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2 Corinthians 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
Paul to the Corinthians
I. The blending of lowliness and authority in Paul’s designation of himself.
1. He does not always bring his apostolical authority to mind at the beginning of his letters. In the loving letter to the Philippians he has no need to urge his authority. In Philemon friendship is uppermost.
2. “By the will of God” is at once an assertion of Divine authority, a declaration of independence, and a lowly disclaimer of individual merit. The weight he expected to be attached to his words was to be due entirely to their Divine origin. Never mind the cracked pipe through which the Divine breath makes music, but listen to the music.
II. The ideal of Christian character here set forth. “Saints”--a word that has been woefully misapplied. The Church has given it as a special honour to a few, and decorated with it mainly the possessors of a false ideal of sanctity. The world uses it with a sarcastic intonation, as if it implied loud professions and small performances.
1. Saints are not people living in cloisters, but men and women immersed in the vulgar work of everyday life. The root idea of the word is not moral purity, but separation to God. Consecration to Him is the root from which the white flower of purity springs. We cannot purify ourselves, but we can yield ourselves to God, and the purity will come.
2. To thus devote ourselves is our solemn obligation, and unless we do we are not Christians. The true consecration is the surrender of the will, and its one motive is drawn from the love and devotion of Christ to us. All consecration rests on the faith of Christ’s sacrifice.
3. And if, drawn by the great love of Christ, we give ourselves away to God in Him, then He gives Himself to us.
III. The apostolic wish which sets forth the high ideal to be desired by churches and individuals.
1. “Grace and peace” blend the Western and Eastern forms of salutation, and surpass both. All that the Greek meant by his “Grace,” and all that the Hebrew meant by his “Peace”--the ideally happy condition which differing nations have placed in different blessings, and which all loving words have vainly wished for dear ones--is secured and conveyed to every poor soul who trusts in Christ.
2. Grace means--
(1) Love in exercise to those who are below the lover or who deserve something else.
(2) The gifts which such love bestows.
(3) The effects of those gifts in the beauties of character and conduct developed in the receivers. So here are invoked the love and gentleness of the Father; and next the outcome of that love, which never visits the soul empty handed, in all varied spiritual gifts; and, as a last result, every beauty of heart, mind, and temper which can adorn the character and refine a man into the likeness of God.
3. Peace comes after grace. For tranquillity of soul we must go to God, and He gives it by giving us His love and its gifts. There must be first peace with God that there may be peace from God. Then, when we have been won from our alienation and enmity by the power of the Cross, and have learned to know that God is our Lover, Friend, and Father, we shall possess the peace of those whose hearts have found their home; the peace of spirits no longer at war within--conscience and choice tearing them asunder in their strife; the peace of obedience, which banishes the disturbance of self-will; the peace of security shaken by no fears; the peace of a sure future across the brightness of which no shadows of sorrow nor mists of uncertainty can fall; the peace of a heart in amity with all mankind. So, living in peace, we shall lay ourselves down and die in peace, and enter “that country afar beyond the stars” where “grows the flower of peace.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The will of God
I. The supreme law. “By the will of God.”
1. God has a will. He is, therefore, an intelligent, free personality. His will explains the origin, sustenance, and order of the universe; His will is the force of all forces, and law of all laws.
2. God has a will in relation to individual men. He has a purpose in relation to every man’s existence, mission, and conduct. His will in relation to moral beings is the standard of all conduct and the rule of all destiny. Love is its mainspring.
II. The apostolic spirit.
1. The apostolic spirit involves subjection to Christ. “An apostle of Jesus Christ.” Christ is the moral Master, he the loyal servant.
2. The apostolic spirit is that of special love for the good. He calls Timothy his “brother,” and towards “the Church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia,” he glows with loving sympathy. Love for souls, deep, tender, overflowing, is the essential qualification for the ministry.
III. The chief good.
1. Here is the highest good. “Grace and peace.”
2. Here is the highest good from the highest source. “From our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Homilist.)
Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth.--
The Church which is at Corinth
Corinth is notable for its learning, wealth, and lasciviousness.
I. That even amongst the most profane and unlikeliest people God may sometimes gather a church to himself. The reason why God may build His house of such crooked timber, and make His temple of such rough stones, may be to show the freeness of His grace and the efficacy of it.
II. That a Church may be a true Church although it be defiled with many corruptions. As a godly man may be truly godly and yet subject to many failings, so a Church yet not perfect. This truth is worthy of note, because many, out of a tenderness and misguided zeal, may separate from a Church because of this; but a particular Christian is not to excommunicate a Church till God hath given a bill of divorce to it.
1. The soundness and purity of Churches admits of degrees. As one star doth excel another in glory, yet both are stars, so one Church may greatly transcend another in orthodoxy and purity, and yet both be Churches.
2. When we speak of a Church being God’s true Church, though greatly corrupted, we must take heed of two extremes--
(1) That of those who would have no reformation, though there be never so many disorders, but say, “It is prudence to let all things be.” The apostle doth far otherwise to this Church; though he calls it the Church of God, yet his Epistle is full of sharp reproof. He is very zealous that they become a new lump--that they be made, as it were, a new Church. God takes notice, and is very angry with all these disorders and great neglect.
(2) That of those who, because of the corruptions that are in a Church, are so far transported with misguided zeal as to take no notice of the truth of a Church. Some are apt so to attend to a true Church that they never matter the corruptions of it. Others, again, so eye the corruptions that they never regard the truth of it; but it is good to avoid both these extremes.
3. Though that Church be a true Church where we live, yet, if many corruptions do abound therein, we must take heed that we do not pollute ourselves thereby, or become partakers of any sin indulged amongst them. (Anthony Burgess.)
With all the saints.--
To the constitution of a true saint there is--
I. A separation. Not locally, but in regard of intimate friendship.
II. A dedication of ourselves to the service of God.
III. An inward qualification.
IV. A new conversation. The Christian carries himself even like to Him that “hath called him out of darkness into marvellous light.” (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.
Why we should bless God
What good can we do to God in blessing of Him? He is blessed, though we bless Him not. Our blessing of Him--
I. Is required as a duty, to make us more capable of His graces (Matthew 13:12). To him that useth that he hath to the glory of God shall be given more. The stream gives nothing to the fountain; the beam nothing to the sun, for it issues from it. Our very blessing of God is a blessing of His. It is from His grace that we can praise His grace; and we run still into a new debt when we have hearts enlarged to bless Him.
II. To others it is good, for they are stirred up by it. God’s goodness and mercy is enlarged in regard of the manifestation of it to others.
III. Yea, thus good comes to our souls. Besides the increase of grace, we shall find an increase of joy and comfort.
1. If we can work upon our hearts a disposition to see God’s love, and to bless Him, we can never be uncomfortable, for then crosses are light. For, when we search for matter of praising God in any affliction, and when we see there is some mercy yet reserved that we are not consumed, God, when He hath thanks from us, gives us still more matter of thankfulness, and the more we thank Him the more we have matter of praise. And, that we may the better perform this holy duty, let us take notice of all God’s blessings. Blessing of God springs immediately from an enlarged heart, but enlargement of heart is stirred up from apprehension.
2. Taking notice of them, let us forget not all His benefits (Psalms 103:2). Let us register them, keep diaries of His mercies. He renews His mercies every day, and we ought to renew our blessing of Him every day. We should labour to do here as we shall do when we are in heaven. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
The thankful heart discriminates mercies
If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my eyes, and search for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet, and sweep through it, and how would it draw to itself the most invisible particles by the mere power of attraction! The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings; only the iron in God’s sand is gold. (O. W. Holmes.)
The abundance of Divine consolation
I. Of blessing God under the amiable characters which are here ascribed to Him. The apostle blesseth God under the three following designations:--
1. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, considered in this character and relation, ought, in a special manner, to be blessed.
2. The next title under which God is here blessed is, the Father of mercies. Mercy is the compassion and relief which is administered to those who are in misery. God is not said to be the Father of mercy, but of mercies, of all the mercies we need or can enjoy. Did we lose sight of all our mercies, we might find them again in God, who is the Father from whom they all proceed. Mercies of all kinds flow from Him--deliverance from evil, the enjoyment of God, pardon, sanctification, preservation. There is mercy in everything that befalls us: in health, in strength, in safety, in affliction, in recovery--nay, in every bereavement that we meet with.
3. The third designation under which God is blessed is, the God of all comfort. There is comfort in all the privileges peculiar to Christians, such as justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the blessings connected with them. There is comfort in the promises of the new covenant, in which the people of God are assured of His gracious presence, the assistance of His Spirit, and the enjoyment of His glory. But this is not all that is necessary that God may be the God of all comfort. We may have agreeable possessions, we may have the Word of God, which unfolds the grounds of comfort, and yet not be comforted, if the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, do not apply to our souls the consolations of His Word, and powerfully set them home upon our hearts. He can create comfort to us out of nothing, or out of what is most unlikely to yield it. He can bring meat out of the eater, sweet out of the bitter, joy out of sorrow, life out of death, and, what is more, He can make our greatest crosses our greatest comforts.
II. Let us consider the particular ground mentioned in the text on account of which the apostle blessed Him; “God comforteth us in all our tribulation.” He doth not keep us from tribulation, but He comforteth us in it, which shows more of Divine power and goodness than wholly to preserve from it. This is the peculiar work of God alone. Who but He can restore the soul and speak peace to the conscience? What relief can outward enjoyments or human reasonings afford in the time of soul distress? The comforts He conveys are always suited to the condition of those on whom they are bestowed. In lesser afflictions fewer or smaller consolations suffice. Great comforts are given under great sufferings. Worldly men look to their outward enjoyments for comfort, whilst they overlook the mercy of God, from whence they all proceed.
III. The important end for which Divine consolations are imparted to the saints--namely, “that they may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith they themselves are comforted of God.” The consolations of God are neither small nor few, and can never be diminished, however great the number of those who share in them. God is pleased to comfort those who are in trouble by means of His people who themselves have been distressed. Various important purposes are served by this wise appointment. Hereby trial is made of our subjection to the Divine authority. Many are much distressed with heavy hearts whose pride makes them scorn the way of obtaining comfort which God hath prescribed. In this way the hearts of the godly are knit together in love, and their mutual esteem is increased. Those who are comforted of God by means of their brethren are brought under strong obligations to endearing friendship and affectionate gratitude. Improve, then, all your experiences, for the benefit of your fellow-Christians. In this way, also, those who ought to comfort the distressed are well prepared for performing the work assigned them. Experience is an excellent instructor. Experience likewise gives great confidence to the speaker, and enables him to speak with more certainty and boldness than he could do without this advantage. Is God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort? Why, then, are some of you dejected, after all the comfortable things that you read in your Bibles and hear in sermons? Why, you go to the streams and neglect the fountain. Would you have comfort from God in all your tribulations? Consider attentively what are the particular maladies with which you are distressed. Think of your sins, which are the worst of all evils. Let none misapply this subject. Though strong consolation is provided for those who flee for refuge to Jesus Christ, there is no true comfort to those who go on in their sins. When we would comfort others, or enjoy comfort ourselves, let us begin with diligent examination, in order to discover their and our own spiritual state--if it be really such as will allow us to take comfort or to administer it to others. (W. McCulloch.)
The God of Christianity
I. The Father of the world’s Redeemer.
II. The source of man’s mercies. The merciful Father. God in nature does not appear as the God of mercy and comfort for the lost.
III. The comforter of afflicted saints. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
God the Father of mercies
When a man begets children, they are in his own likeness. God groups all the mercies of the universe into a great family of children, of which He is the head. Mercies tell us what God is. They are His children. He is the Father of them in all their forms, combinations, multiplications, derivations, offices. Mercies in their length and breadth, in their multitudes infinite, uncountable--these arc God’s offspring, and they represent their Father. Judgments are effects of God’s power. Pains and penalties go forth from His hand. Mercies are God Himself. They are the issues of His heart. If He rears up a scheme of discipline and education which requires and justifies the application of pains and penalties for special purposes, the God that stands behind all special systems and all special administrations in His own interior nature pronounces himself “the Father of mercies.” Mercies are not what He does so much as what He is. (H. W. Beecher.)
The God of comfort
I. This world is not an orb broke loose and snarled with immedicable evils.
1. If we would know what this world is coming to, we must not look too low. Have you never noticed, in summer days, when the sun stands at the very meridian height, how white and clear the light is--how all things are transparently clear? But let the sun droop till it shoots level beams along the surface of the earth, and those beams are caught and choked up with a thousand vapours, and the light grows thick and murky. And so, when men’s eyes glance along the surface of the world, looking at moral questions, they look through the vapours which the world itself has generated, and cannot see clearly. Therefore it is that many men think this world is bound to wickedness, and that all philanthropic attempts are mere efforts of weakness and inexperience. And no man who does not take his inspirations from the nature of God can have right views of human life. No man can be a charitable man who does not believe that his fellow-men are depraved. And then, no man can be charitable with men who does not believe that it is the essential nature of God to cure, and not to condemn. God is Himself a vast medicine. And as long as God lives, and is what He is--“the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort”--so long this world is not going to rack and ruin. Let men despond as much as they please, the earth is not for ever to groan.
2. Work on, then! Not a tear that you drop to wash away any person’s trouble, not a blow that you strike in imitation of the strokes of the Almighty arm, shall be forgotten. The world shall be redeemed, for our God’s name is Mercy and Comfort.
II. There are no troubles which befall our suffering hearts for which there is not in God a remedy, if only we wish to receive it. Now, there is victory for each true Christian heart over its troubles.
1. Not by disowning them. Every man’s prayer to God is, “Lord, remove this thorn in the flesh.” “My grace shall be sufficient for you.” Then bear.
2. But how?--resignedly? Yes, if you cannot do any better. That is better than murmuring. But resignation is a negative thing. It is the consent of the soul to receive without rebellion. It is giving up a contest.
3. But is the disciple better than the Master? Would you, if you could, reach forth your hand and take back one single sorrow that made Christ to you what He is? Is it not the power of Jesus to all eternity that He was the Sufferer, and that He bore suffering in such a way that He vanquished it? Now you are His followers; and will you follow Christ by slinking away from suffering? Do not seek it; but, if it comes, remember that no sorrow comes but with His knowledge. And what is trouble but that very influence that brings you nearer to the heart of God than prayers or hymns? But sorrows, to be of use, must be borne, as Christ’s were, victoriously, carrying with them intimations and sacred prophecies to the heart of Hope that by them we shall be strengthened and ennobled.
4. How is it, brother? I do not ask you whether you like the cup which you are now drinking, but look back twenty years--at the time which seemed to you like midnight, Now it is all over, and it has wrought out its effect on you; and I ask you, Would you have removed the experience of that burden which you thought would crush you, but which you fought in such a way that you came out a strong man? What has made you so versatile, patient, broad, rich? God put pickaxes into you, though you did not like it. He dug wells of salvation in you. And you are what you are by the grace of God’s providence. You were gold in the rock, and God played miner, and blasted you out of the rock; and then He played stamper, and crushed you; and then He played smelter, and melted you; and now you are gold free from the rock by the grace of God’s severity to you. And as you look back upon those experiences, and see what they have done for you, and what you are now, you say, “I would not exchange what I learned from these things for all the world.” What is the reason you have never learned to apply the same philosophy to the trouble of to-day?
III. No person is ordained until his sorrows put into his hands the power of comforting others. Sorrow is apt to be very selfish and self-indulgent, but see how sorrow worked in the apostle. When the daughter is married, and goes from home, how often her heart returns! As time goes on, the daughter suffers from sickness, children are multiplied, and the mother comes and tarries in the family. The children are sick, there is trouble in the household; but the daughter says, “Mother is here.” And she says, “My dear child, I have gone through it all,” and while yet she is telling her story, strangely, as if exhaled, all these drops of trouble that have sprinkled on the child’s heart have gone, and she is comforted. Why? Because the consolations by which the mother’s heart was comforted have gone over and rested on the child’s mind. Now, the apostle says, “When Christ comforts your grief He makes you mother to somebody else.” I know some people who, when they have griefs, become mendicants, and go around with a hat in their hand, begging a penny of comfort from this one and that one. What does the apostle say? That when God comforts your griefs He ordains you to be a minister of comfort to others who are in trouble. (H. W. Beecher.)
The comfort of God
We are all engaged in the great conflict between right and wrong. To the Christian, often, and not unnaturally, either from the weariness of the struggle or the depressing sense of failure, there comes an overwhelming weight of sorrow. How is the soul to be supported? By “the comfort of God.” It is that blessed truth which haunts the heart of St. Paul throughout the whole of this Epistle. Examine this question of comfort.
I. Christ is the one Mediator. It is through Him the comfort comes. How?
1. From His loyalty to truth. There are those who attempt to soothe the conscience by making light of sin. Such cannot comfort. Sin is, in its essence, uneasy disturbance. “The wicked are like a troubled sea, they cannot rest.” Man is too near God to find comfort in a lie. Our Master knew it. And how unflinchingly, minutely true His life was! How awful are His warnings of the consequences of persistent sin! And, therefore, how sweet His consolations! How severe His rebukes to the self-righteous, and therefore restless! Yet Mary Magdalene, with all her loads of guilt, lay down before Him and kissed His sacred feet, and felt the kindness of His comfort. As the Master, so the servant; as Christ, so His Church. Why do men so often hate her? Because she makes no compromises. She refuses to “daub with untempered mortar.” Sin, she says, is always disastrous. Moral laws, she says, are constant. “As a man sows, so shall he reap.” As real as sin, so real must be penitence. No short cuts; this is the one path to pardon. Truth is the path to comfort. Sin does matter. Turn from it--to the light of His countenance, to the sweetness of the comfort of God.
2. By infusing hope. Hope rests upon a promise and a fact. The fact is, that entire drama of tenderness and power which is summed up in the Passion of Christ. Dark and sad enough is the journey of life, but this is like the after-glow along the battlements of evening clouds, which promises, when night is passed, a brilliant morning; like the first note of the bird in winter that warbles of a coming spring, this lifts the immortal spirit above the pressure of the things of time, and enables the soul to appropriate to itself the good gifts of God. “Loved me, gave Himself for me”--there is supernatural hope. This invigorates the failing nature; it is “the comfort of God.”
3. From the genuine living sympathy of Christ. The reality of that sympathy depends, of course, upon the perfection of His human nature, the power of it upon the truth of His Godhead. In several experiences our blessed Master has gained the necessary acquaintance with our needs.
(1) None like Himself has known the exceeding horror of sin. Sooner or later every child of Adam knows that. But in the agony at Gethsemane, and in the dereliction on the Cross, pure human nature felt the whole force and fierceness of the assaults of evil.
(2) He knows the reality and pain of temptation. “He suffered being tempted.”
(3) None more acutely than He felt the transitoriness of human happiness and human life. By all the quiet hours at Nazareth, at Bethany, etc., He knew the contrasting sadness of scattered friends and darkened days, and the keenness of the Cross.
(4) He underwent the darkness and horror of the grave. Struggling soul, assaulted by fierce temptation; sin-laden soul, bowed down and fainting under a sense of failure; sorrowing soul, bewildered with a paralysis of trouble; dying soul, shrinking from the separation and the gloom of the grave, look up; He feels for thine anguish: look up; in that sympathy is comfort.
II. How does this comfort, which springs from His mighty mediation, come home to us?
1. From the sweetness of the grace of penitence. Sin--your sin--was rebellion. His love has penetrated thy soul; the tears of penitence have come. Sin was all self, penitence is all God. But at first, how sharp the sense of shame I Then He came--“God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What was the cry? “Wash me throughly from my iniquity,” etc. It was pain, this penitence--searching, piercing; but what is this inner sense of joy? The presence of Jesus, the comfort of God.
2. From the consecration of sorrow. Sorrow is the fact of facts. Strange mystery; Christ has consecrated sorrow. He has made it the path to victory. “The Valley of Achor” becomes a “door of hope.”
3. By the blessedness of prayer. To persevere in prayer is surely and at last to know the comfort of God. (Canon Knox-Little.)
I. Tribulation is a discipline common to all. None can evade it; the richest man can neither buy himself off nor provide a substitute.
1. The discipline of tribulation is inevitable because we are imperfect.
2. Note some of the tribulations of earthly existence.
(1) Disappointment in life.
II. In the discipline of tribulation God shall comfort all His people with sustaining grace. The medicine may be bitter, but it will give strength. (W. Birch.)
Comforted and comforting
I. The comfortable occupation. Blessing God. If a man under affliction blesses the Lord--
1. It argues that his heart is not vanquished--
(1) So as to gratify Satan by murmuring,
(2) So as to kill his own soul with despair.
2. It prophesies that god will send to him speedy deliverances to call forth new praises. It is natural to lend more to a man when the interest on what he has is duly paid. Never did man bless God but sooner or later God blessed him.
3. It profits the believer above measure.
(1) It takes the mind off from present trouble.
(2) It lifts the heart to heavenly thoughts and considerations.
(3) It gives a taste of heaven, for heaven largely consists in adoring and blessing God.
(4)It destroys distress by bringing God upon the scene.
4. It is the Lord’s due in whatsoever state we may be.
II. The comfortable titles.
1. A name of affinity, “The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. A name of gratitude, “The Father of mercies.”
3. A name of hope, “The God of all comfort.”
4. A name of discrimination, “Who comforteth us.” The Lord has a special care for those who trust in Him.
III. The comfortable fact. “The God of all comfort comforteth us in all our tribulation.”
2. Habitually. He has always been near to comfort us in all past time, never once leaving us alone.
3. Effectually. He has always been able to comfort us in all tribulation. No trial has baffled His skill.
4. Everlastingly. He will comfort us to the end, for He is “the God of all comfort,” and He cannot change. Should we not be always happy since God always comforts us?
IV. The comfortable nestor. “That we may be able to comfort.”
1. To make us comforters of others. The Lord aims at this: the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, trains us up to be comforters. There is great need for this holy service in this sin-smitten world.
2. To make us comforters on a large scale. “To comfort them which are in any trouble.” We are to be conversant with all kinds of grief, and ready to sympathise with all sufferers.
3. To make us experts in consolation--“able to comfort”; because of our own experience of Divine comfort.
4. To make us willing and sympathetic, so that we may, through personal experience, instinctively care for the state of others.
