Click to donate today!
2 Corinthians 5:1.—Flow of thought quite continuous from 2 Corinthians 4:18. For (2 Corinthians 4:15).… For
(17).… For (2 Corinthians 5:1).… For
(10), etc.; a chain of “fors.” We know.—Partly from having seen the glorified Christ wearing His resurrection body; Paul and the other Apostolic “witnesses of the resurrection” (Acts 1:22) could on this ground all say “we.” [Note how Peter is led from the “putting off” of his own “tabernacle” (cognate word) to the glorified body of Christ as seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:13-18).] Earthly.—Belonging to, located upon this earth, contrasted with “in the heavens”; not “made of earth,” earthen. If.—Must not be pressed, to carry an inference that Paul doubted whether he should die, and indeed hoped he should not. 2 Thessalonians 2:3, written earlier than this, postpones into the far future the Day of the Lord; and must govern all exegesis of other passages relating to the time of the Parousia. Tabernacle.—Remember he was a tent-maker. The garment and the tent occur together in Psalms 104:2. [In later (and medical) Greek commonly used for the human body.] The tabernacle is a temporary dwelling; the “building” is for a permanence; like “mansions” (= abiding dwellings) in John 14:2. Observe in “from God” (“an immediate outworking of His miraculous power”); and also the comma after “eternal”; “in the heavens” is not merely appended to “eternal,” but is an additional predicate, parallel with “of God” and “eternal.” Building.—Four current views of this:
(2) the Resurrection Body;
(3) a supposed bodily organisation clothing the soul in the interval between death and the resurrection;
(4) a spiritual enduement with the image of God; this last a Rabbinical use of the idea of being clothed. Against
(3) remember that this would not be “eternal,” and that Paul only knows of two kinds of body (1 Corinthians 15:44). For
(4) is pleaded the simpler sense thus given to “not be found naked”; of. Psalms 17:15. For
(1) such parallels are adduced as Hebrews 11:10, and the surface impression of the phrase, “in the heavens,” coupled with John 14:2.
(2) now most in favour. Best explains “clothed,” “clothed upon,” “unclothed” (cf. “bare,” 1 Corinthians 15:37-38); better certainly than does
(1). Difficulty of
(2) is in “in the heavens.” For this and “we have,” choose between, e.g., Stanley: “The moment that our present house is destroyed, that very moment a new habitation awaits us in heaven”; and, e.g., Beet: “A secure place in which the dead have, though they do not yet wear, the resurrection body. Cf. Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 1:4. It is practically in heaven; for the power which will raise it is there. When Christ appears from heaven we shall receive our permanent bodily abode. Hence it is … from heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:2.”
2 Corinthians 5:2. For.—Argument of Romans 8:22 sqq. The groaning is wrought in us by God’s Spirit, and is thus a ground for belief that there is awaiting us a real fulfilment of our desire. Groan.—“With numberless afflictions, infirmities, temptations” (Wesley).
2 Corinthians 5:3.—The nearest Paul’s language brings us to a strong expression of hope that he should not know any “unclothed” interval of existence, but should put over him the new investment of his immaterial part, beneath which, as it were, the old should be stripped off or pass away. But perhaps desire rather than hope. The language is so guided by the Spirit that Paul’s expression of personal feeling, whatever it imply, is universally suited to the longing of the Church, even where there is no expectation of survival to the Parousia.
2 Corinthians 5:4. Not for that.—Difficult to trace link of thought; hence alternative of margin. Stanley: “The groans … are uttered, not so much because of the oppression of this outward frame, not so much from a wish to be entirely freed from the mortal part of our nature, as from the hope that it will be absorbed into a better life.” Swallowed up.—Recalls 1 Corinthians 15:54. Observe “what is mortal”; more exact than A.V.
2 Corinthians 5:5. This very thing.—Choose between
(1) the change just described;
(2) the yearning for it;
(3) the spiritual preparation for it.
(3) is true, but beside the mark here. Perhaps Paul’s thought wavered between, or comprised, both
(2). Earnest.—Romans 8:23; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:11, are apposite, closely related, parallels to the argument here.
2 Corinthians 5:6.—Observe the broken construction: “Being of good courage … we are of good courage.” [The fact of these Epistles having been dictated may (as Dean Vaughan suggests in his Romans) account for many of these breaks in grammatical sequence of clauses.] Of good courage.—“Though troubles assail and dangers affright;” though death be in prospect. Philippians 1:20-23 a good practical illustration.
2 Corinthians 5:7.—See Separate Homily. Here, morally, the nobler walk is that of faith; yet walking by sight will, intrinsically, be a nobler thing there.
2 Corinthians 5:8. Willing.—With an active desire. Present.—“At home,” as in 2 Corinthians 5:5. “Absent” in Greek is also cognate in root; meaning “from home.”
2 Corinthians 5:9-10. Labour.—“Make it a point of honour with ourselves to accomplish this, viz.,” etc. Used in Romans 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:11 [“Be ambitious to be unambitious”] “At home or from home;” in both their alternatives of meaning and relation. Observe, “well pleasing to Him,” i.e. to Christ, before Whose judgment seat (John 5:22; John 5:27) “we must appear”; not only standing there as arraigned before Him, but as being read through and through by Him, and then being by His judgment exhibited in our true character; whether as better or worse than men thought us. Illustrate by 1 John 2:28 to 1 John 3:3. Receive.—“Reap the fruits of” (Stanley). In the body.—Observe margin. Not bodily sins only, the excesses of its appetites, or acts wrought by the aid of its members; but wrought during the occupation by the soul. Good or bad.—Future rewards, as well as future punishments, are part of the Christian doctrine of retribution. Judgment seat.—The thing is Roman, not Greek; in Greek the word meant the orator’s pulpit. “The ‘Bema’ was a lofty seat, raised on an elevated platform, usually at the end of the Basilica, so that the figure of the judge must have been seen towering above the crowd which thronged the long nave of the building” (Stanley). The Corinthians would remember Gallio.
2 Corinthians 5:11. Persuade.—“You say we do, in a bad sense [as Acts 12:20, and Galatians 1:10]. I say I do, in a true sense,” viz. as 1 Corinthians 9:22; Romans 15:2. Terror.—“Fear” in, with many commentators. Yet even Stanley says: “Knowing that there is this fearful aspect of the Lord.” At most, “conscious that we walk in the fear of the Lord” [in the Old Testament sense] is only half the meaning. “Remembering also what a terror to the ungodly will in that day be the Lord Whom now we reverently fear.” I hope also.—As 2 Corinthians 1:14-15.
2 Corinthians 5:12. Commending ourselves.—“Ourselves” emphatic, q.d. as our enemies say we do, because we have no other letters of commendation (2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 4:2). “He assumes, with something of an ironical tone, that all they wished was to vindicate him” (Stanley).
2 Corinthians 5:13.—Takes up charges made by his enemies at Corinth. His “madness” was a fault to some; his “sobriety” to others. [Cf. the generation whom nothing could please (Matthew 11:17).] The steadily-held middle course is often a rebuke, and often an offence, to the extremes on either side. Unto God.—Like a stream which moves unto Ocean but blesses all along its banks by the way, the Christian life is unto God, but on its way it is for man’s cause. If not unto God, then, like stream ceasing to flow, it makes marsh and miasma.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The love of Christ.—Choose between
(1) His love to us;
(2) our love to Him;
(3) His love for men, found in us (cf. Philippians 1:8). In fact,
(3) is uppermost, foremost, most apparent; but grows out of
(2). As matter of experience the three are never dissociated. Constraineth.—“Christ’s love left him no choice as to what he should live for, brought him under the control of an irresistible yet most gracious necessity, hedged him in on the right hand and on the left, controlled him with a constancy like that with which the great forces of the universe rule the planets, and determine the orbit in which every one of them must move” (Dale, Atonement, p. 260). Note the use of the same verb in Philippians 1:23; and, most appositely, by Christ Himself (Luke 12:50). Judge.—In Romans 6:11, “reckon.” Paul does here of himself and others what he there urges each to do in regard to himself. All died.—See Appended Note from Dale. All.—Not to be pressed, to prove universal, saving, efficacy for the death of Christ. Still, every man may by grace bring himself within the circle of the “all” who “died.” Romans 6:1-11 compares throughout with this.
2 Corinthians 5:16. After the flesh.—As ordinary men do, in whom “the flesh” permits of no apprehension or understanding of anything but what is “natural.” As His enemies knew Him; as even His earthly relatives knew Him, until the Spirit taught them more about Him; as the party “of Christ” at Corinth knew Him; as His very disciples knew Him before His resurrection (with such occasional flashes of a deeper insight as Matthew 16:17, “Flesh … not revealed, … but.”) The same expression used of the same opponents, 2 Corinthians 10:3; 2 Corinthians 11:18; Galatians 6:12.
2 Corinthians 5:17.—See Homily. New creature.—In Galatians 6:15 also. Common Rabbinical expression for the conversion of a proselyte. Observe the variant reading, which omits “all.” Passed away.—Study with this Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10. Go back also to Isaiah 43:18-19, and its New Testament derivative, Revelation 21:4-5.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19.—See Homilies. Reconciled us to Himself.—This English phrase, somewhat archaic in form, must not be pressed into the service of any “Theory of the Atonement” which minifies or denies any real “wrath” in God, and makes the aversion which needs removing in order to a state of reconciliation, only to exist in man.
1. The modern English equivalent for the thought of the older English phraseology would, indeed, be more nearly “Reconciled Himself to us.”
The formula for our verse is A reconciles B to A;
In 1 Samuel 29:4 it is D reconciled D to S.
The aversion, the estrangement, which needs removing is, as we now oftener think of reconciliation, in the offended party, not in the offending one.
We should now rather say, C reconciles A to B, D reconciles S to D.
As between older and modern English the polarity of the word has got reversed.
2. So, again, the formula for 2 Corinthians 5:20 is: Let B be reconciled to A. Just as for 1 Corinthians 7:11 it is, Let Wife be reconciled to Husband (see below). And for Matthew 5:24, Let Offending brother be reconciled to Offended. Where again the polarity needs, to our habit of thought, reversing. A needs reconciling to B. Heathen Husband (unjustly) offended needs reconciling to Christian Wife. Offended (justly) needs reconciling to Offender.
3. Clearly, however, “Be reconciled” in these latter cases—perhaps in all—means hardly anything more precise than, “Take the steps needed on your side to seek and to enjoy a new, reconciled relation between yourself and the offended party.” And, as clearly, the force of the Greek word, and not that of the English phrase, carries with it the final decision of interpretation. This (e.g. as Cremer, Lexicon, p. 91 sqq. shows) rather lays stress upon the reconciled, and now amicable, relations arrived at, than upon the process by which it has been reached, and, still less, upon the question which of the parties needed bringing to the other [or which of them made the first move towards a restored, happier relationship]. Of our text he says: “Neither the word, in and by itself, nor the grammatical connection can decide whether God is to be regarded as the antagonist of man or man of God.” [On 1 Corinthians 7:11 he thinks that the heathen husband has some cause of complaint that his Christian wife has left him.] “It is [in point of fact] God who forms the relation between Himself and humanity anew; the part of humanity is to accept this reinstatement (2 Corinthians 5:20).… It is a relation which is changed, which God changes, in that He desists from His claims.”
2 Corinthians 5:20-21.—These verses expound the method of the reconciliation; both so far as depends upon God, and so far as depends on man.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS—2 Corinthians 5:1-21
Wishing and Working.
A. Looking into the Future (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). Key words: “Clothed upon” (1–5); “At home, from home” (6–8); “Christ the Judge” (9, 10).
B. Labouring in the Present (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
1. Often not a very profitable occupation.—The Present is our field, our life. “Do with thy might what thy hand findeth—close at hand—to do” is the first direction for all Christian activity. Dreaming over the Past—pleasurable, or mis-spent; peering into the Future—in hope, or fear, or curiosity; may be the idlest of occupations; fruitless, and diverting from the immediate fruit-bearing of to-day. “What shall this man do? What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” “Forgetting the things behind,” is a good deal done towards securing “This one thing I do,” with its strength—not of “narrowness,” but—of concentration and of consequent intensity and force. The best life-builder lays to-day’s “course” well and strongly, as the best security for the next, and the next, and all following “courses” in his work. Yet not without reference to the superposed “courses”; the design running through from foundation to topstone, will be traceable in to-day’s work—continued from the lower, preparatory for the upper. The climber is helped to make firm the step he is actually taking, by looking upward. Living in the future is useless, mischievous, to the strength and activities of to-day. Living for the future is essential to a large life. Paul draws strength for bearing the “burdens” of the Present, from the hopes of the Future. Paul “labours” in the Present, with a prospect in the Future which—whether to incite or encourage—“keeps him up to the mark” for present duty.
2. Paul is a prophet.—His teaching, his visions, of the future have so become the commonplaces of Christian thought about it, that it is hard to realise what amazing disclosures they are. One value of classical, philosophical literature to our time is that there is recorded the utmost which man could do for himself in the way of purifying life and making it happy,—the experiment whose results stand recorded having been conducted by some of the noblest minds of the race, with all material advantages for the trial, and with the ability to record in the most perfect fashion their methods and results. So, too, in regard to the future, it records for us, in most perfect form, all the best hopes and arguments of the best types of mind and heart, at the very best of their powers, and the “results,” such as they were, to which, under the most favourable conditions, they were able to arrive. And it is matter of common knowledge that not one ever got so far as to say, “We know that if,” etc. The humblest Christian has in the fact of a Risen Christ an evidence for, and a sample and a pledge of, a future life such as non-Christian thinkers and inquirers, ancient or modern, have never attained. Yet Paul is not merely falling back upon History. He may have known all the little that we know about the Risen Life, and the Risen Body of the Lord Christ, during the Forty Days. The one certain fact for us, in regard to the “house not made with hands,” is that His Body is the norm and pattern for ours. Yet we hardly assert even that much without questions arising, and qualifications accruing around our “certainty.” We cannot, for example, be certain that the Body of the Forty Days has not undergone further change and increase of glory since it passed into “the heavens.” On this bare fact alone can our hope or desire put its foot: Whatever His body in the heavenly places is to-day, that ours is to be by-and-by = “fashioned like unto the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:21). Paul is, however, carried in his confidence beyond mere argument and inference. The link given in the text just quoted, is one that must have been supplied to him as part of his prophetic message. Matter of course as it almost seems to us, we could have had no assurance of that,—he could have had none, “except it were given him from above.” With the facts of the Lord’s Resurrection and Glorified Life; with Paul’s revelations; with the assurance of our being “in Christ,” and, in all the senses and degrees of which our human nature is capable, of becoming thus “partakers with Him”; the believer of to-day looks forward to the future and to death and judgment, saying—singing—“We know,” etc. He works on “until the evening” (Psalms 104:23), and then lies down for the long sleep, saying, “We know,” etc.
