); or with “with sorrow”? (q.d. “a second sorrowful visit,” like a former one). Answer variously given, according as an intermediate visit, unmentioned in the Acts, is not, or is, supposed. Agreed that the visit recorded in Acts 18:0 was not specially a sorrowful visit. In heaviness.—“With sorrow” (R.V.). Here also external considerations very much decide whether this shall mean, “with sorrow in my heart” or “to inflict sorrow on you.” [See Introduction, more fully.]
2 Corinthians 1:2. He that is made sorry.—Probably not the particular offender of these verses; but quite general. Paul can grieve them all; each one of them, thus grieved, must make him glad. 2 Corinthians 1:3 confirms this.
2 Corinthians 1:3. This very thing.—Viz. 1 Corinthians 5:1 sqq. (Waite, in Speaker, however, thinks rather the decision announced in 2 Corinthians 1:1.) Paul means, “I wrote, rather than come at once.”
2 Corinthians 1:4.—Another concurrent and quite consistent reason, “I wrote with tears, in order that,” etc.
2 Corinthians 1:5.—Very difficult to translate with any certainty. Ambiguous for two reasons:
(1) What does “in part” belong to? Answer not certainly clear;
(2) What is the grammatical object of “overcharge,” “overweight”? Answer again not certainly clear.
(2) is answered in opposite ways by the and A.V., the two being typical of many more commentators. So is
(1). The A.V. means, “The grief has not fallen entirely and only upon me, but on you also. Not to think so, would on my part be to charge upon you all the heavy sin of indifference to his sin.” means, “But in part (let me say)—not to make too grave a matter of it against him—he has grieved you all.” Four variants are supported:
“He hath not grieved me
“but in part; that I may not overcharge you all.”
“but in part, that I may not overcharge (him), you all.”
“but in part, that I may not overcharge you, all (of you).”
“but in part, that I may not overcharge all, you.”
2 Corinthians 1:6.—Note, “the many” (R.V.). The sentence was the act of a (voting) majority.
2 Corinthians 1:7.—Note “His … sorrow.” accurately.
2 Corinthians 1:9.—How many, perfectly true, concurrent, motives go to one act.
2 Corinthians 1:10.—He concurs in what the majority had, previously to his writing, determined; “concurs” surely is not the spirit of one who “played the Lord” over them (2 Corinthians 1:24). Choose between “presence” and “person,” [The homiletics that follow assume “person,” because of Matthew 18:20.]
2 Corinthians 1:11.—Beet makes more of Satan’s endeavouring to compass some harm, not to the poor penitent offender, but, by means of him, and using him and other evil circumstances of their case, to the Church. Unwise discipline, and tolerated evil within, perhaps equally give an open door to the adversary of souls. [Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5 for the need of wise watchfulness against a real, evil Personality, full of very wise “devices.”] But preferable to understand as of Satan directly seeking opportunity of harming the penitent man.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—Chap. 2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:11
Paul and the Now Penitent Offender of 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.
I. The penitent man is an instructive study.—
1. The interval had been brief since chap. 5 of the former letter was written, and from that brief interval must be deducted the time from writing until it was read at Corinth, and from the time of the man’s manifest repentance until the news of this reached Paul in Ephesus. But in the brief interval, thus narrowed, had occurred a marvellous, a revolutionary, moral change in the man,—from a form of fornication abhorrent even to Corinthian heathen ideas, to repentance so deep, that he who was to have been “delivered to Satan,” might now safely be restored to the Church and to Christ. And not the least remarkable point in the case is that a man living in such sin, apparently with as little sense as had some of his fellow-members, of the shame it brought upon the Church, should, by the very fact of the Church having laid upon him a “sufficient” “punishment” [though (perhaps) one something short of the full penalty prescribed in the former letter; his alarm and repentance may have been so quick and so genuine that the need for this was averted], have been so filled with “sorrow,” that there was danger of a true penitent being driven to despair, and (we may say?) “delivered to Satan” by the very “overmuch” of his grief.
