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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

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Verses 1-6


N.B. A continuous outpour of argument and appeal, all “alive,” and quivering, thrilling, with quick emotion, from 2 Corinthians 2:17 to 2 Corinthians 6:10.

2 Corinthians 3:1.—Q.d. “There, he is at it again! [2 Corinthians 2:17, or perhaps cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Corinthians 9:21; or something he had said at Corinth, known to his readers]. Praising himself!” [Familiarly, “Blowing his own trumpet, since no one else will do it for him.”] “Am I?” (q.d. in 2 Corinthians 2:17). Letters of commendation.—Such as Apollos brought to Corinth (Acts 18:27); or such as this very letter became to Titus (2 Corinthians 8:17-19). Romans 16:1 is a good example; for Phœbe. These Christians travelling from Church to Church appear in 2 John 1:10-11, 3 John 1:5-9 [“I wrote unto the Church”]. Seen also in the Didache, xii., xiii. Perhaps such as came “from James” to Antioch (Galatians 2:12) carried such “letters.” These became a very common institution in the early Church. N.B., Paul himself had once asked the “authority and commission” of such letters to the synagogue of Damascus (Acts 26:12). Note the shorter reading.

2 Corinthians 3:2.—“Certainly, ‘to youwe need none. We, who know what place yon occupy ‘in our hearts,’ know that we do not; you—‘allof youcanread’ our love to you, and you ‘know’ that we do not.” In our hearts.—Others carry theirs in their hands.

2 Corinthians 3:3.—New turn given here to the figure. The Corinthians are a letter of commendation for him, not to themselves only, but to other Churches and the world. The Christians at Corinth are a credential for him so conspicuous that it is “known and read of all men.” Notice the adroit, courteous, ad homines argument. In 1 Corinthians 15:0 he urges that they cannot deny Christ’s resurrection without abandoning all hope of their own, and all reality in their salvation from sin. So here, they cannot deny his apostleship without also denying the work of the Spirit of God in their own heart. Ministered.—“Carried about” as his rivals did their letters. An epistle of Christ.—I.e. written by, and given to His servant Paul by, Christ Himself. The argument is that of 1 Corinthians 9:2-3. In the phraseology, rather than in the thought, are reminiscences of such Old Testament passages as Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26. So also the application of the metaphor, like the use of the original figure of “letters of commendation,” is modified almost from sentence to sentence. Thus a letter written with “ink” passes over into the “tables of stone” at Sinai (Jeremiah 31:33). Flesh … stone.—Plainly not here in any moral sense: “fleshen” [analogous to “wooden”] would exactly represent the thought. By the Spirit.—Note the capital letter rightly in the; His work, the “new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:17, the experiences of their new life,—these are the writing of the “Living God.” Note the name, “Living God,” in 2 Corinthians 6:16; was Paul in Ephesus, as once he had been in Athens, “stirred … when he saw the city full of idols”? [Another impressively used Old Testament name in 2 Corinthians 6:18, “the Lord God Almighty.”]

2 Corinthians 3:4.—See Appended Note from Stanley. Such confidence, etc.—A real answer to the cry of 2 Corinthians 2:16, “Who is sufficient?” etc. The word “sufficient” and its cognates is here resumed in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6. [Say, “adequate to, competent to, up to the level (measure) of.”] He looks “toward God,” the source of his commission, the giver of adequate grace to fulfil it, the giver of his success at Corinth or elsewhere; he expects all from God, the source, “through Christ,” the channel.

2 Corinthians 3:5. To think … of ourselves.—Misleading to our modern English ears; clearer in Q.d. “to give ourselves any such confident encouragement, drawing our confidence of sufficiency from any presumed resources within ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 3:6.—“Proof that this competency comes from God. God gave him a further and a greater competency, which involves the less. God made him competent (2 Corinthians 1:22) to be a minister of a dispensation, which from its very nature must produce, when it took effect, exactly such a result as he counts the Corinthian Church to be” (Waite, in Speaker). Ministers.—Reverts to the word of 2 Corinthians 3:3; but the personal purpose of that “ministration” is gone from his thought; he is “carrying about and dispensing”—“administering”—something far greater and of more importance than any personal credentials, even of the best. A New Covenant—N.B. this in, correctly. To be studied with Matthew 26:28 [and this with Exodus 24:8]; Jeremiah 31:33-34. [This last in Hebrews 10:0 is the pivot around which turns an exposition of the “first” and the “second” (2 Corinthians 3:9), and in Hebrews 8:0 clenches the discussion as between the “new” and the “old”; both of which comparisons should themselves be compared with this of “letter” and “spirit,” which is also found in Romans 2:27-29; Romans 7:6.] The letter.—The Law of Moses, graven in so many letters and words on the tables of stone. [The Decalogue is, then, practically “the Law,” throwing light on Paul’s frequent discussions of “the law,” as affecting Christian thought and life.] The Spirit.—Capital S; the Holy Ghost, Who is the characteristic and crowning glory of the Gospel order. In the argument of Galatians 3:2; Galatians 5:5, “the Spirit” is the summary gift of that whole continuous “covenant” of which believers, pre- and post-Pentecostal both, are Abraham’s heirs. Killeth.—He explains how, in Romans 3:19; Romans 5:20, and, particularly, Romans 7:9-24. [See especially Romans 7:9; Romans 7:11; Romans 7:24, and Romans 8:2,] of which this verse—this word—is a summary. Giveth life.—John 6:63; 1 Corinthians 15:45 (very interesting), Galatians 6:8, cast light on this; as does Romans 8:11, where the action of the life-giving Holy Ghost is carried further.

2 Corinthians 3:7. Of death.—Though this was not its purpose (Romans 7:10), but its incidental result. Keep “written” distinct from “graven on stones”; not “written on stones.” “Written” is opposed to “glorious”; lit. “in letters,” “in glory,” respectively. From this point the chapter is framed on the lines of the narrative of Exodus 34:28-35; many words and terms of expression being borrowed from the LXX.

2 Corinthians 3:8. Glorious.—“With glory,” slightly changed from 2 Corinthians 3:7. Shall be.—Beet carries this forward into a future revelation of a glory for believers analogous to that which clothed Moses’ face. But is the “glory” in the second case anything but spiritual, and analogous to that in the first? “Shall be” occupies the (mental) point of time just before the advent of the “glorified” order which was just then becoming actual.

2 Corinthians 3:9.—Moses was a dispenser, administrator, of “condemnation,” in that he brought a Law to men which in issue, if not purpose, condemned them.

2 Corinthians 3:10.—The phraseology here is full of reminiscences of the LXX. In this respect.—Stanley: “In this instance of Moses”: “In this particular instance was fulfilled the general rule, that a greater glory throws a lesser glory into the shade.” Beet: “In this matter; in the comparison of the two Covenants.” Waite: “In this particular of comparative or relative glory.” Conybeare [and Howson]: “Literally, For that which has been glorified in this particular, has not been glorified, because of the glory which surpasses it.” “The moon is as bright after sunrise as before, but, practically, its brightness is set aside by that of the sun” (Beet).

2 Corinthians 3:11. Is done away.—“Is being done away,” now, historically, in that Pauline age. Prepositions changed; see how tries to show this. “The two prepositions … do not necessarily express the difference between transitoriness and duration [? permanence, as Farrar and others], but they may do so as matter of language, and the distinction is too much in accordance with the context to be set aside” (Waite, in Speaker). Beet says well: “In the history of the world, as in the experience of each individual, God speaks first in the form of Law, ‘Do this or die.’ When we hear the good news, ‘He that believes shall not die,’ the voice of condemnation loses its dread power, and comes to nought. But the good news of life will remain sounding in our ears for ever.”

2 Corinthians 3:12.—Returns to 2 Corinthians 3:4, but “confidence” is now “filled out into hope.” Also he was charged with insincerity; he repudiates the charge, “I speak openly, plainly, confidently; there is no concealment, nothing underneath.”

2 Corinthians 3:13.—Note that the A.V. of Exodus 34:33 inserts “till”; reading the story as that Moses hid the refulgence of the glory whilst he was speaking. The LXX. and Vulgate translate Exodus 34:33 otherwise. Paul follows for his purpose their account, that Moses put on the veil after he had finished speaking, to hide, not the unbearable refulgence of the glory, but its waning brightness. In 2 Corinthians 3:13 that which was passing away (R.V.) does not very definitely go beyond the literal glory mentioned in the narrative. But the further application to which the words so aptly lend themselves, is beginning to come into view.

2 Corinthians 3:14.—Like the “letters of commendation,” or the “triumph and the incense bearers” (2 Corinthians 2:14), the figure of the veil, even whilst he is using it, suggests to Paul another distinct, but related, use of it. Like the Tallith—the curious fringed scarf which to this day every born Israelite wears on head or shoulders at public worship—there is a veil on the heart of Israel as they read even the Law. Not merely is its waning glory concealed from them, but even its real Secret, “the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 3:15. Moses.—As in Acts 15:21.

2 Corinthians 3:16. Shall turn.—“Turn in,” as Moses did (Exodus 34:34). What is the nominative? Choose between

(1) “it” [=their heart];

(2) “a man,” margin;

(3) “Moses” [=The Old Covenant, or the people of Israel].

(1) most in favour;
(2) and
(3) are of course true, whether expressed here or not. Note: “But whensoever,” etc. (R.V.).

2 Corinthians 3:17.—“The Lord” in the passage and story from the Pentateuch “is,” practically, “the Spirit.” [Query, “corresponds to the Spirit in my allegory.” Thus, accepting

(3), As Moses turns in to the Lord (in the narrative), so the Old Covenant turns in to “the Spirit” (=the New Covenant, symbolised by its characteristic blessing, as in 2 Corinthians 3:6). So “is” (Galatians 4:25).] To Christians the Lord [=Jehovah] of the Old Testament is Christ. He who turns to Christ, finds that he has met with, and received, the Spirit. Remember the deep unity of Son and Spirit in the undivided Trinity; so that, e.g. in Romans 8:9-10—in redemption language and in regard to redemption facts, the one may often be interchanged with the other. “An administrative, not a personal, identity” (Beet). Liberty.—Once more, in a word a paragraph of another letter is condensed: here Galatians 4:1 to Galatians 5:1 are thus “packed away” into a single phrase.

2 Corinthians 3:18.—Note again the changing phrases; “The Spirit of the Lord” Christ is also Himself “the Lord the Spirit.” The name “Lord” belongs to Him also, equally with Father and Son. Observe “unveiled,” keeping up the story of Exodus. Also notice the “face” not the “heart,” is in this instance without the veil. Difficult, on lexical or grammatical grounds only, to decide between “beholding” and “reflecting.” Each is supported. [Winer (Moulton), p. 318, thinks that the middle voice fixes the sense as “Beholding (for ourselves) the glory of the Lord (as in a mirror).”]. Both are needed for the facts of Christian experience; we must first, like Moses, go in and “behold,” before we can come forth and “reflect.” Paul is, however, insisting that he (=“we”) has nothing to conceal, as Moses had; that, in fact, he had used “great boldness of speech.” Without a veil he had let what glory of the New Covenant he had received, and had to communicate, shine forth; reflecting it as Moses did, but not veiling it, as did Moses. On the other hand, Farrar, carrying on the thought into 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6 : “For God had shone in the hearts of His ministers only in order that the bright knowledge which they had caught from gazing, with no intervening veil, on the glory of Christ, might glow for the illumination of the world.” In favour of “beholding” is the progressive transformation, by assimilation, into conformity to the glory of Christ. [Stanley makes “from glory” the terminus a quo of the process; “to glory” the terminus ad quem; the completeness rather than the progressive character of it being in view.] 2 Corinthians 4:6 fixes, and expounds, “the glory of the Lord.”

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS—Chap. 2 Corinthians 3:1 to 2 Corinthians 4:6

This section has as the unifying thought, “Openness.”—We find

I. Open letters.

II. A law now open [unveiled].

III. An open [unveiled] Gospel.

IV. Open character and conduct of the ministers of the Gospel.


1. The Corinthians areletters patent” for Paul.—Not credentials merely to themselves, assuring them of his true Apostolic standing. [Nor are they merely a letter for his own personal reassurance, in any moment of faintness or discouragement.] They are carried about by him unsealed, “open,” to be his credentials to all who will take pains to examine them. [When Sanballat sent “an open letter” to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:5), the privacy of its contents unsecured by a seal, it was, and was meant to be, an insult. Paul is glad that, as part of the issues of his work, men should read “the epistle from Christ” with which his Divine Master has accredited him.] Happy that ministry whose “fruit” guarantees that there has been no mistake as to the “call.” Happy that people whose personal experience of blessing and life received through the human messenger, and whose joyful observation that newly quickened souls are by his words ever being added to the Church, agree to assure them that his letters of ordination, his commission of apostleship, still run in unabated validity. No need, as between them and him, that he should continually be vindicating his true ministerial status. “We know what he has done for us; we can no more doubt that he is a true minister, than that through him we have a place in Christ ourselves. Our Paul no true apostle? Nonsense! Look at us! Read us! You who depreciate him may bring your letters from Jerusalem and James, [from Rome or Lambeth, or Conference, or College]; his credentials are sufficient for us. We are his seals.”

2. A real reason, though not the strongest, for an open profession of Christ.—“Secret discipleship,” if such a thing were long possible, would be of no service as a “letter of commendation.” Something is due to the man, and to the Church, by whose instrumentality the life-giving Spirit has been “ministered” to a Christian man. [Very much is due, for the sake of those whom the preacher has still to quicken by his ministry. “Let your minister be manifestly, and to the gaze of all, a many-lettered man. They will hear him the more attentively, if your quickened life in the Spirit accredit him to their heart. For their salvation’s sake, be ye an unsealed ‘letter,’ which all may peruse, if they will.”] Something is due to Christ Who sends him. He also needs accrediting to the unsaved. [Though the words do not mean “a letter of commendation for Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:3).] A man’s changed life should be an open lettter.

3. It should be legibly and beautifully written.—[Drunken man, rolling up against a bishop: “You converted me.” “Yes, it looks like my work, not my Master’s.”] Too many Christians are at their best badly written letters; often the writing—though true enough—needs some discovering and deciphering. [Like the shabby, thumbed, torn “references” which the professional beggar brings out of his dirty pocket.] Some of these open letters accredit nobody, with any satisfactory evidence. [Poor credentials of the Gospel itself. When God’s Love first came to men, with what a perfect Open Letter it came “commended”! (Romans 5:8).] Because they are a letter not for Paul’s sake only, he might read fairly the most faulty Corinthian and understand him and do him justice, recognising in him a real work of the “quickening Spirit.” But others need to read these “letters,” and will not always do it with favourable eyes.

4. Moses came down from Sinai bearing two God-inscribed slabs of granite, as the tokens that he had been with God, Who made him His Mediator for Israel; he bore them in his hands. [As Paul’s rivals so bore their imposing credentials, perhaps from James.] “Look in my heart, Corinthians. See yourselves written there, deeply graven in my affection. ‘I have you in my heart’ (Philippians 1:7), ‘in my heart, to die and live with you’ (2 Corinthians 7:3). My love writes you there, on fleshen tables. Your witness, indeed, is not for me only, or chiefly. The tables of Sinai accredited Moses; but they were also Jehovah’s ‘testimonies’ to His own holy nature and will, and the standard of the holiness required of His people. Your ‘quickened’ life—‘quickened’ by no mere ‘letter’ of my message, but by ‘the Spirit’ who infused Himself into it—not only accredits me, but is a witness for Christ, of His mind and good pleasure towards His people. It is an exposition, it ought to be a standard of measurement, of the blessed purpose and contents of the ‘new Covenant.’ What is this purpose? To give life; to give the Spirit Who gives that life. The embodiment for the new Order is no mere formal, external Code of rules for conduct, but a Life, with a new Life principle in it. [A βίος which is the outgrowth of a ζωή, as Galatians 5:25.] The “letter” of the code will have its office and its necessary place in such a life, at least in that life’s earlier, weaker, formative stages. But the “glory” of the new life, and of the new Order to which it belongs, will be realised, partly in the very independence of such helps because of the better, higher, all-comprehending Law of the life within,—the life of the Spirit Who quickens.

II. The very Law itself was now unveiled.—Paul and his readers were living in one of the transition times of the world’s history. Ceaseless change, death and birth, the New springing out of the Old,—such are the invariable characteristics of the life story of Man and his World. But these were times of specially rapid and significant change. [There are “times and seasons” (Acts 1:7), periods of time, and points of time; the stretches of duration wherein the great clock is quietly, surely ticking on, and the marked moments when It strikes. Paul lived in a “season”; at one of the points when the striking of the clock proclaimed a new “time” begun.] One of those complete, but not violently, openly, cataclysmatic abolishings of the Old was taking place. [At the cession of Corfu by England to the Greeks, a large and costly and important fortification had first to be demolished. Gun-cotton, then a somewhat new thing in such use, was the agent employed; much curiosity to know what its action would be Fired by electricity. A dull, deep rumbling heard, but no great, earth-heaving convulsion seen or felt; no masonry flying into the air. But after a few moments it was seen that the immense fortification had quietly disappeared. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the historic cessation of the sacrifices and the Jewish polity, were more really an end visible and catastrophic; but these had not yet taken place. Paul knew that on Calvary and at Pentecost the spark had been fired. He saw the old System disappearing; his Jewish-Christian brethren would not see, and so could not. “Their eyes were blinded.” Such critical periods always have men with clearer vision than their fellows; before the rest they discern the times.] The Old System, with its Shekinah-glory, its Sacrificial routine, its laws of clean and unclean, its separate nation physically sealed by circumcision, was fading away, dissolving before men’s eyes, becoming plainly a shadowy thing. There was appearing [projected like a new Image, a new picture, on Time’s great screen] a New System, in which the one conspicuous thing was a Person, Christ: “the end of the Law.” The old system was coming to an end, because its various lines of suggestion and teaching had arrived at Christ. The streams of history, prophecy, type, had found their way to the Sea, the end of their journey. The very Decalogue itself had arrived at Christ, to stand henceforth by His side, with a John Baptist voice and office, pointing, sending the guilty souls whom it “condemned” and “killed,” to the “Lamb of God” with a “Behold!” Moreover, it had reached One in Whose “Day” the Spirit was to secure for it a new glory, a fulfilment such as it had never received while itself was the distinctive, central fact of the old order.