3. Are we to say of His Pattern-Body that it is “not made with hands,” “eternal” [happily, yes!] “in the heavens”? It is to “strive after wind” to attempt to fill out the hints of Scripture as to the nature of the “future house.” It is to try to solve a problem, where there are hardly any data at all. It is to attempt to be certain, where the scanty materials available to us for consideration are themselves of uncertain significance. Not that there is gratuitous or arbitrary reserve. “I would have told you” is entirely the mind of One Who said the strongest things He could, and all He could—we may be sure—to comfort friends whose faces, as they gazed at Him in a silence, which only now and again ventured to give birth to a question, showed them nearly broken-hearted, stunned, at the certainty now forced upon their unwilling heart, that they were to lose their Friend. The reserve, the reticence, is unavoidable. We have no experiences, no things, to be the alphabet, or the vocabulary, of the language in which a Revealer of more would need to speak. It is easy to speculate upon a body in which every power now possessed by us will be enhanced, and to which new powers will perhaps be given; “percipient all over.” It is much to know that the “groaning” will be done with; that the body will be no “burden” in itself, nor shall our life need to carry any “burden”; to live will be no “burden” then, as often, to very many, it is now. Tears gone; no pain, no death; all such hints full of sweetest suggestion to suffering, weeping, dying humanity. Here the very work of Christ overwhelms the servant of Christ with physical weariness, until he can only drop his unfinished task, too exhausted to collect his jaded mind for a word of prayer in which to commend himself to his Master. [Your strong arm and strong bow shoot its arrow up into the air; the perfected rifle may speed its bullet upward. Away they soar, as if they had done with earth altogether, and were never going to return. But gravitation has its grip upon them, and slowly, surely, asserts itself; they slacken, they stop, they are dragged down with accelerating speed. In the all eagerness of their upward rush, they still belonged to earth!] The body is made bitterly to feel the fetters of the gravitation earthward. But done with then! The very intensity of spiritual emotion cannot long be endured; body and mind would break down under long-continued afflux of large communications from God.
4. “In the heavens.”—Not to be too precise in exposition. Even now “in the heavens”? In what sense? Anything more in the “we have” than the confident expectation which makes “things hoped for” to be substantial, dealt with as confidently in the business of life, wrought into all our calculations with as much security, as if they were the actualities of to-day instead of the possibilities of the morrow? Anything more than the faith which counts the reversionary interest present-day wealth, an arithmetic of faith which makes no abatement from the future Principal Sum, but reckons its Present Worth as equal to the full amount? To faith, God’s bills of longest date are cash in hand without any discount. As in Hebrews 11:0 throughout, the heroes of faith accept and deal with the things unseen or future, on the assumption that they are as certainly assured realities as any most obviously real facts of the present and the seen. “We have” is faith’s anticipation; overleaping the interval, thinking itself into the future, when literally we shall “have,” and shall be wearing and using and enjoying. “We have” Him there, Whose body is the guarantee of our own. Ours is a certainty because His is a fact (2 Corinthians 4:14).
5. This strengthens us for the burdens and the labour.—“We are saved by (our) hope.” Hope gives a resilience to the spirit, so that when the burden is for the moment lifted off, the elasticity of vigorous life is found unimpaired; even whilst under the burden the spring is still elastic. The burdened Christian is not broken-spirited. “Cast down, but not destroyed.” From the top of the occasional Delectable Mountains a descent must be made to the River; but the glimpse of the distance and its glory (in which the central figure is to Paul his Glorious Lord, robed in a glorified human nature) is a real force, sustaining and urging onward, as the travellers go down into the valley and plunge into the river. Or, as John (1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:3) turns the truth, our hope is a purifying force. [As the boy at school in England is continually hearing from his father in India: “I am coming home” at such a date. “I want to find my son in education and manners and character worthy of me. I want to have joy in him when I see him again.” And the boy responds: “Father is coming home” at such a time. “I must try and be just such as he would like me to be.” (“Found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless,” 2 Peter 3:14).]
6. “Not for that we would be unclothed,” etc.—This is not the heathen shrinking from the very conception of a disembodied spirit’s condition, as Achilles scorned the idea of being a king amongst the “shades.” [Hardly to be connected with the craving for embodiment, which Isaac Taylor, (Phys. Theory, chap. 17), sees suggested in the request of the demons, dispossessed from their human abode, to be allowed to enter into other bodies, though they were only those of swine.] Paul has grasped the New Testament—Christian—truth that the man is no complete man apart from his body. It is good to be “at home”—even whilst disembodied—“with the Lord.” But the perfected fellowship of the man who is even now “in Christ” with that Risen, Glorified God-man, will only begin in the day of the Parousia and Resurrection. We shall only have our “perfect consummation and bliss” when it is both “in body and in soul.”
7. The marvel of the revelation is that in the very “groaning” there is ground of hope. “He hath wrought us for the selfsame thing.” [Developed in Romans 8:19-27; where we have a groaning “creature”; a groaning Church, even though it is enriched with “the firstfruits,” viz. “the Spirit”; indeed, the very “groanings” after full release and full felicity are the breathings of a groaning Holy Spirit within the “sons of God.”] The “groaning” under the manifold burden—the flesh, the multiplied trials of the earthly lot, the burdensome conflict with the sin which the saved man hates—is no mere sigh of helpless oppression; it is a look, out, up, forward, toward the realised hope. What he is made to groan after, he is created to enjoy; and he is going to enjoy all that he is created to enjoy. His groans and his glory are “all of one piece”; they are parts of one whole scheme of a spiritual education of the children of God, Whose goal for the whole manhood—the body included—is anticipated and assured in the risen glory of the eternally embodied Christ, “eternal in the heavens.”
II. “At home; from home.”—[“Where is your home, little one?” “Where mother lives.” Not much help in the answer for one who sought to restore to its mother the lost child. But, for the child itself, the answer went to the root of the matter.]
1. The presence of Christ makes heaven real, and makes it dear to His people.—The son of an English family goes to India. All the family have learned the geography of India; what they were taught at school has been supplemented by newspapers and by general reading. The leading points are known. But the city to which his Government appointment takes the son of the house, if even “known,” has only been a name on a map, until he goes there. Then it becomes real, for he is real; it is the material setting of his very “material” life. The streets are real, and the people, for he sees them; the houses real, for he lives in one; the village tank and temple,—they see them with his eyes. His letters and himself enable them almost to live there too. And interesting as well as real. If even it were real before, it had no real hold upon them; it mattered nothing to them, practically. Now every bit of news of it is noted. Even the commonest engraving of it has a value. The stranger who has seen it is almost a friend of the family. The youngest child of the house shyly “sidles up” to the visitor, with a half-opened atlas, abundantly rewarded if he can attract attention that he may show the map of India, and point to the strange-sounding name; “My brother lives there.” So the visible, bodily departure—rather than a mere vanishing away, or a quitting of the disciples after some visit, never to return—has helped to make heaven real, and full of interest to the Christian. He loves his Elder Brother, and the place where He lives is dear for His sake. It is real, the real setting and environment of a tangible, visible Body, which, in full view, one fine May morning, went up into the heaven from the top of Olivet, and was not lost, but only hidden behind a veil of cloud. We hear the music with His ears; they are filled with its real melody. We see and deal with its very real inhabitants, for He very really sees and deals with them. His presence there locates “home” there.
2. “We,” “we.”—For the man of the world has no practical interest in, no sense of the reality of, any world but this. To the Christian man this is the way home; to the non-Christian this is home, so far as his life has any real home. “We are (only) journeying to the place.… Come with us” (Numbers 10:29). There were Amalekites and other desert tribes, to whom the wilderness was home; to Israel it was a mere place of passing sojourn. Canaan was Rest. There has been exaggeration of this. Paul’s feeling is the healthy one. If this world were wholly and merely evil, he would have been in no “strait betwixt two”; what to choose he would have known very well. He is in a difficulty just because, whilst that is “better,” this is good. And to live in either is Christ; “labour” for Christ, and “fruit” for Christ, and help to his dear Philippians, if he remain here; “to be with Christ,” if he go. Either way, “to live is Christ”; death only divides the one life in Christ into two sections (Philippians 1:21-24). The wise Christian man will “seek the peace of this (earthly) city,” where for a while His Master wishes him to reside and do His work (Jeremiah 29:7). Yet as real an exaggeration to ridicule the “unworldliness” or “other worldliness” of Christian men. They who rise highest in “conformity to the image of” Christ feel most keenly the profound cleavage between the very bases of their life and the bases of the world’s life; they feel most sensitively the utter discrepancy of the whole direction of their life from, and its irreconcilableness with, that of the very men whose work they do, whose occupations they share. They often meet, as it were, at the same station, but are going in opposite directions; “up,” and “down.” As they many times stand side by side, their hands engaged in the same task, their faces are in opposite directions. The spirit of life is different. The saint cannot be entirely “at home” (in the homely sense of the phrase) with those to whom the Elder Brother is nothing, and whose interests and life are circumscribed by the horizon of time. The Christian man is a faithful servant of his generation (Acts 13:36), or he is no true Christian. But he does not belong to it. [Cf. a German employé in a London business house. Faithful, competent, successful, taking a hearty interest in English life, having a home here. But “Where is home?” The eye kindles as you show him a photograph of his native place, or of the capital of the state to which he belongs, or of his Prince. He has a house in England, but Germany is “home.”] Where Paul’s Prince and Saviour and Elder Brother is, there is “home.” The Christian man should be interested in, faithful to, busy for, this temporary dwelling-place of his; his Master puts him here for a while; but he must keep his spirit detached; not rooting here. At length he will be summoned to go and live “at home” “with the Lord.”
3. Here again is “confidence.” “We know.”—In fact, to Paul, “walking not by sight” yet, “but by faith,” this world, which imprisons the thought, and enslaves the heart, and absorbs all the energies of the man who belongs to it only, often becomes the unreal, “recedes and disappears” into shadowiness; the Eternal becomes the real, not only seen through, but hiding altogether, the world of passing interests and dying men. To him there stands in clear vision the One Man; the circle which contains his life is struck from that Centre. He can bear up under anything; he can go through with anything; when the best desire of his best life, to be at home with Him, is every moment being brought nearer to its realisation.
III. “Willing rather.” And yet the first fact of the hereafter is to appear before Christ.—
1. Without discriminating between the successive incidents of the eschatological programme, extending from death to resurrection and judgment, it is to be remembered that a very real discrimination and pronouncement upon character, a real, immediate “judgment,” takes place as often, and in so far, as a man is brought into contact with Christ. He is even now the supreme Test of character. The touchstone-question for an unsaved man is, “What thinkest thou of Christ; whose Son is He?” (Matthew 22:42). To the Christian man also is proposed, with perpetual, searching reiteration, the similar query, “Who say ye that I am?” Every man, saved and unsaved, is revealed,—perhaps to himself—certainly to observers “taught of God”—by the practical answer, as given and written out in his life. Every man who comes into contact with Christ is now in that very fact “judged.” Not only is a very real decision being made, and a verdict being pronounced; not only does the man inevitably pass “right” or “left” of Christ; but a very real sentence is being executed. Every man receives already a very real blessedness or punishment, according to the attitude he takes up toward Christ. [“For judgment I am come,” etc. (John 9:39).] Christ is even now the Test of character, the Norm of judgment, the Arbiter of destiny.
2. The first fact of the unseen world is the sight of Christ.—A man suddenly cut off in mid-career, falling shot in battle, dropping with heart-weakness upon the flagstones of the Exchange, in an instant steps out of the roar and rush of life’s busy street into the hush and calm of the solemn presence-chamber where He sits, before Whom the first and supreme question for the new comer is, “What was your attitude toward Christ, what did you do for Him, outside there, in that busy world of so many interests?” Outside there men were classified according to all sorts of tests. Within, standing before Christ, one only basis of classification is known and brought into use: “How did you stand related to Christ?” Men are already being set on “His right hand” or on “His left.” His final revelation is only the consummation of a judicial work which has been ever proceeding in the world. But further—
3. There is a Day of Judgment in which the Central Figure, the Judge, is Christ.—May strip away much as we will of the figurative, analogical dress of the truth; may acknowledge how often the continuous, present judgment, and the immediate judgment in the hour of death, and the final, open judgment, are hard to keep apart as matter of exegesis. Yet we cannot escape this irreducible minimum of fact. “Probation does not lead to probation, but to issues.” “Devil and his angels have hitherto proved but indifferent reformers” (Edw. Irving, Oration, Judgment, 7). “The last function of mediatorial sway will be the final judgment, when the High Priest shall no longer intercede for the world, nor the Prophet teach mankind, but the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of His glory … all nations; gathered for the first and last time that He may separate them again to be united no more” (Pope). This is no delegation of universal judgment to a creature. “If the Redeemer were appointed Judge as simply man, … His function would only be the visible accompaniment of the judgment and sentence of the invisible God; but that is not the style of Scripture.” Yet we need the manhood. “In relation to no part of His office is the manhood of Christ more necessary to our failing hearts, and of no office is it more expressly declared.… Not of like passions with us, but flesh and blood. His experience of temptation—notwithstanding His necessary sinlessness—makes Him a sympathising High Priest and a merciful Judge, in whose Divine-human soul, now and ever, to the last extreme of what is consistent with inscrutable holiness and law, mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (Pope.) Would you not hear the sentence “Depart!” from the lips of anybody rather than of Christ? The Christ Who has “died in vain for you” (cf. Galatians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 8:11), Who for years lavished on you a grace you would not return or repay, etc. “The wrath of the Lamb—the Lamb”—is the crowning terror of that day (Revelation 6:16). There is, even amongst men, no displeasure so terrible as that of justly offended, slighted, insulted goodness,—calm, judicial, pitiful, but inexorable, inflexible; not to be turned aside from executing the necessary sentence which it did not desire, and did its best to render unnecessary.
4. Those judged. “We all.”—
(1) What an assemblage is suggested! Wonderful for size. The most impressive sight which London has to offer is a London crowd; the tens of thousands of orderly people in the streets, when some civic pageant or royal procession is passing. But no man ever saw all the inhabitants of London gathered together. Overwhelming; hard even to conceive five million people in one vast concourse. The mind is baffled as it tries to conceive of a thousand millions assembled, the present inhabitants of earth. Yet to realise this “all,” there must be added all the millions of the generations of the past, all those of the future. Wonderful for composition. Stand with Addison in Westminster Abbey, and imagine the day when these buried dead that people nave, aisles, transepts, chapels, shall all stand together to be contemporaries through an eternal existence. Hardly a mean person among them. Kings, queens, many more of royal stock. The greater kings and nobility of science, art, literature—the “pick” of the greatest, wisest, most eloquent, most good—and the worst!—of this richly dowered England for a thousand years. In this “all” are not only the “pick,” but the bulk, of not one nation only, but of a world, for all the ages since men were first found upon earth; not only the great, mighty, rich, learned, good, but the humble, poor, weak, ignorant, evil,—everybody. No escape possible. No personation possible. No obtaining a substitute. Writer, readers; preacher, hearers. Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth at the Abbey. Pilate, finding himself confronted with Jesus, and their relation reversed. [Men do not so easily wash their hands of wrong done to Christ.] Judas, to get a “look” far other than that with which the eye of Jesus broke the heart of Peter.
