THE GRACE OF GOD NOT TO BE RECEIVED IN VAIN
2 Corinthians 6:1-2. We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
“THE grace of God,” mentioned in the words before us, is the same with that which in the preceding context is called “the word of reconciliation:” it is the declaration, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” This is elsewhere called, “the Gospel of the grace of God;” and a wonderful display of divine grace it is: because from the first devising of this plan of reconciliation in his eternal counsels, to the last bestowment of its blessings on any child of man, it is altogether of grace: grace laid the foundation; grace raised the superstructure; and, when the head-stone shall be brought forth, the universal shout will be, “Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zechariah 4:7.].” In bringing men into a state of reconciliation with God, we ministers are fellow-labourers with God [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:9. with the text.]. Not that we do, or ever can do, any thing towards perfecting the work of Christ; (that was finished by him upon the cross, when he offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world;) but we are ambassadors from God, and speak to men in Christ’s stead, and thus are “workers together with God:” and in this character we beseech you, as the Apostle did the Corinthians, “not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
That we may proceed agreeably to the example set before us in our text, we shall consider,
I. The exhortation here given—
And here we shall separately notice,
1. The subject-matter of it: “Receive not the grace of God in vain”—
[The generality of those to whom the word of reconciliation comes, hear it to no purpose. Many pay no attention at all to it, but, like Gallio of old, care for none of these things. Many hate it, and oppose it with all their might; either regarding it as foolishness, through their philosophic pride, or making it a stumbling-block, through their self-righteous habits. To all such it comes in vain, or rather, worse than in vain, seeing that it proves to them a savour of death to their more aggravated condemnation. In truth, all receive it in vain, who do not welcome it into their hearts, and conform to it in their lives. O that it might be embraced thus by all to whom it now comes! Receive it, brethren, as the most stupendous effort of Divine Wisdom for the salvation of your souls — — —]
2. The manner of it: “We, as workers together with God, beseech you”—
[We come not in our own name, when we announce these glad tidings, but in the name of our God and Saviour. We have no private ends to accomplish: it is the work of God, and that only, that we endeavour to advance: we have the same end in view that God himself had, when he sent his only dear Son into the world; the same that Christ had, when he died upon the cross: the ministry of reconciliation is committed to us; and, in the exercise of this ministry, “we are fellow-workers with God.” In this capacity we might command you all: but we choose rather, like the Apostle, to use the language of entreaty: yes, “We beseech you;” in the very name and stead of Christ himself, we beseech you, that ye receive not this grace in vain. If ye will not listen to us, listen to that God in whose name we speak; and, if ye will not bow to his commands, resist not his entreaties; for it is he himself who beseeches you, by our mouth, “Be ye reconciled to God.”]
To impress this exhortation the more deeply on your minds, We will call your attention to,
II. The considerations by which it is enforced—
The Apostle urges his request—
1. From the written word—
[“Whatsoever was written aforetime, was written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Every promise of God throughout the Bible has a general aspect upon the Church of God, and, in the spirit of it, may be applied to individuals of the present day, as well as to those to whom it was more immediately addressed [Note: Compare Joshua 1:5. with Hebrews 13:5-6.]. The promise before us was primarily addressed to the Messiah, assuring him of success among the Gentiles [Note: Isaiah 49:8.]: but it is also fitly applicable to us; because all the blessings promised to the Head, belong also to all the members of his mystical body. To him this promise was fulfilled: in every time of need he was succoured; and in due season he was exalted above all his enemies: and so shall it be to us also, if we embrace his proferred salvation: what a delightful thought is this, that the very promise which was made to Christ, and fulfilled in him, is made to us, and shall be fulfilled in us! What an encouragement is this to receive the grace of God aright, when we are thus assured of the very same assistances and triumphs as Christ himself enjoyed!]
2. From his own inspired comment upon it—
[The accepted time, the day of salvation, was then come to the Gentile world; and we may say with truth that it is come to us also. It is come to us, because the word of reconciliation now sounds in our ears, and is proclaimed to us in the name of God himself. How long this shall continue we know not. We know that the candlestick has long since been removed from Churches, where the light of the Gospel once shone as with meridian brightness: and how soon it may be removed from us, who can tell? But it does now shine, and the grace of God is displayed amongst us in all its freeness, and in all its fulness: we are authorized therefore to say with full assurance, that it is now the accepted time respecting you. But further, it is the accepted time with you, because you are yet here to receive these tidings. With multitudes who once heard the word of reconciliation, the day of grace is passed: they are now gone into that world where offers of mercy are never sent. And how soon may this be the case with you! Many who, but year ago, were as likely to live as you, have been summoned into the presence of their God in the past year; and many who are now in health will, before another year, be called to follow them: but who they shall be we know not: the young and vigorous have no more security than the weak and sickly: it is of the present hour only that we can speak with any measure of certainty; and it is of that only that we can say, “It is the day of salvation.” But it is possible that you may still be preserved in life, and the Gospel be yet sounding in your ears, and your day of salvation may have actually already come to a close. We may, by our obstinate rejection of mercy, provoke God to withdraw his Holy Spirit, who alone can make those offers effectual for our good. He has said, that “his Spirit shall not always strive with man:” and when he sees us obstinately bent on our own evil ways, he may say of us, as he did of Israel of old, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.” He has given us many awful warnings on this subject [Note: Proverbs 1:23-31.], and many fearful examples of the judgment actually inflicted [Note: Hebrews 3:11; Hebrews 3:18-19. Luke 14:24.]. Surely, this should lead us all to “seek the Lord” whilst he may be found, and to call upon him whilst he is near. The Lord grant that we may know the day of our visitation, and “seek the things belonging to our peace, before they be for ever hid from our eyes!”]
That this subject may be yet further impressed upon your minds, consider,
1. How wonderful this grace is—
[The more we consider the gift of God’s only-begotten Son to assume our nature, and to expiate our guilt by his own blood, the more shall we be lost in wonder, love, and praise — — — And shall all this be done in vain? Shall he become sin for us, and we not seek to be made the righteousness of God in him? — — —]
2. How awful will be the consequence of rejecting it—
[Happier will Tyre and Sidon, yea, and Sodom and Gomorrha, be in the day of judgment, than those who hear and make light of these overtures of reconciliation. Think of those awful words, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”]
3. How truly blessed they are who receive the grace of God in truth—
[Well does the Psalmist say, “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound!” Truly, they are beyond expression, and beyond conception, blessed. In this world, their “peace passeth all understanding,” and their “joy is unspeakable and glorified:” but their portion in the world to come, who shall declare? An archangel would in vain attempt to give it utterance. And shall all this belong to those who accept God’s offers of reconciliation aright? — — — Let not one of you delay to flee for refuge to the hope that is set before you — — —]
THE CHARACTER OF A CHRISTIAN MINISTER
2 Corinthians 6:4-10. In all things approving ourselves at the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
WHAT a portrait is here drawn! Was there ever, from the foundation of the world, an uninspired man that could pour forth an extemporaneous effusion like unto this? By much study, a man of deep thought may ramify a subject, and distribute it into a great variety of minute particulars: but the passage before us smells not of the lamp: it savours not of scientific arrangement: it is no laboured accumulation of particulars, brought forward in order to display a fund of learning, or to exhibit the resources of ingenuity: it is an effusion out of the fulness of a heart devoted to the Lord, of a heart enlarged in the service of mankind.
To enter minutely into the different expressions here brought before you, would be unprofitable in a public discourse. It is by taking the passage in the aggregate, as one vast compendious whole, that we shall best consult the edification of your souls. It refers primarily, no doubt, to St. Paul himself: but, improved in the way I propose, it will be of essential benefit to the whole Christian world: for which end, I shall take occasion, from it, to set before you the ministerial office.
I. As executed by him—
His whole life, after his conversion to Christianity, was one continued scene of “afflictions,” to which he submitted with unconquerable “patience.” Those two words (“afflictions” and “patience”) may be considered as comprehending the whole, which in all that follows is branched out into a variety of particulars. Bearing that in remembrance, there will be found a climax throughout the whole. It will be proper to notice,
1. The circumstances in which he was placed—
[He was in one continual state of trial, as arising from different sources. Mark his trials; first, as arising from the occurrences of every day: he was often in such “necessities,” as to want every thing that was needful for the body, and to suffer much from hunger and cold and nakedness: his “distresses,” too, were often of so embarrassing a nature, that he knew not how to extricate himself from them. Mark them, next, as arising from the treatment he met with: multitudes were embittered against him to the last degree; sometimes loading him with “stripes;” at other times tormenting him with “imprisonments;” and at other times raging against him with such “tumults,” that he was literally in danger of being torn in pieces by his infuriated enemies. Mark them, yet further, as arising from his own zeal in the discharge of his high office. His “labours,” and “watchings,” and “fastings,” were doubtless sometimes imposed upon him by necessity; but they were also sometimes voluntarily undertaken, for the advancement of God’s work in his own soul, and for the furthering, by means of more fervent intercession, the glorious cause he had undertaken to promote.
Now let us turn our attention to,]
2. The manner in which he conducted himself under them—
[On this he dilates, with a richness and a copiousness unrivalled perhaps in the whole world. He speaks of his patience under these diversified trials, and of his deportment under them; first, in a way of active exertion. He was careful, above all things, that no one should have cause to impeach the “pureness” of his principles; and he strove to act with such judgment, that his “knowledge” of God’s will should be evident to all, and be exercised to the uttermost, for the benefit of all. At the same time, he took care, by his “long-suffering,” to shew that he could not easily be stimulated to resentment against his persecutors: on the contrary, he lost no opportunity of requiting by “kindness” the injuries they inflicted; evincing, by this, that he was under the influence of “the Holy Ghost,” and actuated altogether by “unfeigned love” to every child of man. “The word of truth” was constantly upon his lips; and it was attended always, in a greater or less degree, by “the power of God” to the souls of men: whilst, in consequence of being clad with “the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,” he was enabled to defy all the assaults, whether of men or devils.
At the same time, he manifested his superiority to all his difficulties, in a way of patient submission. Passing through “honour and dishonour,” he shewed that he was neither elated with the one, nor depressed with the other. With some he was an object of “evil report,” and with others of “good report;” some calumniating him in every possible way; and others exalting his character in terms of the highest approbation: but he was alike unmoved both by the one and the other. What if he was accounted a “deceiver,” who took advantage of the weakness or wickedness of others, to impose upon them, and thereby to advance his own interests? This did not move him, whilst he knew himself to be “true,” and a faithful minister of the truths which he had been commissioned to declare. The proud looked down upon him with contempt, as one altogether “unknown,” and unworthy of regard; whilst, in fact, he was “well known” by the many blessings which he imparted wheresoever he went. It was supposed, inasmuch as he was “dying” daily, that his course would soon be finished: but yet, contrary to all human expectation, though sometimes left for dead, he was “yet alive.” He was “chastened” with all imaginable severity by magistrates, on different occasions; yet was he “not killed.” Viewed according to his outward appearance, he was in a most “sorrowful” condition; yet was he, in reality, “always rejoicing” in the testimony of a good conscience, and in the favour of his God. He was “poor,” no doubt, and bereft at times even of the most common necessaries of life; but yet, in the whole course of his ministry, he was “making many rich,” yea, richer far than all the monarchs upon earth could ever make them. Finally, he was as one “having nothing;” and yet, both as to his present enjoyments and future prospects, he was as one “possessing all things;” so that, if the whole world could be given him, it would not add one atom to his wealth.
What a surprising description is this! How remote from all the conceptions of the natural man! yet how exactly suited to the experience of every faithful minister on earth!]
Leaving now these views of the Apostle’s ministry to the contemplation of those who are called to minister in holy things, I will proceed to speak of it,
II. As appointed for us—
Let us conceive of the Apostle as set apart to this office by Almighty God, and, as informed, at the very time of his appointment to it, “how great things he should suffer” for his Master’s sake; and let us further bear in mind, that all who are in every age ordained to the office of the ministry are called to a measure of the same experience; and how strongly will it impress our minds with,
1. The exceeding great value of the soul—
[The souls of men were “perishing for lack of knowledge.” God, in his mercy, determined to set apart an order of men to instruct them, and to guide them into all truth. But the wickedness of men would “not endure sound doctrine:” they would hate the light, and endeavour to extinguish it, wheresoever it should appear. This, however, should tend rather to the furtherance, than to the obstruction, of God’s gracious purposes. It should tend to complete the work of his grace in the souls of his servants, whom he should thus send forth; and it should serve to illustrate the power of his grace, in upholding them under circumstances of such peculiar trial. Conceive now of persons so separated and so appointed, in every age, for the benefit of mankind; and what an idea will it give us of the value of their souls! What; shall strangers, unconnected with the world, except as being partakers of the same nature, be raised up to devote themselves to such labours, and to undergo such sufferings for us? to warn us, instruct us, encourage us, and lead us into the way of peace? Verily, then, the interests of an immortal soul are not of so little importance as the world at large seem to imagine. Indeed, brethren, if we are bound, by our high office, to live as the Apostle lived, and in the whole of our ministerial career to follow him for the benefit of your souls, it can never be that you should be at liberty to neglect your own souls, or to manifest less concern for yourselves, than we are to exercise for you. Doubtless, that which most marks the value of an immortal soul, is the gift of God’s only-begotten Son to die for you: but next to that, is the appointment of an order of men, who are to go with their lives in their hands, and endure all that an ungrateful world can inflict, for the purpose of “turning you from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Read carefully the text in this view; and then say, “He did all this for me, and suffered all this for me: and then you will see what is that measure of zeal which you are called to exercise for your own souls.]
2. The true nature of the Christian warfare—
[There was nothing in the Apostle’s experience which we ourselves are not, according to our measure, called to undergo: and we ourselves must approve ourselves servants of God, precisely in the same way as he “approved himself a minister.” In degree, our trials may differ from his; but in substance they will be the same. We may not be called to stripes and imprisonments for the Lord’s sake: but we should be prepared for them, if it should please God that persecution should rage against his Church, as it has done, not in the apostolic age only, but in ages not very remote from that in which we live; and in this country too, not less than in other kingdoms. But whatever be the measure of our trials, our spirit must be the same as his. We must be proof against all the assaults of our enemies; “not being overcome of evil, but overcoming evil with good.” As to all the contempt that shall be poured upon us, or the privations we may be called to undergo, they must be as nothing in our eyes, by reason of our enjoyment of the Divine presence that bears us up above them, and our prospect of the Divine glory, that will compensate for all the labour or suffering that ever we could endure, if our lives were protracted for ten thousand years. The Apostle expressly calls upon us to follow him: and to “be imitators of him, even as he was of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:32-33. with 11:1.].” And I would call on every one of you to set before your eyes the pattern as it is here drawn; and to aspire after the highest conformity to it that God shall enable you to attain.]
3. The great blessing of a faithful ministry—
[What would the world have been, if no such persons as the Apostle had been raised up to instruct them? See what the heathen were, as described by St. Paul in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans; and what the Jews themselves were, as described in the second chapter. Or see what heathen countries are at this day, yea, and Christian countries too, where the Gospel is not preached with fidelity and power. Then look at the Churches formed by the Apostles, and at Churches even at this day, where Christ is preached in sincerity and truth. This will shew how great a blessing is a faithful ministry. But let us go no further than to the Apostle Paul; and compare his picture as drawn previous to his conversion, with that which is drawn in the passage before us: does not the difference strike us as truly wonderful? Yet it was all formed by the grace of God operating upon his soul, through the principles he had imbibed. And, permit me to say, that I consider my ministry as of no use, any further than it operates to the production of the same change in you. If it have wrought on any to their conversion, let them be thankful for it; and strive more and more to shew its power, by an entire conformity to the Apostle both in heart and life. But if it have not, (and how many of you are there that are in this awful predicament!) remember your sad responsibility to God; and tremble, lest that, which God has sent you for your salvation, prove only an occasion of your more aggravated condemnation!]
Address [Note: This must of course vary according to the audience before whom the subject is brought. If it be on the occasion of an Ordination, or Visitation, the clergy must be exhorted to consider what they have undertaken, and to fulfil it. If the subject be before a common audience on the First Sunday in Lent (the Epistle for the day), the people may be exhorted to avail themselves of the privileges they enjoy; and to pray for their minister, that he may be enabled to approve himself faithful to God, and to them.]—
2 Corinthians 6:10. As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
THEY who form their opinions on mere outward appearances, will almost invariably err. But in nothing will they be more mistaken, than in their judgment of the Christian state. The experience of one that is converted to God is a perfect paradox: and they who are strangers to it, evince that they yet need to learn the very first principles of true religion.
St. Paul is enumerating a great variety of things whereby he had “approved himself a faithful minister of God:” and after a multitude of other paradoxes, he comes at last to those in the text. Doubtless, they had a more immediate reference to his own state, and, in some points of view, were applicable to him alone: but in other respects, they are equally true of “all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”
We shall take occasion from these words to shew,
I. How poor the Christian is in himself—
The bitter persecutions, the painful wants, and the continued load of care, under which the Apostle laboured, might well make him sorrowful. But if we drink not of his cup in these respects, there yet are other grounds on which we may be called, like the Laodiceans, “wretched, and miserable, and poor [Note: Revelation 3:17.].”
1. We are destitute of all that is truly desirable—
[The man who wants all the necessaries of life, does not feel himself more destitute than the Christian.
How poor is he that has no righteousness to justify him before God! Yet the Christian has none in himself; he has nothing whereon he can rely, no, not any more than the fallen angels themselves [Note: Isaiah 64:6.].
How poor is he that has no strength whereby to serve God! Yet this is the Christian’s condition. If the thinking of a good thought would save him, he has not of himself a sufficiency to do it [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.].
How poor is he who has no wisdom to guide him one step of his way towards heaven! Yet thus destitute is the Christian. If he should in any one instance lean to his own understanding, he would as surely err, as if he should attempt blindfold to explore the most intricate path [Note: Jeremiah 10:23. Proverbs 3:5-6.].
In short if he had attained the eminence of Paul himself, he still must say, “In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing [Note: Romans 7:18.].”]
2. We have continual cause of sorrow—
[Numberless are the conflicts which the Christian has to maintain with his indwelling corruptions: and too frequently he receives a wound that fills him with the acutest anguish [Note: Romans 7:23.].
Many are the seasons too when his soul is “in heaviness through manifold temptations [Note: 1 Peter 1:6.]:” and when, through the hidings of God’s face, he “walks in darkness and has no light [Note: Psalms 88:14-16.].”
Supposing him ever so free from persecution, still he has in these things abundant reason for grief. Well may he on these accounts exclaim, with the Apostle, “O wretched man that I am [Note: Romans 7:24.]!”]
But the Christian’s poverty is rather a subordinate point in the text; we therefore pass on to shew more fully,
II. How rich he is in Christ—
With respect to this, every Christian is on the same footing with the Apostle himself—
1. He has an inexhaustible fulness of all good—
[Is not he rich, that has reconciliation with God; and that has “all his iniquities cast into the depths of the sea?”
Is not he rich, that has liberty of access to God at all times, and that can obtain, day and night, the manifestations of his presence, and the testimonies of his love?
Is not he rich, who, besides the present aids and consolations of God’s Spirit, has an assured prospect of eternal happiness and glory?
Yet this, and more than this, does the Christian possess in Christ. “All things are his, when he is Christ’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.].” He is “complete in Christ [Note: Colossians 2:10.];” he is “enriched with unsearchable riches [Note: Ephesians 3:8.];” and “blessed with all spiritual and eternal blessings [Note: Ephesians 1:3.].”
Compare with these things all the wealth of kingdoms; and say, whether it be not lighter than vanity itself.]
2. He has an incessant ground of joy and glorying—
[Let the Christian he in the most afflictive circumstances with respect to the things of time and sense, and yet may he rejoice in Christ,
What an inexpressible comfort must it be to him to contemplate the virtue of his sacrifice—the efficacy of his intercession—the sufficiency of his grace—the extent of his promises—and lastly, his inviolable truth and faithfulness! May not he well adopt the language of the text, “I am sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; having nothing, and yet possessing all things?” Yes; it is his privilege to “rejoice in the Lord alway [Note: Philippians 4:4.];” and that too, “with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].”]
1. What an exalted character is the true Christian!
[The men of this world are altogether dependent on outward circumstances for their happiness; and, if their cistern fail, they are bereft of all. But the Christian is independent of every thing here below. He may be deprived of health and liberty, of possessions and friends; but nothing can hinder his communion with Christ. Neither men nor devils can intercept the communications of heaven; which, for the most part, are increased, in proportion as other comforts are withdrawn [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].
Let Christians then shew by their contempt of this world, that they are born from above; and prove in the midst of all their tribulations, that they possess indeed the magnanimity imputed to them.]
2. How pitiable is the state of unconverted men!
[If they be poor and afflicted in a temporal view, they have nothing to sustain their drooping spirits. If, on the contrary, they be rich and gay, still their happiness is but empty, transient, delusive. In a little time they will be poor, and miserable beyond conception. In their very best estate therefore they are objects of pity and compassion: they may possess much, but yet are destitute of all things; they may be often rejoicing, but have continued occasion for grief and sorrow.
O that they were wise, and would consider this! O that they would begin to seek an interest in Christ, that through him their state might be reversed, and that they might participate the Christian’s lot!]
3. What a blessed work is that of the ministry!
[The Apostle gloried in this, that “though poor, he made many rich.” And is not this the one intent of our ministry? Is it not that for which we were consecrated to the service of the sanctuary? Has the Christian preacher no better end in view than to display his talents, and obtain applause? Surely, if we have been anointed with an heavenly unction, and ever learned the true nature of our office, our only desire is to “win souls:” and, as that is the scope of our labours, so, when we behold one and another coming to the possession of the true riches, we consider our success as the most glorious of all rewards [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.].
O that every minister might view his office in this light; and every faithful preacher be thus recompensed for his labours!]
EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL IN ENLARGING THE HEART
2 Corinthians 6:11-13. O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now, for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.
THE ministers of the Gospel sustain an office characterized in Scripture by the most exalted terms. They are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ: they address men in the name, and in the very place, of God himself [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:20.]: and they are in this respect fellow-workers with God [Note: ver. 1.]. But, though they are at liberty, and indeed are bound, to “magnify their office [Note: Romans 11:13.],” they are not at liberty to magnify themselves: nor, indeed, will they be disposed to do so: they know, that, whilst they bear for the good of others an inestimable “treasure, they are themselves but earthen vessels [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.]:” and, if they glory at all, they can “glory only of their infirmities,” by means of which the Lord Jesus Christ is honoured, and his work advanced [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:30.]. It is to these that the Apostle, in the passage now under our consideration, refers, as the proofs of his appointment to, and his fidelity in, the apostolic office: and so ample is his enumeration of the difficulties and trials to which he had been subjected in the discharge of his duty, that he apologizes, as it were, for the fulness of his description; and entreats his Corinthian converts to exercise towards him the same disposition which he was at this instant exercising towards them.
The words which we have read to you will afford me occasion to shew,
I. How the Gospel enlarges the heart of a faithful minister—
To the servants of Christ is committed the ministry of reconciliation—
[In this respect, a common minister is on a par with an Apostle. St. Paul himself could declare nothing, but that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself; not imputing their trespasses unto them:” and those blessed tidings we also are privileged to bear; as we are, also, to “beseech men, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God.” And this office I will now perform, if peradventure God may give his blessing to the word, and bring the soul of any one amongst you into a state of favour and acceptance with himself — — —]
In the discharge of this high office they have many difficulties to encounter—
[The Apostle here, with astonishing enlargement, sets them forth, and adduces them as evidences of his fidelity to God and man. He had “approved himself as a minister of God” in the diversity and intenseness of his sufferings; “in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings.” He had approved himself, also, in the whole of his spirit and conduct; “by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” He had given yet further evidence of his fidelity, in the different kinds of reception he had met with; “by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as a deceiver, yet true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, yet, behold, he lived; as chastened, yet, contrary to all human expectation, not killed.” Lastly, he had shewn himself a true minister of God, in the supports and consolations that had been administered to him; “as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” The eloquence of this passage has perhaps never been surpassed: and it proceeded, not from the richness of his imagination, but from the fulness of his heart; as he says: “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.”
And were these things peculiar to the Apostle? Has not every faithful minister a measure of the same? What, if we have not to experience bonds and imprisonments, have we not to go “through honour and dishonour; through evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, yet well known?” Yes, and under the lowest pressure of adverse circumstances, we trust we can say, “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”]
But difficulties, of whatever kind, are of no account with them, if only they may be rendered subservient to the progress of the Gospel, and the salvation of immortal souls—
[It was not in a way of complaint, and much less in a way of boasting, that the Apostle dilated thus on his experience: no; it was for the purpose of convincing the Corinthians that he longed for their welfare, and accounted not his life dear unto him, if he might by any means promote their eternal happiness. He had himself obtained, by the Gospel, reconciliation with God; and he panted to make them also partakers of the same benefit. This hope it was that made him so indefatigable in all his labours, and so invincible under all his sufferings.
And I may safely say, that the same blessed hope will animate every faithful minister to tread in the Apostle’s steps, and to be a follower of him, as he was of Christ.]
In this address of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we yet further see,
II. What reciprocity of feeling he may hope to find amongst those to whom he ministers—
If this experience attends a faithful ministration of the Gospel, so does it also, in some degree, a faithful reception of it: and if it should be welcomed by the preacher as an evidence of his fidelity, so should it also be welcomed by his hearers as a testimony borne by God himself in their favour. I call you then, beloved, to shew a measure of that enlargement which was so conspicuous and unrivalled in the Apostle Paul. To every one of you I say, Resemble him.
1. Let your reception of the Gospel be alike cordial—
[It is as worthy of your reception, as it was of his; and will be as rich a source of blessings to you as ever it was to him — — —]
2. Let your devotion to it be alike entire—
[See how entirely he devoted himself to God, from the very first moment that the Lord Jesus revealed himself unto him. “He conferred not with flesh and blood.” Having asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” he knew of no will, but God’s; no way, but that which the Lord himself prescribed. Be ye, brethren, alike upright in the service of Him who “has reconciled you to God by the blood of his cross.” “Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price: therefore ye must glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are his” — — —]
3. Let your zeal for it be alike ardent—
[In the whole passage we have read to you, you have heard what labours he undertook, and what sufferings he endured, in order to diffuse the knowledge of that Gospel which he had found so beneficial to his own soul. And shall not “the love of Christ constrain you” also? Shall any labour be accounted too great, or any suffering too severe, if you may be instrumental to the advancing the Redeemer’s kingdom upon earth? — — —]
4. Let your sacrifices for it be alike welcomed—
[By the cross of Christ, in which St. Paul gloried, “the world was crucified to him, and he unto the world [Note: Galatians 6:14.]:” and he regarded all that it contained, just as a man dying on a cross would regard it. Yea, in his Master’s service he was ready to welcome martyrdom as an occasion of self-congratulation and joy [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.]. A noble example! Seek to imitate it, my beloved brethren; and instead of repining at any thing ye may suffer for the Gospel’s sake, “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” and “rejoice, if ye are counted worthy to suffer for your Lord’s sake” — — —]
And now let me, in conclusion, “speak to you as my children”—
[Would to God I could say, that “ye have never been straitened in us,” Alas! we are conscious that in out ministrations we have often been cold and dead. But, on the present occasion, we hope that, in some small degree, we may adopt the Apostle’s words; and, “in recompence for the same,” we would add with him, “Be ye also enlarged.” Truly, if you had not been “straitened in your own bowels,” many, many blessings would have flowed down upon you, which yet have been withheld, because ye were not sufficiently alive to the importance of the subject propounded to you — — — You well know, that a vessel with a contracted opening receives but little of the showers of heaven, in comparison of one that presents to them a wide and expanded orifice: and thus it fares with many, who, through prejudice or worldly-mindedness, have their hearts almost closed to the glad tidings of the Gospel. O that ye might henceforth be enlarged, so as to come with minds fully prepared to receive at God’s hands all that his dear Son has purchased for you, and all that his own unbounded mercy is ready to bestow! Come to the house of God as rebels that have subjected yourselves to God’s heavy displeasure. Come as penitents, imploring mercy at his hands. Come as believers, that are persuaded of the fulness of the salvation provided for you in Christ, and of the willingness of God to bestow it on every believing penitent. In a word, Come to hear the testimony of God, in the manner, and in the spirit, that St. Paul went forth to announce it to his hearers. Let but this feeling be reciprocal, (the Lord grant it may be more and more found in me!) and then we shall not speak in vain, nor will you hear in vain.]
SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD ENJOINED
2 Corinthians 6:14-18. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
A MINISTER never appears, to young people especially, in so forbidding an aspect, as when he is circumscribing men’s intercourse with the world, and marking with precision the spirit that characterizes the true Christian in relation to the things of time and sense. Many on such an occasion are ready to account him an enemy to their happiness, and to censure him as a promoter of gloom and melancholy. But where do we find the Apostle pouring out such copious streams of love, as in the chapter before us? So accumulated were the expressions of his regard, that he thought it almost necessary to apologize for the more than ordinary effusions of his heart: “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.” Yet in that very frame of mind did he give the directions in our text. As a parent in his dying hour would most tenderly guard his children against the temptations which were most likely to draw them aside from the paths of virtue and happiness, so does the Apostle on this occasion instruct and caution his Corinthian converts: and with a measure of the same spirit we would now proceed to the consideration of the subject before us.
That we may bring it before you with the greater perspicuity, we shall shew,
I. What is that separation from the world which Christianity requires—
It must be confessed, that the expressions in our text are often quoted and urged in too unqualified a manner, and without a due consideration of the difference between the heathen world, amongst whom the Corinthians dwelt, and the professedly Christian world, amongst whom we dwell. Certainly a greater measure of separation was necessary for them than for us: inasmuch as the dangers to which intercourse with heathens would subject them, were greater than those to which we are exposed by intercourse with those who profess the same faith with ourselves. Even they were not debarred from the courtesies of social life [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:27.], nor from some degree of intercourse even with the most ungodly and profane [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:9-10.]: much less are we from such a measure of communication with them, as is necessary for the discharge of our civil and social duties. But still we must “not be unequally yoked with them:”
1. We must not have fellowship with them in any of their evil deeds—
[It is probable that in the caution here given, the Apostle had some respect to idolatrous ceremonies, and idol feasts, in which a true Christian could not consistently take any part. Being himself “the temple of God, he could not have any communion with idols.” Not but that the prohibition must extend also to every kind of evil, as well as to idolatry: for, in another place, the same Apostle speaks of “uncleanness, and covetousness, and foolish talking, and jesting, as bringing down the wrath of God upon all the children of disobedience;” and then adds, “Be not ye therefore partakers with them:” and again, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them [Note: Ephesians 5:3-7; Ephesians 5:11.].” This therefore is a law unto us, and to the Church of God in all ages, that, though we may to a certain degree unite with ungodly men in things that are indifferent, we must not unite with them in any thing that is evil, however much it may he sanctioned by the customs and usages of the world: “we must not follow a multitude to do evil.”]
2. We must not form any close connexion with them—
[Under the law, men were forbidden to sow their fields with different kinds of seed, or to wear clothes that were formed of different kinds of materials, as of woollen and linen: nor were they to yoke together an ox, which was a clean animal, with an ass, which was unclean [Note: Deuteronomy 22:9-11.]. The import of these different laws was the same: they were all intended to intimate, that in the Lord’s people there should be a perfect simplicity of mind, and an entire freedom from all mixture of evil. It is to the yoking of the clean and unclean together, that the Apostle refers in our text: and his illustration of it is beautiful. He represents believers as the temple of the Lord, in which nothing but what is holy should be found. All the vessels of that temple must be holy; and all the priests that officiate in it must be holy also. In confirmation of this he quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, where the priests in Babylon are enjoined to keep themselves from every species of defilement, in daily and hourly expectation that the order for their return to their own country shall be issued, and that they may be in a fit state to bear the vessels of the Lord, which would be restored by Cyrus for the service of the sanctuary at Jerusalem [Note: Isaiah 52:11.]. In such a state must all Christians, who are a holy priesthood, keep themselves, if they would please and honour God: they must “come out from among the ungodly, and be separate, and not touch any thing that is unclean.” In Babylon they must be, till the time of their release from it: but they must keep themselves from all close connexion with the people of it, and be in heart and mind as separate as the vessels of the sanctuary are from any profane use. The Apostle’s direction, not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, is justly urged against that most fatal of all connexions, the union of a believer with an unbeliever in the indissoluble bonds of marriage. This union on the part of a believer, is to be formed “only in the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:39.],” and with such a partner as will prove an helpmate for the soul. But the same rule should as far as possible be observed in every other relation of life, that so the spiritual person may not augment his difficulties in the way to heaven.]
3. We must not cultivate any unnecessary intimacy with them—
[What is necessary for the discharge of our social duties must, as we have before said, be allowed: yet even that is rather to be submitted to from necessity than be sought from choice. The whole of the Apostle’s argument extends to this. He supposes, that, as “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” it is almost impossible for a believer to be much in union with it without contracting some defilement. Hence he says, in reference to all who would divert us from the path of duty, or impede in any way our spiritual progress, “Come out from among them and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” Aware how soon “evil communications will corrupt good manners,” his advice is like that of Solomon, “enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men: avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and pass away [Note: Proverbs 4:14-15.].” In a word, the true line of conduct seems to be that which a physician would follow in the time of a pestilential disease. He would go amongst the infected from a sense of duty, and with a desire to do them good: but he would not make them his companions, nor stay longer with them than his duty, and their necessities, required: and both before and after his visit, as well as during his intercourse with them, he would use all proper means to preserve himself from the contagion which he had reason to apprehend.]
Such being the separation from the world which Christianity requires, we proceed to shew,
II. Whence the necessity for it arises—
On this part of the subject the Apostle speaks very fully: and, because of the perfect conviction of his own mind, he addresses us in a way of appeal, determining to make us judges in our own cause.
The difference between the believer and unbeliever he supposes to be as great as between light and darkness, or Christ and Belial. And though this at first appears harsh and extravagant, it is really no exaggeration, if only we consider, that the one is a partaker of the Divine nature and a child of God, whilst the other is altogether carnal, a child of disobedience, a child of Satan. The question then is, What real fellowship can there be between persons so dissimilar? Let any one think what a total difference exists,
1. In their taste and sentiments—
[The believer affects only heavenly things. As for the things of time and sense, he is dying to them daily, and suffers them to have as little influence as possible upon his mind. He is convinced that every thing in this world is lighter than vanity itself; and that the care of the soul is the one thing needful. To have a sense of the Divine presence, and an assured hope of dwelling with God for ever, to see sin increasingly mortified in his soul, and the image of God progressively advancing there, this is happiness in his estimation; and it is the only happiness he desires. But how different are the taste and sentiments of the merely natural man! All his affections are set on earthly things: nor has he any wish beyond them. If he could have an uninterrupted enjoyment of health, and wealth, and honour, he would wish for no other heaven: he would be well satisfied with his state, though he had never one glimpse of God’s countenance, nor one foretaste of the heavenly glory.
Now we ask, What communion can there be between persons so totally discordant from each other? They live in a different element; and what is life to the one, is to the other death.]
2. In their habits and pursuits—
[The believer delights in the word of God and prayer. Meditation on heavenly things is the very food of his soul. “The life which he now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God, who has loved him and given himself for him.” To receive out of his Saviour’s fulness more abundant communications of grace and peace, and to glorify him more in the midst of a wicked world, this is his daily desire, habit, and pursuit. But is it thus with the unbeliever? Does he appear like a man running in a race, and determined to win the prize? No; there is no resemblance between the two characters: and, if yoked together, their union would be like that of a reptile and a bird: the reptile fetters the bird to the earth, whilst every motion of the bird, when aspiring after liberty and affecting its wonted flights, incommodes and pains the reptile: and the sooner a separation is effected, the better will each of them be pleased.
Now these things are by the Apostle made a matter of appeal. And we also appeal to yourselves respecting them: Is there not, in profession at least, this contrariety between the characters, and, as far as the believer acts agreeably to his profession, does it not exist in practice also? Here then is abundant reason for the separation before spoken of: for it is impossible for the believer to derive either comfort or benefit from an intercourse that damps all his best feelings, and obstructs all his best interests. And his true way to be holy and happy is, to “Come out from the world, and be separate, and if possible, not to touch the unclean thing.”]
Nor will this separation be thought painful, if only we bear in mind—
III. The honour which God will confer on all who steadfastly maintain it—
The people of the world, in order to retain the believer in a state of bondage, hold out to him the benefits of which a separation from them will deprive him—
[They tell him of his reputation, which will suffer; and of his interests, which will be impaired by what they call his needless singularity — — — Perhaps, and indeed not uncommonly, his own parents will be the most forward to discourage him in his heavenly course, and “his greatest foes will be those of his own household — — —”]
But the encouragement here afforded him is sufficient to outweigh it all—
[What astonishing words are these! “I will receive you, and be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” What need we care about being cast out by men, if we are received by God? yea, if even disowned and disinherited by earthly parents, what loss do we sustain, if God himself acknowledge us as his sons and daughters, and provide an inheritance for us worthy of that high relation? Think of the sweet access which a child has to his parent, the delightful confidence he has in his love, and the full assurance he enjoys of all suitable provision in the time of need. This, and infinitely more than this, does the believer enjoy in the presence of his God: and beyond all this he looks forward to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Say, believer, how small are thy privations, when such are thine enjoyments! how contemptible are thy losses, when such are thy gains! — — —]
1. Those who are just entering on the divine life—
[“Let every one who sets himself to seek his God, prepare his soul for temptation.” Yes, beloved, if you will be followers of Christ, you must have some cross to bear. The servant cannot be above his lord: if they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household. Be content then to have it so. Do not imagine that you can ever reconcile the ungodly to the ways of God. If you will maintain friendship with them you must renounce your friendship with him. “You cannot serve God and Mammon:” and even a wish to do so is in God’s estimation constructive treason [Note: James 4:4. See the Greek, and mark well the import of every word.]. You think perhaps to do them good: but you are infinitely more likely to be injured by them, than to impart any solid benefit to them [Note: See Haggai 2:12-13.]. They must come to you; not you to them. To attempt to unite with them is folly and madness. You do not meet on equal terms. There is nothing that they will not say and do to draw you from God: but they will not suffer you to say or do any thing to draw them to God. They will propose to you to join with them in their amusements: but if you were to propose to them to join with you in reading the word of God and prayer, they would pronounce you mad. Come out then from among them and be separate, even as your Lord and Saviour did. “Ye are not of the world,” says our Lord, “even as I am not of the world.” Let this saying be verified in you: and let such be your love to his cross, that by means of it “the world may be crucified unto you, and you unto the world.”]
2. Those who have made some progress in the Divine life—
[Do not imagine that, because the world have not hitherto prevailed to draw you back to them, you need not be on your guard against them. Remember Demas: “Remember Lot’s wife.” The world will never cease from their efforts, because, whilst you walk steadfastly with God, you are a reproach to them. Like Noah, you, by your lively faith, and practical fear, “condemn the world.” Your own experience will be a sufficient warning to you in future. You have doubtless at times been drawn into a closer intimacy with the world than was expedient: and what, I would ask, has been the effect of it? Have you found the same satisfaction in their vanities that you have found in holy exercises? Have you not found that fellowship with them has invariably tended to interrupt your fellowship with God? When you have been walking closely with God, you have known somewhat of what is meant by those words, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them:” but have you ever been taught this by communion with the world? Your own consciousness will give the best answer to these questions. Let past experience teach you; for it is in perfect unison with the word of God, that to be “holy, and to be harmless, you must be separate from sinners.” Let your one concern then be, to “present yourselves as living sacrifices unto God, which is your reasonable service.” And “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” And be assured, that if, like the little remnant in the Church of Sardis, you keep your garments undefiled, you shall walk with God in white, approved by him as conquerors, and rewarded with “a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany