EFFICACY OF THE GOSPEL
2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
EVERY thing, however good, may be made to appear in a disadvantageous light, if we choose to put a perverse construction upon it: and the more diligent any person is in approving himself to God, the more must he expect to suffer from misrepresentation and calumny. His humility will be called superstition; his zeal, ostentation; his devotion, enthusiasm; and his whole deportment, hypocrisy. No man ever laboured to do what was right more than the Apostle Paul; yet no man was ever more calumniated. There was no self-denial which he did not exercise, no suffering which he did not cheerfully endure, for the good of others: yet through the artifices of false teaches, who sought to establish their own influence on the ruins of his, every thing he did became to him an occasion of reproach. There were great disorders in the Corinthian Church, which he sought to rectify. He in the first instance adopted the mildest methods: when these were ineffectual, he threatened to exert his apostolic authority: when still he could not prevail, he was extremely averse to use the necessary seventy; and forbore to do it, in hopes that his lenity might conciliate their regards, and reduce them to a willing obedience. But they construed all this change of conduct as the result of guile, or timidity. They considered him as influenced by a view to his own carnal interests, and as being unworthy of their respect in proportion as he strove to merit it. Of this he complains in the passage before us. He assures his adversaries that, though like other men he was still encompassed with infirmities, he was not actuated by any considerations of ease, or honour, or interest, but was intent on mortifying every evil thought in himself, as well as of checking it in them: and that, as he was impelled by a sense of duty in the whole of his conduct towards them, so, if his present kind entreaties should be without effect, he was ready and determined to exert his apostolic authority in casting out of the Church all obstinate offenders, and in inflicting on them also, by his miraculous powers, some heavy judgment.
This seems to be the import of the text as it stands connected with the context. But if we divest it of the peculiarities arising from the occasion, we shall find in it a summary view of the effects produced by the Gospel in the Apostle’s own mind, and, through his instrumentality, on the minds of others also. In discoursing upon it we shall be led to shew,
I. The opposition which sinners make to God—
We might here lay open the actions of men, and shew their contrariety to the commands of God. But the text speaks of “imaginations and of high things which exalt themselves,” not merely against the authority, but “even against the knowledge, of God.” We must therefore mark the rebellion of men as it shews itself in their “thoughts” which serve as “strong-holds” in which they are intrenched and fortified, and by means of which they exclude God from their hearts.
They fortify themselves then,
1. By proud thoughts—
[It is scarcely credible that such an insect as man should exalt himself with such impious presumption in the presence of his God. If we assert the authority of God, and vindicate his claim to their hearts, they reply, like Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord; neither will I obey his voice [Note: Exodus 5:2. See also Psalms 12:4 and Jeremiah 44:16.].”]
2. By unbelieving thoughts—
[We declare what will certainly be the issue of the contest; and that, if they will not bow to the sceptre of his grace, they shall be broken in pieces with a rod of iron [Note: Psalms 2:9.]: and that, if they will not have Christ to reign over them, he will call forth his executioners to slay them before him [Note: Luke 19:27.]. But not one word of this will they believe. They deny that God will ever execute his threatenings, or that they have any thing to fear at his hands [Note: Psalms 94:7. with Malachi 2:17.].]
3. By worldly thoughts—
[When we summon them to surrender themselves up to God, they tell us, that at some more convenient season they may listen to us; but at present they are so occupied with the cares or pleasures of life, that they cannot find leisure for such concerns as these. To all our pressing invitations, they either answer, more civilly, “I pray thee have me excused,” or, more rudely, “I cannot come [Note: Luke 14:18-20.].”]
4. By self-righteous thoughts—
[When they are driven, as it were, from their out-posts, they raise interior fortifications with great zeal and industry: they encompass themselves with “works of righteousness,” and there insist upon stipulations and agreements with God. They will pay him such a tribute; they will perform such services; they will surrender up a portion of their hearts, provided their old friends and allies may be permitted to continue unmolested in the remainder. The terms of the Gospel are too humiliating for them: and rather than they will come like Benhadad, trusting solely on the mercy of the king of Israel [Note: 2 Kings 20:31, 32.], they will die in the breach, and be buried in the ruins of their citadel.]
