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This chapter wrongly isolated at both ends by the customary division of the book. Connection quite closely continuous between 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 and 2 Corinthians 6:1; as also between 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 7:1.
2 Corinthians 6:1. Workers together.—With whom? Choose between
(1) God, and
(2) Christ. For
(1) is the repeated use of “beseech,” in 2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 6:1; for
(2) the “scheme” of the passage (see Homily on 2 Corinthians 5:20), according to which Paul and his fellow-ambassadors are doing in His (bodily) absence the work of the Great Ambassador. But for (I) it is pointed out that what Paul here urges is not precisely His message, “Be reconciled,” but an exhortation to those who are “reconciled.” (Also cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9.) “Receive,” “acceptable,” “receive” (2 Corinthians 6:17) [but not 2 Corinthians 7:2], have all the same root, and give a real link of thought. Beseech.—In the (usual) threefold sense of entreaty, exhortation (and consolation). In vain.—Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:13; 1 Corinthians 15:17; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16.
2 Corinthians 6:2.—Isaiah 49:8, as in LXX. Paul’s comment begins at “Behold,” etc. A new section of Isaiah begins at 49. Cheyne heads 49–57, “Vicarious Atonement” (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2). Kay, in Speaker, points out that in Isaiah 58:5 the Day of Atonement is joined with the idea “day of acceptance.” He adds: “The word for ‘answered’ is the same that occurs in Psalms 22:21; where a Sufferer, who had been ‘a reproach of men and despised of the people’ (Psalms 22:6), receives an answer from God in the crisis of His agony, and proclaims that ‘all the ends of the earth’ shall remember and turn to the Lord (Psalms 22:27).”
2 Corinthians 6:3.—Connect closely with 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 6:2 parenthetical. Giving.—Viz. Paul (and his fellow-ambassadors); not the Corinthians. Offence.—“Occasion of stumbling.” Ministry.—I.e. the administration, the discharge, of his function as “an ambassador.” Note, close (verbal) parallel with 2 Corinthians 8:20. “The original does not mean that he succeeds in giving no offence, but only that he tries to give none” (Waite, in Speaker). Blamed.—By the human observer, whether Christian or non-Christian.
2 Corinthians 6:4. Commending.—Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1; illustrate by Romans 5:8. Ministers.—Not “the ministers” (1 Corinthians 3:5). Stanley paraphrases somewhat: “Crushing afflictions, pressure of difficulties, narrow straits. The prevailing idea is of pressure and confinement; each stage narrower than the one before, so that no room is left for movement or escape.” [Illustrate the imagery by Luke 12:50; Philippians 1:23; the word is different.] Cf. with this enumeration 2 Corinthians 11:23 sqq. The outer life of an apostle.
2 Corinthians 6:5. Tumults.—Possibly “unsettlement of life” (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11) (Stanley). More likely such as Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 19:24. “These probably stand last [of the hardships inflicted by men], partly because they were attended with peril of life and were often designed to destroy him, and partly because they were the occasion of a peculiar injustice, for the first Christian missionaries were accused of raising them and had to bear the infamy and the punishment” (Waite). [Examples of this are in Acts 17:6 (Acts 21:38).] Watchings.—“Spells of sleeplessness” (Farrar), whilst working for bread. Fastings.—Involuntary, from sheer poverty. Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:10-12.
2 Corinthians 6:6.—Stanley compares the rhythmic form of this whole passage with Romans 8:0 sub. fin, and 1 Corinthians 13:0. Here the form of the words, rather than the thought, governs the order. “Each word stands singly without any apparent connection, as it came uppermost in his thoughts” (Stanley). Note, keep “in,” as in 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; not “by.” Purity.—Of conduct and heart and motive. Longsuffering, kind.—As in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Unfeigned love.—As Romans 12:9.
2 Corinthians 6:7. By.—Accurate from “armour” onward. Armour.—See in Romans 6:13 (which is literally “weapons [=armour here] of unrighteousness”), 2 Corinthians 13:12 (where “works” stands contrasted with “armour”), 2 Corinthians 10:4. “Armour” is, of course, a soldier’s whole armament, offensive and defensive. “In Paul’s usual sense of righteousness by faith” (Beet), is surely too specialised a meaning; rather, integrity of speech and action, are sword and shield, “on right hand and on the left.”
2 Corinthians 6:8.—“By the approbation which his conduct evokes in good men, and by the dishonour it provokes from the bad, Paul recommends himself. For the approval of the good and the hostility of the bad alike proved that he was doing God’s work.” (Beet.) He had had both “honour and dishonour” at Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:12). Deceivers.—2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2; the very word is used of him in the Clementine Homilies, though he is not named. [The quotation and an account of the Homilies are readily accessible in Stanley, Apostolic Age, pp. 378–379.]
2 Corinthians 6:9. Dying.—“So great is their peril that they seem actually falling into the grave.… Yet in the moment of apparent destruction suddenly comes deliverance.… Behold.… Graphic picture (as in 2 Corinthians 6:17), retaining even the exclamation of wonder at the unexpected deliverance.” (Beet.) Acts 14:19-20 almost exactly gives the sentence pictorial embodiment. Chastened.—Well illustrated by Isaiah 53:4 (as suggested by Beet).
2 Corinthians 6:11.—“The veil, which had hitherto been hung between the Apostle and his readers, is suddenly rolled away; we see them standing face to face; his utterance, so long choked by the counter-currents of contending emotions, is now, for the first time, clear and distinct (‘our mouth is opened’), and for the only time in the two Epistles he calls them by name. With the loosing of his tongue his heart opens also; that heart, which was ‘the heart of the world,’ opens to receive in its large capacities his thousand friends: whatever narrowness of affection, whatever check to the yearnings of the soul, between them might exist, was not on his part, but on theirs; the only reward which he claimed for his paternal tenderness was a greater openness from them, his spiritual children.” (Stanley.)
2 Corinthians 6:12. Straitened.—Same word radically as in 2 Corinthians 6:5. Bowels.—I.e. practically, “heart” (Philippians 2:1).
2 Corinthians 6:13. In the same.—“In like kind” (R.V.).
2 Corinthians 6:14.—In any voluntary companionship; marriage is only one particular case of a general rule. Be not.—Really “become not,” as if to assume that there was as yet no actual union (?). Yoked.—On a similar principle of discovering a world-wide principle in a Levitical enactment, as in 1 Corinthians 9:9, here Deuteronomy 22:10 is widened, “spiritualised.” [Waite adduces Leviticus 19:19, and notes the strong antipathy of the Levitical code to any interference with the original ordinance, “after their kind.” See the “Johannean” antithesis of “light” and “darkness.”]
2 Corinthians 6:15. Belial.—Not really a proper name. Such a use of the word is due to the Vulgate. Very frequent in the Old Testament for “worthlessness,” “recklessness,” “lawlessness” (see 2 Corinthians 6:14). “The term as used in 2 Corinthians 6:15 is generally understood of Satan, as the personification of all that is bad; Bengel explains it of Antichrist, as more strictly the opposite of Christ” (Smith, B.D., sub. v.). Infidel.—Only means as much as “unbeliever.”
2 Corinthians 6:16. Temple.—“The,” not “a”; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 shows this symbolism one of the “stock”—the staple—ideas of Paul’s religious thought. Leviticus 26:11-12, freely quoted from LXX.; part of a solemn summing up of the blessings and the real scope of the Mosaic economy.
2 Corinthians 6:17-18.—Isaiah 52:11, freely quoted from LXX., and continued still more freely with reminiscences of Ezekiel 20:34 (which refers to the same gathering out from Babylon), and perhaps of 2 Samuel 7:14. “Daughters” may be a reminiscence of Isaiah 43:6; the sexes are equal “in Christ.” [The manner of quotation has no necessary bearing upon the views of the New Testament writers re the Inspiration of the Old Testament. Preachers and writers who have believed in the strictest “dictation” theory of Inspiration, have nevertheless always felt free to quote either freely from memory, or intentionally ad sensum only, or paraphrastically, or with verbal exactness, as might be needed for their purpose.]
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 6:1-10
The Work and Outer Life of Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).
