This is a most beautiful, and interesting Chapter. The Apostle sets forth, the solemn Views he had of the Ministry, and his Earnestness to be found faithful, in the discharge of it. He speaks of his great Exercises, in consequence thereof; and tells the Church, of the Supports he had in Jesus, to carry him through all.
(1) Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; (2) But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (3) But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: (4) In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (5) For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. (6) For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (7) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
I beg the Reader to notice with me, what a sweet, and gracious frame of mind, the Apostle was in, when he wrote this Chapter. If it be asked, what gave it him? The answer is direct: none but God the Spirit, whose great work is consolation, could have imparted it. And in proof, let the Reader observe, how confidently the Apostle speaks, of having received mercy. It was not a matter of doubt or question with Paul, whether he stood before God in a justified state, or not. Had it been so, he would have fainted at times, as those men do, who make justification a variable, or uncertain thing. For, as long as this is questionable in the mind and conscience; there will be no settled, steady, firm state, of trusting in God the Father's covenant-love, and Christ's all-sufficient merit, blood, and righteousness. But when a soul is conscious he hath received mercy, all cause for fainting ceaseth.
As this point is of immense consequence, in the life of every truly regenerated child of God, I would beg the Reader's patient attention to it, while, from Paul's example, in this place I take occasion to shew, the ground-work, and assurance, on which it is founded. I am not to be told, that the great mass, even of those who profess all the leading truths of the Gospel, are but too much living in a state of doubt, and suspense, on this most sweet, and precious point of faith. But this is from the weakness, and deficiency of their faith; and not from any defect in the principle itself. The faith of God's people is supposed by the Gospel, to be a life of trust, assurance, and confirmation. The Prophet, ages before the coming of Christ, declared, that the work of righteousness (Christ's righteousness) shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance forever, Isaiah 32:1. And to this purport, the promise runs along with it, and keeps pace together. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee, Isaiah 26:3. If, therefore, there remained any uncertainty, in respect to the justified state of a child of God, whom God by sovereign grace hath called, with an holy calling; those blessed Scriptures lose their power. That man cannot be said to have quietness, and assurance forever, as an, effect of his interest in, and dependence upon, the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; while the shadow of a doubt remains in his mind, whether he hath received pardon, mercy, and peace, in the blood of the cross, and is justified by faith, throughout Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the ground-work, on which the child of God, truly taught of God, rests his full assurance of faith, and which keeps him, as Paul saith he was kept, from fainting, is the heart-felt conviction, that Christ, when he stood forth the Surety of his Church and people, truly, as the Prophet said of him, finished the transgression, made an end of sin, made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in an everlasting righteousness, Daniel 9:24. In all that high transaction, Christ acted as his peoples' Sponsor, and Surety; and therefore, not an atom of guilt, either original, or actual, was left unatoned, on his peoples' conscience. Now then, if I, or you, or any and every child of God, whom God hath effectually called by grace, believe the record, which God hath given of his dear Son, namely, that God hath given eternal life to his whole body the Church, in his dear Son; and that, by virtue of the infinite value and preciousness of his righteousness and blood-shedding, they are justified from all things; how is it possible that there can be any suspense, doubt, or misgiving, on this grand assurance, of the redeemed child of God's hope? Reader! do look, again and again, at the blessed frame of mind Paul was in, and which wholly arose from this one cause: and recollect, that this high privilege, was not Paul's privilege only; but the whole Church of God are equally begotten to it, and equally entitled to it, with the Apostle; because it ariseth not from any merit, or services in Paul, but the sole gift of God in Christ. Oh! my Brother! if like the Apostle, you would faint not, at any, and all the exercises, to which the Lord shall be pleased to call you; see to it, that Paul's testimony is yours. As we have received mercy, we faint not.
What the Apostle adds, on the subject of the ministry, is very sweet, and highly instructive; though no doubt, it hath a special regard to those who labor in the word, and doctrine. The Reader, however, may here, as in many ether parts of the Apostolic writings, on the subject of the ministry, gather information, so as to form a correct judgment, of a pure Gospel, from one that is spurious; and of a faithful servant of Christ, from an unworthy hireling, John 10:12-13.
He that is faithful to God, and souls, holds forth the pure word of life, as Paul did: Christ, and him crucified; Christ and him glorified, as the all in all of Jehovah's own providing, for the recovery of our fallen nature, from the Adam-ruin in which the Church is found, in her time-state of being, when Christ comes by his Holy Spirit, to seek, and save, that which was lost. With this pure doctrine of the Gospel, the faithful servant in the ministry mingles nothing. He makes in his preaching, what Jehovah hath made for preaching, in his Covenant of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, the one, sole Ordinance of salvation: the Alpha, and Omega; the First, and the Last: the Author, and Finisher, of faith. And, with this blessed topic of all his discourse, he mixeth no human doctrines, nor philosophy of men. He walketh not in craftiness, nor handleth the word of God deceitfully; but in the demonstration of the Spirit, and of power, he commendeth himself to every man's conscience, in the sight of God. Reader! see that your minister brings such proofs with him, that he is ordained to be a Preacher, and sent of the Lord. You cannot have a more infallible testimony to judge by, than when he preacheth Christ, and only Christ: and God the Holy Ghost sets to his seal, in your heart, to the truth as it is in Jesus. Sweet proof when your minister can say, as Paul did, to this Church at Corinth: Ye are our Epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men! 2 Corinthians 3:2.
Moreover, to the faithfulness and integrity of the preacher, he, adds the uprightness, and holy conversation, of the man. He hath renounced (as Paul terms it) the hidden things of dishonesty. He allures to Christ, by example, as well as by invitation. He is what he preacheth; and lives down evil report, by living up to the doctrine of God, his Savior, in all things. It is a very blessed account, which the Holy Ghost hath left upon record, of the servants who wrought in the temple work; that there was no reckoning made with them, of the money delivered into their hands, for they dealt faithfully, 2 Kings 12:15. And in every department of the ministry it will be the same, when men are not eye-servants, and men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God front the heart, Ephesians 6:6. An holy calling from the Lord, and acting near the Lord, and under the eye of the Lord, will be an unceasing motive to renounce the hidden things of dishonesty. Oh! the blessedness of that Church, and that people, where both he that ministers, and they that are ministered unto, are thus under the sweet anointings of God the Holy Ghost!
But what an awful Scripture is here, of an hidden Gospel? It is always an hidden Gospel, how loudly soever preached, or how clearly soever unfolded by human strength, unless God the Spirit, which at the first caused the light to shine out of darkness, at the original creation of nature; causeth the light to shine out of darkness, in the new creation by grace, He, and He alone, it is, who gives the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. Reader! pause over the solemn account. As Christ was all along hidden, when preached in type, and figure, under the Old Testament dispensation, unless to His people, to whom the Lord the Holy Ghost revealed him: So now, though openly and fully revealed, in the Scriptures of the New Testament; yet is he not known, or regarded by any, but by his Church when taught of God, And, what a tremendous blindness must it, be, when a consequence so awful follows: He is hid to them which are lost!
By the god of this world, is meant Satan. Not that he is so. For God who made the world, is the Proprietor, and Governor of it; and all power is His, in Heaven, and in earth. But, by a figure of speech, Satan is very properly called the god of it, because by his having ruined our whole nature in Adam, all mankind are his lawful captives. Hence Christ calls him, the Prince of this world, John 12:31 and John 14:30. And if the dominion he hath acquired over our nature, by making our whole race his vassals, and slaves, constitute an authority; Satan hath it most compleatly: and would have had it, and that lawfully forever, but for the interposition of Christ. For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage, 2 Peter 2:19. And by the way let me observe, it is evidently in allusion to this, God the Father speaks, when in his Covenant promises to our glorious Head, the Lord thus promiseth Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible be delivered. For I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children, Isaiah 49:24-25.
In what is said, of this malicious enemy, blinding the eyes of them that believe not, we are to understand, that spiritual blindness, which he hath induced by sin; and out of which, nothing but the arm of God, by giving new vision, and opening all the spiritual faculties of our souls, in regeneration, can accomplish. It is the soul's blindness, not the body. It is the spiritual apprehension, which is lost by original sin; not natural sight. Adam died to all spiritual knowledge, in the day he transgressed the divine commandment; and of consequence, all his posterity were involved in the same. And hence, we find multitudes among men, who have the quickest sight in mere natural things, are yet totally blind, to the apprehension of all spiritual things. What a mass of human learning, the present world hath furnished, from the accumulation of ages; while some of the wisest, and greatest of men, in this earthly Philosophy, have no one apprehension whatever, of their lost estate before God: no regard, nor affection, to the Person of Christ: and, in relation to their own souls, have never so much as heard, whether there be any Holy Ghost. What a decided proof, of spiritual blindness, in the midst of the full blaze of natural knowledge?
And that this is a much more general state, in which men live, and in which they die, than is supposed, is evident, from the great disregard, and inattention to divine things, which are manifested in the world. Go into what company or society you may; where is the Person, or glory of Christ the topic of discourse? They talk of vanity (saith the Psalmist) everyone with his neighbor: with flattering lips, and with double heart, do they speak, Psalms 12:2. And, the indifferency with which they hear the Gospel, the unconcern about their everlasting welfare, the unconsciousness of sin, and the little regard to flee from the wrath to come, in seeking Christ, and his righteousness: these are most plain, and palpable evidences, of the spiritual blindness of such men's minds. It is of such the Apostle speaks, in this most alarming Scripture, when he saith: If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Reader! hath the Lord brought you out of darkness, and the shadow of death, and burst your bands asunder? Have you felt sin, exceeding sinful? And is Christ exceedingly precious! 1 Peter 2:7.
I do not think it necessary, to detain the Reader with any additional observations on the subject of the Ministry, having already rather exceeded my usual limits. But it were sufficient to discover, that Paul preached, not himself, but Christ Jesus the Lord, whoever reads his Epistles; for his text, sermon, doctrine, substance, and application, is all Christ. And, whoever reads Paul's sermons will as plainly discover, that Paul preached wholly of grace; and that it was God alone who first commanded light from darkness, to whom he looked, to give light, and understanding in his hearers hearts. And whoever thus reads Paul's Sermons and Epistles, will as fully discover, the humbleness of Paul's mind; that he was truly conscious of being but a vessel, and that an earthly brittle one, in which the treasure of the Gospel was put. Paul's whole delight was, to be accounted nothing; so that his God; and Savior, was the more glorified, Philippians 3:7-9. Reader! how truly graceful is humility! Matthew 18:1; Mat_18:4.
(8) We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; (9) Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; (10) Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (11) For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (12) So then death worketh in us, but life in you. (13) We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; (14) Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. (15) For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. (16) For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (17) For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; (18) While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
I bring the whole of those verses into one view, because the observations which arise out of them, are nearly to the same purpose. It is truly blessed to behold, the soul-exercises of the faithful, whether minister, or people, sanctified from an union with Christ. The Apostle enumerates within a little compass, great searchings of heart. They were always carrying their lives in their hands, while bearing about in their body, the dying of the Lord Jesus. Wheresoever they came, by whomsoever they were met; whether they were separated from each other, or went preaching the kingdom in company together; persecution was sure to follow. But Paul relates, what an happy frame they were preserved in by grace, in that, though troubled on every side, yet not distressed; though persecuted of men, yet never forsaken of God! Reader! depend upon it, the consolations in Christ, never rise so high in the full tide of holy joy, as when the storm of persecution blows most violently. It is said, that music sounds always sweetest on the water. But whether it be so or not, it is very sure, that the melody of Christ's voice, which is the sweetest of all music, we never hear so lovely, as when the floods of ungodly men, drive us to the Lord.
There are two sweet lessons, which this view of Paul and his companions instruct us in; and which, I beg God the Holy Ghost to make me a practical scholar, under his divine teaching, in the exercise of, from day to day. The one is, the conviction, that all the afflictions of God's people, are not only light afflictions of a moment; but that they work out for them, a for more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And the other is from whence the child of God may by faith fetch daily strength, to counteract, even in the moment of their pressure, their burden, and to bear up under them all. For this cause, saith Paul, we faint not, while we look not at the things which are seen; but at the things which are not seen.
In relation to the former. Grace in lively exercise, will never fail to comfort the soul, while making a right calculation, that this affliction, be it what it may, is fraught with blessing. It is not enough to the child of God, to say, that it will do no harm. For this is but a negative kind of comfort. But he ought to say, and he will say it when truly taught of God; it will do good. For though all afflictions in their nature, being the consequence of the fall, are in themselves evil; and work evil, to the whole Adam-nature, void of Christ: yet coming in and through the Covenant of grace in Christ; to the Lord's people their very property is changed. Hence, the Holy Ghost hath caused it to be proclaimed in his Scriptures, that all Things work together for good to them that love God; to the who are the called according to this purpose, Romans 8:28. Reader do not forget this a child of God must be ultimately a gainer by every affliction, when sanctified.
In relation to the latter. We learn from Paul's example, from whom to gain strength, and where to direct our views for help, in every time of need. And depend upon it, while looking to Jesus, and in eyeing things which are eternal; all the short events of this dying, transitory world, will lessen in their view, like distant objects, too remote to engage our regard; or like the noise of distant voices, in which we have no concern. Reader! only calculate those great, and momentous things, with which the child of God is connected, from one eternity to another. God the Father's everlasting love. God the Son's Headship, Suretyship, and Relations. God the Spirit's engaged grace, influences, and power. Here is enough to fetch comfort from forever. Blessed Spirit! daily realize these precious things, and my interest in them, to my soul: and sure I am, I shall then faint not; for though the poor tabernacle of my body, the outward man, perish; yet thus my inward man, will be renewed, day by day.
I would ponder well the contents of this sweet Chapter. What a mercy to a place, to a Church, to a people, is a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ! What a mercy to that servant, that minister, that he hath this treasure, in an earthen vessel; that when creature-weakness is made manifest, and successful in Creator-strength; it may lead his heart, to give all the glory to the Lord.
Blessed Jesus! make me an humble follower of those faithful servants of old, who were enabled through grace, to bear about with them always the dying of the Lord Jesus; that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in their body. Oh! for grace to be kept above the afflictions of a moment, in the sure and certain prospect of that eternal glory, which shall be revealed. Lord! grant, that a believing view of that everlasting Covenant, which is ordered in all things and sure, and a consciousness through grace, of a personal interest in all the blessings of it; may keep my soul from fainting, under any of the exercises of the present time-state of existence. Yet a little while, and he that shall come, will come, and will not tarry. Oh! for a life of faith in full exercise, until that which is perfect is come; and when that which is in part shall be done away.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany