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THE CONTEST BETWEEN GOD AND SATAN
2 Corinthians 4:4-6. The God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
THE office of the ministry, if conscientiously discharged, is the most honourable and useful that a human being can execute: but, if perverted to carnal ends and purposes, it debases a man’s character, and renders him more injurious to society than a raging pestilence. A minister, if he be upright before God, will not seek his own honour or interest, but the salvation of his people: he will be the servant of men for Christ’s sake: he will employ all his time and talents in the line of his own peculiar profession; and will gladly sacrifice, not his reputation only or his interests, but his very life, if need be, in the service of his fellow-creatures: feeling the importance of his work, he will never degrade the pulpit by making it a theatre whereon to display his own abilities; but will commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God, and exert himself to the utmost to rescue sinners from the jaws of the devouring lion. St. Paul, in the passage before us, labours to impress this thought on our minds. Speaking of the blindness of men, not only under the law, but even under the clearer light of the Gospel, and having ascribed it to the agency of Satan, he affirms, that his one employment as a minister was, to co-operate with God in defeating the purposes of that wicked fiend.—Not content with having declared this sentiment in the verses preceding the text, he interrupts, as it were, the thread of his discourse, to repeat it; intimating thereby, that as he could not repeat it too often, so they who should follow him in the ministerial office could never dwell upon it too much; “We preach not ourselves,” says he, “but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
It is however to the other parts of the text that we wish to draw your attention at this time: they exhibit in a contrasted view,
The great powers that interest themselves about the souls of men—
Satan is more earnestly occupied respecting us than we are aware of—
[The power here called “the god of this world” is most assuredly the devil. His character is put in direct opposition to that of Jehovah; and therefore, however august the title may appear, it must be understood in reference to him, who has shewn himself from the beginning the great enemy both of God and man. He is called the god of this world, because the whole world lies under his dominion. Not that he is the rightful governor; he is a vile usurper, that has reduced our fallen race under his power, and exercises over them the most despotic sway. Repeatedly is he called by Christ himself, “the prince of this world;” and by the Apostle, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” It is by blinding their minds that he retains his power, and makes them account that liberty, which is, in fact, the sorest bondage. Is it asked, How does he blind their minds? We answer, He has a multitude of devices, which cannot be discovered without much deep experience, and much divine instruction. He puffs us up with a conceit that we know enough already; and thereby keeps us from seeking information. He stimulates us to the gratification of our corrupt propensities, that we may have neither leisure nor inclination to attend to our spiritual concerns. He fills us with prejudice against the doctrines of the Gospel as erroneous, and against the ministers and people of God as hypocrites or enthusiasts; and thus confirms us in our natural enmity against God himself. Sometimes he represents God as too merciful to punish; and, at other times, as too inexorable to forgive; and thus either lulls us aleep in security, or enervates us by despondency. By these and other wiles too numerous to recount, he keeps men in his snares, and “leads them captive at his will.”]
Jehovah also condescends to interest himself in our behalf—
[The God of heaven is here opposed to the God of this world; and is described by an expression of his omnipotence no less wonderful than the creation of the universe out of nothing; “he commanded the light to shine out of darkness.” While Satan is endeavouring to blind men, Jehovah exerts himself to enlighten their minds. He could indeed effect his purpose in an instant; but he is pleased to make use of means, and to form his new creation in a gradual manner. He sends his ministers to declare his truth, and his Spirit to seal it on our hearts. Thus, by fixing our attention to it, by making us to see its correspondence with our experience and our wants, and, finally, by giving us to taste its sweetness and excellency, he shines into our hearts, and dissipates the darkness wherein we were enveloped.]
The contrasted representation of these great powers exhibits to us also,
The ends and purposes they are endeavouring to accomplish—
Satan strives as much as possible to hide Christ from our eyes—
[Satan is aware that no one, who has a discovery of Christ’s glory, will ever continue submissive to his government. Let a soul be favoured with a ray from heaven, whereby it shall have a glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, and it will instantly cast off its allegiance to Satan, and take up arms against him. But, while the veil continues on the heart, and this heavenly light is concealed from the view, the soul will be satisfied with its state, nor ever exert itself in earnest to break the yoke imposed upon it. This therefore it is the great work of Satan to accomplish: he cares not what we know or what we do, if he can but keep us from beholding the Divine image in the face of Jesus. As every thing short of this will be ineffectual for our salvation, so he is willing that we should have every attainment in knowledge or morality, if he can but succeed in this one point. This is the very marrow of the Gospel, if we may so speak; it is that which infuses life into the dry bones: in vain will each kindred bone resume its proper station in the body; in vain will the flesh and sinews be superinduced upon them; the body will be no other than a breathless corpse, till a spirit of life be infused into it [Note: Ezekiel 37:7-9.]: so will the soul, however exactly fashioned as to the outward appearance, be altogether destitute of spiritual life, till Christ be revealed to it, and formed within it. While “the Gospel is hid from the soul, it is, and must be, lost.”]
God, on the other hand, strives to reveal Christ unto us—
[He knows that nothing short of a discovery of Christ will ever save the soul. If we speak with the tongues of men and of angels, if we have faith that can remove mountains, if we give all our goods to feed the poor, and our body to be burned, and have not that view of Christ which fills our souls with love to God and man, it profiteth us nothing [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. Not even a knowledge of Christ himself will be of any effectual service, if we do not see the Divine perfections united in him and glorified in the redemption which he has wrought out for us. Hence, in every dispensation, whether of providence or of grace, he aims at leading sinners to the perfect knowledge of his Son: nor can he ever look upon them with pleasure and complacency till this be accomplished.]
This subject will clearly shew us,
The value of our souls—
[Shall two such great powers interest themselves so much about us, and we imagine that our souls are of little worth? Surely that which incessantly occupies their attention must well deserve our incessant care — — —]
Our state before God—
[Let us not ask ourselves merely whether we be moral or immoral, but whether the scales have ever fallen from our eyes, and the glory of Christ been ever revealed to our souls? We must be made sensible that Satan once blinded us; that through his influence we were in unbelief; that nothing but a light from heaven could dispel this darkness; and that such a revelation of Christ to the soul is the only possible source of life and salvation. Let us inquire whether we have ever felt that conviction, and whether, under the influence of it, we have sought and obtained that divine illumination? This is the criterion by which we must judge ourselves, and by which our state will be determined to all eternity.]
The constant duty of our lives—
[Though we are not to neglect our earthly calling, we must seek above all to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ:” even after we have been enlightened, we need be careful lest Satan blind us again and again [Note: The falls of David, Solomon, and others, should put us on our guard.]. We should seek continually the illumination of God’s Spirit, and, by increasing views of Christ’s glory, to be changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: If this were the subject of a Visitation or Ordination Sermon, it would be proper to shew in this place the duty of ministers to “preach Christ,” and to “know nothing but Christ,” in all their ministrations; since nothing but that will save the souls of those to whom they minister.].]
MINISTERS, THE BEARERS OF A RICH TREASURE
2 Corinthians 4:7. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
ST. PAUL was occasionally constrained to vindicate his own character against the accusations of his enemies. He was averse to it; and, when so doing, accounted himself “speaking as a fool.” But, when-soever he boasted, his endeavour was to magnify, not himself but his office. As for himself, no terms were too humiliating for him to use, whether he spake of his former life, or of his present exertions in the cause of his divine Master. The passage before us well illustrates his views in both respects. The Gospel which he ministered was, in his estimation, “a treasure:” but he himself, and all his colleagues, were no better than “earthen vessels;” worthless in themselves, and only useful as imparting unto men “the riches which they contained.”
The passage before us will lead me to notice,
The true character of the Gospel—
It is here called “a treasure:” and well it deserves the name.
In itself, it is utterly invaluable—
[If considered as the product of Divine wisdom, it infinitely surpasses all that could have been conceived by the brightest intelligences in heaven: and, as an effort of Divine love, it is so stupendous as to be absolutely incomprehensible. In it, all the glory of the Godhead shines, with a splendour never before seen even by the angels around the throne. There is not a perfection of the Deity which is not honoured by it, and magnified far beyond what it could ever have been by any other device, or any other dispensation.]
As dispensed, it marvellously enriches all who receive it—
[To every soul of man that embraces it, is imparted a forgiveness of all sin, a peace that passeth all understanding, a strength that shall triumph over every adversary, and, at the close of this present life, all the glory and felicity of heaven. In comparison of this, the riches of ten thousand worlds were nothing. Possessed of this, a Lazarus were rich; and in the want of it, the greatest monarch in the universe were poor.]
Most unsuited to this, however, appears to be,
The character of those to whom it is committed—
We should naturally expect, that those who are appointed to dispense this treasure should be taken from the highest order of creation, and from the very first rank amongst them. We should imagine that none but angels and archangels should be counted worthy of so high an honour. But God has judged otherwise; and has committed this treasure to “earthen vessels.”
The Apostles are justly so denominated—
[They were men of low origin, a few poor fishermen. They were exceeding frail in their nature, not one amongst them without some great blemish: for in the hour of their Lord’s extremity, “they all forsook him, and fled.” They were all worthless in themselves, “made of the earth, and earthly:” nor had they any thing in themselves, either to recommend the treasure, or to augment its efficiency. If Paul be thought an exception, on account of his learning and eloquence, he purposely laid aside his eloquence, from a persuasion that the wisdom of words had no other tendency than to make void the cross of Christ.]
And this is the character of God’s most faithful servants at this day—
[It is not from amongst the wise and learned that God, for the most part, selects his most active and efficient instruments. Not that he proscribes learning; but because he is jealous of his own honour, and would “have our faith to stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:5.].” He “chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty [Note: 1Co 1:26-29].” Not that any, however eminent, can claim any higher title than that assigned them in the text: for all are guilty, and need the same mercy which they preach to others; all are weak, and must be upheld by God every moment, lest they fall and perish. And not one amongst them can convert or edify one single soul by any power of his own. However useful any be, they are only like the pitchers which contained the lamps of Gideon [Note: Judges 7:19-21. God would not suffer Gideon to employ any thing like an effective army, lest they should ascribe the victory to themselves. It was by three hundred only, with their pitchers and lamps, that God wrought this great deliverance. And so it was by the ministry of a few poor fishermen, that he triumphed over all the powers both of earth and hell.] — — — it was not the pitchers that in any respect contributed to his success; no, nor yet the light which they contained: it was the power of God accompanying that light, which obtained the victory; and which alone prevails at this day for the subduing of men to the obedience of faith — — —]
Let us now proceed to contemplate,
The peculiar advantage arising from this dispensation—
There is an “excellency of power” in the Gospel—
[There is nothing under heaven that accomplishes such wonders as this. It comes to men who are dead in trespasses and sins, and by a divine energy brings them forth to life. The prophet’s vision of the dry bones gives a just representation of its effects [Note: Ezekiel 37:1-10.] — — — We see how it wrought on the day of Pentecost, and afterwards throughout all the Roman Empire — — — And the same effects does it produce at this day, wherever it is preached in simplicity, and accompanied with power from on high. There are many living witnesses (not a few, I would hope, in this place) who can attest, that, by means of it, their “eyes have been opened, and their souls been turned from the power of Satan unto God.”]
By the weakness of those who dispense it, the power of God that accompanies it is the more displayed—
[If it were ministered by angels, men would be ready to ascribe its efficacy to the instruments by whom it was dispensed. But, when it was preached by poor fishermen, without learning, without any earthly power to support them, and in direct opposition to all the prejudices and passions of mankind, to what could its wonderful power be ascribed? To nothing, surely, but the mighty operation of the Spirit of God. So, if at this day God made use of none but the great and learned, we should give the honour unto those by whom he wrought, rather than to Him alone. But when he ordains strength, as it were, in the mouths of babes and sucklings, we are constrained to say, that He who works either in us, or by us, is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 5:5.]. By this it is clearly shewn, that “neither he that planteth is any thing, nor he that watereth; but God, that giveth the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:7.]:” it is He that is “all in all [Note: Colossians 3:11.].”]
We may see, then, from hence,
How we are to preach the Gospel—
[The Gospel was never intended to give to men an opportunity of displaying their own talents, and of getting glory to themselves; no: we are “not to preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord [Note: ver. 5.].” It is a treasure committed to us, that, as God’s almoners, we should dispense it to an ungodly world. We are to think of nothing, but of enriching immortal souls. If we see not this effect, we should account nothing done to any good purpose, even though our names were celebrated over the face of the whole earth. And if we see this seal to our ministry, we should account ourselves truly blessed, though we were considered in no other light than as “the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things.” In preparing for our public addresses, we should keep this end in view: in delivering them, too, we should labour with all our might to attain it: and we should consider the enriching of one single soul with the unsearchable riches of Christ, a far more glorious recompence than all the dignities and wealth that could be heaped upon us.]
How you should hear the Gospel—
[You should lose sight of man altogether, and look only unto God. To “be of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas,” is a proof of sad carnality; and is the sure way to rob yourselves of God’s blessing. You should consider the public ordinances as God’s appointed means of dispensing wealth to your souls. You should go up to them poor, that you may be enriched; and empty, that you may be filled. As for the particular talents of the preacher, or the peculiarities which attend his ministrations, you should, as far as possible, overlook them; and fix your attention only on the treasure which he unfolds to your view, and presents for your acceptance. You would act thus in reference to a casket of jewels which was set before you: you would not despise them because the casket was plain; nor regard them because it was elegant. The enjoying of the possession is that which would be uppermost in your mind: and so it should be when the treasures of the Gospel are tendered to you. You should not consider the vessel in which they are brought: if it be of gold, your regards should not be fixed on that; nor, if it be “earthen,” should you undervalue the treasure it contains. To be enriched with all spiritual and eternal blessings should be the one object of your pursuit; and for that your mouth should be opened in prayer to God in secret; and your, soul be expanded under the ministration of his word. Above all, be sure to look to God, and not to man; lest you provoke your God to jealousy, and he withhold from your souls his saving benefits.]
THE TRIALS OF CHRISTIANS THE MEANS OF MAGNIFYING THEIR LORD
2 Corinthians 4:11. We which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
THAT the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was the Creator of all things, is readily acknowledged: nor will the assertion, that “without him was not any thing made that was made,” be for a moment disputed by any one who believes the Scriptures: but when the same expressions are used in reference to the events of daily occurrence, they gain not the same easy access to our minds: yet it is true in reference to all the works both of providence and grace, that “without him is not any thing done that is done:” all the evil that is done, is done by his permission: and all the good, by his agency. To direct the attention of men to him as the Sovereign Disposer of all events, is the continual aim of the sacred writers, who teach us to regard him as “upholding all things by his own power,” and overruling them for his own glory. One reason for his committing the ministration of his Gospel to a few poor fishermen was, that the enriching of the world with its treasures might not be ascribed to human wisdom, but altogether to the Divine power [Note: ver. 7.]. For the same reason did he leave these “earthen vessels” to be treated in such a way as almost to preclude a hope of any long continuance of their ministrations: it was, to give the most decisive evidence to the world, that He reigned on high, and by his almighty power preserved them, till they had finished the work which he had given them to do.
St. Paul, maintaining the authority of his Apostleship against those who disputed it, shews, that, whilst the trials to which he was exposed appeared to render his divine mission questionable, the supports and consolations that were afforded him placed it beyond a doubt; yea, both the afflictions and consolations were sent on purpose that the almighty power and continual agency of the Lord Jesus Christ might be the more conspicuously seen, and more universally acknowledged. Twice is this declared in the short space of two verses [Note: ver. 10, 11.]; and it is a truth that demands from us the most attentive consideration. But that we may take the subject in the connexion in which it stands, we shall shew,
What was the state of the first Christians—
Perhaps the Apostle primarily refers to himself and his fellow Apostles—
Their trials were beyond all conception great. Whilst their Divine Master continued upon earth, they were screened from persecution [Note: John 7:7.]: but when he was removed, they stood in the fore-front of the battle. At the very commencement of their work, they were all imprisoned, and beaten for their Lord’s sake [Note: Acts 4:3; Acts 5:18; Acts 5:40.]: and from that time they were treated with all imaginable contempt and cruelty. St. Paul, in this very epistle, enumerates such a catalogue of sufferings as would have broken the spirit of any man who was not miraculously strengthened by Divine grace: “He was in labours more abundant than any other Apostle, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews, be five times received nine-and-thirty stripes; (forty being the utmost that the Jewish magistrates were authorized to inflict on any criminal;) thrice was he beaten with rods; once was he stoned; thrice he suffered shipwreck; a night and a day he was (on some piece of a wreck) in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his 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 [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.].” Now though he had a greater measure of these trials than others, they were to a very great extent the common lot of all: for it is not of himself only, but of all, that he speaks in another place, saying, “I think that God hath set forth us the Apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place: we are made as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things unto this day [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1Co 4:11; 1 Corinthians 4:13.].” Every one of them might with truth make the same solemn assertion as St. Paul did, “I protest by my rejoicing, which I have in Christ Jesus my Lord, I die daily [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:31.].”]
But the whole Church were in fact exposed to the heaviest trials—
[Stephen, being distinguished by his gifts and graces, speedily fell a victim to the people’s rage: and his death was a signal for a general persecution against the whole Church: and so bitter was this persecution, “that the people were scattered abroad through all the regions of Judζa and Samaria, none daring to continue at Jerusalem, except the Apostles [Note: Acts 8:1.].” They had been taught from the beginning to expect this: they had been told, that, “if they would be Christ’s disciples, they must take up their cross daily,” and “forsake all,” and follow him. The saints of former days had been called to suffer like things [Note: Hebrews 11:35-38.]; and the same path was now prescribed to all the followers of Christ: “they must bear about in their body the dying of the Lord Jesus [Note: ver. 10.],” and “through much tribulation must enter into the kingdom of heaven.” By “bearing about in their body the dying of the Lord Jesus,” I understand the being subjected to the same trials as the Lord Jesus Christ himself endured when on earth: and this was, more or less, the appointed portion of all the early Christians: the same description of people who hated him, and persecuted him, hated and persecuted all who resembled him, and all who honoured him: “they had called the Master of the house Beelzebub;” and by the same ignominious name did they designate “those of his household.” In a word, so vehement and universal was the hatred against the very name of Christ, that the mere profession of faith in him was esteemed a sufficient ground for imprisonment and death: so that the prediction of David respecting them was fully verified, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter [Note: Psalms 44:22.].”]
How greatly we are interested in their history will appear, whilst we consider,
The instruction to be derived from it—
The reflections which most powerfully suggest themselves to our minds, are,
How worthy the Lord Jesus Christ is to be loved and served—
[Every convert was taught beforehand what he was to expect: vet, in the face of all these dangers, millions embraced, and openly professed, the faith of Christ: and as fast as one set of Christians sealed the truth with their blood, others came forward to confess the same Lord, and “were baptized in the room of the dead [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:29.],” like soldiers instantly springing forward to occupy the ranks which the devouring sword had thinned. So far were they from being intimidated, they were rather emboldened, by all that they saw and heard: if they fled from the sword of persecution, they availed themselves of the opportunity which their flight afforded them, to preach the Gospel throughout all the Roman empire [Note: Acts 8:4.], and “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake.” The example of the Apostle Paul, though transcendently eminent in these respects, may serve to shew us what was the general feeling of the whole Church. Though his afflictions were so numerous and heavy, yet “none of these things moved him, neither counted he his life dear unto him, so that he might but finish his course with joy.” He was “willing not only to be bound, but also to die, at any time, and in any manner, for the Lord Jesus.”
Now in this way did the primitive saints shew their regard for Christ: when informed what sacrifices they should be called to make for him, they counted the cost; and considered the pearl cheaply purchased at the price of all that they possessed [Note: Matthew 13:46.].
And is this pearl sunk in value? Does not the Lord Jesus Christ deserve as much at our hands as he did at theirs? Yes; it is in this way that we must all receive him: we must “account all things but loss and dung, that we may win him:” and “if we hate not father and mother, and even our own lives also in comparison of him, we cannot be his disciples.” Inquire, brethren, whether you have ever come to Christ in this way? whether you have ever had such exalted views of his excellency, as to determine you to know nothing, and value nothing, but him? and whether you have felt such a deep sense of your obligations to him as to “glory in the cross for his sake,” and to make even the most cruel death for his sake a subject of congratulation and joy, rather than of sorrow and condolence [Note: Philippians 2:17.]? When such are our views of Christ, and such the dispositions of our minds towards him, then, and then only, have we any scriptural evidence that we truly know him, and really belong to him.]
What rich provision we have in Christ—
[If we are Christ’s, we must expect “fiery trials to try us;” for “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” But “if our afflictions abound for his sake, he will make our consolations to abound also.” In this respect the Apostle’s experience shall be realized in us: like him, we may be greatly tried; but, “though troubled on every side, we shall not be so straitened,” as to have no way to escape: we may be so “perplexed,” as not to know what to do; but “we shall not be left to despair,” as though we had none at hand that was able to help or deliver. We may be “persecuted” by the whole human race; yet shall we “not be forsaken” by our God: we may be “cast down,” and apparently vanquished, for a season; but we shall “not ultimately be destroyed.” This is expressly promised to every member of the Church of Christ. “He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation make also a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:13.]:” and in the full confidence of this we may exult as the Apostle did, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us [Note: Romans 8:35-37.].” Our extremities may be such as almost to destroy all hope: but they shall be the Seasons of his effectual interposition. “In the mount He shall be seen” by us, just as he was by Abraham [Note: Genesis 22:14.]: “when he sees that our power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left” to assist us, “then will he repent himself for us, and interpose for our relief [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.]:” and “when we are cast down, then shall we say, There is lifting up: for God will save the humble person [Note: Job 22:29].”
Beloved brethren, know what provision there is for you in this adorable Saviour — — — and, whilst you reflect on “the help which is thus laid up for you on One that is mighty,” learn to confide in him, and to say, “If God be for me, who can be against me?” “If my God and Saviour be on my side, I will not fear what either men or devils can do against me.”]
How thankful we should be that we are permitted to serve the Lord Christ on such easy terms!
[Though we must all have some cross to bear, yet our trials are nothing in comparison of those that were endured by the primitive Church. The worst that we are called to sustain is, a sneer, an opprobrious name, or some trivial loss. How light would the first Christians have accounted such petty sufferings as these! Yet even by these are many amongst us so intimidated, that they dare not to confess Christ openly. What then would such persons do, if the sword of persecution were drawn against them now, as in former days, or as at the time of the Reformation in our own land, when so many were burnt alive for the Gospel’s sake? Well may we be thankful that such trials of our faith as these no longer exist: for, if such a sifting time were to arise, many, very many, amongst us, it is to be feared, would be found no better than chaff [Note: Amos 9:9.]: many who now look gay, “receiving the word with joy, would on the rising of temptation and persecution presently fall away [Note: Matthew 13:20-21.], and make shipwreck of their faith.” Let us all then be thankful for the rest we enjoy — — — and improve it for our more abundant edification in faith and love [Note: Acts 9:31.]; that, if God should see fit again to loose the chain by which our great adversary is bound, we may “be able to resist in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.”]
What under all circumstances should be our main concern—
[The end for which such grievous persecutions were permitted to harass the primitive Church was, that Christ’s power and grace might be visibly seen in those who were called to endure them: and this very consideration made St. Paul to “take pleasure in all his distresses,” because he knew, that the power of Christ would rest upon him, and “be perfected in his weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].” In like manner should we also rise superior to the concerns of time and sense, and be anxious only, “that Christ may be glorified in our body, whether by life or death [Note: Philippians 1:20.].” He is now seated at the right hand of God, and possesses “all power both in heaven and earth.” In him is treasured up all fulness for the use of his Church, that out of it all his members may receive according to their several necessities. He is their life [Note: Colossians 3:4.]; and “they live by him, exactly as he, when on earth, lived by his Father [Note: John 6:56-57.],” with whom he was altogether one [Note: John 10:30.]. In all his miracles the finger of God appeared, because they were wrought by God: so m all the exercises of our spiritual life Christ is seen: because it is only by strength communicated from him, that we can either do, or suffer, as we ought [Note: Philippians 4:13.]. Let this then be our endeavour, namely, so to live, as to carry conviction to all who see us, that we are under the guidance and care of an all-wise, almighty Being. Let our every act, as it were, shew, not only how Christ lived on earth, but that he now lives, and rules, in heaven; and that he is still as present with his people by his Spirit, as ever his own Father was present with him in the days of his flesh. This is an object worthy the ambition of the first archangel: yet is it attainable by all of us, if only we will “live by faith on Christ,” and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.”]
THE CHRISTIAN’S EXPERIENCE IN AFFLICTION
2 Corinthians 4:17-18. Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
THE Christian in every state, whether of prosperity or adversity, differs widely from the unconverted world. While others are elated by the one and depressed by the other, he is kept in an equable frame of mind. As he does not place his happiness in earthly things, he is not much affected either with the acquisition or the loss of them. He is thankful for success, but not overjoyed, as though some great thing had happened unto him; and is patient in tribulation, knowing that in the issue it shall work for his good. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the text, in which he assigns the reason why, notwithstanding the greatness of his afflictions, he was kept from fainting under them. And his words afford us a proper occasion to consider,
The disposition which the Christian cultivates—
The account which St. Paul gives of himself is characteristic of every true Christian—
His chief aim is to attain things that are invisible—
[By “the things which are seen” we understand every thing which relates merely to the present world, which the Apostle comprehends under three names, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” By “the things which are not seen” must he meant the love and favour of God, the renovation of our inward man, the glory and felicity of heaven. The latter of these are the objects towards which the Christian turns his principal attention. Not that he neglects the concerns of this world; this would be absurd and criminal; but his great end and aim [Note: This seems to be the import of σκοπούντων.] is to obtain an inheritance beyond the grave: even while he is most actively employed in secular concerns, he looks through them all to this grand object, and labours incessantly to secure it.]
To this he is led by the transitoriness of earthly things—
[The things of this world perish with the using. If they be not withdrawn from us, we must soon be taken away from them; nor will so much as one of them remain to be enjoyed in the future world. But spiritual things remain for ever. If we secure the love of God now, it shall abide with us to all eternity. An interest in the Redeemer’s merits, and a title to all the glory of heaven, shall never be taken away from us. Death, so far from terminating our enjoyments, will bring us to the full possession of that glory, of which our present foretastes are an earnest and pledge. The Christian, seeing the infinite disparity between these things, determines to make invisible things the supreme objects of his regard, and comparatively disregards all that can be offered to the eye of sense.]
In this pursuit he is aided by his afflictions, as will appear, if we consider,
The privilege he enjoys—
The Christian has troubles as well as others—
[The very conduct he observes with respect to temporal things has a tendency to involve him in trouble. The world cannot endure to see their idols so disregarded, and their conduct so reproached. One would have supposed from the account given us of his sufferings, that Paul must have been the vilest miscreant that ever lived [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.]: but the more we resemble him in holiness, the more shall we resemble him in sufferings also. Our enemies indeed will not professedly persecute us for our holiness; they will assign some specious reason. Elijah shall be called “The troubler of Israel;” Paul, “The man who turns the world upside down;” and Christ shall be punished as a blasphemer and an enemy to civil government. But the same reason obtains with respect to all,—the world cannot endure the light of their example [Note: John 15:19.].]
These troubles however shall work for his good—
[They “are not in themselves joyous, but grievous;” but they tend to refine his soul, and to fit him for glory; yea, inasmuch as these sufferings constitute a part of the obedience required of him, they bring with them a correspondent reward [Note: 2 Timothy 2:12.]. In this view they are mentioned in the text as highly beneficial. They work for the faithful Christian a reward of glory; “a weight of glory” as great as his soul is able to sustain, and as durable as eternity itself. In comparison of this, the Apostle calls his troubles light and momentary, yea, not only light, but lightness itself; and intimates, that, if hyperbole were heaped upon hyperbole, it would be impossible for language to express, or for imagination to conceive, the greatness of that glory which his afflictions wrought for him [Note: This is implied in the original.].]
The preceding subjects being, to appearance, so remote from each other, it will be proper to mark,
The connexion between them—
Afflictions do not necessarily produce this effect—
[In too many instances the effect that flows from them is altogether opposite. Instead of purifying the soul, they fill it with impatience, fretfulness, and all manner of malignant passions; and instead of working out a weight of glory for it, they serve only to prepare for it a more aggravated condemnation. “The sorrow of the world,” saith the Apostle, “worketh death [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:10.].”]
It is only where the pursuits are spiritual, that sufferings are so eminently beneficial—
[If the mind be set upon carnal things, it will be cast down when it is robbed of its enjoyments; it will say, like Micah, “I have lost my gods, and what have I more?” But the soul that affects heavenly things will be comforted with the thought that the objects of its desire are as near as ever. “While it looks at things invisible,” it will be quickened in its pursuit of them: it will be made to feel more sensibly the vanity and insignificance of earthly things, and be urged more determinately to seek “a kingdom which cannot be moved:” every fresh trial will make it long more and more for the promised rest; and the storms which menace its existence, will thus eventually waft it with more abundant rapidity towards its desired haven.]
How infatuated are the generality of mankind!
[It is but too evident that the generality of the world are seeking earthly things, while they who are pressing forward in pursuit of heavenly things are comparatively few in number. What a melancholy proof is this of men’s blindness and folly! Who is there that, however much he may have gained of this world, has not found it all to be vanity and vexation of spirit? What comfort has any one derived from earthly possessions in an hour of deep affliction? And what benefit will accrue from them in the eternal world? Say, thou libertine, thou worldling, or thou false professor, what has the world done for thee? And what hast thou of all that is past, except shame and remorse in the remembrance of it? Who does not acknowledge the truth of these observations the very instant he begins to have a prospect of the eternal state? Yet, so infatuated are we, that though every successive age has seen the folly of such conduct, they have trodden the same delusive path, according to what is written, “This their way is their folly, and yet their posterity approve their saying.” Let us, however, awake from our slumber; let us not so regard the things that are visible and temporal, as to forget that there are things invisible and eternal; let us live and act as for eternity; let us read, and hear, and pray, as for eternity. In this way we shall remove the sting from all present afflictions, and secure “an inheritance that fadeth not away.”]
How blessed is the true Christian!
[As there is no state, however prosperous, in which an unconverted man is not an object of pity, so there is no state, however afflictive, wherein the Christian may not be considered as a happy man. However severe or long-continued his troubles may be, they appear to him but light and momentary; and however they may be productive of present pain, he has the consolation of knowing that they work for him a weight of glory, which will infinitely overbalance all that he can endure in the body. “Who then, or what, can harm him, while he continues thus a follower of that which is good?” Surely, even in this present world the Christian has incomparably the best portion. What he will enjoy hereafter, when he shall come to the full possession of his inheritance, it is needless to say. We can have no doubt but that the invisible realities will be found a very sufficient recompence for all his zeal and diligence in the pursuit of them. Let us then keep those realities in view, and the nearer we come to the goal, let us be the more earnest in “running the race that is set before us.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24