1. Let us now unite in special thanksgiving to the God of all comfort.
2. Let us drink in comfort from the Word of the Lord, and be ourselves happy in Christ Jesus.
3. Let us be on the watch to minister consolation to all tried ones. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Comforted to comfort
1. Look up. There is thy Father. But ere thou canst be like Him thou wilt need the file of the lapidary, the heat of the crucible, the bruising of the flail.
2. Look down. At the moment of thy conversion all the powers of darkness pledged themselves to obstruct thy way.
3. Look around. Thou art still in the world that crucified thy Lord.
4. Look within. In the constant strife between thy will and God’s will, what can there be but affliction? When in affliction, mind three things.
I. Look out for comfort. It will come--
1. Certainly. Wherever the nettle grows there grows the dock-leaf.
2. Proportionately. God holds a pair of scales. This on the right, called as, is for thine afflictions; this on the left, called so, is for thy comforts. And the beam is always level.
3. Divinely. Shall we look to man? No, for Job found the best men of his time to be miserable comforters. Shall we look to angels? No; this needs a gentler touch than theirs. God comforteth those that are cast down.
4. Mediately. Our consolation aboundeth through Christ.
5. Directly through the Holy Ghost, that other Comforter, whom the Saviour gives.
6. Variously; sometimes by the coming of a beloved Titus, a bouquet, a letter, a promise, sometimes by God simply coming near.
II. Store up comfort.
1. The world is full of comfortless hearts. Our God would comfort them through thee. But thou must be trained.
2. Dost thou wonder why thou dost suffer some special form of sorrow? Wait till ten years are passed. In that time thou wilt find some afflicted as thou art. When thou tellest them how thou hast suffered, and how thou hast been comforted, thou wilt learn why thou hast been afflicted.
III. Pass on the comfort you receive. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The purpose and use of comfort
The desire for comfort may be a noble or a most ignoble wish. The nobleness of actions depends more upon the reasons why we do them than on the acts themselves. Paul gave to the comfort which God had given him its deepest and most unselfish reason, and so the fact of God’s comforting him became the exaltation and the strengthening of his life. It does not matter what the special trouble was; the point is this--that Paul thanked God because the comfort which had come to him gave him the power to comfort other people. Now try to recall the joy and peace and thankfulness that have ever filled your heart when you became thoroughly sure that God had relieved or blessed you. But ask yourself, at the same time, “Did any such thought as Paul’s come up first and foremost to my mind?”
I. The power of Paul or of any man to realise this high idea--
1. Shows a clear understanding that it is really God who sends the help. If the recovery of your health or the saving of your fortune seems to you a piece of luck, then you may be meanly and miserably selfish about it. It is a light which you have struck out for yourself, and may burn in your own lantern. But if the light came down from God it is too big for you to keep to yourself.
2. Evinces genuine unselfishness and a true humility. Put these together into a nature, and you clear away those obstructions which, in so many men, stop God’s mercies short, and absorb, as personal privileges, what they were meant to radiate as blessings to mankind. Who is the man whom we rejoice to see possessing wealth? It is the man who says, “God sent this,” and, “I am not worthy of this; where are my brethren?” Who is the man who, receiving comfort from God, radiates it? It is the reverent, unselfish, humble man. The sunlight falls upon a clod, but lies as black as ever; but the sun touches a diamond, and the diamond almost chills itself as it sends out in radiance on every side the light that has fallen on it. So God helps one man bear his pain, and nobody but that one man is a whir the richer. God comes to another sufferer, and all around are comforted by the radiated comfort of that happy soul.
3. Will always be easier and more real to us in proportion as we dwell habitually upon the profounder and more spiritual of His mercies. If I am in the habit of thanking God mainly for food and clothes and house, it will not be easy for me to take them as if the final purpose of them was that I might be warm and well fed. But if what I thank Him for most is not that He gives me His gifts, but that He gives me Himself, then I cannot resist the tendency of that mercy to outgrow my life. A stream may leave its deposits in the pool it flows through, but the stream itself hurries on to other pools; and so God’s gifts a soul may selfishly appropriate, but God Himself, the more truly a soul possesses Him, the more truly it will long and try to share Him. Thus I have tried to picture the man who in the profoundest way accepts and values God’s mercies. You see how clear his superiority is. The Pharisee says, “I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,” and evidently it is his difference from other men that he values most, and he means to keep himself different from other men as long as possible. The Christian says, “I thank Thee that Thou hast made me this, because it is a sign and may be made a means of bringing other men to the same help and joy.”
II. Note a few of the special helps which God gives to men, and see how what I have been saying applies to each of them.
1. Take the comfort which God sends a man when he is in religious doubt. And that does not by any means always mean the filling of every darkness with perfect light. No doubt God does answer our questions for us sometimes if we will “walk in His ways.” But he has had little experience of God who has not often felt how sometimes, with a deep doubt in the soul unsolved, the Father will fold about His doubting child a sense of Himself so self-witnessing that the child is content to carry his unanswered question, because of the unanswerable assurance of his Father which he has received. You are comforting your child just in that way every day. But, tell me, is it the gain of that one doubter only? Is no other questioner helped? Few men are aided by arguments compared with those to whom religion becomes a clear reality from the sight of some fellow-man who carries the life of God wherever he goes.
2. Take the way God proves to us that the soul is more than the body. In the breakage or decay of physical power He brings out spiritual richness and strength. This was something that St. Paul knew well (2 Corinthians 4:16). A man who has been in the full whirl of prosperous business fails, and then for the first time he learns the joy of conscious integrity preserved through all temptations, and of daily trust in God for daily bread. A man who never knew an ache comes to a break in health, and then the soul within him stands strong in the midst of weakness, calm in the very centre of the turmoil and panic of the aching body. The temper of the fickle people changes, and the favourite of yesterday becomes the victim of to-day; but in his martyrdom for the first time he sees the full value of the truth he dies for, and thanks the flames that have lighted up its preciousness. Now, in all these cases, must it not be an element in the comfort which fills the sick room, or gathers about the martyr’s stake, that by this revelation of the spiritual through the broken physical life other men may learn its value?
3. Take the comfort which God gives a man who has found out his sin and repented of it--forgiveness. We take too low a ground in pleading with the man living in sin. We tell him of his danger. We go higher than that: we tell him of the happiness of the life with God. But suppose we took a higher strain, and said, “Every time any man humbly takes God’s forgiveness, that man becomes a new witness to men of how strong and good the Saviour is. And look, how they need Him! Not for yourself now, but for them, for Him, take His forgiveness and give up yourself inwardly and outwardly to Him.” So used one grows to find men respond to the noblest motives who are deaf to a motive which is less noble. Be a new man in Christ for these men’s sake. (Bishop Phillips Brooks.)
Man requiring, enjoying, and ministering Divine comforts
The passage presents to us man in three aspects--
I. As requiring divine comfort. This is implied in the words, “God of all comfort.” There are troubles arising--
1. From secular sources--broken plans, profitless efforts, worldly cares and anxieties.
2. From social sources--the disruption of social ties, the venom of social slander, the disappointments of social ingratitude and unfaithfulness.
3. From moral sources--sense of guilt, conflict of passions with conscience, terrible forebodings of the future.
II. As enjoying divine comfort. The apostle speaks of himself and the Church at Corinth as being “comforted of God.” God comforts His trusting people--
1. By inspiring hope. What delightful promises does He make--promises suitable to every tribulation!
(1) To those in secular tribulation He says, “Be careful for nothing,” etc.
(2) To those in social tribulation He says, “Cursed is the man that maketh flesh his arm,” “Cursed is the man that trusteth not in the Lord.”
(3) To those in moral tribulation He says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
2. By uniting their thoughts. Conflicting thoughts are the great troublers of the soul. God harmonises those thoughts by centring them on Himself.
3. By engrossing their love. Distracted affections are sources of distress. God centres the heart upon Himself, and man is kept in perfect peace.
III. As ministering divine comfort. “That we may be able to comfort,” etc. And Paul felt thankful for the comforts received, not merely for his own sake, but the sake of others. His language implies--
1. That he gratefully administered comfort to others as the gift of God.
2. That he loyally administered comfort to others “according to the will of God.” “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith the Lord.” Conclusion: How suitable is the God of the gospel to the troubled condition of humanity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The ministry of consolation
I. Christians have many a secret, making pain endurable and taking the sting from trouble.
1. Sorrow is fellowship with Christ, is a great self-revealer--of sin, of restoring mercy, of cleansing grace, of the tenderness of God.
2. But the text shows a new gain--a special grace. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”; but “blessed,” also, “are they that be comforted, for they shall comfort others.”
(1) When God comforts a man, the man’s speech is full of feeling, and listening to him is like listening to the voice of God.
(2) One who has felt a wound knows where and how to touch one. In our inexperience we are too blunt or too shy, and hurt the sensibilities we would soothe: we lay bare when we should shroud, and cover up a wound we should try to purge.
(3) “Comforted of God.” Who comforteth like Him? “He knoweth our frame,” etc. It is worth while to stand in need of God’s comforts and to experience them, if we may but acquire an aptitude like this.
3. There is no honour comparable with the gratitude and love bestowed on a consoler, and no satisfaction greater than the sense that we have carried comfort to a mourner. This was Christ’s honour, joy, mission.
II. Paul’s trouble was one in connection with his ministry, yet he speaks of being prepared for any case needing consolation. The power to console lies not in our ability to use a particular formula that shall suit a particular want; it lies in our acquaintance with God and His ways and the quickness of our sympathies with men. No one whose heart is tender and whose faith is strong may be deterred from trying to console a sufferer because he has not experienced a like calamity. The experience which is so valuable in all contact with souls is a tone of spirit rather than a knowledge of details; and it is this which is God’s choice gift to those He comforts. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
The design of Paul’s afflictions
I. The particular affliction to which the apostle refers. The whole paragraph speaks of his trials, but at verse 8 we read of one in particular extremely severe. In many parts of Asia Minor Paul suffered persecution, but if to one place more than another the text refers, it is to Lystra (Acts 14:8-20).
II. The comfort he enjoyed in this or in any other affliction to which he may refer. Paul was comforted--
1. By various occurrences under Providence. At Lystra, the scene of his terrific sufferings, sat a cripple who “had faith to be healed.” And did not the apostle rejoice to see that thus, wherever he went, there were those whom sovereign grace designed to bless? When a prisoner at Rome, “the things which happened to him fell out to the furtherance of the gospel.” In Macedonia God, who comforteth those that are cast down, comforted him by the coming of Titus.
2. By communion with his Lord.
3. By his hope of heaven.
III. The happy influence of Paul’s trials in promoting the religion of his fellow-Christians (verses 4, 6). In two ways the suffering and steadfastness of the apostle would benefit the Corinthians.
1. By his example they would be animated to encounter similar difficulties.
2. By his writings, full of Christian experience, they would derive all that instruction and appeal which an actual endurance of sorrow and support would be sure to imprint by his pen.
IV. The grateful, adoring spirit which the goodness of God occasioned in him. (verse 3). (Isaac Taylor.)
does not mean mere pacification, lulling, the creation of a species of moral and spiritual atrophy: the comfort of God is the encouragement of God, the stimulus of the Most High applied to the human mind and the human heart. When God vivifies us He comforts us; instead of putting His fingers upon our eyelids and drawing them down over tired eyes and saying, “Now sleep a long sleep,” He sometimes gives us such an access of life that we cannot lie one moment longer; we spring forth as men who have a battle to fight and a victory to bring home. That access of life is the comfort of God, as well as that added sleep, that extra hour of slumber which is a tender benediction. Why was the apostle comforted, vivified, or encouraged? That he should be able to comfort them which are in trouble. Why does God give us money? To make use of it for the good of others. Why does God make a man very strong? That He may save a man who is very weak, by carrying his burden for him an hour or two now and then, so as to give the man some sense of holiday. Why does the Lord make one man very penetrating in mind, very complete in judgment, very serene and profound in counsel? Not that he may say, “Behold me!” but that he may sit in the gate and dispense the bounty of his soul to those who need all manner of aid, all ministries of love. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 1:4
Who comforteth us.
.. that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.
Divine comfort in tribulation
1. There is no tribulation either for the kind or degree of it, but God can and doth comfort His people therein, and God’s comforts do far exceed all philosophical remedies, as much as the sun doth a glow-worm.
2. It is very useful to know what are these apples of comfort (Song of Solomon 2:1-17; Song of Solomon 3:1-11; Song of Solomon 4:1-16; Song of Solomon 5:1-16), because many of God’s children--
(1) Are in a great manner ignorant of what foundations and sure grounds they have of comfort. They are like Elisha’s servant, who, though there was a great host of angels to help him, yet did not see them. So that the Spirit of God not only illuminates us in the matter of duty, but also in matter of comfort.
(2) Though they know many arguments of comfort, yet their memory faileth them, that in the very hour of their temptations they forget what comfortable supports they might make use of. So that it is good to preach of these principles of consolation, that thereby we may be remembrancers to you.
3. Come we then to lead you up into the mount of transfiguration, let us see, even in this life, what are the good things God hath prepared for those that love Him. And take this for a foundation, that God comforts through and by the Scriptures.
I. All tribulation is precisely determined by God as a Father out of much love.
1. In regard of the beginning, the degree, and the continuance of it. Here is matter of comfort enough; here is more oil than we have vessels to receive (Matthew 5:1-48.; Hebrews 12:9-10). Now as winter and cold is necessary in its season as well as summer, and the night hath its use as well as the day, a time of tribulation is as necessary as a time of rest and quietness.
2. In regard to the time of deliverance from it. The tribulation shall not stay an hour longer than while it may do good to thee; He will not take one drop of blood more from thee than is necessary to prevent thy disease, or abate it (Revelation 2:10). Even as the artificer knoweth how long the gold must be in the fire to take away the dross, and will not suffer it to abide any longer.
II. Another Scripture-cordial is from Christ, with all the fulness that is in him. Christ received by faith is able to make us gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles. He that hath this sun cannot be in the dark night. What makes Paul (Romans 8:1-39.) to triumph in all manner of tribulations? Is not the foundation of all this Christ dead and Christ risen again? And if He hath given us Christ, how shall He not with Him give us all things? Thus the spiritual influence of Christ into the soul taketh away the bitterness of all troubles.
III. Another Scripture discovery for comfort is to press and command the life of faith upon God’s promise. So that, whatsoever the principles of the world and sense do suggest, yet faith rectifieth all. That finds honey to come out of a dead lion, that can suck honey from a bitter herb. God’s thoughts and ours are wholly different; only faith enableth us to know the mind of God; and where flesh is ready to say, God is casting off and utterly forsaking, there faith seeth Him drawing near. The disciples in a tempest thought they had seen a spirit, and were affrighted, but it was Christ. The promise of God and faith applying it, do bear up the soul, and make it rejoice in troubles (Hebrews 6:18).
IV. Eternal glory is to be possessed after the troubles (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). (A. Burgess.)
Circumstances of life not unfrequently become aids to the revelations of God to the soul. Most of us know how troubles have helped us in the translation of the Bible.
I. Our afflictions and comfortings are the source of our fitness for influencing others.
1. These together bring a peculiar kind of power.
(1) How often the very tone of stricken ones has had its power upon us: They were not morbid; not talking always about their past griefs; but our spirits felt as we listened to them the hallowing influence of the passage through suffering. Compare their conversation with that of those whom God has but seldom and lightly smitten. Take those efforts which are made for the conversion of others; hear also the men of sanctified afflictions. They who have been brought to Christ without any great struggles seldom gain the power to aid the early seekings of others.
(2) Take any endeavour to express sympathy with those who may now be suffering. The unstricken can find beautiful words, but the stricken can express unutterable things in silence.
2. Then it will but be reasonable to expect that if God has valuable influence for us to exert, He will need to bring us through troubles. The same truth shines out, even more clearly, from the life and Cross of Christ. “He is able to succour because in all points tempted.” Should you not, then, bless God for sorrows that win you Christly powers to bless others?
II. Our afflictions and comfortings gain for us all the power of a noble example, There is an unconscious as well as a conscious influence, forming an atmosphere, living in which men insensibly grow better. Sometimes God’s more suffering children become despondent because they can do so little actual work for Christ; but God has done some of His very best things by the example of suffering patience.
1. Estimate the moral influence of sanctified afflictions on men who are living with no sense of spiritual and eternal things. What touches these men? Do sermons? Alas! but faintly. Does Christian life around them? Alas! its witness is too feeble. Does their own part of human trouble? Only a little, for they accept it as their part of the common lot. But in the presence of a sanctified Christian sufferer many a worldly, thoughtless man has said in his heart, “I would gladly change places with him, if I could but know his heart peace.”
2. Then estimate the influence exerted by such on doubting and imperfect Christians. For all of us the Christian life is difficult; it is easy for us all to fall into careless, unworthy living, and into doubt and despair. Now those who have passed under God’s afflictions and comfortings have a higher life; they excite us all to try and reach up to it.
3. Then think of the power exerted by these sanctified sufferers on children. Religion is in this way set before the young as no mere theory, but the very noblest power to sanctify their life. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
Affliction a school of comfort
1. If there is one point of character more than another which belonged to St. Paul it was his power of sympathy. He went through trials of every kind, and this was their issue. He knew how to persuade, for he knew where lay the perplexity; he knew how to console, for he knew the sorrow. His spirit was as some delicate instrument which, as the weather changed about him, accurately marked all its variations, and guided him what to do. “To the Jews he became as a Jew,” etc. (2 Corinthians 11:23-30). The same law was fulfilled not only in the case of Christ’s servants, but even He Himself condescended to learn to strengthen man, by the experiencing of man’s infirmities (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:14-15).
2. Now, in speaking of the benefits of suffering, we should never forget that by itself it has no power to make us more heavenly. It makes many men morose and selfish. The only sympathy it creates in many is the wish that others should suffer with them, not they with others. The devils are not incited by their own torments to any endeavour but that of making others devils also. It is only when grace is in the heart that anything outward or inward turns to a man’s salvation.
3. And while affliction does not necessarily make us kind, and may even make us cruel, the want of affliction does not mend matters. There is a buoyancy and freshness of mind in those who have never suffered, which, beautiful as it is, is perhaps scarcely suitable and safe in sinful man. Pain and sorrow are the almost necessary medicines of the impetuosity of nature. Without these, men, like spoilt children, act as if they considered everything must give way to their own wishes and conveniences.
4. Such is worldly happiness and worldly trial; but God, while He chose the latter as the portion of His saints, sanctified it. He rescues them from the selfishness of worldly comfort without surrendering them to the selfishness of worldly pain. He brings them into pain, that they may be like Christ, and may be led to think of Him, not of themselves. When they mourn, they are more intimately in His presence than at any other time. Pain, anxiety, bereavement, distress, are to them His forerunners. He who has been long under the rod of God becomes God’s possession (Lamentations 3:1-2; Lamentations 3:12). And they who see him gather around like Job’s acquaintance, speaking no word to him, yet more reverently than if they did; looking at him with fear yet with confidence, as one who is under God’s teaching” and training for the work of consolation towards his brethren. Him they will seek when trouble comes on themselves; turning from all such as delighted them in their prosperity.
5. Surely this is a great blessing to be thus consecrated by affliction as a minister of God’s mercies to the afflicted. Thus, instead of being the selfish creatures which we were by nature, grace, acting through suffering, tends to make us ready teachers and witnesses of Truth to all men. Time was when, even at the most necessary times, we found it difficult to speak of heaven to another; but now our affection is eloquent, and “out of the abundance of the heart our mouth speaketh.”
6. Such was the high temper of mind instanced in our Lord and His apostles, and thereby impressed upon the Church. And for this we may thank God that the Church has never forgotten that we must all, “through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” She has never forgotten that she was set apart for a comforter of the afflicted, and that comfort well we must first be afflicted ourselves. Those who are set on their own ease most certainly are bad comforters of others; thus the rich man, who fared sumptuously every day, let Lazarus lie at his gate, and left him to be “comforted” after this life by angels. As to comfort the poor and afflicted is the way to heaven, so to have affliction ourselves is the way to comfort them. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
I. As a school of comfort. Affliction and comfort--a remarkable connection of two apparent opposites, and yet how indissoluble! For heavenly, as distinguished from mere earthly gladness, is inseparable from suffering. It was so in the life of Christ; it was immediately after the temptation that angels came and ministered to Him; it was in His agony that the angel strengthened Him. And as in His life so in ours, these two are never separated, for the first earnest questions of personal and deep religion are ever born out of personal suffering. As if God had said, “In the sunshine thou canst not see Me; but when the sun is withdrawn the stars of heaven shall appear.”
II. A school of assurance.
1. There is nothing so hard to force upon the soul as the conviction that life is a real, earnest, awful thing. Only see the butterfly life of pleasure men and women are living day by day, flitting from one enjoyment to another; living, working, spending, and exhausting themselves for nothing else but the seen and temporal and unreal.
2. Nothing is harder than to believe in God. When you are well, when hours are pleasant and friends abundant, it is an easy thing to speculate about God; but when sorrow comes, speculation will not do. It is like casting the lead from mere curiosity, when you have a sound strong ship in deep water. But when she is grinding on the rocks, then we sound for God. For God becomes a living God, a home, when once we feel that we are helpless anti homeless in this world without Him.
III. A school of sympathy.
1. Some Christians are rough, hard, and rude: you cannot go to them for sympathy. They have not suffered. Tenderness is got by suffering. Would you be a Barnabas and give something beyond commonplace consolation to a wounded spirit? then “you must suffer being tempted.”
2. Now here we have a very peculiar source of consolation in suffering. The thought that the apostle’s suffering benefited others soothed him in his afflictions, and this is a consolation which is essentially Christian. Consider how the old Stoicism groped in the dark to solve the mystery of grief, telling you it must be, and that it benefits and perfects you. Yes, that is true enough. But Christianity says much more; it says, Your suffering blesses others; it gives them firmness. Here is the law of the Cross: “No man dieth to himself”; for his pain and loss is for others, and brings with it to others joy and gain. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
2 Corinthians 1:5
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth by Christ.
The sufferings and the consolation
Our cross is not the same as Christ’s, yet we have a cross. Our sufferings are not the same as Christ’s, yet we have sufferings. The cross is like Christ’s, and the sufferings are like His, but yet not the same in kind or object. Yea there is a wide difference; for our trials have nothing to do with expiation. The meaning and use of trims.