2. The old had been a glorious system. The new was to surpass it.—In no other had God been so clearly revealed to men; as much as Mahometanism is vaunted as an advance upon African fetishism and idolatry, so much was Judaism more gloriously in advance of every other system, past, present, to come, except Christianity. No nation was “so great, or had God so near to them,” as Israel (Deuteronomy 4:7), until in Christ God created a Church, a new Israel, and came nearer still. Sin and Holiness had hardly any meaning outside the Old Order of the Law; holiness had hardly any existence. God’s character, God’s will, God’s redeeming purpose, His remedy for the ruin which even the heathen saw, but did not understand,—the light in Israel, at its most dim, had on all these points been a “glory” for the old Covenant, with which there was nothing in the world to compare. It is not Christian thought, to depreciate the Old Testament. It had been a moon and stars ruling and illuminating the deep night of earth. Now the Sun was arisen, and moon and stars were to lose their lustre in competition with His. [It had been a glorious illuminant for earth’s night; now one still better had come. The gas-jet shows as a dull silhouette, when seen projected upon the white, electric-lighted globe.] The revelation of God, of Sin and its Remedy, of the significance and the true goal of man’s Life, given to the world in Christ, has no serious competitor amongst the religions of the world. All this was dramatically told upon the top of Hermon. For a few brief moments human eyes saw Law, Prophets, Christ, side by side, speaking together of His “decease.” Men saw and heard the transfer of testimony and office from the lesser to the Greater. The Shekinah-cloud enveloped all three in its glory; it belonged to them all. When it was past, Moses was gone, and Elijah. The day of the Law and the Prophets was past. “Jesus only with themselves.” Something of this had been dramatically told at Sinai. Moses had veiled his resplendent face; the glory had waned and waned away beneath the veil; if men might have been permitted to see, they would have seen an ending of the glory caught on the Mount of the Law; though even then it would not have been given to them to see the End of that which was revealed. His day was not yet. And the Old, though God-given and “made glorious,” became a bondage, became an idol. Men gazed upon it, and saw nothing in it but itself. Men studied it; they had to defend it, to die for it; they began to pique themselves upon being its faithful guardians. They hugged the dying or dead thing the closer to their hearts, when the life was departing or gone. Their affection became mechanically rigid in its grasp. Their eye grew accustomed to the moonlight night; they resented and refused the day. Their devotion became a slavery; it fettered thought; it blinded the eye; it wove a veil for the very heart. [All partial truth may. (To be remembered that God’s “partial truth” is absolutely true so far as it goes. Unlike our “partial truth,” nothing in it needs unlearning before the new, complementary truth can be added. Our “partial truth” is often false because only relative, and is out of proportion, needing much adjustment before it can be made to fit into a new discovery.) The eye must not lose its power to receive new light, must not fill its vision with the familiar and precious thing so fully that it can see no new object.] How had Paul and his Christian readers escaped? “With unveiled face” they beheld with equanimity the glory fading fast from an unveiled Law; nay, with a new sense of “liberty” and a larger life. Why? The Spirit had led them into the presence of “the Lord” Christ. [Shall He one day so lead Israel in, into the Holy Place where “the Lord” dwells? (2 Corinthians 3:16).] They have come forth again, transformed into the same image, each of them a Moses with resplendent face; [albeit many of them know not how resplendent. See Separate Homily on “Unconscious Goodness.”] Their heart has a strange new sense of freedom. The old is still interesting, precious, glorious, not lightly to be cast away; but they have grown into something larger. [The man remembers vividly the day when the youth found himself to have grown past running after his boyish hoop; the woman the day when, with a little shock, she found herself grown too big to play with her splendid doll.] Liberty has come with the manhood of the days of the Spirit.

3. They see the ending of the Old, because they see that it has reached its End and has lost itself in its Fulfilments.—Now they see and understand the Law, indeed the entire Old Testament, and see it full of Christ. Familiar experience to every Christian reader of Old Testament. In it he (say) reads some passage, and passes on into the New Testament. Returning to the Old Testament, with his mind and his vision filled with the Christ he has seen there, he comes across his passage again, and finds himself saying, “Why, this might be written of Christ. It is truer of Christ than of the man to whom it originally belongs. Truer of Christ than of any man besides.” Or, it is an incident of the narrative; he rubs his eyes and looks wonderingly, “Is this David’s history, or Jonah’s, that I am reading,—or Christ’s?” Or, it is a priest, a prophet, a man, a child; familiar enough; yet, again and again, when, with eyes and heart full of the Christ into Whose presence he hasturned,” he reads the Old Testament, he finds the familiar features somehow transfigured. The same, yet somehow different. As if the Old Testament face had become tenanted, possessed, by another personality; as if Another looked out of the eyes of the Old Testament man. And this happens so often, and with such consistency of system and harmony, that a principle establishes itself, “The Old Testament is full of Christ.” A tentative, working hypothesis at first, each added fact that falls in with it strengthens the probability of its truth, till it rises to a practical certainty. In the end, the man whose unveiled heart has been in and gazed upon the glory of Christ in the New Covenant revelation—a glory which does not wane and die away as we are gazing on it—finds the presence of Christ, so constantly and so clearly, in the unveiled Law; sees so often the glory of the Old fade away, and almost the very Old itself, until only Christ, “the Lord” in His glory, is left visible; that he wonders how any heart can miss Him in the Old Testament, in its reading and its search. [The man who has the key is almost ashamed of proposing the riddle to another man, it seems so obvious. The hidden face once discovered in the puzzle pictures which amuse childhood, it is then impossible not to see it.] Sometimes language so obviously adapted to contain a larger meaning than was contemplated by the first who used or wrote it,—a vessel so obviously adapted for something larger and fuller than its Old Testament contents; sometimes a “staringly like” anticipation of Christ’s person, or work, or Sacrifice, unexpectedly flashing out upon the New Testament reader of the Old Testament; sometimes a real, but fitful, flash of resemblance [like those seen in a “family likeness”], seen, and then disappearing when looked for with closer purpose to discover it; sometimes highways, sometimes byways, of history or suggestion, leading with surprising and unlooked-for directness to Christ;—these things so continually occur and recur, that one cannot “turn in unto” even the Old Testament without at every turn meeting Him Who is its End, and therefore its Ending. All this pre-eminently true of “The Law” in its narrower sense. Its ritual system, the very details of its Sanctuary, so persistently, so consistently, lend themselves to suggest Christ and the Gospel; and often with such minuteness of complete suggestion; that, as the instances accumulate, it becomes, even mathematically calculated, almost as 2 Corinthians 8:1, that they should merely be coincidences; that the correspondences should be accident, and not Divine design. But to see the Christ there, in the midst of the passing away of the glory of the unveiled “Law” needs the unveiled heart, which as yet Israel does not possess. Such a heart is a gift, part of the life given by the quickening Holy Spirit, Who is the characteristic of the New Covenant.

[III. and IV. belong to chap. 4.]

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Responsibility and Sufficiency.

I. The responsibility of ministering the “New Testament.”

1. The Responsibility of ministering the Old was great. It was a sacred deposit from God; with real, if incomplete, truth in it. It had a “glory” of origin, of history, of office, and above all it was the root from which sprung Christ and the Gospel (Romans 9:4-5). Judaism was the providential nidus of Christianity. When the Virgin Israel had brought forth a Son, “born under the Law,” then she had done her greatest work. The Old Covenant had not existed in vain when it yielded up its life in giving historic birth to the New. The “librarians of the world” had had a weighty charge upon them in that age after age they “ministered” the written Truth and Law of God. Mosaism had been an episodic fact; for a special purpose it had been grafted on to the main stem of God’s redeeming purpose and work (Galatians 3:19). It had run its course by the side of that main purpose; an “after-thought,” a by-thought, providing for a special emergency which had arisen, so far as we may speak thus of any work and thought of God. Yet intrinsically it had been a great, a glorious system, and the responsibility of its “ministers,” from Moses onward, had been great. And because of the deeper issue which lay in the Law—its condemning effect—does every Christian preacher feel a new responsibility of being in any degree a minister of the “killing letter.” That it issued in death was a disparagement to the Law, only as this stood compared with the Gospel. Intrinsically it was an honour to the Law that it bore such clear, unflinching testimony to God’s holiness of nature and requirement, and also, indirectly, to the honourable possibilities of human nature. (“Man was made to live, then, up to that standard! Man can be commanded to live up to that, and the command have the reasonableness of possibility!”) It was no real disparagement to the Law that it could only guard and train and correct growth, and not give life. Law per se can do no more, under any conditions. It is itself a real forerunner, “preparing the way of the Lord” Christ, when it “condemns” and “kills.” The Gospel preacher of “the Spirit” needs to build upon the work of the Law. Just in proportion as he knows how, evangelically, to “minister the letter,” is his work thorough. And no part of his work presses more heavily upon the worthy minister than that of so preaching as to bring the sense of sin home to the conscience. Nothing needs more a sanctified judgment; some consciences are abnormally indurated, some morbidly tender; under the Gospel the demand of the Law must not be overpressed, any more than it must be understated. If his words may not only kill self-righteousness, but may even slay hope, “who is sufficient”? Whether to preach Law or Gospel, man’s sin or God’s grace, we feel keenly: “not sufficient of ourselves,” etc. Much greater, then,—

2. The responsibility of ministering the New is greater.—The treasure entrusted to him for distribution is more precious than the former. If the Old order had many “goodly pearls,” yet the New has the “one pearl, of great price.” Is it not easier to misrepresent the Gospel of life than the Law of death? Is there not more liability to make the Gospel too easy than to make the Law too stern? If a man needs wisdom and strength above his own, to preach the Law and to bring men to a sense of sin, how much more to awaken their death into life! To know that men are “dead”; that they must live again in the Spirit, or must abide in death eternally; that upon his skill and fidelity, in some one instance, or upon some one occasion, “life” (or death) may depend,—brings him back to Paul’s burdened sense of inadequateness for such a task. A responsibility so great becomes to some men a real temptation not to “use great plainness of speech,” to soften their tongue, to conciliate their hearers, to modify their message.

3. There is asufficiency,” however, even for this. “Through Christ,” “To Godward.”—Very graphic. He “stands in the presence of God.” All the minister’s work is done as though He were seen looking on. At every point the worker offers his work to God, with a perpetually renewed devotion of it to His glory and service. He has himself been “converted to God” (Acts 15:19), turned about, and set Godward. He does his work, facing Godward always. “Sets the Lord always before him,” and so is not “moved” even by a sense of personal inadequateness to his task, or by the fear of man, or by the consideration of the fateful issues which hang upon his ministry. He turns all his work toward God; seeks to give it a Godward direction. There is a supply of strength, in this realisation of Him Who is invisible. The man whose life and thought are filled with, and lifted up to the level of, “the powers of the world to come,” feels little force, whether deterrent or alluring, in the opinion of man, be it favourable or unfavourable. His soul is liberated from the slavery to which regard for man’s favour subjects the heart. He speaks out fearlessly, clearly, without diminishing or admixture, with “great boldness of speech,” the message he has first heard from God. [He who “sanctifies Christ as Lord in his heart” will not fear “men’s fear” (1 Peter 3:14-15).] That man has laid hold of the secret of steadfastness in opinion, of courage in utterance, of stability of character, of unwearying continuance in labour, who has come into, and abides in, the presence of God, and who directs himself and his every act Godward. He sees God; he is blind to man. “The Master praises; what are men?” And this is “through Christ.” Paul comes in nowhere! All communication between God and man has from the first been mediatorial, “through Christ.” All God’s advances toward man have been made along that path of approach; man has not—never has had—any way to “a Father” but this. Christ has all along been the great underlying Condition, the great Presupposition, in all intercourse between God and man. Paul’s strength, his endowment of adequacy for his responsible task,—he expects it, and receives it through this one, only Channel. He is

“Strong in the strength which God supplies

Through His Eternal Son.”

This alone ever makes a man “able” as a “minister of the new covenant.” This may co-exist with, and be the infused life and efficiency of, great natural fitness,—of gift, temperament, education, social position, sacred office; it can make all these its vehicles and organs, and in so doing puts on them their highest honour. But it is independent of these; and whether with or without them is the essential requisite. There is no “sufficiency,” where this is not found. The regard steadfastly directed Godward, the ceaselessly renewed supply of grace through the one Channel, Christ,—these alone will enable a man to bear the burden of the ministration, whether of Law or Gospel; certainly of the Gospel, and of an ambassadorship wherein his words force men upon sharp, decisive verdicts and issues; this alone will sustain a man who bears about a Gospel in whose words are certainly inherent a power to kill, or to quicken with the fulness of the life of the Spirit.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Glorious and More Glorious.”


1. The Infinite Father has made a special revelation of Himself to His human offspring.
2. This has mainly come through two great general channels—Moses and Christ.

3. The special revelation of Himself, as it came through Christ, far transcends in glory the form it assumed as it came through Moses.

I. Glorious as it came through Moses.—Evidenced by four things.

1. The wonderful display of Divinity attending the expression of it on Mount Sinai.
2. The magnificence of its religious scenes and celebrations.
3. The stupendous miracles that stand in connection with it.
4. The splendid intellects which were employed in connection with it.

II. More glorious as it appears in connection with Christ.—

1. The Christian form of revelation is more adapted to give life than is the Mosaic. “Millions, I will hope, were quickened by” the Mosaic. But men frequently died spiritually under it. Cf. the effect of an address from an ancient prophet, with the words of Christ, spoken through Peter on the Day of Pentecost.

2. The Christian form of revelation is more emphatically spirit than the Mosaic. In the Mosaic there was spirit; the elements of eternal truth, ethical and religious, were there, but nearly overlaid with ceremonial. In Christianity only Baptism and the Supper; and it throbs through every sentence with the eternal spirit of truth. [This is all very inadequate and inexact exegesis. It should be “Spirit.”]

3. Is more restorative.

4. Is more lasting. Moses is no longer our Master. Christianity is the permanent system; the final revelation of God to our world. There is nothing to succeed it.


1. Do not go to Moses to expound Christ.
2. Nor to support opinions (e.g. war, slavery, etc.) which cannot be supported from Christ’s Gospel.

3. The immense responsibility of men who have the Gospel.
4. The glorious position of a true Gospel minister.—In abstract, fromHomilist,” New Series, ii. 421.


2 Corinthians 3:6. The Deadly Letter; the Life-giving Spirit.

I. What this does mean.

II. What it does not mean.


1. Like many another phrase in this chapter, this particular saying is a summary of an extended paragraph found elsewhere in the pages of St. Paul. Romans 7:0 is concentrated into it. Not that this is a germ afterwards deliberately expanded into a paragraph. The truth which underlies germ and expansion, is habitual, fundamental, to all Paul’s thinking about Christian experience. Here it crops up at the surface in a phrase; there it lies, of set purpose all laid bare and exposed to examination.

2. Paul’s own experience is concentrated into it. Acts 9:0, with its companion, complementary, accounts in 22 and 26, give the externals of Paul’s “conversion.” In Philippians 3:4-11 (particularly 2 Corinthians 3:7) he analyses the inner process, and in 2 Corinthians 3:7 precisely fixes the critical point around which his new relation to God and the outflowing new life turn. In Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:4, whilst no doubt sketching a universal programme of the moral revolution culminating in Regeneration, and stating a universal formula of the conversion process, he is nevertheless drawing upon his memories of the heart-searchings of the three days’ darkness in Damascus, and of the earlier days when he felt the prick of the Master’s goad and kicked against it. Every man’s conversion is “universal.”

3. He had “profited in the Jew’s religion above many his equals” (Galatians 1:14). He had “lived a Pharisee,” and that, we may believe, of the best type. Christ’s charges of hypocrisy by no means lay against all Pharisees. These were not all “whited sepulchres.” Yet “blameless as he was in all the righteousness of the Law,”—and, let it be noted, it is with a Christian conscience reviewing these days, that he thus pronounces upon his Jewish life,—the Talmud and the New Testament, with fullest agreement in their evidence enable us to appreciate how almost entirely external was the righteousness he thus recalls; how very largely it amounted to a minutely faithful fulfilment of Rabbinical refinements upon the original legislation of Moses, which were childishly frivolous, when they were not an actual offence to the Divinity of that sacred code.

4. There arrived a day when the “commandment came,” particularly the “Tenth” of the “Words” of the Decalogue, which in effect sums up all the prohibitive enactments of the Divine Law; laying its forbiding hand upon every “coveting” of the natural heart for that which is against the mind and will of God, and the beneficent moral order of His world. For the first time, any adequate “knowledge of sin” awoke within the heart of Paul; it “came by the law.” He had hardly known that such a thing as sin was in him; he had done it so naturally that it excited no notice. Now the Law had been the revealer of sin. In the light of this new discovery the robe of his own righteousness showed seamy, “shabby,” utterly unfit for a garment in which a man might present himself before God. He discovered that whilst he had been busy in fulfilling a round of minutiæ of ordinances, even to learn which was an exercise and a study to fill a long and laborious lifetime, he had missed altogether the reality of obedience; that sin and righteousness lay quite apart from any mere mechanical fulfilment of such a code, or of any code, as such; that the very motives of the fulfilment, and the complacent satisfaction into which it was reviewed, were self-centered,—“gains to me”;—pride! Saul the Pharisee fell slain at the feet, and by the stroke, of the Law, as it stood before him for the first time “spiritual,” “holy, just, and good.” All self-complacency was gone from, and was from that moment impossible to, the man who now learned, “I am carnal, sold under sin.”

5. And a further stage was reached immediately. To attempt to set things right was the death of hope; the discovery of the wrong had been the death of peace. The man discovered himself helpless and a slave. Sin held him under its power. Resolve as he might, hate himself for his moral impotence as he might, bewail the moral division within him as he might, struggle as he might, he seemed to have no power but to sin. The discrepancy between the holy Law of God and his own unholy life and heart grew more and more glaring as the light came more clear and full. A new sinfulness was added to sinful acts, in that they were now done in the full light of a known command. And the deepest depth of self-slaying discovery was touched when he found the very commandment, whether precept or prohibition, arousing an innate opposition to its holy requirement; adding a new attractiveness to the forbidden fruit; and with a consuming intensity inflaming desire for it. And such sinfulness stood out clearly as “death,” in the new light of the unveiled Law. What had he ever done but sin! What could he hope to do but sin! What could he promise or purpose or perform,—he whose very heart found a new desireableness given to prohibited action! [No “bread so pleasant” as that “eaten in secret.” (“But you often want to change your baker!” said Jackson Wray.) No liquor so good as that which was smuggled. No garden so fair as that which is over the fence!]

6. This a universal experience. Even moralists, who are only half serious, like Gay in his fable of the young cock, or whose society verse lapses into occasional earnestness like his who cried, “Meliora video proboque, deteriora sequor.” But all noble souls feel it. “I certainly have two souls, for if there were only one, it surely could not be at the same time good and bad, nor could it at the same time love good and base actions, and also at the very same time wish the very same thing, and not desire to put the wish into action; but evidently there are two souls, and if the good soul gets the upper hand, then good will be done, and if the evil than shameful actions will be perpetrated” (Xenophon, Cyropedia, vi.). Action is always lower than knowledge, in the noblest heathen. “I should have lived better than I have done, if I had always followed the monitions of the gods” (Marcus Aurelius, Conf.). “The wages of sin is death.” And not that only, but, “To be carnally minded is death.”

7. Why could there not have been “a commandment given bringing life”? (a) Partly from the very nature and office of Law. It is directory, educational, not enabling. It is the model which trains the artistic sense; but the artistic sense and faculty cannot be given by the most perfect model. It is the standard which enables the student to measure his progress and to set before him the goal at which he is to aim. But the real conforming power, the real source of effort and endeavour, are within himself. Truth, beauty—at all events, moral truth, moral beauty—are external to the man, external to all men; and are altogether independent of personal, or racial, or interested estimate and approbation. They are of no school, of no age, of no one heart or intellect; they are universal, and of God. The Law is the fingerpost which points out, the wall of definition and of defence on either side of, the one Way of Life, as the Creator understands “Life” and designed “Life” for man. But the will and power to walk in the “Way” are within the man himself. The Law declares with authority what is Obedience, but only in a secondary sense does it offer any help to Obedience; just in that it makes the path definite, and would at once indicate divergence. The actual, concrete, Jewish “Law” said little about forgiveness, and offered no direct help to holiness. (b) But the more effectual reason why not, is found in the morally perverted heart and will of man. What was in design educational, for that reason became in fact condemnatory. The directorial rule reveals and convicts the discrepancies of the actually irregular line of life. The rebellion of the heart against restraint makes the Law irksome instead of helpful. The hedge which marks out the path for the willing traveller must pierce with its sharp thorns the man who is bent upon breaking through into the wide space—the “liberty”—on either hand beyond. The silly bird which will take its cage for a prison instead of a home; which will dash itself, perhaps even to its death, against bars which were intended for a protection, but in which it will only see a restriction upon its freedom; must hurt itself. If the letter “kills,” it is because the evil heart in man will not accept and use it as the guide of wise, safe, happy living, the guide to Life; because the heart resents its attempt to support inexperience and weakness, and to educate the moral sense, and its necessary exposure of moral immaturity, or failure, or revolt.

