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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.]
2 Corinthians 7:1. Therefore.—This verse a branch broken from 2 Corinthians 6:16-18. This word is like the jagged fibres which tell of the violence, and point back to the parent stem. Having.—Observe, the evangelical generalising of the scope of, and ownership in, these Old Testament sentences (see Appended Note). Cleanse ourselves.—“Deliverance from sin, although … God’s work in us, is yet obtained by our own moral effort and our own faith. It therefore depends upon ourselves whether we are made clean.” (Beet.) Beet adds: “The aor. subj. exhorts us, not to a gradual and progressive, but to a completed, cleansing from all defilement. So Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:5; Colossians 3:8; 1 John 1:9.” Spirit.—Observe, even the Godward, most Godlike part of our (tri-partite) nature may be “defiled.” All filthiness.—As usual in St. Paul, “all” is “All kinds, types, aspects, degrees, of,” etc. Not this or that one particular pollution. Cf. condemning “sins we have no mind to,” excusing those “we’re most inclined to.” A very subtle temptation is this moral partiality when we are cutting off our sins. [We “spare the best of the sheep and of the oxen,” etc. (1 Samuel 15:3; 1 Samuel 15:9).]
2 Corinthians 7:2. Receive.—Verbally distinct from 2 Corinthians 6:17; related in suggestion. R R.V. has “open your hearts to us”; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 and Acts 20:3. See how Paul repeats Samuel’s challenge of old (1 Samuel 12:3) (cf. also John 8:46). As to these charges against Paul (perhaps not very distinctly formulated, but rather gathered from hints, and from their bearing towards Titus), see under 2 Corinthians 12:16-18. Corrupted.—Perhaps not stronger than in 1 Corinthians 3:17.
2 Corinthians 7:3.—Observe, “I” begins here in the Epistle. Ye … in our hearts. Cf. the curiously (grammatically) ambiguous sentence, Philippians 1:7. Stanley compares Horace: “Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam libens.”
2 Corinthians 7:4. Boldness.—Reverts to 2 Corinthians 3:1 to 2 Corinthians 4:6, particularly 2 Corinthians 3:12. “To them he speaks without reserve strong words of warning; to others he speaks about them glowing words of joy and confidence” (Beet).
2 Corinthians 7:5.—“Observe, “even” (R.V.); the “afflictions” of “Asia,” 2 Corinthians 1:8-11—the story of which is continued up to Troas, in ii. 13—were not at an end even when he crossed over into Macedonia. No rest.—Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:13. “Rest” in the sense of the unstringing of a bow, or of the strings of a lyre; “no relief from the constant tension” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). Fightings.—Human opponents, unknown to us (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32). Fears.—One can bear anything from without, if only the heart be light; but to have fears within!
2 Corinthians 7:6-7.—Observe, the Father a Paraclete, as in 2 Corinthians 1:4 [making Paul in his turn a Paraclete to others]. Cast down.—Note (as in R.V.) an adjective—“the lowly”—not a participle. [The combination of “affliction,” “reft,” “comfort by the parousia of Titus,” recalls 2 Thessalonians 1:7 again.] Observe, “while” he was telling his good news, and describing what he had seen at Corinth, the “comfort” with which Titus had left the city, was visibly renewed and intensified, to the added comfort also of Paul himself, who was already greatly cheered by the very presence of Titus with him. “Longing” for me; “Mourning” that you had grieved me, “zeal” to do my wishes.
2 Corinthians 7:8.—“Regret” (R.V.) better than “repent” (A. V.). My Epistle.—Viz. 1 Cor. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8).
2 Corinthians 7:9.—Sorrow (like joy, or like self-denial) is of no moral worth in itself; only worth anything as a means to an end,—here “to repentance,” Asceticism makes sorrow and self-mortification to be ends, of worth in themselves. Receive damage.—“Suffer loss” (R.V.); i.e. “Had their sorrow been without result, it would have been an injury, a small and under-signed one, caused to them by Paul. God designed [?] their sorrow to be a means of blessing, so that not even in the least degree they might receive injury from the Apostle.” (Beet.)
2 Corinthians 7:10.—Choose between
(1) “Repentance,” and
(2) “Salvation,” “not to be regretted” The play upon the word and thought turns the balance in favour of
(1). Observe, “the world” can share in sorrow; God cannot sorrow. Hence “the sorrow of the world”; but “sorrow according to (the mind of) God.”
2 Corinthians 7:11. “This … thing, viz., that ye sorrowed,” etc.; “carefulness” not now so good a word as “earnest care” (R.V.); “vehement desire” same word as “earnest desire” (2 Corinthians 7:7); both give way to “longing” (R.V.). “Carefulness” is expounded in the six following particulars (as in Conybeare and Howson): “What eagerness to clear yourselves from blame, what indignation (against the offender), what fear (of the wrath of God), what longing (for restoration to Paul’s approval and love), what zeal (on behalf of right and against wrong), what punishment of wrong.” Somewhat differently, Stanley draws out a “conflict of feelings”: “Self-defence (for their sin), self-accusation (against it), fear (of Paul’s arrival), longing (for it), zeal (against the offender), punishment (of his sin).” More briefly Farrar: “Self-defence and indignation against wrong, and a fear and yearning toward me, and zeal for God, and punishment of the offender.” Surely not (as some) that they had—even a majority of them—been pure all along in this matter; else his strictures were undeserved, or his informants had overstated the facts. Surely rather, approved themselves—manifestly showed themselves—to be now clear in the matter of the incestuous person.
2 Corinthians 7:12. His cause, etc.—Viz. the father of the offender (1 Corinthians 5:1). Cf. again, the many concurrent, consistent motives in chap. 2. See how one object out of many is stated so strongly as to seem the only object, and also how the conception of an object indirectly secured runs into that of an object distinctly contemplated. (Cf. Winer, Grammar, on ἵνα, Part III., § liii., 6.) Observe the change in R.V., on account of the reading which makes the first and second personal pronoun change places. For
(1) the R.V. is the recurrence of the word in 2 Corinthians 7:11; for
(2) the A. V., the greater simplicity of sense; and “unto you” is in
(2) superfluous, unless with some far-fetched idea that he desired to show to the Corinthians their truer, better selves qua their feelings toward him.
2 Corinthians 7:15.—Cf. their reception of Titus with that which Paul deprecated in the case of Timothy (1 Corinthians 16:10).