I. It shows god to be in earnest with us. He does not let us alone. He takes great pains with our spiritual education and training. He is no careless Father.
II. It assures us of his love. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.”
III. It draws prayer to us.
IV. it knits us in sympathy to the whole body.
V. It teaches us sympathy with brethren.
VI. It brings us into a mood more receptive of blessing. It softens our hearts.
VII. It makes us prize the word. The Bible assumes a new aspect to us. All else darkens; but it brightens.
VIII. It shuts out the world. It all at once draws a curtain round us, and the world becomes invisible.
IX. It bids us look up. Set your affection on things above.
X. It turns our hope to the lord’s great coming. (A. Bonar.)
Consolations of the sufferings of Christ
The quality and extent of suffering depends not so much on the exciting causes of it as upon the nature of the faculty which suffers. It is the power of suffering that is inherent in any faculty that measures suffering, and not the magnitude of the aggression which is made outwardly. For there are many who will stand up and have their name battered, as if they were but a target, almost without suffering, while there are others to whom the slightest disparagement is like a poisoned arrow, and rankles with exquisite suffering. A stroke of a pound weight upon a bell two inches in diameter will give forth a certain amount of sound. Let the bell be of one hundred pounds weight, and the same stroke of one pound will more than quadruple the amount of aerial vibration. Let the bell be increased to a thousand pounds, and the same stroke will make the reverberations vaster, and cause them to roll yet further. Let it be a five or ten thousand pound weight bell, and that same stroke that made a tinkling on the small bell makes a roar on this large one. The very same quality that being struck in a small being produces a certain amount of susceptibility, being struck in a being that is infinite, produces an infinitely greater experience, for feeling increases in the ratio of being. The same suffering in a great nature is a thousandfold greater than it is in a small nature, because there is the vibration, as it were, of a mind so much greater given to the suffering. The chord in our souls is short and stubborn. The chord in the Divine soul is infinite; and its vibrations are immeasurably beyond any experience of our own. Sorrow in us is of the same kind as sorrow in Christ, and yet, as compared with the sorrow of Christ, human sorrow is but a mere puff. (H. W. Beecher.)
Consolation proportionate to spiritual sufferings
I. The sufferings to be expected.
1. Before we buckle on the Christian armour we ought to know what that service is which is expected of us. A recruiting sergeant often slips a shilling into the hand of some ignorant youth, and tells him that Her Majesty’s service is a fine thing, that he has nothing to do but walk about in his flaming colours, and go straight on to glory. But the Christian sergeant never deceives like that. Christ Himself said, “Count the cost.” He wished to have no disciple who was not prepared “to bear hardness as a good soldier.”
2. But why must the Christian expect trouble?
(1) Look upward. Thinkest thou it will be an easy thing for thy heart to become as pure as God is? Ask those bright spirits clad in white whence their victory came. Some of them will tell you they swam through seas of blood.
(2) Turn thine eyes downward. Satan will always be at thee, for thine enemy, “like a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.”
(3) Look around thee. Thou art in an enemy’s country.
(4) Look within thee. There is a little world in here, which is quite enough to give us trouble. Sin is there and self and unbelief.
II. The distinction to be noticed. Our sufferings are said to be the sufferings of Christ. Now, suffering itself is not an evidence of Christianity. There are many people who have troubles who are not children of God. A man is dishonest, and is put in jail for it; a man is a coward, and men hiss at him for it; a man is insincere, and therefore persons avoid him. Yet he says he is persecuted. Not at all; it serves him right. Take heed that your sufferings are the sufferings of Christ. It is only then that we may take comfort. What is meant by this? As Christ, the head, had a certain amount of suffering to endure, so the body must also have a certain weight laid upon it. Ours are the sufferings of Christ if we suffer for Christ’s sake. If you are called to endure hardness for the sake of the truth, then those are the sufferings of Christ. And this ennobles us and makes us happy. It must have been some honour to the old soldier who stood by the Iron Duke in his battles to be able to say, “We fight under the good old Duke, who has won so many battles, and when he wins, part of the honour will be ours.” I remember a story of a great commander who led his troops into a defile, and when there a large body of the enemy entirely surrounded him. He knew a battle was inevitable on the morning, he therefore went round to hear in what condition his soldiers’ minds were. He came to one tent, and as he listened he heard a man say, “Our general is very brave, but he is very unwise this time; he has led us into a place where we are sure to be beaten; there are so many of the enemy and only so many of us.” Then the commander drew aside a part of the tent and said, “How many do you count me for?” Now, Christian, how many do you count Christ for? He is all in all.
III. A proportion to be experienced. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us so the consolations of Christ abound. God always keeps a pair of scales--in this side He puts His people’s trials, and in that He puts their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition, and vice versa. Because--
1. Trials make more room for consolation. There is nothing makes a man have a big heart like a great trial.
2. Trouble exercises our graces, and the very exercise of our graces tends to make us more comfortable and happy. Where showers fall most, there the grass is greenest.
3. Then we have the closest dealings with God. When the barn is full, man can live without God. But once take your gourds away, you want your God. Some people call troubles weights. Verily they are so. A ship that has large sails and a fair wind needs ballast. A gentleman once asked a friend concerning a beautiful horse of his feeding shout in the pasture with a clog on its foot, “Why do you clog such a noble animal?” “Sir,” said he, “I would a great deal sooner clog him than lose him; he is given to leap hedges.” That is why God clogs His people.
IV. A person to be honoured. Christians can rejoice in deep distress, but to whom shall the glory be given? Oh, to Jesus, for the text says it is all by Him. The Christian can rejoice, since Christ will never forsake him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Suffering and consolation
1. It would be difficult to exaggerate how much suffering, patiently and heroically borne, contributed to the propagation of the Christian religion. All the apostles were martyrs, except St. John, and he was a martyr in will.
2. This Epistle is one which is marked by intense feeling. We see the different emotions of joy and sorrow, thankfulness and indignation, disappointment and confidence, distress and hope, breaking forth every here and there in this Second Letter to the Corinthians. The apostle is speaking in the text of troubles, afflictions, and persecutions which he himself had endured, to which he refers in verse
3. But he does not repine.
I. “The sufferings of christ abound in us.”
1. First, notice what a very different view of suffering we find in the New Testament from that which was taken of old. The Jewish estimate was very narrow. We see from the Gospels that the Jew regarded suffering as retributive, but not as remedial or perfective. There are many reasons for interpreting the purposes of pain and affliction in a wider way. The sufferings of Job, “a perfect and an upright man,” and the sufferings of the animal world, might have opened the eyes to the inadequacy of their theory.
2. The apostle says, “The sufferings of Christ abound in us.” Is not Christ in glory? How canst. Paul speak still of His sufferings? The words have received three interpretations. One, the sufferings of Christ means our sufferings for Him. Another, by the sufferings of Christ is meant sufferings similar to those which He bore; and so the martyrs might all claim a special likeness to Him in their violent deaths. But the third interpretation seems more to the point. The sufferings of Christ mean His sufferings in us. Christ said, when Saul was persecuting His members, “Why persecutest thou Me?” So close is the union between the Head and the members, that Christ, as an old commentator asserts, was in a manner stoned in Stephen, beheaded in Paul, crucified in Peter, and burnt in St. Lawrence.
II. Now, “our consolation.”
1. Our sufferings differ from Christ’s, in that we have consolation which is apportioned to our trial. Christ suffered without solace. His Passion was endured amid what spiritual writers describe as “dryness of spirit.” This, it need not be said, intensifies affliction (John 12:27; Matthew 27:46).
2. But with the Christian, if the sufferings “abound,” the consolation “abounds” also. This accounts in part for the different spirit in which the martyrs faced death from that which the King of Martyrs displayed.
3. Christ purchased the consolation which is bestowed upon His members. The text runs, Our consolation aboundeth by Christ,” or, Revised Version, “through (διά) Christ.” Through His death and passion, through His all-prevailing intercession, through the gift of the Spirit, and the grace of the sacraments--trial and persecution have been endured even with thankfulness and joy (James 1:2; Philippians 3:10).
1. To take a right view of suffering.
2. To realise the consolation as the gift of Christ, and as measured out in proportion to our day of trial.
3. Especially to seek this “consolation” from the Comforter, God the Holy Ghost--like the Churches of old, who walked “in the comfort of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 9:31). (Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
How Christ comforteth those who suffer for Him
I. As our sufferings are for Christ, so by the same Christ are our comforts. Consider in what respects comforts may be said to abound by Christ.
1. Efficiently. He being the same with God, is therefore a God of all consolation, and as a Mediator He is sensible of our need, and therefore the more ready to comfort. Christ that wanted comfort Himself, and therefore had an angel sent to comfort Him, is thereby the more compassionate and willing to comfort us. Thus you may read Christ and God put together in this very act (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). Christ, therefore, not only absolutely as God, but relatively as Mediator, is qualified with all fitness and fulness to communicate consolation; He is the fountain and head, as of grace, so of comfort.
2. Meritoriously. He hath merited at the hands of God our comfort. As by Christ the Spirit of God is given to the Church as a guide into all truth, and as the Sanctifier, so He is also the Comforter, who giveth every drop of consolation that any believer doth enjoy.
3. Objectively--i.e., in Him, and from Him we take our comfort. As Christ is called “our righteousness,” because in and through His righteousness we are accepted of in Him, so Christ is our comfort, because in Him we find matter of all joy (Philippians 3:3).
II. How many ways Christ makes His comforts to abound to those that suffer for Him.
1. By persuading them of the goodness of the cause, why they suffer.
2. By forewarning of their sufferings, All who will live godly must suffer tribulation. Christ hath done us no wrong, He hath told us what we must look for, it is no more than we expected. The fiery trial is not a strange thing. Surely this maketh way for much comfort, that we looked for afflictions beforehand; we prepared an ark against the deluge should come.
3. By informing us of His sovereignty and conquest over the world. If our enemies were equal or superior to Christ, then we might justly be left without comfort; but what Christ spake to His disciples belongs to all (John 14:18; John 16:33).
4. By virtue of His prayer put up in that very behalf (John 17:13).
5. By instructing us of the good use and heavenly advantage all these tribulations shall turn unto.
(1) Our spiritual and eternal good. This will winnow away our chaff, purge our dross, be a school wherein we shall learn more spiritual and Divine knowledge than ever before. Sufferings have taught more than vast libraries, or the best books can teach.
(2) Our eternal glory. (A. Burgess.)
The sacred joy
These words fathom a depth of human experience which can only be touched by those who seek in the life of Christ the key to the mystery of pain. There is a suffering which is common to man, and there is in respect of such suffering consolation in God. But there is a suffering which belongs to life under its highest conditions and which the mere man of the world never tastes, but for which there is a Divine joy which is equally beyond his range.
I. The nature of the suffering which is to be regarded as a sharing of the suffering of the Lord. Among the elements which enter into it are--
1. The spectacle of the misery of mankind. On earth Christ wept as He beheld it, and the Christian is also bound to feel the pressure of its burden.
2. The deadly nature of evil. We cannot cheat ourselves into the belief that it does not much matter, that God is good and will make it all right at last. Sin is to be looked at in the light of Calvary. That teaches how terrible it is to the eye of God, how deadly in the heart of man.
3. The resistance of the will of the flesh to the best efforts and influences; its determination to reject the things that heal and save. It was this that made Christ the Man of Sorrows (Luke 13:34). To see a man perish within reach of rescue is one of the most piteous of spectacles. Imagine, then, what the world must be to Christ as He says, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” This burden the disciple of Christ has ever pressing upon him as he fulfils his ministry in a scornful world.
4. The future eternal destiny. The thought pressed as a constant burden on the heart of Christ. It was this that drove Paul into barbarous lands, if he might save a soul from death. The fellowship of the Redeemer’s tears is no unknown experience to the disciple.
II. How our consolation aboundeth in Christ. If we are called to share the suffering, we are called also to share the consolation. There was a joy set before Christ for which He endured the Cross, etc.
the joy of a sure redemption of humanity. These are some of the elements of the joy.
1. The God of all power and might has taken up the burden and wills the redemption of the world. God has come forth in Christ to undertake in person the recovery of our race. In working and suffering for man we have the assurance that God is with us. We see Mammon or Moloch on the throne, but it cannot be for ever. With all the vantage strength of His Godhead, Christ is working at the problem of man’s salvation. When we feel saddened by the burden of human misery let us rest on the thought, “God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”
2. There is a joy in the fulfilment of a self-sacrificing ministry which is more like heavenly rapture than any other experience which is within our reach. Unselfish work, inspired by the love of Christ, is the soul’s gymnastic culture. To sow the seed of the kingdom is the present joy of a lifetime. No man who has known it would part with it to be a crowned king. The certainty of the issue (Isaiah 55:10-13). (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
2 Corinthians 1:6-11
And whether we be afflicted … or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
I. Are often experienced in the rest of enterprises (2 Corinthians 11:23; 2 Corinthians 11:29).
II. Are ever necessary for the rendering of the highest service to mankind (verse6).
III. Their detailment purely for the good of others is justifiable (2 Corinthians 1:8).
IV. Their experience often proves a blessing to the sufferer. They seem to have done two things for Paul--
1. To have transferred his trust in himself to God (2 Corinthians 1:9).
2. To have awakened the prayers of others on his behalf (2 Corinthians 1:11). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The peculiar afflictions of God’s people
I. God suffers his children to fall into great extremities.
1. To try what mettle they are made of. Light afflictions will not try them thoroughly, great ones will. What we are in great afflictions, we are indeed.
2. To try the sincerity of our estate, to make us known to the world and known to ourselves. A man knows not what a deal of looseness he hath in his heart, and what a deal of falseness, till we come to extremity.
3. To set an edge upon our desires and our prayers (Psalms 130:1).
4. To exercise our faith and patience.
5. To perfect the work of mortification.
6. To prepare us for greater blessings. Humility doth empty the soul, and crosses do breed humility. The emptiness of the soul fits it for receipt. Why doth the husbandman rend his ground with the plough? Is it because he hath an ill mind to the ground? No. He means to sow good seed there, and he will not plough a whir longer than may serve to prepare the ground (Isaiah 28:24). So likewise the goldsmith, the best metal that he hath, he tempers it, he labours to consume the dross of it, and the longer it is in the fire the more pure it comes forth.
7. That we might set a price upon the comforts when they come.
8. Learn, then--
(1) Not to pass a harsh, rigid censure upon ourselves or others for any great affliction or abasement in this world.
(2) Not to build overmuch confidence on earthly things.
II. As God’s children are brought to this estate, so they are sensible of it. They are flesh and not steel (Job 6:12). They are men and not stones. They are Christians and not Stoics.
III. We may triumph over death by faith and grace. That we may not fear death overmuch, let us look upon it in the glass of the gospel as it is now in Christ, and meditate on the two terms, from whence and whither. What a blessed change it is if we be in Christ! (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.--
Death a sentence
I. A sentence.
II. As a sentence in man. “We have the sentence of death in ourselves.”
1. The sentence of death is in man’s body. It is born with him, and it continues to work within until the organisation falls back to its original dust. “The moment we begin to live we all begin to die.”
2. The sentence of death is in man’s mind. There it dwells as a dark thought spreading a gloom over the whole of his life. It haunts the memory, it terrifies the conscience. It is in us, we cannot get rid of it. No science can expel it from the body, no reason can argue it from the soul.
III. As a sentence in man for useful ends. What are the spiritual uses it is designed to answer?
1. Nontrust in self. “Not trust in ourselves.” There is a self-reliance that is a duty. But there is a self-confidence that is sinful and ruinous. Now the sentence of death tends to check this. It makes man feel his frailty. Thank God for death, it keeps down the arrogant spirit of humanity.
2. Devout trust in God. “But in God that raiseth the dead.” Man’s well-being is essentially dependent upon trust in God. (Homilist.)
Sentence of death, the death of self-trust
1. We are justified in speaking about our own experience when it will be for the benefit of others. Especially is this the case with leaders in the Church such as Paul. As to our own experience of trial and delivering mercy, it is sent for our good, and we should endeavour to profit to the utmost by it; but it was never intended that it should end with our private benefit. We are bound to comfort others by the comfort wherewith the Lord hath comforted us.
2. The particular experience of which Paul speaks was a certain trial, or probably series of trials, which he endured in Asia. You know how he was stoned at Lystra, and how he was followed by his malicious countrymen from town to town. You recollect the uproar at Ephesus, and the constant danger to which Paul was exposed from perils of all kinds; but he appears to have been suffering at the same time grievous sickness of body, and the whole together caused very deep depression of mind. His tribulations abounded.
I. The disease--the tendency to trust in ourselves is--
1. One to which all men are liable, for even Paul was in danger of it. Where a sharp preventive is used it is clear that a strong liability exists. I should have thought that Paul was the last man to be in this danger. Self-confidence he is always disclaiming. He looks upon his own righteousness as dross, and “By the grace of God,” saith he, “I am what I am.” It is plain, then, that no clearness of knowledge, no purity of intent, and no depth of experience can altogether kill the propensity to self-reliance.
2. Evil in all men, since it was evil in an apostle. Paul speaks of it as a fault which God in mercy prevented. At first sight it seems that there was somewhat in him whereof he might glory. What folly would be ours, then, if we became self-sufficient! If a lion’s strength be insufficient, what can the dogs do? If the oak trembles, how can the brambles boast?
3. Highly injurious, since God Himself interposed to prevent His servant from falling into it by sending a great trouble. Depend upon it, He is doing the same for us, since we have even greater need. Anything is better than vain-glory and self-esteem.
4. Very hard to cure; for to prevent it in Paul it was necessary for the Great Physician to go the length of making him feel the sentence of death in himself.
II. The treatment. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves,” which means that--
1. He seemed to hear the verdict of death passed upon him by the conditions which surrounded him. So continually hounded by his malicious countrymen, etc., he felt certain that one day or other they would compass his destruction. The original conveys the idea, not only of a verdict from without, but of an answer of assent from within, a sort of presentiment that he was soon to die. And yet it was not so: he survived all the designs of the foe. We often feel a thousand deaths in fearing one. Into a low state of spirit was Paul brought, and this prevented his trusting in himself. The man who feels that he is about to die is no longer able to trust in himself. What earthly thing can help us when we are about to die? Paul felt as every dying Christian must, that he must commit his spirit unto Christ and watch for His appearing.
2. The sentence of death which he heard outside wrought within his soul a sense of entire helplessness. He was striving to fight for the kingdom of Christ, but he saw that he must be baffled if he had nothing to rely upon but himself. Paul’s mind was so struck with death within himself that he could not stem the torrent, and would have drifted to despair had he not given himself up into the hands of grace Divine.
III. The cure. It was sharp medicine, but it worked well with Paul.
1. He argued, If I die, what matters it? God can raise me from the dead. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
2. He inferred, also, that if God could raise him from the dead He could preserve him from a violent death. Immortal is every believer till his work is done.
3. He argued yet further that if God can raise the dead He could take his fainting powers, over which the sentence of death has passed, and He could use them for His own purposes. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Who delivered us from so great a death.--
1. God hath a time, as for all things, so for our deliverance.
2. God’s time is the best time. He is the best discerner of opportunities.
3. This shall be when He hath wrought His work upon our souls, specially when He hath made us trust in Him. As here, when Paul had learned to trust in God, then He delivered him. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
A great deliverance
First, we have here the terms of the deliverance, or the thing delivered from--“so great a death.” For the evil itself--“death,” and for the aggravation of it--“a great death.” Chrysostom, together with some others, gives it in the plural number, so great deaths. And, indeed, there are more deaths than one which God does undertake to deliver His servants from, and from which He delivered St. Paul and his companions. First, from spiritual death, the death of sin; that is a very great death, not only as exposing to wrath and future condemnation, but likewise as disabling to the actions of grace and holiness, depriving us of that life of God which should be in us (Ephesians 4:18). And this death of sin is to be numbered among great deaths, and the deliverance from it reckoned among great deliverances. Secondly, eternal death, the death of wrath and condemnation, that is another great death also, and such as follows likewise upon the former without recovery from it. The third, and that which is here particularly aimed at, is temporal death, which is the least death of all. The greater aggravations we may take in these following particulars. First, from the nature and kind of it, a violent death, not a natural. This is a great death, and so consequently a great mercy to be delivered from it, to be kept from accidents. As for wicked men, it is threatened as a judgment upon them that a tempest shall steal them away (Job 27:20). The second is, from the quality and manner of it, a painful death, not a gentle and easy. Death is unpleasing in itself; but when to this we shall add pain and torture, this makes it to be so much the more. This was that which the many of godly martyrs endured (Hebrews 11:35). Thirdly, take in another from the coming and proceeding of it--a sudden death and not an expected. Fourthly, from the time and season of it, when it is an hastened death, not a mature one (Ecclesiastes 7:17; Psalms 55:23). It is said of bloody and deceitful men that they shall not live out half their days; for men not to live out half their days is reckoned in the catalogue of great deaths. Fifthly, the greatness of death has an aggravation of it from its latitude and extent. That is a great death which devours multitudes at once. And then what kind of “us” were they? Take in, secondly, the quality of persons, such as were especially useful--an apostle and the ministers of Christ; for these to be delivered from death, it was to be delivered from a great death. The death of none is to be slighted, though never so mean; but the death of men who are eminent for their gifts and graces is much to be set by. Sixthly, a great death in regard of the proximity and nearness of the evil itself. It was, as it were, at the very next door. A great death, that is, indeed, a great danger, so some read the words. Lastly, a great death also in regard of the apprehensions of those which were in danger of it. That which is great in our thoughts, to us it is great. And so was this here to the Apostle Paul and his company, as we may see in the verse before the text, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves,” that is, we gave ourselves for dead men. So great a death! Here is now the nature of thankfulness, to extend the mercies of God, and to make them as great as may be. The second particular is the preservation or deliverance itself, “And doth deliver,” etc. And here again take notice of two things more. First, for the thing itself; this is that which we may here observe how ready God is to deliver His people from death, and from great death (Psa 57:13; Psalms 116:8; Psalms 118:18). And so in like manner other of the saints. There are many gracious promises to this purpose, as Job 5:20, “He shall redeem thy soul from death.” First, out of pity and compassion towards them. Look how much sweetness there is in life, so much mercy in preservation from death. Secondly, He has work for them to do, and some service which He requires from them. When we put ourselves out of service we put ourselves out of protection. When we lay ourselves aside as to our work, we do in a manner hasten our end, and ring our own passing bell. Thirdly, God does further delight to frustrate the attempts of enemies, and those that conspire the death of His servants, and for this cause will deliver them from it. We may in the second place look upon it in the reflection, as coming from the apostle, God had delivered him, and he did not now let it pass without notice. This is a duty, to take notice of those deliverances which God at any time has vouchsafed unto us. Thankfulness is the least which we can return upon God for deliverance. That God has delivered us, and from a great death. First, for the person delivering, it was God. Secondly, for the persons delivered, we may add also “us,” it is we which are delivered. The deliverance of others has cause for joy. But when ourselves are interested in any deliverance, this should more work upon us. Thirdly, for the terms also of deliverance, “so great a death,” so great as it is hard to declare how great it was. The second now follows, and that is the signification of a deliverance present, in these words, “And doth deliver, He that hath delivered, does deliver.” It is very fitly put in the present tense, and also indefinitely, because God is never out of this work of deliverance of us. This may be made good according to a twofold explication. First, God does still deliver so far forth as He does confirm and make good His former deliverance. God, when He delivers His people, but He still pursues them with His deliverance further. As there is preventing and antecedent grace, so there is following and subsequent grace. And as there is the grace of conversion, so there is likewise the grace of confirmation. Thus, for example, when God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. What, did He only deliver them in that juncture of time? No, but even all the time after they did reap the fruit of that deliverance till they came to Canaan. Secondly, God does deliver, even after that He has delivered already. In renewing upon us the like mercies again, and in vouchsafing the same deliverances for kind as He has formerly done. So likewise for spiritual deliverances, God does deliver after deliverances. The efficacy of Christ’s death is extended beyond the time of His sufferings to all following generations. The third and last is the prognostication of a deliverance to come, “In whom we trust also, that He will yet deliver us.” We see this excellent gradation how the apostle proceeds from one thing to another, from time past to time present, and from time present to time to come. What we may observe from hence. That deliverances which are past are a very good ground for expecting of deliverances to come; or if ye will thus, God that has delivered hitherto He will likewise deliver again. This is the sweetest heavenly reasoning of the saints and servants of God, even to argue thus with themselves and to draw deductions of expectation from former experience. What God will do from what He has done, and that also upon weighty considerations. First, His ability and power. In men this is many times defective, so that we cannot so happily conclude of the one from the other, of future goodness from former, because their power and opportunity may be gone. And then further, here is an argument likewise from the greater to the less, He that has done the one He can do the other too; He that has delivered from so great a death He can much more deliver from a smaller danger. Secondly, there is in God a perpetuity of affection too. “It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). Thirdly, there is in God exactness and a desire to perfect His own work; now this He should not be able to do, if together with deliverances which are past He should not join deliverances to come. The improvement of it may be in a double way of application. First, for our own private and particular, we should learn from this present doctrine to treasure up unto ourselves ground of expectation of more from God in a way of deliverance and preservation, by considering what He has done for us heretofore in like exigencies. Thus the mariner or traveller by sea may reason, God has delivered me in such a storm and in such a tempest, I am now in the same lawful way and He will deliver me again. So likewise in the second place we may also carry it (as more pertinent to the occasion) to the Church and State in general, and reason so for that. He has delivered and does deliver, and we trust that He will yet deliver us. God does not do things all at once, but by time and degrees, He makes one thing a preparation to another, and a ground and argument for the expectation of it, and so as we may in a manner see His footsteps in it. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)
I. Suggests three trains of thought.
1. Memory tells of deliverance in the past. From--
(1) Violent death.
(2) Our death in sin: “So great a death,” indeed.
(3) Fierce despair when under conviction.
(4) Total overthrow when tempted by Satan.
(5) Faintness under daily tribulation.
(6) Destruction by slander and the like. The Lord has graciously delivered us hitherto. Let us express our gratitude.
2. Observation calls attention to present deliverance. By the good hand of the Lord we are at this time preserved from--
(1) Unseen dangers to life.
(2) The subtle assaults of Satan.
(3) The rampant errors of the times.
(4) Inbred sin and natural corruption.
(5) The sentence of death within, and the greater danger of self-trust (verse 9).
Our present standing is wholly due to the grace of God, and, trusting in that grace, we may indulge a happy confidence.
3. Expectation looks out of the window upon the future.
(1) Faith rests alone in God, “in whom we trust,” and through Him she looks for future deliverance.
(a) From all future common trials.
(b) From coming losses and afflictions, and from sicknesses, which may be coming upon us.
(c) From the infirmities and wants of age.
(d) From the peculiar glooms of death.
(2) This expectation makes us march on with cheerfulness.
II. Supplies three lines of argument. That the Lord will preserve us to the end is most sure. We can say of Him, “In whom we trust that He will yet deliver us.”
1. From the Lord’s beginning to deliver we argue that He will yet deriver, for--
(1) There was no reason in us for His beginning to love us. If His love arises out of His own nature it will continue.
(2) He has obtained no fresh knowledge. He foreknew all our misbehaviours: hence there is no reason for casting us off.
(3) The reason which moved Him at first is operating now, and none better can be required.
2. From the Lord’s continuing to deliver we argue that He will yet deliver; for--
(1) His deliverances have been so many.
(2) They have displayed such wisdom and power.
(3) They have come to us when we have been so unworthy.
(4) They have continued in such an unbroken line. That we feel sure He will never leave nor forsake us.
3. From the Lord Himself--“In whom we trust”: we argue that He will yet deliver; for--
(1) He is as loving and strong now as aforetime.
(2) He will be the same in the future.
(3) His purpose never changes, and it is to His glory to complete what He has begun.
III. Is open to three inferences.
1. That we shall always be so in danger as to need to be delivered; wherefore we are not high-minded, but fear.
2. Our constant need of God’s own interposition. He alone has met our case in the past, and He only can meet it in the future; wherefore we would ever abide near our Lord.
3. That our whole life should be filled with the praise of God, who, for past, present, and future, is our Deliverer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
2 Corinthians 1:11
Ye also helping together by prayer for us.
You have four girls; Mary does the work of the rest--such help is not good. All help is dangerous for any of us when there is absence of mutuality. I am not allowed to think of myself as in one of those boat excursions, where some sit idle at the stern while some one else rows. There is nothing healthy or wholesome unless we work together.
I. We must not hinder. What a dreadful thing it is to read concerning the Pharisees, that they not only did not enter in themselves, but hindered those that were entering in. That may be done by ill-temper and by indifference.
II. Nerve yourself to triumph over hindrances. The river comes leaping on. Well, you say you cannot get over that rock, it is so high! “Oh! yes,” the river says, “I am going round that side.” Your life and mine ought to mean conquest.
III. It is pleasant to help. But when you are “helping together “ then the critics come. Look at Nehemiah’s work. These are the things that test your strength! Go on with the work, helping together!
IV. Note the variety of work. There is a great deal to be said for the numerous ways in which we may help.
V. This “helping together” will be rewarded in ways we little think of.
VI. The influence of work upon the worker. We are all disciplined by it. (W. M. Statham.)
Christians’ prayers the minister’s help
I. The objects at which Christian ministers aim.
1. The destruction of the empire of Satan.
2. To restore order and happiness to the world.
3. To bring glory to Christ.
4. To prepare souls for heaven.
II. The influence which your prayers will have on their attainment. They will--
1. Awaken the attention of beholders.
2. Honour the Holy Spirit, who is the great agent in the success of the gospel.
3. Prepare the Church for its safe enjoyment of prosperity.
4. Fall in with the will of God, as made known to us in His Word.
III. The motives which should engage you to the performance of this duty.
1. It will tend to your own good.
2. There will be the use of other means to secure the good of the Church. He who prays as he ought will endeavour to live as he prays.
3. The great Lord of the Church hath set the example of prayer.
4. The Divine approbation it will surely receive. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
The power of prayer and the pleasure of praise
Although our apostle thus acknowledged God’s hand alone in his deliverance, yet he did not undervalue the second causes. Having first praised the God of all comfort, he now remembers with gratitude the earnest prayers of the many loving intercessors. Let us--
I. Acknowledge the power of united prayer.
1. God has been pleased to command us to pray, for prayer--
(1) Glorifies God, by putting man in the humblest posture of worship.
(2) Teaches us our unworthiness, which is no small blessing to such proud beings as we are. While it is an application to Divine wealth, it is a confession of human emptiness.
(3) Apart from the answer which it brings, a great benefit to the Christian. As the runner gains strength for the race by daily exercise, so for the great race of life we acquire energy by the hallowed labour of prayer.
2. As many mercies are conveyed from heaven in the ship of prayer, so there are many choice and special favours which can only be brought to us by the fleets of united prayer. Many are the good things which God will give to His Elijahs and Daniels, but if two of you agree, etc., there is no limit to God’s bountiful answers. Peter might never have been brought out of prison if it had not been that prayer was made without ceasing by all the Church for him. Pentecost might never have come if all the disciples had not been “with one accord in one place.” Thus our gracious Lord sets forth His own esteem for the communion of saints. We cannot all preach, rule, or give gold and silver, but we can all contribute our prayers.
3. This united prayer should specially be made for the ministers of God.
(1) Their position is most perilous. Satan knows if he can once smite one of these there will be a general confusion, for if the champion be dead then the people fly. On returning from Rotterdam, when we were crossing the bar at the mouth of the Mass, where by reason of a neap tide and a bad wind the navigation was exceedingly dangerous, orders were issued--“All hands on deck!” So the life of a minister is so perilous, that I may well cry--“All hands on deck”; every man to prayer.
(2) A solemn weight of responsibility rests on them. The captain as we crossed that bar threw the lead himself into the sea; and when one asked why, he said, “At this point I dare not trust any man to heave the lead, for we have hardly six inches between our ship and the bottom.”
(3) Their preservation is one of the most important objects to the Church. You may lose a sailor from the ship, and that is very bad, but if the captain should be smitten, what is the vessel to do?
(4) How much more is asked of them than of you.
4. I find that in the original the word for “helping together” implies very earnest work. Some people’s prayers have no work in them. Melancthon derived great comfort from the information that certain poor weavers, woman and children, had met together to pray for the Reformation. It was not Luther only, but the thousands of poor persons who offered supplications, that made the Reformation what it was.
II. Excite you to praise.
1. Praise should always follow answered prayer, the mist of earth’s gratitude should rise as the sun of heaven’s love warms the ground. Tongue-tied Christians are a sad dishonour to the Church.
2. United praise has a very special commendation, it is like music in concert. It is a volume of harmony. The praise of one Christian is accepted before God like a grain of incense; but the praise of many is like a censer full of frankincense smoking up before the Lord.
3. As united prayer should be offered specially for ministers, so should united praise. We ought to praise God for good ministers--
(1) That they live, for when they die much of their work dies with them.
(2) For preserved character, for when a minister falls, what a disgrace it is!
(3) If the minister be kept well supplied with goodly matter, and if he be kept sound. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
2 Corinthians 1:12
For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.
The joy of a clear conscience
I. When Christians have the testimony of conscience in their favour. When it testifies--
1. That they have done what is right.
2. That they have done right from right motives.
II. That this testimony of conscience in their favour affords them good ground to rejoice. Because it assures them--
1. That they have internally, as well as externally, obeyed God.
2. That they have the approbation of God.
3. That they will sooner or later meet the approbation of all the world.
4. That they stand entitled to all the blessings of eternal life.
III. Improvement. If Christians have the testimony of their conscience in their favour, then--
1. They may always know their gracious state.
2. They may always know their duty.
3. They live the happiest life of any men in the world.
4. They never need to be afraid to do their duty.
5. It as faithfully testifies against all their shortcomings and moral imperfections.
6. We may discover the great source of self deception in sinners. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The testimony of conscience
I. Conscience is, perhaps, the greatest power in the world it is an inward knowledge, which speaks either for or against the person in whom it resides. It witnesses not only to outward things, but also to inner ones; not only to our words and actions, but to our motives, thoughts, and feelings. Hence its immense power either to comfort or to distress.
II. Every one will be judged according to his conscience.
III. How is the conscience to re trained?
1. Pray that it may be a right one in everything, and expect it in answer to your prayers.
2. Square it with the Bible.
3. Honour it; never trifle with it in the smallest thing.
4. Disobey whatever is against it, however pleasant, advantageous and popular.
5. Do not be afraid to take its comfort when it tells you that you are right.
IV. Here then are the two questions for ourselves, the two lines which conscience should take.
1. In worldly things, in all my dealings with my fellow-creatures, in my ways of spending my time, my expenses, amusements, family, servants, employers, etc. What must conscience say? Has it all been with a single eye? Has it been “in simplicity and godly sincerity”?
2. And in more decidedly religious points, what does conscience say? Have I been true to my Church, to my conscience, to my God? Have I loved God’s house? Is any one the better because I am a Christian?
(1) A condemning conscience is a dark shade thrown over the life. How will my conscience condemn me on a dying bed?
(2) But there is something worse than a condemning conscience--a silent conscience. It is God going away!
(3) But for a condemning or a silent conscience there is a remedy. A conscience sprinkled with the blood of Christ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The testimony of conscience
By this Paul does not mean faultlessness. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.” He is not speaking of personal character but of ministry; and again not of the blamelessness of his ministry, but of its success. He had been straightforward in his ministry, and his worst enemies could be refuted if they said that he was insincere. Now this sincerity excluded--
I. Subtle manoeuvring, all indirect modes of teaching.
II. All teaching upon the ground of mere authority. Conclusion: This was the secret of the apostle’s wondrous power. It was because he had used no craft, nor any threat of authority, but stood simply on the truth, evident like the sunlight to all who had eyes to see, that thousands, go where he would, “acknowledged” what he taught, (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Conscience and the inner life of man
I. What is going on in the soul conscience observes. This is implied in its testimony.
II. Whatever is good in the soul conscience approves.
III. Whatever is joyous in the soul conscience occasions. “Our rejoicing is this.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
In simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God.--
I. The nature of Christian simplicity and of fleshly wisdom.
1. Christian simplicity. There are six things which we are to take for certain marks of it.
(1) Veracity in our speech.
(2) Honesty in our actions.
(3) Purity in our intentions.
(4) Uniformity of righteousness in our whole conversation,
(5) Constancy in that way of universal righteousness to the end.
(6) An impartial regard to truth and right in causes depending between men and men.
2. The fleshly wisdom to which simplicity is here opposed. Of these wise of this world there are three sorts.
(1) Those who will be under the restraints of religion so far as they think is in any respect requisite for their worldly welfare.
(2) Those who will take more liberty in serving their worldly designs, only still with a care to be safe from the laws of men and the punishment they inflict.
(3) Those who have their full swing, and allow themselves the utmost latitude of expedients for their ends, without any check from human laws at all.
II. The great comfort and joy it affords to good men, whose consciences no witness it of them. All the advantages that can be made in this world by fleshly wisdom are nothing comparable to the pleasure of simplicity and honesty, and to the joy that ariseth from the conscience of such virtue.
1. It sets a man above the opinion of the world.
2. It is a certain support to a man under all the adversity that befalls him in the world.
3. It gives him a comfortable prospect and good assurance when he is leaving the world. (Archdeacon Clagett.)
Handling sincerity as a sign of grace
That sincerity and uprightness of heart in our motives and ends is a sure and infallible sign of our being in the state of grace (1 John 3:21-22).
I. For the opening of this point, let us consider how unsafely it may be pressed for a sign in some particulars, and then wherein the nature of it lieth.
1. It is unwarrantably pressed when uprightness is urged to the exclusion of all respect unto any reward.
2. This sign of uprightness may be pressed unsafely when it is understood of such a perfect uprightness that hath no deceit or falsehood at all joined with it; but as other graces are but in part, we know in part, we love in part, so we are sincere and upright in part. Who can understand his error? We may abuse the sign of sincerity by going too low.
(1) When we take sincerity for quietness of conscience that it doth not accuse.
(2) When we limit sincerity to one particular fact, or to some passages only.
(3) When we judge of sincerity by the immediate ends of actions, not at all attending to the principal and main, “Whatsover ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
II. In the next place, let us consider what this uprightness is, and so wherein it is a sign.
1. There is no sincerity but where there is a full and powerful change of the whole man by the grace of God.
2. Uprightness is a sign, and then acknowledged to be sincerity, when we do any good duty because God commands.
3. Uprightness is seen in the universality of obedience. Thus a blackamore, though he hath white teeth, yet cannot be called white, because it is in some respect only, so neither may a man be called sincere that hath only partial obedience.
4. Then is uprightness a true sign when the motives of all our actions are pure and heavenly; when all is done because of the glory of God, or for such motives that God’s Word doth require.
5. Uprightness is when a man is very diligent and conscientious in internal duties or secret, to perform them, and in spiritual or heart-sins and secret lusts to avoid them. These things thus explained, observe that it is a sure and comfortable sign of grace, when a man is willing to have his soul and all within searched by God (Psalms 17:3).
(1) Let us consider how God doth try, that so we may perceive our willingness therein. And the first way is by His Word, “Whatsoever doth manifest, and so reprove evil, is light” (Ephesians 5:13). As by the light of the sunbeams we see the little motes and flies in the air, so by God’s Word shining into our hearts we come to see many things sinful and unlawful which we did not perceive before.
(2) A second way whereby God proveth is a powerful and soul-searching ministry.
(3) The work of conscience within us, that also doth prove us. God hath set up a light within us, and when this is enlightened by the Word, then it makes a man’s breast full of light.
(4) God trieth us by the illuminations of His Spirit and strong convictions thereby.
(5) God trieth when by His Providence we are put upon many duties and commands which it may be at other times did not concern us. Thus God examined Abraham by a command to offer up his only son Isaac. Thus God tried the young man who had great confidence in himself. The vessel’s soundness is tried in the fire; the mariner’s skill in a storm; the trees in a windy tempest.
(6) And this is the fixed way of trial, viz., when God brings us under His chastisements. This manifesteth what metal we are of (1 Peter 1:7).
As God useth these several ways to prove us, and the soul of a godly man is ready herein, so in these three cases especially doth a godly man give up himself to be examined.
1. In matters of doctrine. Although heresy may be merely in matter of conscience and opinion, yet for the most part carnal principles and motives are interwoven therewith.
2. In matter of received worship and traditional service of God. Although it be worship that can plead custom from prescription many years’ commendation of the universality of learned men; yet an heart truly sincere desireth to have all things examined and proved out of God’s Word.
3. This is eminently discovered in matter of practice.
III. In the next place let us consider what are the effects of such a gracious temper in the heart.
1. Where this is it doth not excuse or mitigate sin, but takes in with God against its own self.
2. Not resting upon generals, but particularly applying matters of duty.
3. A sincere heart loveth a godly reproof and those that give it. Use of examination. Here is a touchstone and trial for yourselves. Is there love of the light, or fear of the light; are you afraid of the Word of God, a soul-searching ministry, close and particular applications
4. Then suspect all is not sound within thee. (A. Burgess.)
Simplicity and sincerity
These words have the charm of life in them. They tell us how a man lived: and not in smooth circumstances in sunny weather, but when beset by enemies, difficulties and sorrows; and not in conspicuous places merely, but everywhere, and not for a short time, but always. Here is the kind of life which each one of us should endeavour after as his own.
1. The supreme faculty, or something that has supreme place, in man’s moral life. The moral life is higher than the intellectual, and the dignity of conscience is that it is the governing element in the moral life.
2. Every one knows what conscience is. Find one who knows that there is a right and a wrong, he knows that by his conscience. Conscience always uses the reason, as, indeed, the other powers, in forming its judgments. But the judgments formed arc higher than the deliverances of reason.
3. Conscience is not infallible; but still it is supreme. It needs instruction, but still a man must act according to the light he has, while always seeking for more. It is the only clock that points to the moral time of day. It is the only shadow that falls on the sun-dial of life. The only barometer that gives true indication of the state of the moral atmosphere within. Go by it. Do not look up at the clock, etc., which rules another man’s conscience.
4. A good conscience, like a good wife or husband, deserves only faithful loyalty “as long as ye both shall live.” Indeed, moral death has come when conscience has no more testimony to give, or when its witness is systematically disobeyed. But the description of life and character in this passage is yet more pacific. Conscientiousness, after all, is a general quality. In order to know a man--what he is, and how he lives--we need information in particulars. Well, here is one of the particular qualities.
II. Simplicity--singleness of mind, purpose, character, life--the opposite of duplicity--doubleness in speech, behaviour, heart.
1. All who are much in the world know very well how full it is of this. Double-speaking--saying one thing and meaning another--using language to hide meaning, or, equivocally, in order to mislead. Double-dealing. “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way then he boasteth.” Double-seeming, too. What masks men wear! Sometimes glittering, sometimes sordid! A man comes rolling home in a carriage, and enters a magnificent house, and after entertaining a splendid company, goes into his own room, brings out his bank-book, and lays it, open, beside the claims upon him which that book shows no way to meet, and sits down there for a little, in misery, under the shadow of the ghastly fact that he is, in reality, a bankrupt. Take an instance on the other side. A man comes trudging home through wet streets, enters a plain house, moderately furnished, takes a simple ordinary meal, and then receives a friend or two. One of them in leaving asks a guinea for some charity. This plain, good man expresses good-will, but shakes his head saying, “You see I am in a very humble way; you must go to the rich.” Then, by-and-bye, he too looks at his balance-sheet. This man is rolling in wealth, although without any of its outward signs. Yet he can thus hide himself from his own flesh. “Our rejoicing,” if we are Christians, is this, the testimony of our conscience that “in simplicity” we live, not saying what we do not mean, nor seeming what we are not.
2. Most of all should we keep this pure simplicity in the religious sphere; avoiding, on the one hand, the high phraseology which expresses for more than we believe, feel, or indeed, really mean; and, on the other, the compromising silence, or brief and hesitating speech, which expresses less than we believe, and feel, and are.
III. Sincerity, which perhaps brings in no characteristically different element. They are almost as twin sisters. The word means, literally, translucence, clearness, of mind. When you took into a diamond you might say it is sincere! Or into a crystal well, or down to the depths of the calm and silent sea! Such is the sincerity of a devout soul. It is called, literally, “the sincerity of God,” either because it is like His own, or because it comes directly from Him, and makes us partakers of the Divine nature. Now see what that is, and how it pervades--
1. Nature. Does the sun ever stay his shining? Or the gentler moon withhold her light? Do rivers ever run back to their sources, or tides begin to ebb at half-flood? Has there ever been a spring-time which went round the world to call out flower and leaf, which has not been followed by an autumn with more or less of fruit? Will wood sink? will iron swim?
2. Providence. Does God not rule the world, so that he who speaks the truth and does the right has always the best of it in the end? Yes; and in the middle also, and from the beginning.
3. The gospel, with its great revelation of love, its great donation of life, its power of redemption from sin, its promises of seasonable helps, and its grand, last promise of “eternal life.” God is sincere in all. We cannot aim too high, or hope for too much. “If it were not so, He would have told us.” He is sincere. Are there any to aver the contrary? Who has come to a throne of grace and been repulsed? Such is the sincerity of God; and it is of this very quality that His children partake when they live the life befitting them. They cannot but be sincere when they yield to His gracious nurture.
IV. Rejoicing. This kind of life is well adapted to make men glad. Remember, he who writes these words is often weighed down with great labours, suffers much persecution, is misjudged even by his friends. And yet here he retires into his own happy consciousness as into a fortress of peace and safety! And, indeed, no moral state could be imagined so strong, so safe as this. When he has a conscience which he “keeps,” or rather which keeps him--when he lives a simple life--when he breathes in the sincerity of God--let him have no fear.
V. But now we begin to long for another word that shall make this security wholesome to us, as well as deep and assured. For is there not some possibility that this profoundly conscious satisfaction in the possession of personal righteousness may come to have some tinge of “self-righteousness” in it?
VI. The word is Grace. “By the grace of God” we have so lived. Particularly “not by fleshly wisdom.” No man can ever reach the heights of safety and purity and joy by that way. Yet that is the principle which multitudes of people are adopting for self-development. “The fleshly wisdom” is just “the wisdom of the world,” with its watchings, and windings, and insincerities, with its soft speech, and fair appearance, and secret ways. Does any one think he can develop his nature, and do justice to his immortality by that? Oh, miserable mistake! Not with fleshly wisdom, “but by the grace of God”--by its cleansings, its kindlings, its renewings, its growth; by its whole drift and discipline we have “our conversation in the world.” And because it is “the grace of God,” those who take it, and trust in it, and put it to use, cannot fail in some measure to realise and embody, and cannot fail, ultimately, to perfect the fair ideal of Scriptural holiness. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Another would have said, My rejoicing is this, the testimony of the world, that by my knowledge of its ways and adroit use of circumstances, I have succeeded in my favourite projects of amassing wealth, of increasing my power, of rising to a high elevation on the steeps of ambition. Sincerity is the virtue to which I would invite your special attention; as it is not only a moral virtue, but a distinguished evangelical grace, essential to the character of every just man, and of every disciple of Christ. Hence is it so strenuously enjoined in the sacred volume. Joshua exhorts the Israelities to “fear and serve the Lord in sincerity.” This virtue is inseparable from the heart and mind of all who worship the Father in spirit and in truth. It is a radical principle in the constitution of every virtuous society--the soul of union, of co-operation, of friendship, of love, of piety, of devotion. Without it there is no morality, no religion. What then, let us inquire, is the nature of this virtue, and what are its requisitions? The term sincere, in its moral application, implies a clearness and transparency of character. But though the law of sincerity imperatively forbids all deception, it does not oblige us to lay our whole hearts open to the scrutiny of every curious eye, nor loudly to divulge every unseasonable truth which may occupy our minds. There can be no violation of sincerity in maintaining a proper reserve, provided such reserve does not lead our friend or neighbour to a wrong conclusion; to trust when he shall doubt, or to lay open his bosom when he shall cover it with triple mail. We are under no obligation to give offence, or provoke enmity. There are cases in which it would be extreme cruelty to divulge all we have heard or known of a neighbour’s misfortunes or misconduct, Numberless are the deceptions which are practised every day by men upon men and by men on themselves. As to the latter, it is but too notorious with what ingenuity they disguise their vices, varnish them over till they assume the semblance of virtues, or amiable weaknesses. Not less numerous are the modes in which men practise insincerity towards others, by hypocrisy and falsehood, fraud and perjury, Courtesy is a Christian virtue. It is not opposed to sincerity but to vulgarity. The insincerity of which we speak has the semblance of courtesy, but it is courtesy in excess. It is learned in the school of deceit, in the court of fashion. Custom, the continuator of many an evil practice, has given its sanction to a certain species of phraseology which is termed polite, and which, by general agreement, is understood to signify nothing; nevertheless, a regard for Christian sincerity should induce us to employ it with caution. There are also tricks and deceptions in certain transactions, which, by a similar convention, are supposed to be accompanied by no moral turpitude; nay, the dexterity with which they are conducted confers the highest praise on their agent. But is it not evident to every Christian man, that let such transactions receive whatever sanction they may from custom and the world, they are totally unauthorised by the Word of God, which is the Christian’s standard of right and wrong? It has been maintained, in opposition to the godly sincerity of the apostle, that dissimulation may be lawfully practised for the establishment of some useful design--to promote a movement in politics, or confirm a doctrine in religion--and that if the end be laudable or beneficial, the means are indifferent. This opinion, founded as it is on ignorance and sin, has been productive of much evil. The impure fountain must send forth an impure stream. Even when the end in view is really to be desired, if vicious means be employed to effect it, they excite a just and natural suspicion that it has some ulterior object which is selfish. Moreover, how often are we mistaken in the nature of true good! How often is that which we contemplate as beautiful and lovely regarded by others as deformed and odious! They may foresee nothing but misery in the very project from which we anticipate happiness. Sincerity is the characteristic of a noble and magnanimous disposition, as much as its opposite vice is the indication of what is mean and ungenerous. A brave man disdains to hang out false colours, to take unfair advantage even of an enemy, to appear what he is not. As insincerity vitiates every virtue, it disappoints every hope; for it is written, “The hypocrite’s hope shall perish, his trust shall be in a spider’s web. He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand; he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure.” The motives of a man’s conduct often lie nearer the surface than he imagines, even when he deems them most profound; and hence it happens that almost every species of imposition is so easily detected. Such are the mischiefs of insincerity, its fallacy and insecurity, its suspicion and its punishment. The benefits of its opposite virtue, equally striking and numerous, are enhanced by the contrast. The sincere man is fearless and consistent. He dreads no scrutiny; he is under no apprehension of being caught in the snare of his own contradictions; he feels conscious that the more closely you inspect him, the stronger will grow your conviction of his integrity; so that, even from selfish motives, it would be wise always to act sincerely. Nothing is more abhorrent to the whole spirit of Christianity than every species of hypocrisy, whether in word, in deed, or in dumb show, from whatever motive it proceeds, or on whatsoever pretence it is practised. Hypocrisy is the most efficient agent of Antichrist, and it has done more injury to the cause of Christianity than the most decided open hostility. It works by sap, and effects its wicked purposes by manoeuvring in the dark. The apostles of Christ, as became the disciples of such a master, equally with Him, condemn hypocrisy, and are earnest in their commendation of truth, honesty, candour, sincerity. They desire us to have respect to God in all our actions, and whatsoever we do, to do it heartily unto the Lord, and not as unto men. With sincerity the apostle conjoins simplicity, its natural associate. But of this virtue it may with good reason be observed that it is more the gift of nature than of education; one of those rare endowments which she bestows only on her favourites. Generally considered, it is a quality the most pleasing to a pure and uncorrupted taste in everything with which it can be connected. We admire it in architecture, in furniture, in dress, in manners, in literary composition, and hence the matchless beauty of the sacred Scriptures, which still continue to please and never pall by repetition. So far as simplicity is a moral virture, excluding all sinister views and double-dealing, it is in every man’s power, and it is every man’s duty to acquire it. To the young I would more particularly recommend this virtue. In them we naturally expect to find openness and ingenuousness, and are cruelly disappointed when we discover any attempt at imposition or deceit. They are most unfavourable omens of their future worth and respectability. The distortion of the sapling grows inveterate in the tree, and a slight disease which a tiny remedy might remove becomes by neglect incurable. (A. R. Beard.)
On sincerity in religion
We all value sincerity in religion, but many overlook that the only thing which can give value to this sincerity is--that we are sincere in true religion. To suppose a man sincere in a false system is only to suppose him lulled in insensibility, or hardened in obstinacy; it is to suppose him placed almost beyond the reach of conviction. What are the evidences of that sincerity--how a man may know himself to be really in earnest in his spiritual concerns?
1. The first thing that will enable us to answer in the affirmative is, that there is no compromising spirit in our religion; that we “render unto God the things that are God’s,” without, what I may call, the discount of the world; that we do not deliberately suffer “one jot or tittle of the law to pass unfulfilled.” This is a strong evidence of sincerity. Men who arc in their hearts slaves to the world, and yet unable wholly to throw off the yoke of conscience, generally contrive to reconcile both, by constructing a system of religion for themselves, that they believe will pacify the one and enable them to retain their hold on the other--they contrive a religion consisting of external forms, but which has not the power to extort from them the sacrifice of one beloved lust.
2. Another and scarce an inferior proof is perseverance. There are few individuals who have not at some period of life felt religious impressions; there is not a libertine whom his vices have not sometimes terrified into partial reformation; but there is no permanence.
3. I add, that in my mind a strong evidence of sincerity in religion is, that it bears the test of solitude, and does not desert or upbraid us in the hour of lonely reflection. So universal are the workings of pride, prejudice, and error, that there is great need of distinguishing between the effects they produce on professors of religion, and the operation of very dissimilar causes, that end in producing the same effects. Thus passion will produce zeal in religion, of which the outward evidences will be as radiant as if the fire was kindled from heaven. Every passion and every vice may assume the disguise of an angel of light. But the system they defend, and the consequences they suggest, will not stand the test of solitude.
4. But the greatest proof of sincerity, that before which all others fade away, and without which, indeed, not one can be an admissible evidence, is the conformity of our lives to our principles. Other evidences may deceive us--but this never can. Not they who say unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of My Father. (C. R. Maturin.)
When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness?… that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?
Yea and nay men
(sermon to the young):--Let us--
I. Note the facts to which paul links his singleness and honesty of purpose,
1. Christ was not yea and nay.
(1) In His personal character He was yea. He combined the gracefulness and flexibility of the willow and the strength of the oak, but He had no double-mindedness. He adapted Himself to the trembling sinner and the confident Pharisee, but He was one and the same notwithstanding.
(2) So was and is His gospel. Adapted to all classes and conditions, it accommodates itself to none. It has not one set of doctrines for the favoured few and another for the world.
2. The promises of God. There is no vacillation about them. God means all He says, and He says what He means.
3. But what had these to do with the charge of trimming? The answer is in verses 21, 22. Paul’s character was modelled on the character of Christ: he had not acted according to the flesh, but according to the new nature formed by the Spirit of Christ. We have here a notable example of bringing the common things of life under the powers of the world to come. The apostle had planned a journey, and to change it might seem a small matter. But not so with Paul. His purposes were formed, and could only be changed under the eye of the Great Master. And he was so imbued with His Spirit, that he could not do otherwise.
II. Examine some varieties of yea and nay men.
1. The wicked yea and nay men--the man who intentionally, and without regard to right or wrong, is now yea and now nay, as best suits his purpose. This man is a saint with saints, and a devil with devils. As a politician he is Whig or Tory, democrat or aristocrat, provided only he can attain his end. In religion, business, and social life he is all things unto all men in a bad sense.
2. The weak yea and nay man may not be at heart a bad man. He would not deliberately lie or drink or swear to be in keeping with his company; but within certain limits he is as variable as the wind. You never know when you have him. He is like the chameleon which has no colours of his own, but “borrows from his neighbour’s hue.”
3. The compound of these two. There are those in whom you find wickedness so combined that you cannot say whether the fool or the knave predominates--objects now of anger, now of pity.
4. There are also instances of yea-and-nayness in the lives of the most honest and courageous under temptation--Peter.
III. Urge the cultivation of the opposite character. Be not yea and nay men--
1. In the morals of life and of business. You have just entered on life, will you surrender yourselves to the evil current or will you resist it? Yea-and-nayness may bring temporary success, but it spells ruin in the long run.
2. In the department of religion and faith. The question determined of old on Carmel should be determined by you now. Is your life to be godless or godly?
3. In the practical following out of your Christian principles. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Meaning what we say
(To young men):--Paul was misjudged as to his motives and consistency. It seems that he had intended to visit Corinth both on his way to Macedonia and on his return; but something that he thought of sufficient moment led him to change his mind, and his word was not kept. Backbiters put this down to caprice. This led Paul to state upon what principle he acted in this and in every case.
I. When we say yes or no we should mean it.
1. Our words should be serious. Paul’s earnest spirit dreaded a light tongue, and to be regarded as a frivolous, man, not to say insincere, was more than he could bear. And it ought not to be a shackle on speech to have regard to the reality of things. Dr. Johnson could not endure the man who could not tell a story without exaggerating. And then in the work of life we should avoid a loose way of speaking--haphazard, questionable, plausible statements which, while appearing to be true, shade off into falsehood. Every word and action should go from the mint of conscience stamped with the King’s image and superscription.
2. The apostle condemns “purposing according to the flesh,” i.e., according to some shifting principle of an evil nature. The apostle comes down hard upon all mental reservations, upon the amiable weakness which promises you anything and gives you nothing, as well as upon the craft which keeps while it pretends to give. He seems to have especially in view our tendency to please ourselves. If we say “yes” or “no” to avoid trouble, if we say anything out of expediency or self-seeking, or love of popularity, we rest on a carnal foundation and “purpose according to the flesh.” Truth often puts us to terrible inconvenience, but a good man speaketh the truth in his heart, and will change not even though he has sworn to his hurt.
II. We ought not to hold to our yea and nay stubbornly and in spite of fresh light from above. We may mean our word when we speak it, and purpose it in obedience to present knowledge of the will of God; but we may not affirm that we will keep it, come what will. “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” It was thus with Paul here and in Acts 16:6-9. In every case we should say, “If the Lord will.” It is a sign of weakness and wickedness when any one sets himself upon his purpose, when God has warned him to forsake it. Take, e.g., Jephthah and Saul (1 Samuel 14:24-33). Do not stick to your resolution when you see that God has a different one. What does it matter about your promising when the Lord orders something else? But you say, “If I don’t abide by my word, what will be thought of it?” Why, you must take your chance, which, with God on your side, will not be a bad one. Conclusion:
1. If you act on these principles you will be honourable men in all the relations of life.
2. Is it not an insult to a Christian man whose yea is yea, etc., to be asked to swear it?
3. What would England be with a truth-loving and truth-speaking people?
4. Only remember that all must be rooted in a true gospel (verse 20). (J. P. Gledstone.)
A man’s purpose of life should be like river, which was born of a thousand little rills in the mountains; and when, at last, it has reached its manhood in the plain, though, if you watch it, you shall see little eddies that seem as if they had changed their minds, and were going back again to the mountains, yet all its mighty current flows, changeless, to the sea. If you build a dam across it, in a few hours it will go over it with a voice of victory. If tides check it at its mouth, it is only that, when they ebb, it can sweep on again to the ocean. So goes the Amazon or the Orinoco across a continent--never losing its way, or changing its direction for the thousand streams that fall into it on the right hand and on the left, but only using them to increase its force, and bearing them onward in its resistless channel. (H. W. Beecher.)
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, which was preached among you by us … was not yea and nay.--
Hearers reminded of the theme of preachers
I. Paul was a teacher, but he taught in order to lead men to the Great Teacher.
1. This is peculiar to the Christian dispensation. The prophets preached, but their direct object, with the exception of their prophecies of the Messiah, was not to lead to another. This was the case, however, with John the Baptist. He preached, not concerning his own mission, but the coming Christ, for whom he made way. So Paul never set up for being a master, which Jesus had forbidden, but taught men to sit at the feet of God’s Son.
2. As a teacher, Christ surpasses all who came before Him, or have followed Him. The treasures of wisdom and of knowledge are in Him; the Spirit without measure rests upon Him; He is the Truth. God had rent His heavens to say to men, “Hear Him.” Paul echoed this.
3. And the true ministers of Christ imitate Paul. They do not bring before you some ancient sage or modern teacher; why should they exhibit the portrait when they can show you the original? And if any of you be not learning of Him, learn of Him now.
II. Paul was a minister, and he ministered to bring men into sympathy with the priesthood of Christ.
1. He was no priest himself, except in the sense in which he taught that all Christians are priests. His doctrine was, that Christ had once in the end of the world put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
2. And this was the secret of his glorying in the Cross. Now, if “the Son of God, Jesus Christ,” died merely as Stephen died, why should Paul glory in His death?
3. And God’s true ministers follow Paul in this also. When men come to them acknowledging their sinfulness, and craving pardon and absolution, they say, “Go to God’s High Priest, Christ Jesus.”
III. Paul was a herald and an ambassador, and he proclaimed the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to be King of kings.
1. He taught subjection to earthly sovereigns within a certain limit, but in religious matters he was subject to no human potentate: he came into collision even with Peter. We are all equal with reference to the Saviour--“one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”
2. Here again God’s true ministers follow Paul. They say that the government is on Christ’s shoulder, and that the Son of God is the fountain of law, and of all honour. Let us crown Him Lord of all--with our love, confidence, prayers, obedience, zeal and devotedness.
1. God’s chief gift is His Son. He has given you many precious things, but there is no gift like that.
2. You are in the keeping of Christ. By trusting in Him you have committed yourselves to Him; He has charge of your body, soul, and spirit. From His hand you can never be plucked by any foe, because it is the hand of “the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”
3. How is it that you do not love Jesus Christ and trust Him more? You do not read or think enough about Him. (S. Martin.)
In Him was yea.--
In Him was yea
How much is included in the word Yes! Upon that word, waiting for it, what anxious hearts have hung! The soul cries for certainty and satisfaction, and--
I. Christ solves the problem of nature. We are perplexed by “the burden of the mystery” around us, and yearn for its solution. This yearning has borne witness and fruit in all ages. We see this especially in Hindooism--the religion of the natural man--God without character, consciousness, will. And Hindooism is making its converts among us. The myth system of Strauss, the pantheistic absolute of Hegel, the Pantheistic substance of Schelling, the idealisation of Fichte, all these systems have their disciples among us. Nature answers no questions, resolves no doubts; she meets the inquisitive intelligence of man; and when these two marry, they make a religion. But it is a religion without motives, and without safeguards. Now upon this state of mind Christ descends, and in Him is the Divine assurance. He says, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” In this personality God lifts the curtain from His eternity. “He” was and “is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” As light paints likenesses, so that I may have the express image of a person I have never seen, so Christ is the portrait of God. I know God is a person and a power, a conscience and a will, when I am able to believe in Jesus. There has come no answer from nature, or to nature; but He has come, and the true light shineth.
II. Christ reconciles the contradictions of scripture. How is it that in God is “no variableness nor shadow of turning,” and yet He hears and answers prayer? How is it “the pure in heart see God, whom no man can see”? How is it that a “man is justified by faith,” and yet “by grace”? How is it that God is omnipotent, and yet man is spoken to as free? Well, no doubt contradictions exist, but they are explained in Him: Contradictions may exist in God even as opposite parts exist in a circle, but it is the circle which explains. See men at work on opposite walls of a building, while it grows, opposite to each other they work; but the unity of the conception and the labour is beheld in the roof. I look on the doctrine of God’s grace, and man’s responsibility, they seem to be in conflict with each other; so the infinity and the eternal omnipotence of God, and the freedom and the power, and the volition of man, but these things become clearer to me as I see Jesus. Hence He is called the “corner-stone”; the corner-stone meets what otherwise would never meet, reconciles what could not be reconciled.
III. Jesus gives the yes to your most intense questions, as other masters and consolers cannot give it, That which is higher than I am, and which is satisfied, should satisfy me. Christ’s knowledge, experience, love, and sympathy, surely are greater than mine; He was satisfied, and this should satisfy me. This may be a low ground to occupy, but I can from this climb far higher. I am in sorrow; if I could feel that sorrow had any purpose or plan, I could bear it. I go to Him, and I say, “Lord, is there any plan in my pain?” and “in Him is yea.” “The cup which My Father hath given, shall I not drink it?” But, ah! is there any life beyond this? Wast Thou satisfied? “Father, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” “Because I live, ye shall live also.” And salvation! may I hope, may I trust Thee? “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” Conclusion: We read of the disciples, on one of the mornings after the resurrection, they saw Jesus standing on the shore, and knew not that it was Jesus; but at last they knew; so, after wading through seas, and fires, and fogs, may it be given to us to see Him. (E. Paxton Hood.)
The Divine yea
The human heart cries out to God, and can be at rest alone when its mysterious questions meet the answering Yea! Religion is not imagination, it is revelation. All is still incertitude outside the Christ.
I. There are false conceptions concerning the character of God.
1. For ages the world had worshipped gods and goddesses, whose ritual had made even vice a part of worship. The Pagan deities at the best were coarse and hard and cruel. Christ came and gave the true conception, “God is love.”
2. If His lips are sealed concerning much that curiosity might like to know, His word is clear and convincing concerning all that we need to know.
II. There were mistaken efforts after a Divine life. Men had been for ages trying their own philosophies of goodness! Multitudes had counted not health or home, life or beauty, dear to them, that they might escape the taint of evil, and rise through self-conquest up to God. But the ascetic economy of life did not work well. Repression only drives life into uncongenial and unhallowed channels. Is this earthly life from God? Are human interests Divine? Are love and marriage from God? Does He smile on innocent joys? How perfectly all this is answered in the Redeemer’s life. “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world,” etc.
III. There were longings after the fulfilment of divine promise. Would God indeed visit men and bless them? was the problem alike of philosopher and saint. But all the promises that travailed in creation and history had their birth-hour in the advent of Christ; for all the promises of God in Him are Yea, and in Him Amen. I want to know if God indeed is love?--if man is indeed made for immortality? Left to the profoundest students of philosophy, I am in a school of Yea and Nay. Now the materialist claims me as dust; now the poet permits me to make imagery out of an hereafter. It is only when I come into fellowship with Him who brought life and immortality to light that I can say, “In Him is Yea! “ Concerning the Divine beneficence, God is love;and concerning immortality. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (W. M. Statham.)
The everlasting yea
This was Paul’s answer to a charge of vacillation. Jesus Christ whom he preached was not changeful; how then could His apostle, so identified with His truth and with Himself, be changeful? It might seem to some a strange vindication, but not to those who felt in their inmost soul the Yea of Christ, and how completely Paul was absorbed in that. The very unexpectedness of the application gives it force. If there is such a connection between Jesus Christ, and adherence to a purpose as to a journey, how closely connected must the whole of a Christian’s life be to Christ. Consider--
I. The fact of Christ’s oneness. This is a truth not of mere speculative interest. It has an immediate practical bearing upon our faith and confidence. The conviction, or the feeling of it alone, gives rest to our souls. And yet it is precisely here that Christ seems to some encompassed with difficulty. There are great contrasts in Christ.
1. He has a side of gloom and terror, like an Alpine precipice, or some gigantic black cloud hiding sun and sky, and portending terrible storm; and a side gentle and soft and sweet, like a garden that faces the sunny south full of beauty and richest fruits are floating with all delicate and balmy odours. Hear Him as He rolls out woe after woe like peals of thunder, and then follow Him as He showers blessings where He goes. And yet, was it not because He was so loving that He was so stern? Perfect love is opposed to all that is opposed to love. He was not Yea and Nay because He showed different sides to different things. Had He done otherwise there would have been a surrendering of truth and right, and therefore of love.
(1) Are not nature and life full of unities which appear to be contraries? Light and darkness, cold and heat balance each other and conduce to one result. There is a negative and a positive pole in electricity, and it is by combination of two opposite tendencies that the planets are kept in their steady course round the sun.
(3) Look into the human heart and you will find the same principle in operation. Love and hatred are opposites, and yet they do not destroy unity if the soul loves what ought to be loved and hates what ought to be hated. Hope and fear are opposites, but are both necessary. Does not imagination need its opposite of common-sense to prevent it running riot, and nothing more needs the widening influence of imagination than strong common-sense. The character of Christ embraces the like contrasts, but the oneness shines forth all the more brightly from these apparent contradictions.
2. The like is to be said of another contrast that stands out in the life of Christ--that between His humility and His self-assertion. Both are prominent, and both are equally appropriate to the God-man. His humility was human, His self-assertion was Divine, and was part of the revelation which He had to give. His is a unity not formal or studied, but natural, resulting simply from what He was. It is a unity to be felt, as all unities must be, in contemplating the whole, and in realising the aim and meaning of the whole.
II. The wealth and fulness of the yea that is in Christ. Thomas Carlyle speaks finely of the everlasting Yea which the soul of man needs for rest. Can we find anywhere a word so full of substance and welcome as Yes? Christ is the everlasting Yea--the one solid, complete and availing Yes to the soul of man. The everlasting Yea cannot be an abstract truth. No truth, however sublime, can give the heart rest. The everlasting Yea must be an infinite person, and yet one that can come close and near us; must be perfect, and yet His perfection genial and tender; must bring God to us, and bring our souls to rest in God, and there is none but Christ does this.
1. Christ is God’s Yes to us. Men have doubted whether the world meant Yes or No. There are times when nature seems to say Yes--and other times when man can hear nothing but a fierce No. To a whole class of powerful writers there is no real blessing anywhere. Others find a struggle between the Yea and Nay, as if the goodness at work in the universe were not able to carry out its purposes on account of the opposing element. But Christ is God’s unmistakable Yes. He showed by His miracles that all the powers of nature were wielded by love, and His life and death were the translating of the Divine Yes into intelligible speech, God is love.
2. Christ is God’s Yes to us by being Yes to God for us. His obedience and death was the putting of a Yea in the room of our Nay. Sin is the saying No to God. It is denial of God’s wisdom and love. It is distrust of God, negation of His claims and the setting up of our will in the place of His. Hell is the development of this No. In the nature which disbonoured God by saying No, Christ uttered a sublime, uniform, intense Yes, by action, and suffering, and speech.
3. The yea of positive truth is in Him. He affirms: you find little denial in His words. The beatitudes are the most solid of all utterances. The like depth and breadth of affirmation is in the utterances. “God is a Spirit,” etc. “If ye being evil know how to give good gifts to your children,” etc. What substance and wealth there is in His promises and invitations. And then think of the solid grandeur He gave to the word love.
4. Jesus Christ is Yes to all the deepest longings and highest aspirations of the heart. There is not any momentous question to which Jesus has not answered Yes. And this affirmation of Christ is uttered with clearness and certainty. On all central subjects His language is luminous, reiterated and emphatic. Conclusion: Have we taken Christ’s Yea to God as our own? Do we accept it and rejoice in it, and present it to God? The proof and the outcome of this will be the utterance of Yea to God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
Christ’s tone of decision
Why this tone of decision and clearness? Why this pomp of definiteness? Because the Lord Christ is not a speculator but a Saviour. When the lifeboat goes out it does not go out to reason with the drowning men but to lay hold of them. When the sea is sunny, when the air is a blessing, then boats may approach one another, and talk to one another more or less merrily and kindly, and as it were on equal terms; but when the wind is alive, when the sea and sky seem to have no dividing line, and death has opened its jaws to swallow up, as if in a bottomless pit, all its prey, then the lifeboat says, “We have not come out here to reason and to conjecture and to bandy opinions with you, but to seize you and save you.” That is what Christ has come for. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 1:20
For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
All the promises
I. The dignity of the promises. They are “the promises of God.”
1. They were each one made by Him according to the purpose of His own will.
2. They are links between His decrees and His acts; being the voice of the decree, and the herald of the act.
3. They display the qualities of Him who uttered them. They are true, immutable, powerful, eternal, etc.
4. They remain in union with God. After the lapse of ages they are still His promises as much as when He first uttered them.
5. They are guaranteed by the character of God who spoke them.
6. They will glorify Him as He works out their fulfilment.
II. The range of the promises. “All the promises.” It will be instructive to note the breadth of the promises by observing that--
1. They are found both in the Old and New Testaments; from Genesis to Revelation, running through centuries of time.
2. They are of both sorts-conditional and unconditional: promises to certain works, and promises of an absolute order.
3. They are of all kinds of things--bodily and spiritual, personal and general, eternal and temporal.
4. They continue blessings to varied characters, such as--
(1) The Penitent (Leviticus 26:40-42; Isaiah 55:7; Isaiah 57:15; Jeremiah 3:12-13).
(2) The Believing (John 3:16; John 3:18; John 6:47; Acts 16:31; 1 Peter 2:6).
(3) The Serving (Psalms 37:3; Psa 9:40; Proverbs 3:9-10; Acts 10:35).
(4) The Praying (Isaiah 14:11.; Lamentations 3:25; Matthew 6:6; Psalms 145:18).
(5) The Obeying (Exodus 19:5; Psalms 119:1-3; Isaiah 1:19).
(6) The Suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 4:12-14).
5. They bring us the richest boons: pardon, justification, sanctification, instruction, preservation, etc. What a marvellous wealth lies in “all the promises”!
III. The stability of the promises. “All the promises in Him are yea, and in Him Amen.” A Greek word “Yea,” and a Hebrew word “Amen,” are used to mark certainty, both to Gentile and Jew.
1. They are established beyond all doubt as being assuredly the mind and purpose of the eternal God.
2. They are confirmed beyond all alteration. The Lord hath said “Amen,” and so must it be for ever.
3. Their stability is in Christ Jesus beyond all hazard; for He is
(1) The witness of the promise of God.
(2) The surety of the covenant.
(3) The sum and substance of all the promises.
(4) The fulfilment of the promises, by His actual incarnation, His atoning death, His living plea, His ascension power, etc.
(5) The security and guarantee of the promises, since all power is in His hand to fulfil them.
IV. The result of the promises. “The glory of God by us.” By us, His ministers, and His believing people, the God of the promises is made glorious. We glorify--
1. His condescending love in making the promise.
2. His power as we see Him keeping the promise.
3. Him by our faith, which honours His veracity, by expecting the boons which He has promised.
4. Him in our experience which proves the promise true.
1. Let us confidently rest in His sure word.
2. Let us plead the special promise applicable to the hour now passing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. A promise is the antithesis of a threat. The Bible abounds in both.
2. When God more apparently guided the courses of man personally, promises were made to individual men. To patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; and by such they were upborne through trial. But when this became impossible the promises were made applicable to whole nations and generations.
3. Thus the Word of God is filled with assurances of blessings as no other book is. Promises cover the whole period of human life. They meet us at our birth; they cluster about our childhood; they overhang our youth; they go in companies into manhood with us; they divide themselves into bands and stand at the door of every possible experience. Therefore there are promises of God to the ignorant, poor, oppressed, discouraged, etc.; to every affection, to every sphere of duty, to all perils and temptations. There are promises for joy, sorrow, victory, defeat, adversity, prosperity, etc. Old age has its garlands as full and fragrant as youth. All men, everywhere, and always--have their promises of God.
4. They belong to mankind. There have been periods when, for special and beneficent reasons, God’s promises seemed to belong only to His own people.
5. And they are fresh with everlasting youth. The stars never wear out; the sun is not weary from the number of years. The heaven and the earth, however, shall pass away, but God’s word shall not pass away.
6. Not one promise has ever been unfulfilled. There is not a witness in God’s universe that can testify that he has leaned on a promise of God, and that God forgot to be gracious to him.
I. What are the uses to which we are invited to put God’s promises?
1. To make rude duties more attractive. It is affecting to see with what tenderness God has taken care of those that no one else cares for. How He goes down to the poor, and the ignorant, and the enslaved. How He goes down to those that can find no motive for right living in their ordinary experience, and says to them, “Be faithful, if not for the sake of your master, then for My sake.” And once let us know that We are serving One that we love, and One that loves us, and love vanquishes difficulty.
2. To fortify our faith. Duty is often surrounded by peril or hardship, and is often apparently without adequate result. It is needful, therefore, that there should be some promise which shall assure us that a perilous duty well performed will bring down upon us the Divine blessing. You are oftentimes brought into trials when it seems as though everything would be wrecked, and the world says, “Prudence”: experience says, “Draw back”; policy says, “Change a little”; and expediency says, “Compromise”; but the Word of God, which is yea and amen, says, “He that will lose his life for a right principle shall save it.” And in the end, when you come to count the wrecks along the shore, you will find those men who would save their lives by losing their principles are the men that have lost their lives.
3. To equalise the conditions of life. Men are of different calibre, and, owing to this, men follow Christ in different ways. Now, if a party of men are going to California assured that each shall be the possessor, in five years, of one million dollars, the differences between them are annihilated while they are going across. One may have twenty-five dollars in his pocket, another a hundred; one may have almost no conveniences, and another all that heart could wish; and yet, if they are assured that in five years they shall each have a million dollars, they do not care for these inequalities. And let the promises of God rest on the poor man’s lot, and he forgets the inequalities of life. For that man who is ere long to be crowned in eternity cannot find the road there so hard that he will complain of it.
4. To redeem secular life from barrenness, and make it worth our while to continue faithful to the end. And while there are promises of God that run through our whole lower life, the promises grow broader and deeper as you go up to those spheres where a man is obliged to live by faith, and above the ordinary affairs of life. So the promises of God are in proportion to our exigencies.
II. What are the obstacles in the way of using the promises of God?
1. We are ignorant of them. There is many a man that lives on his farm years and years without knowing the different growths that it produces. Many a man is buried within a yard of plants that, if their healing properties had been known, would have saved his life. Many a field is capable, if properly tilled, of producing fourfold as much as it is made to produce. God’s Word is like such a field. There are promises in it that no man has ever tried to find. There are treasures of gold and silver in it that no man has taken the pains to dig for. There are medicines in it, for the want of a knowledge of which hundreds have died.
2. When men find them they do not know how to use them. Tea was first served in England as greens. The people rejected it, and thought it rather an imposition. When potatoes were first introduced into Ireland they were rejected there, because they did not know how to use them. And many and many a man rejects, or fails to profit by, the promises of God’s Word, because he does not know how to gather them, and cook them, and use them.
3. We are afraid to venture upon using them. There is many and many a man that would be afraid to trust himself upon a single plank stretched across a deep chasm, though others had walked over on it often without accident. There is many a promise of God that is strong enough to carry men across the abyss of this life, but they do not dare to try it. In an emergency the promises of God are to many men what weapons of defence are to a man who does not know how to use them when he finds that he must fight for his life.
4. We wish the result without the fulfilment of the conditions attached. Many a child that is promised a vacation on condition that he will perform a certain amount of labour, would like the vacation, but does not like the condition on which it is promised. So many of the things promised we would like to steal, instead of working for them.
5. We do not appropriate them. The promise of “grace to help in time of need” comes to men thousands of times without benefiting them for this very reason. Many carry the promises as a miser carries bank bills, the face of which calls for countless treasures, but which he does not carry to the bank for presentation. Many a man holds bills for blessings of God, but does not present them. They enter upon a philosophical inquiry as to whether there is a presumptive argument in favour of prayer, and whether God will stop the laws of nature for our benefit, or so use them as to fulfil His promises to us. But the way to employ a promise of God is to comply with its conditions, and then wait for its fulfilment.
6. Many are afraid of presumption. Well, it may be presumptuous for you to go into a stranger’s house without an invitation; but if a man has invited you to come and see him it is presumptuous for you not to take him at his word. And to be afraid to appropriate the promises of God is to charge Him falsely.
7. Many would like to take the promises of God, but they fear they may be self-deceived. You may be, but God is not; and therefore you may rest upon the promises.
8. There are others that have a fear about their own unworthiness; which is as if a man should advertise that he would cure the infirmities of men free of expense, and a blind man should say, “I would go to this physician if I were not so blind.” Therefore plead the promises because you are sinful; the nature of goodness is to relieve want, even though that want be founded on sin.
9. Much of the want of faith in the promises comes from a neglect on the part of Christians to bear witness to the fulfilment of those promises in their own experience. There are hundreds of men whose life God has made significant and memorable, and they have never uttered a word about it to those around them. (H. W. Beecher.)
The promises, how they become ours
I. “By us” as ministers--publishing, explaining, applying them. A promise is often like a box of ointment, very precious; but the fragrance does not fill the room till the preacher breaks it. Or it is like the water that was near Hagar, which she saw not till God opened her eyes and showed her the well.
II. “By us” as relievers realising the excellency and efficacy of them in our character and conduct. It is when these promises are reduced to experience--when they are seen cleansing us from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, making us partakers of the Divine nature, leading us to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, filling us with kindness and supporting us in trials--it is then they glorify God by us. (W. Jay.)
The promises of God
I. That they are the promises of God. Because they are His promises they are utterly incapable of any failure. “God is not a man that He should lie,” etc. In our presumptuous readiness to liken the Almighty to ourselves, we may imagine instances in which Divine promises have failed to be accomplished. But--
1. There may have been an incorrect apprehension as to the subject of the promise; and in the error cherished thereupon, something has been imagined and expected which has not been promised. The Jews misapprehended the meaning of prophecies concerning the Messiah.
2. There may have been some mistake or negligence on our part as to the condition on which the promise was suspended, and the circumstances under which it became actually due.
3. The time for its accomplishment may not be fully come. For the promises of God, though sure, are not in every instance designed for immediate fulfilment.
II. The truth and faithfulness of these promises as resulting from their connection with Christ. They are “in Him yea, and in Him Amen,” as He is the great foundation of the promises. God sees in Him, as our once suffering but now exalted Mediator, an unchangeable and everlasting reason why all His other promises should be fulfilled.
III. They are “to the glory of God by us.”
1. In the very circumstance of their original annunciation.
2. As they constitute a new and separate manifestation of His own character and attributes.
3. As in that very act of faith by which those promises are accepted and become available, God is glorified in that particular, in reference to which His glory was, in the first instance of man’s sin, insulted and invaded.
4. In the accomplishment of the promises.
5. As furnishing, to all who may be interested in it, an additional encouragement to exercise that faith, by means of which the God of the promises is glorified, and the result of which must be the reiterated accomplishment of the same promise.
1. The true character of unbelief. It is--
2. The means by which alone the soul can rise to the exercise of that faith in the promises which is required as the condition of their accomplishment, and that it is only when, and in proportion as, we view them in their connection with Christ, that we can so believe them as to receive experimentally and savingly the benefit and comfort of them. (Jonathan Crowther.)
All God’s promises Yea in Christ
God’s promises are His declarations of what He is willing to do for men, and in the very nature of the case they are at once the limit and inspiration of our prayers. We are encouraged to ask all that God promises, and we must stop there. Christ Himself, then, is the measure of prayer to man; we can ask all that is in Him; we dare not ask anything that lies outside Him. How this should expand our prayers in some directions, and contract them in others! We can ask God to give us Christ’s purity, simplicity, meekness, and gentleness, faithfulness and obedience, victory over the world. Have we ever measured these things? Have we ever put them into our prayers with any glimmering consciousness of their dimensions, any sense of the vastness of our request? Nay, we can ask Christ’s glory, His resurrection life of splendour and incorruption--the image of the heavenly, God has promised us all of these things, and far more; but has He promised all that we ask? Can we fix our eyes on His Son, as He lived our life in this world, and remembering that this, so far as this world is concerned, is the measure of promise, ask without any qualification that our course here may be free from every trouble? Had Christ no sorrow? Did He never meet with ingratitude? Was He never misunderstood? Was He never hungry, thirsty, weary? If all God’s promises are summed up in Him--if He is everything God has to give--can we go boldly to the throne of grace, and pray to be exempted from what He had to bear, or to be richly provided with indulgencies which He never knew? What if all unanswered prayers might be defined as prayers for things not included in the promises--prayers that we might get what God did not get, or be spared from what He was not spared? The spirit of this passage, however, does not urge so much the definiteness as the compass and the certainty of the promises of God. There are “so many” that Paul could never enumerate them, and all of them are sure in Christ. And when our eyes are once opened on Him, does not He Himself become, as it were, inevitably the substance of our prayers? Is not our whole heart’s desire, Oh, that I might win Him! Oh, that He might live in me, and make me what He is! Do we not feel that if God would give us His Son, all would be ours that we could take or He could give. (J. Denney, B. D.)
God’s certainties and man’s certitudes
“Yea” and “amen” are in the A.V. nearly synonymous, and point substantially to the same thing--viz., that Christ is, as it were, the confirmation and seal of God’s promises. But the R.V. indicates two different things by the “yea” and the “amen.” The one is God’s voice, the other is man’s. When we listen to God speaking in Christ, our lips are, through Christ, opened to shout our assenting “Amen” to His great promises, Consider--
I. God’s certainties in christ. Of course the original reference is to the great promises given in the O.T.; but the principle is good on a wider field. In Christ--
1. There is the certainty about God’s heart. Everywhere else we have hopes, fears, guesses, inferences. Nothing will make us sure here but facts. We want to see love in operation if we arc to be sure of it, and the only demonstration of the love of God is to witness it in actual working. And you get it where? On the Cross. “Herein is love, not that we loved God,” etc.
2. In Him we have the certainty of pardon. Every deep heart-experience has felt the necessity of having clear knowledge about this. And the only message which answers to the needs of an awakened conscience is the old-fashioned message that Jesus Christ the Righteous has died for us sinful men. All other religions have felt after a clear doctrine of forgiveness, and all have failed to find it. Here is the Divine “Yea!” And on it alone we can suspend the whole weight of our soul’s salvation.
3. We have in Christ Divine certainties in regard of life. We have in Him the absolutely perfect pattern to which we are to conform our whole doings. He stands the Law of our lives. We have certainties for life, in the matter of protection, guidance, supply of all necessity, and the like, garnered in Jesus Christ. For He not only conforms, but fulfils, the promises which God has made. Christ is protean, and becomes everything to each man that each man requires. And in some of those sunny islands of the Southern Pacific one tree supplies the people with all that they need for their simple wants, fruit for their food, leaves for their houses, staves, thread, needles, clothing, drink, everything--so Jesus Christ, this Tree of Life, is Himself the sum of all the promises, and, having Him, we have everything that we need.
4. In Christ we have the Divine certainties as to the future, over which, apart from Him, lie cloud and darkness. Here again a verbal revelation is not “enough. We have enough of man’s peradventures. What we want is that somebody shall cross the gulf and come back again. And so we get in the Resurrection of Christ the one fact on which men may safely rest their convictions of immortality.
II. Man’s certainties, which answer to Christ’s certainties. The latter are in Christ, the former are through Christ. The only fitting attitude for Christians in reference to these certainties is that of unhesitating affirmation and joyful assent.
1. There should be some kind of correspondence between the assurance with which we believe these great truths, and the firmness of the evidence upon which they rest. It is a poor compliment to God to come to His affirmations, and to answer with a hesitating “Amen.” Build rock upon rock. Be certain of the certain things; for it is an insult to the certainty of the revelation when there is hesitation in the believer. The Christian verb is “we know,” not “we hope, we calculate, we infer, we think,” but “we know.”
2. I need not speak about the blessedness of such a calm assurance, about the need of it for power, for peace, for effort, for fixedness in the midst of a world and age of change. But I must point to the only path by which that certitude is attainable. “Through Him is the amen.” He is the Door. The truths which He confirms are so inextricably intertwined with Himself that you cannot get them and put away Him. Christ’s relation to Christ’s gospel is not the relation of other teachers to their words. You may accept the words of a Plato, whatever you think of Plato. But you cannot separate Christ and His teaching in that fashion, and you must have Him if you are to get it.
3. If thus we keep near Him our faith will bring us the present experience and fulfilment of the promises, and we shall be sure of them because we have them already. And whilst men are asking, “Do we know anything about God? Is there such a thing as forgiveness?” etc., we can say, “One thing I know, Jesus Christ is my Saviour, and in Him I know God, and pardon, and duty, and sanctifying, and safety, and immortality; and whatever is dark, this, at least, is sun-clear.” Get high enough up and you will be above the fog; and while the men down in it are squabbling as to whether there is anything outside the mist, you, from your sunny station, will see the far-off coasts, and haply catch some whiff of perfume from their shore, and see some glinting of a glory upon the shining turrets of “the city that hath foundations.” So live near Jesus Christ, and, holding fast by His hand, you may lift up your joyful “Amen” to every one of God’s “yeas”; and when the Voice from Heaven says “Yea!” our choral shout may go up, “Amen! Thou art the faithful and true witness.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 1:21-22
Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God.
I. The Christian needs not only converting but establishing grace. He that hath begun any good work in us must perfect it. The weakest with this grace will stand, and the strongest without it will fall.
1. The life of a Christian is a perpetual dependent life. He not only lives by faith in his first conversion, but ever after. He depends upon God for protection and strength throughout his whole course.
2. A Christian, then, should set upon nothing in his own strength (1 Samuel 2:9). God is all our sufficiency (Proverbs 3:6). What do we but make ourselves gods, when we set upon business without invocation and dependence?
3. Let God, therefore, have all the glory of our establishing, and depend on Him by prayer for the same. As all comes of His mere grace, so let all return to His mere glory (Psalms 115:1).
II. By what means may a Christian obtain this stablishing grace? Labour for fundamental graces. If the root be strengthened, the tree will stand fast.
1. Humiliation. The foundation of religion is very low. Every grace hath a mixture of humility, because they are all dependencies on God.
2. Dependence upon God, considering our own insufficiency.
3. Beg it earnestly of God. Our strength in Him is altogether by prayer. Bind Him, therefore, with His own promise; beseech Him to do unto thee according to His good word. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
I. The natural character of man with regard to stability, as drawn for us in the scriptures. If you look throughout the Scriptures, you will find instability stamped upon it. The instability of the natural man easily discovers itself. His understanding is not capable of comprehending the things of God; the natural affections of men will not embrace the things of God. It follows, then, very obviously that, while neither the understanding nor the affections take hold of the things of God, men may put on religion for a time, but the corruption of their vitiated nature soon breaks out, and they put off the form of godliness with as much indifference as they put it on. Thus did Saul, who seeks the Lord in his difficulties, but when he receives no answer he turns aside to enchantments. But while man is thus unsteady in the pursuit of that which is good, how determined is he in an evil course, even when the pursuit of it brings labour and toil, he makes light of the difficulty, and presses forward (Isaiah 57:10). Yet even in doing evil, man’s fickleness betrays itself. As the sick man soon loathes one kind of drink, and calls for another, or when his symptoms are more aggravated, desires to be shifted from one couch to another, so the men of this world continually affect endless variety in their gratifications, finding no rest or satisfaction in any one of them. Let not any, therefore, who is stricken with a sense of his own shameful instability in everything good, draw back from closing with the terms of the gospel, and laying bald of the immovable rock of ages. It was for such Christ died, and such being transformed by the renewing of their mind He at last fixes in the firmament of eternal glory.
II. What means God has taken to correct the natural character of man. He has ordained His own Son as the ground and pillar of a building which shall be immovable for ever. But when a man has closed with the Saviour, is he henceforth delivered from all tendency to the fickleness? Not so. Too speedily is he tempted to break his engagement with Him. The operation of the third person in the Godhead is necessary that the goodwill of God towards His people be not defeated. As the jeweller sets the precious diamonds to secure them, even so God by His Holy Spirit secures those who believe by firmly engrafting them into Christ. This operation of the Spirit is expressed in the text in three forms of speech. The first figure is that of anointing. Now the first communications of the Spirit, sweet and fragrant as they are known to be, are well represented by the pouring out of ointment’; but as its sweet savour wastes after a time, another figure is employed to represent His continual influence, to show that the savour of this ointment is not lost--that of sealing (1 John 2:27). There is something to express sweetness; there is something, moreover, to express perpetuity. It may be that your sweet experiences, which you felt, when first you were joined to the Lord, are greatly decayed; but God has given you something more fixed, He is sealing you with His Holy Spirit, and making more abiding impressions upon your souls. The visible impressions of holiness which are discernible in the servants of Christ, and more especially after a season of trial, when after having suffered for a while, they are established, strengthened, settled (1 Peter 5:10), are the broad seal by which they are known to be His. The apostle speaks here of another, a privy seal, “And hath given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:22). This is the inward testimony and pledge in the heart by which the children of God know that they have been adopted into His family.
III. What should be the result of the application of these means? If God’s purpose of love to us in Christ be so immovably fixed, and so continually testified by the gifts of the anointing, sealing Spirit, the earnest of our inheritance, there ought to be a corresponding purpose of heart on our part to cleave to Him, there should be no halting between two opinions, no lukewarmness, but an entireness of devotion to Him (Colossians 2:6-7; Hebrews 13:9). Whatsoever labours at love you are engaged in turn not back, break not off from them lightly. (H. Verschoyle.)
The anointing which establishes
I. The deep source of Christian steadfastness. “Anointing” is the means of “establishing”--i.e., God confers steadfastness by bestowing the unction of His Spirit.
1. Notice how deep Paul digs in order to get a foundation for this common virtue.
(1) From beginning to end of Scripture “anointing” is the symbol of the communication of the Spirit. Note the felicity of the emblem. Oil smoothes the surface, supples the limbs, is nutritive and illuminating, and is thus an appropriate emblem of the secret, silent, quickening, nourishing, enlightening influences of the Spirit.
(2) And inasmuch as here this oil of the Divine Spirit is the true basis of Christian steadfastness, the anointing cannot be consecration to apostolic or other office, but must be the possession of all Christians. “Ye,” says John, speaking to the whole democracy of the Christian Church, “have an unction from the Holy One.”
2. This anointing is derived from, and parallel with, Christ’s anointing. The “Christ” is the Anointed One. “He that establisheth us with you in the Anointed, and hath anointed us, is God.” Does not this mean, “Each of you, if you are a Christian, is a Christ”? You, too, are God’s Messiahs. On you the same Spirit rests in a measure which dwelt without measure in Him, and consequently you are bound to a prolongation of part of His function. Christians are prophets to make God known to men, priests to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and kings over themselves, and over a world which serves those that love God.
3. It is plain, therefore, how this Divine unction lies at the root of steadfastness. We talk a great deal about the gentleness of Christ; but we do not sufficiently mark the masculine features of the Christ who “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and was followed by that wondering group, astonished at the rigidity of purpose that was stamped on His features. That Christ gives us His Spirit to make us inflexible in the pursuit of all that is lovely and of good report, like Himself. We are all too like aneroid barometers, that go up and down with every variation of a foot or two in the level; but if we have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us it will cut the bonds that bind us to the world, and give us a deeper love. The possession of the Spirit sets a man on an isolating stool, and all the currents that move round about him are powerless to reach him, If we have that Spirit within us, it will give us an experience of the certitude and the sweetness of Christ’s gospel, which will make it impossible to “cast away the confidence which has” such “recompense of reward.” When storms are raging they lash light articles on deck to holdfasts. Let us lash ourselves to the abiding Christ, and we, too, shall abide.
II. The aim or purpose of this Christian steadfastness. “He stablisheth us with you” into or “unto Christ.” Our steadfastness, made possible by our possession of the Spirit, is steadfastness--
1. In our relation to Jesus Christ. What Paul here means is--
(1) A fixed conviction of the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, and my Saviour.
(2) In regard to Christ of our trust and love. He loves ever; we therefore should be steadfast in our answering love to Him.
(3) Habitual obedience, which is always ready to do His will. So we answer Him “Yea!” with our “Amen!” and having an unchanging Christ to rest upon, rest upon Him unchanging. “Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
2. Such steadfastness has for its result a deeper penetration into Christ and a fuller possession of Him. The only way by which we can grow nearer to our Lord is by steadfastly keeping beside Him. You cannot get the spirit of a landscape unless you sit down and gaze, and let it soak into you. You cannot get to know a man until you live with him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in Me.”
III. The very humble and commonplace sphere in which the Christian steadfastness manifests itself. It was nothing of more importance than that Paul had said he was going to Corinth and did not, on which he brings all this array of great principles to bear. The highest gifts of God’s grace and the greatest truths of God’s Word are meant to regulate the tiniest things in our daily life. It is no degradation to the lightning to have to carry messages. It is no profanation of the sun to gather its rays into a burning-glass to light a kitchen fire with. And it is no unworthy use of the Divine Spirit to say it will keep a man from precipitate decisions as to little things in life, and from changing about without a sufficient reason. If your religion does not influence the trifles, what is it going to influence? Our life is made up of trifles. If your religion does not influence the little things, it will never influence the big ones. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”
2. And you can do no good in the world without steadfastness. Unless a man can hold his own, and turn an obstinate negative to temptation, he will never come to any good at all, either in this life or in the next, and there is only one infallible way of doing it, and that is to let the “strong Son of God” live in you, and in Him to find your strength for resistance, for obedience, for submission. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Divine anointing
Messiah signifies “anointed.” Our nature is enriched in Christ with all graces. “He is anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows” that we might have a spring of grace in our own nature, for “of His fulness we receive grace for grace.”
I. What are those graces which we receive from Christ’s fulness?
1. The grace of favour and acceptance; for the same love that God bears to Christ, He bears to all His, though not in so high a degree.
2. The grace of sanctification, answerable to the grace of sanctification in Him.
3. The rich privileges and prerogatives that issue to persons sanctified.
II. Why is it called here an anointing? Because, as the holy anointing (Exodus 30:31-33), was not to be applied to profane uses, so neither are the graces of the Spirit to be under-valued.
III. What are the virtues of this ointment?
1. It hath a cherishing power; it revives the drooping soul, and cheers a fainting spirit.
2. It hath a strengthening power. It makes our limbs vigorous. So doth grace fortify the soul.
3. Ointment doth excellently delight and refresh our spirits (John 12:3). So grace is a wondrous sweet thing, and that which makes a man sweet is grace. This cures our spiritual distempers, beautifying the inner man, and making the whole frame of a Christian’s carriage sweet and delectable--
(1) To God, who loves the scent of His own grace, wheresoever He finds it.
(2) To angels (Luke 15:10).
(3) To the Church. So far as a man is gracious, he improves his abilities to glorious uses. Grace is offensive to none but to wicked men.
4. An ointment consecrates persons to holy uses. Anointed persons are raised above the ordinary rank. The graces of God’s Spirit elevate men above the condition of others with whom they live. (Psalms 105:15).
5. An ointment is a royal liquor. So the graces of God’s Spirit, where they are, will be uppermost, they will guide and govern all. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 1:22
Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
Sealing of the Spirit
What are we to understand by the sealing of the Spirit? It is that act of the Holy Spirit by which the work of grace is deepened in the heart of the believer, so that he has an increasing conviction of his acceptance in Jesus and his adoption into the family of God.
1. It is sometimes a sudden work of the Spirit. A soul may be so deeply sealed in conversion, may receive such a vivid impression of Divine grace, as it never afterwards loses.
2. But in most cases the sealing of the Spirit is a more gradual work. It is a work of time. There are, then, degrees, or progressive stages, of the Spirit’s sealing.
(1) The first impression is made in regeneration. This is often faint, and in numerous cases scarcely perceptible. The first impression is as much the work of the Spirit as any deeper one in after years. Let not the weak believer undervalue what God has done for him.
(2) But a yet deeper impression of the seal is made when the believer is led more fully into the realisation of his sonship, when he attains to the blessed sense of the “adoption of children.” Oh, what an impression is then left upon his heart, when all his legal fears are calmed, when all his slavish meanings are hushed (
(3) In the process of sanctified affliction the soul often receives a fresh and a deep impress of the seal of the Spirit. The furnace works wonders for a believer. The hour of affliction is the hour of softening. Job bore this testimony: “He maketh my heart soft.” Let it not, then, be forgotten that an afflicting time is often a sealing time. We would remark, in this connection of the subject, that the sealing of the Spirit does not always imply a rejoicing frame. It is not necessarily accompanied by great spiritual joy.
I. It is the duty and privilege of every believer diligently and prayerfully to seek the sealing of the spirit. He rests short of his great privilege if he slights or undervalues this blessing. Be not satisfied with the faint impression which you receive in conversion. In other words, rest not contented with a past experience.
II. Again, I remark, this blessing is only found is the way or god’s appointment. He has ordained that prayer should be the great channel through which His covenant blessings should flow into the soul. (O. Winslow, D. D.)
The sealing of the Spirit
Christ is the first sealed (John 6:27). God hath distinguished Him, and set a stamp upon Him to be the Messiah by the graces of the Spirit. Christ being sealed Himself, He sealed all that He did for our redemption with His blood, and hath added for the strengthening of our faith outward seals--the sacraments--to secure His love more firmly to us. But in this place another manner of sealing is to be understood.
I. What is the manner of our sealing by the spirit? Sealing, we know, hath divers uses.
1. It imprints a likeness of him that seals. When the king’s image is stamped upon the wax, everything in the wax answers to that in the seal. So the Spirit sets the stamp of Christ upon every true convert. There is no grace in Christ but there is the like in every Christian in some measure.
2. It distinguishes. Sealing is a stamp upon one thing among many. It distinguisheth Christians from others.
3. It serves for appropriation. Men seal those things that are their own. So God appropriates His own to show that He hath chosen them for Himself to delight in.
4. It serves to make things authentic, to give authority and excellency. The seal of the prince is the authority of the prince. This gives validity to things, answerable to the dignity and esteem of him that seals.
II. What is the stamp that the spirit seals us withal?
III. How shall we know that there is such a spiritual sealing in us? (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
The seal and earnest of the Spirit
I. God hath sealed us by His spirit. Seals are employed--
1. To authenticate a document or confirm it as genuine (1 Kings 21:8; Esther 3:12). So by the Spirit the believer has the assurance that he is a genuine disciple of Christ (Romans 8:16). The Christian knows that the Holy Ghost has been exerting His agency within him when he perceives that the fruit of the Spirit has begun to make its appearance in him.
2. As a mark to distinguish property. We have something like it in the trade marks of the manufacturer, and in the broad arrow, which indicates that the thing so stamped is the property of the Government. In ancient times the servants, cattle, and goods of a rich man were distinguished by his seal. In like manner believers are recognised as the property of God by the seal of the Spirit. And, as sometimes a seal has an obverse and reverse side, so is it in the case of believers. On the hidden side, visible only to Jehovah, is--“The Lord knoweth them that are His”; on the other side, where all men may read it, there is--“Let him that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” When the coinage of a country has worn thin and light, so that no one can See the image or superscription, it is called in, reminted, and sent forth anew, with a distinct impression from the original die. And so, when our Christian characters are rubbed down by the abrasion of the world to such an extent that the image of the Lord in us has been well-nigh effaced, there is need to submit to the reminting of the Holy Spirit, that we may come forth anew and bear unmistakable witness to Christ’s property in us.
3. As a means of security. Thus the stone laid at the mouth of the den into which Daniel was thrust was sealed with the king’s signet, etc.; and when Jesus was laid in the grave the Jews made the sepulchre sure, “sealing the stone and setting a watch.” In like manner believers are kept secure in the world by the seal of the Spirit. The reference here is not to God’s almighty protection, nor to the ordering of His all-wise providence, but to the characteristics and habits which are acquired by the believer through the grace of the Holy Ghost. The Christian’s graces are his armour also. Our security is perfect, and yet it is not without our own exertions, for” it is effected by the constant manifestation by us of the qualities which are formed and fostered in us by the Holy Ghost.
II. God hath given us the earnest of the spirit. The term is borrowed from a custom in connection with the transfer of property, when the buyer received a small instalment at once as a sample of it, and as a pledge of full delivery. So, when the Spirit in our hearts is styled an earnest, we have implied--
1. That the fruit of the Spirit which we here enjoy is the same in kind with the blessedness of heaven.
2. That the fruit of the Spirit is a pledge that the full inheritance of heaven shall yet be ours. “He who hath begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” This is not quite the same as the security suggested by the seal. That was the pledge that we should be kept for heaven; this is an assurance that heaven shall be ours. Conclusion: I come to-day as the spies came to Kadesh-barnea, with the Eshcol cluster of grapes as a sample of the products of the goodly land which they had been to see. Beware how ye receive our report. Remember what happened to the tribes when they refused to go up and possess the land, and “take heed lest ye fall after the same example of unbelief.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The sealing Spirit
I. St. Paul reminds us of our peculiar obligation to the Spirit by pointing to one of the primary characteristics of his work. “Sealed” by His indwelling witness, and that not for a favoured moment only, but “unto the day of redemption.” This custom, on which the Bible metaphor rests, of sealing letter, decree, edict, or title of possession, came from the East, and is of obvious significance. It gives validity, assurance, legal effect to contract, declaration, or title-deed, and affirms proprietorship over the things upon which it is carried out. With the spread of education the personal signature comes to take the place of the old-fashioned seal. Some years ago a bundle of unsigned Bank of England notes was stolen. A note without that signature at the bottom, familiar to most of us, would be valueless. Religious life, endeavour, relationship, anticipation, borrow force and validity from the sealing of the Spirit. The intermediate position in the religious history of God’s saved people into which Paul puts this act of sealing clearly indicates its nature and purport. Whilst a solitary believer slumbers in the sepulchre, Christ looks upon His inheritance as but incompletely redeemed. It is till Christ’s power has wrought through its last redemptive cycle and undone the remotest disaster of sin that the Spirit seals us. “Sealed unto the day of redemption.”
II. This sealing by the Spirit implies that the reconciliation in which we are so deeply interested is more or less secret and unseen. After long and anxious debate, the terms of peace between two belligerent powers are fixed. But, pending the formal ratification of the treaty, and possibly for some time after, the contending parties occupy the same positions on the field. You can scarcely predicate the cessation of hostilities from what meets the eye. But to the commanders on either side the message has passed along the wires, and the genuineness of the message is vouched for by the cypher in which it is sent. When the children begin to play about the homesteads, the peasants to till the hillsides, the nightingales to sing in the myrtle bush, the golden crops to sway in the warm winds, and the church bells to chime again through the valleys, there will be no need to prove the reality of the peace by the seal or official announcement of the fact. It will be then proved by every sight and sound and movement within the horizon. For the present our personal reconciliation to God is an unseen fact, and is only attested by the indwelling Spirit which seals us. The heritage has not been fully and finally released and redeemed. The law yet seems to rumble with ominous curses. Nature often seems hostile in the last degree. We are left under conditions that sometimes suggest that awful and hopeless war is still going on, and yet the peace has been secretly sealed and its conditions ratified. One day the last thunder will have rolled itself into silence, the last bolt have hurtled through the air, the last hostile footstep be gone, and the stormless peace of eternity hide us in its sacred wings. The seal will then be needless.
III. This sealing declares the relationship of dignity and privilege we sustain before God. In Oriental life the seal is necessary to accredit a man to the office his master may have bestowed upon him. The messenger of the throne is recognised by the imperial seal he bears. When he has fulfilled his term of office, let him go back to the palace, stand amidst its fabulous splendours, and move to and fro beneath the eye of his imperial master, and there, at the centre of government once more, he will no longer need the seal, as a personal credential at least. His dignity is recognised and promptly acknowledged on all sides. The seal is indispensable when he has to cross the mountains or sail up unknown rivers, and go into districts where he must deal with semi-aliens. And it is whilst we pass as strangers and pilgrims through the earth that we need the seal which attests our true standing before God. Our majesty is obscured, our bodies are inglorious and subject to decay, and our garments torn and stained with travel. The world knows us not, as it knew not God’s greatest Son.
IV. This sealing marks out the believer as the subject of a specific providential care. In this sense was it that circumcision stood to the Jews both for a sign arid a seal. The rite proclaimed God’s special proprietorship over the nation, and singled out its separate members for such defence, tender oversight, strenuous protection as a father exercises over the little ones of his family.
V. The seal is a token of proprietorship. You watch a ship as it is being loaded for a voyage, and amongst other cargo notice a number of boxes bearing a significant seal. These are not stowed away in the hold, like consignments of common goods, but are taken to some place where they will be constantly watched by the responsible officers of the ship. The chests are chests of sealed treasure. Should the ship spring a leak and be endangered, after the safety of of the passengers has been provided for, these sealed chests will be the first things to be put into the lifeboats. The seal marks them out for special care and defence, and whatever human vigilance, foresight, and valour can do will be done to deliver them to the consignees. And so with that sealing of the Spirit affixed to sincere believers in Jesus Christ. They are subject to the same risks, vicissitudes, and temptations as other men; but all that God’s power can do to help and deliver them shall be done. This special sealing marks out body and soul alike for God’s special possession and guardianship.
VI. This sealing goes on to mark out those who receive it as the types of a pure and incorruptible life. God seals us for our humbler vocation no less infallibly than He sealed the only-begotten Son. He is incapable of the folly of sending into a disloyal, suspicious, and sense-ridden world an unsealed servant and message-bearer. And by the holy fruit which appears in our lives, the world, if it be not altogether thoughtless and unteachable, will be compelled sooner or later to see that we are of God. The Holy Spirit is ever working a continuous transformation and ennoblement within us which is the distinctive mark of the children of the kingdom. When we shall have come to bear in our transfigured flesh the power and potency of all Divine qualities, this sealing will be needless. Till that day of perfect redemption dawns we cannot afford to despise this high signature. “Sealed unto the day of redemption”--sealed for our Own assurance, and also for a witness to the world. (T. G. Selby.)
The seal and earnest
The three metaphors in this and verse 21--“anointing,” “sealing,” and “giving the earnest”--
1. All refer to the same subject--the Divine Spirit.
2. All refer to one and the same act. They are three aspects of one thing, just as a sunbeam might be regarded either as the source of warmth, or of light, or of chemical action.
3. All declare a universal prerogative of Christians. Every man that loves Christ has the Spirit in the measure of his faith. Note:--
I. The “seal” of the spirit. A seal is impressed upon a recipient material, made soft by warmth, in order to leave there a copy of itself.
1. The effect of the Divine indwelling is to mould the recipient into the image of the Divine inhabitant. There is in the human spirit a capacity of receiving the image of God. His Spirit, entering into a heart, will there make that heart wise with its own wisdom, strong with its own strength, gentle with its own gentleness, holy with some purity of its own.
2. There are, however, characteristics which are not so much copies as correspondences--i.e., just as what is convex in the seal is concave in the impression, and vice versa, so, when that Spirit comes into our spirits, its promises will excite faith, its gifts will breed desire; yearning love will correspond to the love that longs to dispense, emptiness to abundance, prayers to promises; the cry, “Abba! Father!” to the word, “Thou art My Son,”
3. Then, mark, the material is made capable of receiving the stamp, because it is warmed and softened--i.e., my faith must prepare my heart for the sanctifying indwelling of that Divine Spirit. God does not do with man as the coiner does with his blanks--put them cold into a press, and by violence from without stamp an image upon them; but He does as men do with a seal--warms the wax first, and then, with a gentle, firm touch, leaves the likeness there.
4. This aggregate of Christian character is the true sign that we belong to God, as the seal is the mark of ownership. I believe that Christian people ought to have a consciousness that they are God’s children, for their own peace and rest and joy. But you cannot use that in demonstration to other people. The two things must go together. Be very sure that your happy consciousness that you are Christ’s is verified to yourself and to others by a plain outward life of righteousness like the Lord’s. Have you got that seal stamped upon your lives like the hall-mark that says, “This is genuine silver, and no plated Brummagem stuff”? And is it woven into the whole length of your being like the scarlet thread that is spun into every Admiralty cable as a sign that it is Crown property?
5. This sealing, which is thus the token of God’s ownership, is also the pledge of security. A seal is stamped in order that there may be no tampering with what it seals--that it may be kept safe from thieves and violence. And our true guarantee that we shall come at last to heaven is present likeness to the indwelling Spirit. The seal is the pledge of security just because it is the mark of ownership. When, by God’s Spirit dwelling in us, we are led to love the things that be fair, and to long after more, that is like God’s hoisting His flag upon a newly-annexed territory. And is He going to be so careless in the preservation of His property as that He will allow it to slip away from Him? But no man has a right to rest on the assurance of God’s saving him into the heavenly kingdom unless He is saving him at this moment from the devil and his own evil heart.
II. The earnest of the spirit.
1. It is the guarantee of the inheritance.
(1) The experiences of the Christian life here are plainly immortal. The resurrection of Christ is the external proof; the facts of the Christian life are the inward proofs of a future life. Howsoever much we may say we believe in a future life and in a heaven, we really grasp it in the proportion in which here we are living in direct contact with God. What have faith, love, fellowship with God, to do with death? They cannot be cut through with the stroke that destroys physical life, any more than you can divide a sunbeam with a sword.
(2) All the results of the Divine Spirit’s sealing of the soul manifestly tend towards completeness. The engine is clearly working only half-speed. Those powers in the Christian man can plainly do a great deal more than they ever have done here, and are meant to do a great deal more. The road evidently leads upwards, and round that sharp corner, where the black rocks come so near each other and our eyesight cannot travel, we may be sure it goes steadily up still to the top of the pass, until it reaches “the shining tablelands whereof our God Himself is Sun and Moon,” and brings us all to the city set on a hill.
2. It is part of the whole. The truest and loftiest conception that we can form of heaven is the perfecting of the religious experience of earth. The shilling or two given to the servant of old when he was hired is of the same currency as the balance that he is to get when the year’s work is done. You have but to take from the faith, love, obedience, communion of the highest of moments of the Christian life all their imperfections, multiply them to their superlative possibility, and stretch them out to absolute eternity, and you get heaven. So here is a gift offered for us all, a gift which our feebleness sorely needs, the offer of a reinforcement as real and as sure to bring victory as when, at Waterloo, the Prussian bugles blew, and the English commander knew that victory was sure. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Spirit as an earnest
I. We are the heirs of a spiritual inheritance. It is quite consistent with the present economy of mercy that we should enjoy some of this whilst on earth, and before we are put in full possession. Many things in the Divine purpose, and in the history of the world, preceded Christ’s personal mediation, prepared the way for it, and passed over, through His work, in blessings upon our souls. We were originally members of a disinherited race. The inheritance under consideration was the rightful possession of our Lord as the Only-begotten of the Father. As to our interest in it, it lay under a forfeiture, and we were treated as aliens. It is also) a merciful part of the plan that it should, at least for a time, be vested in Christ as trustee for us. In Eden, the inheritance of life was vested in the first man, who lost it to himself and all his posterity. God is our inheritance, and heaven is the place where most perfectly we shall enter upon its full and undisputed enjoyment. This is our estate; not ours for years merely, but for eternity, It will then be subject neither to corruption nor violence. Heaven, with its freedom from sin, sickness, pain, the curse, and death, is ours in reversion.
II. The spirit is given to us as an earnest of this splendid inheritance.
1. It is supposed that the word and its use came to the Greeks from the Syrian and Phoenician merchants, just as the words “tariff “ and “cargo” came to England from Spanish merchants. The technical sense of the word signifies the deposit paid by the purchaser on entering into an agreement for the purchase of anything. The identity of the deposit with the full payment is a very essential consideration in the force and use of the word. In many of the rural districts of Scotland, and possibly in other places, a shilling, or small sum of money, is put into the hand of a servant when hired for a certain work as handsel-money, and as a pledge that when the whole work is done the whole wages shall be paid. Two things, therefore, seem to be included in the meaning of the word used: first, that it should be the same in kind as the fulness of which it is a part; and, secondly, representing our present state as Christians, it affirms the certainty of our privileges in this world and the next. As God Himself is said to be our inheritance--as we are said to have the inheritance in Christ--so the Holy Ghost is Himself the earnest of it in our hearts. It is not a work which He delegates to another; nor would it suffice to say that any one blessing, such as pardon, life, or peace, is the earnest of heaven it is the Spirit Himself only. He is the earnest of heaven.
2. The earnest is thus part of- our future inheritance, and identical in kind with it. An infant has a title to an inheritance which has descended from his deceased father; and though not legally, or in fact, in possession, except as under tutors and governors, certain advances are made from it to conduct his education, and in this way foretastes of it are given to him. As he passes through the family mansion, forests, and fields, and meets with the servants of the estate, he has in this walk, and in the loving respect of faithful dependents, an earnest of what he is speedily coming to; and we can imagine how his breast, as heir, would heave with excitement on the eve of possessing the inheritance. This experience of the earthly heir may help us, as an illustration, to understand our present enjoyment of “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” which, upon the testimony of the apostle, we now have. To take the blessing, eternal life, it is obvious, from both our Lord’s teaching and that of His apostles, that in all the essential elements of eternal life we are equal to “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). We form part of the same family. Life in heaven is just our spiritual life here, excepting the amplification and elevation which death, as a freedom from the body and from the fretting power of sin, will confer upon us. Again, how vivid is the writer’s conception of the likeness, and indeed identity, of the earnest to the whole in his view of the nearness of the believers on earth to heaven. “But ye are come unto Mount Sion” (Hebrews 12:22-23). Portions of this inheritance are ministered to us in advance. True, it is but twilight yet with us. But as the sun is seen from the lofty Swiss mountains to throw forward on the distant peaks his rays, as skirmishers before an army, to announce his coming, so our present foretastes of heaven--the earnest of our inheritance, calm, intelligent faith in the Lord, love to Him and to His people, and our luminous hope cast as an anchor within the veil--testify that the day in which there shall be no night is at hand. All these experiences are pledges of our immediate admission into heaven when we die.
3. The earnest of the Spirit, which is thus a real part of the inheritance of heaven, is only a part of it. There is no principle or fixed rule by which we could define the proportion which it bears as a part to the whole. A handful of wheat offered by the farmer in the market as a sample to the purchaser of the entire crop, though identically the same, bears a very small proportion to the whole. We may safely infer that the earnest is less than the whole. The Spirit who Himself is the earnest, with all the grace and love which He is pleased to bestow upon our souls, is but a part. All the blessings of which God kindly thought and devised for us in eternity, which cost the Redeemer His life to secure and bestow as the efficient cause of oar salvation, and which the Holy Ghost came down from heaven to reveal, are undoubtedly involved in this earnest. How stupendous a thought that something greater--and how much greater!--awaits us when we shall see God! It may be said that even here we have God, and what more can we have inheaven? But there He will be our God without any of the deductions made for our present imperfections and actual transgressions (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). (A. Douglas McMillan.)
2 Corinthians 1:23-24
I call God for a record … that to spare you I came not as yet to Corinth.
Why Paul did not visit Corinth
His reasons were--
I. One of mercy: to spare them pain (2 Corinthians 1:23)--to save them from the sharp censure their lax morality would have necessitated. It was no caprice, no fickleness, respecting St. Paul’s character that--
1. He was not one of those who love to be censors of the faults of others. There are social faultfinders, who are ever on the watch for error and who yet provide no remedy. Now all this was contrary to the spirit of St. Paul; he had that love “which thinketh no evil,” etc. It pained him to inflict the censure which would give pain to others.
2. He was not one of those who love to rule.
II. Apparently a selfish one: to spare himself pain (2 Corinthians 2:15). But if we look closely into it, it only sheds fresh light upon the unselfishness and delicacy of St. Paul’s character. He desired to save himself pain, because it gave them pain. He desired joy for himself, because his joy was theirs. He will not separate himself from them for a moment.
1. It was not to pain them merely that he wrote, but because joy, deep and permanent, was impossible without pain; as the extraction of a thorn by a tender father gives a deeper joy in love to the child.
2. It was not to save himself pain merely that he did not come, but to save them that pain which would have given him pain. Here there is a canon for the difficult duty of blame. To blame is easy enough--with some it is all of a piece with the hardness of their temperament; but to do this delicately--how shall we learn that? I answer, Love! and then say what you will; men will bear anything if love be there. If not, all blame, however just, will miss its mark; and St. Paul showed this in verse 4. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
A threefold theme
I. The fulfilment of a promise adjourned (2 Corinthians 1:24).
II. Authority over the faith of others disclaimed. “Not for that we have dominion over your faith.”
III. The true work of a gospel minister. He is a helper, not a lord; a helper, not a substitute. A true minister is to help men--
1. To think aright--i.e., on the right subject, in the right way.
2. To feel aright--in relation to self, mankind, the universe, and God.
3. To believe aright. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Not for that we would have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy.--
I. Negatively. “Not,” etc.
1. This disclaimer, to some of us, is perhaps unexpectedly strong. Paul might well have said the opposite, and for other purposes did so, as an inspired apostle. But he seems to have been always sensible of the individual responsibility of others, which no other should assail or could share. He is grandly intolerant of falsehood and evil living, but none so respectful of individual liberty.
2. After this, is it not passing strange that any should arrogate the very thing which Paul here so anxiously disclaims--authority over human consciences? Every real successor of the apostle will say, “My soul, come not thou into their secret.” Your souls are your own to-day when I first speak to you; they will be your own when I speak my last.
II. Positively. “But,” etc. Joy is to be taken here as the happy fruit of all Christian principles and affections, so that to be a “helper of joy” is to promote the whole moral perfection.
1. There is a great deal of intellectual hindrance to Christian decision and life.
(1) A number of people “prove all things” without “holding fast to that which is good”--at least, they stir all things into doubt and difficulty, but cannot work their way to a solution. Here we may help. Great gospel facts are questioned, denied. What then? We who are set for “a defence of the gospel” go on asserting them as true, because, with unshaken faith, we believe them to be so. And the sight of our unmoved constancy has a reassuring effect. How can the battle be lost when we are seen advancing, well in rank, looking for victory?
(2) The same kind of effect is produced on those who are prejudiced against doctrinal preaching. Hear doctrines explained by those who have really studied them, who put them in their proper relations and draw them out into practical duty, and the prejudice will melt away.
2. Life is to many a busy one, without leisure, ever on the move. From this we may see that God’s day was never more needed or precious, and that the opportunity to both preacher and people is one of the great opportunities of life. Welcome to both should be the hour that brings them into the Divine presence and abates somewhat of the fever and stir of life. And if we can but be “helpers” during the week in preparing for this service, we shall reach our utmost ambition.
3. Then there is the continual shortcoming of the Christian life making the helpfulness of the ministry necessary and welcome. Go where we will, there is the same tale of infirmity, the failure to realise the ideal, which not seldom engenders despondency or despair. But we are helpers of your joy. We are sent to revive it, and to take means that it shall not die. Whatever dark tales we hear we are to meet and overmatch by the glad tidings. No rums of any life-plan but may yet be built up. “The weak may be as David, and David as an angel of the Lord.”
4. Wherever we go we find troubles--if we seek for them; and it is worth while putting forth all our skill to find them. There is no scene, however distressful, in which we may not quietly yet confidently appear as “helpers of joy.” Unlike the apostles of natural law, who command you to bow to the inevitable in the present and dismiss all hope for the future, we tell you that “all things work together for them that love God” and have fruitage in a blessed immortality.
5. The grave is not the end of all, but to each there is a grave. There can be no fellowship in the article of death, but on the brink we can tell some such things as will rob death of its terrors, and make it no more than a quiet passage into life. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Christian ministers helpers of their people’s joy
I. The Christian’s privilege--joy.
1. Its origin and nature. It is not the offspring of a fervid imagination, but the effect of a well-grounded conviction of the love of God. It has its root in faith: “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” And why? Because faith connects the believer with Jesus, who is all his salvation and all his desire.
2. This is the legitimate state of the Christian. Joy diffuses a beautiful and attractive lustre around every grace which ornaments the believer’s character; it is the very atmosphere through which he should continually walk, proving that the ways of religion are “ways of pleasantness,” and that “all her paths are peace.” I know of nothing that recommends the gospel more than this; I know of no moral proof of its divinity more powerfully convincing than this.
3. Joy fits the believer for comforting and encouraging others. It was a great sin in those who were sent to take a survey of the Promised Land to return with an evil report.
II. The minister’s office. “Helpers of joy,” but not of salvation. Christ is the only Saviour; and He allows not of any helpers. But, though ministers are not helpers in the work of salvation, they are, as instruments, helpers in the application of it. Ministers act as helpers of joy--
1. By unfolding the Word of God. The Bible contains glad tidings, which are calculated to rejoice the heart.
2. By expatiating on the love of Christ. Nothing can fill the soul with so much gladness as this.
3. By giving a just interpretation of present trials.
4. By praying to the Author of every grace and Giver of every privilege (Romans 15:13). (D. Bagot, B. D.)
Helpers of others’ joy
I. As religious persons we are happy. There are various sources of this joy.
1. God Himself. “We joy in God.”
2. God’s works.
(1) Their variety, order, beauty, and splendour.
(2) Because they are His--a temple which He has made for Himself to be worshipped in.
(3) On account of the figurative instruction which they convey.
(4) As created and constituted for us to dwell in.
3. His providence. “The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice.”
(1) It is exercised over nations. By God “kings reign and princes decree judgment.” We have joy in a nation’s joy. When pestilence disappears, when there is an ample harvest, when there is reviving commerce, it is by God’s providence, and as religious men we rejoice therein.
(2) It bears personally upon ourselves. We can lie down upon the everlasting arms, and say, “The eternal God is my refuge.”
4. All things that are common to humanity.
(1) The joy of honourable marriage.
(2) When affliction disappears and God turns for us our mourning into dancing.
(3) In the common conditions of human life. Whatever may be the amount of human suffering, the amount of human happiness immensely preponderates.
5. Christ Jesus and His gospel. He came into the world in joy. The angels sang for joy at His nativity; He opened His ministry in joy--“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” etc.; and He spake very often of His joy. We may have joy--
(1) In the knowledge of Him.
(2) In reconciliation by Him.
(3) In justification through Him.
6. The Holy Ghost. “The kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost.” There is joy in the gifts of the Spirit. Was not the day of Pentecost a day of joy?
7. The ordinances of the gospel. Happy on the Lord’s day, in the reading of God’s Word, in the preaching of the gospel, in Christian association and alliance.
8. The prospect of the life to come. “For the joy set before Christ He endured the Cross, despising the shame”; and you and I may have joy set before us in like manner.
II. It is our duty to enhance each other’s joy. It is clear enough that we can promote each other’s sin. We may help forward afflictions; we may do a good deal to make one another miserable. How can we augment one another’s joy?
1. By expounding the principles of joy, as our Saviour did. He began His ministry with the beatitudes. Wherever He went there was joy.
2. By removing the causes of infelicity. What makes you unhappy? Is it sin? Go to God in penitence and ask for remission, and you shall have it. Is it anxiety? “Be careful for nothing,” etc. A sense of weakness and insufficiency? “My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength shall be perfected in weakness.”
3. By reminding of the fact that our religion is a happy religion (Psalms 98:1-9.). “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs.”
4. By being examples of this joy. We are contagious, or communicative, beings. “He that sympathises with me in my sorrow divides the stream and takes half of it away; he that sympathises with me in my gladness and my joy, lights his lamp from my lamp, takes nothing from me, only kindles a brighter light, only diffuses a wider blaze.”
5. By seizing on the occasions and opportunities of joy, such as the Sabbath and the means of grace.
6. By inciting and stirring one another up to it.
7. By adverting often, as Christ and believers do, to that which is to come. (J. Stratten.)
Helpers of your joy
The points considerable in this clause are these:
I. That joy is the state proper to Christians. Either they do rejoice, or they should labour to come to it. God requires it at their hand as a duty (Philippians 4:4). Consider--
1. The ills they are freed from--sin, the wrath of God, the sting of death, etc.
2. The state that God brings them to by believing (Romans 14:17).
3. Why should they labour to be in that state?
(1) That God, who gives them such matter of joy, may have glory from them. Their life should be a perpetual thanksgiving to God; and how can man be thankful that is not joyful?
(2) It makes him active in good when he is anointed with the oil of gladness (Romans 9:23).
(3) And then for suffering; we have many things to go through in this world. How shall a man suffer those things that are between him and heaven unless he labour to bring himself to this temper of joy?
(4) And then for others--every man should labour to encourage them. We are all fellow-passengers in the way to heaven. Therefore, even to bring on others more cheerfully, we ought to labour to be in a state of joy. And if a Christian do not joy, it is not because he is a Christian, but because he is not a Christian enough.
II. Ministers are helpers of this blessed condition.
1. By acquainting people with the ill estate they are in; for all sound comfort comes from the knowledge of our grief, and freedom from it. For they must plough before they sow, and the law must go before the gospel. The law shows the wound, but the gospel heals the wound.
2. By showing the remedy which is in Christ; then they open the riches of God’s love in Christ, the sweet “box of ointment.” Thus did St. Peter, after he had brought them to, “Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?” point them to Jesus Christ.
3. By advice in cases of conscience what people should do. So their office is to remove all hindrances of spiritual joy. We know that light is a state of joy. The ministry of the gospel is light. Spiritual freedom makes people joyful. But the end of the ministry is to set people more and more at liberty. Victory is a state of joy. Now the ministers of God teach God’s people how to fight God’s battles, how to answer temptations, and at length how to triumph.
4. By forcing it as a duty upon them (Philippians 4:4). They are as guides among the rest of the travellers, that encourage them in the way to heaven, “Come on, let us go cheerfully.”
5. In death itself. The end of the ministry is to help joy, to help them to heaven by a joyful departure, drawing comfort out of the Word for this purpose. But you will say true Christians are ofttimes cast down by the ministry. If so, yet it is that they might joy (2 Corinthians 7:8). We say of April that the showers of that month dispose the earth to flowers in the next; so tears and grief wrought in the heart by the ministry frame the soul to a joyful temper after. A physician comes, and he gives sharp and bitter purges; saith the patient, “I had thought you had come to make me better, and I am sicker now than I was before.” But he bids him be content; all this is for your joyfulness of spirit after; you will be the better for it.
III. Ministers are helpers of joy, and but helpers. They do but propound matter of joy, grounds of joy from the Word of God; but it is the Spirit of God that doth rejoice the heart (John 16:5). (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
By faith ye stand.--
The victory of faith
The Scriptures mention three sorts of faith--
1. Simple credence, or bare assent. This is not the faith of the text, for the devils have it (James 2:19).
2. Temporary conviction, which carries the soul to some short sallies in the course of godliness, but, having no firm fixation in the heart, comes to nothing.
3. A saving, effectual faith, which takes in both the former kinds and adds its own peculiar perfection. It is a durable, fixed disposition of holiness, immediately infused by God into the soul, whereby the soul is renewed and powerfully inclined to exert itself in the actions of a pious life. This is the faith by which “we stand.”
I. The thing supposed--a person assaulted by an enemy (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 12:4)
.Now in every such combat there are to be considered--
1. The persons engaged. Their enmity is almost as old as the world itself (Genesis 3:15). The devil’s hatred of us bears date with our very being, and is directed against us as men, but much more as believers. As soon as we enlist under the Captain of our salvation, He proclaims perpetual war. So a Christian’s life is not a state of ease, but of incessant conflict with the devil.
2. The thing contended for: to cast them down--
(1) From that sanctity of life which the regenerating Spirit has wrought them up to; for, having lost all holiness himself, the devil abhors it in others. He is “a murderer from the beginning,” and he chiefly attempts the murder of souls by making them like himself.
(2) From their interest in the Divine favour; and no wonder, since he finds it denied to himself. So he tries to sow enmity between God and the soul, and to embroil the whole creation in a war against heaven.
3. The ways and means by which it is carried on.
(1) The devil’s own immediate suggestions (John 13:27; Acts 5:3).
(2) The infidelity of the human heart--a quality which does the devil’s work most compendiously and effectually.
(3) The alluring vanities of the world (James 4:4).
(4) Man’s own lusts and corruptions.
II. The thing expressed--Viz., that faith alone can give the victory in this contest. Consider--
1. Man’s natural estate void of the grace of faith. That this is deplorable enough is proved by the fact that, were not bare nature insufficient to work out its own recovery, the Divine grace would never have put itself to such an expense for its recovery. What forces can man rally against the workings of his own corruptions?--his imperfect good desires, resolutions, duties? Alas! nature will quickly break through such puny resistances.
2. The advantages and helps of faith.
(1) Union with Christ. Christ, being to the soul like armour, only defends when He is close to it.
(2) The assistance of the Spirit, without whom it is impossible for the soul to do anything in the way of duty, or to oppose sin with success (Romans 8:13; Philippians 2:13).
3. The title to and power to effectually apply God’s promises. The promises are weapons which the Spirit places in our hands, and faith is the spiritual hand into which they are put. (R. South, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30