8. “To be spiritually minded—to mind the things of the Spirit—is Life.” “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” He Who said so, and also that “the Flesh profiteth nothing,” is Himself the High Priest of a system, a new Law, “not of a carnal commandment, but of an endless life” (Hebrews 7:16). “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [The cry of the shipwrecked man straining his eyes for the token of a sail, or for the breaking of the day. It is the eager longing of Wellington at Waterloo for the promised Prussian help.] The answer comes, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord!” which is expounded further on (2 Corinthians 8:2). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” “In Christ Jesus;” the secret of Life and of the unity between Law and Life is there. (More of this under 2 Corinthians 3:17.) A new motive springs up in the heart where “the love of God is shed abroad by the Spirit which He hath given” (Romans 5:5). “We love Him because”—as on that Spirit’s authority we are made to know—“He first loved us.” And there is a new hope; for the same Spirit who brings peace, brings also power. The will is enabled with a new force. Sin no longer “has dominion”; the man is no longer “sold under sin.” A new direction to thought; a new attraction for the affections; a new bias and bent to the will. All the life, all the natural life, obeys a new directing principle, and becomes interfused with that yet truer life which is Life indeed. Peace, hope, liberty, victory,—all by the indwelling of the quickening Spirit. Deep problems of mental science underlie the method by which the fact of the adopting love of God towards the penitent, pardoned sinner is communicated to the heart; or by which the will is reinforced as with a power coming distinctly ab extra. But the fact is abundantly verified. Experience in every Church and age, and in thousands of cases of every variety of type and temperament, lights up the Scripture declaration. The Scripture declarations guard, in their turn, from the vagaries of unregulated, extravagant, or merely viciously personal, “experience.” And that a new idea should be a new motive, transforming a man, transfiguring his life, begetting a new life, is but a particular instance of a widely obtaining law. The new idea, the new power, are the gift and work of the Spirit Who is in the man who is in “Christ.” “The Spirit giveth life.”


1. Kingsley wrote to one of his curates—“a very new curate”—what has an applicability far beyond its original occasion: “Let not Swedenborg, or any other man, argue you out of the scientific canon that to understand the spirit of Scripture or any other words, you must first understand the letter. If the spirit is to be found anywhere, it is to be found by putting yourself in the place of the listeners, and seeing what the words would have meant to them. Then take that meaning as an instance (possibly a lower one) of a universal spiritual law, true for all men, and may God give you wisdom for the process of induction by which the law is to be discovered” (Life, ii. 95). Allegorising has run mad, and has in some quarters given a bad name to everything but the barest, most meagre, historical, naturalistic reading of what are indeed ancient books, but are very much besides. The Philonian method dealt with the Old Testament, the Origenic dealt with New and Old, in a fashion which made the stories of the Book very little more than so much convenient framework, and the persons so many happily serviceable starting-points, for fine theorising or fanciful moralising, whose value in no way depended upon the historicity or otherwise of the story or the saying which gave form and colour to the teaching. Sound allegorising is nothing but the sober, Spirit-guided development of the general principles which are carried by particular instances. The Scripture teaches by the concrete—the story, the biography—rather than by the abstract. [E.g. we need, and might have had, a chapter in A Treatise of Christian Ethics headed, “The Relation between Ignorance and Responsibility, and between Conscientiousness and Guilt.” Instead, we have the conscientious “chief of sinners,” Saul of Tarsus, and the prayer of the Redeemer on His cross for those who “knew not” what they did.] There are widening circles of application, all starting from the one central fact or truth, with a widening radius. The mischievous, untrue allegorising forsakes the centre, or disdains and denies it. The “letter” is the merely accidental, and more or less convenient, literary vehicle; the “spirit,” so called, the truth to be taught, is the alone really valuable and important. The erroneous thing is, so to say, a literary Gnosticism which refines away, or denies, the historic Word, hoping to retain the Idea; as the theologic Gnosticism refined away, or denied, the real humanity of the Divine Christ, and tried to retain a Divinity whose manifestation to man was but a phantom. Yet, as the Divinity of the Incarnate One must not be denied, and the humanity overprized; so the Letter is not all.

2. Loyalty to the written Word.—There is a “spirit” which has become incarnate in the “letter.” Whatever be the philosophic decision of the question whether or not words are, to the man himself, indispensable to thought; as a fact God’s thoughts have come to us in words. They have come to us in a Book. The experiment of the race all goes to show that outside this Book there is no certain, no clear knowledge, of the mind and will of God. Nature speaks with a stammer, and is intelligible, to any practical effect, only to those who have heard from the Book what it is she has to say. As indistinct, as variable, as scanty, of as little practical service, are the utterances of the “natural” conscience. Its “truths,” “innate ideas,” need interpreting and checking by the external Word. The witness of no two consciences agrees long together. God, duty, right, the hereafter of man,—if on these topics men forsake the written Word, there is no verifiable truth, none authoritative except to the man who propounds it—if even to him. It is not slavery to the “letter,” to refuse to go beyond the distinct teaching of the Bible, either by direct statement or by fair and necessary inference. That Book certainly gives but a narrow standing ground of dry land amidst a far-stretching, surrounding ocean of mystery. It is but a question of a step or two more beyond his fellows, when, forsaking this, the tallest man amongst them wades out into the depths, and finds himself out of his depth, and progress impossible. Or, to change the figure, there is no sure, safe walking out into these depths, except so far as the inquirer keeps hold of the rope which is fast to the Bible. Practically all the facts upon which religion can base itself, have for all the Christian centuries been long complete; all lie within the area of the completed “letter.” No new facts can be looked for; all that can be done is to examine these with ever fresh scrutiny, to see whether there may be in them anything which has hitherto escaped discovery. No such supplement, no such corrective appendix, is from time to time issued, whether in the larger knowledge of the universe, or in the intuitions of man’s heart, as may yield us something, or all, of the original Work. Christianity can never dispense with its foundation documents. The Christian speculator, during his excursions into the regions of the mysterious or the unknown, must never lose touch with his base, as the soldiers say. To be loyal to the Word is not to “kill,” but to assist, to nourish, to protect, knowledge. Not, “What do I think? what do my intuitions, my moral sense, teach me.” Not, “What do I feel must be true?” But, “What does God—not merely a Book—say?”

3. The historical Christ andthe Christian idea.”—Schelling (quoted in Luthardt, Saving Truths, p. 252), on the analogous hope to preserve the “ideas” of Christianity, whether or not the historical Christ be believed in and retained, says: “How frequently has not the historical character of Christianity been declared to be heathenish (not its external, but its higher facts, e.g., the pre-existence, the pre-mundane being of Christ, His position as Son of God), and on that account, as that which is no longer compatible with modern thought? The very essence of Christianity is, however, its historical character, not the ordinary part of its history, as, e.g., that its Founder was born under Augustus, died under Tiberius, but that higher history on which it properly rests, and which is its peculiar matter. I call it a higher history, for the true subject-matter of Christianity is a history in which divinity is implicated—a Divine history. That would be but a poor explanation, and entirely destructive of the peculiarity of Christianity, which should distinguish between the doctrinal and the historical, and consider the former the essential and special matter, and the latter as mere form and clothing. The history is not merely incidental to the doctrine, it is the doctrine itself. The doctrinal matter, which might perhaps remain after the excision of the historical, as, e.g., the general doctrine of a personal God, such as even rational theology sometimes admits, or the morality of Christianity would be nothing peculiar, nothing distinctive; … the history is the distinctive feature of Christianity. It is altogether incongruous to speak only of the teaching of Christ. The chief matter of Christianity is Christ Himself; not what He says, but what He is, what He did. Christianity is not directly a body of doctrine, it is a thing, an object; doctrine is but the expression of the thing.” [Schelling in some degree thus meets by anticipation the position of Ritschl. Luthardt goes on to speak of a “so-called liberal theology, which really sees nothing more in Christianity than a certain general religious feeling, or the mere force of civilisation.”]

4. Dogma and religion.—There is an embodiment of truth in formal statements of doctrinal confessions and creeds which is sometimes regarded as not helpful to, but as the death of, religious life, and indeed of the interests of truth itself. And in this connection the text is often quoted. [The use of this verse sometimes made, with that application, is a flagrant instance of the employment of the mere words of Scripture, apart from the context and connection, and without regard to the rule which requires some real analogy between the primary meaning of the passage and the matter to which it is sought to apply it. It was not because the Law of Moses was written, and so was fixed in unchanging record upon the tables of Sinai, that it wrought death; the Spirit which works life uses as His instrument a written Word.] It is, in reply, pointed out that what is known of any truth, can be stated inexact form, and demands to be so stated, and that the mind inevitably seeks to systematise its knowledge—to unify it. It is pointed out that if truth be objective, if, e.g., it be a real disclosure of a fact of God’s government of mankind in Christ, then once made, once ascertained to man, it abides true, and that putting it into formal shape and statement, or embodying it in a creed, is no more than Science does with its accumulating corpus of ascertained truth. It endeavours unceasingly to put into exact expression, and to co-ordinate into systematic relationship and statement, the results at which, from its own data, and by its own proper methods, it from time to time definitely arrives. It is urged that if Theology too be a science, if it deals with a section of the whole universe of facts which is capable of exact study, with its own appropriate methods, then results once arrived at abide valid, and not less so that formal, or confessional, expression has been given to them. If “Justification by faith” be really the method of a sinner’s acceptance with God, then it is of no age or Church; and if that formulation of God’s method be Scriptural, it is not to be challenged or set aside as a passing, or only relatively true, form of statement. If between the death of Christ and the pardon of sin there once be revealed or ascertained a relation which is independent of any act or feeling or change in the sinner himself, then true once this is true always. In this instance well appears what gives occasion to, and such justification as there may be found for, the revolt against the letter. In endeavouring to state this relation between the death of Christ and sin, it has been forgotten that all the phraseology, even though borrowed from Scripture, is analogical, drawing from the relations between man and man, a mutually corrective, mutually expository, and complementary series of illustrations for the relation between the sinner and God. It has been forgotten how imperfectly the whole “scheme” of the Atonement is revealed or comprehensible. There has been an unwise insistence on some particular mode of statement; there has above all been a zeal for one’s own particular phraseology and confessional form which has made the form everything, or at least has made it overshadow altogether the truth which this was designed to express or guard. But to remember this is far removed from any demand that all creeds, and the very statements of Scripture themselves, should be thrown afresh into the melting-pot, and be continually in a state of flux, nothing ever cast into permanent mould; and this only lest instead of the living, “growing” thing, there should come out the dead cult, to be the object of a truth-dishonouring, God-dishonouring idolatry of the “letter.” The “letter” is the body of “the spirit.” Can the spirit exist without a body? Without its own body? Is the identity of the body part of the unchanging identity of the truth? [As in the case of the ceaseless change of the component particles of the human body, whose ceaseless flux does not affect the identity, so in this case the essential form remains; the changing “body” does clothe the same truth; and receives its shape from the same informing truth. A spirit freed from, and independent of, the letter—is it parallel to the grotesque idea of Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, who imagines a grin which remains when the cat has faded away?]

2 Corinthians 3:6. “Letter and spirit.”—“Able ministers” misleading, to our ears. Connect closely with “sufficient,” “sufficiency.” “Killeth” cannot have so inadequate a reference as to the frequency of the death penalty under the Law.

I. Divine commands alone cannot produce obedience.—Owing to an imperfection not in the Law, but in human nature, which does not yield to the obligation: Conscience is on the side of the Law, but is overborne by the baser nature. The habitual failure of conscience produces habitual disquiet and misery, a constant sense of discord, a consciousness of powerlessness against evil;—Death. The Law even became the occasion of sin. Prohibition pro vokes the natural heart and irritates it to impatience of restraint. The restive horse rears against the bridle; at last throws off its rider. Then follows the licence of self-will,—Death. Christianity has a quickening power. The Law was inaugurated by the code of the Ten Words; Christianity by the code of a Perfect Human Life exhibited in Christ [written out on the fleshen tables of His heart and blameless life]. Christ not only obeyed the Law with an absolutely perfect obedience, but showed its new and sublimer meaning. Thus the code of human duty is presented in a form most intimate and intelligible and affecting. Christianity quickens by a secret influence on the heart. The higher nature receives an increase of power. Conscience is afresh enthroned, and governs; the Law is obeyed not so much because it is obligatory, but because it is loved. As natural weakness requires aid it turns ever anew to the Divine Source of strength, till the lower nature becomes subjugated, and the higher triumphant.

II. The intellectual deficiency and mischievousness of mere writing as a means of instruction.—Correspondence is at best a poor comfort in separation; is often obscure, and open to misinterpretation; the writer cannot be appealed to. An ancient writing, a holy writing, and that in translation, leaves many openings for misunderstanding and consequent mistake. Technical theological terms sometimes hinder spiritual life and growth, or kill them.

1. They were perhaps originally only imperfectly correspondent to the truth, and may come to be regarded with a reverence which belongs only to the words of Scripture, a reverence often innocent of their real sense. Hearers do not recognise old truth in new phraseology, and crucify the preacher.
2. Knowledge of, and sympathy with, the writer is indispensable to the understanding of his writings. So the knowledge of the Divine Author and the inspiration of His Spirit, are necessary to the interpretation of the Bible. The Christian man, and he only, is in a position to understand, and live by, the Scriptures. In constant contact with the Spirit, he is a constant recipient of moral and intellectual life.
3. Paul is not only the trustee of a Book, but the dispenser of the Spirit. What a noble view of the Christian ministry!—FromHomilist,” Third Series, ii. 101 sqq.

2 Corinthians 3:6. “Ministers of the New Covenant.”

I. Not of Naturalism.—Christianity is the grand subject of all true modern ministries, the one primary text of religious discourses the world over, the ages through. Had man retained primitive innocence, Nature would have been that grand text; budding earth, sparkling skies, murmuring brook, booming billow, beasts of the forest, fowls of heaven. Men would have seen in Nature what they cannot see now, true ideas of God; they would have found there food for souls. All the parts of material nature would have been regarded as embodiments of Divine thought and symbols of eternal truth. But, as it is, they cannot reach the spiritual significance of nature; if they could, it would not meet their spiritual exigencies or improve their spiritual condition. [How many sermons have nothing distinctively Christian,—in the topics they discuss; in their method of discussing even topics derived from Scripture; in their standards of judgment of men and conduct; in their lessons inculcated! Sermons to the Natural Man is a good and worthy book; but it is by a “spiritual” man. There are “Sermons by the Natural Man to the Natural Man.” The “natural” man does not mind “natural” preaching. They who preach thus are sure of a clientèle. Such preachers at least rouse no antagonism in the natural heart. Anybody is “sufficient for” these things! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:16).]

II. Not of Judaism.—It flamed, a grand torch for Truth, breaking the moral darkness of successive generations, and lighted great multitudes of souls into the calm heaven of eternity. But it is “done away.” [No man formally preaches Judaism. But there is a style of experience and a scale of enjoyment in the Divine life which is Jewish—Old Testament—not Christian. The man who is righteous only by shaping his course and character according to external commands, who can do nothing, and decide nothing, without a “text,” a positive plain rule, is a Jew, not a Christian, in the principle of his holiness. He who is hoping to sin and repent and find pardon, only then to sin and repent again, is living in the Jewish order, whilst the Christian covenant has now brought a larger, victorious grace. He who is only a penitent, and has not found or expected a peace which is a matter of consciousness, has not passed the John Baptist stage of the order of the dispensations. Much current, conventional, respectable morality is Jewish, the morality rebuked and superseded in the Sermon on the Mount by, “I say, unto you.” The thinker who only sees a Jesus of Nazareth, is a Jew (perhaps only a Pilate), not a Christian. He who calls the Spirit “it,” not “He” (John 15:16), who speaks of, and prays for, the Spirit to be “poured out,” and the like, should at least remember that this is Old Testament thought and language, still employed although Christ, the Introducer of the personal Holy Ghost to the Church, has spoken and done His work. Preachers in their doctrine, their people in their experience, need still to beware of making up their bread, or feeding upon a spiritual staff of life, with “the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” It is still on active sale in the world’s religious bread-shops.]—Founded upon a paragraph inHomilist,” Third Series, ix. 122.

2 Corinthians 3:17. The Liberty of the Spirit. “Where the Spirit,” etc.—“The Spirit” is the Holy Spirit; the characteristic, crowning privilege of the Christian dispensation. “The Lord” is the Lord Christ. The verse is another of the incidental, compressed embodiments of the habitual thought of Paul. We see it expounded by him in two leading passages.

I. The Law of Moses is a system of bondage; the Gospel is a system of liberty (Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 5:6).—

1. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration would have kept Moses and Elijah and Christ! Law and Prophets and Gospel! Daybreak, Dawn, Day, all together. Moon and stars in all their number and glory, after the Sun was risen. He “knew not what he said,” indeed. And the Conservative, old-school, Jewish Christians who followed Paul into Galatia, would have tried the same impossible combination also. They were representatives of a large class who, in all times of revolutionary change, are not indeed insensible to the value and truth of the new order, but who are also, from long habit and honest appreciation, reluctant to part with the old, and are slow to take in the fact that the old is hopelessly past as to its form, whilst all that was really valuable in it is taken up by and into the new. The first time we hear of them, their line was definitely stated: “Except ye [Gentiles] be circumcised … ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5). After a long conference, Peter turned the vote upon the question by a speech in which he declared—and appealed to the confirmatory knowledge of all his hearers—the old system “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Paul will have none of it for his Galatians. It is “a different gospel”; a true heterodoxy.

2. The case has its analogies to-day, wherever the externals of religion are so emphasised as to become for their own sake matters whose observance is righteousness, and their neglect sin. There are still consciences greatly distressed if one tittle of a cumbersome round of external ordinances has by any chance been forgotten, or has for any reason gone (blamelessly) unfulfilled. It is, moreover, easier to perform a round of duties, catalogued and prescribed and “ticked off” in the day’s list as each is accomplished, than to cultivate the holy life within, to wage the unceasing warfare there and to keep up the incessant guard over one’s own spirit. A piece of external asceticism is easier than an act of merely inward self-denial. To keep the Galatian converts at such a round of externalism was to keep them at a low level, and to make their life one of only an elementary type. For Galatians to assume the burden of the Mosaic ritual, was for men to put themselves into the position of children learning their A B C; it was for the heir who has come of age to put himself again under the tutors and governors and school-slave. These things had had their meaning, but the Gospel had evacuated them of meaning; even the sacred sign and seal, circumcision, was now nothing but a mutilation or a piece of surgery. For the man to tie himself to the “go-cart” which had supported the child’s tottering steps into steady walking, is not only folly; the man feels it a bondage.
3. And these Jewish teachers made the bondage a more serious one still. “Except … ye cannot be saved.” That the tedious, burdensome, often frivolously minute, Rabbinical glosses upon the original Law, as well as that Original itself, should be matters on which salvation hinged, was as serious as that it should be supposed (say) that sin can with us be atoned for by any round of external or ascetic actions. Serious, because it seemed to imply that the work of Christ was Dot by itself the sufficient ground of the sinner’s safety; that He needed a co-ordinate ground of acceptance with God to complement His work. And serious because the impossibility, too often most sadly verified by the most earnest souls, of keeping the Law, made salvation on this basis and condition impossible. “Away with it all! Stand fast in your liberty.… Be not entangled again” (Galatians 5:1). “The dispensation of the Spirit knows nothing of such parallel requirements in addition to, in competition with, the simple ones of Repentance and Faith, which He will also help you to fulfil.” Under the dispensation of the Spirit there must be no entangling of the soul with a system of externalisms or ceremonial, presumed in any sense to have merit attached to their fulfilment. “Ye are called unto Liberty!”

4. Under another aspect the Galatian controversy raised a wider, a universal, question. There are always two conceivable ways—two only—of finding for oneself a standing before a holy God. The one is by doing, by our own acts and their merit; the other by believing, by resting alone on the act and merit of Another. The “Jewish” and the “Gospel” plan respectively. “Faith and Works” is no stock theological topic of discussion. It is no academic issue which is raised. It is the vitally and perennially interesting one, always raised so soon as a man understands Sin, and himself, as a Sinner. The natural heart always propounds “Salvation by Works,” even when it has never heard of the term. For the acceptance of a guilty sinner—his justification before God—the way is now shorter. The Spirit teaches every man who will learn, that he need not encumber himself—as it is quite useless to do—with any fancied store of things he has done—or has not done—of things he has been—or has not been. As regards the past and its guilt before God, he is now free to find mercy and acceptance forthwith in the merit of Christ.

II. A larger, more generalised, thoroughly universal treatment of “bondage” and “liberty” appears in Romans 8:14-16. The antithesis between “servant” and “son” appears in the Galatian passage. But in the Roman letter the local colouring, the temporary shape, of the question is gone. Nothing is left but the sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, passing from the status and experiences of a servant, a bond-servant, of God into that of a son of God. There is a new name for the man, “child”; a new name for God, “Abba.” It is the summation in the life-history of the individual of the moral education of the race. Paul and his readers stood historically at the meeting-place of two stages in God’s leading of the world. Until the Day of the Spirit all God’s most holy and devoted people had been His servants. No most favoured one ever ventured, under that earlier order, to apply the name “Father” to God. The name “Father” rarely occurs at all, and never as the appellation of God habitually on the lips of an individual. “Like as a father, etc.,” “Doubtless Thou art our Father,” are rare expressions in the Old Testament, and are far beneath the privileged common use of the name “Abba,” which is for those who are no longer “servants,” but “sons.” David never said, as every Christian does, “Father.” And the converted man has his Old Testament stage too. Too many earnest people of God stop there, in these days of New Testament grace. They have received the Spirit, indeed. In their heart is many “a good thing towards the Lord their God.” They serve with a dutiful devotion, that after all is only “duty.” They ought to serve; they must serve. “These many years do I serve thee.” The son who talks and feels thus, is a servant still. The Spirit is in them a “Spirit of bondage.” And preeminently such is He to the awakened man, whose unavailing struggle with himself and the sin of his “flesh” is so graphically portrayed in chap. 7. The first impulse of the man to whom for the first time comes the knowledge of sin to any practical purpose, is to reform—to set himself to do right for the future. And his first and speedy discovery is that he cannot. He is not his own master. He must “serve sin.” He once neither knew nor fought against sin. Now he knows and fights and falls. Habits are iron bonds which he cannot break. Temptations are assaults to which he is dragged into yielding, as if by a power of evil within him. It is no “law of Moses” only, or chiefly. It is a “law of sin” in his members. Sin is known by every awakened man as not only a guilt and a defilement, but as a power, a bondage. The new life of the Spirit, the new life in Christ, brings a new power and a new liberty. The bondage is broken, “that henceforth he should not serve sin.” The Spirit Who “witnesses” that he is “a child of God,” and not a servant in his relation to God any longer, Who puts into his lips the new—the child’s—name for God, “Father,” and makes his heart and love those of a child towards God, releases him and energises him for the child’s life and service. The service is not less faithful and devoted than before, now that he is “a child” of God; but the “bondage” is gone out of it. In a perfect family life, in perfect filial love, the dutiful “bondage” and respectful “fear” of the servants are not found in the children. They have a larger, freer life, one which, sure of itself in the happy instinct of a loving heart, has not even an overshadowing, haunting, fettering fear of displeasing the father. The Spirit of the Lord is a “Spirit of adoption”—of sonship. Not only are the limbs free from the fetters of habit and from sin’s power. The heart is free, with the natural, unconscious, perfect liberty of the child in the home. This leads up to

III. Liberty from Law in the Christian life.—

1. James gives us, “The perfect Law of Liberty.” There is an ideal of Christian life in which the soul is “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” [Colossians 1:9, followed up by the happy consequences in life and practice enumerated in 2 Corinthians 3:10]; in which “an unction from the Holy One” so “teaches all things” that the man of God “needeth not that any man should teach him”; in which the very instincts of the heart “renewed in knowledge, after the image” of God would be a sufficient directory for all Christian living, passing continually the enactments of a perfect legislation within the parliament house of the inner man; when the heart knows and loves, always, and to the last degree of detail, what God wills; when the law of God without, and the heart and will within, coincide in their promptings; when the law and the love lie perfectly, closely, side by side; when the heart “runs in the way of God’s commandments.” It is clear that such a life in ideal needs no external direction, and feels no restraint. [The law-abiding citizen goes through life ignorant of very much of the legislation of his country, and finding nothing irksome or ungrateful about obedience to it; so perfectly obeying that obedience or law not are adverted to.]

2. But that is ideal, though approached more and more nearly as the life of the “son”—not the “servant”—is cultivated, and educated and developed. The positive, ab extra, legislation still has its value and office, and its necessity. The early days of the new life are days of childhood, with its ignorance and its weakness. The “law” trains and refines the newly awakened perception of what is sin and what is holiness. It may serve, or be needed, like the stake which supports the sapling, until this rises in established, self-supporting, self-guarding strength. Its “witness” is a defence against the peril of heedlessness or of declining watchfulness; its warning voice may arrest the very beginnings of divergence from the “perfect way.” It is needed as an absolute standard, to which the subjective pronouncements may be continually referred for confirmation, for revision, for the illumination of unsuspected error. There is an ever recurrent need that it should be made clear that Obedience and Right are objective, and are obligatory because of the Legislator’s will. No most intense love, no most utter trust in Christ, can dispense with the need of holiness in heart and life. If the “Law of Moses” do not now bind, there is a “Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) which does. Indeed, in regard to all the abiding principles which in the old Code appear in local, national, temporary dress, the Christian man is “under the law to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21).

3. Against the lawless freedom which is licence and even licentiousness, the Apostle’s instinctive recoiling, “God forbid,” is argument good enough. For it, “Whose damnation is just,” is the unerringly, instinctively, just verdict of the healthy life, rejoicing in the most abundant freedom of the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:17. The Freedom of the Spirit.

I. General statement of this truth.—The glory of the Old Covenant, symbolised by the glowing face of Moses, was of an inferior order to that of the New. As a rule of life, without the Atoning Blood to pardon sin and without the grace of the Spirit to make obedience possible, the Law had been but a ministration of condemnation. As a typical system, it had been destined to pass away on the appearance of the Antitype which fulfilled it. The Gospel was, in marked contrast, endowed with perpetuity and was a ministration of spiritual righteousness. Symbolically, and really, the early dispensation was protected from a too searching scrutiny, which might have revealed at the very moment of its introduction a Higher Object beyond itself which was yet to come. Those who are converted to Jesus Christ have escaped from the veil which darkened the spiritual intelligence of Israel. The converting Spirit is the source of positive illumination; but before He thus enlightens, He must give freedom from the veil of prejudice which denies to Jewish thought any real insight into the deeper sense of Scripture. The Christian student of the ancient Law seizes that sense, because he possesses the Spirit, and He gives liberty, and faculty, for inquiry. The specific liberty here is not merely liberty from the yoke of the Law; but liberty from the tyranny of obstacles which cloud the spiritual sight of truth; liberty from spiritual rather than from intellectual dulness; from a state of soul which cannot apprehend truth. The Spirit still gives this liberty. This is the enunciation of a master-feature of the Gospel. This liberty is the invariable accompaniment of His true action, the very atmosphere of His presence. Nor is the freedom which He sheds abroad a poor reproduction of the restless, volatile, self-asserting, sceptical temper of Pagan Greek life, adapted to the forms and thoughts of modern civilisation, and awkwardly expressing itself in Christian phraseology. He gives liberty in the broad, deep sense of that word. He gives freedom from error for the reason; freedom from constraint for the affections; freedom-for the will from the tyranny of sinful and human wills. Human nature has imagined such a freedom, but has sighed in vain for the reality. It is, in fact, a creation; the sons of God alone enjoy it. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

II. In more of detail.—

1. Mental liberty.—God has from the first consecrated liberty of thought. He has so ordered the framework of human social order that society cannot force the sanctuary of our thought. Without our consent society cannot enter within us (1 Corinthians 2:11). So, in the martyrdoms of the first three centuries, the strength of those who to the death bore their witness for not merely moral, but mental liberty, was strength given by the Spirit. Their testimony was His under whose illumination Christians became conscious of a new power, almost a new sense for the supernatural. To-day it is supposed that the Churches and their creeds, their “dogmas,” are enemies of religious freedom. To value dogma is invidiously contrasted with setting a value on Christian character and life; as though he who cares for the one must by some necessity neglect the other. The Church of the Future “will dispense with dogma.” In such talk, dogma is assumed, rather than stated in words, to be untrue. The leaven of Hegelian philosophy is in the current talking and thinking. There is no recognised rule for reason; in human opinion all is true, and yet nothing is true. All truth is partial, limited; all statements of truth are true and false at once. And the like. Further, the prevalence of experimental methods of inquiry leads many minds tacitly to assume that nothing is real, the truth of which cannot be established and tested by [physical] observation. Yet “Dogma” is a neutral, innocent word, suggesting lexically or by its history nothing untrustworthy or discreditable. The philosophers who denounce Christian “dogma” have their own “dogmas,” in the true sense, [and are sometimes “dogmatic” enough, in the accidental, evil sense]. “Dogma is essential Christian truth thrown by authority [N.B. this] into a form which admits of its permanently passing into the understanding and being treasured by the heart of the people.” Accordingly it is found abundantly in the New Testament; 1 Corinthians 15:0 is largely pure dogma. “The Divine Spirit, speaking through the clear utterances of Scripture, and [N.B.] the illuminated and consenting thought of Christendom, is the real Author of essential dogma.” Dogma is a restraint upon thought, only where liberty is mischievous or impossible. He who believes that revealed truths are true should not dislike their being stated dogmatically. To admit the truth of a position of course takes away the liberty to deny it. Every new discovery of ascertained truth takes something from freedom to think otherwise. The freest and most exact science known to the human mind has at its base axioms which cannot be demonstrated, yet cannot be rejected. Euclid begins by demanding a sacrifice of mental liberty. Refuse to submit to, accept, use, these dogmas; a man can go no further, and arrive at nothing. True or false, the dogmas of Christian truth are not discredited by being stated in dogmatic form. Submission to revealed truth [whether at the end of a personal investigation of its claim, or at the bidding of a Church, or in acquiescent following of the custom of a man’s circle] does involve some limitation of intellectual licence. The lamps in the streets do trench upon space where the passenger might walk. In English public and private life the supremacy of law curtails, whilst it gives and protects, personal freedom. “The free intelligence of the Church bows before the language of the Creeds, because that language guards a truth which the faith of the Church recognises as of heavenly origin.” Dogma stimulates thought, provokes it, sustains it at an elevation otherwise impossible. Dogma stimulates in its earlier, but petrifies into uselessness in its later, stage. No Christian who seriously believes that Jesus is God, that His Death is a World-redeeming Sacrifice, that the Eternal Spirit sanctifies the redeemed, that Scripture is the inspired Word of God, “that the Sacraments are the appointed channels whereby we partake of the Life of Jesus, can say that in himself these truths have petrified, arrested, stifled thought.”

2. Moral liberty.—In the kingdom of the Spirit alone is the will free. Naturally we are bound with fetters of habit, passion, prejudice; we hug our chains; even dare to promise men liberty, etc. (2 Peter 2:19). There is no such thing as a resurrection from moral slavery, except for the soul which has laid hold on a fixed objective truth. When at the breath of the Divine Spirit upon the soul heaven is opened to the eye of faith, and man looks up from his misery and his weakness to the Everlasting Christ upon His throne; then freedom is possible, for the Son has taken flesh, and died, and risen again, and interceded with the Father, and given us His Spirit “and His Sacraments,” expressly that we might enjoy it. “On the condition of submission?” Yes; but in obeying God, a man acquires not only freedom, but royalty, in its highest exercise of empire,—command over himself, a thing he best learns by voluntary submission. Bend the knee to that Christ of Bethlehem and Calvary, listen to the New Commandment as the Charter of freedom,—rise a king and priest to God and the Father! You have free access to the courts of heaven: you serve One Whose service alone is perfect freedom! Liberty of conscience and will is the greatest blessing of all “freedoms.” “It is freedom from a sense of sin, when all is known to have been pardoned through the atoning blood; freedom from a slavish fear of our Father in Heaven, when conscience is offered to His unerring Eye morning and evening by that penitent love which fixes its eye upon the Crucified; freedom from current prejudice and false human opinion, when the soul gazes by intuitive faith upon the actual truth; freedom from the depressing yoke of feeble health or narrow circumstances, since the soul cannot be crushed which rests consciously upon the Everlasting Arms; freedom from that haunting fear of death, which holds all who really think upon death ‘all their lifetime subject to bondage,’ unless they are His true friends and clients, Who by the sharpness of His own death has led the way and ‘opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.’ It is freedom in time also, and beyond, freedom in eternity. In that blessed world, in the unclouded Presence of the Emancipator, the brand of slavery is inconceivable. In that world there is a perpetual service; yet, since it is the source of love made perfect, it is only and by necessity the service of the free. For ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.’ ”—Adapted from Lid-don, “University Sermons,” iv. This last paragraph may itself suggest a Homily.

2 Corinthians 3:17. Christian Liberty and the Law.

I. The bondage.—“The condition of believers under the past dispensation … is spoken of as a certain species of restraint or bondage,—not the bondage, indeed, of slaves [?], and mercenaries, which belonged only to the carnal as opposed to the believing portion of the Church; but the bondage of those who, though free-born children, are still in nonage, and must be kept under the restraint and discipline of an external law. This, however, could in no case be the whole of the agency with which the believer was plied, for then his yoke must have been literally the galling bondage of the slave. He must have had more or less the Spirit of life within, begetting and prompting him to do the things which the law outwardly enjoined, making the pulse of life in the heart beat in harmony with the rule of life prescribed in the law; so that, while he still felt ‘as under tutors and governors,’ it was not as one needing to be ‘held in with bit and bridle,’ but rather as one disposed readily and cheerfully to keep to the appointed course.… So it unquestionably was with the Psalmist; … the law was not a mere outward yoke, nor in any proper sense a burden: it was ‘within their heart,’ they delighted in its precepts, and meditated therein day and night: to listen to its instructions was sweeter to them than honey, and to obey its dictates was better than thousands of gold and silver” [Fairbairn, Typology, ii. 193, 194. Does this do justice as to Acts 15:10? He says admirably as to]—

II. The liberty.—“When the believer receives Christ as the Lord his righteousness, he is not only justified by grace, but he comes into a state of grace, or gets grace into his heart as a living, reigning, governing principle of life. What, however, is this grace but the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus? And this Spirit is emphatically the Holy Spirit; holiness is the very element of His being, and the essential law of His working; every desire He breathes, every feeling He awakens, every action He disposes and enables us to perform, is according to godliness. And if only we are sufficiently possessed of this Spirit, and yield ourselves to His direction and control, we no longer need the restraint and discipline of the law; we are free from it, because we are superior to it. Quickened and led by the Spirit, we of ourselves love and do the things which the law requires.…” [As in an adult son] “the mind has become his from which the parental law proceeded, and he has consequently become independent of its outward prescriptions. [Strictly this last is only true in proportion as he has become possessed of the ‘mind.’] And what is it to be under the grace of God’s Spirit but to have the mind of God?—the mind of Him who gave the law simply as a revelation of what was in His heart respecting the holiness of His people. So that the more they have of the one, the less, obviously, they need of the other; and if only they were complete in the grace of the Spirit, they would be wholly independent of the bonds and restrictions of the law.” (Ib., p. 190.) The law was not made for a good man who stands in a right relation to the law of his country. So “to one who has become a partaker of ‘the Spirit of God’ the law, considered as an outward discipline placing him under a yoke of manifold commands and prohibitions, has for him ceased to exist. But it has ceased in that respect only by taking possession of him in another” (Ib., p. 191).

[Fairbairn adds (ib., p. 201):—

III. “From the law in its strict and proper sense—the law of the ten commandments—the freedom enjoyed by the Christian is not absolute, but relative only, just as the Israelites’ want of the Spirit was relative only. But in regard to what is called the ceremonial law the freedom is absolute; and to keep up the observance of its symbolical institutions and services after the new despensation entered was not only to retain a yoke that might be dispensed with, but also an incongruity to be avoided, and even a danger to be shunned. For, viewed simply as teaching ordinances … they were superseded … by the appointment of other means more suitable as instruments in the hand of the Spirit for ministering instruction to … men. The change then brought into the Divine administration was characterised throughout by a more immediate and direct handling of the things of God. They were now things no longer hid under a veil, but openly disclosed to the eye of the mind. Ordinances which were adapted to the state of the Church when neither was the Spirit fully given, nor were the things of God [by Him] clearly revealed, could not possibly be … adapted to the Church of the New Testament. The grand ordinance here must be the free and open manifestation of the truth—written first in the word of inspiration, and thenceforth continually proclaimed anew by the preaching of the Gospel; and such symbolical institutions as might yet be needed must be founded upon the clear revelations of the word—not like those of the former dispensation, spreading a veil over the truth, or affording only a dim shadow of better things to come.’ (Ib., p. 201.)]

2 Corinthians 3:17. Liberty from Law under the Dispensation of the Spirit.—The Christian religion as the Perfect Law of Liberty finds its perfection in the bestowment through the Holy Spirit of an internal freedom from the restraint of law which is quite consistent with subjection to external law as a directory of the life.

I. There is nothing more characteristic of the Christian economy of ethics than that it sets up an internal rule (Romans 8:2).—This interior rule responds to the exterior, and in a certain sense supersedes it. The external law ceases as a law of death; it has vanished with the conscience of sin removed in pardon. And in contrast to the Law which was against and over the soul in its impossibility of fulfilment, the Spirit of life within gives strength for all obedience; and the law to be obeyed is set up within us (Hebrews 8:10). This is more than the restoration of the almost effaced traces of the law engraven on the heart of universal man.… This internal law is supernatural; it is nature still, but nature restored and more than restored; a supernatural nature. This is the interior polity of holy government of which St. James speaks (James 1:25); perfect law becomes perfect liberty from external obligation. The nearer obedience is to the uniformity of the ordinances of nature—being conscious and willing obedience, though in its perfection not conscious of its willing—the nearer it approaches the Creator’s end.… In all the economy of the physical universe His law works from within outwardly, and there is no need of any outward statute to be registered for the guidance of His unintelligent creatures. The Divine Spirit in the heart of the regenerate man seeks to work out in a similar way a perfect obedience to the law of love.

II. In a loose and general way this may be called the rule of conscience (Acts 24:13; but this is pre-Christian).… We may speak of the internal law as that of Self-government restored. The rule of God’s Spirit in the spirit of the regenerate, is the administration of conscience or the renewed self, according to the normal idea of the Creator. Men thus trusted—under authority to that Holy Ghost, yet having their own souls under them—are in the highest and purest sense a law unto themselves (Romans 2:4). Yet this is only as under the law to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21), Who is the common Lord of all.

III. For there is still an external law … which is continued by reason of the weakness of the new nature.—

1. The external standard still maintains the dignity of law.… We are delivered from the law of sin and death, not from the law that directs to holiness and life. Written on the fleshly tables of the heart, the commandments are deposited also in an ark on tables of stone for common appeal amongst probationary mortals. The eternal morals of the old economy have not passed away. They are re-enacted under other forms, and re-written in the pages of the New Testament as [a] the Standard of requirement, [b] the Condition of the Charter of privileges, and [c] a Testimony against those who offend. [A good Homily in germ.]

2. The outward enactments are still the directory of individual duty.… The best Christians need a remembrancer; they obey the law within, but are not always independent of the teaching of the law without.

3. The external is the safeguard of the internal law: against its only or chief enemy, Antinomianism, which regards the law as abolished in Christ, or treats it as if it were so. Theoretical or theological Antinomianism … makes a Christian’s salvation eternally independent of any other obedience than that of the Gospel offer of grace.… There is a teaching which holds that the Substitute of man has not only paid the penalty of human offence, but has fulfilled the law also for the sinner; thus making the salvation of the elect secure. The believer has in this doctrine [call it “Vicarious Holiness”?] no more to do with a legal rule save as a subordinate teacher of morality. He will never to all eternity stand before any bar to be judged by the law.… This is the very truth of the Gospel so far as concerns the demand of the law for eternal and unbroken conformity with its precepts, … but there is only a step between precious truth and perilous error here.… There is also a prevalent practical Antinomianism (Galatians 5:13), sometimes connected with the theoretical renunciation of law. [It is] found in all communities, the disgrace of all creeds and confessions.… The written commandments are a safeguard.… If Christian people recite their Creed to keep in memory the things they surely believe, not less necessary is it that they should also recite the Commandments to keep in memory what they must do to enter into life.—Adapted. See also under 1 Corinthians 9:21.


2 Corinthians 3:2. “Living epistles.”

I. What they contain.—The record of ministerial faithfulness—and success.

II. Where they are written.—In the heart, as a testimony of Divine approval, as a certain proof of a Divine call.

III. By whom they are read.—By all men—easily with intelligent conviction.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 3:4-11. The Glory of the Christian Ministry.

I. Its foundation.—Trust in God through Christ. Divine sufficiency. Suitable qualifications.

II. Its function.—The ministration not of the letter, but of the Spirit.

III. Its means.—Not external, that dazzle and then vanish away. But the co-operation of the Holy Ghost.

IV. Its object.—Not condemnation and death, but righteousness and life.

V. Its reward.—Even now a more excellent glory. Hereafter a glory everlasting.—[J. L.]

Or thus:—

The New Testament Ministry

I. Has the vastest resources.
II. Effects the greatest wonders.
III. Secures the most enduring results.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 3:8. “The ministration of the Spirit.”

I. Deals with “the spirit” in man.
II. Is effectual only when in the power of the Holy Spirit.
III. Has for its great purpose the communication of the Holy Spirit, the characteristic, distinctive glory, and privilege of the Christian dispensation.

2 Corinthians 3:9. The Ministration of

I. Condemnation.—Reveals and enforces law. Convinces of sin. Brings condemnation.

II. Righteousness.—Satisfies the law. Teaches faith. Brings pardon and holiness.

III. II. therefore exceeds

I. in glory in that it perfects the work of the latter. Saves the sinner. Secures greater glory to God.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 3:18. Conformity by gazing.—Foundation and building not identical, yet related. So Judaism and Christianity. “Judaism contained not the completeness of Christianity; Christianity halted not at the beginnings of Judaism.”

1. They agree, in source, God; in purpose, to preserve the knowledge of the true God; in matter, a revelation of God’s will; Judaism, “coarse,” rude; Christianity, a life-inspired system.

2. They differ, in their method of revelation, by the Mediator and the Master; in their expositors; in the perpetuity of Christianity. “After Adamism, Noachism; after Noachism, Abrahamism; after Abrahamism, Judaism; after Judaism, Christianity; after Christianity,—Eternity!” Judaism limited; Christianity universal. Judaism veiled the light; in Christ the veil is gone. Text shows:—

I. Religion in its sanctity of nature.—Its one object is to change man into the image—of whom? Of God? Of Christ? No matter. God inconceivable and unconceived. The study of His works and even of His words alone only introduces man to “a Voice in the dark.” All we can know, or need to know, is embodied in Christ. Christ removes the two barriers—man’s incapacity, God’s invisibility. And Christ did not come to teach Dogma or merely create a religious “guild,” but to conform man to Himself. Look at Him in His many-sided, symmetrical, pure spirituality. See Him “crystalline-translucent” in conscience. See His deliberate, undeflected devotedness. His mind, Divine.

II. Manner of attaining conformity.—

1. “Beholding.” Not merely “staring at.” There must be the unveiled glass, and the unclosed eye.

2. Once more, neither is the study of His works and words enough. May read the New Testament once a year; may study critically, “with audacious freedom.” Men, acute enough, saw His works: their verdict was “Beelzebub,” “Blasphemer, enthusiast, traitor.”
3. Must bring Christ to study of Christ. May not repudiate His teaching and yet hope to understand Him.
4. This only “by the Spirit of the Lord,” “taking of the things of Christ,” etc. Unveiling the mirror; opening the eye.

III. Progressive conformity.—No hurry in God’s working. “If a young Christian begin young, the conformity shall fill a life of many years.” “Even God cannot create growth.”—Notes of sermon by John Burton, penes H. J. F.

[On the Old Testament passage underlying 2 Corinthians 3:7 to 2 Corinthians 4:6, particularly. “Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone,” the suggestion may be useful:—]

A Picture of True Glory.” [“Unconscious Goodness.”]

I. Involves fellowship with the Eternal.—Character is formed on the principle of imitation. This process perfected needs: a perfect model; the love of a perfect model; the knowledge of a perfect model.

II. Has an external manifestation.—Was it not a reflection of the moral glory of his soul, glorified by communion with God? The heart does—notwithstanding the possibility and the fact of successful hypocrisy—stamp itself upon the face. Stephen’s face. And upon the language yet more certainly. Upon our lives: “as the man thinketh in his heart so is he.” [A pregnant saying, capable of many readings: What he means, though he expresses himself badly in word or act, that is the man to be recognised; what his heart’s bent and love are, that surely the man becomes; a man will let slip a word, or do instinctively some action, which reveals the evil man of the heart under the plausible mask of the face.]

III. Is never self-conscious.—But greatness drowns egotism. The standard of judgment is outside the man’s self. He lives amongst a circle of persons and things which forms a true standard of measurement. Christian love, above all, casts out egotism; too eager about others to serve, or even think about, itself.

IV. Commands the reverence of society.—Conscience will instinctively respect true, unconscious greatness. Guilt will bow the wrong-doer in homage before it.—More fully inHomilist,” Third Series, vi. 343.


Chap. 3. Openness of Apostolical Service.—The whole argument of this passage is so interwoven with personal allusions, and with illustrations from a particular interpretation of a single passage in the Old Testament, that there is a difficulty in deducing any general truth from it directly.… It may be worth while to go through the various images which the Apostle has called up. First, there is the commendatory Epistle of the Corinthian Church, written on his heart. Next, the same Epistle written on their hearts and lives, read and re-read by the wayfarers to and fro, through the thoroughfare of Greece. Thirdly, the contrast between this Epistle, written on the tender human feelings, on the vibrations of the wind, by the breath of the Spirit; carrying its tidings backwards and forwards, whithersoever it will, with no limits of time or space, like the sweep of the wind on the Æolian harp, like an electric spark of light,—and the Ten Commandments graven in the granite blocks of Sinai, hard, speechless, lifeless. Fourthly, there rises into view the figure of Moses, as he is known to us in the statue of Michael Angelo, the light streaming from his face, yet growing dim and dark as a greater glory of another revelation rises behind it. Fifthly, the same figure veiled, as the light beneath the veil dies away and shade rests upon the scene, and there rises around him a multiplication of the figure, the Jews in their synagogues veiled, as the Book of the Law is read before them. Sixthly, the same figure of Moses once more, but now unveiled as he turns again to Mount Sinai and uncovers his face to rekindle its glory in the Divine presence; and now again, this same figure multiplied in the Apostle and the Corinthian congregation following him, all with faces unveiled, and upturned toward the light of Christ’s presence, the glory streaming into their faces with greater and greater brightness, as if borne in upon them by the Spirit or breath of light from that Divine countenance, till they are transfigured into a blaze of splendour like unto it.—Stanley, pp. 418, 420.

2 Corinthians 3:11. “That which remaineth.”—Christianity is connected with all those religions which have preceded it, and that not merely as one of them, but as their truth, their aim, as simply religion. Christianity is the absolute religion—the only true and intrinsically valid religion. Such is the pretension with which it entered the world, and which it constantly maintains. This may be called exclusiveness and intolerance, but it is the intolerance of truth. As soon as truth concedes the possibility of her opposite being also true, she denies herself. As soon as Christianity ceases to declare herself to be the only true religion, she annihilates her power, and denies her right to exist, for she denies her necessity. The old world concluded with the question, What is Truth? The new world began with the saying of Christ, I am the Truth. And this saying is the confession of Christian faith. The form which the Christian faith may assume may alter; the human notions by which it seeks to express itself may change; but Christian faith must declare itself to be the unchangeable truth. It must affirm that this truth is the answer to the old questions of human nature, and that all the religions which have been its predecessors were mostly preliminary and preparatory, and have found in it their aim and goal. Heathenism was the seeking religion, Judaism the hoping religion; Christianity is the reality of what heathenism sought, and Judaism hoped for.—Luthardt, “Saving Truths,” p.

20. He adds in notes:—

“Christianity is the religion which, in the person of its Founder, actually realises that union of man with God which every other religion has striven after, but none attained; and from this creative centre, by doctrine and moral influence, by redemption and reconciliation, restores the individual and the human race to their true destiny, to that true communion, to that mind with God in which all that is human is sanctified and glorified.” (Ullmann.)
“If we consider the different religions with respect to this fundamental problem [of the bringing together Creator and creature, Holy God and sinful man], we may say that heathenism knows not the problem; that Israel is living in the problem, and awaiting its solution; but that Christianity alone furnishes the solution, through its Gospel of the Incarnation of God [and the Atonement of the Cross]. (Martensen, Dogmatik.)

Verses 1-7


2 Corinthians 4:1. This ministry.—Viz. that in 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6-9; and more definitely expounded at the end of this long section, in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 2 Corinthians 6:3-4. Therefore.—Looks back to the substance of chap. 3, and returns, with a new phase of connection, to 2 Corinthians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 3:12. Yet, again a half-parenthetical passage intervenes before “we faint not” is expanded in 2 Corinthians 4:7 sqq. Note the comma in the after “mercy.” See the “mercy” and the “ministry” closely connected in 1 Timothy 1:12-13, with the same link of thought as here. Faint.—Word peculiar to Paul and his friend Luke, in the New Testament. “Flag, ‘give out.’ ”

2 Corinthians 4:2.—Hidden things (of which it is) shame (to speak or to be guilty). Yet hardly so much as is suggested in Ephesians 5:12. Underhand, insincere, double-minded motives, such as he was accused of. No “veil” on his conduct at all events; cf. “manifest,” 2 Corinthians 4:10-11. No “veil” upon “the truth,” as he “ministers” it. Handling deceitfully.—Same thought as 2 Corinthians 2:17. Commending ourselves.—True reply to 2 Corinthians 3:1.

2 Corinthians 4:3.—“Hid” is “veiled,” q.d. if there be a veil it is as with Moses and Israel, rather upon “the hearts” of readers and hearers than upon the minister, or than upon the Law or Gospel themselves. Note “are perishing” (R. V.); 2 Corinthians 2:16.

2 Corinthians 4:4. The god of this world.—Not “Rabbinical” teaching, but absolute truth of the revealing Holy Ghost. Christ leads the way with His most definite “prince of this world” (John 12:31; John 14:30). Paul follows in Ephesians 2:2, “the prince of the power of the air,” etc. (2 Corinthians 6:12). “World” is “age”; “minds” may be “thoughts.” [These are “blinded” here; “hardened” in 2 Corinthians 3:14.] Shine.—“Dawn” (R.V.). Note, specially, this word is cognate with “the brightness of His glory” (Hebrews 1:3). Also note the fuller, and exact, and significant “Gospel of the glory of Christ.” [So again, and close to the “ministry” and “mercy” combination, we have the “Gospel of the glory” in 1 Timothy 1:11.]

2 Corinthians 4:5. “Lord.”—, with most moderns, makes this a predicate: “We preach Him as Lord.” In that case, obviously, it could not be appended also to the parallel “ourselves”; unless in reply to the charge of 2 Corinthians 1:24 (cognate word), “we do not propose [proclaim] ourselves to you as masters, but Him as the only Master; ourselves only your slaves [not διάκονοι as throughout chap. 3, in relation to God and the Gospel]; indeed, we do not commend ourselves to your notice or acceptance at all, but Him.” Note the variant reading “through Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 4:6.—Genesis 1:3 is directly quoted (so R.V.). Note how he again contrasts the things of “shame” and this awakening to the “light” in Ephesians 5:11-14.

2 Corinthians 4:7.—Gold, in a common jar of earthenware. Excellency is “exceeding greatness of the power.” Similar in cognate language, and in thought, to Ephesians 1:19.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 4:1-7

[Section continued from chap. 3]

III. An open [unveiled] Gospel.—

1. Observe the phrase, “Gospel.”

(1) In regard to the Old Order, and to the New alike, Paul’s phraseology is noteworthy; in its variety of designations for each, and in their practical interchangeableness. Not that the various designations are used at haphazard or for the mere sake of an assonance. There is a propriety in the particular phrase used in each case; yet in use one readily passes over into another.
(2) There is a strangely modern sound about the words, “The reading of the old testament.” It would be going too fast for the development of Paul’s thought and God’s revealing order to print, “The reading of the Old Testament”; yet such a meaning is coming fast into view; a distinct, complete Book, or Literature, which may be called—from its main subject and contents—“The Old Testament.” As yet, however, the Subject—the Old Covenant—is to the forefront in Paul’s mind. To “minister the old testament” and to “minister the new testament” [not yet “New Testament”] are to “minister condemnation” and to “minister righteousness” respectively; these are the issues of the two testaments in their effect upon those who come into testing, decisive relation with them. The characteristic “note” of the one is that it is “a letter,” external, exact, unalterable, formulated into a definite code of rules; of the other, that it is internal to the man, governing not by rules, but by principles; not with the rigidity of half-mechanical, external regulation and control, but the elasticity and freedom of Life within; unfettered, yet not irregular or morally abnormal, because the Life and the Liberty are those of the indwelling Spirit of God.

(3) So here. Moses brought down a Law from Sinai; Paul and his brethren have received “a Gospel.” This is described more fully as “the Gospel of the glory of Christ.” He is its great Subject; His glory in it puts glory upon it. Yet the Gospel which reveals Him reveals Him as Himself a Revealer of God and of His glory. By the help of “the Gospel” we know Christ, and, yet more, we come to know “God’s glory.” And, further, this Gospel of the knowledge of the glory of God is “the truth.” Then is it good tidings to know the truth about God and His glory? It is, seeing that that knowledge comes to men through Christ as its medium. To come into direct contact with the “bare,” unveiled glory of God were death to sinners. Israel saw the glory of God on the face of Moses, absorbed, reflected; we see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” inherent, but, as it were, shining through the humanity.

2. The contents of the Gospel.—

(1) Perfectly true as a “working” statement, that the Gospel reveals the way of salvation, “God’s righteousness” for sinners. But the better, larger, truer, whole, view, is that it reveals God. As a redeeming God, for the race; as a pardoning God, for the penitent sinner. “Have faith in God” is, in the deepest analysis, the true formula for saving faith. “Faith in Christ” is the shape which it naturally and serviceably assumes in the evangelistic work of the Church, and in which it offers itself to the sinner’s most easy apprehension. But underneath the faith in Christ is a faith in God. Christ is the object of faith, truly; but in laying hold of Him the sinner lays hold of God’s promise of a mercy which is by express proclamation attached to the act of believing in Him. Christ is God’s Word—of promise; He is a Promise incarnate; faith which takes hold of Christ, takes hold of God, Who in Christ has expressed Himself and His will and heart.

(2) God reveals Himself, as well as His will and heart, in the Gospel. We have seen “God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In homely phrase, He is the Father “over again.” Whatsoever things the Father doeth [and saith] those things doeth [and saith] the Son likewise [=in similar manner], John 5:19. We hear of God from Christ; we also hear God in the words of Christ. The manner and the principles of the works of God are seen in those of Christ, e.g. such as belong to the matter here in hand. The Son pardons the sins of (say) the paralytic (Mark 2:0) because the Father pardons sin; the act of Christ is intended to reveal to men a God Who pardons. Study Christ pardoning sin, and see how God pardons sin. The faith of the friends of the paralytic [“their faith,” the man being, no doubt, included] is closely connected with the word of Christ, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” There is then an efficiency about faith which brings others to God for pardon. The paralytic comes to Christ and finds forgiveness; then men may come to God and find forgiveness. He goes out from the presence of Christ, knowing that his sin is forgiven. Then men may go forth from the presence of God also, knowing that sin is forgiven. Every miracle of Christ is more than an act of benevolence toward suffering or sorrow or need; it is this, but also, and still more, a carefully chosen, deliberately done [and with special authenticity recorded] part of Christ’s whole revelation of God. Works, words, character, motives, principles underlying and governing acts and words,—in them all, as we study them in Christ, we see God.

(3) And this is a revelation of the “glory of God.” The only “glory” belonging to Him which sinners could bear to see. The one “glory” which they need to see. To a sinner the revelation [as to Moses (Exodus 33:18-19)] of the “goodness,” specially as “showing mercy, pardoning iniquity,” etc., is the revelation of God’s truest “glory” to such as he. The heart which “turns to the Lord” Christ, goes into a sanctuary where it gazes upon a real glory of God. The written Gospel is such a sanctuary. Not every foot treads its floor, even of those who diligently read the evangelical narratives, or even write upon their sacred Topic. In reading this revelation of God, “we have our access, our introduction, unto the Father, through Christ, by the Spirit” (cf. Ephesians 2:22).

3. The veiling of the Gospel.—

(1) Not by its ministers. They “manifest the truth.” (a) They do not obtrude themselves, but “preach Christ Jesus as Lord.” To do otherwise—as perhaps Paul’s rivals at Corinth [or in Galatia] did—would be a most effectual veiling of the Gospel. They would be lamps calling attention to, and arresting it at, their own form and pattern and beauty, instead of to the light which it is their business to exhibit. The perfect lamp lets the light shine, whilst itself inviting the least attention possible. The ministry is for the sake of the light, and for the sake of those on whom it needs to be shed. “Ourselves your servants.” And yet with no slavish subserviency; not as mere creatures of those to whom they bring the illuminating Gospel. “Yours, as being first Christ’s; your servants, as, in so serving you, fulfilling our service to Him and bringing glory to Him. Yours for Jesus’ sake.” The personality of the man is a valuable element in every successful ministry; it must needs stamp itself upon every real man’s “manifestation of the truth.” [The burner will give shape and size to the gas-flame, but it must not affect the quality of the light.] But the moment the ministry becomes an end, and not a means; the man a stopping-point, and not a point of “new departure,” and of assistance, to help men on their way to the knowledge of God in Christ; the minister then becomes a “veil” to the Gospel. (Yet he is himself only a sinner who has “obtained mercy”; the personal mercy of acceptance with God, and the official mercy which has made even him a “minister.”) Moses and his system had thus become a veil instead of a medium; as a popular man or a Church system may come to intervene between the soul and God. “Cannot see God, or hear the Gospel, for the Man.” Only One may thus interpose Himself; Jesus Christ may, did, preach Himself. “I am the Way,” and not a hindrance on the way to God, and to the knowledge of Him and to the vision of His “glory” of grace, (b) They use no veil of reserve, or insincerity, or crafty handling of the Word, in their acts or teaching. Have “renounced” all this, for the Gospel may very effectually in that way be “veiled.” There is no arrière pensée about their proclamation. They have no selfish ends to serve, in the way they teach it. There is no dishonest suppression of any part of the whole Gospel, from a fear that the whole truth might be awkward for a theological system or an ecclesiastical theory. Truth may be made falsehood, not only by positive additions of alleged “truth,”—perhaps by development, but by omitting complementary truth, or by giving exaggerated prominence to what needs balancing by other aspects of the whole Divine revelation. And if this were done for the sake of courting a reputation for being “progressive”; or of shunning the reproach of being a “fossil,” or “retrograde,” or “obscurantist”; or, more unworthily, for the sake of avoiding “the offence of the Cross,” or of winning the good word of the unchanged heart; it would be a real, terrible “veiling” of “the Gospel” and of its “truth.” [A wise ministry, of course, practises a (perfectly honest) “economy” of teaching. The babes must have milk. They do not need more. But this not akin to the (technical) “Reserve.” True and false “development” have been thus discussed: “There is a modern Romish ‘Theory of Development’ of which Newman’s celebrated essay is the classical exposition, and there is a rationalistic theory which is an application of the hypothesis of evolution to the religious ideas of man. According to the former, the process of development is the expansion, under an infallible directing authority, of doctrinal germs and ideas into a variety of new forms and aspects, ‘and the existing belief of the Roman Communion is its mature result.’ According to the other theory, all religious conceptions have their origin in the human mind, and Christian doctrine is but one branch of its general progress, the Scriptures themselves, and all belief arising from them, being the natural outgrowth and product of the mind acted upon by surrounding conditions. These opposing theories have much in common, and this among the rest—that truth is not made the test of dogma. In the one case authority is the sole criterion; in the other there is strictly speaking no criterion at all, seeing that, from the rationalistic point of view, dogma can possess no other kind of truth than a temporary and relative adaptation to the religious consciousness from which it springs. Between these … there is room for a theory of doctrinal development … distinguished by the following ‘notes.’ First, development does not consist in additions to the Revelation contained in Holy Scripture; … it does not call new doctrines into existence [above all, to support or complete any dogmatic system or Church claim]. Second, it is development, not of doctrine in its subject-matter, but in the understanding and apprehension of the Church. Third, neither for the process nor for the results … is infallibility claimed, or anything beyond the general guidance and blessing [of the Church’s great Head], … which … does not preclude the possibility of error in His people.” (F. W. Macdonald.) The personal character of the ministry, too, as well as all their dealings with their fellows, show that they have “renounced,” etc. No denser “veil” to the Gospel than a questionable or damaged reputation in its ministers, in regard to their transparent honesty of speech, their simple directness of motive, their entirely “above-board” action. Many seekers after God and after truth have failed to find both, even in the Gospel, as they have read it or have heard it preached, by reason of the known ill-repute of the minister. If the idolised minister, or system, may become a veil, the discredited or discreditable, man, or system may as certainly be so. The ministers need to be thoroughly transparent in life and character and teaching. (c) The true ministry has but one aim,—so to let “the light shine” upon the path, and into the mind and heart, of the “lost,” as that they may best be brought out of their darkness and into the presence of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It originally “shone out of darkness.” The primal fact of the material creation was repeated in the moral. It was the ray of the dawn of a day, ever since shining more and more unto its perfection of noontide light. That dawn sprang forth from the bosom of darkness, flashing into a world dark in ignorance. Now the Sun Himself was arisen. His light had shone into the darkness of the “heart” (and intellect and life) of Paul and his fellow-workers; into and “in,” for it was an abiding day within them. Now they have but one simple, open, unveiled purpose, open to the scrutiny of men and of God—to “manifest the truth,” all unveiled, to every dark mind and heart which could be induced to gaze. They know of no “handling the Word of God” but such as will contribute to this end.

(2) Not by its Divine Author.—He is the God who loves to “make light shine out of,” and upon, “darkness.” A God of light; a God Who is light; Whose attitude is, “If … not so, I would have told you”; Who loves to reveal, rather than to conceal. Silent, He has spoken by His Word; invisible, He has shown Himself in His Image. God is working in and with the soul which craves to see the light.

(3) By the hearers themselves.—(a) The “open” Gospel needs to be met by “open” thoughts and hearts. The “spiritual man” is in thorough rapport with the “spiritual” minister. [“He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us” (1 John 4:6; where note also the following sentence. A noteworthy claim!) A true minister may borrow the words of a Higher Teacher: “My sheep know My voice; … they know not the voice of strangers.”] The conscience in man leaps [like the unborn Baptist at the approach of the unborn Christ] in response to the truth. Even in the unsaved there is so much of grace that they know, and, at least secretly, honour, even if they do not love, the man who plainly speaks truth. Even in such conscience has from the beginning some power to recognise the truth when it meets with it. It is an eye made for the light. “It is a pleasant thing for this eye to behold this Sun.” The sincere Nathanael is ready to welcome and follow new light. Much more does the enlightened man respond to, and go out towards, the man whose truth commends him to his conscience. The man who is in Christ, and even the sincere inquirer for Christ, knows a true minister of Christ when he meets him and hears him; for him that minister carries letters of “commendation” of unimpeachable, unquestionable validity. The true minister “commends himself” to such. He blamelessly asks their endorsement of his credentials, and their acceptance of himself and his message. He must conciliate the unsaved man if he is to do him good. If he cannot gain his ear, he will not make the light reach his dark “mind.” He appeals thus with hope of success; the “conscience” in “every man” is the preacher’s hope; it is the starting-point of his work. Were it originally absent; let it be blinded or killed; the minister of the Gospel has then nothing to appeal to; “he cometh and hath nothing in” the man. (b) It is actually met with “veiled” minds. The “veiled” heart in the Israelite made the Law a veil, and not a mirror or a medium; the “veiled” mind of “the world,” puts a veil upon the Gospel. Nothing more sadly wonderful to the man who sees, than to find how utterly unable to see what is so clear to him, are the “lost” men and women about him. Nothing, unless it be that himself once did not see what is now so plain. There may be many causes of blindness. Prejudice, whether induced by early educational bias, or—more than a man is always conscious—by subtle love of sin and dislike of holiness. [“Men love darkness rather than light” (John 3:19 sqq.).] Moral indolence, which will not “be bothered” about such things, and turns away, with an indifference that is as weary as it is worldly, from The Truth [Pilate-like, John 18:38]; an indolence which has an uncomfortable misgiving that to listen might involve inquiry, and inquiry compel to action, and that in a direction in which the heart has no desire to look or go. Preoccupation; for the mind and heart need to be kept free from entanglement; too eager, too close, contact with any secular pursuit becomes an entanglement, a bondage, a “veil” to the heart; art, music, business, home, may swallow up a man until he has neither leisure nor desire for “the light.” [The value of the Sabbath to even the “lost,” and to the young, consists not a little in this, that it is a “break” in the engrossing, enslaving round of secular life, enslaving even its noblest types and forms. The Sabbath does something towards preventing the “veil” from becoming too densely impervious to the light.] Idolatry, in its many modern forms; sensuality, and in its varying degrees even the sensuous; any sinful habit indulged; mental pride, which cannot brook “backing down” from a position once openly taken up; worldliness of life and temper, in its widest sense,—all veil the mind and heart. The “man in Christ” sees Christ in Law and Gospel; he understands, too, why the man who is “lost” does not, cannot. And to the man living under the gracious influences of the Spirit of God, there is not infrequently given a revelation—from which he shrinks in horror—of the nearness of a Power of Evil,—a very “god of this world.” That evil Power is behind, and in, all the veiling of the heart, as the good Spirit is analogously behind, and in, all opening of the eyes and all clearness of disclosure and vision. In neither case is man’s personal responsibility destroyed. The veiling is man’s own doing, whilst it is also the work of the great Anti-God, “the god of this world.”


2 Corinthians 4:4. “The god of this world.”—[“Grandis et horribilis descriptio Satanæ” (Bengel, in loc.)].

I. His dominion.—Usurped. Extensive. Powerful.

II. His subjects.—The lost. Who believe not.

III. His work.—To blind their minds. By ignorance, error, delusion.

IV. His object.—To hinder the grace of God. To ruin souls.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 4:4. “Through Christ to Godward.”

I. Godward.—

1. A Godward look.—Standing with face toward God. Having God in full view in all his life. Everything else then adjusts itself accordingly; everything falls into due, true proportion; truth, man, earthly interests, etc.

2. A Godward hope.—[Cf. 1 John 3:21; different word for “confidence”; thought related.] Hemmed in hopelessly on all sides, but can look and hope upwards. Hated by his Jewish fellow-countrymen; mistrusted, disliked, even hated, by many of his fellow-Christians; only a few understanding and loving him. But One does understand him; he can commit his cause to that One, and go on in hope.

3. A Godward plea.—Looks Godward for inspiration; looks toward Him for help. His look is an appeal. [So Hebrews 12:0 is really “looking at Jesus,” but leads up to “looking unto Jesus” for help.] His need is an appeal; the very sight of his need will not fail to move God’s heart. [As the blind or crippled street mendicant stands and says nothing, but simply shows himself to the gaze and heart of the benevolent passers-by. To show himself is itself an appeal.]

II. Through Christ.—Can only see God when he gazes upon Him in Christ. Can only see God when he looks in a Christward direction. Down that road also, by that channel, must His help be expected to reach Paul. In John 1:51 all intercourse between heaven and earth is “upon the Son of Man,” the New Testament Jacob’s ladder. All communication between man and God is through the Mediator. His intervention is the middle term supposed in every “transaction” between God and man. Observe how this makes all religious life Christian. All has the Christian tinge; everything—hope included—has taken on a Christian colour.

2 Corinthians 4:5-10. The Preacher’s

I. Duty,

II. Qualifications,

III. Triumphs.—[J. L.]

Verses 7-18


2 Corinthians 4:8.—“Pressed for room, and still having room” (Stanley). “Perplexed, but not utterly perplexed” (Beet). Apparent, not real, contradiction to 2 Corinthians 1:8 (same word).

2 Corinthians 4:9.—“Pursued in our flight, but not left behind as a prey to our pursuers; struck down (as with a dart, or thrown down as in wrestling), yet not perishing” (Stanley).

2 Corinthians 4:10. Dying.—Note margin. See under 2 Corinthians 1:5 for the thought.

2 Corinthians 4:11. Live.—In more than the physical sense. See, a few months later, first clause of this verse exemplified at Corinth (Acts 20:3).

2 Corinthians 4:12.—Might almost personify, and write “Death,” “Life.” “The preachers daily felt themselves sinking into the grave [query, rather being led by a Via Dolorosa to a cross on a Calvary]; and their daily deliverance was daily working eternal life among their converts” (Beet). The thoughts recur in 1 Corinthians 4:8-10 and Philippians 1:19.

2 Corinthians 4:13.—“The same (Holy) Spirit of faith” as is implied in the thought of Psalms 116:10, LXX. [Perowne says this is an impossible rendering of the Hebrew. He submits

(1) “I believe when I speak,” i.e. when I break forth into the complaint which follows in the next clause; but he prefers

(2) “I believe”—emphatic, i.e. I do believe, I have been taught trust in God by painful experience—“for I must speak”—I must confess it, “I, even I (pronoun emphatic), was greatly afflicted; I myself,” etc. “The Psalmist declares that he stays himself upon God (‘I believe’), for he had looked to himself and there had seen nothing but weakness; he had looked to other men, and found them all deceitful, treacherous as a broken reed.”] Is there anything more intended than a “happy quotation” of a familiar phrase, quite apart from its correctness as representing the Hebrew? Nothing depends on that correctness, though in some phrases of the context in the Psalm there is an appropriateness to Paul’s peril and deliverance. As it stands in the LXX., the phrase happily expresses a very great principle.

2 Corinthians 4:14. With Jesus.—Not “by,” or, as often, “in,” but exactly “along with,” as 1 Thessalonians 4:14. More than “sharing His condition” (Stanley). More truly Beet says: “Since our resurrection is a result of Christ’s resurrection, wrought by the same power, in consequence of our present spiritual union with Christ, and is part of that heritage which we share with Christ, Paul overlooks the separation in time, and thinks of his own resurrection and Christ’s as one Divine act.”

2 Corinthians 4:15. All (these) things.—“If I live such a life, it is in order that there may be more souls partaking of the grace, and then the more to thank God for it.” Similar to 2 Corinthians 1:11 and 2 Corinthians 9:12-14.

2 Corinthians 4:16. The inward man.—Same original as “the inner man” in Ephesians 3:16, or Romans 7:22; but hardly in the same sense; the moral aspect is there prominent, here only the immaterial character of it. So “renewed” is not prominently the moral renewal of Colossians 3:10.

2 Corinthians 4:17.—Note the While.—“If we cease to look, it ceases to work.” This verse helps to fix exegetically the meaning of “eternal.” If Restoration were a certainty in the ultimate future for the lost, they might in hell quote 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. Dean Plumptre wrote to Archdeacon Farrar: “I have never been able to attach any great importance to the discussions which have turned upon the meaning of the word αἰώνιος. I cannot, on philological grounds, agree with Mr. Maurice in thinking that our Lord’s teaching in John 17:3 excludes from it the idea of duration, and the whole history of the word shows that it cannot of itself denote, though it may suggest, the idea of endlessness.” [Spirits in Prison, p. 338. He repeats all this expressly, p. 336 (in an essay ad hoc).]

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 4:7-18

I. The outer life of an apostle (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

1. A distressed life;
2. A vicarious life.

II. The inner life of an apostle (2 Corinthians 4:13-18).

3. A believing life;
4. A victorious life.

Who is in the “succession”?


1. Distressed.—

(1) Not an unmixed good to get too vivid or realistic a view of the externals of the earthly life of Jesus. [See Homily, “Knowing Christ after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16).] It is a great, and unmixed, good to realise the externals of Paul’s life. “Troubled,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “cast down,” to a reader’s heart, and for the purposes of his practical encouragement, gain very helpful force, if from (say) the Acts, read with such instructive side-lights as in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, these words be filled out by the realising imagination. “Persecuted,” e.g., falls lightly from the lips of a reader, and only lightly impresses the attention of the hearers. But it should be remembered how from the day of his conversion Paul was the object of persistent, deep, malicious, murderous hatred, which never relaxed its pursuit until his head fell beneath the sword of the executioner, somewhere on the Appian Way. [It was really Jewish persecution which led to his journey “on appeal” to Rome; the influence of Poppæa, the wife of Nero, and a Jewish proselyte, was possibly one of the factors which made his imprisonment to end in death.] Hunted out from city to city. Not safe for long together anywhere. “Smuggled out” of Damascus by night; hurried secretly away from Thessalonica [to Athens (Acts 17:14)]; stoning attempted (Acts 14:5) or actually accomplished (ib. 19); and the examples in the Acts are only the cases which “happen” to be mentioned, out of an unrecorded mass of facts illustrative of this word. [Just before this time (Acts 19:31); a little after it (Acts 20:3).] He was the fox hunted from hole to hole; the bird of the air not suffered to shelter long in even a temporary nest. Very graphic (see Critical Notes) are the other words. “Troubled” [“tribulated;” it is, radically, the word so frequent in chap. 1] “in everything,” “at all points,” perpetually under the threshing-drag; within him, as well as around him, were the instruments, or the occasions of, perpetual, crushing pressure. [One thinks of the martyrdoms by crushing between boards or plates of iron, under heavy weights. There are daily martyrdoms, not suffered just once, for a short, sharp hour or two of agony, and then done with, but prolonged through a lifetime of distress. See the crowding, pushing, pressing, choking cares of his life graphically illustrated, Luke 8:45 (cognate word), as also in Mark 5:24; Mark 5:31.] To the very limit of endurance. [“Patience” in its New Testament sense of “pressing on, bearing up,” is the counterpart of this “pressure.”] “Perplexed.” “What next? Where next? Hemmed in; where is the way of escape? At our wits’ end; what is the wise and right thing to do? Is there anything that can be done?” And this when something “must” be done; for time is slipping on, circumstances are closing in around, the last door of escape will soon be closed up. Yet what to do? To see advancing trouble or disaster draw nearer and nearer, yet to stand hanging down helpless hands. “Cast down;” thrown in the wrestle, struck down in the conflict [as Christian by Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation]; lifted, in the strong grip of circumstances or of the Tempter himself, “clean off” one’s feet, off one’s foothold on the promises and faithfulness of God; blow following on blow, buffet raised on buffet in quick succession; “facts” arising in fertile crop, which seem to “compel” doubts and questions that it is an agony to be obliged to entertain, even though only that they may be dismissed; until all strength to fight on, or even to follow on, seems lost. Reason, trust, hope, sinking, “stricken down” by the quick succession of staggering “facts,” in even the providential path; or of disheartening circumstances in the work of God. Every reader adapts to his own special circumstances the words of Paul; they are a frame which will hold many a picture of a distressed life. It is as much his personal, as his official, life which is in question. [

(2) In it we meet the time-old, world-wide fact, and the problem which is at its heart,—how scant a recognition the greatest men of their time get; how often the truest benefactors are unrecognised; how often, indeed, goodness, and the holiest life, are only recognised to be met with rebuff, to be made to suffer; how they are persecuted even to the death. This alone is, of course, no complete or adequate account of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, but, at the least, it is an account which falls in with and exemplifies this “law.” If God’s people do not really serve Him “for nought,” at least they do not serve Him for what the earthly life has to give. [Some lives only show their full beauty when “distressed.” The incense only gives out its full savour when cast upon the burning coals.] What is the rationale of persecution? For no man ever seriously entertained the thought of changing opinion by external, or physical, compulsion. There has been an element of political, governmental action in much persecution of Christianity. In the Roman Empire religiones illicitœ were always obnoxious to the State. The necessary, regulative effect of Christianity upon the action and conduct of its professors has sometimes inevitably involved disobedience to some State legislation, and very much oftener a disconformity to the informal, social, customary legislation of the world in which they were citizens. To any form of absolute government, individualism, particularly such as seems aggressive and in conflict with the established order, is a thing to be repressed, if it cannot be destroyed. But this by no means accounts for all persecution, even organised and quasi-governmental. It by no means explains the elaborated ingenuity of cruelty in punishment which is no necessary accompaniment of (even mistaken) justice. It by no means explains the elaborately ingenious and the subtly invented pain inflicted, in cases of personal, as distinguished from quasi-official, persecution. One sentence of Paul is a summary formula for the answer to the question proposed. “As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (Galatians 4:29). John traces the matter further back. In the Book of Origins—Genesis—he sees in the slaying of Abel by Cain his brother the origin and first example of the deep, innate, inevitable, murderous antipathy between “the world” and “the children of God” (1 John 3:12). The Roman State persecuted the Church; the heathen state in Madagascar persecuted the Christian community; the Romish Church persecuted its fellow-Christian Albigenses and Vaudois; the Greek Church persecutes its fellow-Christians and fellow-subjects, the Stundists; Episcopal Church government persecuted Presbyterian, or Quaker, or Methodist nonconformity; in the same congregation, the lax—“worldly”—section if in the majority, will give practical, painful, penal effect to its dislike of the spiritual minority; in the same household, “the world” pursues “the Church” with its effective, pain-dealing dislike. It is, in fact, the same “world” everywhere, though it may be a baptized “world” called a Church or a section of one, hating “the spiritual”; it is the same “natural” heart everywhere, which cannot simply be indifferent to, and leave alone, “the spiritual,” the pure, the holy, the Divine. The mere contrast is exasperating; it arouses antagonism; the antagonism becomes active. And, finally, the deep underlying “animal” or “devil,” of which there is too much in every natural heart, may make its persecution the occasion to display its love of inflicting and witnessing pain. In much persecution there has been seen that “streak” of the cruel, of the savage, which is a possibility of universal human nature, apart from the grace of God.]

2. Vicarious. “All things are for your sakes.”

(1) Living for others. Except this corn of wheat had fallen into the ground and died, it would have abode alone. Paul must be killed daily, so that Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippian gaolers, Lystran Timothys (Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 16:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:11; ib. 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 2:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:12; 2 Corinthians 2:11-13; a Bible-reading in germ), may have life. “Through death to life” is the “law” for a man’s own life. If a man will live for himself, introverting upon himself all thought and action—“will save his life” for himself—he will “lose it” and die. [There is no life that can more utterly be selfishness and death than that of self-culture.] “Through the death of one to the life of others” is the “law” for the life of all. Christ’s death the highest exemplification of this, though it is unique quâ the link of connection between His death and our life; there is no analogy in this between the solitary case of Christ and the common cases of ordinary mankind, though both may be stated in terms of the same great “law.” “For your sakes.” Not for Paul’s own? Certainly. They no doubt had a sanctifying and sanctified efficacy in the training and development of his own Christian life. [Below, they are seen, at the least, “dissolving the tabernacle,” and “working out the exceeding weight of glory” for him.] But in the fulness of his Christlikeness of affection, he for the moment sees this no longer; it disappears out of all reckoning. He approximates very closely to Him Who could alone say with full and exact truth, “All things are for your sakes.” [On lower planes of illustration are seen instances of the same “law” at work. Some must sacrifice the sorely needed rest of the Sabbath, that others may hear the Gospel and find “life” on the Sabbath. Any life which is to be a blessing and a comfort and a joy in a family, must be continually putting aside its own work or plans or ease, giving itself up to others, and indeed, in its highest types, be “laying itself out” with loving ingenuity, to contrive the pleasure or the convenience of others. Birth, in many ways, and in many instances, means death to the giver of the new life. No man permanently blesses his race with even new thought, except by sore pangs of mental “labour.” Etc.] “For your sake.” So that in two directions Paul’s life is the very opposite of self-centered; Christward—“to me to live is ‘Christ’ ”; manward—“all for your sakes” [cf. “beside ourselves … to God; sober … for your cause” (2 Corinthians 4:13)]. Poised between, pointing toward, these two poles, the Paul who hangs central between them is forgotten!

(2) Especially, suffering for others. So, probably, 2 Corinthians 4:12. The daily “dying” is the price—by him thankfully paid—for their daily “life.” (To extend Alford’s remark:) God shows death in the living in order that he may through them awaken and show life in the dying. Yet, as if an instinctive perception, that vicarious dying in its fullest sense was the propriety of Christ alone, guarded his language, where it trod on the very precipice-edge of error, he never says, “We die for you, or for your sakes.” Only this: “We are delivered daily unto death for Jesus’ sake.” [Farrar does indeed paraphrase: “So then death is working in us—seeing that for Christ’s sake and for your sakes we die daily—but life in you. The trials are mainly ours; the blessings yours.”] [The “vicarious” idea (in an inexact sense of the word) is suggested in 2 Corinthians 4:5-7. The Gospellers have themselves been illumined, as from a central fount of Light, that so in their turn they may show light to, and shed light upon, other dark hearts. They are filled—earthen vessels though they be—with treasure, in order that they may “make many rich.” Or as some see the picture in the words, they are the soldiers of a greater captain than Gideon, carrying each of them his light in his earthen pitcher. But “earthen” then conveys no thought of disparity between means used and ends accomplished, between contents and vessel; yet such a disparity seems required by the concluding clause of 2 Corinthians 4:7.]


3. Believing.—

(1) With the same faith, begotten of “the same Spirit of faith,” which prompted, and breathes in, the declaration of the Psalmist. The whole drift of Hebrews 11:0 is to exhibit this real unity of the principle of faith, through all the ages and dispensations. Believers are all of a pattern; they conform to a distinctly marked and permanent type, to whatever Church they belong, in whatever age they live, how much or how little soever of light they have upon the matters for which they exercise faith, and upon Him Who, to them all, is the Object towards which faith directs itself, and on which, having reached It, faith rests. It may have the distinctly Gospel colouring and character, but that is rather gained from the matter with which it is concerned. Concerned with “providential” things, or with distinctly “evangelical,” faith’s hand is in either case “subdued unto the colour” of the thing it works upon, but it is the same hand, and the same grasp upon the same God. [Indeed, it is specially noteworthy how, e.g., the faith of Noah is declared to have won for him a grace which is described in a very “Pauline” phrase, “Became heir of the righteousness which is of God by faith.” And so in other instances. The examples of Hebrews 11:0 are in the closest connection with the critical points of the developing history of Redemption,—the “nodes” in the growing stem, at which miracles (and prophecy) and faith all blossom in fullest profusion.] Old Testament psalmist, New Testament apostle, both belong to the same “set”; [they are of the true Abrahamic stock;] they are “believers.” In every age, and in every sense, does God’s “just man live by faith.” In every age, in every believer, faith’s activity conforms to the general formula of Hebrews 11:1; it makes things hoped for and future to be working realities, assumed, taken for granted, in all reckoning and action in the present; it makes things unseen into elements and factors in the daily life, as powerful and as real as the things seen. [So 2 Corinthians 4:18.] Indeed, God and His word of faithful promise are more certainly assured conditions of life’s problem, than are man and his character or words. [E.g. the purpose and the protection of God are more potent considerations than is the wrath of Pharoah (Hebrews 11:27).] “Begotten of the same Spirit.” Exegesis, and the whole strain of Scripture, growing clearer as the Pentecostal age advances, require the “S.” Faith is not natural to the human heart; it is induced; it is the Spirit’s grace. No better, surer proof of this than the fluctuations in its strength, of which every believer is conscious. So unreasonable are they; and yet so little amenable to, or to be put away by, reasoning. After all the experiment of a long lifetime, with its resulting, accumulated “experience,” what more logical than “hope”? (Romans 5:4). What more reasonable, and right, than that the One Friend Who has never failed His people in any slightest particular; Whose resources of wisdom and power, and Whose love and character, have, absolutely without exception, always responded adequately to every demand made upon them by man’s need and faith; should be met with a perfectly restful trust? And yet, no! After years of accumulated experience; in the very presence of a great deliverance; with the very greatest mercy only a recent memory; still the heart, ungratefully, illogically, will doubt and be distressed, as if it were only beginning to learn the lesson of faith, instead of being already a lifelong pupil. Faith is a gift, a grace, to be used and cultivated by man, but needing to be created by God’s Spirit. Whatever “grieves the Spirit” weakens faith.

(2) The immediate object of Paul’s faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is accepted by faith as a fact; its consequences are also a fact to faith. In His being raised is contained and involved the further miracle that Paul and his fellows shall be raised up also. The daily deliverance from the daily, deadly peril is involved in it too. That peril is a foretaste of death; the life, thus daily guarded and renewed, is, in principle and in foretaste, a real raising up again. Whether in now daily renewing and preserving that life, or in raising it up from the grave hereafter, He Who is the God of Paul’s life is really doing one and the same great work. The daily deliverance is a simple corollary of the truth that the eternal life, in which resurrection is just one episode and incident, is already begun, and is to be kept “unto the Day.” Faith accepts the premiss—Christ’s resurrection—as fact; faith draws the inference, with its own sure logic; and accepts, and rests in the consequence—Paul shall be raised up. This strength of assurance affects his whole life; in its every expression of character. Such a faith, resting on such a God, “stiffens” the man; “puts a backbone” into him. When Paul speaks he “uses great boldness of speech”; he does not need to speak in equivoque or doubt, with bated breath or qualified certainty, or in “adulterated” Gospel. [He is a preacher who preaches not doubts, or speculations, or hopes, but what to him are certainties—“I believe, therefore have I spoken.”] And so, finally,

4. Victorious.—

(1) The “earthen vessel” is “troubled,” is “perplexed,” is “persecuted,” is “cast down”; it “always bears about the dying of Jesus”; it “perishes”; naturally it would “faint.” Yet it is not “distressed,” nor “in despair,” nor “forsaken,” nor “destroyed”; the treasure enriches many; the words are bold, with a confidence victorious over doubt or any human and unworthy motive whatever; it “looks” away from the “seen” and “temporal” to the “unseen” and “eternal”; it pursues its way, in the midst of all and in the face of all, accounting all as but “the momentary lightness of our affliction.” It is, on the one side, the victory of the vessel of frailest “earthen” mould and material; on the other, it is the victory of the resurrection-working power of God. The “excellency” of the power which works the daily wonder, guarantees, and will by-and by make real, the weight of glory which grows from “excellency” to “excellency.” [Same words. Note also 2 Corinthians 1:8.] The eternal victory is but the present daily victory “writ large.”

(2) “Not distressed;” there is always “the way of escape.” The close-hemming foes—men and circumstances—are never suffered to complete and close up their environing circle. The threshing-roller has its limit of weight; our strength of patient endurance is always just a little more than the heaped-up burdens. Frail as is the vessel, it is always made strong enough for its purpose. “Not in despair;” the word is alway heard; “I have given thee the valley of Achor for a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15); somehow it is always possible for the pilgrims to walk out of Giant Despair’s castle; they have a master key for every door. “Not forsaken;” the army of Christ has no stragglers who are left behind to perish; the weakest, who falls out of the ranks when the pursuit is hot, is never abandoned. The Captain Himself is the rear-guard for His host. “Not destroyed;” the touch of mother earth, when they are stricken down or thrown in the wrestle, seems to set them, Antæus-like, on their feet again. The wrestler is flung upon the ground, but never appeals in vain to his King and Master, Who from His throne is watching the struggle; it is not He Who, with thumb turned down, will leave him to his adversary and his fate.

(3) “Worketh out.” Which is more than merely victory, and much more than deliverance. It is the strain of the pæan of Romans 8:37, “more than conquerors.” The trials have helped the afflicted man. He has not only been through them, but on them has levied contribution toward his best welfare. He has not only escaped, but they have helped and enriched him. “One more such victory, and I am ruined,” cried Pyrrhus. There have been to this conqueror, Paul, no victories “only less calamitous than” defeats. Conquerors! “More than conquerors!”

(4) Whilst we look. [“Whilst Peter looked” at His Master, he could tread the waves; they bore him toward his Master.] Let a man become secular in temper and view and outlook, he will soon find that life’s burdens are becoming crushing in their “weight.” If he focus (as the photographer says) for the near, the distant will become faint and indistinct. To get his picture right, he must focus by the things “eternal.” He focusses for an unseen object, but the earthly, temporal foreground somehow always thus comes right. In life’s scheme and picture all is then in due and true proportion and definition.


2 Corinthians 4:2. The Sphere of the Pulpit.—“Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.” Of all who teach the religious teacher occupies the highest position. Others are giving in the school the lessons whose actualisation shall be the principles and habits and conduct of the men of the coming generation. They have to do with mind, and that in its most impressible condition. They may give to very much of the stream of the world’s moral and social life a tinge and a direction, as they please. But the religious teacher ought to be, might be—every faithful one is—one who deals with the conscience.

I. With the conscience in every man.—Without the physical senses, I could never feel my connection with this material system,—the green earth beneath my feet, and the blue heavens that encircle me, would be nothing without these; so without this conscience, this moral sense, I could have no idea either of moral government or God. Had you no conscience, I might as well endeavour to give to one that is born blind and deaf the idea of beauty and sweet sounds, as to give you the idea of duty and God. To this the religious teacher appeals. Expect him to appeal to it. Honour him in proportion as he does.

1. There is a ministry which reaches the conscience through the passions.—Hope and fear are appealed to; emotions are stirred, tears flow; the fear of wrath leads up to a sense of sin and guilt. There is a ministry which aims at the imagination. Beauty is the idea. Whatever in thought or form, in sentiment or style, will please the taste or charm the fancy are freely introduced. Truth is cast into sonorous periods, and presented in poetic pictures. No reason why not, if only all be consecrated to the use of reaching, in order to awaken, the conscience. The attention must first be arrested, somehow; else the preacher is a dead failure. The wrong is done, when the catching and satisfying of the imagination becomes in itself the goal of the aim of the preacher, and the only desire of the hearer. So of the ministry which aims mainly at the intellect. Verbal criticism, philosophic discussions, subtle distinctions, ingenious hypotheses, are the staple of its discourses, with the accompanying danger that the whole should be exclusively an intellectual performance. “Commending ourselves to every man’s intellect,” by all means. Religion has nothing to fear—revealed doctrine has nothing to fear—from fair, sober, reasonable reason and intellectual scrutiny. But neither the preacher nor the hearer should be satisfied if the intellectual exercise and the satisfaction it gives, be all. This should be made one of the approaches, one of the “parallels,” by which the spiritual engineer seeks to get near, that so he may seize the stronghold of the conscience for his Master, Christ. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4); the aims must not be carnal either. In the day of his “success” and gathered applause and goodwill, let the preacher ask, “Did I aim at, did I reach, the conscience?” In the day of his “failure,” and accompanying despondency, let him pray that the “poor performance” may—perhaps the better for its poverty—have reached a conscience. Let the hearer ask for a preacher who is mighty with the conscience.

2. “Every man’s conscience.”—The torpid; those that have never been awakened, or who, having been once aroused, have relapsed into insensibility again. Unhappily the most commonly occurring condition of the conscience. Turn over the pages of universal history; look the world through; search its literature, institutions, trades, professions, amusements; you see the flames of passion reddening the sky of ages; the creations of the imagination filling the horizon; the inventions of genius, the theories of intellect, piled mountains high on every hand; but the activity of Conscience all but absent and unknown. The alarmed and guilty conscience, with its fear of wrath, vain struggles against the tyranny of Sin, all the experiences of Romans 7:0, consciousness of accumulating transgression, and so of accumulating guilt. The peaceful, victorious conscience. From which the sense of guilt has been removed; which has won a conquest over all the inner antagonists of the soul; which soul has ascended the throne within the man, grasped the sceptre, and is ever carrying out the will of God, and rejoicing in God through Christ, by Whom it has “received the Atonement.” For each of these the true pulpit must have its message; the true Christian teacher is the man who has the word for each, which it at once recognises as the message from God, just adapted to its necessity.

II. Through the medium of “the truth.”—Paul saw “truth” everywhere, breathing in pagan systems, sparkling in philosophic speculations, circulating in the general current of common language and common life. But to his mind, The Truth—that which humanity wanted to raise it from its fallen state—the sin-correcting, soul-saving truth, was this: The special revelation of God developed in the teaching, embodied in the life, illustrated and concentrated and energised in the death, of Christ. This central Truth alone could uncover in daylight the awful heavens of being, and bless with new life and beauty this fallen earth. Paul could move, he knew, the conscience of his age by this potent instrument. With this he was an Archimedes who could move a world. Truth “as truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

III. As under the felt inspection of Almighty God.—Paul “set the Lord always before him”; he toiled and suffered “as seeing Him Who is invisible.” This abiding consciousness of the Divine inspection would remove three hindrances to the work of the preacher.

1. Man fear. By all means let the preacher—every thoughful man will—have a deep awe as he stands in the presence of souls, every one of them an heir of the interminable hereafter, every one an originating fountain of everlasting, ever-effective influence—good or evil. He may well tremble as he presumes to influence for eternity deathless intelligences. “In the sight of God” will deepen this, but it would destroy the enervating, enslaving, inordinate over-anxiety to avoid the hearer’s disfavour, and to ensure his praise and approbation.

2. Affectation. In the felt presence of the conscience, and, still more, of God, a man will become, and will be kept, real.

3. Dulness. The man who is desperately in earnest to get at, and grapple with, the conscience, and that by means which he can honestly employ as “in the sight of God,” will never be dull. And there will be no “commendation” to the best sense of the hearer like this of the evident aim, and still more of the success, at reaching and blessing the conscience. That is the type of minister who will always command an audience. He may offend some, may lose many, but he will be sought by the men of conscience. He will always have a clientele. There is always amongst “the masses” the demand for a man who can reach, and teach, and guide to rest, the conscience in men.—Suggested by “Homilist,” ii. 225.

2 Corinthians 4:3. Veiling the Gospel.—Two noteworthy things here:—

A. A veiled revelation.

B. A redeemed man lost.


1. Amazing! Two purposes of God crossed and thwarted. “Re-vel-ation?” The very word means the drawing back of a veil. An evil will is seen interposing a veil again! A man “for whom Christ”—mark that, no other, no less, than Christ—“died,” “lost.” Now in the process of being lost,—such is the force of Paul’s present participle. It is the mystery to thought; a mystery which sooner or later “brings us up” sharply, as if before a dead wall that stops all further progress in our knowledge, in all inquiries on moral questions. The Problem of Evil; the Problem of Will. The marvel that the Creator has made so many of His own handiwork to possess a Self so like His own in its self-determining power, that it can use its power to say “No” to its very Maker and His purpose and desire.

2. The revelation is a Gospel.—Thoroughly, and only, practical in its object and scope; not at all to help speculation, or merely to give certain knowledge, even on the topics most urgent to the inquiring intellect. For ages, behind the veil, God had been preparing for the day when it should please Him that “the mystery hidden from ages and generations,” “the mystery which had been kept in silence through times eternal,” should at last be “made manifest” (Romans 16:25). At last, like some completed statue beneath its covering, it stood waiting for the moment—it came at Pentecost—when the veil should be lifted, and The Gospel stand out in all its perfection of salvation-beauty. [A sub-section of this revelation is in Isaiah 27:7, and 2 Timothy 1:10. All heathen, all natural life—to some extent even Jewish life—was spent under the overspreading “shadow of death.” A terror and a bondage (Hebrews 2:15) to thought and heart. In the Gospel of Christ—of the dying and risen Christ—the meaning of death, and the certainty of a life beyond death, and the hope of blessedness in that life—all stood out in the only certain, serviceable light which mankind possesses. It was revelation of the morning, when “Light shines out of darkness.” Night is a “covering” cast over all creation. What under its veil the great creative forces are silently producing, is unseen till the day dawns, and “brings to light” what was there all the while, but under the veil.]

3. The central Fact, the central Figure, of the Gospel is Christ.—He is in Himself a Revelation; His very appearance amongst men is a Gospel. The ambassador of England resident in Paris is, in his very residence there, a token of peace and amity between the two nations. [His absence or withdrawal would be understood to mean ruptured relations.] Christ going in and out amongst men for thirty-three years was in Himself a message of peace, a message of goodwill, from God to men. [Then, as below in 2 Corinthians 4:6, He discloses God to men’s mind and heart; in a fashion also which is “good-news” of God, as well as from Him.]

II. But there is a velation, over against this revelation. There is a veiler as well as a Revealer.

1. The blindness is moral.—The “mind” is “blinded”; but the mischief goes deeper; to the “conscience” (2 Corinthians 4:2), and the “heart” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The man who on these topics is enlightened in mind, knows that the light reached the mind through these channels. “After all, it is to moral causes that we must assign a main influence in the … prevalence of unbelief. ‘Our systems of philosophy,’ said Fichte, ‘are very often but the reflex of our hearts and lives.’ … Each man’s position towards Christianity is ultimately determined by the inward condition of his heart and will.… Action must go before knowledge (John 7:17), and a certain inward condition prepare the way for the Gospel message. To understand the truth we must first stand in it (Jeremiah 23:18; 2 John 1:9), or at least be willing to enter and submit to it. Wherever there is a real [ignorance of and] aversion to the Gospel, ethical causes have much to do with it. There is something humiliating in the first aspect of all Christian truth. It reminds us of personal responsibility, of personal shortcomings. It wounds our natural pride and self-sufficiency.… How hard it is to many great and aspiring spirits to come down from their high estate and confess to guilt and error! For others Christianity has too much that is alarming. It makes of human life so serious a thing; it warns so solemnly of the nearness of eternity, and the certainty of future judgment; its sign of the cross reminds us so awfully of the Divine holiness and the hatefulness of sin. Too many also are not prepared to fight their way through all these terrors to real and solid peace, and catch at the idlest doubts and shallowest surprises to escape from the pressure of unwelcome truths. What pride does for the former class, fear does for those in deterring them from embracing the faith of the Gospel. And as for both these classes the entrance to the way of life is found too strait, so for many others the way itself has proved too narrow. Their love of ease refuses to engage in the striving after holiness; their love of gain and worldly honour shrinks from the thorny path of humility and self-denial. With many, alas! sins of sensuality are either parents or offspring of unbelief; nay, every sin may be regarded as a step in that direction.” (Christlieb, Modern Doubt, p. 26.) Vice, worldliness, self-worship are most common, and most fatally dense “veils.” [Even as renunciation of self, consecration to Christ, holy and serviceable living amongst men, gracious submission to God’s hand when under trial, are most fruitful preparatives of a heart for receiving the revelation.]

2. Men can blind their own eyes.—To see requires light and eyes. God has given both. Man can close his eyes to the light. [Has eyelids as well as eyes.] Cannot give himself light; but can make darkness for himself. But—

3. Their action is referred to a power, a person, behind them, “the god of this world.”—His culminating temptation to the Representative of mankind was that he should be accepted as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ!” “Fall down and worship me!” The world is found bowing before his seat (Revelation 2:13); as Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego stood erect amidst a plain-ful of prostrate “peoples, nations, and languages,” so the man “not of the world even as” his Master was not, stands erect, exceptional, singular, to be in consequence cast into the furnace for his disconformity. And the bait is still: “If thou wilt, … all shall be thine!”] As behind, and in, and through, the mind of the inspired man, and the will of the ordinary Christian, there stands and works a Holy Spirit, prompting all good, giving all susceptibility; so it is the constant, and self-consistent, teaching of Scripture that in perfect but evil analogy, there stands and works behind, and in, and through, the mind, heart, will of man an Evil Personality, an Evil Spirit, who has made it his business to counterwork the work of God; who is the opponent, and in himself the antithesis, of God—the anti-God, the anti-Christ. Good Spirit and evil,—both are disclosures of Revelation. And, in closest analogy, just in the same sense, and so far, as all good is referable to the Holy Spirit, without (in a true sense) taking any merit from the man; so, without taking any responsibility from the man, all evil is referable to the Evil Spirit. Man blinds his own eyes; yet “the God of this world blinds the eyes of them, that believe not.” In all the moral causes above suggested, he is at work.

III. “The eyes … them that believe notthem that are (being) lost.”—These stand in closest connection in the text, and in the closest relation in fact. Man has eyes for the supernatural world; eyes which may “see God.” To believe is to use these eyes. They who see not, who believe not, are already “the lost.” To have these things eternally “hidden from the eyes” is to be “lost” for ever. [Though this may include more than the mere penalty of loss, the pœna damni.]

2 Corinthians 4:6. The Glory of God.

I. Revealed.

II. Received.

III. Reflected.

I. Revealed in the face of Christ.—We are the gazing Israel; Christ is more than our Moses. He is showing no reflected “glory”; He is an original source of the “glory”; it is His own. When, with Peter and His brethren, we are caught up to some Mount of Tranfiguration, and see the face of Christ glorified, it is not that, like Moses’ face, His has been shone upon. It is shone through. The native glory within—“the glory of God”—permeates, penetrates, irradiates, the features. The clearest, fullest, altogether peculiar, manifestation of God is made to “every creature” in Christ and His Gospel. Herein is—

1. The one real and direct expression of God.—The Infinite brought down, softened, adapted to man’s capacity. [Can bear to gaze at the sun when reflected in the still pool.] In nature we have the indirect, inferential revelation of God; in Judaism the typical, illustrated revelation; in Jesus Christ the direct and true.

2. An embodiment of Divine excellencies in a living person.—In their abstract presentation the attributes of God are too little effective with the heart and conscience. Men cannot rest in abstractions, nor find much help in them. They want the concrete; they can only rest in a Person.

3. This personal exhibition is human in character.—The essential holiness proper to the Godhead is shown, though in the midst of the ordinary conditions and surroundings of humanity.

4. All this is in perfect exhibition.—In other revelations of God men have the divided, in some the distorted, beam; here in the face of Jesus Christ shines the whole, pure, perfect light of God.

II. Received into human hearts.—Analogy, Scripture, Fact, all show the necessity of a heart preparation for receiving the glory. The light shines on the material world; it shines into the adapted manhood with its eye.

1. This is specially a heart preparation.—The carnal mind, at enmity against God’s law, cannot perceive the beauty of holiness; how should it? Or how should the narrow, petrified, selfish heart realise a love as wide as the world, stooping from the highest glory to the deepest abasement, giving itself unto death that others may have eternal life?

2. This preparation is a great and Divine work.—“Religious truths do not grow out of logic; but pre-supposing certain spiritual tendencies and affections, they arise from immediate contact of the soul with God, from a beam of God’s light, penetrating the mind that is allied to Him.” The heart’s eyes sometimes unclose as if under the brightening beams of the morning, gently and almost unconsciously. Sometimes a lightning-flash arouses and alarms. But the opening of the eye is of God. “Whose heart the Lord [Christ] opened” (Acts 16:14). All the capacity for this revelation found in the child or in the heathen is of God, the work of His Spirit upon the universal heart.

III. Reflected upon, and into, other eyes and hearts.—The Son of Righteousness shines upon men largely through the instrumentality of men. All who have received are under obligation to reflect upon, and impart to, others the light. [“Holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16) as “lights (=light bearers) in the world,” suggests a company holding out and up, at arm’s length, high above their head, the Light which may guide other souls through the darkness to the source of Light for themselves. “Take up the torch, and wave it wide, The torch that lights life’s thickest gloom.”]

Some suggestions fromHomilist,” vii. 253.

2 Corinthians 4:7. “Treasure in earthen vessels.”

I. The Gospel a treasure.—An unexpected, suddenly new illustration. It was “light” in 2 Corinthians 4:6.

1. As there it first illumined the preachers’ hearts, so here it is treasure which has first enriched themselves; there, they next must endeavour to make it shine into other hearts; here, they must endeavour with the Gospel to “make many rich.” The preacher can only give what he has first received; can only enrich others with what is first riches to himself; can only preach what he knows, if his preaching is to have the power even of reality, to say nothing of spirituality.

2. It is the one knowledge, happiness, power, which is an eternal possession to man. All else is valuable relatively to the time and the man, only: this absolutely, in relation to God and eternity. “Wealth is what has exchange value.” No other has exchange value at the bar of God, or even it the hour of death. There are men with barns full to bursting, yet “not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Many a wise, fair, lovable life in the congregation is enriched with many “goodly pearls,” but not with that “one pearl of great price,” with which it is natural to link this text. “Cold water to a thirsty soul” is this “good news from the heavenly country” to an anxious sinner. What is the “wealth” of a caravan crossing a desert? Water, before all things besides; water, just then, and just there; as the Gospel is wealth to a soul unsatisfied with anything that earth can give. [“What best gift shall I get for my children?” See to it that they are enriched with this.] It has enriched the world with its grandest ideas of God, of immortality, truth, purity; giving the highest certainty and authority available to man in regard to these high themes. [“What is the world’s greatest possession to-day?” Before every other answer, Paul would put his own: “The Gospel of God in Christ.”] [See how this enriching of the world with hope, and light, and moral power, and God (Ephesians 2:12), is interwoven with the rejection of Israel (Romans 11:12).]

II. The preachers are earthen vessels.—

1. Like the earthen crock in which, perhaps, the ploughman found the “treasure hid in a field.” It had no value comparatively, and very little intrinsically. The lucky discoverer of the “treasure” would not preserve the pot; if indeed his ploughshare did not, by breaking this, reveal the gold within. [In the “great house” of 2 Timothy 2:19-20 there are “for the master’s use” “vessels” (N.B. not necessarily vases only; the word is vaguely wide and all-inclusive) of “gold and silver,” as well as wooden and earthen ones. All “unto honour” and “fit” for service if “purified,” those of humbler material as well as of costlier. No necessity to force into comparison two quite independent uses of the same figure of “vessel.” If one is to illustrate the other at all, it may perhaps be said that oftener, for the reason which concludes this verse, God uses the earthen rather than the golden or silver vessel, for this particular purpose. (The golden and the silver ones have their use.)] The humble “vessel” may often enrich with its contents a soul of far nobler calibre in all natural capacities. The humble “local preacher,” or perhaps only “exhorter”—in Primitive Methodist terminology—is forgotten, was forgotten almost immediately, his name a matter since of vehement dispute, who “enriched” the soul of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Many a man who received the treasure from Paul himself would hardly see more than the Tarsian Jew, the tent-maker, in poor health, full of “tears,” beyond most men dependent upon sympathy, talking a provincial sort of Greek, scouted and hunted by his own nationality. Paul was by no means to many converts the “vessel of gold” we prize in him; in himself a real wealth to the universal Church; set high in the “Great House” as not only useful, but as a glorious adornment to it.

2. Treasure holders.—That only. [As the sun in Genesis 1:0 is only a light-bearer; light is independent of the sun, and known in Genesis, as in science, to be anterior to it.] Paul and his fellow-workers do not make the Gospel which they carry about and dispense. The “vessel” is the mere “holder”; containing, until it can pour out, the treasure. Simply first filled and then kept full, that they may fill the need of others. Without intrinsic value; containers; and besides—

3. Frail.—Yet, as 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 show, endowed with a wonderful tenacity, kept by “the excellency of the power”; sorely “knocked about yet not broken,” so long as the Master needs them to hold and carry about His “treasure.” Still only “earthen.” The minister is a man. The Spirit of God must do His work through his manhood, and through his particular type of manhood; through his specialties (and frailties) of mental—and to some extent of moral—characteristics. The human medium will affect the Truth in no small degree. This treasure takes something from the human “vessel” which contains it. The make and temper of the “vessel” will affect the delivery of the riches.

(1) The minister will remember this; nor be too absolute and positive, as though he could not err.

(2) The people will remember this; nor expect anything but an earthen,—very human—vessel. It will save mistake on both sides, and disappointment, to remember that the “vessels” are men. Committees and ordaining boards must remember that no ideally perfect men are to be found for the ministry. They must take “earthen vessels,” or none at all. However, they are frail, fragile. The daily failing of the “earthly [though, N.B., not “earthen,” as here] house of the tabernacle” is already in Paul’s thought. (See Critical Notes, 2 Corinthians 4:12.) Every year sees the “vessel” the worse for wear. “He is breaking,” men say of the old minister; whether with a loving tenderness of charity that understands and allows for failing powers, or with an impatience that would hastily put the old “vessel” aside for one of a newer pattern or stronger make.

III. This secures the fulfilment of a great purpose.—It is so plainly the treasure, and not the “vessel,” which has value; it is so manifest that the man himself is not an adequate explanation of the success of the work, that the thought and heart of man “enriched” turns instinctively elsewhere for explanation. “This is the finger of God” must be the verdict in every conversion. Nobody more than the true minister of Christ rejoices to stand back and be forgotten in the first joy of the soul who has found the riches. “Earthen vessels,” so manifestly inadequate in themselves to accomplish the evangelising of a world, or even of a Roman empire, that the success of Christianity becomes an argument for its Divine origin. Now that the issue is no longer doubtful, Gamaliel’s argument has new point.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18. A Contrast and a Connection.—“Our light affliction,” etc.

I. A contrast.—“Affliction;” “glory.” “Light;” “far more exceeding weight.” (Observe in Critical Notes.) “For a moment;” “eternal.”

1. What an exposition of “our light affliction” is given in Paul’s own case in 2 Corinthians 4:8-11, and more wonderfully in 2 Corinthians 11:23 to 2 Corinthians 12:10! In the experience and observation of the people of God nothing puts greater strain upon faith in the wisdom and love of God than the convergence of many, and many kinds of, trial upon one single head. Any one would have been enough, we think; yet they are cumulative. [Before the smart of one stroke has ceased to be acute, and whilst indeed the heart is still smarting, another stinging stroke seems to fall; another follows quickly, and sometimes on the same place, on the old wound.] Faith, too, is tested by the fact that the accumulation is often upon the head of that one of God’s children who, it seem to others, might best have been spared any stroke at all; who seems to need it least, for rebuke or for education in holiness. The burdens are heaped, it sometimes appears, heaviest and most numerous upon the holiest. Paul says, “Our light affliction.”

2. Set over against this a “weight of glory.” Perhaps not very definitely conceived even in Paul’s own mind. At most, probably, there is suggestion of a balance, in whose scales the Now and the Then, the “affliction” and the “glory,” are poised one against the other. [As in Romans 8:18, “not worthy to be compared with.”] He watches the scale heaped up on the affliction side, yet rising outweighed, and he cries to it triumphantly: “Ah! afflictions mine, ye are weighed in the balances and found wanting!” Yet, as the afflictions are a burden, so we may suggest what, measured by our earthly standards and strength, a burden would even glory itself be. The vessel often all but breaks, with even the foretaste of the future given into the heart of the child of God. Yet see how the immortal vigour of that life contains, carries, that weight of glory! “Heavy” and “light” are relative terms to strength: The “light afflictions” are all but overwhelming to earthly powers, even when reinforced by the grace of God. That “exceeding weight” sits “light” upon the strength of the life eternal. Everything is revised in the presence of the eternal world: “Whilst we look,” etc. Turn away the eyes from that, and everything adjusts itself to the earthly standard; the strength reverts to the earthly measurement. The vision of the “things eternal” is a real power to us amidst “the things temporal.” Let a man be lifted to the level of those and look down upon these; let a man’s life be enlarged to the scale of the “eternal,” with all his views and standards of judgment enlarged accordingly, and he understands “this light affliction.” He anticipates the estimate of the eternal world. The principle of the process is seen at work on a small scale in every-day life. With what leaden feet the hours creep along when aching temples count the number by their throbs! Or when a man must stand awaiting the fall of certain calamity, and can only hang down helpless hands and wait. Or when his heart carries day after day a load of anxiety or sorrow, or smarts under wrong, or slander, or persecution, or misconception, or misrepresentation. Or when, hour after hour, the mind is chained to thoughts which will not be shaken off. Such a day takes a great deal of living through! Every such hour seems lengthened to a day; a day, and much more a year, of perplexity, of tried faith, of walking in darkness,—they seem an eternity! By-and-by, when the cloud is gone; when pain is over; when all perplexing circumstances are resolved into clear, plain providential love; when the year that seemed endless has become only one of the thirty, forty, fifty in the review of the past life; then all becomes simply a passage in the story of life,—“the tale that is told,”—exceptional and brief. Even a year becomes by-and-by only a bar of shadow—rather broad, perhaps, but only a bar—thrown across a path whose whole extent beside shows as a line of light. After a little lapse of time the proportions of things come out more clearly; the “endless” day, the “interminable” year, become mere episodes and incidental passages in the whole life-story. Let a man write to a sympathetic friend, out of “the thick” of it all; he fills sheet after sheet; every detail is of importance. Yet even then he realises, and almost resents the fact, that it is more to live through than to write about. And in a year he will summarise in a page or two all that is salient in the review; in a few years all goes into a sentence, or is dismissed in a written line. So, in the review from the standpoint of the things eternal [“whilst we look,” etc.; cf. Romans 8:18], whether actually occupied or only mentally and by anticipation; if the life be all shadowed over; if the pain last as long as the man lasts; if the one crushing sorrow never be lifted, an “affliction” to the end; if the long strain never be relaxed; yet a very brief space in eternity, a very short section of the story there, and that whole long life will become dwindled down to a mere episode in the eternally continuous life of which “death” is also merely an incident not far away from the commencement of its course. The story of the years which meant so much to live through will become merely a page or two prefatory to the main story, to be gathered up and dismissed in a thought, hardly indeed to be accounted of at all in the longer review of life. The burden whose weight was carried along a road which itself was measured out by its painful steps, will have been decreased “to scale,” to fit into the new proportions of life, and will be remembered as “that light affliction” which we once carried “just for a moment.” In view of eternity nothing is long which is terminable; in the presence of, and actual enjoyment of, heaven, nothing is heavy which only belongs to the burdens of earth.

II. A connection.—The one “works out” the other.

1. The course of Paul’s thought, especially as disclosing itself in the opening of chap. 5, makes it evident that he, at any rate, had mainly in mind the ultimate release into “glory” by reason of the body’s “death.” Sickness, a “thorn in the flesh,” hunger, wounds, weariness, all in the broadest sense are forms of death. They hasten—they are—the destruction of the bodily frame, each in its measure. Not one of them but contributes something to expedite the loosing of the immortal part from its mortal companion. Did the young generation of Israelites look with unfriendly eyes upon the last lingering few of the old generation who lived on in the wilderness? “When will you old men die off? We cannot enter into the land whilst you live.” So the Christian, though honouring his redeemed body, yet says to it: “Body, I cannot enter into my glory, whilst I am tied fast to you. You are yourself a burden, and you bind me to a world of ‘afflictions’ each of which is a burden!” Everything which helps forward “dissolution” (2 Corinthians 4:1) brings Paul nearer to the “weight of glory” which is before him; everything which expedites bodily death is not mourned over, shrunk from, counted an evil, but a good, an assistance; “works out” the happy issue which is “glory.”

2. That may have been his thought; but the thought of the Holy Ghost, Who so guided the true and natural expression of a real man’s actual feeling that it became a saying, permanent, normal, for all Christian experience, was more than this. More than the quasi-mechanical removal of a physical disability for entering into the awaiting “glory.” When even Paul exclaims, “Now is … salvation nearer,” etc. (Romans 13:11), there is more than the rejoicing that by mere lapse of time it has every night come nearer. “A day’s march nearer home” is true, but not all the truth of any Christian “hope” worthy the name. If some “lotus-eater” Christian simply folds his arms and lets his vessel drift with the stream of time, then if he be finally saved at all, it is true that he is each night “a day’s drift nearer home.” The very day’s drift has in that sense “worked out” something towards the attainment and enjoyment of the “glory.” But “nearer than when we believed” includes a ripening for the approaching heaven. Men grow readier as they get nearer. And everything which tends to ripen, to develop, to educate character, and put it upon what are essentially “heavenly” lines even here, is “working out” the “glory.” There would be no “glory” for a man who is not made heaven-like beforehand. To an unprepared, uncongenial, non-correlated man heaven—the place—would be intolerable, a hell. Everything which makes the man receptive, prepared for the ready hereafter of a prepared glory, is so far “working out,” etc.

3. There is a suggestion in the figure of a “life-story,” employed above. The old epic, or dramatic, unities were made a bondage to authors, yet there was reason in them when they required that a “plot,” a plan, a motive, should run through and bind together into a real oneness every story, or poem, or drama which was to take rank as a work of art and genius. So in strictness no incident but such as would really help forward this “plot” to its development, was rightfully admissible; it was a redundance, perhaps an excrescence or deformity. So, further, every personage who comes upon the page should in some direct way be contributory to the unfolding and to the fulfilment of the author’s purpose. Only a childish reader of a story is plunged into inconsolable distress over the troubles of the personages whose futures are being followed. An “old hand” knows that this is a common writer’s artifice, and reads on calmly, knowing that such imbroglios of trouble always come out right. A seasoned student of such literature knows that in the midst of such embroilment of fortunes and circumstances the author is not forgetting his “plot” and its destined ending, but is steadily pursuing his way to it. Indeed, he is pursuing it by means of these. Such pages, such incidents, are as really part of the whole machinery by which he is “working out” for his personages the happy issue, as are those where all goes smoothly and without a cross. So Paul’s faith is that, though he is the maker and writer of his life’s story, there is a conjoint, supreme Worker and Author, Who has His own “plot” in the story, and by means of the “afflictions” of life is helping forward the accomplishment of that purpose. By means of even the most “untoward” incidents—not in spite of, or merely in the midst of them—He is leading on His man to, and making him ready for, “glory” designed for him. These afflictions are working out the glory, which, when it comes, shall prove so preponderantly great above all earthly suffering.


2 Corinthians 4:7-10. The Weakness of the Agents contributes to the Furtherance of the Gospel.

I. In their weakness God’s power is displayed.

II. In their affliction God’s help is manifest.

III. In their dying the Divine life is revealed.—[J. L.]

2 Corinthians 4:14. [For Easter. Much material under 1 Corinthians 15:0] The Resurrection of Christ a Comfort in Affliction.

I. The fact is certain.—Christ was raised up by the power of God.

II. The inference is just.—God will raise us up, and present us in glory.

III. The conclusion is inevitable.—God will deliver us out of all our afflictions. He has the power. Intends to do it.

IV. The duty is obvious.—To suffer patiently. [How easily a reader bears the distress of the entangled and distressful parts of a story, when he has looked at the last pages and knows how it is going to end (see p. 472). So we know how our life is going to end. “This will kill me,” we say. No, it will not. We are being “kept … unto salvation,” etc. (1 Peter 1:5).] To speak confidently.—[J. L., in part.]

2 Corinthians 4:15. “For your sakes.”

I. A general principle.—Vicarious suffering, the death of one, the life of another, obtains sometimes in nature; often in human life; usually in spiritual relations (John 12:24); pre-eminently in the Atonement of Christ. There is a vicarious element in the purpose of much sanctified suffering. A Christian lady, standing with a friend, by the bedside of her Christian father, who had lain for two years helpless and nearly speechless, said to her friend: “All that, for so long, is not for him; it is for us.” Many times the work seems perfected in the sufferer, who, as we think, “need not” be kept longer out of rest and glory in heaven; but the sufferer lingers on in pain, to be a factor in the training and moral development of those who minister in the sick-room.

II. A particular application here.—Paul’s [the Apostolic, and, in some degree, all Christian] sufferings benefit others in that they—

1. Exhibit his Faith.

2. Confirm the common Hope.

3. Evoke in others a spirit of Love and Praise.

4. Exemplify the grace of Patient Endurance.—[J. L., with additions.]

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-corinthians-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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