2 Corinthians 7:16. I have confidence.—Meaning not, “I trust in you,” but, “I am now entirely reassured about you.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 7:1
1. 2 Corinthians 7:1 really belongs by all right to the preceding chapter, and in any continuous exposition should be taken along with it. There is no Divine inspiration about the division of the Bible into chapters and verses. Indeed, there seems sometimes to have been a very sudden failure of human “inspiration” about the apportionment of the matter into such sections. 1 Corinthians 11:1 plainly belongs to chap. 10; the new paragraph before us as plainly commences at 2 Corinthians 7:2. This verse is just a summary conclusion drawn from several Old Testament promises to Solomon and to Israel, in which Paul, taught by the guiding and illuminating Spirit of God, sees promises for every man who has become a son of God by his faith in Christ Jesus,—every man of the spiritual Israel.
2. The gist of these promises is that men may be admitted into the Favour, the Family, the Fellowship, of God. “I will be their God; they … My people.” “I … their Father; they My sons and daughters.” “I will be to them an indwelling God; they shall be, soul and body, a temple for Me.” Dominion and defence on God’s side; obedience and reverence and love on man’s side. Indeed, love on both sides; fatherly on this, filial on that. Then comes the indwelling, bringing illumination, purity, and glory.
3. And as Paul remembers what these Corinthians had been, his heart is kindled and glows within him, as promise after promise rises to his view and is dictated to his amanuensis. He found them without God, almost at the farthest remove from Him of all the heathen world. Yet, “I will be their God; they shall be My people.” A few years before he had found them utterly unholy; unlike, and hateful to, a holy God. Yet here is an offer: “I will be a Father to them; they, the wretched and vile, shall be My—My—sons and daughters.” Their hearts had been the temples of indwelling devilry; they should become the shrines of indwelling Deity.
4. “Having therefore these promises,” etc. [Illustrate by the advertisements of unclaimed dividends; of articles found for which owners are wanted; the tempting lists of heirs wanted for unclaimed estates. So] shall these promises, these so great blessings, such fellowship with God, lie unapplied for, unclaimed, unappropriated? Shall the “sons of God” live beggars and in want, when all this is open, and “on offer”?
5. Only, all “filthiness of flesh and spirit must be put away.” [This link of thought lies condensed into the one word “for,” in 1 Peter 1:16, where God’s holiness is the foundation reason for the holiness of His people. The “for” may be read:
(1) Vindicate your sonship; show the family likeness, the likeness to your Father. “Ye shall be, … because I am.”
(2) “Let us have fellowship. I want it; your heart needs it. But there can be none unless ye are holy “for I am holy.”
(3) “Do not force Me to withdraw from the fellowship. Put away sin, or I must. Ye shall be, … for I am,” etc.]
6. “Flesh” and “spirit” is only a quasi-popular statement of an all-inclusive range of requirement. Perhaps, if any line of division is to be traced, it will be this: There are sins which depend upon a bodily organisation for their occasion and possibility, whereas there are many forms of sin which could as easily be, and actually are, committed by devils and the disembodied spirits of the lost.]
Sorrow upon Sorrow; Comfort upon Comfort (2 Corinthians 7:2-7; 2 Corinthians 7:13-16).
I. Sorrow upon sorrow.—
1. An apostle is himself “in heaviness through manifold temptations” (James 1:2). No man certainly had a richer Christian life than he. No man understood more fully than Paul how “the peace of God—passing understanding—could guard the heart and the thoughts, through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). No man more fully accepted and embraced the truth that “All things work together for good.” Surely no man was more entirely lifted above all self-centering of life than he who said, “Neither count I my life dear unto me,” etc. (Acts 20:24). Yet he is deeply “moved” by the experiences of these painful months. This Second Epistle is an itinerary, where every step of the way is connected with trouble. This Apostolic sower goes forth into the field of the world, with his seed basket of precious seed, weeping every step of the way he just now takes. Many adversaries at Ephesus; trouble there until he despaired of life (chap, i.); himself going about for weeks a man as good as sentenced to death, his life seeming to be worth no longer purchase than that of a condemned criminal; perhaps in poor health through excessive anxiety about his Corinthian Church, certainly greatly distressed about the news he has received of the condition of that Church. And now he has made for himself a new anxiety, by sending his sharp letter of rebuke and disciplinary instruction, the nature of the reception of which is a very uncertain matter indeed. His departure from Ephesus has been precipitated by the riot of Demetrius and the guild of silversmiths, though he had intended in any case soon to finish his work at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8); at Troas he is so distressed about Corinth, and at not meeting Titus there with news from that city, that, restless in spirit, he cannot settle down to work, but with an anxious heart hurries across to Macedonia. And now even Macedonia is no asylum. There is no rest for his flesh there. “Fightings without, fears within.” Beset and burdened, he has almost come to the end of all strength. He is only just “not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). And to any man of sensitive honour, such suspicions or accusations as are suggested in 2 Corinthians 7:1 will not be the least heavy burden. True his own conscience does not accuse him; before God he is clear; his reputation may be left with God. Yet it were folly to attempt not to feel such charges, unwelcome addition as they are to the distresses of the time.
2. Such a sample case is serviceable as a standard of the possibilities of Christian experience, for the comfort of many distressed children of God. Distressed most of all by the fear that their “heaviness” is dishonouring to God’s grace and its keeping and sustaining power; afraid that they are grieving the Spirit of God by not so “rejoicing evermore” that, though perhaps sorrow be accumulated upon their head and heart, or though circumstances be such as to put faith and endurance to an uttermost test, or though they be alone, friendless, misunderstood by those who ought to know them and respect or love them, they are not lifted up to a level of insensibility to, of inaccessibility to, such “natural” considerations and feelings. “Ought they not to feel nothing?” they ask. Well, at any rate there was no such Stoical indifference in Paul; his was no American Indian insensibility to torture; no statuesque impassiveness, no matter what happened, blow heat, blow cold, be it sunshine or storm. Paul felt—felt keenly—with distressing, and almost killing, intensity; and showed it too. His heart hungered for human sympathy. The days seemed terribly long till Titus came! “Ought not a Christian man to be able to disregard all human opinion, whether censure or praise; to care nothing whether men understand him or not, so long as the Master smiles upon him?” At all events, Paul was no such cast-iron, machine-made man with a merely mechanical heart, to which everything was simply a matter of indifference, and which, with unaffected regularity, went rigorously on with its beating, as the man might do with his work. The possibilities of grace are unspeakably large. The peace of God might “keep” us, with a power too seldom even apprehended by the people of God. Most of them set the standard too low, and hope for too little; and they live lower than even their low standard, and on a more narrow scale than even their meagre hopes. Yet exaggerated expectations are an evil and a mischief. Grace is above nature, and lifts nature up gloriously; but it works through nature. It does not dehumanise the saint. Neither Paul, nor Paul’s Divine Master, was indifferent to pain. Nor does God expect His people not to feel. He is entirely reasonable (to use a human word) in what He expects from them. Heaviness is one thing; darkness is another. The lowliest child of God need never come into darkness. “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness.” An apostle may be in heaviness. And no fulness of gifts or grace will, or need be expected to, exempt a man from feeling and smarting and sorrowing. [All will be bright and warm and “tight” within, yet the storm that howls around the house and thunders against the barred door and tightly closed shutters will not be a matter of indifference when its mighty force makes the very house tremble to its foundations, until more than a passing fear visits the heart of those who cheer themselves with its fire and light, lest their very shelter should after all fall about their ears. And if “fears within” seem to make it hard to keep the fire blazing and the lamp burning!] The storm will indeed not disturb the deepest depths of “the peace of God,” but its “surface” commotion may go far down. There will be a holy of holies of peace and security within a Paul, into which no foot of distressing circumstance shall ever intrude; but all the outer courts of the temple of the humanity may, for a while, be in possession of an overwhelming mob of anxious, distressing thoughts.
3. Yet there is a limit beyond which these shall not pass. [Weights may be heaped upon the strong steel spiral spring until it snaps, or at least until its elasticity is gone, and until there is no resilient power left when the pressure is removed.] “Sorrow upon sorrow,” but there is a ne plus ultra. [Cf. Philippians 2:27 for a beautiful case in point.] All but up to the breaking-point, but never beyond it. “My feet had well nigh slipped;” well nigh, no more. The night may darken, and darken, and darken; bad in Ephesus, no better in Troas; no relief in Macedonia. But the light comes at last; Titus comes, for one thing. There is always a daybreak to a man of God (Psalms 112:4). They who wait, even “out of the depths,” watching “as they who watch for the morning,” watch for what is certain to come. An apostle, as well as many a humbler member of the great Church of Christ, may be brought, pushed, driven, to “man’s extremity.” But never beyond! As we see here.
II. Comfort upon comfort.—
1. The Lord of Paul’s life knew the limit of the endurance of His servant. He knew him no Stoic, but keenly sensitive; he saw him on the rack in his anxiety about Corinth; he understood the hungry longing for friendship, and the not unworthy desire for the favourable judgment of the Corinthians themselves (2 Corinthians 7:2). Titus came; even to have him back was comfort; Paul’s affectionate nature made him greatly dependent upon human friendships. Then Titus brought good news; the strain of these long weeks upon Paul’s spirit was off, the tension was relaxed, in a moment. In the reaction and revulsion of feeling, he is overflowing with an exuberant sense of relief, of joy about Corinth, of affection for his people there; indeed, he is proud of them! (2 Corinthians 7:3-4). Not that the surrounding “tribulation” is any less, or less real; but he is “exceeding joyful in the midst of it.” Nor is this all. Whilst Titus is telling him the good news,—how well himself had been received as representing Paul, how they “longed” to see Paul also, how deep had been the “mourning” over wrong-doing, whose aggravated evil, and their own complicity with which, they had hardly appreciated until Paul’s stern letter gave them an “outside” view of it (2 Corinthians 7:7),—his face glows whilst he “recalls” it (2 Corinthians 7:16); it gives him renewed “comfort” to remember and to tell of the “comfort” he had received at Corinth. And it is comfort—added comfort—to Paul to see Titus so gladdened. “He rejoices with him that doth rejoice” (2 Corinthians 7:12). Yet more, all his misgivings and fears about Corinth are gone. He is entirely reassured about them (2 Corinthians 7:16). Now he only wants one thing more, and “his joy will be full”: will the Corinthians not open their hearts to make him room? Love lives and makes its home in other hearts. And we may believe that the “God of all comfort” did not deny His hard-pressed servant even this.
2. “Sorrow upon sorrow; comfort upon comfort;” that is always God’s rule, and the latter half of it obtains as certainly and as universally as the former. Need and supply always are kept at the same level. There is neither sense nor faith in a pessimist view of the world or of one’s own life. And the measure of the comfort is no stinted or meagre one. “I am exceedingly joyful.” “My cup runneth over.” God’s rule for man’s dealing with man is what has first of all been His own rule in dealing with man: “Good measure, pressed down, running over” is dealt into the bosom (Luke 6:38). There is also neither sense nor grace in clinging to the memory of sorrow. “Thou shalt remember thy misery as waters that have passed away” (Job 11:16). But when the flood has subsided there is no need to nurse the sorrow of the days of inundation. Be natural. Be thankful for the comfort. [Archbishop Trench’s poem, in Appended Note, may be useful.]
3. The capacity for keen sorrow like this of Paul is the price to be paid—the penalty—of a finely made humanity. Yet they need not be envied who pass through life incapable of woe; to whom nothing seems greatly to matter. They have their price to pay too; they are incapable of the comfort upon comfort. The very avenues which permit the assault and entrance of invading pain give access also to the relieving forces which bring God’s comfort.
4. The heart full of Christ, and that loves His appearing, will catch at the suggestion of the word “parousia,” used by Paul in regard to Titus’s arrival (2 Corinthians 7:6). As Paul longed for Titus, as there are days coming when, as never till then, even in the days of sharpest, darkest tribulation, the hearts of the faithful Church shall look longingly for the coming of Jesus. [2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 has the “tribulation” and the “rest” of this passage. And—it may be only a coincidence—this passage was written from Macedonia, perhaps from Thessalonica itself.] The night will have worn away until the “third watch” (Luke 12:38); the servants listen with strained eagerness for any sound of His approach. For, strangely, the sub-final times are not by any means times of faith and of favour for the Church, but of persecution and of daring blasphemy against “all that is called God or is worshipped.” Never so dark a night for the Church as that which is broken in upon by the sudden, lightning-quick (Matthew 24:27), flashing, blinding glory of the Dawn of His Appearing and Presence. Sorrow upon sorrow until that moment. The few faithful ones can hardly hold their footing amidst the rushing flood of persecution and unbelief and distress. But in a moment, more welcome than Titus to the strained heart of Paul, He comes, and “God, who comforteth them that are cast down,” shall give “rest.” The crisis is then for ever past; the tension is eternally removed; the “fightings” cease; the “fears” are swallowed up in “exceeding joy.” And may a loving fancy venture to carry the parallel so far as to sketch out moments of happy, privileged intercourse, which shall repeat the joy which Paul caught from Titus’ face so full of comfort? Any hours of converse, when the face of the servants shall light up with new comfort, as they hear and see the Master’s own complacent satisfaction in the remembrance of the welcome given Him, by the few faithful ones who were waiting for Him amidst a world of unfaithful or revolted ones? This, however, is for the reverently imaginative heart, rather than for the preacher.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 7:8-12
The Purification of a Church.—This is accomplished—
I. By Paul’s disciplinary action.
II. By a thorough Church repentance.
1. It was the sharp, stinging stimulant, applied not from any love of giving pain, but to arouse the sluggish Church life and Church conscience into healthier activity. Which is exactly the purpose of all the chastening of God. All pain which He now sends is disciplinary, and, if it may be, reformatory. By-and-by pain shall be—not vindictive, but—calm, righteous, simple execution of penalty and sentence, upon persistent, impenitent violators of law. Paul’s action had in it the parental pain of giving pain to those who, even in their wrong-doing, are beloved (2 Corinthians 7:8). Touchingly natural is this confession of Paul that, after his letter had been despatched he could have wished he had not despatched it. Like the heart of God [wo might say that Paul’s writing, its motive, its result, were, like the Corinthian sorrow, “after the mind of God” (κατὰ Θεόν)], in its measure did his heart yearn over Corinth. If less of pain, if words less severe, might have served the purpose, how gladly would he have taken the tenderer course, and abated his paternal sharpness! [“God loved the world” (John 3:16); where it should be remembered how “the world” has always an ethical colouring in John’s writings. It is not merely the human race in its entirety which God is said to have loved, but the “worldly” world, as John and Paul have taught us to speak. In its worldliness, and in its antagonism to God, He nevertheless “loved” it.] Paul loved Corinth, even when he was threatening “a rod,” and the exercise of his powers of miraculous punishment.
2. When Paul’s letter had served its immediate turn, its usefulness was not exhausted. Hear what Paul saith to Corinth; hear what Christ saith to Ephesus and the rest; and, in all this, “hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches” (Revelation 2:3). The written Word is the admonitory, didactic, comforting, stimulant, disciplinary letter to the larger Church, of every land and of all time.
3. A conjoint motive appears. “Not for his cause,” etc. It seems narrower, personal; but it is not an unworthy one. The letter would make it “appear” clearly, even to the most perverse and factious Corinthian who said, “I am of Cephas,” that although Paul had been a long time away from them, his heart was unchanged, his interest in them had not diminished, his “care for them” was still real, and was felt as a real burden of obligation lying upon him. For he bore the obligation to care for them as “in the sight of God.” Whether they gave it recognition or not, God did. Yet he was not above desiring that it should be recognised by them also. Why not? It would be happier for his own sake if he thought that they understood his disciplinary sternness. And the letter would have a greater chance of accomplishing its object, if it were seen to come from a heart which cared for them even in the fact of writing it. [Even the most narrowly restrictive commands of God are “for our good alway” (Deuteronomy 6:24). They are proofs of His “care for us.”] Had he no thought for the wrong-doer as well as for the suffering father-in-law? Yes; but an act is never in man [it is in an animal, or in a child hardly come to a stage beyond that of mere impulse] the result of one single, direct, uncombined motive; it is, speaking in mathematical phrase, the resultant of many motives. It is, further, in the inscrutable mystery of the co-working of the two free volitions, the human and the Divine, always full of the purpose and will of God. Sometimes the one motive may, with perfect truth, be so insisted upon, that for the time it eclipses or casts out any other; or the Divinely secured result may be so fully in view, that the human motive and purpose may sink out of sight in comparison.
4. “Corporations have no conscience;” so it is said, in half pleasantry. But the Church corporate has, and a responsibility, and it may have a corporate sin in that it tolerates sin in its midst, and may fall into a corporate indifference on all moral questions. The letter of Paul, the written Word of God, stands out an objective standard of unalterable force, an abiding rebuke or an awakening cry, and an abiding witness to the care which cannot simply or indifferently look on while good is slackening in its hatred toward evil, or is itself becoming corrupted. The sharp surgery of the excising-knife which cuts off Ananias and Sapphira, is God’s care for His Church, that it should be holy, and should share and keep His own sensitiveness to sin.
II. A Church repentance—the disciplinary action of a Church upon itself.—
1. A very healthy and successful issue. The physician succeeds best when he can awaken or stimulate the recuperative force of the body. That Church life is healthiest which “cleanses itself from all filthiness” that may have gathered around its corporate life, and which indeed cannot bear persons or things that are evil (Revelation 2:2). The true discipline of the Church is that which grows out of and expresses the revolt of the Church conscience against evil. [The analogy between this and personal holiness is obvious and close. The healthiest holiness is the expression of a healthy moral life; personal holiness also may need the stimulus or the rebuke from the outside.] No discipline will long survive the weakening or decay of this. Discipline, like any other legislation, cannot be carried out far in advance of public opinion. The officials of a Church are but the pre-eminent exponents of its life. They lead the Church, indeed, or should lead it; but they are of it, and their disciplinary zeal will never far outrun the disciplinary life of the whole Church. The responsibility lies, then, upon each single member of a Church, to be himself so spiritual, and to keep himself in such a holy sensitiveness to sin, that his contribution to the collective moral standard is of the very highest. Corporate holiness is co-operative personal holiness. Each member is thus the guardian of the purity of the whole. That body is safest in the presence of infection, of which each component unit is in fulness of vigour and health. Paul’s Epistle is, under God, a sharp tonic which, happily, arouses “carefulness” in this Corinthian Christian body.
2. The details of the various phrases used by Paul are given in the Critical Notes, above. The interpretation of some, as may be seen, is variously given by different readers of the Epistle. But the general drift is clear, and follows closely the lines of the repentance of an individual sinner. There is the same awakening of “earnest care,” where there has been a mortal torpor, or indeed a criminal indifference. This awakened feeling is translated into prompt and decisive action, instead of being allowed to spend itself in mere “confessions,” and in deprecations of Divine wrath; and, above all, the sorrow is “after God.” There is “a sorrow of the world.” The shame of sin before men is lamented; the sin itself before God is eclipsed by the shame; there is no real sense of sin. The consequences, rather than the evil character, of the act, are the only matter of regret. The world’s sorrow turns away from God and the very thought of Him, and may easily harden either into a more hopeless indifference than before, or into a Judas-like despair; the true, “godly” affection turns the soul, with contrition, with confession, with appeal, with hope, to God.
3. And there is a Church “salvation.” And for a Church as for the individual, there is no “salvation” where there has been no practical repentance. Joshua lay prostrate, in his grief that Israel seemed weak, and that six-and-thirty slain men of Israel lay on the steep path down from the gate of Ai. The answer of Jehovah came with startling definiteness: “Get thee up; wherefore art thou fallen upon thy face? Israel hath sinned” (Joshua 7:10). There are times when it is of no use to go on confessing, or to go on praying; when the first thing is to go and seek out sin and to cut off the offender. If the Church is to be “saved,” then the self-acting discipline of a life of real, intense, corporate godliness must be vigorously at work, whether under the stimulus of a Paul or not, and making a thorough “Church repentance.”
2 Corinthians 7:1. Promises, Purity, Perfection.
I. God’s requirement in order to fellowship.
II. Our encouragement in seeking to fulfil it.
I. “Cleanse yourselves; perfect holiness.”—Put away the sins which are in plain contradiction to God’s will; put away the sin which is in plain contradiction to His nature.
1. The principle of this, and the necessity of this, are seen in earthly friendships.—Two cannot walk together unless they be so far agreed that each abstains from what he knows will offend the other. There can be no association, no bond, where each disregards the feelings of the other, and does not hesitate to offend his prejudices; and, much more, if his practice traverse some of the principles dearest to his convictions. Indeed, if the connection is to be at all close and to be lasting, there must not only be this reciprocal self-denial; there will also need to be some similarity of tastes, opinions, habits, character. The two friends must not be copies of each other. The helpfulness of friendship lies just there, that each contributes something to the character of the other. Yet there must be so much in common that neither shall have to say, “I cannot make a friend of that man. His habits and tastes and whole disposition are an offence to me.”
2. All this holds as between men and God.—Sins are the negative of His holy law; sin is the negative of the holiness of His nature. God and sin are light and darkness. To hold fast to worldly or sinful pleasures or associates, and to hope to be ranged amongst the sons and daughters; to hope to continue the prodigal life in the far country, or even to remain a swineherd and to eat the swinish husks, and yet to hope for the fulness of the complacent love of the Father and for the life of a son in the Father’s home; is impossible on the very face of it. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The words came indeed from that apostle who has the reputation of being the sternest moralist of them all, but they owe nothing to the presumed character of him who writes them; they simply lift up into the higher, the spiritual, region what men feel is inevitable in all human friendships. Everything must be put away which has about it even the suspicion of sin. “Cleanse yourselves.” As he is, the gutter child would never be taken, to put him at the table, amongst the children. With all their pity for his rags and misery, there is not a father or mother who would not shrink from his dirt and rags and depravity. They would insist upon the washing, and the clothing in decent raiment; upon the giving up of the old associates, the slang, the profanity, the pilfering. Not less must be expected of God. Decent people feel such a child vulgar, disgusting; God feels, as we cannot feel, man’s sinful condition abhorrent. To feel less strongly, to abate His rigidity of requirement, would be to be untrue to Himself.
3. The human heart was designed to be a temple; but it cannot be a temple of two Gods jointly. Certainly no Christian heart can be like the private Pantheon of Alexander Severus, a temple of all the gods, including Christ. From the first moment of a man’s seeking Him, and throughout the whole course of his Christian life, God’s sine quâ non is, “All, or not at all.” [The need of all this very patent in Corinth. A city exceedingly profligate in a profligate world. Old habits too strong for many young converts. Converts they were, but the heathen husband, or wife, or friend often led them astray. Thoughtlessly or ignorantly they continued, or fell back into, old habits and practices which entangled them, and compromised great principles; some were indulging in gross sin. Between them in their impurities and complicity with idolatry, and even in their party spirit, and the holy God, there could plainly be no lasting, perfect communion.] The average world of the member of a Christian congregation is widely removed, and for the better, from that of a Corinthian convert; but there are still sins of the flesh and of the spirit to be renounced. The temptation to idolatry in its coarsest forms is gone. The temptation to impurity or gluttony or drunkenness may be slight in power or rare in occurrence, with the members of an average congregation. Yet there is vanity in personal advantages, whether original or acquired; there is the widely inclusive group of sins called in the old Evangelical dialect “softness and needless self-indulgence”; there are sins of eye and tongue. There is the heart’s idolatrous love of the creature—wife, or child, or friend—more than the Creator; there is the worship of man’s favour rather than God’s. Covetousness is a sin far more seriously estimated in the New Testament—in the judgment of God—than in the customary estimate of even Christian judgment; it is utterly unlike that God Who is always giving, Who spared not His costliest, His very Only-begotten, for those who could give Him in return nothing which was not first His gift. There is pride, of all sins the most of the very nature of the devil; and anger; and uncharitableness; and indolence,—all “sins of the spirit” alone. These things, and the like, are defilements of the temple. If the heart be unwilling that these should be cleansed away, then the Holy God cannot consent to enter. If His house has once been “emptied, swept, and garnished,” but these things are again being suffered, or perhaps encouraged, to accumulate, He cannot long remain, or fulfil such promises as are here.
4. “Cleanse yourselves!”—“I cannot.” True, and not true. No native power is in any man, to put away sin; but in all men is something of grace, to work along with, and to work upon. Is the will by grace set upon the cleansing? Then the words mean: “Use the appointed means of cleansing; the fountain is open for sin and for uncleanness.” If the man lying helpless by the side of the pool, desires to plunge in and be healed, then he has a gracious Helper near at hand to enable him. If God has awakened the will, He enables that will. He lays commands upon dead souls, and bids them “Arise,” and “Come forth”; and with the word there goes life to obey. He must give, and does give, the will and the means to cleanse; His grace is in the resolving, and praying, and struggling, and lifelong watchfulness, and self-denial, and self-discipline. But a responsibility for all these is still upon men themselves. “Cleanse yourselves.”
B. This is only the negative requirement. There is a positive one. “Perfecting holiness.”—
1. The gutter child not only consents to, and assists in, the stripping off of the old clothes, and the laying aside of the old street habits and talk and play and friendships, if he is to be adopted even into the service of the kitchen, and much more into the sonship of the drawing-room, but more is required of him. If he is to be a friend or a son, if there is to be any real communion between him and his adoptive parents, then day after day he must cultivate his mind, at least up to their standard; he must submit to, and co-operate in, a training of manners and habits; he must study the ways of those about him, until he loses all the low, mean mind of the street Arab, and becomes so thoroughly one of the new circle, that his very instincts are theirs. He must aim at copying the very mind of those who have made him their son.
2. Paul brings out man’s part in the sanctification of life. In the progress of a Christian man’s sanctification are two closely related, but perfectly distinct, elements—the creation of holiness, and the cultivation of holiness. The first God alone can effect; in the second man works together with God [though never without Him] under His guidance and relying on His help. The plant is not created full-grown. God never creates at a stroke the result of growth of character. He creates the seed in nature; He puts into it the inscrutably mysterious thing, Life. He creates what man must cultivate. Man must clear away weeds and give full play to all the genial influences of air and sun and rain upon the soil; man must guard the growing seed from injury, and must feed the plant, till it expand into full beauty of flower and fruit. The work of moral renewal is all wrought on the lines of the ordinary, natural laws of mind. To shed abroad in our hearts a sense of His love to us (Romans 5:5) is directly and alone His. It is in accordance with the most ordinary and natural “law” that this should call forth in us an answering love to Himself (1 John 4:19). Only He can create the sense of His love to us. But the answering love which “naturally” springs up within us, is the seed-motive, and the seed-power, out of which may grow all the many-sided holiness of principle and of practice. It is man’s business, then, to tend and cultivate this new and precious germ. He must pray for “the fruitful rain from heaven”; he must cleanse away all the choking weeds of habit or practice which, as matter of experiment or observation or instruction, he learns, do actually hinder the growth of this germ-like love, and help to keep his holiness a dwarfed and stunted thing. He must do his part to get a “perfected” plant.
3. God’s creation of love, and of perfected love, may be the work of a moment.—The gracious communication of the fact of His own, and man’s answering, grateful, love, may be a graciously “short work,” in most perfect accord with the normal working of mind and heart. Man’s cultivation of this love and its fruit will fill a lifetime. One of the earliest and most bitter lessons of a soul, full of its “first love” and striving to live like Christ the pattern, is to find that it is full of things which hinder the attainment of even its own standard of a holy life. The painter tries to copy the Face he loves, but at first has not the perfect mastery of brush and materials and technique, and he cannot embody upon the canvas what in his awakened artist mind he sees clearly enough. And when by-and-by artistic skill is perfected, and he can at once put upon the canvas all he sees, he will not stop there. No; his perception will grow finer; every day he will see more to see; he will find more in his Face—more beauty, new lines of character; there is no reason why he should not go on growing artistically, and go on “perfecting” incessantly the transcript of what he understands with ever more “perfect” insight, and with ever “perfecting” skill can fix in permanent record. So there are many “perfect” stages in this “perfecting” of holiness; there is no ne plus ultra stage of “perfection.” When full consecration on man’s part has been met by full acceptance on God’s part, and “a perfected love” has been given and awakened which “casta out fear” and the very principle of sin (1 John 4:18), the work is not by any means done. The man has got rid of all within that hindered the copying of the Divine Pattern; the power is coming, has come, to put into life all he sees in his Bible and his Christ. But every day will still have its external hindrances; every day, moreover, will bring new insight into duty, new sensibility of conscience to sin, new views of God’s will. And all these new discoveries must be put in; “perfecting” in the practical living what in germ God “perfected” in principle in the heart. It is one stage of “perfection” when the plant no longer grows a dwarfed and stunted thing, but healthy, symmetrical, beautiful, not a thwarted growth about it. There is still open an ever perfecting perfection year after year, of larger growth and more abundant fruitfulness; “your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). The adopted gutter lad’s new life will from the first spring out of his abounding grateful love to his new parent. So long as the old life has any charm for him, it will be hard work to bring himself to the new, though the love of his benefactor will be a perpetually operative force and assistance. Yet, when the love of the old life is gone, the work is not done; the training and the educating may go on without end, though more easily than before. The “perfecting” is never done.
4. Hence learn what in this business is the place of: “In the fear of the Lord.” It would be a long time before the lad would feel the confident security of a born son; for a long time he would always remember his true origin, and the wide interval that once was between his new parents and himself. He is in their home by mere favour; unworthy conduct or disobedience might in a moment justly forfeit all. His sense of obligation would be a strong motive to obedience; and it might be an almost tremulous sense. The remembrance of the true footing on which he stands in the house, would be a check upon presumption and carelessness in fulfilling the wish of the benefactors to whom he owes so much. The little parable needs no explanation. It is the “reverence and godly fear” with which His people “serve God acceptably” (Hebrews 12:28). It is the fear in which they “perfect their holiness.” There is no such reverent love as “perfect love.”
II. Encouragements.—If the fear is to be the guard, and even upon occasion the spur, the promises are to be a lure. Paul does not so much feel, “If we do not cleanse ourselves, we shall have no fellowship here or hereafter,” as, “Here is an honour for sinners. Our heart should leap at the very thought of being Sons and Temples of the living God.”
1. In order to claim such promises.—We cannot claim them without seeking to cleanse ourselves.
2. Stimulated by such honour.—We cannot, like Esther, win any love or favour by putting on any finest apparel of our own. But at least we should seek to retain favour by putting on the “best robe” our Father has given us. [Cf. 1 John 3:3; though this strictly is in view of the Coming of Christ.]
3. Staying our hearts on such promises.—“We can, then, be clean; we can, then, perfect holiness in His fear.” It is hard to think it, if men look at the world’s sin, environing so closely; if they look at the average success, or failure, of other Christian men; if they remember how inadequately all their own effort and vowing and praying and determining have ended in the past; if they see how little others, even the most successful, sometimes hope for. They despond and despair. But let them look at Him and listen to His promises. He does not bid us climb to any inaccessible height if He calls at all. Long fight? Wearisome climb? Perhaps; but He does not simply sit on high and watch: “Come on, higher yet; I will receive you!” No; but at every point
4. He gives help in obeying, in climbing, in cleansing ourselves, in perfecting holiness.—[Prodigal lad in America not only hears from his father in England, “I will receive you; come home,” but the father sends the passage money, that he may respond to the invitation.]
2 Corinthians 7:10. Sorrow, Repentance, Salvation.—A quite general maxim, interjected into, growing out of, a special discussion. One of the standing formulœ of the philosophy of religion.
I. Closely connected, but not by any means identical.—Very vital and of practical necessity to keep them distinct. Deeply stirred feeling is by no means always part of, or a preliminary to, repentance, though true repentance always begins in “godly sorrow.” Even “godly sorrow” is not “salvation.” [There has always been preached in the Christian Church an “only believe” pattern of Gospel. Very popular often, and often very useful. It cannot be, therefore, wholly a false Gospel. But it is an imperfect one. It is the exaggeration, the unbalanced presentation, of a truth. It is right, and has its strength, here. The passage from condemnation to glory is through repentance to faith, and from faith, through all holiness of heart and life, to heaven. Faith which saves, thus stands guarded on the one hand by repentance, and on the other by holiness. There is no saving faith where there has been no sense of sin; there is no saving faith where a holy life does not grow out of “believing.” But the repentance which prepares for faith does not save. The holiness which is the fruit of faith does not save. The penitent man is saved when he believes, and not till then. The holiest man living is saved as a sinner believing in Christ, and only as a believer. The real penitent may be cheered by “Only believe.” The holiest man needs cautioning, “Only by believing.” “Only believe” is no message for the man who feels no “godly sorrow”; nor for the careless, or inconsistent, man who calls himself a Christian, but who is presuming on a past faith. “Only believe” is no medicine to be dealt out indiscriminately at every stage of spiritual sickness or spiritual recovery, valuable and exactly suitable as it is at a particular point. Similarly,] without ever being formulated into a distinct and express type of theology or preaching, there is an “only repent” Gospel. The natural heart always tends to find, and claim, merit in any right doing or right feeling. It seems natural to rest and to hope in the “godly sorrow.” But it is “unto salvation,” and only “unto.” It works towards it. It leads a man towards it. It need not, and does not always, lead into it. It may, it is likely to, it is meant to, issue in his salvation; but that is all. Examine in more detail—
II. Godly sorrow.—Literally “sorrow according to God”; in contrast with the “sorrow of the world.” [Dean Vaughan suggested, at a Greek Testament lecture, me prœsente, H. J. F.,] “God-wise, God-wrought, God-ward”; after the mind of God; after the manner of God; leading towards God.
1. God’s way of looking at sin, at everything, is different from the world’s way; the standard, the standpoint, are different. God hates sin for its own sake; the world hates, is angry at, mourns over, its consequences. Accordingly “godly”—“godwise”—“sorrow” sees sin with God’s eyes, measures by His standard, learns to hate with His heart; and this, even though sin be pleasant, or pay well, or be trivial, or “done by everybody.” “Godly sorrow” makes a man grieve that he has sinned; the world, that sin has brought suffering. Even the abandonment of a sin is on different lines: this sorrow “according to” God’s mind and heart loathes sin, and leaves it because it is sin; the sorrow of the world fears hell and the penalty of holding on in an evil way, and only gives up a sin as a captain may alter his course, and turn his vessel’s head from a prize which he cannot capture, and which he may only attack or continue to pursue, to his own damage and perhaps destruction.
2. The difference begins here: it is God-wrought. Men take up some specially characterised piece of work, and say, “That is in So-and-so’s manner.” Or, “That shows the hand of a master workman.” Or, “That speaks of great wealth of resource and invention.” So, to look at a sample-case of “godly sorrow,” so widely differenced from mere sorrow at the results of sin—to note its pattern (so to speak), its depth and thoroughness and abundant measure—is to say, “That shows the hand of God. That is His characteristic method and manner.” A frivolous nature made serious; a worldling made to know the sin of mere worldliness; stolid indifference stirred to its depths with shame and fear; a hardened heart suddenly dissolving into tears of uncontrollable grief; a proud man openly bowing in confession that he is “a great sinner”; the high walls of pride of self, which have been the despair of preacher or godly friend, falling flat,—all the marvels of moral change, all the variants upon the one theme, “Repentance,” make an observer say, “Only God’s power could have done that! That sorrow is after God’s manner of working!” Tell a man the right. Will he see himself wrong? Not at all of necessity. Conscience will find fifty “refuges of lies” [i.e. refuges which are lies, and delusions to the sinner himself (Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:17)], to be shelters from condemnation. The hard heart will not feel, or “fires up” at reproof. The subterfuges of conscience, the blindness and perversity of the judgment, defeat the human rebuke. Suddenly the veil is torn away which hid the man from himself. “Secret faults,” so “secret” that they eluded the notice even of the man’s own heart (Psalms 19:12), are set in the condemning light of the man’s own awakened judgment. He who could not be awakened by the roughest shake or the loudest appeal, now is awake at a whisper; but it is a whisper of the voice of God’s convincing Spirit. God has done it! “That is God at work!”
3. All through, then, this sorrow is God-ward. God is working to bring the soul to Himself. It is all “God, God, God” now. “I have broken God’s law; I have sinned against God’s love. What man thinks, or will do, is nothing. What will God think?” And the prodigal, who has “come to himself,” next returns to his Father. [See this possession of the mind with the thought of God and God’s holy displeasure in Psalms 51:4 : “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight!” Had he not sinned, and that grievously, against the poor murdered Uriah? Or against Bathsheba herself? For what greater sin can man do against man than to tempt him to sin, and lead him into its committal? Or against his people? For it is a grave sin against the well-being of a nation when its very rulers do evil, with all the teaching power of their position and its great influence. Yes. But the godly sorrow has brought David into God’s presence (2 Corinthians 7:11), to God’s feet. He sees God, and hears. He is face to face with God. Man sinks back, is excluded, forgotten. Bathsheba, Uriah, Israel,—these are lost sight of. God fills all the field of vision, and of David’s thought and fear. What man thinks,—that is nothing. What will God do? His sin has shut him up in a terrible isolation, a guilty soul alone with God. “Thee only!” God-ward sorrow.] He returns in some degree of hope. The “sorrow of the world” is oftener “despair.” [We may add to Vaughan’s analysis of the phrase]
4. Intensified by the worthier appreciation of God’s holiness and patience and love. Measured by these standards, sin is exceeding sinful. On the background of these it shows out the more staringly, glaringly evil. “Against Thee!” means against such love as David had received from Jehovah. But especially does
(3) approve the sorrow the genuine work of the Spirit of God. It moves God-ward in an active “repentance.” A real repentance is always “repentance towards God” (Acts 21:21), just as conversion is “turning to God” (Acts 26:20). [“Fruits meet for repentance;” “fruit worthy of repentance” (R.V. reading), Matthew 3:8.]
III. Repentance growing out of this.—[This is not formally theological language. In the accustomed and necessary definitions of systematic theology, “Repentance” includes the “godly sorrow” in the ground it covers. But they may be distinguished.] The tree may be distinguished from the root; the root may be reckoned part of the tree. Paul’s words only distinguish between what the penitent feels and what he does. The godly sorrow is first indeed to awaken, but it runs on side by side with the doing, until it is swept away in the “joy of God’s salvation” (Psalms 51:12). The deeper the sorrow the more active the doing and the undoing. The exposition by Paul of his own term, given in 2 Corinthians 7:11, is the pattern of a corporate, a Church, “repentance.” But the repentance of a Church is traced on the same lines as the repentance of a soul. All feeling, unless it is translated, and that quickly, into action, evaporates, leaving the heart less susceptible, less easily aroused, than before. The new attitude of thought and view and feeling towards sin wants making permanent, wants making the concrete habit of the life. When godly sorrow goes no further than itself, and is not crowned by the salvation which is the designed goal, it will frequently be found that it has been arrested in its growth, and has never been suffered to take shape in the activities which Paul here groups under the word “Repentance.” Penitent souls sometimes lose their godly sorrow, because they will not put away friend, or pleasure, or practice in business, which they see to be evil. The penitent, indeed, has not learned to triumph over heart sin (Romans 7:14-24); that victory belongs to the man who has found salvation. But many a soul loses even the godly sorrow, because it will not “clear” itself from this friendship; or it listens to a plea for keeping that sin; sparing, instead of “revenging upon,” itself; and, indeed, turning away from the light of the leading Spirit, from an uncomfortable misgiving that the road to which He invites, would lead to some very little welcome conclusions in the direction of putting away sin. “Not measure penitence by tears, but by grief. Grief not by sensitive trouble, but by hatred and avoidance of sin.”
IV. All this is only “preparing the way of the Lord.—Note the two sequences: “Sorrow to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:9); “repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It issued in a corporate, Church salvation, at Corinth. But the formula is general. One gracious operation in the purpose and working of God, who loves to finish His work. [On all these topics we are at the very heart of the whole business of the Gospel and of Redemption. The minute study of this Divine directory of the practice of soul-healing, and the minute study of the ever-varying phases of the one spiritual process in the ten thousand “cases” which come under the notice of the spiritual physicians, have compelled an analysis of the “plan of salvation” which, when exhibited in a bare, tabulated set of results and doctrines, is to many moods and minds very repellent. But the urgency of the proved necessity has compelled an exact analysis of the relation between repentance and faith, and between both and salvation. Paul’s formula is not, nor is intended to be, complete; he does not interject faith between repentance and salvation. [As in Acts 16:31, he said nothing about “repentance.”] His analysis of the process is the dissection of the “living subject” before him in Corinth. The theologian is too often practising his dissection upon (what to him are) dead dicta of a Bible page. Indeed, a living thing is apt to die under the dissecting process. But the whole, co-ordinated teaching of the New Testament agrees with, and gives light to, and receives light from, the experience derived from an infinite variety of co-ordinated and closely studied facts, to make it clear that repentance only brings a soul to the threshold of the city of refuge, within which is “salvation.” The one step which definitely takes a sinner over the threshold and into safety is the act of faith; of penitent faith always, that lays hold of Christ. The whole penitent heart is in the faith that saves. Without, in some sense, a faith that hopes for the mercy of God, repentance is despair, and may be a foretaste of hell itself. A degree of faith in God goes hand in hand with godly sorrow. But the faith that exactly and precisely saves, is that which lays an appropriating, desperately clinging hand on Christ.]
2 Corinthians 7:10. Profitable and Unprofitable Sorrow.—
1. Paul suggests that not only had this Church sorrow done them no harm, but it had done them a service; he had done them a service in causing it (2 Corinthians 7:9). Sorrow is worth nothing in itself. Its value and its moral character are fixed by
(1) the origin, and
(2) by the issue of it. If God-wrought, and sanctified into a preliminary of salvation, it has been profitable.
2. The world’s unprofitable sorrow.—
(1) It plays only on the surface of the matter. It only understands crime. Its balances are not sensitive enough, the reagents of its spiritual chemistry are not efficient enough, to detect and appraise sin.
(2) Its thought mounts no higher than man. Shame, vexation, mortification, annoyance at discovery, are often the world’s “repentance.” It tends to make a man careful only to guard against being betrayed into such sins as are liable to be found out. Hence its standard of judgment is my personal convenience, or social convention. [“Bad form” is the unpardonable sin.]
3. The sorrow that is after God.—
(1) Sin, as sin, is the trouble. See how in the night of Jacob’s wrestling, as the struggle proceeds, Esau is lost sight of, and the one prayer is, “Tell me Thy Name.” The day breaking brings the danger; no matter, “Let the day break, let Esau come, let him slay, let him take all, I will not let Thee go unless,” etc.
(2) It measures by God’s standard, and scourges for what was not condemned at the time, or was only noted to be defended and applauded, but which now starts up, “Sin!” It is as grieved about secret, heart sins, as about overt acts, which nevertheless man might not know, or condemn if he did know.
(3) It always leads to the putting away of sin. The people cried, “Jehovah, He is the God!” “Then take the prophets of Baal; let not one escape.” The soul whose repentance is to lead to salvation, must slay every prophet of the Baal-sin which has ousted Jehovah from His place in heart and life. Many a soul’s godly sorrow evaporates, because the heart could not put away some one last thing, and simply turn to God.
4. Repentance unto salvation.—
(1) No man is saved because he repents; he is not saved unless he repents. He who excuses himself excludes himself.
(2) Repentance is the act of a poor fellow bitten by a fiery serpent in the wilderness, and fallen in his last agony with his back towards the serpent Turn him over so that his glazing eye can look and he be healed. Turning toward God in order to look to His mercy in Christ, that is repentance; just as the “look” was essentially faith. The lame man can move no step of the way to God. God meets him. His Spirit is in the very desire to meet God and to win His peace. That desire is help given by the grace of God in Christ, preparing the soul to make an effort to draw near to God. It is John Baptist coming before Christ. Not always leading up to Christ. Pointing Jesus out, “Behold the Lamb of God,” in order that the soul may go to Him and find rest. John Baptist must precede Christ. Repentance is the Old Testament stage of life, leading up to the New Testament, the Gospel, stage.
2 Corinthians 7:1. Notice carefully that God’s words to Israel in the wilderness and through Isaiah are promises now possessed by Christian believers. For God acts always on the same principles, and therefore His words to one man are valid for all in similar circumstances. Moreover, the Mosaic ritual and the Old Testament history are symbolic of the Christian life. God’s visible presence in the midst of Israel was an outward pattern of His spiritual presence in the hearts of Christians; and the obligations which His presence laid upon Israel [e.g. in even a matter concerning the sanitation of the camp (Deuteronomy 23:13-14)] were a pattern of those resting upon His people now. And when, through the pen of Isaiah, God called the exiles returning from the dominion of idolaters His sons and daughters, He taught plainly that in days to come He would receive as such those whom He rescued from sin. Indeed, the universality to believers of the favour of God in Gospel days makes His promise to David a promise of adoption for all believers.—Dr. Beet.
See Homiletic Analysis (2 Corinthians 7:2-7), 2 Corinthians 2:2.
“Oh, leave us to a world of sin, unrest,
And trouble, to be sad!”
I spake, and thought to weep,
A settled grief to keep,
When, lo, as day from night—
As day from out the breast of night forlorn—
So from that sorrow was that gladness born,
Even in my own despite.
Yet was not that by this
Excluded [cf. 2 Corinthians 7:4]; at the coming of that joy,
Fled not that grief, nor did that grief destroy
The newly risen bliss,—
But side by side they flow,
Two fountains flowing from one stricken heart,
And ofttimes scarcely to be known apart—
That gladness and that woe.
And both are sweet and calm
And flowers upon the banks of either blow,
Both fertilise the soil, and, where they flow,
Shed round them holy balm.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29