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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

2 Corinthians 5

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 5:4

The Two Tabernacles.

I. A tabernacle is a frail temporary dwelling, generally of cloth, which men make for shelter by night, when they expect to be so short a time in the place that it is not worth while to erect a more substantial edifice. The body is frequently compared to dust. It is glorious as the starry sky, and yet as fading as a summer flower.

II. This tabernacle. The house in which we now dwell is not our only dwelling-place. The design of the Spirit in this word is to preserve us from bestowing all our regard on this tabernacle while another is more worthy. When the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. "Blessed are the home-sick, for they shall get home."

III. Burdened. Our burdens are useful. They may be inventoried among the all things that work together for good. "The sorrows of earth will enhance the joys of heaven."

IV. "Not that we would be unclothed." Christians love life for many reasons. They love it with a deeper, more intelligent love than other creatures, because the gifts which are in their own nature sweet, are sweeter when they are received from a Father's hand. This disciple fully comprehends and clearly expresses what he likes and what he does not like in connection with living and dying. He is willing to meet the necessity of putting off this mortal coil, for the sake of the glory that shall follow, but he frankly confesses that the act of putting off is not agreeable. He not only submits to it, he bounds forward to meet it joyfully; but the cause of his buoyancy is above not of the fire and water of the passage, but of the large place to which the passage leads.

W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, p. 288.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:4 . E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 396; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 237. 2 Corinthians 5:4 , 2 Corinthians 5:5 . T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons, p. 177.

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 5:5

The Expectation and the Earnest.

I. What is it that the Apostle here alludes to in the expression "the selfsame thing" to which believers are wrought of God? It is the confident hope of, and longing desire for, the glories and felicities of the resurrection state. In his bosom and that of his fellow-believers, this hope and desire dwelt fresh and vigorous. They had not a mere vague wish to enjoy a future felicity of some sort, they knew not what. Theirs was a firm anticipation of a well-understood and clearly realised futurity of blessedness and glory.

II. But to what was it owing that the Apostles had this confident expectation, which so inspired, cheered, and ennobled them in the service of the gospel? The answer of the Apostle, in the words before us, is to the effect that God was the Author and Source of the state of mind of which he speaks. He had wrought in them the blessed hope which they exultingly entertained. He had moulded them wholly to it.

III. But the Apostles had something more than mere hope to sustain them and cheer them amid the trials and conflicts of life. They had in actual possession a portion of the promised blessing, and in that the pledge and assurance of the whole. God had given them the earnest of the Spirit.

W. Lindsay Alexander, Sermons, p. 168.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:5 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 912; G. Dawson, Sermons on Disputed Points, p. 152; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 99; L. Mann, Life Problems, p. 91. 2 Corinthians 5:5-10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1303; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 107.

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 5:5

The Expectation and the Earnest.

I. What is it that the Apostle here alludes to in the expression "the selfsame thing" to which believers are wrought of God? It is the confident hope of, and longing desire for, the glories and felicities of the resurrection state. In his bosom and that of his fellow-believers, this hope and desire dwelt fresh and vigorous. They had not a mere vague wish to enjoy a future felicity of some sort, they knew not what. Theirs was a firm anticipation of a well-understood and clearly realised futurity of blessedness and glory.

II. But to what was it owing that the Apostles had this confident expectation, which so inspired, cheered, and ennobled them in the service of the gospel? The answer of the Apostle, in the words before us, is to the effect that God was the Author and Source of the state of mind of which he speaks. He had wrought in them the blessed hope which they exultingly entertained. He had moulded them wholly to it.

III. But the Apostles had something more than mere hope to sustain them and cheer them amid the trials and conflicts of life. They had in actual possession a portion of the promised blessing, and in that the pledge and assurance of the whole. God had given them the earnest of the Spirit.

W. Lindsay Alexander, Sermons, p. 168.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:5 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 912; G. Dawson, Sermons on Disputed Points, p. 152; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 99; L. Mann, Life Problems, p. 91. 2 Corinthians 5:5-10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1303; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 107.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 5:7

I. We walk by faith, in the conviction that what is right must end in peace, and what is wrong must end in misery. This assumes that there is a living and true God; that there is a real kingdom on earth a government over men so constituted that right must come right, and wrong must come wrong; that by no possibility by no combination of circumstances, by no power of men or devils can wheat bring forth tares, or tares wheat; that never can there be separated the consequences from evil so long as evil continues; nor can anything but good and peace come from welldoing.

II. We walk by faith in reference to the agencies which God employs for the regeneration and salvation of man. (1) First and chief of these is the gospel of Christ. It is not that the gospel saves, but Jesus Christ of whom the gospel speaks, by reconciling the sinner to God, through faith in His atoning blood, and by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. Sight is opposed to this. To lose faith in the gospel, to have faith in anything else accomplishing the things the gospel proposes, is to lose faith in Christ Himself, in His power, in His mercy, and in His will. (2) The Church of Christ is another agency the power or efficacy of which demands faith. Very often the agency is very poor intellectually as well as spiritually. But walking by faith and not by sight, I perceive that the Church is the very best and purest society on the face of the earth. With all its dross it has the most gold. With all its darkness it has the most light. With all its earthly elements it is the best representative of heaven upon earth. Two thoughts of practical weight suggest themselves here. (1) One is this encouragement in our duty. The great Captain of our salvation has tolerated us, borne with us, and not cast us off. He who sent such messages to the Seven Churches, recognising their standing and calling, and their glorious privileges, whilst revealing to them their sins, the same Lord who walks amongst the candlesticks does not put out our light. (2) Another thought is one of shame and confusion when we think how weak our faith is, and how slow, how unconstant our walk accordingly is as members of the Christian Church in fulfilling our Lord's calling.

N. Macleod, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 12.

Walking by Faith.

In St. Paul's hand these words were the key to what the heathen, who had no thoughts or desires beyond the present world, must have regarded as an enigma: note, not the resignation only, but the cheerfulness with which he and his fellow-Christians suffered wrong, though despised and obscure; the spoiling of their goods; how they sought death rather than shunned it, and rushed in the face of the King of Terrors, and gathered crowds as they went to the scaffold or stake, singing, rejoicing, radiant as a bride to the arms of her bridegroom. Paul speaks of scourging, stoning, prisonings, exiles, death itself, with a sort of Divine contempt. He calls them light afflictions: "Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." And the reason why is given in our text: "We walk by faith, not by sight."

I. The believer walks by faith in the work and cross of Christ. By faith Noah, by faith Abraham, by faith David, and by faith many other Old Testament saints won themselves a place in the cloud of witnesses. The truth is that the faith of the humblest believers nowadays is, in some senses, a higher attainment than theirs, and there is no flight of human genius I ever saw like the faith of the poorest, weakest, humblest Christian.

II. The believer walks by faith in the providence of God. "Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night teacheth knowledge of Him;" and this in every tongue savage or civilised. The whole world is vocal with His praise; nor is there any ear so deaf as may not hear that, as well in the songs of the happy birds as in the voice of the tempest and the peals of thunder. Though that may be true of the general providence of God, what may be called His special providence, at least so far as regards His own, is very often with them much more a thing of faith than it is a thing of sight.

III. The believer walks by faith in and to another world. It is no easy thing to walk by faith, not by sight; amid the things seen to love the unseen; to be in this world, and not of it; but we have the blessed promise, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be."

T. Guthrie, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 571.

The principle of walking by faith, not by sight, is reasonable and right,

I. Because the principle of faith is more excellent in its object.

II. Because the principle of faith is more excellent in its effect upon the character and heart.

III. Because to walk by faith produces happiness.

J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 377.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:7 . Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 289; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 73; vol. vii., p. 65; F. E. Paget, Sermons for Special Occasions, p. 1; Bishop Westcott, The Historic Faith, p . 173; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 677; J. L. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 244. 2 Corinthians 5:8 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 413; G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x.,p. 205; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxiii., p. 266; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 113. 2 Corinthians 5:8 , 2 Corinthians 5:9 . S. G. Green, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 177. 2 Corinthians 5:9 . Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ii., p. 160.

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 5:10

The Certainty of Judgment.

I. If it were a matter of choice whether we would be judged or not, whether we would be tried according to the terms of the gospel-covenant, or be utterly destroyed and perish for ever like the beasts, it is not to be doubted that very many persons, perhaps most, would choose the last. They would willingly enough part with the future rewards of religion, if they might but enjoy without fear or restraint the present pleasures of sin. If they could get rid of hell, they would not mind the loss of heaven. But, however, be it good or evil, it matters not; whatever we might wish, it is not now in our power to choose: we must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; we must give an account of our own works.

II. God knows us thoroughly, but there are some who do not yet know us namely, the angels, other men, and ourselves. To these, therefore, we shall be laid open and made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ. (1) First of all, our whole hearts will be set forth before the angels; for though we are taught that those blessed spirits do continually watch over us for good, and are filled with heavenly joy when we serve God with regularity, order, and diligence, yet we have no reason to believe that they are now acquainted with the secrets of our hearts. If we are not quite hardened to all sense of shame, we must, at least in some degree, be affected by the consideration that our most secret sins, our most cunning deceits, shall be all laid open by the Judge Himself, before that mighty assembly of blessed and holy angels. (2) Let us remember again that our hearts and lives will be shown forth in their true and proper colours, to all men as well as all angels. Then it will be seen how different many of our outward actions and words were from our inward thoughts. Then will be seen how little use it is for man to approve, if God disapprove; how little harm it is for man to hate us, if God love us. There is nothing covered that shall not be then revealed, nor hid which shall not be then made known to the whole world.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 9.

Human Judgment the Earnest of Divine.

I. The outward course of justice strikes a chord in our inward conscience. The man was lately perhaps free, fearless, among his fellows; the crime was past; no evidence, he thought, at hand. Justice, instructed he knows not how, makes him its prisoner; no need, mostly, of outward force; the accused lies helpless in the law's inexorable power: pity has to yield to justice; one even course leads him on to his sentence. Guilt is so powerless. Conscience tells us that we too are amenable to justice if not to human, to Divine. The earthly attribute of justice is awful because it awakens in us the thought of the Divine, which is so unspeakably holy and awful to us because we are sinners.

II. God's justice, by those universal laws which express the divinely gifted reason of mankind, speaks further to the conscience by its minuteness. Human law does not leave petty offences unpunished. It imitates herein the merciful justice of God, who knows that the truest mercy to the sinner is to arrest him by light punishment in the beginning of his sin, and so deals to us in those offences which, not being amenable to human law, are a special province of His own immediate justice. Reason itself concurs with revelation that this judgment will be very minute, very searching. Judgment which did not take account of everything would be a partial, unjudging judgment: in man's sight imperfect; in God, an impossible contradiction. "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." Words are but the gushing forth of the inward self, the pouring out of the inward store, good or bad, laid up within us. Of every idle word shall men give account; for idle objectless words are the fruits of idle objectless souls, away from their centre, God. Words, tinged or steeped as they may be with the manifold evils of which men's speech is made up, will condemn.

E. B. Pusey, University Sermons, p. 289.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:10 . J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 313; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1076; G. Calthrop, Words Spoken to my Friends, p. 29; Bishop Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 252; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 259; vol. x., p. 367; J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, p. 1.

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 5:11

Eternal Punishment.

Whatever the reason may be, men do not now think much about the terror of the Lord, and preachers do not now preach much about it. The spirit of the day is sceptical. The bold assertions of the past provoke nothing but a gently subdued contempt. Men are now proudly certain of but one thing, and that is that there is nothing of which they can be certain. And this spirit has diffused itself through the abodes of Christian belief. It has diluted itself until an uninfluential assent has taken the place of a realistic belief; the fires of faith have been put out and only the grey ashes remain, and the terror of the Lord has become "A tale of little meaning, though the words are strong."

I. But many of us, whose faith if not vivid is yet what is called sound, are in danger of perverting that great article of Christian belief, the remission of sins; and the spirit of profligacy does pervert it, and the spirit of moral vulgarity perverts it, and the spirit of cowardly improvidence longs to have it so. The perversion is, that the punishment of sin is to be remitted, that the forgiveness of sins practically means letting us off from the penalty of our sins, that it is going to be all right whatever we do, that there is no hell, and that men may make themselves quite comfortable, for there is nothing in the future to fear. Now against all this the Christian teacher must never cease to protest, for it is a great lie; it is a flat contradiction to the laws of nature. There is no remission of the punishment of sin. The saint must bear his punishment, and the impenitent sinner ever augment his. God is not the feeble, good-natured God of languid profligacy. In one sense He is unmerciful and unrelenting.

II. Sin is always a process of self-destruction, and its most fearful consequences are upon the moral and spiritual nature itself. Its first effect is pain, the pain inflicted by conscience when wrong has been consciously done. That lie, that lust, that cowardly cruelty, that self-seeking hypocrisy, all that thou hast done, has made its mark on thee, has made thee something other than thou mightest have been. On the unseen face which stands behind thine eyes, every sin has marked its line. Again, every sin will have this punishment, that it will entail a lower place in the kingdom of heaven than we might have had. The opportunity lost or misimproved today is an eternal perdition. "Wisdom can put away sin, but she cannot pardon it, and she is apt, in her haste, to put away the sinner as well, when the black aegis is on her breast." And now, whatever scepticism may say, and whatever sentimental religionism may say, this is what in her own way science says and this is what the Bible says: "Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he reap."

W. Page-Roberts, Liberalism in Religion, p. 123.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:11 . R. L. Browne, Sussex Sermons, p. 165. 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 35. 2 Corinthians 5:12-17 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 322; S. Martin, Sermons, p. 201. 2 Corinthians 5:13 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 213; A. J. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 144.

Verses 13-15

2 Corinthians 5:13-15

Paul's Passion for Christ.

I. The Apostle affirms that the distinctive inspiration of his passionate fervour and entire consecration is the person and mission of Jesus Christ "The love of Christ constraineth us." It is distinctively love for a person "The truth as in Jesus." Everything in Christianity centres in Christ's person. Christian doctrines are simply explanations of the facts of Christ's personal history; so that Jesus Christ Himself is the personal and exclusive object of our religious trust and love. Take Christ away, and Christianity disappears. His acts as a personal Redeemer constitute it. Behind all Christian idea stands the ineffable Christ Himself that wondrous personality of peerless sanctity, ineffable love, Divine characteristic, and human perfection: the embodiment, not of one class of excellences only, but of all.

II. Among even the supernatural characteristics of Christ's personality and of His mission, Paul gives a singular and emphatic prominence to His death "He died for all." Whenever Paul gives such account of his enthusiasm for Christ as makes Festus think him mad, as makes the Grecian philosophers write him down a fool, he always specifies the death on the cross as its distinctive inspiration "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Accept Paul's idea of the cross as a sacrifice for human sin, everything is natural and obvious; deny it, try to construct some other theory of His death, Paul's sentiment and passion are the greatest of anomalies. Note two characteristics of this constraint. (1) Its intensity. The depth and passion of Paul's personal and practical love for Jesus Christ are simply indescribable. (2) Much might be said about the humanity of this great inspiration the marvellous way in which grateful love to Christ becomes a Christlike love, a philanthropic love, full of human sympathies, solicitudes, and services.

H. Allon, The Indwelling Christ, p. 83.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:13-15 . D. Bagot, Church of England Pulpit, vol. x., p. 373; W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 12.