2. The case is not an uncommon one in mission-fields in heathen countries, or even in “home mission” work amongst the lowest or the degraded population of a nominally Christian land; and, as one of the typical, didactic instances by which, rather than by abstract discussions or elaborate theses upon given topics, God has been pleased to reveal His thought, it has many divinely authoritative suggestions. For example, it reminds us how widely the degrees of moral enlightenment and of moral sensitiveness may differ, whilst yet there is equally a relation to Christ which, though gravely imperilled by the sin, is worth caring for and endeavouring to strengthen. In a Christian land, in circles where Christian standards of morality have largely influenced even “society” ethics, such a sin as this of the Corinthian offender is reprobated with the utmost weight of verbal and practical censure; whilst a persistent refusal to forgive a fellow-Christian for a comparatively small offence, is hardly condemned at all. No doubt a practical difficulty occurs in judging of a sin “of spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1); it is not easy to verify the facts, as can be done in (say) a palpable lapse into sensuality; it is not easy to pronounce judgment upon the moral worth of often very complex “feelings”[no virtue, and no sin, is single; all is complex]; whereas a plain act, manifestly incompatible with the most elementary law of God, can be both verified and judged. But this should not so affect our estimate of sin, as to make us forget that for a reclaimed drunkard to fall back grossly into his old sin, or for a man saved from profanity to break out, like Peter, in oaths and imprecations, or for a heathen, half in habit and heedlessness, to be led back into some gross but customary sin of his old life, may argue less of downright evil of heart than for a professedly Christian man persistently to cherish envy or pride, or to indulge in evil-speaking, or to become thoroughly of the world, in principle and spirit, in aims and affections. Remembering the men remembering the history of the men, their opportunities, their surroundings, the worldliness of the one may be a more grievous “fall” than the gross sin of the other. [The one is certainly as little compatible with the perfect law of life in Christ as is the other, the open and gross.] Our relative estimate of sin and of sinners needs continually reviewing in the light of that holiness which condemns sins “of the flesh” and “of the spirit” with at least equal censure. Rebellion in Saul may be more than the witchcraft in some wretched hag of Endor; stubbornness in Saul may be a worse sin than that idolatry which he had prosecuted in others with a Puritan rigour (1 Samuel 15:23). Sin may not be extenuated. [Certainly, even consummate genius must not excuse sensualism and impurity, in poetry or art, or laxity in morals.] An Ananias and a Sapphira may so deliberately and distinctly “lie unto the Holy Ghost” (Acts 5:3), that there is for them no forgiveness, and nothing but excision from the body [query Galatians 5:12] is on all accounts possible. Such discipline, sharp and swift, may be the only means of educating a pure public opinion in the Church, and for teaching a man of low type like the fornicator at Corinth to see himself as others see him, and as God sees him and his sin. An objective conscience, thus forcing its decision upon the attention of the wrong-doer, may be the only awakener and educator of his own. But “Father, forgive them, for they know what they do,” is high authority for a tender handling of some whose actual sin is flagrant and open. They needed forgiving, but their ignorance left the door open for forgiveness. Their guilt who actually, and perhaps with some coarse delight in giving pain, drove in the nails, was not so great as that of Caiaphas, who stood by, laying not a finger of his unsoiled hands upon the Sacred Sufferer, yet who in his heart was perhaps more truly than any other one man there present His real murderer. There is more grace in the repentance of a Corinthian fornicator, than in the largely conventional purity of some English or American “Christians.” There is more to love in the repentant prodigal, with all his “riotous living” and the waste of his patrimony, than in the grudging elder brother, whose life is blameless, save for the one lifelong sin of a loveless heart. This Corinthian sinned grossly, but he repented graciously. The sin needed every word of sternest rebuke which Paul had written; the fair name of the Church, and of Christ, must at all costs be kept clear before the world. If there had been no repentance, then the mysterious penalty of “deliverance to Satan” must righteously have been enforced to its uttermost of consequence [though even this contemplated the “saving of the spirit” (1 Corinthians 5:5)]. But gross and unexampled as was this man’s sin, there was much grace in a man, and hope for a man, who so promptly and unreservedly, with tears and broken heart, bowed before the censure of his pastor and his brethren, and in whom conscience was so easily awakened and so entirely obeyed. The “bruised reeds” (in Matthew 12:14-21) were as helpless as they were evil, in the presence of the power of Jesus; the “smoking flax” of the wick of the lamp of their expiring religious life was as offensive as it was easily to be “quenched.” But if the “reed” is humbled at its weakness and sin, if the “smoking flax” will bear to be rekindled, Paul loves to restore such a one. His sin was a grievous offence; yet such a gross, but easily convinced and deeply penitent offender as this man of Corinth, is not the greatest sinner, nor the hardest to win and keep or recover for Christ. And all this not indistinctly outlines the judgment of God in Christ upon some “chief of sinners.”
II. The “tears of” Paul.—
1. In no letter do we get so near to Paul as in this “Second” to Corinth, or see and hear his very self. And, of all the letter, this is truer of no section more than of 2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:11. First and foremost stand his “tears.” The Corinthians had imagined “a man lording it over their faith”; and all the while he was weeping over the loss of their love! They imagined, and maligned or decried, a self-seeking man, not above enriching himself and his companions and emissaries out of funds given to the Jerusalem poor (2 Corinthians 8:16-23); and all the while this “masterful,” “tyrannical,” “self-seeking” man was toiling at his tentmaking in Ephesus, and instead of arranging for an immediate visit was dictating to his amanuensis a letter [assuming with some that 2 Corinthians 1:4 alludes to an intermediate, “lost” letter], because, if he were to come, he must use an Apostolic severity of power such as he was unwilling to inflict upon those whom he had led to Christ, and whom he loved as only a spiritual father loves spiritual children. The unmarried [or widower], childless Paul is as tender as a mother. “I am only happy when I see you happy; I am sure that you are only happy when I am so; I could not bear to think of your making me unhappy by your own sorrow (2 Corinthians 1:3); I must have used the ‘rod’ if 1 had come, and I could not bear your tears.” This man, whose words thunder and flash lightnings, has written “out of much affliction and anguish of heart”; [and according to a strongly favoured interpretate of 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 was quite prostrated, overburdened, broken-hearted, fit for no work, nearly killed, by the tidings of their wrong-doing and of their factious jealousy against himself]. They thought, or said, that they found a man strong, stern, to the point of hardness; we know a man tender, tearful, perhaps even constitutionally timid [so Howson suggests: Character of St. Paul, lecture ii.; and if so, then naturally drawn to Timothy, around whom he so often in these letters throws the arm of his guaranteeing, guarding, strengthening love], doing all he did with a great and often violent strain upon himself, and all simply in the strength of the grace of God. It is imperfect manhood that cannot weep; and if in our undemonstrative, self-repressed days, tearful eyes be out of fashion for men, a perfect man will have a heart that can weep. Strong men are tender; tender men are strong. Their very tenderness is a helpful strength to many who lean upon them.
2. And, once more, as in the case of the Penitent Wrong-doer, there comes back the lesson to be very cautious in judgment. Naturally it is not easy for one who is smarting under the lash, to think very kind things of him who must needs wield it. The child hardly appreciates at the moment the love or wisdom which blames sharply or punishes severely. But the love is there. Do not sit in Corinth and hastily misread as a hard man Paul weeping at Ephesus. Experience shows, as it accumulates with years, how tender a heart may guide a stern tongue or move a strong hand. [See a tender delicate “weed” springing up from between the flagstones of a courtyard. Under those cold, hard stones its roots have found, and now witness to, soft, moist soil, where it may nourish its strength. So, see a strong, rough-spoken man bending over a fallen child to pick it up, perhaps with an awkward kiss before he carries it to a place of safety. That kiss is the “weed” which tells of the tender heart underneath the stone-cold, stone-hard surface of the manner and the life. That man is not wholly bad. These few verses—even these two, 3, 4—with their “tears,” are precious; they reveal the true Paul to us, as we should not have known him from the Acts, nor from the First Epistle to Corinth. How many a worker must be content to go forward year after year misread, misjudged, and feeling in some degree crippled in his usefulness by the wrong estimate formed of him by those to whom he would be useful!
3. May we not rise higher, with the suggestion of Paul’s “tears” whilst he writes words of sharp rebuke, to help us? From Paul’s tears may we not rise to the tears of Christ, and, yet higher, once more to the heart of God? By no forced or chance analogy. Paul, like every Christian man, of necessity reproduces more or less perfectly his Pattern, because the Spirit of Christ is within him the Life of his life, the Former of his character. And “he that hath seen” Christ “hath seen the Father.” We remember how Christ once at least “looked around” on a gathering in a Capernaum synagogue with a holy “anger” in His eyes (Mark 3:5); but the sentence continues, “being grieved with the hardness of their hearts.” The wail of disappointed love cries, “How often would I have gathered.… Ye would not”; but words of stern, irrevocable doom follow: “Your house is left unto you desolate.” As we see them in the “Son who has revealed Him,” anger and grief are never far apart in God. He has no love for inflicting pain. He has no love for the future punishment of creatures whom He has made. If it must be—if they make it a necessity—it must and will be. Holiness must be vindicated; sin is a peril to the good order, and so to the happiness, of the universe. “He must reign,” even if this must mean “enemies put beneath His feet.” But one can believe that there are tears in the heart of the very Judge, as He sets some “on the left hand” for whom He shed His blood. One may almost venture reverently to imagine Him following them as they “depart,” with His word, “Ye would not, ye would not, come to Me that ye might have life!” [Can we not see in His face the sorrow of the love of Christ, as He follows with His eyes the departing young ruler, so lovable, and yet so unready for “eternal life”? (Luke 18:23-24).] Men say of God, “I know Thee, that Thou art hard, … reaping where,” etc. (Matthew 25:34). But they “know” God as little as the Corinthians knew Paul, the man of “many tears.” They do not know Him, as they may see Him, if they will, in Christ.
III. Paul the pastor.—
1. How careful he is that his motives should be understood. “I call God for a record upon my soul,” etc. Quite consistent with all said above (under 2 Corinthians 1:17 sqq.), that his personal character, and what they thought of it and of him, were only matters of concern so far as they might be supposed to affect their estimate of the Gospel he preached, or of the Christ Who is the very heart and burden of it. And quite consistent also with the words of the Divine Legislator for “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:37). Paul is not a “yes and no” man; but his word here is not simply, “Yea, yea; nay, nay.” He strengthens it with an affirmation (cf. Romans 1:9) which one could have supposed too serious for “a mere personal matter” like this, his motive in making a change in his itinerary. The Master had said, “Whatsoever is more than these”—the plain “yes” and “no”—“cometh of evil.” In a world of evil, where men are evil, and where sin has put the relations of social intercourse so much out of joint, a strengthened “Yea” or “Nay” may be inevitable. And in this particular instance it is no “merely personal matter.” It is for the Gospel’s sake still. A pastor’s good understanding with his people is to him a power which he can use for their sakes. If they distrust his character, or lose confidence in his word, he will be of little use to them. A transparent simplicity of act and word and motive will give him a hold upon their hearts, if even they question, or differ from, his judgment. But such a protest as this, such a purgation of himself on oath, is a rare thing; Paul’s normal attitude is in 1 Corinthians 4:3,—“A small thing with me that I,” etc. Since, however, those words were written, new circumstances had arisen, which wrung from him this protest, for his people’s sake even more than for his own. Says the Great Shepherd: “I know My sheep, and am known of Mine!” Paul wants his flock to know him.
2. Not a lord over faith, but a helper of joy.—
(1) They are believers; even these Corinthians are (2 Corinthians 1:24). He is only a believer himself; in Christ, as man and man, every Corinthian and he have the same standing. Their faith is the vital link holding them to Christ; every man believes alone—by and for himself. It is his own unshared act. And the status in Christ is retained by believing; it may be forfeited by sin—sin which is fatal to faith, because grieving to the Spirit by Whose help alone men do, or can, savingly believe. If not, “if we (continue to) walk in the light as He is.… We have fellowship, and the blood … cleanseth,” etc.; with a continuous efficacy it puts a bar between us and our native guilt, and we retain our new status of grace. We are “justified by faith,” and by the same faith “we have our access into grace whereby we stand” (Romans 5:1-2) and “rejoice.” The grafting into Christ, the abiding in Christ, the joy in Christ,—all hinge upon faith. No Paul, nor any other wise pastor, will venture to “lord” it over the life of faith. “One is Master, even Christ; the rest are all brethren” (Matthew 23:8).
(2) But it is brotherly in the highest degree to help the “joy” of another. “To add sunshine to daylight,” as Wordsworth says, is no small honour to a successful pastor. To be able so to bring a living, bright, realised Christ near to them, as that fear gives place to rest, and gloom to joy; so to be used to open up Scripture, with its teachings as to the “style” of life possible to, becoming in, provided for, children of God, as that they rise to the higher level, and with a glad and free heart, which has lost everything of merely obligatory and mechanical, all sense of bondage and constraint, in religion, go forward, “glad in the Lord”; by his own testimony and experience, so to be helpful as to clear away difficulties, and to encourage and embolden fearful hearts to hope for more, and to dare more, in the life of godliness;—it may well be an ambition of a worthy pastor, as, when won, it will be a cause of unspeakable thankfulness.
IV. The pastor exercising discipline.—
1. He does it in the spirit just sketched out,—not as a lord, but as a helper. A pure Church is a glad Church. Offences purged away, Achans sought out and put away, then conquests and work proceed apace, and all share the joy of success. If also discipline be exercised upon the individual, it is not for his destruction, or even for his exclusion, but for his recovery from his fall, and his restoration to his place in Christ; and thus is really working towards the joy of even the offender. It might be difficult, without undue straining, to find any analogical suggestion of God or Christ in Paul’s disclaimer of “lordship” over their faith; though when we remember how sacredly the liberty of the will is guarded in all the relations between God and man, and how that most Godlike characteristic of the human personality is (may we say?) so “respected” by God Himself, that all the loving, mighty constraint used by the Spirit of God, when endeavouring to lead a man to Christ, always stops short of compulsion; and when we remember how, assisted though it be by the grace of God, the act of believing is a man’s own, for which he is responsible; we might almost say that God Himself has chosen to refrain from exercising lordship over men’s faith. There would be no morality, no value to Him, in a compelled believing, or in a compulsory creed—a thing which, if accepted at all, must be accepted by a hypocrite or a machine. He would not care for the offering of such a faith. So far as there is surrender to His yoke, it is the surrender of a convinced understanding or of an instructed heart. But it needs no forcing of analogy to see God as the supreme “helper of” His people’s “joy,” even when exercising the discipline of rebuke and sharp chastening. It is the happy paradox of the Christian life: “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” “We ‘exult’ in tribulations also, knowing that,” etc. (James 1:2; Romans 5:3). If the foundation of the Christian character be right, if the heart be sound toward God, then all His providential discipline of habit and character, all the keen pruning away of excrescences and blemishes, everything which smites, and delivers from, sin,—all work together for a holiness which is, in part, joy. “The happy God” [so literally 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:15] works towards His own happiness in His children. He loves to have them “rejoice evermore”; it is part of His “will in Christ Jesus concerning them” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). “That your joy may be full” is a distinct desire and purpose of that Son, Who in all things has revealed to us the Father, by what Himself is, quite as much as by what He says about the Fattier (John 16:24). Cf. also John 17:13 : “That they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” The pastoral office of the Great Shepherd may not infrequently demand words as sharp, and discipline as severe, as those of Paul the pastor towards his Corinthians; but it aims at their joy. Their religious life can never realise fully how the “fruit of the Spirit is … joy,” if there be, in any degree or form, sin. Yet He would have their life not a restraint, or a series of self-denials, or a round of stern obligations, nor even a hoping and striving forward and upward, without ever being quite satisfied; but, rather, a “joyous” life, full of assurance and buoyancy and victory. Indeed, the “joy” is not only a thing desirable in itself; it is a means to something yet more desirable. “The joy of the Lord is strength” to the Lord’s people, as certainly now as in the days of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:10). It is a view of the Heavenly Father as unworthy and untrue as was the Corinthian view of Paul, to imagine Him without care for His people’s happiness. He is not the God to grudge “joy” to His creatures. They should not think of Him as, if anything, predisposed to take away rather than to give; as likely to meet their devotion to Him of themselves and of all they are and have, by a demand for the surrender of something very dear. He cares for their holiness first; if that can be secured, and yet even their natural “joy” be untouched or enhanced, He will assuredly so order it, in His disposition of their life. Holiness is before all; but joy through holiness is certain; and He will always work towards this, with a minimum of discipline and of pain. Did this passage in the letter so reveal the heart of the real Paul to the Corinthian Church that they doubted, or maligned him, no more? “Do believe it, brethren, that in writing as I did, and in all I have done for you, I desired to be a helper of your joy.” If His people will look into the heart of God, as it has been laid bare to them in the words and work, and in the very self, of His Son, they will see in Him also One Who by all His dealings with them heartily desires their joy. And when at last they “enter into the joy of their Lord” (Matthew 25:21), the “good and faithful servants” will be realising the fulfilment of all their Divine Master’s purposes and leading in their life.
2. He delays, and is reluctant to exercise discipline at all. “To spare you, I came not as yet,” etc.—Here again is a trait of that God in Christ Whom Paul, as it were, reproduces, as a consequence of the union, the unifying, the real fellowship of life, which are his “in Christ.” Anybody can drive away or cut off a sheep from the flock (Ezekiel 34:4, etc.; John 10:12). The “Wolf” can do that admirably; it is his work. “We are not ignorant of his devices.” If he could have picked up this poor Corinthian thrust out of the fold, nothing would have served his turn better than an excessive discipline, carried beyond what the repentance of the offender now had made necessary. Accordingly, Paul would have the Corinthian Church follow the lead of his own action towards them as a whole. “A minimum of discipline, brethren, and that reluctant, and delayed. Take your penitent back again. You have chastened him sufficiently. Your concurrent (2 Corinthians 1:6) censure has had its effect. He is in danger of being swallowed up by the very excess of the sorrow of his repentant shame. You have been yourselves put to the test.” [As every case of wrongdoing in a Church does put the members to the test. What is their attitude towards sin? What towards this particular sin? Can it be said by their Lord, “Ye cannot bear them which are evil”? (Revelation 2:1, of the very Ephesus from which Paul is writing). Is there that sure sign of health in a body, that it is restless, and cannot suffer a wound to heal up, so long as any diseased bone or foreign body lodged in its tissues is unexpelled?] “I wanted [did not their Lord also desire?] to see whether you felt with me about such sin, and whether, indeed, my word would command your obedience.” [Not “lording it over” them, indeed, yet “having rule,” such rule as a shepherd must needs exercise over a flock (Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17).] “You have stood the test well. Now we must not play the game of Satan, and leave to him a soul for his prey. Restore the man; confirm your love toward him. As little discipline as possible; as little putting away as possible. That was in my heart towards yourselves, when I changed my route, and did not come direct to you. I did not want to be necessitated to visit sharply sin such as I should have found if I had come then, but which you now have put away.” It is wise pastoral policy, it is wise paternal rule in a family, as it is wise political government, to govern as little as possible, to punish as seldom as possible, to aim at recovery and restoration rather than penal infliction or exclusion. It is the wisdom, it is the heart of “a good shepherd;” it is once more the heart of God. Again the analogy needs no forcing, and it is based upon a real unity of purpose and life. As the weeping pastor at Ephesus, so the patient, but often deeply grieved, Father in heaven: “To spare you I came not,” etc. Hear Him speaking of old: “I will not be always wroth, for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made” (Isaiah 57:16). “The longsuffering of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4). Remembering the holy intensity of God’s necessary antagonism [“hatred”] to sin; remembering the flagrant, and insolent, offence to His holiness which every day goes up to Him from earth; remembering the fearful propagatory power of evil and of the prolonged life of an evil-doer; do not men naturally wonder that the just Judge “bears so long,” not only with His people, to whom all this sin is an offence, a temptation, a trial, and sometimes an acute and oppressive persecution, but with the evildoers themselves? (Luke 18:7). When men have seen some culminating and outrageous piece of cruelty, or treachery, or fraud committed, have they not primâ facie reason to say, as the wrong-doer seems not only to escape penalty, but even to prosper as the fruit of his sin, “Him doth God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” [Psalms 73:11; but note that the question has in that verse a boldly unbelieving turn and tone given to it]. God can afford to wait, and to be silent, however misunderstood and misjudged. [“Patiens, quia æternus” (Augustine).] And His answer to His Church in the day of His own vindication will be: “To spare the sinners, I came not,” etc. It is the appeal of His forbearance to the individual sinner. Why was he not cut off, cast off, the very first time he deliberately, and with clear understanding of his act, refused to obey the will or call of God? Why did not a stroke of judgment make his first sin his last—at any rate, his last on earth? “To spare thee, I came not,” etc. Judgment must come some day. God’s patience is holy, and therefore cannot be infinite. But holy wrath lingers. “The times of this ignorance God winked at, but now,” etc. (Acts 17:30). How often has Paul’s turning aside from a visitation, which could have had no room in it for anything but punishment, been reproduced on a scale of Divine enlargement of love and patience, in His turning aside from the sinner, desiring that respite and delay might mean a repentance which should make judgment needless, and mercy and restoration possible to the Divine Love?
V. The pastor’s absolution.—Two Gospel passages underlie, or are well illustrated by, 2 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 10:1. In Matthew 18:18 a power of “binding” and “loosing” is made one of the prerogatives of the Church of Christ within its own borders. To whom is such a power to sit in judgment upon their fellow-men to be entrusted? To even “two or three,” if they be “met in [unto] the name” of their Lord; in which case He also is with them “in the midst,” and thus, with Him, two or three—with no restriction to apostles or “official” members—are a quorum which may form an assembly of the Church, valid for discipline whether to bind or loose sentence and penalty. Inherent in the whole body,—for the terms are perfectly general,—it may be from time to time, and from case to case, specially localised in the particular Church, or even in the two or three along with whom is the Fourth, the First, the Lord. [So John 20:22-23, spoken, both as to mission and disciplinary power, to a much larger company than “the twelve.”] Accordingly “the many” at Corinth had “inflicted the punishment.” It is “ye forgive”; Paul follows the lead, or adopts the act, of the Church. There is no need to suppose that, even at a date so early, there were not elders, or officers of some sort, at Corinth, who in the disciplinary action would be the mouthpiece of the Church. But convenience and seemly order, not principle, would govern and dictate such a specialisation of function. Their forgiveness would be the forgiveness of the whole Church. The Church has acted, without waiting for Paul, or even for his directions to forgive the man.
2.Matthew 17:19-20; Matthew 17:19-20 is also in his mind. Rather, it is his working theory of discipline in the Church, as was seen in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. The gathering which he there instructed them to arrange for, in regard to this very offender, was to be composed of the Church, plus Paul’s “spirit,” plus the power of the presence of “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then their discipline became the discipline of Christ; and now that they have forgiven, Paul concurs and forgives, just as if he had been actually with them. But the forgiveness of the Church, met “in that Name,” and the forgiveness of Paul thus exercised to ratify theirs, are neither ecclesiastical nor sacerdotal, but representative; it is, as it were, “in the person of Christ” [to keep to the translation which falls in so perfectly with the passage in the Gospels and that in the preceding Epistle]. As in the original enactment of this power of “binding” and “loosing,” the act is His Who is “in their midst,” answering by His very presence and direction the prayer for guidance, as touching which the little company have “agreed to ask.” Christ is the supreme and sole fount of forgiveness. All human forgiveness is declaratory only. The priest who “cleansed” the leper [Psalms 51:2, “cleanse me”; the quasitechnical word for the act of the priest in such a case] could only declare him physically clean, and give official recognition to the fact that ipso facto he had become released from all the restrictions binding on a leper. “Loosing” him meant declaring him “loosed.” It is a pastoral absolution; the forgiveness of a shepherd who cares most that a sheep shall not be thrust into the power of Satan, the master of many “devices,” subtle as of old.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24