(2) “Every one.” The judgment is individual as well as universal. It is “the only thing absolutely both individual and universal; not even sin and sorrow can compare with this.” “It is hard to reconcile the infinite detail with the Divine dignity; but not harder to receive a special judgment than a special providence. Moreover, there is no common conscience; the conscience of every living man is the sure pledge and earnest of an individual judgment.” (Pope.) “Thou art the man” is the word of Redemption, Providence, Mercy, Judgment. We are born alone, we are saved by a personal faith, “we die alone.” There is no salvation en masse. [There was corporate redemption.] There is no judgment en masse.
(3) “Or bad” makes it clear that the “all” includes the wicked, who appear for punishment.The rebel citizens and the wicked servants (Luke 19:14; Luke 19:22) are all to be there. Yet with an obvious distinction from the judgment of the “saved.” It will not be true hereafter that the righteous shall “scarcely be saved” (Pope). Their ordeal will not then have in it anything of a doubtful issue; its peculiar severity and strictness belong only to the present life. The righteous “shall not come into condemnation” (John 5:24). The Judge is their Brother and Friend, Whom, when they awake from the dead, they shall find upon the throne of judgment. It is their glory that in that day judgment will to them be only the ratification and publication of a deliverance from curse and condemnation which long before, in the moment of their faith in Christ, was passed in the court of their consciousness. The real crisis, when they passed from condemnation to justification of life, is in their case behind them. [Just as, though they were long ago adopted, and received the Spirit of Adoption, they nevertheless “wait for the adoption,” the publication in the Great Forum, in that Day, of a gracious act which the Father had long ago intended and accomplished, a holy secret of love between Him and their soul.] These appear before the “judgment seat of Christ” without fear; they shall “stand in the judgment”; these may “dwell with the devouring fire” of “the Day,” which tests men and their work (Isaiah 33:14; 1 Corinthians 3:13). But, whether His people or His enemies, all “appear” therein, so to speak, transparent presence. An end of all hypocrisy, of all misconception and misjudgment and misrepresentation. An end of all self-deception. An end of all perplexity about the strange complex of one’s own motives and character and status. Everything—every man—stands there, revealed to himself and to all standing around; known at last in the very character which God has all along known. The light of the real world, the light of eternity, is turned upon even the hidden things of the heart. How some cower away from the blinding, searching scrutiny of the light of the Presence of the Judge! How some guilty ones—their own judges—will shrink away from themselves as they there “appear”! How amazed some humble one to find himself there “appearing” in the judgment of His Lord nothing less than a “saint,” a “good and faithful servant”!
4. Retribution follows; in both its phases, reward as well as penalty.—[Many tests of desert; many standards of reward; many aspects in which is presented the connection between the act and its recompense. Conscience and light; how much of the latter? How blessed with, how affected by, revealed truth? Faith. Works; these not as basis of merit, but as indications of character, and as measuring the amount of a reward which is all of grace.] “According to works,” “By thy words,” and the like expressions, all are distinct in idea from this of our paragraph: “Shall receive the things done.” [Perhaps over-subtle to press this too much; yet in other places more is said than “shall receive for the things done”; more is apparently asserted here.] Men’s reward does not only follow upon conduct, but is a harvest from seed which was sown by conduct, and springs out of conduct. Heaven and hell are life continued, and intensified, on lines essentially projected here, in position and direction, and only “produced” eternally there. Men are now making no small part of their own heaven and their own hell. Men do here literally often “receive the things done in the body.” No worse specimens of misery than old sinners, past the possibility of gratifying sinful appetites, yet still cursed with them, clinging to them; squeezing the sucked orange, in hope of getting a drop of the old pleasant juice. “Filled with his own ways” (Proverbs 14:14), abandoned to the curse of his own sins. Like, as Maclaren suggests, the man in Thalaba, who suffered the devil to kiss his shoulders, and from the kissed spot sprang serpents, fed by, and feeding upon, his very life. [Not the entire truth. There must be some form of punishment ab extra, or there is in no proper sense a pardon of sin. If the only hell is that which a sinner prepares for himself, within himself by his alienation of his heart and mind and will from God, and by the choosing and cherishing all things evil (“Myself am hell”), then the only pardon possible is through, if it is not itself, renewal and regeneration. The mere penalty of loss is a true penalty ab extra, whilst underneath all the symbolism and analogic language of judgment there is something beyond “loss.”] “Always the dreadful burden is laid upon the sinner himself. He is viewed as the author of his own character, and as responsible for his own ruin. In the integrity of his body and soul he reaps the fruit of his own devices; part of his sin was the sensuous misuse of his body; part … the turning away of his spirit from God; in the reunion of body and soul he suffers the result.… The final condemnation is that of a nature now fitted for it [self-“fitted for destruction” (Romans 9:22)]. The harvest is the character formed by the seedtime.… Not that the Judge assigns eternal punishment for temporal sin; but that sin is taken confirmed into eternity.… Not because man has sinned only, but because his nature is turned away from God.”
(1) [Pope, Compend. of Theol., 3:421. Remark the best reading in Mark 3:29, “eternal sin.” Also, in connection with the question raised,—perhaps, too urgently pressing the grapes in the wine-press of exegesis,—à propos of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-34, with its commentary “so,” “thus,” Matthew 18:35), whether sins once pardoned return upon the forgiven man, if by new sin he fall away from his mercy; remark that men are not punished, merely or chiefly, for having done such and so many sins, but for their whole attitude towards God and His Son. They are, in each one single act, sinners. (I.e. they are so now by their own choice, as well as by inborn bias. It may be questioned whether sin as a birth-principle is ever punished, now that the race has been redeemed by Christ.)] Men have “treasured up for themselves wrath” [like a huge reservoir at the head of a valley, behind whose retaining dam is accumulating a mass of water which one day bursts the barrier and sweeps down, carrying everything before the rush of its irresistible flood]. “Their sin—itself—finds them out.” On the other hand, a man’s life and faithful service “returns into his bosom.” “Their works do follow them.” “They receive the things done;” which is according to many analogies of God’s methods of reward and punishment on this side of death.
(2) It is also suggested that, whilst “done in the body” limits the matter of judicial inquiry to the actions of this earthly life, yet that these may be dealt with, not only in themselves, but, constructively, pregnantly; that, not the actions only, but their fruits, good or evil, in other characters and lives, reproductive also in successive generations, long after the actor himself is dead, are to be taken into account. The time occupied in committing a sin is in no sort of relation to the length of the punishment which it deserves. Yet if “an eternal penalty for a temporal sin” be a difficulty, this suggestion may perhaps lessen the difficulty. Certainly, to make new punishment continually accrue because of new sin committed in eternity, may be truth; but our passage limits the direct and immediate recompense of the Day of Christ’s Judgment to the “deeds done in the body.” And in any case the consummate reward is, to be “accepted of Him.”
B. Labouring in the Present (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
I. A new man is labouring to bring other men into
II. A new relation to God, “reconciliation”; and this from
III. New motives and springs of action.
[In addition to the material given under Separate Homilies may be said:—]
I. The new creation of the individual is no isolated act of grace.—The Church is no aggregate of such individuals each of whom is a specimen of God’s work, whose significance begins and ends with that particular instance. Each single conversion is part of a great plan. “What does it matter that I should get converted? What if I do not?” It matters this, that God is straightening out the sin-entangled course of human history, and that each single life is one of the threads. It must be made to lie even with the rest. The new direction given to the “new man’s” life is but one of many lines, all convergent towards God’s goal for humanity and the world. [Hence the Saviour justifies His act of healing at Bethesda, by paralleling it with God’s incessant operativeness in the world which He has made, which Sin has marred, and He is making anew. God is spending the Sabbath of His rest from creation, in ceaseless recovery of man, soul and body, from the consequence and curse of the intruding Moral Evil in His world. The healing of the lame man was one act of the great Redeeming Activity, which reproduced in the physical sphere, and on a tiny scale, the great Work of God. Hence it was suitable work for the earthly Sabbath of the Son of God (John 5:17-30).] When His voice sounds through “the new heaven and the new earth” the proclamation “I make all things new,” these words will only be the latest, largest, grandest, of a series of such utterances. In every “new creature’s” heart it will have been anticipated long before. The man “in Christ” was made “a new creature,” that he might fall in with the march and movement of God’s fulfilment of His Redeeming Purpose, whose climax and consummation and goal are a new earth, peopled by a new Human Race, headed up by a new Adam. Man and environment, by a convergence of many lines of restorative operation, then find themselves brought together, each perfectly fitted for the other and both for God.
II. Travelling backward, the first step of the recovery is reached.—“Be reconciled to God.” Man’s relation to God, his attitude toward God, is all awry and out of joint. But the Recovery really began farther back. God needed to make reconciliation on His own side. God’s first advance needed making; now it needs meeting by a responsive advance by men. The balance of truth must be held even. A mechanical scheme—one which, at all events, became stiffened, hardened, into mechanical—may have set a wrathful God over against a merciful Son, in an exaggerated vividness of “dramatic” representation of a transaction between Father and Son re mankind. But all wrath must not be denied to God. The difficulty lies in adjusting what is true of the timeless being of God, to the historical sequence in the story of the world and in the life-story of the sinner. Historically we say that reconciliation was effected at Calvary; yet it was earlier proclaimed, in the Immanuel-Child of Bethlehem; and, as happy matter of fact, the fallen race has never had to do with a God out of—apart from—Christ. All His dealings with the race, all His dealings with the individual, have had reconciliation-grace as their background. Much “broad” theology, in endeavouring to find adequate expression for this truth, is apt to forget that this gracious leaning of God towards mankind, and towards the man, is from the first represented in Scripture as an altered relation. We cannot date the alteration by our chronology; it is certainly no later historically than the protevangelion of Genesis 3:15. “Then all died.” Who shall say, in the profoundest sense, when? But in speaking of God thus “reconciling the world to Himself,” we look, naturally enough, to Calvary, but we hear—as not fathoming the meaning—of “a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). [“My blood boils when I see a Frenchman,” said Nelson, a typical Englishman of his time in this. God is not Nelson; but the words illustrated and exhibited an antagonism not against the individual as such—the particular Frenchman was not in issue—but against the very nation and race of Frenchmen.] Conceivable—necessary as matter of clear thinking to conceive of—a wrath against the race as such, to which the individual was of necessity obnoxious and exposed. Not only conceivable, but certain, that now “in Christ” the world is so reconciled, that to be a man is no barrier to peace; there is no “wrath” against the race as such [the race are now “the men of God’s good will”]; nor any against the individual, unless he awaken it by his personal sin and personal evil character. It is for him now to say whether there shall be “reconciliation.” The ambassadors plead, “Be reconciled.”
III. New motives actuate and urge them.—And all centre in, radiate from, converge towards, Christ. “Constrain them.” The love of Christ constrains them. (See Critical Notes on this great word.) The “new man” now knows Christ in a new way. The very love of Christ is in him. Love understands love. And love begets an overmastering passion for saving men, and makes the plea “Be reconciled” intense in its earnestness of entreaty. “The terror of the Lord” rules them. No need to exclude either “fear” or “terror”; we want both, for faithful exegesis and for complete fact. “The Lord” is Christ. To the enemy His holiness is a terror, or should be. To the very reconciled man himself there is an awe, a reverence, a godly fear, in that same holiness, with all his love for his Master. He looks at himself who was once a rebel; he fears to grieve, or lose, the love which was, and is, such free grace. He looks at the rebel who will not “be reconciled”; and he trembles to think of the terror for him when, whether he will or no, he must come into contact—conflict—with the holiness of Christ the Judge. And he therefore persuades men; runs through all the gamut of a “changing voice” (Galatians 4:20), if he may win them to surrender and reconciliation. No motion lower than these, or less intense, will keep the evangelist-heart in perpetual vigour in the settled pastor. The new man must see men who are what he was, with the new eyes; must feel towards them with the new heart and the new passion, which are those of Christ Himself. No wonder that he tries to be “sober.” Still less wonder if men call him “mad.” Sober or mad, men are in view; God is in view; that God and those men are somehow, if he can compass it, to be brought together “reconciled.” The Church, the world, the Redeeming Work of God, want a succession of such “madmen”!
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 5:13-17
A Man in Christ a New Man.—He has three things new.
I. A new imperial impulse.—Wonderful is the power of a strong passion over our natures. It fires the brain, stirs the blood, bends every energy to its own use. The love of Christ thus filled and fired, pressed, urged, overbore Paul. It carried him on like a resistless torrent. It was the regnant impulse—everything else was subject to it. [“It is impossible to read his Epistles without discovering that Christ’s love had been so revealed to him that it had taken possession of his thought and of every active energy of his nature, and stirred the profoundest depths of his emotion. Sometimes in a long passage the name of Christ occurs in almost every alternate line; sometimes he breaks away from an argument at the bare mention of Christ’s name, unable to govern the vehement impulse to dwell upon Christ’s glory and grace; at other times just as a ship is gradually swept out of her course by a strong and silent current in the sea, St. Paul is gradually carried away from the point for which he seemed to be making, by the habitual drift of all his deepest affections towards Christ.” (Dale, Atonement, pp. 260, 261.)] This is incomprehensible to those who have it not. The Apostle’s contemporaries thought him, under its influence, to be “mad.” They could have understood ambition. [Paul’s only ambition was “to be accepted of Christ.”] They could have understood avarice. [When Lord Macaulay went to India it was evident that he felt keenly the parting from England and his family circle. “The pains—acute enough sometimes, God knows—of banishment.” But he went a vowedly to make a fortune—£10,000 a year; could save several thousands every year. Had hope of return at end of five or six years. “Comfortable, though modest, home; certain of a good fire, a good joint of meat, a good glass of wine, without incurring obligations to anybody, and perfectly indifferent—at least as far as our pecuniary interest is concerned—to the changes in the political world.” Not a bad set-off to the pangs of parting! Yet with none of these prospects for his days of return, with only isolation in his work, and a status by no means too highly accounted of in India, many a missionary has cast away bright prospects in England or Scotland or the States, and buried himself in that same Indian land, because the Love of Christ—Christ’s own love for souls—had got hold of him with a force the man of the world does not understand. See Trevelyan, Life of Macaulay.] A man must have this feeling to interpret it. This love alone understands itself. It arises from reflection upon the death of Christ. It is not an inbred passion or a blind impulse; it comes thus: “We thus judge,” etc. “All.” Take this away, and it is a mutilated Gospel. That all are not saved is no objection. In material nature much seems wasted. Rain and dew fall on the rock and on the desert sand. Light falls day after day, where no living thing seems to need or use it.