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 5:14

I. St. Paul's was, in every sense of the word, a great conversion. It was great (1) as showing the omnipotence of God. Nothing was more unlikely, humanly speaking, than that a man of perfect outward life, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, should sacrifice everything for this new sect of the Nazarenes. But although, as a general rule, God works in a quiet ordinary way, though, as a general rule, "what a man sows he reaps," still God is pleased to keep, if I may so express myself, a reserve of supernatural force. God is able to bring a higher law, as yet unknown to us, to bear upon these lower laws with which we are familiar, and so to modify them that supernatural results are accomplished. (2) And it was a great conversion when we look at it in relation to the world. The conversion of the world was, humanly speaking, hanging upon the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The individual life has wrapped up in it a power in the world which no one is able to calculate. And (3) it was a great conversion in relation to the individual Apostle. It was a great sacrifice nobly made.

II. And if we ask, What was the moving power of this great transformation what was the secret of this change? I answer in the words of my text, It was the love of Christ that constrained him. The conversion of St. Paul was the result of the epiphany of Jesus Christ. It was a manifestation of a living Person taking hold of a living person's will that conquered St. Paul and made him the fervent and believing Apostle. And if we want in our measure and degree the power of St. Paul to overcome obstacles, to break down prejudices, to crush the rebel flesh, to rise above the world, to be indifferent alike to its praise and its blame if we wish to follow St. Paul, we also must know something of that love of Christ by which he was constrained.

G. Wilkinson, Penny Pulpit, No. 552.

Christ's Love to us our Law of Life.

I. We love Christ, indeed, because He first loved us. Our love is the reflection of the original light the heavenly ray bent back again towards its source; and where this love towards Him exists, it becomes a motive of perpetual service. But this is not St. Paul's intention; he is here speaking of the motive of that motive. What is it that awakens our love to Him but His love first to us? Love is the principle of obedience, but the principle of love is love. And of this the Apostle speaks the love which descends from Him to us. Let us begin at the source of all. God is love, and love is the law of His kingdom. There is a hierarchy of love, having its beginning in the eternal Three, descending from the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to all orders of created spirits, angelic and ministering, and to all creatures in earth and heaven, binding all in one. Love is the stooping of the higher to the lower, the Creator to the creature, the parent to the child, the stronger to the weaker, the sinless to the sinful God stooping down to man. The penetrating exalting consciousness that we are objects of the love of God this love, which has its fountains in eternity, has made apostles, martyrs, saints, and penitents. And this consciousness is awakened in us by a sense of the love of Christ.

II. See next how this motive works in us: what is the operation and effect of the love of Christ? (1) It constrains; that is, it lays a force upon us, as a strong hand draws us whithersoever it will. There are in creation powers of attraction which control whole orders of nature; as the loadstone, which draws its subjects to itself, and the sun, to which all nature answers. These are the constraining forces of the natural world a parable of the attractions of the Spirit. We know this by familiar experience in our lower life. What awakens love like love? What constrains us to the presence of another but a consciousness of his love to us? The sense of Christ's love is the mightiest of all constraining motives. It embraces our whole spiritual nature, touches it in all its springs, moves it in all its affections, stirs it in all its energies. (2) The love of Christ felt in the heart is the only source of unreserved devotion and of perfect sacrifice of self. Those who in all ages have done and suffered great things for the kingdom of God knew no motive but this. They had received the fire which falls from heaven, and as it kindled, their hearts pleaded with them in secret and pressing words: "He wholly gave Himself for me: shall I give less to Him?" (3) This Divine motive is the only principle of an enduring perseverance. It grows stronger as it acts; by acting it is made perfect. Long trials of Christ's love in joy and sorrow, in storm and sunshine, reveal its Divine tenderness and depth. And this quickens the activity of our own hearts with a living, thirsting desire to love Him with a greater love again. Steadfast love is perseverance; it supports through all weariness and disappointment, all allurement and alarm. A true love to Christ moves in its path year by year, without haste but without tarrying, calm, bright, and onward as the light of heaven.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 1.

I. There can be but little wanting to the happiness of any person who can, with sincerity, say that these words describe the habitual state of his own mind. It is possible that faith, the deepest and liveliest faith in the excellence and worthiness of Christ, may be so mixed with fears for our own unworthiness, that we may not taste fully the comfort of Christ's Spirit. But he who is constantly constrained by the love of Christ, who leaves evil things undone, who does good things actively, because his sense of Christ's love is ever present with him, will feel what St. John expresses, no doubt from the experience of his own heart, that "perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment."

II. The facts which should naturally excite this love are known to all. Go back as far as we will, approach as closely to the time of our Lord's appearing on earth as our existing records will allow, still we can trace no fuller knowledge of the facts of our Lord's sufferings and death than we can all gain than we have actually gained from the four Gospels now in our possession. That story which we know so well, but feel so little, is precisely the same which constrained so many of God's servants in different ages, which constrains so many at this moment, to count all things but loss for Christ's sake, to govern their whole lives and thoughts by the principle of love and gratitude to their Saviour. The difference is assuredly not in our knowledge, but in ourselves; that which has been the very bread of life to others is to us tasteless, weak, and ineffectual.

III. Christ's Spirit is given to Christ's redeemed; it is His promise to His people. Think you that you can obtain it of yourselves, before you offer yourselves to Him? No; it is not only a great truth of the gospel, but it is the very gospel itself, that all which is demanded of us, in the first instance, is, that the love of Christ should constrain us to come to Him, that feeling our own weakness and His power, we should come to Him in repentance and faith, grieving for our own evil and trusting to Him to cure us.

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. III., p. 1.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:14 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1411; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 295; T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 277; W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 372; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 10; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 253; E. L. Hull, Sermons, 1st series, p. 102; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 25; F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 329; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 85; G. Wilkinson, Church Sermons, vol. i., p. 145.

Verses 14-15

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Either there is a contradiction in this passage, or St. Paul's conception of love and its power is not the same with the one which is most prevalent among us. "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we judge." Here seems to be a process of the understanding strangely mixed up with a compulsion acting on the feelings or the heart. If the Apostle had to argue with himself that Christ died for all, because all were dead, and that men might not live to themselves, how can he affirm that a mere sense or passion of devotion to his Master urged him on to act or to suffer? If he was under the influence of such a passion, what need or what possibility of thinking, of deliberating, of concluding?

I. I would remark, at the outset, that the love of Christ can scarcely mean the love which the Apostle had, or which any man has, for Christ. The very word "constrains" seems to suggest the thought of an atmosphere surrounding us, compressing us of a power bearing upon us. It would be the strangest phrase imaginable if it meant something which proceeded from ourselves, a smoke or incense rising up to heaven. But a love coming down upon us, the love of a superior Being speaking to us, is not limited. The sunlight of a parent's or a teacher's countenance does not act merely on the affections of a child, it acts upon his intellect; it gives him courage to think, power to perceive, vivacity in all parts of his being. The love of Christ, then, might well constrain the judgment to a right and reasonable conclusion, as well as the hands to right and reasonable acts. If you suppose the Divine love to work on any creature, you would expect it to act generally, diffusively to leave no faculty just as it was before, to bring those out into particular clearness and vigour which were most ready for the influence; sometimes to cause an immediate glow in the passive and susceptible feelings, sometimes to stir up the active powers; sometimes to reach the heart directly, sometimes to reach it through the narrow and winding passages of the understanding.

II. The sense in which these words were most applicable to the Apostle of the Gentiles, is the sense in which they are most applicable to us to us as forming a society of men; to each one of us as an individual man; to the layman and to the priest. A man may confess the constraint of the love of Christ who is most conscious of his own struggle against it, of the effort he has made to be independent of it, of the fierce determination he has often come to that he will entirely break the bonds of love asunder and cast away its cords from him. Still the love of Christ has been pressing him round, above, beneath, seeking to penetrate and possess him. If he yields to it, it will not be less felt as a constraint; he will not boast that now it is his own choice which is governing him, and not another who is guiding and leading him. He must rejoice to feel that his will has been made captive by the true will which it was formed to obey. He must distinctly and deliberately judge that such authority, enforcing such obedience, is the true source of all freedom.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 223.

The Service of Love.

We have in these words a true answer to the question most important for us all; namely, What, in its true essence, stripped of all its accidents and outer garb, what is true religion? To St. Paul religion is not a service of fear, not a service of necessity, not that which a man does because he dreads, not that which he does because he must; but it is a service of love, that which he would wish to do even if he might leave it undone.

I. All true religion begins in the response of our hearts to the love of God as manifested in Jesus Christ our Lord. We begin to live a life which is a service of love, which has been rendered ever since, just so far as by God's grace we have been able to render it, under the controlling influence of the love of Christ in our hearts.

II. It is a service of love, again, inasmuch as it is a service which is accepted and rewarded solely out of the great Father's tenderness and love toward us. The loving Father, who has implanted these instincts within us, could not be content if His children served only from fear.

III. See what an error it is for us to be overanxious about success when engaged in rendering this service. Very often in the Christian service we miss success for the simple reason that we are too anxious for it. Be not overanxious about your spiritual success. Let the motto of the Apostle be the motto of your life. Whatever cometh, go forth joyously, gladly, untiringly, the love of Christ constraining you.

IV. See once more what a useful test this should apply, by which we are to judge the degree of the efforts we are making in seeking the direct spiritual good of those around us. It is very often wise for us to take counsel of our affection rather than of our intellect. Let us not be mean here; let us not stint in our measure here; let the love of Christ constrain us.

S. Newth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 300.

I. The love of Christ is an interpretation of the sorrows of the world. Nowhere are the mysteries and the sadness of life presented more impressively than in the Bible. The gospel does not in any way dissemble the evils by which we are saddened in manifold forms, the pitiless havoc wrought by the forces of nature, the terrible workings of human selfishness, the action of sin within us, of which we are severally conscious; it lays all bare that it may more surely conquer all: it reveals a Divine purpose in suffering; it spreads over all the pure, unsullied light which falls from the Father's eye; it teaches still to look on the whole world as the work of God's wisdom and the object of God's love. Such a view of the world must present all things under a new aspect, and if with open hearts we allow the love of Christ, incarnate, crucified, ascended, to have its perfect work, it enables us to face the mysteries of earth and man with confidence and with hope. The fact of sonship presses upon us the utmost obligation of service as our answer to the Father's will; and it also reveals a Father's compassion as our sure refuge when we mourn over duties imperfectly fulfilled. The love of Christ affirms an unconquerable purpose where we see partial disaster, an inalienable fellowship where we mourn over jealousy and strife, the germ of a heavenly nature where we struggle with a masterful selfishness.

II. The love of Christ is a personal call. The hierarchy of nature is ruled by a scale of duties corresponding to endowments, of service corresponding to strength. All duties, all service alike are tempered together, and contribute to one end through the love of Christ towards us and in us. And here human love reveals the law of highest fellowship, which prejudices of race or class or caste or education are always trying to hinder and to hide. Nothing will go well with us till we have mastered the lesson, till the strong feel that they need the weak to teach them the grace of considerate tenderness, and the weak feel that they need the strong to inspire them with the joy of thankful reverence, till weak and strong alike feel that they are labourers together in Christ with God, joint-heirs of the grace of life.

Bishop Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 106.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:14 , 2 Corinthians 5:15 . W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 365; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 132; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 90. 2 Corinthians 5:15 . F. Emerson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 246; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 9. 2 Corinthians 5:16 . Ibid., p. 331; J. Vaughan, Sermons, vol. vii., p. 160. 2 Corinthians 5:16 . T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 129.

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 5:17

Such is the change which passes upon Christians through the power of Christ their Lord; they are made new creatures. And this deep mystery of our own renewed being flows out of the mystery of Christ's incarnation. He took our manhood and made it new in Himself, that we might be made new in Him. He hallowed our manhood, and carried it up into the presence of His Father as the firstfruits of a new creation. And we shall be made new creatures through the same power by which He was made man the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost.

I. We are made new creatures by a present change working in our moral nature; that is to say, through our regeneration in holy baptism. By the love of God electing us to a new birth of the spirit, and by the Holy Ghost working through that visible sacrament, we are translated from wrath to grace, from the power of darkness to the kingdom of His dear Son. Old things pass away and all things become new round the regenerate man.

II. But further, Christians are new creatures by present, ever-growing holiness of life by the renewing of their very inmost soul. They are absolutely new creatures new in the truth of moral reality; new altogether, but still the same. It is moral contradiction, moral conflict, the clash of moral antagonists, that makes God and man to be two, and the race of man as divided as it is numerous; and so is it in every living soul changed by the grace of God. He was an evil creature, he is a holy one; that is, he was an old, he is new. When the flesh is subdued to the spirit, and Satan bruised under our feet, this old world passes away as a shadow, and the new stands out as the visible reality from which the shadow fell; and the whole man grows into a saint. The lowliest and most unlettered man, to whom written books are mysteries; the tiller of the ground, the toiling craftsman, the weary trader; the poor mother fostering her children for God; the little ones whose angels do always behold the face of their Father in heaven, all these, by the Spirit of Christ working in them, are changed into a saintly newness and serve with angels, and look into the mystery of God with the cherubim and adore with the seraphim of glory.

III. Let us therefore learn some lessons of encouragement. Unlikely as it may seem, our most confident and cheering hopes will be found to arise out of the awful reality of our regeneration. In you old things are passed, as the night is passed when the darkness is driven before the coming day; and new things are come, as the day is come when the white morning steals up the sky. There may be thronging clouds and weeping showers before midday, but to every penitent man the noon shall come at last. Lastly, live above the world, as partakers of the new creation. He that is "the beginning of the creation of God" is knitting together in one His mystical body, making up the number of His elect; and to this end is He working in each one of us, cleansing and renewing us after His own image. All things about us teem with a new perfection. For a while it must needs be that our eyes are holden; were they but opened we should understand that even now are we in the heavenly city. Its walls stand round about us, and they that were seen in Dothan walk in its streets of gold.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. i., p. 19.

In considering this statement of the Apostle, there are two main thoughts which seem to occur for our examination. The former of them concerns itself with the enlargement of feeling and sentiment, with that elevation to a higher spiritual platform which St. Paul describes as characteristic of the Christian life. The second concerns itself with that connection subsisting between that elevation and the condition of being "in Christ."

I. Now the state out of which the Apostle describes himself as having arisen, is one in which he "knew men after the flesh" and he knew Christ after the flesh. In other words, he entertained the common, worldly, merely outward estimate of Christ, of man, and of human life, until his belief of the Saviour's resurrection put that estimate aside and replaced it by another, which was nobler in itself and more in accordance with the actual facts of the case. There is something corresponding to this elevation of thought and feeling in the experience of those persons who in the present day are disciples and followers of the Saviour. They have become emancipated from unworthy thoughts of the Saviour's person and character. They have arrived at a conception of Christ which is markedly and unmistakably above what is usually formed and entertained by the majority of mankind. The superiority of conception consists in a real acceptance of the godhead of Jesus Christ.

II. Let Jesus Christ enter your life, and the commonest act is ennobled by being done for Him. Let Christ into your life, and the present no matter what it is reaches out and fastens itself on to the distant eternity, and becomes the germ of a never-ending existence. The expression "in Christ" is a sort of keynote, to which the whole of St. Paul's statements and arguments are set; and if we can grasp the meaning of this phrase, we are in a fair way to understand everything else. Our being new creatures, then, and therefore fit for the spiritual state of the Redeemed, depends upon our being in Christ. Our being in Christ depends upon our having sincerely accepted and taken to ourselves, by the Spirit's help, the testimony of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ; upon our having appropriated, in fact, His death, and all that flows and follows from it.

G. Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 853.

What must I do to be saved?

I. First of all, it may be right to mention that anxiety for the state of one's soul may be equally real, and yet show itself in different persons in a very different manner. I believe that many good people have been very angry with themselves because they did not weep for their sins, and feel that lively grief which we read of so often in the Scriptures as accompanying repentance. It is of no use to examine nicely into the vehemence or soberness of our feelings, whether of joy or sorrow, of hope or of fear, nor should any one think himself not in earnest because he cannot pass sleepless nights or shed floods of tears for the sinful state in which he has been living.

II. I will suppose that a man is roused sincerely to ask the question, "What must I do to be saved?" and wants some plain and particular directions to serve as his answer. The first rule then to be given is, to be instant in prayer. We might say to such a man, "If you are indeed in earnest, draw near unto God without fear; you are pardoned already for Christ's sake; be sure, therefore, that God loves you enough to give you His Holy Spirit, and to make you that new creature which you wish to be. Pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, that the promise of His Spirit may be fulfilled to you, to guide you safely on your way to heaven." With the practice of prayer, I should earnestly recommend the use of some book of devotion, like Jeremy Taylor's "Holy Living and Dying" or Bishop Wilson's "Sacra Privata." Books of this kind are sure to furnish, ready to our hand, the very passages of Scripture on which we can dwell most profitably.

III. It is wise to begin a Christian course sincerely, but quietly and soberly; to be not too hasty in endeavouring to reach a very high pitch at first, but to regulate our strength, that it may last out through our whole journey. Leave off at once every known sin; that is the first step, and without that we can do nothing; then be diligent and honest in the duties of your calling, striving to grow in humility and in love to God and man. If you go on with prayer and watchfulness, be not afraid that you will not reach in time the highest point of Christian perfection.

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 10.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:17 . T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons , p. 8; J. J. S. Perowne, Sermons, p. 172; J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, 2nd series, p. 94; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 881; vol. xx., No. 1183; vol. xxii., No. 1328; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 275; vol. iii., p. 93; G. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 94; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 97; Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 186; G. Matheson, Ibid., vol. xxxv., p. 346; A. Parry, Phases of the Truth, p. 221. 2 Corinthians 5:17 , 2 Corinthians 5:18 . T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 274.

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 5:18

The Christian Priest.

I. On the first two clauses of the text the third, of course, depends. "He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation." St. Paul could have no conception, therefore, of a Christian minister, except as a man who was sent to testify that all things were of God, and that He had in Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself. It is involved in the first proposition that the minister must regard himself as receiving his authority and commission from God. No Jew could think that he held any office whatsoever except by God's appointment. If the priest had not been taught to consider himself as chosen and clothed by God for His service at the altar, he would have been the one exceptional man in the whole commonwealth. The continual assertions in St. Paul's writings that he was an Apostle not of man nor by man are vouchers for this conviction, as far as he himself was concerned. He never suggests that the difference between the Old and the New Testament ministry is, that the one was appointed by God and the other not; that those who had the one might call themselves ministers of God, and that those who had the other might call themselves ministers of some society which had chosen them to do certain offices on its behalf. What he does say is, that the ministers of the Old Testament were, to a great extent, ministers of a letter written and graven in stone, and that those of the New Testament are ministers of the Spirit; that the one are ministers of condemnation, and the others of righteousness; that the one are to exhibit the glory of God under a veil, and that the others are to present it openly, as revealed in Jesus Christ.

II. In modern times, when people have become weary of the oppressions of a body calling itself the universal church on the one side of them, and of the sects which they see tearing nations into pieces on the other, the notion has gone forth that if men could but shake off all the associations which are connected with the priesthood as a Divine institution, and could merely elect officers to perform the devotional services which they think requisite for the satisfaction of their consciences or their religious impulses, a church might grow up suitable to our time, or to some better time that is approaching. If such persons lead us to think that there can be any reconstruction of a church which has not the doctrine that all things are of God at the basis of it, which does not lead us to regard all offices as more, not less Divine than we have regarded them hitherto, I believe we can expect nothing from such a change but the reproduction of all ancient corruptions and the removal of the good which has counteracted them. We have not believed wrongly that we are called by God to our work, and that we cannot perform it if we are not called to it. We have been very wrong in not making it evident that our calling is for your sakes, that we are witnesses of His care for you. We have not been wrong in asserting a communion between God and His children. We have been very wrong in limiting it according to notions and fancies of ours; in not believing and rejoicing that God may make the truth and the power of which we testify known without our testimony; in not desiring that all shall be prophets, that all shall have God's Spirit; as that old legislator did, who would not suffer the order of the Priesthood to be changed, because it concerned not him, but the nation and its Lord.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i., p. 42.

I. Consider one or two things which are not distinctly expressed in this passage, but which are necessarily implied, and must be regarded as underlying what is expressed for it to have any consistent meaning. (1) Humanity, in itself considered, is supposed to be in some way separated from God; in a state of estrangement, if not of antagonism. (2) A second thing implied is that God loved the world, even when it was dead in trespasses and sins. (3) It is also implied that God's love, if it is to take effect in the highest sense, if it is to secure and accomplish the reconciling of the world, must be expressed and manifested in some form of supernatural interposition.

II. Consider what the text does distinctly express and declare. The pre-existing love of God takes a positive form and is made manifest by a Divine act. (1) There would seem to be two reconciliations referred to in the text; there is one which is accomplished by God, and there is another to be secured by man. (2) The reconciliation effected by God was accomplished by His doing two things: "He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin"; then, as the result of that, He did not impute to men their transgressions. The one thing became possible on the ground of the other. (3) In this reconciliation and return of God to the world, a foundation is laid for the return to and reconciliation of man with God.

III. Christianity is something more than (1) the mission of a teacher or prophet, (2) the embodiment in Christ of perfect virtue, (3) what was simply subjective in God, or even (4) the fatherly love of God. There is a true thought in each of these things, but neither includes the whole truth standing alone.

T. Binney, King's Weighhouse Sermons, 2nd series, p. 51.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:18 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 318; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 568; Spurgeon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 81; H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, p. 183. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1124; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 84; W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. i., p. 272.

Verse 19

2 Corinthians 5:19

God in Christ.

I. "God was in Christ." In the Son of Man, as He loves best to call Himself, who bows His head in death, who suffers the common lot of humanity, that very circumstance of pain and ignominy shows something more than a Divine messenger from God, as some have described Him, or a Divine pleader before God and against God for man, as He has often been pictured. It is a real manifestation or revelation of, or rather a revealer of the very nature of God, that we have in Him. He is in the Father, the Father in Him, and His death is the close of a life in which this human nature, which we all share, has been raised and ennobled by close union with the Divine nature. The world has had before it the crowning act of God's love for the race which He long ago had moulded in something of His own image. It is in the closest union with God that He who was born at Bethlehem and crucified at Calvary has lived and died. The Father and the Son have moved together in the great work of restoration and redemption. There is no crossing or thwarting of the Father's will, no hard-won, dearly bought victory over an offended God.

II. The text is a blessed message, worthy, surely, of the name which the Apostle twice gives it, as one of reconciliation. And he adds one point more: "not imputing" not reckoning, as our Revisers have more exactly rendered it "their trespasses unto them." The metaphor, we see at a glance, is that of a debt, freely, frankly forgiven. This power of absolute and entire forgiveness, passing from God through Christ to man, is put among the very foremost attributes of the Divine nature as revealed to us in and by His Son; it is enshrined in our creed, it is embodied in the prayer of prayers, it is emphasised in the Sermon on the Mount, it is appealed to by the dying Sufferer on the Cross. We, whom it costs so hard a struggle, are bidden to forgive freely, "Yea, until seventy times seven" never to be weary of forgiving.

G. G. Bradley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 257.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:19 . Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 638; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 10. 2 Corinthians 5:20 . E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 37; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 8th series, p. 151; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 80. 2 Corinthians 5:20 , 2 Corinthians 5:21 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., No. 1910.

Verse 20

2 Corinthians 5:20

The Gospel Embassy.

If any man should ask what is the chief work of the Christian ministry, here is the answer: God has sent us; we are ambassadors for Christ. God has given us our message, and that message is that He has reconciled the world unto Himself; and He sends us to pray and beseech every one in the world whom we can reach to be reconciled to Him.

I. We are ambassadors men sent by a King. When an ambassador comes to our country, before he can be received as an ambassador he must show his credentials. St. Paul had proved to those to whom he wrote that he was sent by Christ. He went into the synagogue of the Jews first and testified that Jesus is the Christ. When the Jews refused to receive his message he went to the Gentiles, and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized. No doubt he did miracles also, but they are not mentioned in the account of his embassy to the people of Corinth. The power that went with the message proved that the message was from God. The effects of his message on the minds of the Corinthians were his credentials, for they were the handwriting and the seal of God Himself. They were a new creation. Old things were passed away; all things were become new. They had been renewed in the spirit of their minds, and therefore their life was a new life, and every one might read it for himself.

II. The message is the gospel. God has reconciled us to Himself, and we must be reconciled to Him. He offers us a full, free, eternal pardon for all sins, for all our acts, words, thoughts, done, spoken, and conceived against Him and His law. You must accept that pardon. He assures you that He loves you, loves you with a deep, mysterious, inconceivable love. You must believe that. He tells you that the exceeding great love led Him to give His only-begotten Son to become man, that He might suffer in your place what you deserve to suffer. You will be reconciled to God because you believe that He has reconciled you to Himself.

W. W. Champneys, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 405.

Verse 21

2 Corinthians 5:21

The Sinless made Sin and the Sinful made Righteous.

I. Jesus Christ was personally sinless.

II. As the voluntary representative of sinful men, Jesus Christ was through a limited period accounted by God a transgressor.

III. The object of God in treating Jesus Christ as a sinner was to place Himself in a position whence He might account sinful men righteous, and really work righteousness within them. The text shows (1) the riches of the goodness of God, (2) the unutterable love of Christ, (3) an absolute human necessity provided for, and (4) the security of such as participate in Christ's mediation.

S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 3rd series, p. 225.

References: 2 Corinthians 5:21 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., Nos. 141, 142; vol. vi., No. 310; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 95; Sermons for Boys and Girls, p. 206; A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 320.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Sermon Bible Commentary".