5. By desponding thoughts—
[God’s entrance into the heart is not unfrequently obstructed by these, as much as by any other thoughts whatever. And it is surprising to see with what obstinacy they are defended. Sinners will even bring Scripture itself to support them against God, and to justify their rejection of his proffered mercy. They are as studious to persuade themselves that “there is no hope” for them, as once they were to assure themselves that there was no ground for fear [Note: Ezekiel 37:11. Jeremiah 2:25.].]
But impregnable as these “strong-holds” appear, God can “cast them down.” To evince this, we proceed to shew,
II. The means by which God overcomes them—
God in this warfare does not make use of “carnal weapons”—
[The sword of the civil magistrate is not wanted in it. It may indeed be properly used to suppress any evils which injure society, and to protect the godly in the free enjoyment of religious liberty [Note: Romans 13:3-4.]: but it must not be put forth to propagate the truth [Note: Zechariah 4:6.]. Let Mahometans bathe their swords in blood, and Papists kindle their fires, to make proselytes to their religion; but God abhors such measures; and has declared, that “they who take the sword shall perish with the sword [Note: Matthew 26:52.].”
Neither are his servants to call in artifice to their aid. They are indeed, in some sense, to “become all things to all men, that by all means they may save some [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:22.]:” but they are not to make any sinful compliances: they are to stand upon their own ground: they must “have their conversation in the world, not with fleshly wisdom, but with simplicity and godly sincerity [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.];” they must not attempt to exercise craft, or to “catch men by guile [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:16.];” but, “renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty, they must commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:2.].”
Nor is oratory of any use in this warfare. St. Paul was qualified beyond most to fight with this weapon, if he had judged it expedient: but he laid it aside as an incumbrance: he knew that, instead of advancing the interests of his Lord, it would “render the cross of Christ of none effect [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:17.]:” and therefore he determined to “preach not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:4.],” or “in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but in those only which the Holy Ghost teacheth [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:13.].”]
That which he renders effectual, is the simple preaching of the Gospel—
[The law is usually that which first shakes the foundations of the citadel, and batters down the fortifications with which it was encompassed: yea, the Gospel itself also is at first alarming, because it proposes a remedy to persons perishing in their sins, and consequently apprises them of their danger, which they were not before aware of. But when it has convinced them of their guilt and misery, then it speaks peace unto their souls; and sweetly constrains them to yield up themselves unreservedly to God, as their reconciled God and Saviour [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.] — — —
Not that it has this power in itself: it is in itself as weak as was the sound of rams’ horns which cast down the walls of Jericho [Note: Joshua 6:20.]: but it is “mighty through God;” and, when accompanied by the operations of his Spirit, it compels the stoutest rebel to deliver up the keys of his citadel, and surrender at discretion.]
The victories gained by this are perfect and complete—
[The victories obtained by carnal weapons, may be followed by the subjugation of the vanquished people: but no conqueror could expect his newly acquired subjects to become instantly his active and faithful allies. Yet this invariably follows the triumphs of the Gospel: the vanquished sinner begins to fight as zealousy for God as ever he fought against him. Moreover, as his thoughts and imaginations were the strongholds and fortifications whereby he maintained his stand against God, so now they are employed in his service, and are instrumental in repelling all the attacks of his enemies: “they are brought, not only into captivity, but also into obedience to Christ.”
Now he entertains humble thoughts, abhorring himself for ever rebelling against so gracious a God and Saviour; and detesting the base servitude to which he submitted under the government of Satan. These, in proportion as they are entertained, form a very strong rampart around his soul.
Now he cherishes also jealous thoughts, aware of the subtilty of his great adversary, and of the traitors which yet remain within his own bosom. He stands upon his watch-tower, and guards every avenue whereby his enemy may again approach to hurt him.
Now also he raises up grateful thoughts, magnifying and adoring that love wherewith his blessed Lord has loved him, and that grace whereby his God and Father has distinguished him [Note: 1 John 3:1.]. These form a bulwark that may defy all the confederate hosts of earth and hell.
Now moreover he forms resolute thoughts. He is menaced by an ungodly world; but he sets them all at defiance. Is he told that he shall be imprisoned and put to death for his adherence to Christ? He answers, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself [Note: Acts 20:24.];” “I am willing not only to be bound, but also to die for my Lord’s sake [Note: Acts 21:13.]:” “Yea, if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all, and desire that you also will joy and rejoice with me [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].”
In short, he labours that “every thought” which can give advantage to the enemy, may be “cast down,” and every thought which can maintain the authority and promote the honour of God, may be established in the soul: so entirely does Christ overcome the strong man, and convert to his own use all his spoils [Note: Luke 11:21-22.].]
We may learn from hence,
1. How to judge of our conversion—
[Our words or actions are a very inadequate criterion whereby to judge: for, though they must of necessity be good if we are converted, and a want of piety in them will incontestably prove us unconverted, yet there may be nothing manifestly exceptionable in them, while we are still ignorant of Christ and of his salvation. But the thoughts will form an infallible rule of judgment. “As a man thinketh in his heart,” says Solomon, “so is he [Note: Proverbs 23:7.].” Examine therefore whether proud, unbelieving, worldly, self-righteous, and desponding thoughts are subdued within you; and whether humble, jealous, grateful, and resolute thoughts are in habitual exercise. Far be it from us to say, that men are not to employ their thoughts about worldly things; for their duties in social life absolutely require that they should do so: but, to whatever point our thoughts lead us when they are wholly unconfined, that will shew the real disposition of our minds: if we are carnal and worldly, our thoughts will be running out after things of a carnal and worldly nature: if, on the contrary, we are spiritual, then will our thoughts, which are known to God only, be spiritual and heavenly.]
2. How to act when we are converted—
[What is spoken proverbially in reference to the expenditure of money, may very fitly be applied to this subject; ‘Take care of little things; and great ones will take care of themselves.’ Be attentive to your thoughts; and we shall have no fear about your actions. There is not any thing done, but it has been previously transacted in the thoughts. The heart is the womb in which every thing is first conceived, whether it be good or evil [Note: James 1:15.]. Out of the abundance that is there, will the mouth speak, and the members act [Note: Matthew 12:34-35.]. Let us then attend to the advice of Solomon, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life [Note: Proverbs 4:23.].” Let us endeavour to train the thoughts for God. Let us not suffer them to roam without restraint; but frequently arrest them, and inquire into their nature and tendency. Then shall we become ornaments to our holy profession, and acquire an increasing meetness for heaven, where “every” thought will indeed be captivated to the obedience and enjoyment of Christ.]
THE FAITHFUL MINISTER’S DESIRES
2 Corinthians 10:15-16. Having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you.
THE Apostle Paul was a man of an enlarged heart: he panted for the salvation of the whole world, and to the utmost of his power laboured to promote it. But, in his labours, he was under the direction of his Divine Master, who assigned to him the path in which he was to run. To the course that was prescribed to him he carefully adhered; neither going beside it, to interfere with others; nor going beyond it, as obtruding himself any where without an express commission. In these respects, he differed widely from some who sought to establish themselves on the foundation which he had laid at Corinth, and to subvert his influence in the Church which he had planted. To remedy the evils which had been introduced by them, he meditated another visit to that city; and hoped, after rectifying all abuses there, to proceed to other regions beyond them, for the purpose of diffusing more widely, than he had yet done, the Gospel of Christ. This intention, which he specifies in the words of our text, will lead me to set before you,
I. The desires of a faithful minister, in reference to any Church which he may have planted—
He will desire their growth in every grace—
[However numerous his converts may be, no faithful minister will be satisfied, unless they make their profiting to appear. Every believer is enjoined to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Peter 3:18.]:” and it is in that way alone that he can either promote the honour of God, or advance his own happiness — — — Like persons engaged in a race, he must “forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before; and press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.]. A mother, however rejoicing over her infant child, would soon cease to rejoice, if she saw no advancement in his stature: and so can no faithful minister find pleasure in his converts, if he see them not gradually advancing in the divine life, and “growing up towards the measure of the full stature of Christ.”]
He will desire their growth in faith more particularly—
[Faith is the root of every grace; and according to its vital operations in us, will be our growth in all that is good. When our Lord inculcated on his Apostles the exercise of a forgiving spirit, they replied, “Lord, increase our faith [Note: Luke 17:3-5.]!” One would have supposed that they should rather have said, “Increase our love.” But they judged well; because their love was sure to be augmented in proportion to their faith. It is precisely in the same view that St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians, when he refers to an expected “increase of their faith.” It is by increasing discoveries of the great mystery of redemption, and of the glory of God as displayed in it, that we are to be assimilated to the image of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.]; and to be rendered meet for the service of God on earth, or the enjoyment of him in heaven — — —]
The Apostle’s hopes of ultimately proceeding to regions beyond them, lead me yet further to notice,
II. The desires of a faithful minister, in reference to the whole world—
A truly benevolent mind will extend its efforts as far as possible for the welfare of mankind: it would not willingly leave one to “perish, for whom Christ died.” In diffusing the blessings of salvation to the whole world, the pious minister,
1. Will labour personally with all his might—
[A minister’s first concern is, to instruct the people committed to his charge: nor will the most enlarged philanthropy justify a neglect of his more appropriate duties. But, whilst it is his duty to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” it is his duty to exert himself, according to his ability, to extend that kingdom to the very ends of the earth. If by his own personal labours he can carry the Gospel to foreign lands, he will account it his highest honour to engage in that service; and, like the Apostle, will regard every advance which he makes, a step towards regions and services yet beyond. But if his proper labours be stationary, he will exert all his influence to accomplish, through the instrumentality of others, what he cannot effect by his own personal exertions — — —]
2. Will look for the concurrence and aid of all his people—
[St. Paul hoped that his Corinthian converts would unite in furthering, to the utmost of their power, his efforts for the benefit of others beyond them. It is possible enough that the partiality of some towards him might have made them desirous of enjoying his continued labours, even at the expense of others whom he hoped to benefit. But such selfish wishes are decidedly wrong. We should be willing to make sacrifices for the good of others; and to “seek not our own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:33.].” By such sacrifices the people do, in fact, concur in promoting and propagating the Gospel of the kingdom: and, if to these they add their pecuniary contributions and their prayers, for the furtherance of this good work, they are, in the truest and sublimest sense, “fellow-workers with God.” To this, therefore, the faithful minister will endeavour to bring his people: that, through the united efforts of many, that work may be done, which cannot be effected by individual exertion.]
Let me now entreat you,
1. To improve your own privileges—
[Through the tender mercy of God, “the Gospel is come unto you;” and many of you, I trust, have been led to “believe in Christ, to the saving of your souls.” But let none of you continue “weak in faith.” Your faith must increase: your views must be more enlarged, your affiance more simple, your confidence more firm: you must “be strong in faith, if you would give glory unto God.” Remember, that it is “to perfect that which is lacking in your faith,” that our labours are directed: and you yourselves must ever keep that object in view. Go on then, from grace to grace: and let this testimony be borne respecting you, that “your faith and love grow exceedingly.”]
2. To extend those privileges to all around you—
[There is no need that any of you should overstep the line assigned you by Divine Providence: but, if your personal efforts are limited, your wishes and your prayers should know no bounds. I call upon you, then, to help forward the work of God in the world. Assist, to the utmost of your power, the different societies that are established for the conversion whether of Jews or Gentiles: for in this way, though you yourselves are stationary, the work of God will be advanced by you; seeing that the active agents of those societies, both at home and abroad, will “be enlarged by you abundantly.”]
THE FOLLY OF PRIDE AND BOASTING
2 Corinthians 10:18. Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
ONE would be ready to suppose, that the more any person excelled in every thing that was good, the more he would be filled with self-complacency; and that the less holy any person was, the more he would be humbled under a sense of his vileness. But observation and experience attest that the very reverse of this is true. The godly do indeed enjoy the testimony of a good conscience; but they are far from boasting of their own superior worth; they rather “prefer others in honour before themselves,” and account themselves “less than the least of all saints.” But formalists and hypocrites are ever ready to commend themselves on account of their fancied excellencies, and to assume a credit which does not belong to them.
There were at Corinth some of this description—some conceited teachers, who had entered into the Apostle’s labours, and were endeavouring to advance their own influence in the Church by weakening and subverting his. To put the Corinthians on their guard against them, St. Paul shews them how different had been his conduct from that of these vain-glorious men: he had brought the Gospel to those regions where it had never been heard before; whereas they were “boasting in another man’s line of things made ready to their hand:” he had moved in the sphere appointed him by God; they were going beside and beyond the line marked out for them: he had sought only the glory of the Lord; while they were puffed up with pride, and seeking their own glory. He then lays down a rule, applicable indeed to these teachers in the first instance, but equally proper for us also. That “not they who commend themselves will be approved, but those whom the Lord commendeth.”
In discoursing on these words we shall shew,
I. From whence self-approbation arises—
The hearts of men are by nature proud: and their pride finds abundant scope for exercise;
1. From their over-rating the quality of their actions—
[If what they do appears to be good, they are not strict in inquiring whether it be really so: they do not wish to detect those deficiencies which might render them dissatisfied with themselves. They do not examine the principle from which their actions flow, or the manner in which they are performed, or the end for which they are done: whereas these are the things which alone can determine the real quality of their actions. They take for granted that all is right, because they see nothing wrong; and thus are filled with self-admiration and self-complacency, when, if they formed a proper estimate of their conduct, they would rather be filled with shame and self-abasement.]
2. From their judging of them by an erroneous standard—
[Though men are not nice and scrupulous in weighing their actions, they involuntarily and imperceptibly judge of them by some standard. Now the standard by which they try them, is that of popular opinion, and general practice: and whatever stands this test, they conclude to be deserving of praise. They never think of weighing themselves in the balance of the sanctuary: the popular scale is more suited to their minds: that is not turned by small matters: it is so favourably constructed that a small weight of virtue will over-balance a heavy load of iniquity; and the many grains of allowance thrown into it are almost sure to make it preponderate in their favour. No wonder then that they applaud themselves, when, if they took the word of God as their standard, they would find cause for nothing but humiliation and contrition.]
3. From their ascribing them to a wrong cause—
[Because they are free agents in all that they do, they suppose that the merit of every good action must belong to them. But they forget that “God is the sole author of every good and perfect gift;” that it is “he who of his own good pleasure gives us both to will and to do:” and that consequently all the honour is due to him alone. Granting then that their actions were really as excellent as their overweening conceit would paint them, yet they would have no ground for self-commendation. The more they did for God, the more they would be indebted to God; by whose agency alone they were either inclined, or empowered, to do any thing that was good. But when they leave God out of their thoughts, and ascribe their virtues to their own will and power, they must of necessity contract habits of self-preference and self-esteem.]
4. From their overlooking their defects—
[The proud and vain-glorious reflect only on what they do; and never think at all of what they leave undone, or of the deficiencies which are found in their very best actions. They perform one duty perhaps, and neglect many. They attend to some injunction of the second table, but forget entirely the precepts contained in the first. They mark their observance of the letter of a command, but quite overlook their inattention to its spirit. They will have no more gods than one: but they will not “love that God with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.” They will “draw nigh to God with their lips,” but will not inquire whether they have “worshipped him in spirit and in truth.” What can we expect from such partial views of their conduct, but that they will vaunt and boast themselves, as if they were worthy of the highest commendation?]
Having traced the self-applause of men to its true source; we proceed to shew,
II. The folly and danger of it—
To illustrate this, let two things be considered:
1. God will not regulate his judgment by theirs—
[Man is often influenced by the opinions of his fellow-creatures; and it is proper that he should be so; because others may have more accurate information than he, or be more capable of forming a just conclusion from the premises before him. But “unto God all things are naked and open:” however specious any appearances may be, He cannot be deceived: He will “lay righteousness as a line or plummet” to the souls of men, and thereby mark the smallest deviations from perfect rectitude. In vain will the boaster vaunt before him; for he will with one single interrogation confound him utterly, and lay him in the dust. In vain will the self-deceiver bring forward in his defence the good actions that he has done; for his God and Judge will indignantly dismiss him as unworthy of the smallest regard [Note: Matthew 7:21-23.]. To have the approbation of men will avail him nothing: for “God will not judge according to appearance, but will judge righteous judgment:” “he will shew, that many things which are highly esteemed among men, are an abomination in his sight [Note: Luke 16:15.]:” and, when he passes sentence on them, he will “be justified in his saying, and and clear when he judgeth [Note: Psalms 51:4.].”]
2. Instead of sanctioning, he will reprove, their conceit—
[Nothing is move odious in the sight of God than pride: “the proud in heart, we are told, are an abomination to the Lord [Note: Proverbs 16:5.].” Indeed “pride was not made for man:” it assimilates us, as much as any thing can do, to the devil himself: and will certainly bring us into the same condemnation with him [Note: 1 Timothy 3:6.]. Our own high opinion of ourselves will have an effect directly opposite to that which we wish. It will cause our God to “resist [Note: James 4:6.],” abase [Note: Daniel 4:30-32; Daniel 4:37.], and utterly destroy us [Note: Isaiah 10:12-16. with Luke 18:14.].
We need go no further to prove that men, “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise [Note: ver. 12.].”]
That we may be preserved from this most destructive habit, we will point out,
III. The most effectual antidotes—
1. Study the holy law of God—
[That is the only true standard of good and evil: and “by that is the knowledge of sin.” That reaches to the inmost thoughts and dispositions, as well as to the outward acts.—It was by a view of that, as extending to every desire of the soul, that Paul was made to feel himself a guilty and undone sinner [Note: Romans 7:9.]: and that once understood, will bring all of us into the dust before God.]
2. Watch the motions of your own hearts—
[Little do we suspect how much evil we should discover, if we were to mark the motives and principles by which we are actuated. Even when we are influenced by a good principle in the first instance, Satan will find some occasion to sow tares with the wheat, and to defile our very best actions. Let us then exercise a holy jealousy over ourselves: let us not be too confident, even when we are most unconscious of any secret evil [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-4.]: let us especially be on our guard against every self-complacent thought: and let us abase ourselves, that we may be exalted of our God.]
3. Bear in mind the strictness of the scrutiny in the day of judgment—
[God “weigheth” not our actions only, but “our spirits:” there is not a thought of our hearts that is not open to his all-seeing eye. He views at once the rule, and the observance of it; and every deviation from the line of absolute perfection is marked by him. True indeed it is, that whilst we are looking to the blood of Christ to cleanse us from our secret faults, and to the Spirit of Christ to perfect in us his good work, God will not “be extreme to mark what is done amiss:” but, if we harbour any secret lust, or indulge any unhallowed principle, our God will search it out, and judge us according to it [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.]. Our self-commendation will then avail us nothing; but we shall stand or fall according to the decision of an omniscient and unerring Judge.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany