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GODLY JEALOUSY THE DUTY OF MINISTERS
2 Corinthians 11:2-3. I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
TO boast of ourselves is a mark of a weak and foolish mind. Yet there are occasions whereon it may be necessary, particularly where the welfare of the Church of God is concerned. It would have ill become the Apostle to sit down in silence under all the calumnies that were cast upon him as a designing and deceitful man, who sought only his own glory, whilst he was assuming a character which did not properly belong to him. In vindication of himself, he appeals to the plain, visible, acknowledged testimonies which God had given in his favour; which far exceeded any which his opponents could produce, and equalled any which had ever been given to “the very chiefest Apostles.” At the same time he entreats the Corinthians to “bear with his folly” in mentioning these things, since it was not for his own sake, but for theirs, that he adverted to them.
Now the jealousy which he felt for the saints at Corinth is precisely such as every minister should feel for his people, exposed as they are to temptations on every side: and that it may be seen how necessary such a jealousy is, we shall shew,
In what near relation believers stand to Christ—
They are espoused to Christ—
[Christ is the Head and Husband of his Church. Under this character he is described by the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 54:5.]: it is also given him in the Gospel [Note: John 3:29.]: and the Apostle Paul largely and repeatedly assigns it to him [Note: Romans 7:4.Ephesians 5:32; Ephesians 5:32.]. In the book of Revelation also the Church is expressly represented as “the Wife of the Lamb [Note: Revelation 19:7.].”
Truly, if it had not been so plainly revealed, we could not have dared to entertain such a thought in our minds. That sinners, so guilty, so polluted as we are, should be admitted into so near and so endearing a relation to our incarnate God: how wonderful! how surpassing all knowledge, and all conception! Yet so it is: and both the Church at large, and every member of the Church, is a partaker of this honour.]
Into this relation they are brought by the ministry of the Gospel—
[The Apostle says, “I have espoused you to one husband.” Ministers may not unfitly be compared to Abraham’s servant, who was sent forth to seek a wife for his master’s son. They have received a commission from their Lord and Master: they make known to the children of men the excellencies of him in whose name they come: they look to God for the success of their labours: and by their means he works, “making persons willing in the day of his power.” Sinners thus wrought upon agree to take the Lord Jesus Christ as their Husband; and by their union with him they hope henceforth to “bring forth fruit unto God.” In him they see all that they can possibly desire; and on him they rely for the communication of it to their souls: they take him as their “wisdom, their righteousness, their sanctification, and redemption;” and they glory in him, even in him alone. Having thus accepted Christ for their all, they make a covenant with him, “a perpetual covenant not to be forgotten [Note: Jeremiah 50:5.];” and they consecrate to him all that they are, and all that they have, to be disposed of from henceforth as his property according to his sovereign will and pleasure. They pledge themselves henceforth through grace to be entirely “for the Lord, and not for another [Note: Hosea 3:3.];” and never more to yield their affections to any but him. This surrender the Lord Jesus Christ accepts; and to every one by whom it is made, he commissions his servants to proclaim in his name, “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies; I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord [Note: Hosea 2:19-20.].”]
But whilst on the one hand we contemplate their privileges, we must on the other hand consider,
The danger to which they are exposed—
It is not to be supposed that he who ruined their first parents in Paradise, will leave them in the quiet possession of this high honour: No; as he envied the happiness of man in innocence, and never rested till he had robbed him of it, so he envies all who are brought into this near relation to the Lord Jesus, and never ceases from his efforts to deprive them of it.
The state which becomes those who are thus espoused to Christ, is that of perfect simplicity—
[A person, espoused to a fellow-creature only, ought to possess a simplicity of mind towards him: she should have no interest, no desire, no wish distinct from his. Thus there should be a singleness of eye in all who are united in these holy bonds to our Lord Jesus Christ. There should be no dependence on any thing but on him alone. The constant habit of the believer’s mind must be, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” Nor must the betrothed person indulge a wish after any one but him to whom she is espoused: she must “forget her own people and her father’s house, if she would have her Lord to find pleasure in her beauty [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].” She must possess also a modest, humble, child-like spirit, free from all pride, conceit, and vain-glory. In a word, she must be wholly his, in body, soul, and spirit; “an Israelite indeed, and without guile.”]
But from this state Satan is ever striving to divert us—
[Innumerable emissaries has he at his command ready to take advantage of us. Many even of our fellow-creatures are used by him as his instruments: many who are, in fact, no other than “false Apostles and deceitful workers,” under his influence transform themselves into “Apostles of Christ,” even as that wicked fiend himself assumes the semblance of an angel of light [Note: ver. 13–15.].” They will profess a great regard for truth, and under that garb will endeavour to commend their own erroneous principles. Under a profession of inculcating sublimer views of the Gospel, they will sap its very foundations, or build a superstructure altogether adverse to it, relaxing the obligations of the law, under a pretence of enhancing the excellency of the Gospel: and, as sure as any embrace their pernicious tenets, they are despoiled of all virgin modesty, and puffed up with pride and self-conceit. The same kind of artifices which Satan used in tempting Eve, he still makes use of by other serpents than he then inspired. He suggests the superior wisdom that will be acquired by embracing this or that dogma; and the gratification that will be derived from a compliance with such or such a temptation. He calls in question the import of such divine declarations as militate against his views, or at least the danger of acting in opposition to them: and by these devices he beguiles many to their everlasting ruin.]
Persons so tempted are generally unconscious of their danger; and hence arises,
The duty of those to whom God has committed the oversight of them—
The work of a minister is but just begun when he has been the means of bringing any soul to Christ: he has yet to watch over that soul, and to prepare it and make it ready for its destined honours.
At a period yet future is the servant to present the bride to her Lord and husband—
[Even the horrid and disgusting offices performed for the virgins who were to be presented to king Ahasuerus, may, when divested of the sensuality connected with them, serve to illustrate the purification necessary for every member of the Christian Church. In the great day of the Lord Jesus we are to present to him our every convert “as a chaste virgin.” Yea, the Lord Jesus Christ himself is now by his word and Spirit preparing the Church, “that he may then present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it may be holy and without blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:25-27.].” If she be not made ready for him, and “clothed in fine linen clean and white, which is the righteousness of the saints [Note: Revelation 19:8.],” she can never be acknowledged as his bride. Any fundamental error in faith, or any allowed deviation from his law in practice, will entirely make void the covenant entered into at the espousals, and will cut her off from any hope of that felicity after which she aspires: and thus will all the minister’s “labour prove in vain [Note: Galatians 4:11.].”]
Till that period arrive, he must be jealous over her with a godly jealousy—
[If he see any declension from the simplicity that is in Christ, he must instantly raise his warning voice. If he see only a device of Satan whereby her piety may be endangered, and her mind may be in any respect corrupted, he must instantly put her on her guard. He is not to wink at any thing whether in doctrine or practice that is contrary to the mind of God. If there be only a secret leaning towards any thing that is wrong, he must with all the solicitude of the tenderest parent point out the snare that Satan is laying for her feet. Her Divine Husband is “a jealous God:” and a corresponding jealousy in his ministers must be ever awake to the discernment of incipient danger, and the correction of the slightest error. This is “a godly jealousy:” it is the highest possible expression of love: and the minister who with most fidelity and affection discharges this duty, most approves himself to God, and displays the most valuable friendship towards man: “he watches for souls, as one that must give account.”]
Those who have given occasion for jealousy—
[Is it asked, Who are they? I answer, Those who have either declined in their love to Christ, or have not made their profiting to appear. What would any of you feel towards an object, who, after having solemnly betrothed herself to you, and once professed towards you the most ardent affection, had ceased to delight in your society, or shewed, that her more intimate acquaintance with you produced no increase of attachment towards you? Would your mind be easy? Would you be satisfied with such equivocal professions of regard? What then must the Lord Jesus Christ feel, and what should your ministers feel, when your whole spirit and conduct give so much reason for doubt and fear? They must be jealous; they ought to be jealous: and towards all who come under this character we must “change our voice.” We do truly “stand in doubt of” such: and we are constrained to “travail in birth with them, as it were, a second time until Christ be formed in them [Note: Galatians 4:19-20.].” “Look well to yourselves, my brethren, that ye lose not the things that ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward:” for if ye draw back from the Lord Jesus Christ, either in heart or life, “his soul shall have no pleasure in you [Note: Hebrews 10:38.].”]
Those in whom no visible occasion of jealousy exists—
[We bless our God who has kept you thus far faithful to your engagements. Truly, “he who hath established you in the midst of such manifold temptations is God” — — — But still, though we have no occasion to be jealous over you, it becomes you to be jealous over yourselves with a godly jealousy. For who can tell what a day or an hour may bring forth? David, when walking on the top of his house, little thought what a snare Satan had laid for him: and you little know how sorely he may thrust at you before another day has passed over your heads. “Be not high-minded, but fear.” “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” Take notice from time to time how your minds stand affected to the Lord Jesus Christ: mariners are often forced out of their track by currents, and never discover their deviations till they have made their observations afresh. Make your observations then: Do you delight more in secret communion with Christ? Do you think less of every sacrifice you are called to make for him? Is it more and more the one endeavour of your soul to please him? And are you looking forward with increasing desire for that day when you shall be intimately and indissolubly united to him, and spend an eternity in the fruition of his love? By such marks as these you may judge of your own state, and acquire a confidence in relation to his judgment also. Leave nothing in suspense. Give yourselves to him: walk with him: cleave to him with full purpose of heart: and “be diligent that ye may at last be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 2 Peter 3:14; 2 Peter 3:17.].”
And now to his holy keeping we commend you; even to him, “who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. To whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Jude, ver. 24.].”]
ST. PAUL’S ZEAL ILLUSTRATED AND IMPROVED
2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?
THE people of the world are in the habit of representing religious persons as defective in every mental attainment, and negligent in the discharge of every social duty: and it becomes Christians not only to cut off all occasion for such reproach, but so to conduct themselves as to be able to appeal to all who know them, that they are in no respect below any other people who are similarly circumstanced with themselves. As St. Paul, when his adversaries sought to detract from his character, silenced them by this challenge, “Whereinsoever any is bold, I am bold also: are they Hebrews? so am I; are they Israelites? so am I; are they the seed of Abraham? so am I:” so ought Christians in every department of life to be able to challenge competition with other men, and boldly to say, ‘Are they modest, prudent, kind, faithful, diligent? so am I.’ This they should be able to do in reference to all heathen virtues, and worldly attainments. But in relation to every thing of a spiritual nature, the Christian should so far excel, that no worldly person should be able to come near him. Our blessed Lord intimates this in the question which he puts to us; “What do ye more than others?” We ought to do more than any other people in the world either do or can do; and, like the Apostle in our text, we should be able to enumerate many things, in which our adversaries, even the best of them, can bear no competition with us.
It is well for the Church of God that St. Paul was so calumniated by his enemies: for, if he had not been so traduced, he never would have recorded the extent of his labours, respecting which, from the brief history of them in the Acts of the Apostles, we should not have formed any adequate conception. True it is, indeed, that he again and again acknowledges, that, if not so compelled to declare the truth, he would have been a fool for boasting in this manner: and we too shall be guilty of the most egregious folly, if we without necessity proclaim our own goodness; but still, I say again, we should be inferior to the world in nothing that pertains to this life, and superior to them in every thing that pertains to the life to come.
From this account, which the Apostle gives of his own labours, we shall take occasion,
To place them more distinctly before you—
Of course, it is only a cursory notice that we can take of them: and indeed it is the accumulated mass, rather than any minute particulars, which will best answer our end in this discourse. Yet, that we may have something of a distinct view of his labours, let us notice,
[St. Paul, at his conversion, had been told by the Saviour “what great things he should suffer for his Master’s sake:” and truly they were great, greater far than those which fell to the share of any other Apostle. He was “in stripes above measure,” being five times scourged by the Jews to the utmost extremity that their law allowed; and thrice by the Romans, though in direct opposition to the Roman law. “In prisons” all the Apostles had been; but not so frequently as he. So “often was he in deaths,” that he felt himself “standing in jeopardy every hour,” and could appeal to God that “he died daily [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:30-31.].” Thrice did he suffer shipwreck: and on one of those occasions he floated on a piece of the wreck “a day and a night,” every moment in danger of being consigned to a watery grave. On one occasion he was stoned (at Lystra), and actually left for dead: and doubtless he would have died, if God had not, by a miraculous power, raised him up again, and restored him to the use of his limbs [Note: All these were prior to his sufferings recorded in the latter part of the Acts of the Apostles.].
What patience, what resignation, what fortitude, must the Apostle have possessed, when he could persevere in the midst of such continued and severe trials as these! And how strange does it appear, that “in every place such bonds and such afflictions should await” such a man as he; whose only fault was, that he loved his God and Saviour, and loved his fellow-creatures too even beyond his own life! But so it was; and so it will be, as long as ungodly men shall have it in their power to put forth into exercise their enmity against God: and, in proportion as any man resembles Paul in his zeal for Christ, and in his love to men, he will meet with the very same treatment that the Apostle did: and if he be not persecuted unto death, as Paul was, he will be indebted for his protection, not to the abated hostility of men, but to the laws of the land in which he dwells.]
[These were incessant, wherever he moved. Sometimes he was in peril “by waters,” that is by rivers, which he was obliged to ford, or more probably by land floods, which he could neither foresee nor escape: sometimes by robbers, who, conceiving him to be carrying money with him from one Church to another, lay in wait to plunder him. Sometimes “by his own countrymen,” who were incensed against him for going to the Gentiles: and at other times “by the heathen,” who were indignant at his endeavours to overthrow idolatry. “In the city,” he was beset by enraged mobs; “in the wilderness,” by ravenous beasts; and, “in the sea,” by frequent tempests, or by pirates, more to be dreaded than death itself.
But who would have thought that persons professing love to Christ should be found adverse to him; and that he should be in as much danger from their envy and jealousy, their subtilty and malignity, as from the more open assaults of professed enemies! Yet amidst his other perils he mentions those in which he was “among false brethren,” who sought by misrepresentations to subvert his influence, and by treachery to destroy his life. Alas! alas! that such impiety should ever be concealed under a cloak of zeal for Christ! Yet the faithful minister shall find that such monsters do exist; and that there are yet in the Church, no less than in the apostolic age, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” who, if only they can find opportunity to exercise their predominant dispositions, will tear in pieces the Church, and spare neither the shepherd nor the sheep [Note: Acts 20:29.].]
[Amidst all his labours, he was often destitute of the comforts, yea, and of the common necessaries of life; so that, in addition to all the weariness and painfulness of his exertions, he was exposed to “hunger and thirst, and cold and nakedness,” not having clothing to protect him from the inclemencies of the weather, nor food to sustain his feeble body. And, as if all these privations were not sufficient, he often added to them by voluntary fastings, and by a sacrifice of needful sleep, that so he might be able to support himself without being burthensome to any, and make himself an example to those who accused him of seeking only his temporal advancement.
How lightly and thoughtlessly do we read this account, as though there were nothing very extraordinary in it! But if we had only to spend one single week in such trials as his, we should soon see what astonishing grace he must have had, that could enable him to bear them for a series of years, and even to “take pleasure in them,” if only his Lord and Saviour might be glorified by means of them [Note: ver. 30. with 2 Corinthians 12:10.]!]
[These, under such circumstances, were truly overwhelming. The Churches every where, whether planted by him or not, looked to him for guidance and direction in all their difficulties; so that there was a weight upon his mind sufficient to depress any one who did not feel his consolations and supports. The trials of Moses being great, seventy persons were appointed to bear the burthen with him. But Paul had to bear his burthens all alone. He was the referee of all; the counsellor of all; the director of all. Nor did he attend merely to the general concerns of all the Churches: no; he bore in mind the case of every individual that was brought before him; and laboured as much for the benefit of each, as if he had no other object to engage his mind. For this he could appeal to the Corinthians themselves; “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” If any, through prejudice, or ignorance of Christian liberty, or through any other cause, were weak, he sympathized with them, and accommodated himself to their feeble state, and laboured by all possible means to comfort and encourage them. In like manner, if any were stumbled either by the artifices of false teachers, or the violence of persecution, he “burned” with an ardent desire to restore their minds, and to establish their hearts.]
Such was the life of that holy man; and such were the labours in which it was continually occupied. We will now endeavour,
To suggest such considerations as obviously arise from them—
But where shall we begin? or, once begun, where shall we end? We must of necessity confine ourselves to a few which are of most general utility. Let us see then in these labours of his,
The incalculable value of the soul—
[If we were to judge by the conduct of all around us, we should suppose that the soul were of no value: for the generality of men pay no more attention to their souls than if there were no future state of existence: and of those who profess to care for their souls, how few labour for their welfare with becoming zeal! If they be called upon to bear some reproach, or to sustain some temporal loss, they are ready to draw back, as though the interests of their souls were not worth the sacrifice. They are more terrified at the sneers of a fellow-creature, than at the threatenings of their God; and more desirous of the applause of man, than of the approbation of their Judge. But look at the Apostle Paul: Did he think so lightly of immortal souls? Would he have laboured and suffered so much for them, if they were of no more value than men in general account them? Surely, either he was wrong, or we; if the souls of men deserved no more attention than is usually paid to them, he was a foolish and mad enthusiast: but if we may at all estimate their value by his labours for them, then are the world mad, in paying so much attention to worthless vanities, and in so little regarding what is of more value than the whole world. O ye careless ones, whatever be your rank or age, let me expostulate with you on your more than brutish folly — — —]
The vast importance of the Gospel—
[When we urge on men the necessity of believing in Christ, and of living altogether by faith on him, they reply that there is no need of that entire surrender of ourselves to Christ; and that to condemn all who will not comply with such requisitions is uncharitable in the extreme. When we urge them also to use all possible means for the conversion of the heathen, they tell us that we may safely leave them to their respective creeds; and that God is too merciful ever to condemn them. But, if this be true, how can we account for the conduct of the Apostle? Why did he labour so for the conversion of Jews or Gentiles, if either Jews or Gentiles could be saved in any other way than through faith in Christ? Some labours and some sufferings we may suppose a man to undergo for the sake of proselyting others to his own opinions; but who would endure all that Paul endured, and that too so continually, and for so long a series of years, if he had not known that the everlasting welfare of men depended on their acceptance or rejection of his message? Know ye then that the record of God, even that record which says, “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he that hath the Son, hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life;” that record, I say, is true: and just so many of you as are living simply by faith on Christ, and receiving every thing out of his fulness, are in a state of salvation: but every other person without exception is “under condemnation, and the wrath of God abideth on him.”
And here let me caution those who are convinced of this truth, to hold it fast and glory in it, though earth and hell should conspire to turn them from it: for if the Apostles laboured so much and endured so much to impart the knowledge of it to others, much more should we be in earnest to secure an interest in it for ourselves — — —]
The spirit with which alone men should enter on the ministerial office—
[Many, in undertaking this office, have no view but to their own case, or interest, or honour: and if in these things pre-eminence is to consist, they would have no objection to equal “the very chiefest Apostles.” But if their preferment is to resemble that of St. Paul, they care not how many get before them: they have no taste for such things; and if they had ever so small a measure of them, they would account it much more an occasion of complaint than any ground of glorying. But it was in labours and sufferings that St. Paul gloried; first, because they were the best proofs of his ministerial fidelity [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:4.]; and, next, because they were the means of magnifying the grace of Christ, whose strength was perfected in his weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]. Would to God that more of his spirit were found amongst us! There would not then be such difficulty in finding men to go forth to the work of missions. Now, the leaving of earthly friends, the incurring of some danger from foreign climes, the having but small provision, and looking forward to many difficulties and privations; these are such formidable obstacles, that but few are willing to encounter them. But they who have so little zeal for God, as not to be willing to encounter trials and afflictions in his service, are not fit for the ministry in any place: they may satisfy themselves with a ceremonious round of duties; but they will not so satisfy their God, who requires his stewards to be faithful, and his soldiers to war a good warfare. We must tread in the steps of Paul, if ever we would “save ourselves and them that hear us” — — —]
The proper influence of redeeming love—
[Look at the text, all ye who profess to believe in Christ. See what faith will do, wherever it exists in truth. Look and see what ye have ever done for the Lord that can be compared with this: say whether the best amongst you have not cause to blush and mourn for your unprofitableness? If you ask the Apostle Paul, what it was that animated him to such exertions, he will tell you, The love of Christ constraineth me. This it was that carried him forward in the midst of so many difficulties, and enabled him to bear up under such accumulated afflictions. This made him ready to be bound or to die, at any time or at any place, content that “Christ should be magnified in his body whether by life or death.” Beloved brethren, thus will it work in you: it will fill you with zeal for God, and with love to man. It will make you earnestly desirous to spread the knowledge of the Saviour throughout the world; and will render sacrifices, whether of ease or property, delightful to you. You will account it an unspeakable honour that you are permitted to do or suffer any thing for the advancement of his glory; just as the Apostles, after having been imprisoned and beaten by the Jewish council, departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for their Redeemer’s sake. Rise up then, ye servants of the Lord Jesus, and gird yourselves to your Master’s work. Let each inquire, What can I do for Christ? How can my time, my property, my talents, my influence be made serviceable to his cause? It is said of the angels, that they do their Maker’s will, “hearkening to the voice of his word;” do ye thus look for the first intimations of your Saviour’s will. If the most arduous and self-denying office be proposed, be ready instantly to say, “Here am I; send me [Note: Isaiah 6:8.].” So will you approve yourselves his disciples indeed, and reap a glorious recompence in the great day of his appearing.]
2 Corinthians 11:29. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?
TRULY, the testimony of a good conscience is a source of unbounded joy. There are, and ever were, those who would traduce the characters of the best of men. The Apostle Paul himself was reproached by many, yea, and by many who professed themselves Christians too, as a “weak” man, and “a fool [Note: ver. 16, 21.].” He was able, however, to give very abundant proof, that, whilst others gloried on false grounds, he had just and good ground for glorying; and that, “in no respect was he inferior, either to them, or to the very chiefest Apostles [Note: ver. 5, 21–28.].” In truth, the very things which rendered him contemptible in the eyes of many, were those which redounded most to his honour. His enemies thought that “hunger and thirst, and cold and nakedness, and persecutions” for Christ’s sake, were occasions for reproach; whereas the Apostle judged that they were grounds rather for approbation from men, and for thanksgivings to God. And, whilst he vindicated himself thus from the charges that were brought against him, he could appeal to his very enemies, and ask, whether his labours had been of a mere general and ostentatious kind; or whether they had not, even to that very hour, been so universal and particular, as to entitle him to gratitude from every member of the Christian Church: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?”
Now, in this appeal we may see,
The infirmities incident to the people of God—
There were at that time, and have been in every age of the Church, some who need all possible attention from their brethren:
Those who are weak—
[There are “children” in the family of Christ, no less than “young men” and “fathers.” In truth, there are many who are “weak” in knowledge, having but very indistinct views of the Gospel and its attendant privileges — — — Some also are “weak” in faith, even as the Apostles themselves shewed themselves to be on many occasions [Note: Matthew 6:30. Mark 4:40. Luke 8:25.]: “they stagger at the promises of God;” and, when greatly tried, are unable firmly to rely upon them — — — Some, too, are “weak” in hope: for though, under the Christian dispensation, we do not see so much of doubts and fears as under the darker dispensation of the law; yet we can have no doubt but that in the apostolic age, as well as now, there were many sincere persons, who felt secret misgivings respecting their own state before God, and wanted that “full assurance of hope” which some were privileged to enjoy. In conflict, doubtless, many are “weak.” It is no easy thing to contend even with flesh and blood, and still more with the principalities and powers of darkness: not a man on earth would be able to stand, if not upheld by an almighty arm: in fact, the only way to be strong in the Christian warfare is, to feel ourselves “weak,” and to be “strong only in the Lord and in the power of his might” — — —]
Those who are offended—
[The consequence of weakness is, a liability to be offended and cast down by untoward circumstances of any kind. It is no uncommon thing for persons to be offended even at the very mysteries of our holy religion. When our Lord spake of our eating his flesh and drinking his blood, some of his Disciples exclaimed, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it [Note: John 6:41-43.]?” Upon which, our Lord, knowing in himself that his Disciples murmured at it, saith to them, “Doth this offend you? What, and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before [Note: John 6:60-62.]?” So, at this day, many of the sublimer truths of Christianity are “hard sayings” in the ears of some, whose “hearts, we yet hope, are, on the whole, right with God” — — — Our Lord intimated that it would be so, when he said, “Blessed is he who shall not be offended in me [Note: Matthew 11:6. ].”
And, as some are offended at the word of God, so are others at his providence: especially when they see what persecutions they have to endure for righteousness’ sake, and how the ungodly triumph over the very Church and cause of God [Note: Matthew 13:21.] — — —
Nor are the falls or apostasy of professors an uncommon occasion of offence. We are apt to forget, that “all are not Israel who are of Israel.” There was a Judas even amongst the Apostles themselves: and of the immediate followers of our Lord, so many went back and walked no more with him, that even the stability of the Apostles themselves was endangered [Note: John 6:66-67.].]
What then is,
The duty of their more established brethren towards them?
Certainly the Apostle’s example is that which we ought to follow, even as he himself followed Christ: of whom it is said, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory [Note: Matthew 12:20.].”
“With the weak, then, we must be weak”—
[We are on no account to despise our weaker brethren, but to treat them with all imaginable condescension and kindness; as the Apostle himself tells us: “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me [Note: Romans 15:1; Romans 15:3.].” We should listen to their statements with an attentive ear: we should enter into their feelings, and sympathize with them in their troubles: we should deal tenderly with their mistakes, and should gladly give them the advantage of our superior knowledge and experience. We should come down, as it were, upon their ground: and endeavour to make their way plain before their face. We should “strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees; and say to them that are of a fearful heart, Fear not; your God will come and save you [Note: Isaiah 35:3-4.].”This is particularly inculcated in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed [Note: Hebrews 12:12-13.].” This doubtless is the duty of ministers primarily; because they are as fathers, who ought to feel for their children with parental tenderness; and even, as mothers, to “travail in birth with them, till Christ be formed in them [Note: Galatians 4:19,].” But it is also the duty of every true Christian: for it is said, “Bear ye one another’s burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2.].”]
And “those who are offended, we should burn” with ardour to restore—
[Behold the state of the Galatian Church: see them when they were in danger of being turned aside through the influence of Judaizing teachers: what zeal the Apostle manifested to keep them sound in the faith! He hesitated not to reprove even Peter himself, and that before the whole Church [Note: Galatians 2:14.]. See the Churches, both of Rome and Corinth, when they were in danger of being drawn to act contrary to the convictions of their own minds, in reference to the eating of meats, and the observing of certain days according to the Jewish law: he enjoined the more enlightened part, who understood the nature and extent of Christian liberty, to abstain from the use of that liberty in the presence of their weaker brethren, lest they should, by the indiscreet use of it, cast a snare and a stumbling-block before any [Note: Romans 14:1-6; Romans 14:13-15. 1 Corinthians 8:4-12.]: and as for himself, he determined not to eat meat so long as the world should stand, rather than make a weak brother to offend [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:13.]. Whatever be the stumbling-block in our brother’s way, we should be inflamed with a desire to remove it, as much as we should to rescue an only child from any peril to which he was exposed. The value of his soul, and the honour of God as interested in it, should be present to our minds; and we should labour with all our might, and with the utmost tenderness of spirit, for the recovery and salvation of his soul — — —]
And now see, from hence,
How arduous is the office of a minister!
[Had he indeed only to perform a certain routine of duties, his office would be easy enough: but when he has to give an account of every soul committed to his charge, and should be able to say of every individual among them, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” methinks the most zealous minister in the world must perform his office “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:3.].” St. Paul himself was constrained to say, “Who is sufficient for these things [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.]?” — — —]
How lovely is true religion!
[Religion consists, not in the adoption of any creed, but in a conformity to the Divine image. Doubtless there is no salvation but in Christ Jesus; and, whatever measure of holiness we attain, it can form no ground of glorying before God: but the faith which alone will save us, is “a faith that worketh by love.” We may have the knowledge of angels, the liberality of saints, and the zeal of martyrs; and yet, for want of love, “be only as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal.” See the Lord Jesus, during his ministry on earth: “He bare our sins and carried our sorrows,” first in a way of sympathy [Note: Matthew 8:16-17.], and afterwards as an atoning sacrifice [Note: Isaiah 53:4.]. In the latter sense, this was his exclusive office; but in the former, it is ours also. Let us then shew forth in our conduct the excellence of his Gospel; and exercise towards others the tenderness and compassion which we have ever met with at his hands — — —]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25