I. Their appeal (2 Corinthians 6:1-3).
II. Their credentials (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).
1. Mark’s Gospel, as usually read, closes with a good epitome of the Acts of the Apostles, and indeed of all the subsequent history of the Christian Church (Mark 16:19-20). “He was received up into heaven.… They went forth and preached everywhere … the Lord working with them.” Question of exact exposition, rather than of any practical moment, with whom these “co-workers” labour (see Critical Notes). In point of fact it is raised only between two aspects of the same great truth. The earthly workers do not labour in any isolation of merely human strength or wisdom. They are not left by their Divine Lord “to their own devices,” or to their own resources. They are directed from above; they draw their supplies of strength from above; the communication is close and continuous between the Great Ambassador, Who in bodily presence has withdrawn from men’s sight, and the human representatives who are carrying on and carrying out His work below (see Homily on 2 Corinthians 5:20). In all review of the conditions of the work, and in all estimates of its “chances” of success at any given juncture, or in the face of any given combinations of obstacles, account must be taken of the Divine Worker, Who is not simply looking on at the workers, but is actively engaged in it all. They are “workers together with Him.” The appeal, therefore, is not theirs, but His; like that in 2 Corinthians 5:20.
(1) The appeal is to those who have already responded to that earlier one. They are “reconciled”; they have “received the grace of God.” But that did not finish the work of their “salvation.” “Salvation” in its full sense only began when they were “reconciled to God” in the moment of their faith in the Sinless Substitute. True they were then “saved,” in regard to the penalty of sins; in that moment they came into a new relationship to God. But the Gospel contemplates a larger salvation than this: “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” In the moment of—in Pauline phrase—their justification, a work began, in which they “co-operate” with the Spirit and grace of God throughout all their after-course. In Birth a Life began. To what shall it grow? How far shall life develop? Shall it develop to nothing? Born “in vain.” After many fights and many victories shall life end in defeat and death? Fighting “in vain.” Shall the Exodus from Egypt end in death in the wilderness, even seeing Canaan from some Nebo-top of vision and yet not entering? Brought out of bondage “in vain.” Shall tho Seed of the Great Sower be “received” [a related word, in Mark 4:20] in good soil, indeed, but so choked with thorns, or so thin a covering of the unbroken rock, that, after a hasty, or a rankly vigorous growth, the seed flags and withers, and the sower has sown in these particular hearts “in vain”? In the first Gift indeed were all subsequent gifts; the first Grace had in it the possibility of all gifts besides. But it is a Talent, a Pound, with which a man must trade, or it has been received in vain. God’s work well begun may end in “failure,”—“failure,” that is, so far as the individual is concerned; no doubt what in their proximate purpose are “failures,” serve some larger end, and contribute to the success of God’s whole Great Plan.
(2) “In vain” may carry the analysis of failure further back. The very message “Be reconciled” may never be responded to. It is “grace” that such a message is committed at all to ambassadors who may bear it even to unwilling, unready ears. It is “grace” that there ever was a Great Ambassador, Who has also been “made sin for us,” etc. Very many know the fact, hear the message, but never give any practical response to it. So far as they are concerned, and for any use they make of it, Christ’s death might have been non-existent. They pass by the Cross, and “die in their sins” (John 8:21; John 8:24). For them the grace of God has been “received in vain,” to no purpose. It has ended in an empty issue.
(3) By persistent inattention the heart may lose its ear for God’s voice. By persistent worldliness, and much more by continued sins of sense, or covetousness, or unholy anger, and the like, the Spirit is grieved. He may be grieved away. If He withdraw,—the case is, one hopes, exceedingly rare,—the power to take the “grace of God,” offered as it is, is gone. By neglected prayer, by ill-spent Sabbaths, by secret omissions of, perhaps at first, small duties, the Spirit of reconciling “grace” may be constrained to withdraw His aid. Willing as He is to co-operate, He is never simply at men’s call and bidding; the power to fulfil man’s part in making lastingly fruitful use of “the grace of God,” is not guaranteed to be always at man’s absolute command. “If we fail to put to practical use in the details of life the spiritual benefits received by the favour of God, even His favour to us becomes to us a useless and empty thing. An unread Bible, a wasted Sunday, and such knowledge of the truth as does not mould our life are the grace of God received in vain.” (Beet.)
(4) This appeal agrees with all those cautions and warnings of the Word of God which proceed upon the assumption that “the grace of God” may really be “received” and yet not be suffered to issue in a final salvation. The racer may run for a great part of his course, and never finish it, so missing the prize of the calling which reached him from on high (Philippians 3:14). Salvation wants “making sure.”
3. The encouragement they give to their hearers.—Provision is abundantly secured for their making “a good finish”; provision against every emergency which may arise. Prompt, present, sufficient help. They need never yield, need never be overcome, need never be entangled or overwhelmed. There is always a “now” salvation (see Separate Homily).
4. Their appeal is παράκλησις.—A preacher’s matter needs to be as varied as the varied aspects of Divine truth. He must also speak not only in many portions, but in many manners. A preacher’s method must be varied: entreaty, exhortation, consolation,—all will be needed by the varying types of hearers, and their ceaselessly varying moods or circumstances. [An associate pastorate ought to supply this better than any but a few exceptionally many-sided men can do. Many ambassadors are needed to express and represent the One Great, and only Universal, Ambassador.] But he will never be satisfied, who is a true co-worker with God, unless by every variant of tone and manner and method of appeal he succeeds in so arousing, or hastening, or heartening those to whom he is sent, as that the “grace” of reconciliation once “received” shall end in the abundant success of the heavenly life.
5. Observable here, as everywhere, how Paul grounds his appeals upon, or strengthens his instructions by, references to the Old Testament Scriptures. It is hardly sufficient to say: “Of all the Epistles, however clear the evidence in some instances that they are addressed to those who have been originally heathens, there is not one which does not imply a familiar acquaintance with Jewish Customs and with the Scriptures of the Old Testament” (Stanley, Apostolic Age, p. 200). Paul’s practice is exactly that of a modern missionary to a heathen land. He, like Paul, believes that in even the Hebrew Scriptures he has a word of universal address; an instrument of universal applicability and force; a message, to listen to which is an obligation upon all men, Jews or Gentiles, and which, as matter of experiment, has vindicated its universal cogency by the demonstration of the Spirit, which accompanied it, and before which even Gentile Christians bowed; in acknowledgment of the Divine force of argument and appeal; in acknowledgment of the Divine truth of a teaching which based itself, even for them, upon Scriptures which hitherto only their Jewish brethren had been accustomed to accept and submit to, as being of God. Paul knew no better arguments for Gentiles than those he would have used, and did use, for his fellow-Israelites. It was as illogical, but as self-justifying, as the similar use of the same Scriptures by a Christian missionary in his appeals to a heathen or a Mahometan heart. The historical occasion or embodiment is local, national, but the teaching of the Old Testament is part of God’s revelation for all men. The principles of His action, and especially of His redemptive action, never change. In Old Testament or New Testament He is the same God in Christ. The Old Testament quotations of which this chapter is so remarkably full, carry with them, and contain within them, universal truth. Paul is no Jew merely dealing as a Rabbi with a great literary monument of the past of his nation. He is a Christian ambassador who finds that “every scripture inspired of God is profitable” for Gentile as well as for Jew.
II. The ambassador’s credentials.—
1. He carries credentials. Paul claimed that he needed no credentials to Corinth, except the witness in every Corinthian Christian’s heart of the effectiveness with which the human ambassador had discharged his function. Every “reconciled” Corinthian, rejoicing that he had “received the grace of God,” welcomed Paul without further “letters commendatory” (2 Corinthians 3:1). But to others, the ambassador, “the minister of God,” commends himself as such by the many tokens which, in almost rhythmic array, he proceeds to enumerate. Saved men are seals to a man’s ministry; but until they are saved, he must have a commission whose validity is attested by many another seal.
2. And what a series!—The first is negative, but not a thing of small moment. He is careful that nothing in his personal conduct, and nothing in the manner of his official life, shall be a stumbling-block to Jew or Gentile. No thoughtless, inconsistent, offensive behaviour; e.g. no “lording it over the heritage of God”; no selfish, self-indulgent use of his Christian liberty or of his Apostolic privileges to their fullest extent, regardless, reckless, of the consequences, direct or indirect, to others. His life and example, who is an ambassador, a minister, of Christ will for that reason carry weight beyond those of an ordinary Christian, whether for good or evil, for helpfulness or occasion of stumbling. Each particular case of inconsiderateness, or inconsistency, or sin in him will be generalised—as good example will usually not be!—and made representative of the class to which he belongs. Their “administration” of the commission to exhort men to “be reconciled to God,” with all that such a reconciliation carries with it, will be brought into disrepute, and “blamed,” if the “ministers of Christ” be unworthy or unfaithful in their personal or official life. Note how careful Paul is of the reputation of the whole body of fellow-workers. There is none of that self-centered strength, or pride, which, calling itself “independence,” goes forward on its own course, whatever be the bearing of its action upon the world’s estimate of the ministry and its work. This noble man acts as if put in trust with the reputation of the whole number. “He felt that the influence of Christianity upon the world depended very much upon the collective impression made by its prominent advocates, and that this impression would be determined in no small measure by his personal conduct. He was therefore careful so to act in everything as to cause no spiritual injury to any one, lest such injury might lessen the collective influence of the leaders of the Church.” (Beet.) He is wanting in one of the first credentials of the true minister, who is not sensitive lest his own discharge of his function should in any way prejudice his brethren in the ministry of the word of reconciliation. The true ambassador will feel that the honour, first of the Great Ambassador, and next of his human co-workers, is in some degree in his hands. Responsibility for holding it high rests upon each single man.
3. Then follow, in startling series, the positive seals of a valid commission, the notes of a true ambassador. (Consult Critical Notes upon these.) Observe in 2 Corinthians 6:4-6 how the very “penalties” of his Apostolic character and work, the strokes of man’s injustice, and even of his own people’s niggardliness, are by a wondrous alchemy of grace transformed into tokens by which he knows, and by which others know, himself a true ambassador. [In Galatians 6:17 the scars which mark his body, every one of them with a memory and a history to himself, are the brands of Christ’s ownership.] “If I had none of these troubles, I should begin to doubt whether I were in the ministry. If the world, or the Church, saw none of these things in me, if I slipped through cheaply, escaping all such hardships, they might ask whether indeed I really belonged to the body of ambassadors.” The “popular preacher” who gets everybody’s good word may well pray to be kept on his guard against his Master’s woe (Luke 6:26).
4. These are credentials which others make for him, though he wears them as his badge of service. But next follow some for which himself must take thought. A man needs to watch his own spirit with closest vigilance, in the midst of the persecution of the cruel world, under their false accusations, and when even within the Church he is opposed by “unreasonable and wicked men” (2 Thessalonians 3:2), when an ungrateful Church leaves him to toil far into the night for the bread which his labour spent on them in the daytime deserved that they should provide. “Longsuffering” will have much occasion to train it in full beauty and strength. “Love unfeigned,” indeed “love” at all, will be a triumphant vindication of the grace of God in a Paul whose apostleship is challenged. He will take care that, so far as depends upon himself, “the Holy Ghost” shall dwell within him in fulness of power. In motive and act he will “keep himself pure.” It will be a further credential, appealing to any critic or opponent who will think, “This man is growing and ripening, day by day, in knowledge of Divine things. He is certainly qualified to be a minister of Christ to me.” And, above all, when such an opponent sees an ungrudging “kindness” which, Godlike, spends itself upon even “the unthankful and the evil,” he says rebuked and self-convicted, “That man is really a minister of Christ.”
5. Then come the many points on which true ministers, whose commission still runs in full validity, will guard their own spirit and inner life. Misunderstood, condemned of men, they will so keep themselves blameless that, whilst “righteousness” of motive and dealing may now and then be the weapons of offence and defence, they may far oftener leave their reputation in the hands of Him Who knows them to be no “deceivers,” etc., and meanwhile go steadily on with their work and “ministry.” Even life itself, often endangered, shall be safe in His keeping, Who will give many a startling deliverance, which shall be rather a resurrection than a mere deliverance. But no credential will be more forcible in its appeal for recognition than this: “We possess all things. We make many rich.” “Great poverty, but great peace.” “Always rejoicing!” Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is a fine illustration of the true Christian cheerfulness, written as it was amidst circumstances naturally calculated to distress and depress and daunt. [Says Bradburn, an intimate associate of John Wesley’s later days: “It was almost impossible to be dull or dissatisfied in his company.… I never saw him low-spirited in my life.… When speaking of any who imagined religion would make people morose and gloomy, I have heard him say in the pulpit ‘That sour godliness is the devil’s religion.’ In his answer to a letter I had written to him (in a time of strong temptation) he has these words: ‘That melancholy turn is directly opposite to a Christian spirit. Every believer ought to enjoy life.’ … I heard him say, ‘I dare no more fret than curse and swear.’ ”]
6. What is the argument from all these marks? “Each side of these contrasts commends the apostles as ministers of God. That men whom some decry as deceivers are found to be true, that men set aside as unknown become day by day more fully known, that men who seem to be in the jaws of death are rescued and men apparently smitten by God live still, that underneath visible sorrow there is constant joy, and that utter poverty is but a mask hiding infinite wealth, is abundant proof that they in whom these contradictions meet are indeed servants of God. Thus amid many and various hardships, in a spotless and kindly life animated by the Holy Spirit and by sincere love to men, and armed with a word which commends itself as the truth and is confirmed by the manifested power of God, in everything Paul and his companions claim respect and act as becomes ministers of God.” (Beet.)
2 Corinthians 6:2. A “Now!” Salvation.
I. Pivot word of passage.—Make pictorial by parallel of our tiny earth, crowded with its tiny dwellers, borne along in its orbit, hanging poised in space; infinite space above it, below it, around it, in every direction; a point, a minute island in a sea of space. So our life. Of how much are we masters? Think backward,—to the day of Adam; of “the beginning”; of the creation of the “sons of God” who rejoiced over the birth of earth (Job 38:7). And there, at the Land’s End of creaturely being, we gaze out into limitless, past duration. Think forward,—to Judgment; to the end of some vast measure of heavenly happiness; forward again; stop anywhere, yet away there still stretches limitless future duration. A midway parenthesis, the history of Earth; a midway parenthesis within this again, a man’s life—our own; and of this we possess, have, know, only the midmost point; an instant, coming, here, gone, with more than arrow’s swiftness; just now the earliest moment of the Future; whilst we speak of it, the Present; before the words are finished, the latest moment of the Past. Life to us is “Now.” The present moment, hanging poised, like earth, midway in the infinite; duration unmeasured behind, duration unmeasured before. “The dead past;” “the living present;” the future just coming to birth. Our needs, dangers, temptations, duties, all belong to the “Now” of life. God’s “salvation” (in largest sense,—all conceivable, and needed, grace and help) belongs accordingly to the present. Other help may be too early or too late; God’s salvation is stamped with “Now.” “ ‘Now’ is the day of salvation;” our necessary time is God’s “accepted time.”
II. The elementary salvation of pardon is a present blessing.—
1. Glorious Gospel this, but needs guarding. May not take any chance, indifferent, unaffected man who will give attention and intellectual assent to the proposition that there is salvation through Jesus Christ for him, and thereupon assure him that he is “saved.” No man who has not learned his sinfulness, guilt, peril—only relieved by the redeeming grace of Christ—has mastered the A B C of religion.
2. Yet even to such a man we might say, “Come forthwith—now—ask for the sense of sin.” The moment of beginning to inquire after God is the “now” of salvation, so far as this that, No seeking soul was ever left to seek or to perish without finding.
3. Urge even upon such, “Why not seek now? In peril of ‘judgment’ now, your need is ‘now.’ Terms will never be more favourable. Conditions in yourself may become less and less favourable. All the Father’s love; all the Son’s grace; all the Spirit’s help; you have them all,—now!”
4. Young people speculate: “Time enough! Many things may happen! Special wave of ‘revival’ influence, perhaps, bearing many, and ourselves, with it, with less of singularity when ‘everybody’ is seeking salvation.”
5. True use of Paul’s word is to an aroused, truly repentant soul, seeking earnestly; to whom “salvation” is matter of urgent present concern. “Save me, O God!” “I have heard thee in a time accepted; that time accepted is Now.” Or, “I must first do this, or that.” “Now is the day of salvation.” The moment salvation becomes matter of present concern on the soul’s part, it is matter on God’s part of present, offered grace. When man says “Now,” God says “Now” also.
III. The after, many-sided, “salvation” of the believer is a “Now” blessing.—
1. This nearer to the purpose of Paul here. Quotes Isaiah 49:8; addressed originally to Messiah, discouraged in His work. Paul is encouraging men who were in danger, under pressure or seduction of temptation, of making a poor finish to the “gracious” beginning of a Christian life, “receiving grace of God in vain.” “You need never give way, or give up, or fail. At every moment of new need, God will be near with new help.” The “salvation” of pardon only the first link in a chain of “salvations” reaching up to glory; the first round of a Jacob’s ladder reaching to threshold of heaven. Shall need new help, defence, strength, at each new step, as well as at the first and lowest. At, with, in, each new “now”
2. E.g. Luther at Worms. (Psalms 46:0, “A very present help in time of trouble.”) In hall of Diet; greatest and wisest of Germany, of Europe, there; greatest prince of the Continent presiding. For most part hostile; many itching to lay hands on audacious monk, hardly restrained by emperor’s “safe conduct.” Only a few venturesomely sympathising. Luther had shrunk; overheard in his chamber (D’Aubigné, Pt. ii., c. 8) crying out before God: “How … the world … gapes to swallow me up!… How weak the flesh!” etc. Men saw in the hall the lion-like man. God saw in the chamber the helpless soul laying hold of the “now” salvation needed in that supreme hour. E.g., better, 2 Timothy 4:16-18. Paul before “the lion” Nero; life depending on the drunken whim of a deified monster. “No man stood by me.” Peril so extreme that not a Christian in Rome dared to show himself in Court-house, (more Romano) to stand by the dock, a friend of the prisoner. But “the Lord” (not forgetting how He once stood before His judges, and not a disciple dared show himself—except, perhaps, John) “stood by me,” took His stand (aor.; q.d. in the dock), an unseen, but real, present Helper, and “delivered,” at least in that “first appearing” for trial, with a “now” salvation. “I am with you always,—all the days, each successively, and as each new day needs Me.” E.g. day of commercial reverse. Mansion gives place to modest villa; villa to mere cottage; careless affluence exchanged for close-calculating straitness; comforts for necessaries. Father looks round table; no fewer, nor less hungry, mouths. Yet no hard words about “luck,” or God, or man. Strange calm on faces; light in eyes, as if rather some piece of good fortune had happened. Why? “Now is day of salvation.” E.g. battling—perhaps on knees—with our own characteristic temptation. Cry, “Help now!” He answers, “I have heard thee, … now!” So always: with the need, the succour; with the foe, the Friend; with the grief, the grace. Only one moment to live at once, and that the moment of God’s “now” salvation.
IV. Present condition—saved or unsaved—is, our true standing before God.—“Now,” not “yesterday” nor “once,” is the day of any “salvation” that avails us.
1. German poem: Mother holding in arms dying child; its breath going out in short gasps; mother clings tighter, as if to retain the fleeting spirit; when all is over, still clings, as if refusing to believe that she only holds body of her child. So Christian man clings to old membership, old routine of service and worship, long after “spirit” which gave these any value or meaning has departed; clings the more closely, as if to silence the misgiving that all is not as it used to be, nor so well. Our Salvation status before God is a thing of “now.”
2. Oscillating lives, swinging between “Near to God,” “Far from God”; “Near to God,” “Far from God.” Can photograph a swinging pendulum, with instantaneous shutter and rapid plate. What if the “call” which fixes record of our relation to God for ever, photograph us at wrong end of the oscillation?
2 Corinthians 6:9. “Unknown.”
I. This ought never to be true, absolutely.—
1. No persons know this better, or insist upon it more strongly, than the men of the world. They expect of a Christian a character which will not let him slip through the world “unknown” as a Christian. Speak to a non-professor about another, known to you as a professor of religion, and with whom he is in daily business contact, but whose religion is so deep down in the heart that it never finds its way to the surface in the life. Perhaps you get a look of surprise; if, indeed, all the man’s courtesy can repress a long-drawn “Oh!” of astonished incredulity. No greater humiliation, no deeper sorrow, to a Christian minister, who has been, perhaps warmly, commending one of his people, than to hear: “So-and-so a Christian? We who are with him every day would never have found it out. He can be passionate with the most hasty of us! Unforgiving as the hardest! Men say ugly things about his business ways too! Thought you Christians ‘renounced the world’! But So-and-so is thoroughly one of us in all our amusements. So far as we see, he judges by our standards and lives on our principles.” The world knows as well as the Church, that a servant should be more diligent and trusty for being a Christian; that a mother’s conversion should be known by her husband and family. They do not understand a “light of the world,” which is not visible, nor makes perceptible difference in the darkness around. They will ask whether a man can be of the “salt of the earth,” whilst nobody tastes any saltness in his conversation, and he imparts no savour by his life. The world demands that, if religion be what preachers and Bible say it is, the effects on religious men should be palpable and patent, even in the home and in the world; always felt in the life; sometimes, at least, heard from the tongue.
2. Christian is professedly seeking another world than this (Hebrews 11:14). Go with a crowd; you may escape notice. Go against the direction of the movement of a crowd; you cannot but attract attention, perhaps not the most favourable. Become “a marked man” at once. How is he to escape notice, and perhaps not too gentle or friendly notice, whose life-theory implies, “You are going ruin-wards; for safety and life turn [be converted] and go my way”? Live with American or German resident in England for business purposes. Soon discoverable that these are not English fellow-countrymen. Not to speak of the un-English accent, the talk is of “home”—in the States or Germany. The standard for everything is how things are done in America or Germany. Among us, but evidently not of us. So Christians are not seeking a country, “another world”; they already belong to it. Philippians 3:20, “Citizenship is in heaven.” Speech should bewray them. The “home” ought to be yonder; this only the temporary abode for our Master’s purposes and business and work. Judge of men and things by that world’s standards. In India, devotees have their god-mark in ashes upon their foreheads; an experienced observer can tell at once to what god a man is devoted. “Servants of God sealed,” even now, “in their foreheads.” So long as the “spirit of world” (1 Corinthians 2:12) and Spirit of God are so diverse, they in whom they dwell will be as manifestly distinct; the man “in Christ” and the man “of the world” can never be mistaken one for the other. A Christian unknown and unknowable is an anomaly.
3. The Lord is the pattern.—“In the world; world knew Him not” (John 1:10). True; but, literally, they knew Him well enough! He affected no singularity of dress or manners, as John did; yet “He could not be hid.” The centre of attraction, whether of love and gratitude, or of wonder or hate. The best known, loved, hated personage in History to-day. Best known, loved, hated man in Palestine in His time. “As He is, so are we in this world.” “Unknown, yet well known, by holiness in all manner of conversation.”
II. In what sense the words are true.—Look again at the Divine Pattern. They understood not His dignity. The boy in Nazarene village; the young carpenter who had been an ordinary workman and synagogue worshipper amongst His family and neighbours; the young teacher who admitted Peter and his friends to most familiar intercourse;—He is God’s Well-beloved Son tabernacling in flesh. A stupendous fact this, claiming a stupendous faith. Hardly anybody around Him recognised the fact. Brothers thought Him beside Himself, and would not, for a long time, believe in Him. His mother knew the secret of His birth, yet never interposed without bringing on herself His gentle rebuke for her dull, earthly conceptions of Him and of His work. “His own” Nation had expected Him for ages, and with unusual intensity was just then longing for His Advent. He came, and they gave God’s Son, their King, only mockery and a cross. Not a case where “world knows nothing of its greatest men” until they are gone from its midst. A spiritual blindness hid Him from their eyes, and made Him “unknown.” Pilate is typical of the universal “world.” The King stood before him in the judgment hall of Herod’s palace. Pilate only saw a peasant, weary with a night of sleeplessness, anxiety, mockery. Eyes weary; face bruised with stripes and blows; a prisoner with bound hands. He speaks of His kingdom. In unfeigned astonishment Pilate says, “Thou a king, then? Thou!” When the King spoke of a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom whose subjects were “of the truth,” the secret came out. “What is Truth? What do I know, or want to know, about Truth? My business is politics. Thy concern is not truth, but thy life.” Such a King, such a kingdom, such topics, were hidden from the mind and heart of His judges. “Unknown.” So “the Christian is the highest style of man”; the humblest Christian is invested with a true royalty, the highest, the eternal. “Partakers of Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4); free access to the King of kings; all His support and interest at their disposal at every step. “Great expectations” indeed, and the title-deeds in their heart. The world understands pride of “birth,” but being born of God is a thing “unknown” to it. It knows greatness based on power, or wealth, or intellectual endowments; but a greatness based on holiness is “unknown.” An inheritance in the future, in heaven, whose title-deeds are only in the strong-room within the heart, is dreamy, visionary, unpractical, outside its range, and of value only according to a standard of which it knows nothing: it all goes for nothing, when, indeed, it is not subject of ridicule or contempt. Sons of God have a life which is a mystery to themselves: “Wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. To them, the mystery is how it is; to the world, what it is. Christians must be prepared for misconstruction, misrepresentation, scorn, persecution, because their life, experiences, principles, are “spiritual things” unknown by the “natural” man (1 Corinthians 2:14). Conviction of sin is an unaccountable melancholy, a fuss without adequate reason. The peace which follows and crowns his faith in Christ; his new “sonship” and its joy, etc., these are enthusiasm. If the world is bitter, it denounces all these experiences as delusion or worse; if courteous, it says, as one of Sir J.Y. Simpson’s professional friends did of him on his conversion, “I don’t understand this new turn of Simpson’s; yet he is a man of good sense.” “Unknown.” The ignorance may be dense and full of enmity. “Enthusiasm!” “Hypocrites, humbugs.” Their devotion to bringing men to God “must be interest, or money profit of some sort”; their life is “folly” or “pretence”; their religious vocabulary “cant”; their abstinence from worldly pleasures “Pharisaism, moroseness, fanaticism”; their denunciation of “worldly” sin is bigotry, fanaticism. The world knows nothing of such aims, nothing of a soul’s life and its dangers, nothing of the real meaning of sin.
1. What, then, of the “Christians” who are not in this sense “unknown,” whom the world does understand and approve?
2. What of such as are known, rather by a pungent, acrid smoke emitted from the fire within their breast, than by any heat or light from it?
3. What, also, of the world to which Christians are “unknown”?
2 Corinthians 6:10. Rich Poverty.—How necessary to hear the whole of a matter. Hearing only “as poor” we should say: “Here is as sad and drear a lot as mortal ever inherited. The man has lost all heart.” If we heard only the second; “Here is Fortune’s favourite, intoxicated with his uncounted treasures.” The first part of the text must not be explained away; the second cannot be. Paul was not even owner of as much land as would serve him for a grave; yet was a greater possessor than the wealthiest or mightiest of the world. No juggler with words, no maddened enthusiast, rich only in imaginary possessions, was Paul; the houseless wanderer was really possessor of all things.
I. “Having nothing.” Then
1. The truly great are not essentially the visibly rich.—Needs proclaiming in our materialistic age. To a man “well off” many mansions open their doors, whilst they exclude poverty like leprosy. There are circles where wealthy vice has the ready entrée, if only the vice be decently veiled, or not too obtrusive, but where virtue without its £10, 000 would not be admitted for a moment. [And would not desire to be!] How often has the Church in this imitated the world! Paul, as he was, would hardly to-day excite notice or win wide admiration. Self-impoverishment crowns with greatness. His poverty was voluntarily incurred, for Jesus’ sake.
2. It becomes us to make greater self-denials.—There is only worth in our self-denials when ourselves really deny self. It is not often for the reason that we have taken it up, that the cross is heavy.
3. God does not reward His servants with material pay.—He does not attach to material possessions the importance we do. [If they were the “good” men account them, depend upon it “there would be no want” of that good “to them that fear Him.”] He will let us dare and do for Him without a bribe.
4. God’s poor are the “best off.” The Master promised that whoever for Him left houses, lands, or the like, should “receive a hundredfold” here, and then “eternal life.” If there is a servant of Christ bemoaning his poverty, let him lift up his head, and grasp the title-deeds of his rightful heritage, and read in them “as having nothing, yet”
II. “Possessing all things.”—
1. By holding a true relation to them all. The true possession is much more than ownership, or occupation, or merely having. The “possession” of a series of fine paintings is much more than that they are in the man’s gallery, while he has never felt their power, or been enlarged and uplifted by them. He is no “possessor” of a library to whom his books are unread and unreadable. His employe librarian, or his poor, scholarly, neighbour who borrows them, has far more truly a “possession” of them. The Christian man may not own a house or an acre; but the world is for him, as much as for the owner who hath nothing but “the beholding with his eyes” (Ecclesiastes 5:11).
2, It is an entirely false relation to things when their only value or desirableness is to have them to the exclusion of anybody else, which is what “ownership” too often means. The man to whom they are full of God, and who is himself in right relation to God, has the joy they can give and were meant to give. Many a man is really immured in a real dungeon whilst he inhabits his mansion. There is many a man who never walks under the shadow of “his” noble trees, or by the side of “his” lake, or through “his” lovely gardens, but with an aching or empty heart, or with a guilty conscience, or a memory which is a perpetual scourge. The Christian labourer on “his” estate has a far more real heart possession than has the “owner.”
3. Men who fret for what they have not do not own what they have.—[Ahab (1 Kings 20:0); the kingdom has no value because the little vineyard of Naboth is not his.]
4. If a man’s nature is ripened, enriched by things, what like that can make him in such a great sense their owner? Above all
5. By holding a true relation to Christ he becomes possessor of all things (Romans 8:17; Revelation 3:21).—Adapted from H. Martyn, “Homilist,” Third Series, ix. 270.
2 Corinthians 6:10. “Poor, yet making many rich.”—Then want of money is not the greatest, nor an insuperable, hindrance to the success of the Gospel. Else would not He have left the gold-mines a legacy to the Church? There is a something which the Church may have, which will enable it to do the work with little or no money.
I. “The triumphs of the first ages were won by men too poor to claim a home.… The days of the Church’s temporal poverty were the brightest days of its victories. Never did the chariot of the Gospel move on with such celerity and stately moral grandeur, as when it rolled on undrawn by golden chains.”
II. Without this something money will be of no service.—“Money can only give machinery; … a great deal more, already, than is used. Money is constantly creating new machinery and tinkering the old; so that we hear more of the creakings of the human engines in the Church than of the flowing and the soul-stirring music of a Divine life. Money can only do for religion what it can do for art,—it can furnish the paint, the brush, the studio; but the genius, to create a breathing beauty on the canvas, it cannot supply. The true evangelising genius [and the power of the Holy Ghost], without which Churches, colleges, books, [committees, Church legislation, organisation] are so much cumbrous machinery, no wealth can purchase.”
III. The constant cry for money indicates the want of this necessary something.—“Real love is communicative.… The office of love is always that of a priest, evermore presenting itself at the shrine of its object. Don’t ask me to give to objects I love; I can’t help it—love will communicate.”—Extracted from a longer sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:12 by Dr. Thomas, “Homilist,” 6:154, 155.
2 Corinthians 6:10. Cf. “Such as I have give I thee” (Acts 3:6).
I. How much the world owes to Christianity!—Some of its noblest art inspirations and ideals; some of the most elevated and true principles of a real, healthy Socialism; some of its best thoughts about God and about morals. It has given a very real “culture” to the lowest, and otherwise “dangerous,” classes, whom nothing else would have reached or saved from narrow, gross animalism of life and practice. Its thoughts and hopes about God and Christ and salvation and eternity must be acknowledged to be grand, enlarging, ennobling, if even they be not accepted as true. The life of an artisan or a slave in Corinth could not be mean, base, or dangerous to society, where the teachings and life of Christianity were truly apprehended and exemplified. “The stone which the builders rejected,” even many of themselves now acknowledge to have been “the head of the corner.” Christ’s religion is the needed completion of all science; of all education; of all personal character. “Not even now would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue, from the abstract to the concrete, than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life” (John Stuart Mill, Essays on Religion, 253–255).
II. How much a Church often owes to its godly poor!—These are worth, in many ways, all the money and the ministrations spent over them. They keep sympathies tender and active, which might else die for lack of objects on which to spend themselves. They keep the Church life from growing sordidly rich, or hard and worldly; they exemplify another style of “wealth,” constantly reminding their “more fortunate” fellow-members that there is another, larger, worthier life than that which “consisteth in the abundance of the things which a man possesseth.” Happy the wealthy Church which has many poor members to whom Wordsworth’s words may be applied:
“How oft high service is performed within
When all the external man is rude in show,—
Not like a temple rich with pomp and gold,
But a mere mountain chapel, that protects
Its simple worshippers from sun and shower.”
—Prelude, book xiii.
How much of blessing does a Church owe to those who can only contribute their ceaseless prayers to the Church’s wealth!
III. How much, in a similar way, does personal character often owe to contact with a poor, but pious Christian life!—The Christian servant is made an unspeakable, eternal blessing to the master or mistress or to the children, [and perhaps through one of these to a whole generation or age; e.g. how many did the Christian servant “make rich” who led to Christ the child who became “Lord Shaftesbury”!] The rich visitor gets more from the sick sufferer, of ripe grace and bright patience, than the “money’s worth” of what is given in charity! How many will have to say, “My life is richer, infinitely, than it was, since I knew—,” viz. some poor saint of God.
2 Corinthians 6:10. “Poor, yet making many rich. Then—
1. The Gospel is a system intended to enrich men.—Some systems of religion impoverish mind, body, estate. They invade a man’s secular rights, and extort the product of his labour; blind his spiritual sensibilities, fetter his intellect, warp his judgment, ruin his soul. The Gospel enriches the soul with noble thoughts, high purposes, elevating hopes; with Divine fellowship, purity of heart, harmony of being. This soul-wealth is inalienable; it becomes part of the man; Omnia sua secum portat; it is a treasure laid up in the imperishable heavens of his spiritual being. Its value is absolute; for all worlds and ages, for time, for eternity.
2. It enriches man through the agency of “poor men.”—Of men. The treasure is put into earthen vessels. The man who really receives the Gospel, moreover, becomes at once a willing agent to communicate. Of poor men. The poor can, and in fact do, receive the Gospel to a greater extent than any other class. The Saviour, opening His commission at Nazareth, declared Himself anointed—made a Christ—specially that He might preach the Gospel to the poor. There is no special decree indeed which places a barrier before any one class; the door of mercy is thrown open to all. It is that the influence of worldly wealth biases the heart against the true riches. The poor can become morally rich. And it is a more glorious fact that they can propagate the Gospel which enriches them. The Master and His fishermen-disciples were its first missionaries; and in all ages some of its finest theologians, organisers, missionaries, pastors, have sprung from the ranks of the poor. We see, then,—
I. The kind of instrumentality on which the diffusion of God’s Gospel necessarily depends.—It manifestly does not depend on legislative enactments, worldly influence, high culture, great literary attainment. It can use these; it puts their highest honour upon them by using these; their chief glory is to serve the Gospel of Christ. Certainly not even money is indispensable. It may be well, and nobly, used; but Paul could dispense with it. It can provide the men, the means, the machinery, for the work. With these—but without these, if need be—the man filled with the Spirit, burning with love to Christ, taught of God, walking in all holiness, though he may speak no language but his own, and even that imperfectly, has the power to propagate the Gospel.
II. No Christian man is freed from the obligation to diffuse the Gospel of God.—Even the poor man is not. He may not in over-diffidence dream of devolving what even he can do, upon the rich or wise or great. The responsibility of wealth, of leisure, of education, is very great; they who have these must give account for five talents. But the poor man must be a faithful servant with his one. The poor can “make many rich”; then their ability is their responsibility.
III. There is no ground for self-gratulation upon success.—When the poorest and simplest men prove capable of achieving the grandest spiritual results, there is no alternative but to trace success to God. And then from such instances we learn to eliminate from all combinations of contributary causes, God’s power, as the primary and essential cause. The men in all ages who have been most successful in imparting spiritual riches, have always been distinguished by their self-abnegating spirit. Then—
IV. This highest honour is within the reach of all.—What higher honour than to be the human instrument in the regeneration of a soul? Even to awaken and train a sleeping intellect is great. The patient, skilful love which put the deaf, blind, mute Laura Bridgman into real communication with a world in which she lived, but which seemed hopelessly shut off from her, was no mean glory to Dr. Howe, of Boston, U. S. A. But to awaken a soul to a desire after God; to bring it into touch with the surrounding, but unknown, spiritual world; to bring it definitely into the possession of Christ,—is the highest honour, and fills him who accomplishes the task with the purest, grandest joy which a man can taste outside heaven’s gate. To make a beggar, orphan, lost soul the happy possessor of “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” the happy child of the Divine Father, recovered from the initial, present death and ruin of sin, is an honour angels might covet. But it is granted to men only: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It has been again and again granted to poor men. All necessary ministrations of man to man are level to the ability of every man to render. This most necessary ministration is open to every man who is himself a happy possessor of the kingdom within his own soul.
V. Happily then we may hope for the universal diffusion of the Gospel.—For suitable instruments, at least in one particular, are sure to be always available in plenty; there will at least never be any dearth of men who are qualified to say, “As having nothing.” If, too, it had depended on a learned caste, or a wealthy class, or a political power, there might have been justification for a priesthood, an oligarchy, an Establishment. To spread the Gospel, in the first instance only needed men who had little, or none, of such accompaniments and accessories to their work. And the Gospel can use them or can dispense with them still.—In part adapted from “Homilist,” New Series, iv. 217.
2 Corinthians 6:2. Now; because—
I. The business is urgent: Finding God’s salvation.—Enter some Galilæan village in the Spring of A.D. 27 or 28. Whole village astir. Everybody in the streets. Some hobbling along on crutches; some tottering and shaking with palsied limbs, glad to lean on some stronger arm; some blind, groping their way as if in midnight darkness; some minus a limb altogether; some with withered limbs that hang stiff like dead branches on a living trunk; some dragging themselves wearily; some borne on their little mattress-“bed” by sturdy bearers. A field day of the cripples and the sick of that Galilæan village! What does it mean? Why all converging to one particular house? Or, the Passover of A. D. 29. Crowds throng every high-road in Palestine. One largest company of pilgrims, like a living flood, reaches, rolls through, and soon leaves, Jericho. A shady nook near the city gate; a beggar—two—blind Bartimæus and his companion. They hear the crowd. They learn the cause. Spite of the hushing of bystanders, again and again before the Chief Pilgrim reaches them, their shrill cry is raised: “Son of David! Son of David!” Those are “seeking the Lord while He may be found.” These latter are “calling upon Him while He is near.” The business is urgent. Try to detain one of those cripples or blind men with a good story; tempt him to turn back with you for a good dinner or a handful of money. Not he! It is only sinners who commit the folly of suffering themselves to be detained or diverted from Christ by some tempting amusement, by sensuous enjoyment, by worldly business. The bystanders sought to hush down the beggars. As pride, or shame, or fear, or social or domestic pressure put on, would suppress or silence the demonstrative concern and the unconventionally urgent outcry of a guilty soul, which wants Christ’s help. “No; I cannot tarry for you. I cannot hush for you. Until I have made this sure, I have no ear, no leisure, for anything else. What must I do to be saved? Leave me to find Christ!” Bunyan not drawing a fancy picture when he makes Christian flee “at full stretch” from City of Destruction, fingers in ears, crying, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!” He had known it himself. Every man under the Spirit’s conviction of sin knows how urgent the business.
II. The time is fitting.—Every stage of life is; youth; opening manhood and womanhood; maturity of strength and prime of vigour or beauty of character; days of waning power, but of sobering thought and heart. No age to which this present salvation is not congruous. Early morning, rising noon, fulness of afternoon light and warmth, evening’s chastened daylight; all are right times. But the earliest is the best. Religion never unsuitable; becomes a man at any stage of life. Life wants its final touch of completeness and beauty, so long as it has not this. “Comes harder” at each later stage. Numa Pompilius and the Sibylline books.
III. The circumstances are favourable.—Particularly the primary condition of all. God says “Now.” He is pledged to “Now,” but to no other time. On this word a soul may plead: “Remember this word unto Thy servant, in which Thou hast caused me to hope.”
IV. The opportunity is limited.—
1. True of nations, so far as history can be read with human eyes. They have their “day of salvation” (Luke 19:44). Perhaps, e.g., we may think that France knew not of its “now” opportunity in the sixteenth century, when Reformation activities and life and grace were neglected and finally put away in massacre and murder.
2. True of individuals. May not limit the power and freedom of God’s grace further than He limits it. But the complete offer of the Gospel always includes, expressly or by implication, a limit to the availableness of the offer. E.g. in Isaiah 55:6-7, referred to above. Men may seek when He is not to be found, may call when He is not near. A limit seems irrevocably placed sometimes. Thus: Man cooperates with God in this “salvation,” by repentance and faith. What then of the senile decay of mind which seems to make the very conception of repenting and believing no longer possible, and which makes it impossible to arouse attention for the very name of Jesus? What of the breathing, but paralysed body and hopelessly senseless brain, to which the minister is sometimes asked to come in to offer prayer beside it? What of the fixed habits, the world-indurated heart, impervious to, impracticable for, man’s appeal, and from which the very Spirit of God seems “grieved” away? Let it be noted that this closing of the opportunity is never in this life a matter of the mere (arbitrary) will of God. As in salvation, so in this limitation,—whenever it occurs,—man has cooperated with God, and has by his own choice and act contributed to it. [Also: “Now” in “Remember now thy Creator,” etc., must not be emphasised if the appeal is being made to the young. It is only the particle of entreaty, and is not temporal in sense.]
2 Corinthians 6:2. God hath spoken once; yea, twice have I heard Him.”
I. An offer twice repeated.—A “time of acceptance”; a “day of salvation.”
II. A double summons to attention.—“Behold”; “behold.”
III. A double indication of time.—“Now!” “now!”—[J. L.]
2 Corinthians 6:2. A Present Salvation.
I. It needs to be; you want it now.
II. It ought to be; God offers it now.
III. It may be; all things are ready now.
IV. It must be; to-morrow is not yours.—[J. L.]
2 Corinthians 6:4-10. “Approved” [N. B. not the frequent Pauline word in, e.g., Romans 16:10] Ministers of God.
I. Their work.
II. Their trials.
III. Their conduct.
IV. Their consolations.—[J. L.]
2 Corinthians 6:7. A Shield of “Triple Brass.”
I. The word of truth defends a Christian’s faith.
II. The power of God defends his experience.
III. The armour of righteousness defends his practice.—[J. L.]
2 Corinthians 6:11-13. What shall we Ministers have, therefore?
I. Ministerial zeal.
II. Ministerial disappointment.
III. Ministerial recompense.—[J. L.]
Then, further, the passage may be
lifted to a higher plane. Thus does God appeal to His people. Their thoughts, views, hopes, life, experiences, are narrow. He would have them know, enjoy, a larger life and larger hope and liberty. The narrowness is in themselves, not in His heart or design or Gospel provision. They enter Canaan, indeed; but having taken their Jericho, and having won their first victories, they are content to camp about Gilgal; whilst “there remaineth much land to be possessed” (Joshua 13:1). Their enlargement, both of affection and receptiveness, is the “recompense” God desires, for all His “enlarged” heart of merciful design and provision for their well-being. Carey’s motto: “Do great things for God; expect great things from God.” Bring a big vessel when you come to receive God’s bounty. “Open thy mouth wide”—i.e. “sitting a guest at His table, let Him dip His hand in the dish, and, in token of favour and honour, give thee a large portion into thy opened mouth.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1
The paragraph may be gathered up round the central figure—
The Temple of the Living God.—The Church collectively, then, is:—
I. The scene of special Divine manifestation.—
1. His manifestation makes “holy ground.” The flame which played harmless around the Bush in Horeb made a spot where, for the nonce, every man must tread with bare feet. [I.e. he is no better than the poorest or than a slave when he stands there in the presence of God; seen from God’s elevation all disparities of rank are merged in one common lowliness.] So whilst God is manifest in all His works,—in Nature to those who have eyes opened to see Him; in mankind,—for there is no need to deny, no honour done to God or the Church in denying, that God by the redemptive Gift of the Spirit, is amongst all men, of every race and religion and age; yet He is most conspicuously manifest in His choicest Work, His Church. So also a Church has no holiness unless He be in its midst, in its means of grace, in its success, in its members: all, in all. Solomon built his Palace for Jehovah, as Moses’ workmen had, long before, made the Tent; but, until God entered, and in both “dwelt amongst them,” the one was a Palace only, and not a Temple, and the other was only a tent, larger and of more costly materials than the others round it, but not the Tabernacle. [Cf. even the theory of classical heathenism (Smith, Dictionary of Antiq.): “It was necessary then for a temple to be sanctioned by the gods, whose will was ascertained by the augurs, and to be consecrated or dedicated by the will of man (pontiffs). When the sanction of the gods had not been obtained, and where the mere act of man had consecrated a place to the gods, such a place was only a sacrum, sacrarium, or sacellum.”] So, also, let there be an organisation of the most thorough and perfect, part and part closely articulated, wisely related, admirably adapted to its high purpose; let wealth, numbers, influence, all fill the Church roll; yet if there be no presence of God, there is no Church. If He be not amongst them, they are not His people. “Your house—not My—is left unto you,” was said when the material fabric was at its culmination of beauty and glory, the treasury never better filled, the ritual never better observed, the show of religiosity never greater in all the history of Israel. But no Shekinah, though a Holy of Holies was there still; no Presence, to be hid by as splendid a Veil as had ever been wrought. Pompey was amazed to find the inmost shrine empty. The world sometimes makes proof of the Church; the inquirer penetrates within, and within again; is it only to find a Most Holy without a God? Then that “Church” is no Temple of God; or is one no longer. The inquirer finds in even a half-organised Church like that of Corinth: “God is among you of a truth” (1 Corinthians 14:25).
2. This is the glory of the Church.—When Solomon substituted Temple for Tabernacle, everything was new, with one exception; everything but that was more costly and on a larger scale. The same ark was brought into the new Sanctuary from the old. Looked, perhaps, small, unsuitable, unworthy, “mean”; its art very far beneath that of the grand new shrine of Solomon’s “advanced” days. But he dared not change that. The throne of Jehovah, His mercy-seat [=“throne of grace,” with the elements of the name reversed], the testimony of His Law,—all these must be the same. The same God must own, hallow, inhabit, the new Who had in that way made the old a dwelling-place of God on earth. [As, then, the continuous connection with the same personality year after year is no small note of the identity of the body; so also, that the organisation should, age after age, be the dwelling-place (or, to change the figure, the ὄργανον) of the same God, is one of the notes of the One Church, in all the Churches, ages, creeds, lands.]
II. Separated that it may be this.—
1. Here again the Jewish idea coincided with the heathen; it was universal. In classical heathenism, e.g., the separateness was of the essential of a temple. In strictness the templum, like the Greek τέμενος, was the separated area, within which usually rose the special building that came to appropriate the name of Temple. It was, literally, marked off, as well as hallowed by rite and sacrifice, from the outside area beyond. Tabernacle and Temple in Israel had their surrounding court and open space, as well as the true shrine [the ναός of this passage] which stood in its midst. [Cf. the “bounds” set round the base of Sinai.] If God is to dwell in the midst of a people, peculiarly His own (Titus 2:14), His own purchased possession, they must “come out and be separate.”
2. Separateness is inevitable, whether we start from the requirement of the nature of God, or from the innate difference between the “sons and daughters” and the “enemies” of God (James 4:4). “What communion? What fellowship? What part?” It lies in the ἐκ-of ecclesia. The congregation called together, is first of all called out from the world. Singularity is not necessarily the true separateness; oddity is not certainly or invariably holiness, or a mark of it. No virtue in mere disconformity. But given the holiness, given the real heart separateness, then outward distinction, of perhaps a very marked type, is inevitable. None know it, or expect it, with a more sure instinct than do the excluded “world.” If the figure be pushed so far, as it may, and—to correspond with the facts—must often be; if, in the very Temple of the Church there be, as in the literal Temple of sacred antiquity, an outer court of inferior holiness, and an inner court, and again an inmost building, with its shrine; yet even the outer court must have its wall. It cannot be left the mere open ground, undistinguishable from the space beyond. Certainly the Church is not co-extensive with the redeemed Race. “Come out from among them.”
3. The customary code of distinctions between Christians and non-Christians, between Church and world,—not only formulated in registered membership, or in attendance at the Lord’s Table, but in amusements, books, friendships, and the like,—is no gratuitous limitation of liberty or pleasure,—which are naturally as desirable to Christians as to anybody else; it is only the orderly statement of the issue of repeated, numerous, varied experiments, and these often made by those who would not unwillingly have discovered, if it had been possible, a modus vivendi under which Church and world need not have stood so sharply apart. The things “tabooed” are only so put under ban, because often verified experiment has shown, either that they are the expressions of a heart-alienation from God, or that they minister to it; a heart which cannot be that of “sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.”
4. Particular case of this, often drawn out from 2 Corinthians 6:14 : Mixed marriages. [Obviously there are many other cases, analogous in the principle which governs them.] It is a false start in “building the house” (Psalms 127:1), when a young couple stand side by side before God, to “plight their wedding troth either to other,” perfectly fitted for each other, physically, in education, in character, in social status,—perfectly, in all but the one thing. For years, perhaps, to have every taste, every interest, in common, their two wills working together in perfect harmony, the “twain one,”—until they come to the deepest interest of all; then, deeply sundered! Not a secret between them, except here. They can talk about everything else together, with the most open-hearted confidence, but on the Dearest Friendship, upon the deepest joys and sorrows, the closest interests of all, the lips of one are closed. It is a poor fulfilment of the ideal of marriage, when, as the two travel side by side on life’s journey, there is between them the deep and far-reaching cleavage which parts between the new creation and the old nature. A poor finish to the married life, when, after fifty, sixty years, during which husband and wife have lovingly lived one life, the wife, perhaps, goes forward to her part in the “inheritance incorruptible,” etc., and he, to find that he has been “treasuring up wrath against the Day of wrath.” Peter (1 Peter 3:7) has a fine expression: “Heirs together of the Grace of Life,” i.e. heirs of the “Life which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 2:15, best reading), and which is a “grace” of God. An ideal marriage is suggested there. Husband and wife marrying with “great expectations” indeed! Jointly heirs of Life; both with Life eternal as a holy, glorious reversion. Fellow-travellers, helpers of each other’s weary footsteps. Held together by the profound common understanding which “spiritual” have with “spiritual.” An “unequally yoked” marriage usually either means “a cross” for life for the Christian—a cross of his own making, never designed for him by God—or that Christian turning back again into the world.
Some Christian business men will take no partner but a Christian, on the very intelligible ground that, since religion is to come into business, as into all else in their life, it may occur—in fact, it does—that they should on principle be divided as to the acceptance or non-acceptance of a business proposal, or as to the following up, or the turning aside from, a promising opening. In all such matters, the Christian man is accustomed to do nothing without reference to a great Adviser, Whose “advice,” once obtained, he is bound to follow. But if his partner can be told nothing of this Divine Counsellor? If all such motives and reasons seem to him amiable but unpractical “ideals,” with which he has scant patience? “What communion?” etc. Take the best specimen of the man of the world in business, and take a poor specimen of Christian,—it may be possible to show the “worldling” more admirable. But take one of the many fine samples of Christian men of business, one whose religion permeates and pervades, and has a real hold upon, every transaction with the outside world, and upon all his dealings with his employés; “yoke” him—not by any means with the worst specimen of worldly man, but—with a man of fair, or very good, business character who, however, makes no claim or attempt to “mix up religion with business”; it is inevitable, either that the Christian man must sooner or later adjust himself to the standard of his yoke-fellow, or that their relations will be strained till they both discover, “What part hath he that believeth?” etc. “Unequally yoked” in pleasure-taking will follow similar lines. More decidedly than in other cases must the word often be used in regard to this, “the unclean thing.” Novels whose motif is some irregular relation between man and woman; “irregular” being euphemistic for adultery or fornication, at least such as is condemned in the Court of the Great Judge of hearts (Matthew 5:27-28). Plays whose code of morality will not bear being laid by the side of the rule of even the surface reading of the Ten Commandments, to say nothing of their deeper, searching significance, touching motive and secret thought. Places whose atmosphere and associations are notoriously unfriendly to the spiritual life; where the non-Christian does not expect to find a Christian man. Say to him: “What are you doing, reading that book,—you, a Christian?” Or, “What affinity can bring you here,—you, a Christian?” “What possible liking can you have for the atmosphere of this place?” Of no practical service to discuss or defend what “might be”; to discuss ideals of books, pleasures, places, friendships, which are simply visionary, and “in the air.” Of very much of the actual, concrete recreation (in the widest sense) of the non-Christian community, one must say to the Christian, “Come out, … be separate.” The healthy, vigorous, spiritual life will secure, will create, a definite, far-reaching separateness, befitting the “temple of God.” On no other conditions can God dwell amongst His people. The Temple must be kept for Him, and for Him alone.
III. The obligation lies on every Christian man to keep the Temple separate from sin.—There are no merely official guardians of the holiness of the Temple of God. Christ made Himself a pattern of the duty of every Christian to vindicate the holiness of Jehovah’s sanctuary. He had no official authority, to purify the Temple courts as He did. At most, it was the extraordinary, self-vindicating prerogative of a Zealot or a Prophet. But every man who is a member of the new Israel of God must regard himself as a guardian of the sanctity of Jehovah’s dwelling-place. The Temple is nothing, as distinct from its component “sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.” It has indeed a corporate holiness which each one of them must guard; but their personal holiness underlies the corporate. Unholy Christians cannot make a holy Church. Hence the illustration of the Temple passes over into that of a holy Family, whose every “son and daughter” is to be jealous for the family honour; and this again passes over in 2 Corinthians 7:1 to that of a personal “cleansing from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” The Temple in this paragraph is the actual Temple-building only. But it is noteworthy how Christ would have even the Outer Court hallowed. What He cleansed was the great marble-paved Court of the Gentiles. “Would suffer no man to carry any vessel through it” (Mark 11:16). The life of the Church, like the life of the individual Christian, has its outer court, as well as its inner and its inmost shrine. All lies within the holy precinct; all is part of the Temple; and even the outer-court life—the business-meeting, the finance, the organisation, and much more the philanthropy and social work—must be kept holy. “Separateness” is the law throughout; “no touching of the unclean” thing must be tolerated, even in these. The Church must, e.g., have clean hands when she touches money, and must handle none which would defile her. The Church, the Christian Temple, has its outer court of personal attachments. There is a Church within the Congregation. See in Acts 21:28-29 a vivid illustration of a zeal which should find its higher, its highest, embodiment in the Christians to whom our paragraph appeals. They thought Paul had brought the Gentile Trophimus, not only into the Court of the Gentiles, but beyond, into the inner court reserved for Israelites. M. Clermont Ganneau some years ago found built into a door-jamb in Jerusalem one of the marble tablets which were inserted into the boundary-wall of the Court of Israel in the Temple of Herod: “LET NO MAN OF OTHER RACE ENTER HERE ON PAIN OF DEATH.” Whatever welcome into its outer court the Church may give to all who care to come thus far from the outside into a holy precinct of approach to God, she must have an inner Court of Israel. If the “unequally yoked” man may bring his partners in the yoke so far as into the outer court, they may come no farther. No heathen alliance must find lodging within the holy Temple itself (Nehemiah 13:4-9). Every man will be a Christian Zealot for the honour and the purity of the Temple; every son of God Almighty will regard himself as charged with the care of the honour of the family for holiness; he will “cleanse himself,” lest he be the occasion of defilement or dishonour to the Temple in which he has a place. Note, that all this is put by way of exhortation, and not of obligation only. Paul reasons; God calls; He allures to separateness and holiness by gracious promises. Every man of God’s Church shall be a Solomon, to whom Jehovah will be “a Father.” [Further material on this Temple topic may be found under 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29