“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,” etc.
Fruit ripens and falls and rots where there has never been a man. Wealth sufficient to enrich the millions who die in want is buried beneath the mountains or the seas. Medicine for half the ills of life is shut up in minerals and plants, whilst generations die without knowing of the remedy which nature has provided. [See this in Butler, Analogy, part ii., chap. 3.] There are men coming after us who will discover and enjoy these; and who will similarly avail themselves of the blessings of that atonement which generations have either ignorantly rejected or wickedly despised. This contemplation suggested two strong reasons why Paul should be so zealous in the cause of Christ. The whole world was in a ruined condition [see Critical Notes on this]. The principle of self-sacrifice is the binding principle of action. Selfishness is the death of the world. We are all “links in being’s endless chain,” and we cannot move without influencing others. Yet man seeks to do so, and this is his sin and ruin. He who would help the world must get this love of Christ, and work by it. No other labour is of any service. Love to Christ is the Christian’s royal passion.
II. A new social standard.—The world has a variety of such standards—rank, wealth, social influence; by these canons it estimates and appraises men. Christianity regards such standards as false and evanescent. It estimates man by his righteousness, not by his rank; by his principles, not by his possessions. Paul once so knew men “after the flesh”; now he sees them all in the light of the Cross, as sinners dead in trespasses and sins. Let us try our own religion by this test. What kind of sympathy have we with Christ? There are views of His material condition adapted to awaken our mere natural sympathies. What kind of understanding of Him? There is no necessary religion in such sensuous sympathy with Him, and with the mere beauty of His human life and character. Our zeal for spreading Christianity will be regulated and guided by this new standard. Sufficient for us to know that men are men and morally dead; in any country, of any faith, in any social position. On this principle a Christian will form his friendships. Godly people rather than merely rich or influential or cultured people will be his choice for his own friends, for his children’s friends, wives, husbands. Godliness and all these, if he can have them; but godliness first. By this new standard of valuation he will regulate his activities. Principles before persons; spiritual considerations before material ones. When we are ruled by considerations of worldly interest or by the opinions of men, merely because they have secular influence or authority, we “judge after the flesh.” We should “know no man after the flesh” as authorities in creed or conduct; their spiritual excellence should alone influence us. [This wants guarding.]
III. A new spiritual history.—“A new creation.”
1. Unlike the old in some respects. That was out of nothing; here conversion only turns the head of the same vessel round, and gives it a new direction—[“converted to God”]. The same essential, neutral, natural manhood simply obeys the new law in all its faculties and their activities. The first creation presented no difficulties to the Creator. “Spake: done.” In the moral change there are resisting forces; the material is refractory under the Creator’s hand.
2. Yet like the old in some points. Something new is produced. This passion for Christ, for example, is a new thing in the universe. This new thing is produced by Divine agency. Man works with pre-existent materials; he rearranges in new order; makes ever new combinations. But in Nature, or in character, only God can create. Logic, eloquence, force of interest or will, can reform, rearrange a life, but not call forth a new one. This new something is produced according to a Divine Plan. In the moral creation we know not the plan, but all beings, under the Great Architect, are working for its accomplishment. [History for ages converged upon the Redemption of the world by Jesus Christ, and so really also upon the new creation of the individual Christian.] Heaven, earth, matter, mind, even hell unwittingly, working for it. This is for the Divine glory. To a gazing universe the new Race in Christ, and the new man “in Christ,” are the most consummate exhibition of “the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 1:12, etc.). The new creation is the greatest marvel of all God’s works. So then the things without do not change. Nature, society, events around,—these are only the setting of the man and of life; they may remain the same, but the change is within. He sees with a new eye, hears with a new ear, interprets all things with a new judgment. The moment we look at the universe through the new medium of love to Christ, it becomes new, the old universe passes away, a “new heavens and a new earth” appear. And all “very good.”—Founded upon “Homilist,” Third Series, vii. 362, with added material.
2 Corinthians 5:7. Faith v. Sight.
I. The world of “sight,” of “appearances,” revealed to sense, a very narrow one.—Taste knows nothing more distant than the tongue-tip. Touch only tells of a world whose radius is the reach of the arm. Hearing only widens it by the few thousand feet over which the vibrating air will still quiver with its message before trembling away into silence. Smell carries knowledge no farther than the winds may waft an odour. It may bring to a Columbus in mid-ocean tidings of a continent as yet below the horizon. Yet a narrow world, at its farthest. But sight, queen of the senses! It makes us free of worlds most distant, and puts us into communication with far depths in space which even the flashing light needs years to traverse. It can even carry us back into a world that is really past. Men have seen from earth the fires of a conflagration which perhaps long ages before destroyed a world. The rays of light have only just arrived at their eye, and make them, as it were, contemporary spectators of the climax of its history. In mere physical extent the world of the eye is widest, and wonderfully vast. Yet, how narrow! Within the sphere swept by sight how many things escape it. How many things, moreover, are hidden from each of the senses in turn, and known only to some other one of the five. And when man is armed with all five, and all at their best, they only tell him of the world of space and matter and time. There is a world close about him, of which these have nothing to say. Underneath the world of “appearances,” there lies another world which does not appear. The whole world of mind is there. Sight shows one man a flower: “A primrose by the river’s brim,” etc. An ox sees that much. Another man sees it, and behind, beneath, within it, imagination reveals to him another world. He speaks of this in words taught him not by sense, and he is a poet. Two men look upon the same face. Rays of the same light trace the same [practically, not exactly] picture on the screen which we call the retina. One man sees, and can put upon the canvas his interpretation of what he sees; it is a likeness, and a character too, and a piece of true workmanship which will rank as one of the world’s art treasures. Poet, painter, musician, mathematician, logician, all agree that not only the man who lives for eating and drinking and sleeping, having no higher pleasure in life than the satisfaction of a craving or the thrill of a nerve, but also that the man who knows nothing but of material interests, who never goes beyond immediate profit, and that expressible in “£ s. d.,” is living in a narrow world.
2. But the Christian man thinks even the widest world of these men circumscribed. Even these, unless they be also Christians, miss a world lying all around them, revealed not to sense, nor to intellect, but to faith.
II. The Christian lives upon that supposition.—He is at the very opposite pole to the “secularist” who (teste nomine) says, “I know of no world but this, now or hereafter.” Such a secularist lives expressly and professedly for this world, and for man, often spending life in a very noble endeavour to bring man to live his worthiest and to attain to his best for this, his “only” life. Man is to him the climax of creation, and this world is all. Paul says: “I know of a world above this, and outlasting this little life eternally. I know of One above me, to Whom every one of us must give account of himself.” The Christian man shapes his course accordingly. It is not, e.g., a thing unknown that a Christian man should refuse further extension of what is already a prosperous business, and should say: “I cannot undertake more. I have now scanty leisure and energy for God and for my larger, eternal life.” Not a mere idea, beautiful but chimerical, that a man, in life’s prime, and riding upon the very flood of a springtide of prosperity, should say: “I have enough for the comfort of our later years. Enough to ensure my boys and girls against the paralysing fear of want, but not to exempt my sons from the ennobling discipline of work. Whilst strength and health are yet full, I will turn aside and do something directly and wholly for God.” There are a few men who educate their sons and start them in life, there are mothers who train their daughters and mate them for life, regarding most the soul and its well-being, God and His claims; just in proportion as they are not “secularist” but Christian, “walking by faith, not by sight,” and “looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
III. This gives a new standard of measurement.—Things are important or trivial according as they affect the life of God and of eternity. Whatever helps these is to be cherished. Whatever even threatens to hinder, is to be kept subordinate and secondary. Trials and sorrows get a new importance, a new interpretation. The man of “sight” sees the scale heaped up with these, and sometimes sees no counterweight. The man of faith sees them, but sees heaven and the compensations of grace and of fellowship with God even on earth. The balance is seen to be more than redressed. The “secular” temper in its dark hour says, “Not worth while to live!” The Christian temper endures, rejoices in, all (Romans 5:3). “Our light affliction,” etc. (2 Corinthians 4:17). Indeed, what a comment upon the whole section 2 Corinthians 4:16 to 2 Corinthians 6:10 is the whole practice of Paul. How the perspective of life is adjusted by the new standpoint. How the proportions of things are regulated. “At home with the Lord.” Then this is not “home,” except as the sojourner in some distant land may call his house for the time being his “home.” The real home of Paul’s heart is where his Lord dwells. Men judge him, misjudge him. But there is the judgment of another world: “We must all appear—be manifest—before,” etc. (2 Corinthians 5:10). And he bears it, and goes on accordingly. Modern astronomy has long transferred the centre of things from the earth to the sun. Christianity transfers the centre of our life from earth to that world where Christ sits, the Centre of all life and love and labour. This short life, instead of being central, and all in all, takes its true place in the system of God’s order, fulfilling its little round, rotating upon its own axis of interest, but revolving around God as its true centre, and having Eternity for the full compass of its orbit!
IV. The Christian knows of the truths which belong to this world, by faith.—
1. He is a believer. He walks through the midst of “appearances” with a vivid apprehension of the things unseen, by means of faith. Take faith away, the pole-star of his course is hidden; he steers in the dark. Take faith away, all landmarks are gone; he loses himself in a pathless world. Not simply his lantern is taken, but his eye. The very faculty for perceiving things unseen and spiritual is gone. He does make use of reason; he does not shut eyes and ears, and swallow down any marvel proposed to him. It is very reasonable to believe, on such evidence as the Christian has. In very weighty matters, and on the same kind of evidence, often with much less of it, do men act every day. But there is no demonstration, no such evidence as can compel assent. Euclid can; the man who refuses assent is not capable of the reasoning. From Book I., prop. 1, to Book XII., prop, last, is forged one long chain of demonstration. But in reasoning about Divine facts a link is often wanting. Faith puts it in. Or the chain is not long enough to reach to the conclusion we see clearly enough to be necessary and right. Faith must supply the wanting length. Our mind tries to bridge over by inquiry the gulf between known and unknown. There are gaps in the series of arches. Faith supplies those missing or broken. Perhaps the bridge of demonstration can only bring us in sight of the opposite shore, and faith must make a leap to her footing on the sure land of knowledge. The arches are not there. But it is reasonable enough to complete the series by putting them in. There is room for doubt. There is only “moral” certainty, exceedingly high probability, no demonstration.
2. “Moral evidence,” “moral certainty,” common phrases which tell how often believing or not believing depends more or less upon the heart and will of the man—upon his mood, or wish, or interests, or prepossessions. If there be a bias against the conclusion, no evidence is demonstrative. If there be an honest readiness to accept the consequences of truth, then far less abundant proof is enough. I believe in a God, and a future, a soul, a judgment. There is much evidence, but certainty involves faith.
3. Very often by ordinary, natural methods we can arrive at no knowledge at all. We cannot build our bridge, but must be lifted “clean over” to the far shore, must commit ourselves blindfold and helpless to One Whom we trust, and let Him lift us into knowledge. Many things of the world of Divine facts can never be known, unless we yield ourselves utterly and simply to be told and taught. But faith is then rewarded and crowned with knowledge. There is a “demonstration of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4, where see Separate Homily and Analysis) which excludes doubt, given to the man who has Him. “I believed to see” (Psalms 27:13) is a rule of wider application than to Providential deliverances.
4. Prayer, Atonement, inspiration, a Saviour Who is God,—these are to us the bases of life, but every one of them is environed with mystery. [See the worshippers passing onward to an Egyptian temple, down an avenue of towering statues, in the mist and the dim light of very early morning. See the band of Christians making their way homeward, these great truths the way-marks of his path, on either hand ranged in their grandeur. To them it is dim twilight—morning twilight, but dim yet. Every Christian believes every truth to have a form of perfect beauty. But all eyes are not equally keen in the scanty light. The best eyes see most of the Divine beauty in each truth; many eyes see how they range themselves in harmony and order; a few give close and careful examination, and are repaid by fuller knowledge of their beauty and strength. But for very much all must wait until the day dawns. It is folly in the critics of the company, to cavil at the order, or to deny the beauty, and, above all, to refuse to avail themselves of their guidance, because they cannot see more. For the man who wants to walk by them there is light enough; he sees enough to walk by. He sees them dimly, but they guide him safely. He is content to believe for the rest, and to walk by faith.] [
5. Let the “bridge” rather be the narrow causeway, stretching away toward knowledge, between two unbounded deep seas of mystery. The waves of mystery often sweep across the very pathway. There are gaps broken in the causeway itself. But reason bids faith go forward. Faith makes her plunge from the last bit of clear foothold of knowledge to the next, seen afar off. The eye sees no path, but faith sometimes finds footing beneath the waters. Sometimes none; when she must swim for it, until her foot touches ground again, and so goes forward to knowledge.]
V. In regard to God’s providence.—All know of the plunge from knowledge and certainty and clear walking, into dark waves of mysterious dealing which sweep over the path, and almost sweep them away also. Faith says: “Sight finds nothing, but I know the way lies right on. My Father’s path never swerves. I follow straight forward. I may have to swim for it, but that way lies dry land!” The experience is repeated again and again, until one last step, one last plunge, of faith puts the foot on the shore where at last men do walk amongst the realities, by sight in the glorious and most worthy sense.] [Here the men of sight are inferior to the men of faith. There sight is the nobler, greater life.]
2 Corinthians 5:16. Knowing Christ after the Flesh
I. Manifold agencies now are at work for bringing men’s minds into contact with Christ.—
1. His life is being studied as never before, with new earnestness, with new helps. Palestine is searched and surveyed from end to end, with the aid of the accumulated learning of eighteen centuries. The facts which bear upon His career are eagerly welcomed and at once widely published. That career is being studied from all points of view; by men actuated by the most widely differing motives; some defending, some attacking and destroying; with minds of every cast and calibre. Every doubter, every enemy, tries his hand on “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Socialist endeavours to claim Him as the first and greatest exponent of his philanthropic aims and methods. [Said a French revolutionary, “Le bon sansculotte.”] Everything conventional is at a discount, and the result is that we get a new, and often a more correct, idea of the externals of Jesus and His life than any preceding generation could obtain. Our time is full of “Lives” of Christ. Men full of learning, of poetical gifts, of philosophical power, are setting forth in new and beautiful lights His outward surroundings, and the influences which—at all events in the case of another, ordinary man—would influence and mould the inner life and character. His Galilæan home, the city of Jerusalem, His countrymen, their habits of thought and speech,—all are helping to make how He lived almost as familiar to our generation as how ourselves live. Pictorial illustration, accurate as never was possible before, is helping to bring all this vivid, realistic knowledge home to the simplest and the youngest of our people. And yet, with all this picturesque and novel setting of the history, with all the skilful dissection of motive and mental process, with all this appreciative study of His teaching, there is the possibility that men should only “know Him after the flesh.” Some of the writers of even “Lives” of Christ have themselves avowedly only come into contact with a human teacher, a Jewish Rabbi of unique independence, and of great beauty of teaching and personal character, marvellously influential upon the world’s history and thought. But to these He is at most the Greatest of the world’s greatest men. With some of them He is not even the greatest, but an amiable, pleasant enthusiast, who could and did make mistakes; who was hurried on, spite of Himself, into unintended, unexpected developments of His action, and to an entirely inopportune and undesired issue on the cross. They see, and present vividly to their readers, a conception, more or less accurate, of a Man Jesus who lived and died in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. They aim at doing this, and so thoroughly succeed in many cases that their readers see no more. Writers and readers get back into the position of a Nicodemus or a Caiaphas, and see just what a worshipper in the synagogue of Capernaum or of Nazareth saw and knew; the brother whom “His brethren and sisters” lived and grew up with; the strange Man with whom Pilate was one Friday morning a good deal “bothered,” until he “washed his hands” of the queer, dreamy, half-crazy peasant—“king,” who was only too near entangling him in a quarrel with those uncertain-tempered Jewish authorities and people.
2. Such a success in realising the human aspects and historical setting of the Man Christ Jesus is apt to be too successful with many Christian readers. It is distinctly reversing a process whose results are a remarkable characteristic of all the earliest Christian teaching. Of our text Stanley says: “Startling as this declaration is, … it involved a general truth. It is the same profound instinct or feeling which penetrated, more or less, the whole Apostolical, and even the succeeding, age with regard to our Lord’s earthly course. It is the same feeling which appears in the absence of local or personal traditions; no authentic or even pretended likeness of Christ has been handed down from the first century; the very site of His dwelling-place in Capernaum has been entirely obliterated from human memory; the very notion of seeking for relics of His life and death, though afterwards so abundant, did not begin till the age of Constantine.” [No attempt or desire amongst the early Christians to identify or perpetuate the memory of any scene of His life. God “hid” the burial-place of Moses. The Christian Church, seeing so much more than the Jesus “after the flesh,” let go the memory of birthplace and burial-place. (See Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 471.) He also says: “Something akin to this feeling is that which is finally left on the mind after exploring the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. These localities have, indeed, no real connection with Him.… Their interest and instruction are secondary, not primary; their value is imaginative and historical, not religious.… He is not here, He is risen.”] “It is the same feeling which is perpetuated in the fact that our name … is taken not from the Man ‘Jesus,’ but from the Lord ‘Christ.’ It is the same feeling which, in the Gospel narratives themselves, is expressed in the almost entire absence of precision as to time and place—in the emphatic separation of our Lord from His kinsmen after the flesh, even from His mother herself—in His own solemn warning, ‘What and if …, the flesh profiteth nothing’ And this is the more observable when contrasted with the Apocryphal Gospels, which do to a great extent condescend to the natural, or Judaic, tendency, which the Gospels of the New Testament thus silently rebuke. There we find a ‘Gospel of the Infancy,’ filled with the fleshly marvels that delighted afterwards the fleshly minds of the Bedouin Arabs; there first are mentioned the local traditions of the scene of the Annunciation, of the Nativity, of the abode in Egypt; there is to be found the story, on which so great a superstructure has been built in later ages, of the parents and birth of her whom the Gospel history calls ‘blessed,’ but studiously conceals from view.” (Corinthians, pp. 604, 605.)
3. “Too successful.” For whilst the Humanity is precious, and necessary to the Christian scheme, the Divinity must not be obscured or forgotten. The Christ must be man, and born of our human stock, to be the Redeemer of man. His Jewish birth is an important link in the historical continuity and organic development of the Redemption and its story. His humanity assures all suffering lives of His sympathy. Because He is the Son of Man, He is to be the Judge of mankind. The Church or the Christian who knows the Christ of John and Paul, has always gladly [and with perfectly natural ease] combined with that conception of Him all the humanistic touches which (predominantly) characterise the portrait of the Synoptists. But it will be a difficulty, and even a disaster, if the very success in presenting with realistic fidelity and abundant “local colour” the Teacher of Galilee and Jerusalem, should issue in making it almost impossible to see in Him anything else. It would be to lead back the whole Christian world to the position of even the disciples before the Resurrection and Pentecost. It would go near to an undoing of the work of the Spirit, Who from the earliest days, with a wonderful rapidity of education, emancipated even the Apostolic company from the embarrassingly vivid memory of the dear personal friend, and enabled them to see a Person Whom they must trust and worship as God. After reading some vividly realistic “Life of Christ,” the reader is apt to be thrust into as close contact with the Man, as was the crowd in the narrow street of Capernaum (Luke 8:42), till the “flesh and blood” Christ is alone perceived or remembered. To know Christ too realistically as He was “according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), and as men saw Him who knew no more of Him than “flesh and blood” (Matthew 16:17)—ordinary human faculties, by ordinary observation and inference—could “reveal,” is retrogression, not growth, in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. [An analogous difficulty is being created in regard to the Written Word. The close literary study of the Bible, its literary history, its literary component elements, the very helpful reading of the Bible “as if it were any other book,” are making it a difficulty to read it as that Divine Book, in a category apart from all others, which, with abundant and often-repeated verification, the experiment of many centuries of Christian reading, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has discovered it to be. The more appreciative historical study of the Bible is for many readers making more difficult the abundantly justified devotional reading of the Bible.]
4. The heart that is taught of the Spirit knows a Divine Christ. “No man can call Jesus ‘Lord’ but by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Divine Son [like the Inspired Written “Word of God”] is entirely a revelation. The tendency to a merely humanistic knowledge of the Saviour is betrayed in the growing habit of calling Him, in hymnology and devotional talk, “Jesus” rather than “Christ” and “Lord.” The Church lives in, as the Epistles in their Christology belong to, a stage far ahead of Jewish neighbours, or even devout disciples, of “Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth in Galilee.” The Comforter is come, to take of the things of Christ and show them to His people. John arrived at the discovery that he had “seen and handled the Word of Life.” The sinner who finds rest and life in Christ finds, as by a swift intuition, that he is trusting in One Who must be more than a “Christ after the flesh,” to be to him and to do for him all he needs, and all Christ does and is. Whole generations of simple believers, with no knowledge of Christ except what the Bible, often in a translation, gave them, and that Bible read without any “historic,” or literary, or antiquarian appreciation of it, or of the facts of the story of Christ, have more truly known Christ, than did not only Peter, or Nicodemus, or Caiaphas, in the days before Pentecost, but than does many an author of a brilliant “Life of Christ.” The Church and the individual do not need to work their way up through the human to the Divine. Nor do they ordinarily do so. The Spirit brings them directly into contact with the Divine. The “little child” “knows Him that is true, and is in Him that is true” … “the true God and Eternal Life” (1 John 5:20). “From the time that we are created anew in Christ Jesus we do not think or speak or act with regard to our Lord as to a mere man. We do not now use any expression with relation to Christ which may not be applied to Him, not only as He is man, but as He is ‘God over all, blessed for ever.’ ” (Wesley, Works, vii. 291, 292.)
II. [Wesley also suggests another manifestation of the same humanistic feeling with regard to Christ.]
1. “Some of the hymns in [Watts’] Horœ Lyricœ, dedicated to Divine Love, are too amorous, and fitter to be addressed by a lover to his fellow-mortal, than by a sinner to the most high God. I doubt whether,” he says, “there are not some other writers who, though they believe in the Godhead of Christ, yet speak in the same unguarded manner. Some will probably think that [in translating many Moravian Hymns] I have been overscrupulous with regard to one particular word, which I never use myself either in prose or verse, in praying or preaching, though it is very frequently used by modern Divines, both of the Romish and Reformed Churches. It is the word dear. Many of them frequently say … ‘Dear Lord,’ ‘Dear Saviour’; and my brother used the same in many of his hymns, even as long as he lived. But may I not ask, Is not this using too much familiarity with the great Lord of heaven and earth? Is there any Scripture … which justifies this manner of speaking?… I cannot but advise all lovers of the Bible, if they use the expression at all, to use it very sparingly, seeing the Scripture affords neither command nor precedent for it.” This quotation is of interest, not only as incidentally revealing the writer, but as a note of a peril always lying near to every devout, warm-hearted follower of Christ; a tendency and habit carried to excess in Mystic devotion in every century. Yet it is after all a question rather of sanctified good taste, or rather of an instinct, “taught of God” and yet not of necessity tracing in all cases the same line of division between seemly and unseemly; only worth discussion just so far as, like that spoken of in I., it is both a symptom of, and a help to confirm, a humanistic conception of Christ, which may obscure His Godhead or hide it from the worshipper as if behind a veil of flesh. The devotional language of the Pentecostal Church must not “put back the clock” of the development of Revelation to the days “after the flesh.” A Divine Christ must be our norm. From the vantage-ground of the revelation of His Godhead, we may look back upon and incorporate with our knowledge, His manhood, with its sympathy and its capacity of an atoning death. We are arrived at St. John and St. Paul; we look back to, but do not go back to, Capernaum or Nazareth or even Bethlehem. At least, knowing Him now “after the Spirit,” we do not dwell back in Nazareth. The heart “after the flesh” has its overstated Kenosis doctrine, as certainly as has the intellect of the theologian.
2. To quote Wesley again: “Are we not in private conversation especially apt to speak of Him as a mere man. Particularly when we are describing His sufferings, how easily do we slide into this! [Cf. Farrar’s cautionary note to his vividly true description of crucifixion, Life of Christ, ii. 401.] We do well to be cautious in this matter. Here is room for indulging a warm imagination. I have sometimes almost scrupled singing (even in the midst of my brother’s excellent hymns), ‘That dear disfigured face,’ or that glowing expression, ‘Drop Thy warm blood upon my heart,’ lest it should seem to imply the forgetting I am speaking of ‘the Man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts.’ ” It is striking, undesigned illustration of the text, to note how little is made even in the Gospels of the actual crucifying. “And they crucified Him,” is the brief, matter-of-fact record, without special comment, of (surely) an agonising experience to sympathetic onlookers. [When John does pause to comment, it is upon another, incidental, detail.] The Death of Christ, rather than the Crucifixion of Christ, is the central point of the developed Christian theology of the Spirit of God, and of His New Testament mediums of its communication. The details of the agony have some of them a value as connecting the history with prophecy; but for their own sake they are never dwelt upon or lingered over. [Similarly, it is a too urgent exegesis, in many cases, to press the details of crucifixion, e.g., in “I am crucified with Christ”; or, “Our old man is crucified with Him.” Death with and in His death is the main point; as it happened, His was death by crucifixion. But it would be very unlike the habit of the post-Pentecostal thought of the New Testament to make that of any importance, as deciding between a gradual or an instantaneous death of sin, of self, in the believer. In many cases, probably in most, any definite allusion to crucifixion might be deleted, and the more general “dying” or “death” substituted, without any least injustice to the thought of Paul or Peter.] The man who is “a new creation” knows a new Christ, a Christ Who is one of the facts of that world of “spiritual” things to which his own life now belongs. He does not forget that Christ died. The Atonement made by His death is the foundation of his own hope, and the strong appeal with which he seeks to bring men to reconciliation with God. But he sees and knows and has continually to deal with a Christ who has no “local colour,” Who belongs to the world of the universal, the world of all races, climes, ages, “the Son” (Hebrews 1:0). This Son once did, it is true, live, and move, and heal, and teach, as a peasant Rabbi of Galilee; but the man taught of the Spirit does not advert most to that. That Person did hang upon a cross, it is true. That is precious truth to him. He did once fill the manger of Bethlehem as babe. True; and he is grateful for the visible expression thus given to the truth in Immanuel. But as a “man in Christ” he knows and has to do with, he is joined to, and grafted into, a Christ Who is on the throne of heaven, the Lord. This knowledge is the starting-point of all his judgments upon the pre-Calvary Jesus; of all devotional language respecting Him; of all experiences of the Divine life in his soul. There is nothing in Paul which cannot be known by observation, inquiry, inference. The man “in Paul,” is inconceivable. The man “in Christ” rates all that could be “known after the flesh” as the least part of his knowledge of Christ (Philippians 3:10).
2 Corinthians 5:17. “A new creature [creation] in Christ Jesus.”
I. A condition.
II. A consequence.
I. A condition: “If … in Christ.”—
1. The phrase almost the peculiar property of Paul. Of all other New Testament writers Peter alone uses it, once. Paul’s letters are thickly sown with the phrase. When it does not appear in English, it will often appear in the Greek. When the phrase does not occur, the thought does. It is interwoven most intimately with Paul’s vocabulary of the Christian life. It lies at the foundation of all his thought about it. To be “in Christ” is almost exactly his definition of a Christian. When he desires to veil the personal reference—as John does with his phrase, “The disciple whom Jesus loved”—he says, not, “A Christian man whom I knew,” but, “A man in Christ, whom I know, caught up,” etc. (2 Corinthians 12:2). The salutation chapter which closes the Epistle to the Romans is fairly studded with the equivalent phrases: “in the Lord,” and “in Christ.” Aquila and Priscilla are “helpers in Christ.” Apollos is “approved in Christ,”—a character portrait in three strokes. And with a kind of holy envy he sends greetings to some who “were in Christ before” him, Christians of longer standing than even himself. Ask Paul, “What makes a Christian?” Baptism? True, that as between a Jewish child, or heathen, or Mahometan, and a “Christian,” a very real, and a very blessed, distinction has been made in that water has been applied to this last in the name of the Trinity. The Lord’s Supper? True, that it is the rallying place of all who “hold the Head” (Colossians 2:19), the spot where, in face of unbeliever and worldling, they avow their pledge to their Great, Divine Master, to hold Christian doctrine, and to live out the definitely Christian ethical code. All who gather there confess Christ. But the water may be applied and no inward washing take place. There may be fatal divorce between belief of doctrine and faith in the Divine Centre and Summary of doctrine. The font, and the table, and the creed do not alone make a Christian. Ask Paul. “To be in Christ” would be his unvaryingly consistent answer, the condition assumed in all his letters and talk.
2. How much is meant by the phrase?
(1) Men say of a David and Jonathan friendship, that each lives in the other. Indeed, “living in another” is one definition of Love. Take Jonathan from David, and to David it is all but death. Each fills the other’s thoughts during their days of separation. David is in thought with Jonathan at court. Jonathan is ever picturing the life which his friend David is just at that given moment living, in the wilderness or the cave. All true of Christ and the man “in Christ.” But is that all?
(2) Take two friends, of one of whom the whole temperament is to be dependent. He is distrustful of his own judgment, to a fault; it leads to indecision and inaction. He has that shrinking from conflict which some wrongly confound with cowardice; and is moreover conscious of his own want of strength for any struggle with opponents or difficulties of circumstance. But he has a friend who is, and has, all that his weakness needs. He is wise and bold and self-reliant, and on him he leans. With him near by to apply to for counsel, to decide for his indecision, to stand by him in conflict, he is another man. Now that he knows a stronger arm and a clearer judgment and a self-reliant sturdiness of character will be by him and behind him, to guide him, and to see him through, in his friend’s company he will dare to attempt and will persistently and successfully carry through, even against the strongest opposition, what he would fear even to contemplate if he were alone. All blessedly true again of the believer and his Lord. But when he is exhorted to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10), or “to stand fast in the Lord,” is that all?
(3) No. All this is true, because much more is true. There is a closer union than that of thought, sympathy, dependence. More than even the strong metaphor, “The soul of Jonathan was knit unto the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1). No metaphorical union, no figurative oneness of life, but a unity, a unification, so real, so complete, that Paul exclaims: “I live no longer; Christ liveth in me.” Paul is no independent, self-contained unit; he is but a member of the grand unit—“Christ.” He keeps his individuality; that is abundantly clear. But Paul the member is merged in His life, Who is Head, and all in all. In fact, there is compressed into his phrase all the teaching of John 15:0 and 1 Corinthians 12:0 All the Lord’s teaching about the Vine, all Paul’s own teaching about the Body, are packed away into this binomial of his devotional and theological notation, “in Christ.”
(4) Let Christians work up from the name Christian to the thought “in Christ.” “Between Him yonder at court and you here in the wilderness, there is a close bond. But there is a closer. Between Him on the throne, and the humblest, weakest, most obscure Christian on earth, it is not simply association of the most intimate, it is union. Not the attachment of a follower; but the grafting of a branch. Not the approximation of a band of disciples gathered round the Master; each is one of many members living in Him, an active hand, a keen eye, a swift foot; strong, intelligent, laborious, in the strength of a life which is His as well as theirs. This Vine is not the Stem and Root alone, any more than it is Branches alone; but Stem, and Root, and Branches; this Body is not the Head alone, but Head and Members; so in a very real, almost bottomless sense, we say, ‘Ye are nothing apart from Him, and He is not complete without you. You, and your fellow-Christians, and your Christ, are the Church, the Christ.’ All the rays of illustrative, of analogical, teaching are converged into a smaller but excessively brilliant focal spot: ‘In Christ.’
(5) Let believers think of it, for all hangs upon their faith. They ‘live in their faith in a Son of God who loved them,’ etc. (Galatians 2:20).” They did not simply believe Him, or in Him, or even on Him, with full recumbency of soul casting themselves upon His saving power. They believed unto and into Him (e.g. John 3:18; John 3:36). He accepted them, grafted them, into Himself. There is community of interests, of joys, sufferings, point of view and of judgment, because there is community of life. The life of the Spirit of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:17; Philippians 1:19), the very life of the corporate Christ Himself, stirs in them. So utterly new a thing is that, so entirely foreign to all the natural life and its possibilities, that if any man be thus in Christ he is a new creature.
II. The consequence: “Old things are passed away,” “all become new,” “all of God.”—
1. The first phrase is pictorial. Winter-time. Earth wrapped in winter garment of snow. It lies stretching away mile after mile, rounding off all roughness into graceful curves; revealing, or concealing, the prominences of the surface beneath, just as the face-cloth half conceals, half reveals, the face of the dead beneath. That snow is a face-cloth laid over the face of a dead earth. Seeds are there, but dormant. No sap stirring in trees or hedgerows; buds waiting their time. Cold winds sweep howling over the open country, as if to bite back any too adventurous growth. Death reigns. Death, indeed, with the seed of life in its bosom, but potential rather than actual. But God’s south wind blows. Men rise some morning, and the pall is gone from the face. The snow has passed away. Sun shines; God “sends forth His breath,” and in a day or two the black soil of the ploughed fields shows a delicate green “down” upon its face. Sap stirring; buds swelling, bursting; every tree and hedgerow arraying itself in the first tender greenness of spring. Winter has passed away. Those are not last year’s buds, or sap, or verdure. We call springtime a resurrection. Rather, a new creation. Finish the passage just quoted (Psalms 104:30): “they are created, and Thou renewest the face of the earth.” Old things have passed away; all things have become new; there is a new creation.
2. No analogy holds good everywhere.—This holds fairly well; it is one of God’s own. “Out of Christ” is death. Happily, death with the “seeds of life” in it. The grace of Christ has so far availed for all men, that the utter spiritual death of a devil, with no hope or possibility of life, has never—as an initial stage of man’s life [it may be the final]—been more than a necessary theological conception. “In Christ was life, and that life was the light of men,” light “that lighteth”—in some degree—“every man, coming into the world” (John 1:4; John 1:9). And thus even before Christ, and without a preacher, in even heathen hearts is hidden what may develop into the new creation. Nature is death, utter, total; this potential life is grace, only grace. The “breath of life” goes forth from God; the Spirit of God calls forth a new creature. The new sap stirs in the system; the new buddings, from which will grow the developed “fruit of the Spirit” [N. B. “works of the flesh”; “fruit—not fruits—of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19; Galatians 5:22)] begin to appear. There is life, new life, a new kind of life, everywhere and in everything. [Wife finds she has a new husband. The master a new servant. The man has new haunts, and pleasures, and company. New class of books and literature come upon the table. New point of view from which men and conduct are judged; new direction to his own life—Godward now—and a new way of looking at other men’s lives. New view and estimate of Christ,—the point here. “If you don’t believe I am converted, ask my wife!” Child, known to H. J. F., said, “Why, I feel as if I were somebody else!”]
3. Science creates nothing.—In nature God now ordinarily creates nothing. In His seventh day He rested from His work, and has probably since then only upheld and maintained the life and order then established. [This is a matter of evidence in any given case of an apparent miracle of creation. E.g. the multiplying of the bread for the five thousand.] The nearest approach to a true creation with which we are now made familiar is the bringing of a new, infant life into the world. The new-born babe is perhaps a now creation; its life (ζωή) a real addition to the sum of existence. Certainly the new man “in Christ” is a new thing on the face of God’s earth; a distinctly new product of God’s own power. A Christian knows that no evolution-formula embraces all the facts of life. It is not true of his life “in Christ.” There is more evolved than was even potentially contained in the old. In the man that came from fallen Adam, there was nothing from which the new man in the second Adam could be formed. New in time. New in kind.
4. Note, “new,” not perfect or mature.—The Christian does not leap forth, Minerva-like, full-grown at the first instant. The members of the natural body possess from the first all their characteristic aptitudes and powers, but they need training. The eye needs to learn how to see, as certainly as foot or hand need to learn to do their work. The foot is made to support the body; it alone can do it; but it must learn to do it. The newly opened leaf lives, but must unfold into maturity and perfaction. Spring’s new creation does not mean leaf or flower or fruit perfect at once. The analogy holds fairly well of the “new” life of the man “in Christ.” Quickened into “newness of life” (Romans 6:4), because the Holy Spirit has entered into and dwells in him. New powers, new faculties, suited to a new world (see on 1 Corinthians 2:12-16, Homiletic Analysis); new tastes, motives, work. All new, but with the weakness and inexperience of infancy, with only the tender strength of the natural growths of Spring.
5. What an illustration is Paul himself of all this.—His affections no longer those of the natural man.
(1) Joy is “in the Holy Ghost,” or “in the Lord” (Romans 14:17; Philippians 4:10). His love is no mere natural affection; but sublimated, spiritualised “love in the Spirit,” a thing originating in God Himself (Colossians 1:8). He craves to see his Philippian friends, but with no merely natural longing; he “longs after them all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:18). It is Christ’s own love for them stirring in Paul. The throbs of feeling which pulsate through his heart have their centre of origin in Christ Himself.
(2) The impulses and determinations of his will are the outflow of a force which originates in another. Plans, purposes,—none are independent of Christ. He “trusts in the Lord to send Timothy” (Philippians 2:19).
(3) His intellect obeys new laws; he is “persuaded in the Lord Jesus,” etc. (Romans 14:14). He has not arrived at the conclusion by the exercise of unassisted human judgment. The indwelling life of Christ makes it Christ’s judgment too.
(4) Even old points of character and conduct have now a new root and motive. We may suppose him to have been always truthful and honourable (Acts 23:1). But he does not speak “on his honour,” or as a truthful man; he “speaks the truth in Christ” (Romans 9:1). As now a member of Him Who is the Truth, with Whom falsehood cannot even in thought be associated, Paul’s word must now be the simple truth, the highest form of asseveration.
(5) This verse (2 Corinthians 5:17) a case in point. Men accused Paul of want of straightforwardness; of mercenary motives; of blustering when absent, and speaking very humbly when present; of fearing to come to Corinth. The natural heart meets such charges with appeals to a man’s honour, or with indignant or angry repudiation. He quietly says: “We are manifest to God. Other motives altogether now rule us. We do not now regard men, their threats, their favour, in that way. We live, judge, plan, feel, speak, as new creatures, because in Christ. Even our view and knowledge and estimate of Himself are now new.” Between Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle there lies an act of Divine power, there is a new creation. He is a new creature. His life is a new life in all its manifestations.] “… Those of us whose infancy was sheltered from contamination, whose childhood was nurtured in holy doctrine and encouraged by saintly and sweet example, whose youth was watched by a vigilant ministry of inspection and loving solicitude, and yet the evil of whose nature, and the ungodliness of whose bias, received no effectual check. We respected the restraints of authority and family honour, and, it may be, conveyed a mistaken impression of the moral side of our life. But we knew that in spite of home and Church the heart within us was unchanged; and when the change did come, it was not through any fact or word we did not know before, it was as if a new sense had been uncovered; God and Christ and heaven and hell, instead of being images flitting through the mind, were entities; we lived in a new world; we walked by faith, and not by sight; life and death, and duty had each a new meaning; and above all and beyond all other revelations there was an indwelling Christ, redeeming a condemned sinner from guilt and saving a struggling soul from defeat.… This change was no more wrought by man than the heavens were created by man.” [“And all things are of God.”]—From address by Rev. E. E. Jenkins, D.D.
2 Corinthians 5:20. “The ministry of reconciliation.”
I. Must go to political world for illustration of The Arrangement, “We beseech you in Christ’s stead.”
(1) Queen frequently gives assent to bills by commission. Lord Chancellor, with other noble lords, in due form and state appear—as she would—and signify her assent—as she would,—the quaint Norman-French formula being used, just as if she were personally present and acting. The Lord Chancellor and his companion commissioners are, for the time and the special purpose, the Queen.
(2) In the old, picturesque days of English history there was a great officer of state, of much importance in the Government—the Lord High Treasurer. There has beer so Lord High Treasurer since Shrewsbury resigned his office at the accession of George I. The office is “in commission.” The duties are discharged by commissioners: a First Lord of the Treasury and several Junior Lords They together are the Lord High Treasurer of olden days.
(3) William IV., as Duke of Clarence, was the last Lord High Admiral. The office is in commission. First Lord and Junior Lords of the Admiralty are in effect to-day the Lord High Admiral, holding his office, doing his work.
2. Once there dwelt on earth a Great Ambassador. He is back at Court to-day. His office has been in commission ever since He said, “Go ye; make disciples of all the nations.” That was the issue of the patent, the writ, constituting the commissioners. Paul is (to speak in the political dialect) First Lord of the Ambassadorship. The ministry of the Churches are his fellow-commissioners for executing the office of the Great Ambassador. Paul and his colleagues and successors are together the Great Ambassador. In their collective voice His voice is heard. He pleads with men individually in them. “We pray you,” yet not on our own account; on His—“in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled.”
(1) Congregation may help ministers to remember this. For one thing, the ministry is recruited from the congregation; the sons will bring with them into the sacred office the habitual ideas, canons of judgment, whole estimate of the homes and circles from which they are drawn. Also, it is not unworthy of most faithful minister to feel that, if he knows that the ambassador’s evangelical earnestness is expected, respected, by his people, he will find it easier to cultivate and show it. If he knows that they never pray for him as an ambassador from God to guilty, alienated men—that they are impatient, intolerant, of such zeal as becomes his office—he will still of course be faithful to his commission; but they will create an added difficulty, where already there are many attaching to fidelity and success. The people should pray for, listen to, him; should train children, not to criticise, but to pray for and listen to him; as one who is speaking and appealing only in the name of the Great Ambassador. With what earnestness would the Great Ambassador Himself plead!]
(2) Within the Church, ministers are “those who bear rule over you, who watch for your souls as those that must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17); to the Flock they are “shepherds” (Ephesians 4:11). But to those outside the fold, the family, the kingdom, the Church, they are “ambassadors for Christ.” Christ has given to them a ministry of discipline, of instruction; but, first in order, a “ministry of reconciliation.”
1. What is the matter between God and man? Do men misunderstand God? More. Indifferent to His love and claims? More. Alienated from Him? Yes. “The mind of the flesh is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). James says, bluntly, sternly, “Whosoever will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Terrible words! And, on the other side, “the wrath of God.” Often in so many words. But it lies in the gracious word “propitiation.” A Propitiation is nothing but a gift which appeases and turns away displeasure. [David’s Philistine comrades would not have him to go to battle with them to Gilboa (1 Samuel 29:4). They feared his treachery. “Where-with should he reconcile himself to his master, Saul? Should it not be with our heads?” With such slain trophies should he propitiate his king, and pave the way for reconciliation.] If “Propitiation be a true [though by no means the complete or only] representation of the meaning and effect of the death of Christ, there must have been that to turn away which is best expressed to us by the human word “wrath.” “We ambassadors have peace with God.” [Or, “Let us have” (Romans 5:1). In either case it is a peace of relation, not of feeling.] “When we were enemies, we were reconciled,” etc. Then they who are not yet reconciled are—? Such words all speak of war, “enmity,” antagonism.
2. The very ambassadors know, in themselves, that it is nature to sin, but grace to deny and crucify self and “the flesh”; that it is easy to drift from God, but means conflict and struggle to keep by His side; easier to be slack than diligent; easier—and quite natural—to be worldly than godly. Nothing more wonderful, or more significant, than to see with what terrible facility a once godly man may drop out from good ways and let go the religious habits of a lifetime; no long interval is required for a foremost, genuine “worker” to become a merely formal, perfunctory Church member; one day of careless walking will cost a Christian man what weeks of struggle and prayer will not recover for him. [No trouble to grow weeds; much pains to grow flowers or fruit. Natural facts illustrate the spiritual: get twice the distance from the centre of light and heat, and the light and heat are diminished fourfold; a falling body drops with rapidly accelerating velocity, in the second second covering three times the space covered in the first, in the third five times the distance, and so on. These are also rules obtaining when a soul departs from its Centre, or falls into sin.] Such facts mean that religion is not natural, but of grace. All disposition towards God has come from without. “We (ambassadors) were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
3. Men know themselves; that they do not love religion,—not merely this or that unfortunate presentation of it, in persons or Churches, but the abiding, constant life of fellowship with God; that there is a real aversion from God—latent, dormant, disguised, so long as no occasion for its awakening or display, but capable of being aroused; that prayer is really infrequent or uninviting, the Bible unattractive. Men know the significance of these facts: that the conversion of wife or son or daughter would not be most welcome news; that to have Christ and His claims pressed with any urgency, arouses resistance, or even a real anger which may sweep away all perfectly trained, native politeness. [Mr. Gladstone told Mr. Stead (Review of Reviews, April 1892): “Lord Melbourne was one day seen coming from church in the country in a mighty fume. Finding a friend, he exclaimed: ‘It is too bad. I have always been a supporter of the Church, and I have always upheld the clergy; but it is really too bad to have to listen to a sermon like that we have had this morning. Why, the preacher actually insisted upon applying religion to a man’s private life.’ ”] [Two friends sitting silently smoking by the side of a Scotch burn, in the quiet evening, after a day’s hard fishing. One breaks the silence: “Let us get up and go. I cannot stand this. It makes me think of God.” (Case known to H. J. F.)] Friends may be of any creed, of any religion, except “spiritual” religion; such unwelcome. Between the pleasures men like, and the religion which claims the men, nobody more than the man of the world feels how deep a gulf is cleft. “Ni Dieu, ni maître,” “Our enemy is God,” are only extreme manifestations of what every man knows is a capability in himself. Think of the meaning of persecution, ecclesiastical or (not less significant) domestic. Good men know that there is no distance from God to which they might not go, no depth to which they might not sink, no enmity to Him of which they would not be capable, if the Spirit of God were withdrawn, and themselves left to the power of temptation. The relations between God and men out of joint. Men out of harmony with Him; He arrayed against them in holy “wrath.” “Be ye reconciled.”
III. “He [needed to be, and] is, reconciled.”—
1. “God was in Christ reconciling,” etc. Can date the death on Calvary; but cannot date the Reconciliation in Christ. Assumed and acted upon from Eden to Calvary, whilst as yet there was no Calvary; in the mind and heart of God “from times eternal.” As such words are suggested, they lead to a point where we gaze out into hopeless depths of unfathomable mystery. [Revolt alleged against doctrine of “wrath of God” and the “total” ruin of “fallen man.” Always has been something of such revolt. Further, if “Puritan” theology and preaching did draw portrait of an angry God and of guilty, helpless, God-hating, born sinner,—both in too hard lines,—let this extenuate their “fault”: the holier a man grows, the more deeply he understands the intense antagonism between holiness and sin, God and a sinful heart; the more deeply does he realise that stern, active, almighty wrath against sin is a necessity of the very nature of a holy God; he reads Bible with the light gained in a lifetime, and with the instincts of a holy heart. Nobody sterner than was John in the ripeness of age, knowledge, character. It only needs that the Puritan portrait be (not essentially altered, but the hard lines) softened, and the whole suffused, with the tender glory of the redeeming grace of a God in Christ Who “reconciled the world to Himself.”] As matter of happy fact there never has been a mere sinner; some good has been present from the first, because some grace has been given from the first. Happily, also, men never have to do with the mere wrath of God; never have known any God but the God of grace, on His part reconciled in Christ, and waiting for men to be reconciled. [Wellington and Soult fought at Toulouse (April 1814), in ignorance that an armistice had been signed at Paris. English sailors fought at New Orleans (January 1815), in ignorance that Treaty of Ghent had already been signed between England and United States. So] men are fighting on against a reconciled God, most of them in heart ignorance.
2 Corinthians 5:21. Reconciliation by the Sinless Substitute.
I. The Substitute.—No need to be ashamed of the doctrine of a vicarious Atonement. It has suffered much at the hands of its friends; it has been crudely presented, and in an untrue isolation of exhibition, without any suggestion of other complementary, guarding aspects of the meaning of the Death. In the endeavour to give it such clear, vivid exposition as may enable the untrained mind of the young, the ignorant, the heathen, to apprehend it for the comfort and rest of their heart and conscience, it has perhaps been almost caricatured. Yet granting true all the hardest things which have been said of it, and of those who preached it—they have not always been fair and true—yet there lies beneath it a deep-seated instinct of the human heart—the instinct of Atonement by Substitution. The doctrine has been ridiculed, but it has survived the ridicule; it has more than the proverbial “nine lives.” It has been denounced as unreasonable, immoral. [Yet an ancient sage saw, “Volenti non fit injuria”; see also Appended Note.] If it has been deemed slain and cast out in argument, yet it has had a wonderful resurrection power. Its enemies have sealed the stone and set the watch, but it has always come forth in perennial life. The instinct of substitution is rooted in all hearts, in all ages, in all religions. Even the base Caiaphas could say, with selfish policy—though like other prophets, far better men, there was more in his words than he knew (1 Peter 1:11-12),—“It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50). It is not the result of a theological training, or even the formative influence of a Jewish sacrificial system, which makes Paul almost Christlike in his love for his nation, as in “great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart,” he almost volunteers his own ruin, if only it might be accepted to avert the eternal fulfilment of the anathema which hung over the Israel which would not “love the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 9:2-3). “If my damnation would accomplish their salvation”; it is a daringly tremendous conception, but it is the instinct of a true human heart. He had been anticipated long before (Exodus 32:32). Moses the Mediator begins to ask for pardon, but his sentence hangs in mid-utterance unfinished, as if the enormity of the people’s guilt came upon him, choking back the request for pardon. And then, as the river is dammed up only to burst forward with redoubled volume and force, there breaks out from his heart a yet more daring request. He had halted in the very midst of his intercession a moment ago; now his instinct of self-sacrificing love for his people makes a bolder leap than before: “If not—if mere and simple forgiveness be not possible, blot me, I pray Thee, out,” etc. It was the nearest approach any man ever made to Psalms 40:7-8. The offer could not be accepted. It could have availed nothing if it had been accepted. Still, to Moses the Mediator belongs the honour of being in the ages before Christ the one man who had volunteered to die to save his brethren, the guilty Israel. But that honour was reserved for the One Mediator only. Let any man read these words to a dying man, who must have the Gospel in a small compass, and that quickly; let him “explain” them to a company of children, or to a group of degraded, drunken men or women;—they will feel, he will feel—perhaps in spite of theological predispositions—that no other thought than a substitution is here [as in Galatians 3:13] natural. No other reading will be of any practical service to him, or of any ready practical help to the clamorous conscience and the burdened heart.
II. A Sinless Substitute.—
1. The sinlessness of Jesus makes Him solitary amongst His brethren whose humanity He wore. Yet apologists rightly urge the fact, and its forceful value, as leading up to a belief in His Godhead, that He alone of all the noblest moral leaders of our race, never betrays any consciousness of such internal discord as makes many noblest lives bitter almost beyond bearing; or of any such discrepancy between His own moral standard, as He sets it before Himself or exhibits it to others, and the fact of His life; he never seems to need to distinguish between the official utterance and the personal performance. His teaching is highest, and He apparently is all He teaches. He never, though His life is prayer, prays for forgiveness. Not a word of moral regret, not a moment’s confession of the slightest moral failure, ever escapes Him or is volunteered. No suspicion of pride is possible, yet He moves in and out amongst His fellows, and lifts up His confident face to His father, without a trace of misgiving because of sin. No room to suspect any dulness of spiritual apprehension or perception; the sense of sin is always keenest in the holiest. There are no critics of themselves like the saints of God. [When the glare and glamour of the world are withdrawn, as in days of solitude, or of sanctified sickness or trouble, the soul’s eye sees a whole firmamentful of sins, which were indeed there all the time, but unseen and unsuspected. And as the astronomer’s eye grows more sensitive by practice, and sees what it could not when it began to observe, so is there no surer sign of growth in the grace of holiness than that the eye of the soul is becoming more sensitive to discover sin where in earlier days it condemned, because it saw—nothing.] The closer a man is drawn to God, the more intimate and habitual the fellowship which God vouchsafes to him, the keener the sense of unworthiness and imperfection.
“Eternal Light, Eternal Light,
How pure that soul must be
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on Thee.”
So sang Thomas Binney. But can any soul? This One Soul did; the Sinless Substitute.
2. Scripture assumes this of Him.—Hebrews 4:15 is typical in its pointed exception of Him. Peter had known Him as intimately as any one, except perhaps John. Our friends know us, and they know us not faultless. A sine quâ non of most friendship to choose not to see everything. Grace does produce noble characters. John Wesley wrote of John Fletcher: “I was intimately acquainted with him for above thirty years; I conversed with him morning, noon, and night, without the least reserve, during a journey of many hundred miles; and in all that time I never heard him speak one improper word, nor saw him do an improper action. Many exemplary men have I known, holy in heart and life within fourscore years, but one equal to him have I not known,—one so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God.” (Wesley, Works, vii. 449.) Yet who does not feel, when Peter says, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22), that we have a testimony to a holiness of another order, and of a higher degree of completeness? It is not merely Peter’s observation of the three memorable years of the ministry; it is the Spirit’s witness for the three-and-thirty years of the incarnate life on earth. If to those who know us best our outward life seems blameless, in our heart we say, “They don’t know me as I know myself.” [The world does not understand this. Lady Huntingdon profusely, earnestly declared herself to Lord Chesterfield “a great sinner.” Said he, with polished sarcasm, rising as if to leave the room, “Excuse me, madam, but I am not accustomed to keep such bad company.”] [F. W. Newman’s remarks in Liddon. See Appended Note.] We know little of James; what we know is saintly, of an ascetic pattern of saintliness. Yet no one would credit an assertion of sinlessness, if made concerning James. “No; he is only a man.” Blamelessness is far less than Sinlessness, and blamelessness is a question of the human limitation of requirement and knowledge. Paul here much stronger: “Knew no sin.” That man knows nothing of himself who does not know that he “knows sin.” The ripening holiness of a Christian man passes through a stage when, though all torturing sense of guilt and fear is gone, there is an intense sensitiveness of pain at the cleaving, clinging, defiling presence of sin within. The loathing of himself by the man longing for holiness is very deep; a well-ascertained fact of universal religious experience. “Universal,” but not including Him. He knew none. There came early to our race “a knowledge of good—and of evil.” And men know it, as men know the very sphere within whose round and range their life is spent. But it had never included Him. The Tempter sought to avail himself of the natural, neutral, innocent hunger after a long fast, and of the neutral, innocent, useful instinct to avoid pain; there was nothing else he could appeal to. These, he found, were not in Christ under any law but that of the most perfect self-surrender to do the whole will of God His Father; and apart from these “he had nothing in” Christ on which to begin his evil work (John 14:30). One of the necessary preliminaries of the Passover Sacrifice in the time of Christ had become the presentation of the lambs for inspection by duly appointed Levitical officers. The Temple court was full of lambs and their offerers. One of the many suggestions of the Transfiguration scene takes up that point. It is plain that about that time the mind of the Saviour was full of Calvary and its sacrifice, some twelve months forward (Luke 9:31). Cæsarea Philippi was, in other senses as well as the geographical, the farthest limit of His journeyings. Literally, from that time onwards His life was one long “going up to Jerusalem.” From that time God’s Passover Lamb went slowly forward to death. And on the Mount the Father formally and solemnly inspected His “Lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19; Exodus 12:5). It was faultless. “My beloved, … in Whom I am well pleased.”
3. Thus then the Substitute stands forth “apart from sin,” and apart from us; unique in an unapproachable holiness. In us holiness is induced; in Him inherent. In us all grace; in Him all nature. In us a deep moral discord and a paralysing moral schism; in Him peace. [Cf. “My peace I give unto you”; in its measure fulfilled in the Sanctifying work of the Spirit (John 14:27). The “God of peace” is the Sanctifier to Whom Paul appeals (1 Thessalonians 5:23).] His communion with God was with an unclouded vision; so may ours be, but with a difference. Behind Him is no memory of days when sin hid that Face. May it be said that the inscrutable anguish of a Father’s hidden Face, upon the cross, was the harder to bear that He had never had even an instant’s experience of interrupted communion until that moment? Our highest holiness is a repaired ruin; His never knew the beginning of a fault. [The priceless Portland Vase in the British Museum was once dashed into fragments by a madman. With great patience and skill, every fragment, down to the tiniest, was recovered and all were put together. The vase stands to-day complete; but, like our highest holiness, is with the completeness of a restoration.] His had always, and at Calvary, the completeness of what had never known a flaw, the completeness of an original unviolated, Divine integrity. His holiness is manifested in all ordinary forms of human life; but it is a Divine holiness which chooses those forms for its manifestation. Our holiness is relative, and we ourselves are accepted as holy, only according to a standard of requirement tempered by Evangelical grace; His holiness is absolute. Our strength for holy living and for victorious conflict with evil is outside ourselves—in Him; He bore Himself in the wilderness and the world with the calm of self-sufficing strength within. [“To serve the present age” a man must belong to it; yet he must be before it, above it, if he is to lift it. So] to save our race its Saviour must belong to it. He did “take hold on the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:0). To save our race He must be above it. The uniqueness, the isolation, of the holiness of our Substitute is the very prime necessity of His work.
III. The salvation through Him.—
1. Two points of exposition to be noticed:
(1) “Sin,” not “a sin offering”; a possible meaning indeed, favoured by Augustine, and from him downward; but not satisfying the antithesis to “righteousness.” The abstract words are noteworthy. As though almost—for one thing—God were viewed as dealing with Qualities rather than with Personalities. The Substitute steps into the place of sinners, indeed; but also He is, as it were, made Sin Embodied. The holy wrath and necessary, active antagonism between His holiness and all moral evil is all converging upon one point. We—I—ought to have stood there, on that spot of terrible convergence. What does occupy the place? His Son? Yes. But going more deeply—“Sin.” Our race, perhaps the other races of the universe, are seeing, in a fearful object-lesson, Holiness spending its stern strength upon Sin.
(2) Note the difference: “Made … for us,” “Righteousness in Him.” The forensic and the mystical theories of the Atoning work of Christ meet here. There is the honour done to the majesty, the supremacy, the very principle of moral Law, when He, Who is the Lawgiver, steps into the place of the lawbreakers, and outraged Law is avenged upon Him Who never broke it. There is the honour done to real Righteousness. The Salvation were not complete if only penalty were turned aside, law satisfied, the sinner suffered to go free. There is no real salvation which does not work out a real “righteousness,” and that manifestly “of God.” This also is given for His sake, certainly; but only in connection with that living, life-giving union which fills Paul’s phrases “in Christ,” “in the Lord.” [“When St. Paul says that we might be made, etc., the word γινώμεθα means more than the non-imputation of sin which has been spoken of before. That we might become: our forensic justification being included of necessity, our moral conformity to the Divine righteousness cannot be excluded. Those closing words are a resumption, but in a more emphatic and enlarged form, of the preceding paragraph, which ended with in Christ … a new creature. The righteousness of God in Him is the full realisation of the new method of conforming us to His attribute of righteousness. It is impossible to establish the distinction between in Christ for external righteousness and Christ in us for righteousness internal. These are only different aspects of one and the same union with Christ. Still, the distinction may be used for illustration.”]
2. Let it be remembered that this is God’s way of “reconciliation”; that all God designed and desired is not accomplished when the Substitute has stood and suffered where the Sinner and his Son should have stood: to be “in Christ” is part of God’s whole work and purpose. There is no true “salvation” unless there is a real righteousness flowing, growing, from a real union with Him. He cast in His lot with us; we must have a life grafted into His. Then at last the broken order is readjusted. Then indeed
“Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
“Glory to God in the highest!”
2 Corinthians 5:1-5. Our Present and Future Houses.
I. The present house.—The physical structure. Mind occupies body. This house is:
1. Earthly. Consequently drags the tenant down to earth.
2. Movable. A tent, rather than a house. And how easily and quickly removable! How frail while it lasts!
3. Decaying. Gradually growing old, decomposing, ceaselessly returning to earth.
4. Inconvenient. “In it we groan, being burdened.”
5. Inferior. Paul desires a better.
II. The future house.—The resurrection body. Described in 1 Corinthians 15:0 This house is:
1. Superhuman. “Not made with hands.” Jehovah the Architect and Builder. So was this first, but it has evidently been tampered with; and was not meant for permanence.
3. Unexposed to the storms of earth. “In the heavens,” where all will contribute to its constant preservation and increasing adornment.
4. Attractive. Paul craves this.
5. The tenant is being prepared for it. “Wrought for this selfsame thing.”
6. He has the assurance of it. “The earnest of the Spirit.” Have you such a house in prospect?—More fully in “Homilist,” Third Series, iii. 33.
2 Corinthians 5:8-10. The Philosophy of True Courage.—Paul’s courage is based on three convictions; that Death will not endanger—
I. The interests of being.
II. The great purpose of being.
III. The rewards of being.—Homilist, iv. 107.
2 Corinthians 5:10. Christ’s Great Assize. Five watchwords sum up the principles of the Judgment.
I. Test; applied according to varying measures of probationary privilege.
II. Revelation of character.—[“Appear” is not only comparaître, “present ourselves before.” It is also be “made manifest.” No man knows himself “as he is known,” until that day.]
III. Separation of classes.
IV. Execution of the condemning sentence.—“There can be no doubt that the term ‘judgment’ is most frequently connected with condemnation; this, in fact, is the more common meaning of κρίσις. Judgment determining the sentence; condemnation pronouncing it; execution administering it; are almost synonymous terms with regard to the wicked; in Scripture, as in the common language of human justice.”
V. Confirmation or ratification of the acceptance of the saved.—See this suggestively filled up in Pope, “Compend. of Theol.,” 416 sqq.
2 Corinthians 5:14. “The words are: ‘The love of Christ constrains us, because this is our interpretation of it: [Denny says, antea, p. 106, “The work of Christ in relation to sin is not a naked fact, an impenetrable unintelligible fact; it is in the New Testament a luminous, interpretable, and interpreted fact.… Says St. Paul, We thus judge; i.e.… we can and do put a certain intellectual construction upon it.”] One died for all; so then all died.’ Battles have been fought here over the preposition ‘for,’ which is ὑπέρ, on behalf of, not ἀντί, instead of. This, it has been said, excludes the idea of substitution. This is a hasty inference. Paul might very well wish to say that Christ died on our behalf, without, so far as the preposition goes, thinking how it was that Christ’s death was to be an advantage to us. But observe the inference he draws: One died for all; so then all died. That is to say, His death is as good as theirs. That is why His death is an advantage to them; that is what rationally connects it with their benefit: it is a death which is really theirs; it is their death which has been died by Him. If any one denies this, it rests with him to explain, in the first place, how Christ’s death advantages us at all; and, in the second place, how Paul can draw from Christ’s death the immediate inference, ‘so then all died.’ We do not need to fight about the prepositions. Christ’s death benefits us, we are all agreed, whatever be the preposition used to express its relation to us, or to our sins, or to our good; but there is no coherence between the Apostle’s premises and his conclusion, except on the assumption that that death of Christ was really our death, which had come upon Him. It is on this deeper connection that all the advantages to us of that death depend. This interpretation is confirmed when we turn to the last verse of this chapter, which is virtually the Apostle’s own comment on 2 Corinthians 5:14 : ‘Him that knew no sin God made sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ We sometimes hear the New Testament doctrine of the atonement objected to, on the ground of the contradictions it involves. I do not think the objection is very serious. St. Paul, when he wrote this sentence, had them all in his mind, logical and ethical, in their acutest form. He probably felt, as most people feel when redemption from sin becomes a practical interest to them, that the point at which God comes into contact with sin, even as a Redeemer, must involve contradictions of every kind: for it means that God is taking part with us against Himself. That in the atoning work a sinless One is made sin, and sinful ones become the righteousness of God, is not a primâ facie objection to the work in question; it is the very condition under which alone the work can be carried through. Paul condenses in this proposition, not only the infinite difficulties of the question, but its adequate solution; it is in these sharp, undisguised contradictions—if you like to say so, it is in this tragic, appalling event, the sinless One made sin by God—that the condemned soul recognises the very stamp and seal of a real work of atonement. That meeting of contradictories, that union of logical and moral opposites, is here the very guarantee of truth.… The idea underlying [the passage] is plainly that of an interchange of states. Christ is the Person who knew no sin; i.e. to whose conscience and will, though He confronted it all His life, sin remained an absolutely alien thing. The negative μή means that this is conceived as the judgment of another upon Christ; it is conceived as the judgment of God. He it is to whom Christ is sinless. As He looks down from Heaven, He sees Him alone, among the children of men, free from evil, and therefore free from condemnation. He alone is absolutely good, the beloved with whom the Father is well pleased. Yet Him God made sin, that by so doing He might destroy sin, and have the good news of reconciliation to proclaim to men. What is it, then, that this making sin covers? What are we to understand by it? It means precisely what is meant in the verse already quoted: tha Christ died for us, died that death o ours which is the wages of sin. In His death, all sinless as He was, God’s condemnation of our sin came upon Him; a Divine sentence was executed upon the sin of the world. It is all-important to observe that it was God who made Christ sin; the passage is habitually quoted ‘He became sin,’ or, indefinitely, ‘He was made sin,’ in a vague sense unconsciously willing to leave God out; and then the mind goes off at a tangent, and seeks moralising or rationalising senses in which such an expression might be used. But God is the subject of the sentence: it is God who is presented dealing in an awful way with the awful reality of sin, for its removal; and the way in which He removes it is to lay it on His Son. That is done, not in anything else, but in this alone, that Christ, by God’s appointment, dies the sinner’s death. The doom falls upon Him, and is exhausted there. The sense of the Apostle is given adequately in the well-known hymn:
“ ‘Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Scaled my pardon with His blood:
—Dr. Denny, “Studies in Theology,” pp. 109–112.
2 Corinthians 5:17. May be crystallised around four, all true, ways of reading this gnomic sentence.
I. If in Christ, there must follow a new creation.
II. As soon as in Christ, there begins a new creation.
III. So long as in Christ, there abides, and develops, a new creation.
IV. Because there is manifestly a new creation, therefore certainly the man is in Christ.
N.B.—Nothing less than a new creation will do. The water may open the bud into flower, but it cannot form the bud. It can give culture, but not life.
N.B.—Case analogous as between Genesis 1:0. and this:
1. “In beginning God created,” etc.
2. Spirit brooding.
5. Rest (Hebrews 4:7).
2 Corinthians 5:14. “Then all died.”—There is another way in which the Death of our Lord Jesus Christ is related to our redemption. I approach it with great hesitation, because it is involved in great obscurity.… These words (viz. 2 Corinthians 5:14), if they stood alone, might perhaps be fairly regarded as a strong rhetorical statement of the effect which ought to be produced upon our hearts by the infinite love of Christ in dying for us. It might be said that, since He died for us, the greatness of His love ought to dissolve all our relations to this present “evil world,” and bind us in perfect and eternal loyalty to Himself; that we ought to live as though death had already separated us from the common excitements and sorrows and triumphs of mankind; for us old things should have passed away, and all things become new. But in several other of his Epistles he speaks of Christ’s Death as though it were a real event in our own history. In the Epistle to the Romans (6, 7) he rests his elaborate arguments on what he takes for granted as known to those to whom he is writing,—the fact that Christ’s death was in some sense their own death.… The conception … reappears … in St. Paul’s writings … so frequently, and in such forms, that it cannot be treated as being nothing more than a rhetorical representation of the great moral effect which our belief in the Death of Christ ought to have on our spirit and character. It seems to have suggested the exhortation of St. Peter, to which it is difficult to give a very exact interpretation, “Forasmuch then,” etc. (1 Peter 4:1-2). In his Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul affirms that he himself had thus died in Christ (Galatians 2:20). And many Christian persons have declared that they are conscious that in the Death of Christ their old and evil life perished. It is far less difficult to apprehend the fact that we live in the life of Christ than the fact that we died in His death; but the teaching of St. Paul seems to be explicit. The destruction of evil within us is the effect and fulfilment in ourselves of the mystery of Christ’s Death, as the development of our positive holiness is of the power of His life. This is the Pauline doctrine, and I repeat that it has been verified in the consciousness of large numbers of Christian people. I accept this relation between the Death of Christ and the death of our own evil self as a fact, though I may be unable to offer any explanation of it. The fact, however inexplicable, is of great significance.… How many of us have cried, in the bitterness of our despair, “There is no redemption possible to us. We have waited for God, and He has not come to us.… Would to God that I could cease to be myself; that this evil nature of mine could be destroyed and leave nothing of itself behind; that I could die, if only I might have a new life, with better instincts, diviner impulses—that the passion, the sluggishness, the selfishness, the unbelief, which seem to constitute my very self, could be smitten with lightning from heaven, and perish—perish utterly, and perish for ever.” … The prayer receives its answer in Christ; in His Death our sin dies, and in His life the very life of God is made our own. How the Death of Christ effects the destruction of our sin we may be unable to tell. Perhaps that great moral act by which Christ consented to lose the consciousness of the Father’s presence and love—an act different in kind from any to which holy beings, in their normal relation to God, can be called—rendered it possible for us to sink to that complete renunciation of self which is the condition of the perfect Christian life; for that renunciation is also unique, and has no parallel in the normal development of a moral creature. But it is enough that we know the fact that in God’s idea, and according to the law of the kingdom of heaven, we are crucified in Christ. Sometimes through our union with Him sin may seem to perish as by a sudden blow. More frequently it dies slowly—dies as those died who were put to death by crucifixion.… But it is actually crucified, if only our union with Christ is complete; and though it may still live, its power over us is gone.… [A] moral security for the disappearance of sin has been created by the sufferings of Christ on the cross. The Death of Christ is the death of sin.—Dale, “Atonement,” pp. 425–430. Cf. also pp. 261, 262.
2 Corinthians 5:14. “Love of Christ constraineth me” [if regarded as equivalent to “Love to Christ”].—The Duke of Wellington regarded himself as a “retained servant of the monarch.” A customary phrase of his was, “The King’s government must be carried on.” Hence he sank personal differences and served under Peel, when Peel changed re Corn Laws. “Government is of far greater importance than any party opinions whatever.” So “Christ’s government must be carried on”!
No lower, feebler motive is in long-run sufficient. Dr. Hessey (Boyle Lectures, Moral Difficulties of the Bible) tells of a young man, in a newly founded colony, who went to a Bishop for ordination, professedly from the highest motives. The Bishop knew the young man, and, suspecting an admixture of lower motives (albeit hardly known to the man), sent him to a school for native children, miles up-country, to teach them everything. The test did its work. In two months the young man returned, owning he did not know his own heart fully, and no longer deeming the ministry his life-work.
2 Corinthians 5:17. “A new creature.”—If any man be in Christ, that is a new creation. That is enough. Let but this miracle be wrought, and the spirit has not missed the true rapture of life. The outward order may be wearily and monotonously the same. Reforms may be driven back; injustices may be perpetuated; the day of external deliverance may be far off. It is a small thing, if the soul is unchained. The slave who believed was still a slave to outward seeming. His bondage, it might well be, was to grow yet more stringent and cruel, and no help would reach him on this side of death. But he was a new creation. He beheld all things with new eyes, inhabited by a new spirit. He was no more the sport of a merciless master, but one of the children whom God gave to Christ. Though no arm of rebellion was lifted to overthrow the tyranny that crushed him, he was delivered from his heartbroken weariness, and he could do all things and bear all things through Christ that strengthened him.—Editorial, “British Weekly,” October 19th, 1893.
2 Corinthians 5:21. “Who knew no sin.”—Yet Jesus Christ never once confesses sin; He never once asks for pardon.… He never Himself lets fall a hint, He Himself never breathes a prayer, which implies any, the slightest, trace of a personal remorse. From no casual admission do we gather that any, the most venial, sin had ever been His Never for one moment does He associate Himself with any passing experience of that anxious dread of the penal future with which His own awful words must needs fill the sinner’s heart. If His Soul is troubled, at least His moral sorrows are not His own; they are a burden laid on Him by His love for others. Nay, He challenges His enemies to convince Him of sin. He declares positively that He always does the will of the Father. Even when speaking of Himself as Man, He always refers to eternal life as His inalienable possession. It might, so perchance we think, be the illusion of a moral dulness, if only He did not penetrate the sin of others with such relentless analysis. It might, we imagine, be a subtle pride, if we did not know Him to be as unrivalled in His great humility. This consciousness of an absolute sinlessness in such a soul as that of Jesus Christ points to a moral elevation unknown to our human experience. It is, at the very least, suggestive of a relation to the Perfect Moral Being altogther unique in human history.—Liddon, “Bampton Lectures,” iv. 1 (a). (The two paragraphs preceding, as well as the footnote from F. W. Newman, and Note C, will be full of serviceable suggestions to a homilist. Also if Luthardt, Fundamental Truths, be accessible, lect. x., pp. 311–313, is a good putting of the case.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent