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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 2-corinthians-10.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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2 Corinthians 10:1
Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
The meekness and gentleness of Christ
These words recognise Christ’s character as an accepted standard of appeal among the Corinthians. To ourselves such an appeal would not be strange. But does it not strike you as remarkable here? For remember that only a few years before this the oldest of the converts were gross idolaters. The standard of appeal has not altered. The preacher refers back to Christ as the source of all authority and influence. As Christians, if we are in perplexity, we ask the question, What did Christ do? and when we discover that, our course is clear. There is to us no higher joy than to please Him. But notice what it is in Christ to which Paul refers.
I. The meekness and gentleness of Christ.
1. Men had been striving to overturn Paul’s authority and destroy his influence. This was enough to excite the indignation of any true-hearted man, and no wonder if he had vindicated his character in stinging words. But he will not do this. He will conquer them by the gentleness which Christ ever manifested to those who had gone astray. Most thoroughly had he entered into Christ’s spirit. He can never forget how tenderly and patiently the Saviour had treated him. Years after, when writing to one who had never tried the patience of Christ as he had done, he said: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:12-16). Paul had experienced the power of Christ’s meekness and gentleness, and he was anxious that others should know it too.
2. Let us turn to the, life of Christ, and see how full it is of this Divine virtue. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God!“ and, though there is an idea of sacrifice, what is more meek and gentle than a lamb? He Himself declared, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” Think of all He suffered, and the manner in which He suffered it. He came into the world eager to bless and save it, but “He was despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And yet in no instance was He ruffled by the injuries wrought on Himself. When the helpless and the poor were oppressed, He stood ready to defend them. How He scathed the Pharisees! Yet even in their case tenderness and love were in His heart, for immediately after His tremendous exposure He breaks out in a wail like a mother for the child of her love, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,” etc. And to the very close of life He remains the same. Isaiah (Isaiah 53:7) and Peter (1 Peter 2:23)--the one in prophecy, the other in history--unite in bearing testimony to the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
II. The gentleness of Christ was not an amiable weakness. There are many who obtain credit for this virtue who have no manner of right to it. They are patient if any one wrongs them, and seem the incarnation of good humour. Often this disposition is simply a consciousness of helplessness or indifference. But Christ was gentle because He was strong. It was an awful power that Christ carried with Him; and were it not that we know how gentleness clothed that power, we should be ready to wonder that men did not shrink in fear before His presence. He had power enough to drive devils into the deep, yet gentleness to gather children in His arms.
III. Jesus was gentle, but it was not because he was ignorant of men’s characters. We may often act towards others in kindness and forbearance because we do not know them. But Christ knew what was in men; He was never deceived; and this was one of the reasons of His gentleness. He saw good as well as bad. He understood all the difficulties that beset men. Allowances were to be made, and He made them; circumstances were to be considered, and He considered them. We are hasty in judgment, because we are so ignorant of what passes within the hearts of those we condemn. Christ was full of forbearance, because He knew the whole.
IV. Jesus was gentle, but not because he was indifferent to justice and purity. We often overlook sin, because we do not much care whether things are right or wrong. A child does wrong; a friend in amiable pity says, Oh, let him go this time.” The friend cares very little about justice itself or the law of the household. When a criminal is taken, there are plenty of weak people who will urge you to let him go. They get credit for gentleness. But then, indeed, some people are always ready to forgive any wrong that has been done against some one else. People are careless because they have no hatred of what is evil in their own natures. They have sinned so much themselves that they readily condone sin in others. But all this is not true gentleness; it is indifference to righteousness. Now Christ’s gentleness was not of this nature. He did care what men did. He was perfectly pure, and every sin wounded His heart like a poisoned arrow. He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity. He was as just as He was loving; and it was to vindicate Divine justice that He came to Calvary. He died the just for the unjust.
V. This meekness and gentleness is the weapon by which Christ conquers us. It is the power of His love that subdues human hearts. He will bear with men until His very patience and gentleness shall make them ashamed of their sin. What argument can be more powerful than this? (W. Braden.)
The meekness and gentleness of Christ recommended to the imitation of the young
When this pathetic address is considered in connection with the circumstances that led to it, the character of Paul appears in a very interesting light. In writing to a church where party spirit was raging, the apostle expresses himself in a manner prudent and mild, yet firm and dignified. The meekness of Christ is a phrase expressive of the calmness and patience, the forbearance and humility by which He was distinguished.
I. In what way meekness and gentleness should operate in the young is the first topic that claims our attention.
1. Meekness and gentleness appear in modest and unassuming manners. Meekness and gentleness are directly opposed to the love of display, and this desire to have the pre-eminence. They delight in the shade of retirement, and shrink from the glare of public observation.
2. Meekness and gentleness appear in calmness and forbearance under provocations and injuries. The power of meekness and gentleness is sometimes affectingly manifested under domestic evils.
3. Meekness and gentleness appear in courtesy and kindness in the intercourse of life.
4. Meekness and gentleness, prompt to lenity and indulgence to others, and to abstinence from all measures of rigour and severity. The spirit of meekness and gentleness will preserve us from rigour and severity in judging of the actions of others.
5. Meekness and gentleness appear in patient acquiescence under the afflictions of life.
II. I proceed now to show that the meekness and gentleness of Christ present the most persuasive motives to the cultivation of these excellences.
1. Meekness and gentleness appear in the character of our Lord in the most winning form. If your hearts are at all open to the influence of good example, they must be gained now.
2. It is the meekness and gentleness of One whom you are under the strongest obligations to imitate. Reflect on what He endured for you.
3. Consider how much His honour and that of His religion are concerned in the regard which you pay to the meekness and gentleness of Christ. You wish the world to think well of the spirit of your Master, but you must know that they will judge of it from you.
4. Consider how much Christ is related to you. To beseech a child, by the virtues of his parents, will probably guard him against the opposite vices, and lead him to act as they did.
5. Consider the glory of His person and character. It is not the meekness and gentleness of one whose station is low, or whose influence is insignificant; nor are these solitary graces in His character.
6. It is the meekness and the gentleness of one who has connected the most important consequences with our imitation or neglect of his example: “If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of Hi“ (Romans 8:9). I conclude by recommending the imitation of this meekness and gentleness to other classes of persons. Ye who are old, I beseech you by the meekness and the gentleness of Christ, not to aggravate the sorrows of your evil days by peevishness and discontent. Ye parents, I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, to beware of “provoking your children to wrath,” and to endeavour to persuade before you attempt to compel. Masters, do your duty to your servants, forbearing threatening, knowing that your Master is in heaven, and that there is no respect of persons with Him. Ye who are at variance, I beseech you by these virtues of Christ to leave off contention. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Ye members of churches, follow after the things that make for peace, and things whereby one may edify another. Let political parties cease to distract the nation by their broils and their scurrilities; and let them in the spirit of the gospel direct their efforts to promote peace on earth and good-will among men. (H. Belfrage.)
The gentleness of God
I. Gentleness is the method by which strength manifests itself.
1. The greater the power of the being, the greater will be the marvel and the delicacy of gentleness. In a woman we expect gentleness. But in a warrior it creates an admiration that it does not in woman.
2. It is wonderful, too, in proportion to the provocation to contrary feelings. That all rude and hateful things should find themselves the subjects of gentleness, this is surprising.
3. It is likewise wonderful in proportion to the moral sensibility and discriminating purity of the mind which exercises it. Gentleness, springing from easy good-nature, which will not take the trouble to vindicate justice and right, will not command even respect.
II. Consider, then, with these interpreting remarks, what must be the nature of gentleness in God.
1. He dwells alone from eternity to eternity, because there is none other that can be of His grandeur of being. The whole earth is said to be but a drop of the bucket before Him. And that such a One, living in such a wise, should deal-with His erring children with gentleness is wonderful and sublime!
2. Consider also His moral purity and His love of purity, and His abhorrence of evil. That such a Being should carry Himself with gentleness toward those who have forfeited all claim to mercy and gentleness--this is wonderful! The life of every individual is a long period of moral delinquency. No one who has not had the experience of a parent can have any adequate conception of the patience and gentleness exercised by a mother in rearing her child. True mothers are only God’s miniatures in this world. How great will be the disclosure which shall be made when, in the great day, Christ shall enrol from the archives of eternity the history of each individual soul. It will be seen then how much patience must have been exercised by the Divine Being in rearing a single one of His creatures. Now consider national life. Judge from your own feelings how God, with His infinite sensibility, must feel when He sees men rising up against their fellow-men, waging wars and devastating society by every infernal mischief that their ingenuity can invent The Bible says that God is past finding out; not merely His physical power, but His disposition--His moral nature. If God cared for the misconduct of men no more than we do for the fiery strifes of an ant-hill, there would be no foundation for such a conception of Divine gentleness and Divine goodness. Evil is eternal in the sight of God, unless it be checked and cured. Sin, like a poisonous weed, re-sows itself, and becomes eternal by reproduction. Now God looks upon the human race in the light of these truths. And tell me what other attribute of God, what other influence of His character, is so sublime as this--His gentleness?
III. Now, while these statements are fresh in your mind, i desire to present to you a clear conception of God as your Personal God. He is not a Being that dwells in the inner recesses of the eternal world, inaccessible, incomprehensible. Men never find Christ, but are always found of Him. He goes forth to seek and to save the lost. It is the abounding love of His heart that draws us up toward Him. “We love Him because He first loved us.” It is this willing, winning, pleading Christ, who wields all the grandeur of justice and all the authority of universal empire with such sweet gentleness that in all the earth there is none like unto Him, that I set before you as your personal friend. He does not set His holiness and His hatred of sin like mountains over which you may not climb. He does not hedge Himself about by the dignities and superiorities of Divinity. All the way from His throne to your heart is sloped; and hope, and love, and patience, and meekness, and long-suffering, and kindness, and wonderful mercies, and gentleness, as so many banded helping angels wait to take you by the hand and lead you up to God. And I beseech you by His gentleness, too, that you fear Him no longer; that you be no longer indifferent to Him; that you wound Him by your unbelief no more, but that now and henceforth you follow Him--“for there is none other name under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.” Conclusion: I hold up before you that God who loves the sinner and abhors sin; who loves goodness with infinite fervour, and breathes it upon those who put their trust in Him. And remember that it is this God who yet declares that He will at last by no means clear the guilty! Make your peace with Him now, or abandon all hopes of peace. Be not discouraged because you are sinful. It is the very office of His love to heal your sins. Who would need a physician if he might not come to his bedside until after the sickness was healed? What use of schoolmaster if one may not go to school till his education be complete? (H. W. Beecher.)
The tenderness of Christ
I. In connection with what has been revealed to us concerning His mission and life.
1. It harmonises with the prophetic intimations.
(1) See this in the very “titles” bestowed upon Him. Lest the spirit should fail at the thought of “the Ancient of Days,” the “Everlasting Father,” “the Mighty God,” we are encouraged to look at Him as “the seed of the woman,” the “consolation of Israel,” “the Prince of peace.” Though He is the “plant of Renown,” He grows up a “tender plant.” Though He is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” He is led as a “lamb to the slaughter.” And though speaking to us out of the “bush burning with fire,” it is a fire which only awes by its brightness, but consumes not a leaf with its flame.
(2) Still more does this come out in prophecies bearing more directly on His work and office (Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 42:1; cf. Matthew 12:18).
2. And such as prophecy declared Christ should be, such, in all the actings of His earthly life, do we find He was. With His own disciples He had to bear much. Yet rarely does His language rise to harsh reproof--scarcely even to upbraiding. It is rather that of a subdued, softened, melancholy tenderness. And was there less of tenderness in His dealings with those who were not disciples? with the penitent woman in Simon’s house? with the woman of Samaria? etc.
3. This tenderness of the Saviour’s character has accompanied Him into heaven, arching as with the mild splendours of a rainbow the throne of His mediation, and giving a softened light and lustre to the moral administration of God (Revelation 1:1-20; Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22).
II. In its bearing on some of the experiences of the Christian life.
1. How should we be comforted by it under early convictions of sin, and doubts of the Divine forgiveness? None should despair whilst in the midst of the throne there stands the gentle Lamb of God whose blood cleanseth from all sin.
2. It should be very comforting when cast down by the weakness of our faith. The same weakness has been exhibited by our brethren in the world, but a gracious Saviour allowed for, pardoned them. Look at that agonised father as he brings his demoniac son to the Saviour. Weak faith, mixed faith, little faith--better this than none at all: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” Or see again how tenderly the Master deals with His fearful disciples in the storm. And therefore to all who are suffering from this infirmity, we say, “Be not afraid, only believe.”
3. Consider it as it bears upon our slow progress in the Divine life--our coldness in sacred exercises, our fluctuations and decays of religious feeling. Go to Gethsemane, and look on the disciples sleeping when they ought to have been praying; but the compassionate Saviour can excuse all. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
4. See the Christian under the pressure of outward adversity. More than thirty years did our Divine Master spend in that school. And we love to think of Jesus as “touched with a feeling of our infirmities“ now that He reigns in heaven.
5. See the Christian again under the prevalence of temptation, and what a strong refuge has he in the Saviour’s tenderness: “For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.” Yes, “tempted in all points like as we are.” And now, in heaven, He brings to bear on His work for us all the sacred memories and experiences of His earthly state.
6. Behold the Christian in that hour of nature’s greatest weakness, when he sees opening before him the doors of the unseen world. Then does he feel the power of the Saviour’s tenderness most; for it is His special office “to deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
The gentleness of Christ
Gentleness is not so much the essence of goodness as it is its exquisite setting; it is a kind way of being good. It is not the tree itself, but the blossom upon its boughs; but the tree of which it is the blossom is the tree of life. There is none so gentle as “the Lord God omnipotent.” We see and feel His gentleness in the way in which He is daily conferring His bounties.
I. The way in which He exercised His power. We are almost afraid of power in the possession of man. When we think of the Pharaohs, the Herods, the Caesars, the Napoleons, we shrink from the committal of power to any human arm. He laid a gentle hand upon the sick; He spoke gentle words to those who appealed for His succour, quietly and graciously.
II. The way in which He taught Divine truth. Men of brilliant powers often like to flash them upon society; genius often drizzles and bewilders. But the Great Teacher, not neglecting the opportunity that offered, went quietly and meekly to His work of utterance, He chose the humble wayside, the upper room, the shaded garden, where He could teach His disciples.
III. The way in which He treated error and failure and sin.
1. Gently He excused the extravagant zeal of one of His disciples, discovering for her a justification she would never have found for herself. “She has done it for My burial” (Matthew 26:12).
2. Gently He bore with infirm discipleship; correcting their misunderstanding, enlightening them in their darkness, and on one occasion most graciously accepting their intended but halting service (Matthew 26:41).
3. Gently He rebuked and restored failure and fall (Luke 22:61; John 21:15-19).
4. Gently He dealt with those who rejected Him.
5. Gently He dealt with those whom all others spurned; admitting the publican into His kingdom.
6. Gently He bore Himself at the last sad scenes. We may beseech men by the gentleness of Christ--
(1) To have their own character and conduct clothed with this grace; that themselves and their life may be beautiful and attractive like their Lord’s.
(2) To yield their hearts to Him who is the rightful object not only of high regard, but of a true affection; this gentle Lord of truth and grace is one whom we can love and therefore serve.
(3) To shrink from the condemnation of Christ. We can afford to disregard the threatenings of the violent, but we may not despise the earnest warnings of the calm and true. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
The apostle’s vindication
The Epistle has until now been addressed to those who at least acknowledged the apostle’s authority. But now we have St. Paul’s reply to his enemies. Note--
I. The impugners of his authority.
1. We must distinguish these into two classes--the deceivers and the deceived; else we cannot understand the difference of tone, sometimes meek, and sometimes stern, which pervades the vindication; e.g., comp. verse 2 with verse 1. His enemies charged him with insincerity (2 Corinthians 1:12-13; 2 Corinthians 1:18-19); with being only powerful in writing (2 Corinthians 10:10); of mercenary motives; of a lack of apostolic gifts; and of not preaching the gospel. They charged him with artifice. His Christian prudence and charity were regarded as devices whereby he deceived his followers.
2. We must also bear in mind that the apostle had to deal with a strong party spirit (1 Corinthians 1:12), and of all these parties his chief difficulty lay with that which called itself Christ’s.
(1) Though these persons called themselves Christ’s they are nevertheless blamed in the same list with others. And yet what could seem to be more right than for men to say, “We will bear no name but Christ’s; we throw ourselves on Christ’s own words; we throw aside all intellectual philosophy; we will have no servitude to ritualism”? Nevertheless, these persons were just as bigoted and as blameable as the others. They did not mean to say only, “We are Christ’s,” but also, “You are not Christ’s.” This is a feeling which is as much to be avoided now as then. Sectarianism falsifies the very principle of our religion, and therefore falsifies its forms. It falsifies the Lord’s Prayer. It substitutes for “our Father,” the Father of me, of my Church or party. It falsifies the creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.” It falsifies both the sacraments.
(2) However Christian this expression may sound, the spirit which prompts it is wrong. This Christ-party separated themselves from God’s order when they rejected the teaching of St. Paul and the apostles. For the phase of truth presented by St. Paul was just as necessary as that taught by Christ. Not that Christ did not teach all truth, but that the hidden meaning of His teaching was developed still further by the inspired apostles. We cannot, at this time, cut ourselves off from the teaching of eighteen centuries. We cannot do without the different phases of knowledge which God’s various instruments have delivered to us. For God’s system is mediatorial--that is, truth communicated to men through men.
II. His vindication.
1. St. Paul based his authority on the power of meekness, and it was a spiritual power in respect of that meekness. The weapons of his warfare were not carnal.
(1) This was one of the root principles of St. Paul’s ministry. If he reproved, it was done in the spirit of meekness (Galatians 5:1); or if he defended his own authority, it was still with the same spirit (2 Corinthians 10:1). He closes his summary of the character of ministerial work by showing the need of a gentle spirit (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
(2) Here, again, according to his custom, the apostle refers to the example of Christ. He vindicated his authority, because he had been meek, as Christ was meek. So it ever is: humility, after all, is the best defence. Do not let insult harden you, nor cruelty rob you of tenderness. You will conquer as Christ conquered, and bless as He blessed. But remember, fine words about gentleness, self-sacrifice, meekness, are worth very little. Would you believe in the Cross and its victory? then live in its spirit--act upon it.
2. St. Paul rested his authority not on carnal weapons, but on the spiritual power of truth. The strongholds which the apostle had to pull down were the old habits which still clung to the Christianised heathen. There was the pride of intellect in the arrogant Greek philosophers, the pride of the flesh in the Jewish love of signs, and most difficult of all--the pride of ignorance. For this work St. Paul’s weapon was Truth, not authority, craft, or personal influence. He felt that truth must prevail. A grand, silent lesson for us now! when the noises of a hundred controversies stun the Church. Let us teach as Christ and His apostles taught. Force no one to God, but convince all by the might of truth. Should any of you have to bear attacks on your character, or life, or doctrine, defend yourself with meekness, or if defence should make matters worse, then commit yourself fully to the truth. Outpray, outpreach, outlive the calumny. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
2 Corinthians 10:3-6
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh
The distinctions between the good and the bad
What is conceded by the apostle in the text as to the general state of the servants of Christ; or, in other words, what is meant by the expression, we “walk in the flesh”?
I. It is evident that this expression does not mean the same thing as “walking after the flesh”; for, in the Epistle to the Romans, it is expressly said that the servant of God “does not walk after the flesh,” but “after the Spirit.” The expression plainly refers, not to the corruptions of the bad, but to the infirmities of the good. Consider in what respects a real Christian may sometimes be found to “walk in the flesh.”
1. He “walks in the flesh” in that he is subject to all the infirmities of the body. It is said, for instance, of Hezekiah, that he was “sick even unto death.” The same fact is stated with regard to Onesiphorus. And Timothy is commanded to “take a little wine, on account of his often infirmities.”
2. In the next place, the servant of God is liable to error in judgment and opinion.
3. In like manner the real Christian, as long as the connection of “the flesh,” or of the body and soul, continues, is subject to the assaults of temptation. Abraham was tempted; Job was tempted; Peter was tried by his natural impetuosity; Paul, by a thorn in the flesh.
4. In like manner the real servant of God is subject to infirmities of temper and conduct. Look, for example, into the history of the Old Testament saints, and see their deviations from holiness.
5. The real Christian is subject to infirmities even as to those great principles and affections which are nevertheless the governing powers of his soul. What infirmity, for instance, is there in his faith! Look again at the love of the real servant of Christ. At times how ardent and active are his feelings, and at other times how cold and sluggish! Thus, also, the hope of the real Christian is often characterised by much infirmity. To-day every promise is bright in his eyes; the next day, perhaps, the consciousness of his guilt seizes upon his mind; his sky is clouded. But does it follow, as some would pretend, that there is no distinction between the servants of God and the servants of the world, between religion and irreligion? By no means. “Though we walk in the flesh,” yet “ we do not war after the flesh.”
II. Consider in what the distinction between the good and the bad consists; or, in other words, what is the meaning of the expression “we do not war after the flesh”?
1. The Christian, says St. Paul, does not “war after the flesh”; in other words, he does not contend with his opposers in the spirit or in the manner in which they contend with him. Look, for instance, at the great Head of the Christian Church, when suffering under the cruelty of His countrymen: He returns silence for insults; deeds of mercy for deeds of blood. Look again at the first martyr to the religion of the Cross: “I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” And such will be the distinction of temper and conduct in every case of conflict between the servant of Christ and of the world.
2. But it is my wish to extend this inquiry to the more general points of distinction between the real Christian and the followers of the world.
And it is not too much to affirm, that as to no one point will the real servant of God habitually walk, think, live “after the flesh.”
1. In the first place, holiness in a servant of God is habitual; sin is occasional and rare. Hezekiah was betrayed into an act of vanity; Herod, we may conceive, was habitually vain.
2. The real Christian alone mourns over his sins as so many acts of ingratitude and disobedience to God. It is almost a folly to speak of the man of the world as mourning for sin at all.
3. The Christian, and the Christian alone, carries his sins to the Cross of Christ for pardon.
4. The Christian, and the Christian alone, is carrying his corruptions to the Spirit of God for correction and sanctification.
5. The Christian is obtaining a daily and visible conquest over his corruptions.
The corruptions of the men of the world, because left to themselves, or nursed up in the cradle of self-indulgence, are daily gaining strength.
1. Conclusion: If such are the infirmities even of the acknowledged servants of God, how necessary is it that men, in every stage of their religious progress, should acknowledge their weakness and worthlessness, and cast themselves on the compassion of God for pardon and grace!
2. If the points of distinction between a servant of God and a servant of the world are as many and great as we have seen, let no man who has not the marks of a Christian lay any claim to his name and to his privileges. (J. W. Cunningham, A. M.)
I. The enemy against whom this warfare is directed.
1. That enemy is Satan.
2. The position of these hosts of darkness.
3. The kingdom of Satan is represented as fortified by numerous strongholds.
(1) Of these some are intellectual. There is the stronghold of--
(a) Wilful ignorance (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(b) Infidelity, in which revealed truth is scornfully rejected and bitterly reviled.
(c) Prejudice, under which multitudes refuse the doctrines of Evangelical religion.
(d) Superstition and idolatry.
(2) There is the stronghold of moral depravity in every heart. When every other fortress is broken down, man finds a refuge here.
II. The weapons with which this warfare is prosecuted.
1. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal--neither force nor intrigue. False religions have been thus propagated; but Christianity repudiates all such aid.
2. What those weapons are, Paul has stated in Ephesians 6:1-24. Now these weapons, though not carnal, are nevertheless mighty.
(1) For defence.
(2) For conquest. For the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom, and the disenthralment of the human race from his iron yoke, we need no other weapons.
(3) In their source--“God”; not any skill, or strength, or courage in us.
(a) It is God who summons us to this glorious conflict.
(b) He equips us for the contest.
(c) He is graciously present with us by His good Spirit, inspiring us with Divine energy, and giving us the victory.
III. The triumphs we anticipate.
1. The total downfall of the strongholds of Satan.
(1) The stronghold of ignorance. The darkness which for so many centuries has covered the earth shall be dispelled. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
(2) The strongholds of superstition and idolatry. The truth as it is in Jesus shall be universally triumphant.
(3) Those earthly governments which obstinately withstand Christianity. The kingdoms of the earth will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
2. The casting down of imaginations, and of every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God--bold speculations, sophistical reasonings, false philosophies, which either deny His existence or distort His character and misinterpret His will. Now such things are made high things by learning, genius, rank, wealth, and popular applause. But the things which promote the knowledge of God have for the most part been low, humble, obscure. But these matters will be reversed. The knowledge of God will make its way.
3. The subjugation of human hearts to the sceptre of Jesus. (W. Horton.)
Christianity a warfare
I. A warfare illustrating the character of Christianity.
1. Christianity cannot get into any man’s heart but it makes a warrior of him. The grace of God is completely at variance with the spirit and practice of the world. What does Paul call his life as he looks back on it? An extended scene of unbroken serenity and enjoyment? No--“a good fight.”
2. But observe, is it not of a defensive warfare that the text speaks? “Pulling down,” “casting down,” “bringing into captivity” are the operations of an aggressive army. A religion of benevolence is an amiable and useful thing, but if it is unaccompanied with a hatred of sin and a striving against it, we must not call it Christianity.
II. The object of this warfare.
1. The demolition of evil. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” And that must be ours too. Think of a country so strong in its natural defences as to be impregnable--there is a picture of Satan’s dominion. No created power can wrest it out of his hand. But there is One before whom natural obstacles are all as nothing, and so Satan strengthens them with fortifications and citadels. These in one age or country are of one kind, in another of another kind. Satan accommodates himself to the nature of the ground. There is--
(1) Superstition, one of Satan’s oldest fortresses. In the apostle’s days it appeared as paganism. When Christianity began to triumph, it assumed a new character, paganising Christianity in the form of error.
(2) Infidelity, no longer, however, coarse and scoffing, but cultured and professedly reverent.
2. The entire subjugation of the human mind to Christ. When soldiers besiege a fortress, and, battering down its walls, take possession of it, the men within it become their prisoners. And Christ aims His gospel at the strongholds of Satan, and calls upon His followers to beat them down in order to rescue men from Satan’s bondage and to make them captives to Himself. “Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” How low are our ideas of Christianity when compared with St. Paul’s. Such texts as these make us feel sometimes as though we had never yet learnt anything of it.
III. The weapons.
1. What are the “carnal weapons”?
2. What then will do the work? This the apostle does not say. We are, however, at no loss. “We preach Christ crucified,” says this apostle; and what does he immediately call that? a carnal weapon? No, “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” I do not say, lay all other means aside. Form societies, build schools, erect churches, circulate books--but remember still, all these will not damage materially one bulwark of Satan among us unless our one main object in them is to make known the gospel. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The spiritual conflict, weapons, and victory
I. The conflict in which Christianity and its advocates are engaged.
1. The world must be regarded as the scene of universal strife and rebellion against God. Before the creation of our race some of the powers of heaven revolted from their allegiance. By the chief of these fallen spirits, man was successfully tempted to the perpetration of evil; and the whole history of the world since has only presented the annals of unbroken rebellion against God.
2. The conduct of the warfare on behalf of God was confided to a temporary dispensation; but in the fulness of time it was finally committed to the dispensation of the gospel. When the gospel went forth there was a vast amount of individual opposition. But, besides this, there were opposing systems. There was, for example, Judaism, which, now that its shadows were fulfilled, had no right to the exercise of authority over men. There were also various modifications of the grand apostasy of heathenism.
3. This gospel is still to be the instrument of the spiritual conflict.
II. The weapons with which this conflict is conducted. Note--
1. The denial expressed. “We do not war after the flesh.” “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal“--not penalties, prison-houses, or swords. Christianity is absolutely incompatible with those means of propagation. Never did the penalties of law or the horrors of armies urge forward the cause of redemption one single step.
2. The affirmative implied.
(1) The instrumentality that the advocates of Christianity are to employ. Evangelical truth, along with the evidence by which that truth is attested and confirmed. The preaching of the Cross of Christ involves in it all those high and delightful topics which are so well adapted to produce a powerful impression on the intellect and the affections of mankind; and we therefore rely upon it to secure the progress of Christianity.
(2) The agency upon which they are to depend. God has been pleased to provide the agency of His own Spirit to work in connection with the gospel. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. Man draws the bow at a venture, God wings the arrow, and makes it sharp in the hearts of the King’s enemies. “Not by might, nor by power.”
III. The victory in which this conflict will terminate.
1. The nature of this victory will be accordant with infinite benevolence. Our contemplations of victory in human war are always connected with many causes of sorrow; but who can contemplate the victories of the gospel without rapture?
2. The extent of this victory will be commensurate with the boundaries of the world. (J. Parsons.)
2 Corinthians 10:4
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, to the pulling down of strongholds.
The moral power of Christianity
In the writings of St. Paul you meet with frequent military allusions, but you must not consider them as introduced by the apostle’s preference of the figurative style. We doubt whether it be altogether just to speak of these allusions as metaphorical. The Christian is not so much metaphorically as really a soldier, if by a soldier we understand one who is surrounded by enemies. You will at once perceive, by reference to the context, or, indeed, by observing the verse itself, that the apostle is here describing Christianity, not in its operations within the breast of an individual, but rather as the engine with which God was opposing, and would finally overthrow, the idolatry and the wickedness of the world. We admit, indeed, that it is perhaps unnecessary to separate altogether Christianity, as ruling in the individual, from Christianity as advancing to sovereignty. The weapons with which the preacher conquers himself must, in a measure, be those with which he conquers others. But still the points of view are manifestly different. St. Paul is describing himself as the champion of righteousness and truth, against the vices and errors of a profligate and ignorant world; and the point which he maintains is that the engine with which he prosecutes his championship, though not “carnal,” is “mighty through God” to the accomplishing the object proposed.
I. We begin with Christianity as adapted to the converting individuals. And we fasten upon the expression of the apostle that his weapons were not carnal; they were not such weapons as a carnal policy would have suggested, or a carnal philosophy have approved. The doctrines advanced did not recommend themselves by their close appeal to reason; neither did they rely for their cogency on the eloquence with which they were urged. It seems implied that the virtue of the weapons lay in the fact of their not being carnal, for the apostle is put on his defence, and the not using carnal weapons is his self-vindication. And, beyond question, in this lies the secret of the power of Christianity, and of the thorough insufficiency of every other system. If Christianity demanded nothing more than confession of its truth, Christianity would be carnal, seeing that we satisfied ourselves of its evidences by a process of reasoning, and such process is quite at one with the carnal nature, flattering it by appealing to the native powers of man. If, again, Christianity depended for its reception on the eloquence of its teachers, so that it rested with them to persuade men into belief, then again Christianity would be carnal, its whole effectiveness being drawn from the energy of the tongue and the susceptibility of the passions. And if Christianity were thus carnal--as every system must be which depends not on a higher than human agency--it could not be mighty in turning sinners unto God. But Christianity, as not being carnal, brings itself straightway into collision with every passion, principle, and prejudice of a carnal nature, and must therefore either subdue, or be subdued by that nature. I do not think it possible to insist too strongly on the fact that the great work of Christianity, considered as an engine for altering character, is derived from its basing itself on the supposition of human insufficiency. If it did not set out with declaring man helpless, it would necessarily, we believe, leave man hopeless. It goes at once to the root of the disease by proclaiming man lost if left to himself. It will not allow man to take credit to himself for a single step in the course of improvement, and that it is which makes it mighty, inasmuch as being proud of the advance would ensure the falling back. Hence the stronghold of pride gives way, for there must be humility where there is a thorough feeling of helplessness, and with the stronghold of pride is overturned also the stronghold of fear, seeing that the lesson which teaches us our ruin, teaches us, with equal emphasis, our restoration. And the stronghold of indifference--this, too, is cast down; the message is a stirring one; it will not let the man rest till he flee impending wrath. Neither pan the stronghold of evil passions remain unattacked; for the gospel scheme in proffering happiness exacts the mortification of lusts.
II. But we shall greatly corroborate this argument if we examine the power of Christianity in civilising nations. It admits of little question that paganism and barbarism go generally together, so that the worshippers of idols are ordinarily deficient in the humanities of life. We may not indeed affirm that heathenism and civilisation cannot co-exist; for undoubtedly some of the nations of antiquity, as they could be surpassed by no modern in superstition, so they could by few, if by any, in literature and arts. We shall not pretend to say that a vast revolution might not be wrought among a heathen population if you domesticated in their land the husbandman and the artificer, and thus awakened in them a taste for the comforts of civilised life, even though you left them undisturbed in their idolatry, and sent them no missionary to publish Christianity. So that we are not about to affirm that Christianity is the only engine of civilisation; but we venture to affirm that none can be compared with it as to effectiveness. You may introduce laws, but laws can only touch the workings, not the principles of evil; whereas every step made by Christianity is a step against the principles, and therefore an advance to the placing government on its alone secure basis. To civilise must be to raise man to his true place in the scale of creation, and who will affirm this done whilst he bows down to the inferior creatures as God? We have a confidence in the missionary which we should not have in any lecturer on political economy, or any instructor in husbandry and handicraft. You may think it a strange method of teaching the savage the use of the plough to teach him the doctrine of the atonement. But the connection lies in this--and we hold it to be strong and well defined--by instructing the savage in the truths of Christianity I set before him motives, such as cannot elsewhere be found, to the living soberly, industriously, and honestly; I furnish him at once with inducements whose strength it is impossible to resist, to the practising the duties and evading the vices which respectively uphold and obstruct the well-being of society. And, if this has been done, has not more been done towards elevating him to his right place in the human family than if I had merely taught him an improved method of agriculture? Shall not the mental process be deemed far superior to the mechanical? And shall it be denied that the savage who has learned industry in learning morality has gone onward with an ampler stride in the march of civilisation than another who has consented to handle the plough because perceiving that he shall thereby increase his animal comforts? This we conceive is the true order; not to attempt to civilise first, as though men in their savage state were not ready for Christianity, but to begin at once with the attempt to Christianise, computing that the very essence of the barbarism is the heathenism, and that in the train of the religion of Jesus move the arts which adorn and the charities which sweeten human life. And in this is Christianity “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” The missionary, with no carnal weapon at his disposal, with no engine but that gospel, has a far higher likelihood of improving the institutions of a barbarous tribe, introducing amongst them the refinements of polished society, increasing the comforts of domestic life, and establishing civil government on more legitimate principles, than if he were the delegate of philosophers who have made civilisation their study, or of kings who would bestow all their power on its promotion. We will ask the missionary who is moving, as the patriarch of the village, from cottage to cottage, encouraging and instructing the several families who receive him with smiles, and hear him with reverence. We will ask him by what engines he humanised the savages, by what influence he withdrew them from lawlessness, and formed them into a happy and well-disciplined community. Did he begin with essays on the constitution of society; on the undeveloped powers of the country; on the advantages derivable from the division of labour; or on those methods of civilisation which might be thought worthy the patronage of some philosophical board? Oh, the missionary will not tell you of such methods of assaulting the degradation of centuries; he will tell you that he departed from his distant home charged with the gospel of Christ, and that with this gospel he attacked the strongholds of barbarism; he will tell you that he preached Jesus to the savages, and that he found, as the heart melted at the tidings of redemption, the manners softened and the customs were reformed; he will tell you that he did nothing but plant the Cross in the waste, and that he had proved that beneath its shadow all that is ferocious will wither, and all that is gentle spring up and ripen. Such is Christianity, mighty in the converting individuals, mighty in the civilising nations. This is the engine through which we ourselves have risen to greatness, and from which each of us draws the means of grace and the hope of glory. This is the religion, thus effective in fertilising the waste places of the earth, and elevating the most degraded of our species. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. The warfare. It is--
1. A moral warfare. It is the cause of truth against error; of knowledge against ignorance and superstition; of liberty against vassalage; of holiness against sin. Its object is that the kingdom of darkness may be overthrown and the kingdom of Christ established.
2. A necessary contest. It is not optional. We must conquer or be conquered.
3. An arduous conflict. It cannot be maintained by an idle show on the parade, but only by actual and persevering service. Our enemies are--
(1) Numerous. We wrestle not against flesh and blood.
(2) Ever on the alert. We cannot with safety reckon on any cessation of hostilities.
4. A most momentous struggle. In it are involved interests the most solemn and interminable.
II. The weapons.
1. Every Christian is a soldier, and he puts on the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:11, etc.). Those engaged in this warfare fight according to prescribed laws. Wherever they go they erect the standard of the King of kings. They fight and conquer by their faithful preaching, holy living, works of faith, and labours of love.
2. These weapons are not carnal. Men are not to be dragooned into Christianity. Errors are not to be cut to pieces by the sword.
3. But though they are not carnal, they are real and powerful. How mighty--
(1) Compared with those used by the warriors of this world! What can they do?--they can wound the body; but the soul defies their power. But here are weapons which can take hearts prisoners, and carry them away in delightful captivity.
(2) Compared with the weapons of those who oppose themselves to Christ--the jests of impiety--the subtleties of sophistry, the feathered arrows of sarcasm. When by the means of these has ever error been wrung from the heart?
4. Whence arises this might? Let us take care not to attribute too much to our weapons. They are mighty through God. He furnishes and accompanies the right use of them with His presence and His power.
III. The issue.
1. The pulling down of strongholds. The enemy, after having been worsted in open conflict, flee to the strongholds; but we are to lay siege to and destroy the foe in their very fortresses. And what is any unregenerate heart but a stronghold? Men are under the influence of the spirit that worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience. Is he not fortified there by ignorance, by pride, by corrupt passions, by unbelief?
2. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing,” etc. The allusion here is to those engines which are employed to destroy walls and towers of defence. The terms apply to “philosophy, falsely so called.” How many high things are there still in the world which must be cast down!
3. The captivity of every thought to the obedience of Christ.
(1) The enemy has been pursued, his fortresses have been thrown down, his citadel has been taken, and every individual within has been carried away in triumph. The whole man with all his powers is overcome. A victory this such as the warriors of this world never achieved. Bodies may be taken captive, still the thoughts are free. But here is a conquest over the thoughts.
(2) And this captivity is as honourable and delightful as it is complete. What can be more degrading than to be a captive of sin and Satan?--but to be taken captive by Christ, and to be obedient to Him, what an honour, a joy!
Conclusion: We may learn that our common Christianity--
1. Is not a system of seclusion and quietism. It is a warfare. Neutrality is out of the question here. “Curse ye Meroz,” etc.
2. Is not only defensive, but aggressive. The principal reason why the gospel has not made more progress in the world is this: we have contented ourselves with a defensive rather than an aggressive warfare. What are we doing--defending the outworks, showing our dexterity in distinguishing nice points, and sometimes wounding a fellow-soldier, perhaps, because his habiliments differed from our own? This we have done, instead of uniting in one broad phalanx against the common foe!
3. Is destined ultimately to triumph. (R. Newton, D. D.)
I. Its weapons.
1. They are not carnal. They are not--
(1) Miraculous. Miracles were employed in the cause of truth; but they were never intended to be permanent.
(2) Coercive. The civil magistrate has sought by penalties to force Christianity upon the consciences of men. Such means misrepresent it, and were proscribed by its Founder.
(3) Crafty. In nothing perhaps has the craftiness of men appeared more than in connection with the profession of extending Christianity.
2. Though not carnal, they are mighty--through God because--
(1) They are His productions. Gospel truths are the ideas of God--remedial ideas embodied in His Son; and they are the “power of God.” The gospel has proved itself the greatest power in the social world.
(2) They are the instruments of God. When we put our ideas in a book we cannot personally accompany them. We know not their effects, and then we die, and must leave them behind. But God goes with His ideas, and works by them.
II. Its victories.
1. They are mental. There is not much glory in destroying the bodily life of man. Wild beasts, a poisonous gust of air, will excel man in this. And then you do not conquer the man unless you conquer his mind.
2. They are corrective. They do not destroy the mind nor any of its native faculties, but certain evils that pertain to it.
(1) The evil fortifications of the mind. The depraved mind has its strongholds against truth and God--prejudices, worldly maxims, associations, passions, habits.
(2) The corrupt thinking of the mind: “Casting down imaginations” (marg. “reasoning”). It is against evil thinkings, whether of a poetic, a philosophic, or any other character.
(3) The antitheistic impulses of the mind: “and everything that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” Every feeling and passion that rise against God.
3. They are Christian. They are victories won for Christ. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Weapons of warfare
The last idea that occurs to some professing Christians is that Christianity or that Christian life is a warfare. It has been noticed by discerning persons that almost as soon as a man joins the Church he settles down into indifference or selfish enjoyment--as if a man should enlist into the army, and then go home and sit down all the rest of his days on the sunny side of his house and in the favourite spot of his garden. What kind of enlistment is that? In addition to this the next mistake that is made is that persons who enter the Christian service imagine that all the fighting is to be done outside. You cannot fight outside until you have fought inside. The first man you have to kill is yourself. It is possible to be a magnificently grand philanthropist in public, and to let your own family starve for want of sympathy. On the other hand, it is possible for men to be so generous at home as to have no larger charity, not to care about those who are far off and at present unknown; possible for a man to be so pottering about his own little affairs in a little four-cornered house, as to forget that God has made constellations, universes, infinite spaces, and countless myriads multiplied by countless myriads of mankind. Are we at war? If the Church is not at war, it is unfaithful to Christ. Was Christ the Prince of Peace? Truly He was, yet the Prince of Peace, for the very reason that He was the Prince of Peace, never ceased from war. No such soldier ever lived as Christ. Christ is against every bad thing; against foul air; against false weights and measures and balances; against all trickery in trade, all insincerity in social life; against all show, fashion, glitter, that has not behind it the bullion of eternal truth and everlasting grace. Christ never met evil without smiting it in the face. Supposing the Church to be at war; has the Church the right instruments or weapons in hand? I think not. The metal is bad, the forging is faulty, the whole conception of the panoply is vicious. There are many wrong weapons in the Church. There is disputativeness. That is a miserable weapon, and never brings home any prey. Some people want to legislate men into goodness. Why does not the State take up this matter? Because the State has no right to the use of such weapons. The State is not necessarily a soldier of Christ. The State cannot make people sober, it can only punish them for having been drunk. All this, therefore, points to the necessity of something other. What is that something other? It is the spiritual element. You can only get at men by getting at their souls. How will Paul, chief of the soldiers of the Cross, deport himself in this war? Hear him: “Now I Paul myself beseech you.” Is that the fighting tone? Yes, in the Church it is the only fighting tone. But here are men who want to conquer hearts, souls; and they lie down, beseech, and make their meekness part of their panoply; and their gentleness is the very strength of their sword. Then there is the beautiful life. What a sturdy old weapon is that! The mother converts the children without saying much to them. Her patience is an argument; her night-and-day love wins in the issue. Then there must be spiritual conviction and spiritual persuasion, and you must get a hold upon the heart. The pastor who has hold of his people’s hearts can never be dethroned. Let our war, therefore, be according to our capacity and our opportunity. Let us go steadily forward with quiet work, steady giving, constant sympathy, perpetual readiness to do the very next thing that is to be done, though it be of the very simplest character. Only get up something romantic, and you may command any amount of attention, and any amount of response for the time being. But romance has no deepness of earth, and therefore it soon withers away. When will men be steady workers? (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 10:5
Casting down imaginations.
Forts demolished and prisoners taken
I. Fortresses demolished. Many things are opposed to the knowledge of God. Some are garrisoned against it by the feeling--
1. That they do not want to know God. The masses of our fellow-countrymen are not so much opposed to the gospel as indifferent to it. “What shall we eat?” etc., are far more important questions than “What must we do to be saved?” This entrenchment has to be carried, and the gospel arouses apprehension, and so storms the stronghold of indifference.
2. That they know already. Trained from their childhood in false doctrine, they hold fast to it, and defy the gospel to reach them. How the Holy Spirit casts down this imagination when He makes men feel that they are blind by nature.
3. That if they do not know God they can find Him out without His help.
4. That they know of something better already; that the gospel is outworn.
5. That they never can know. In this despair the rebel entrenches himself as in a very Malakoff, and becomes desperate in his resistance to the gospel. Yet even this rampart is cast down by mighty grace.
II. Prisoners are made. “Bringing into captivity every thought.” The mind is like a city, and when it is captured the inhabitants which swarm its streets are the thoughts, and these are taken prisoners.
1. The gospel comes with power to the heart of a man, and he begins to fear the wrath of God and the judgment. Christ has captured his thoughts of self-security.
2. He cries, “I am guilty; I have broken God’s law, and I am condemned!“ The Lord has captured his thoughts of self-righteousness.
3. Now he begins to pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and his ideas that he could do without his God are made prisoners.
4. His thoughts of pleasure in alienation from the Great Father are now slain, for he desires to draw near to the Most High.
5. A little hope begins to dawn, he hopes that there may be salvation for him. His thoughts of rebellious despair are led captive.
6. The Spirit of God encourages him, and he comes to believe in Jesus; his self-trust is a prisoner.
7. Hear him as he sings, “I am forgiven, because I have believed in Jesus! Oh, how I love His precious name!” His inmost heart is captured.
III. These prisoners are to be led away into captivity. Monarchs of old, when they subdued a country, removed the people to a distance. Now, when the Lord captivates the thoughts of our mind, He leads them to another region altogether. The offspring of the mind He guides into the spiritual realm, wherein they delight in the Lord, and bow themselves before Him.
1. He who, being made conscious of his sin, believes in Jesus Christ, submits all the thoughts of his judgment and understanding to the obedience of Christ, and this is a great point gained. His prayer is, “Lord, teach me, for else I shall never learn.”
2. The same power leads captive the will. It remains a will still, but the will of God is supreme over it.
3. Human hopes also are spellbound by grace. These winged things were wont to flutter no higher than the tainted atmosphere of this poor world, but now they find stronger pinions and soar aloft to things not seen as yet, eternal in the heavens.
4. The man’s fears too, now ennobled by grace, cover their faces with their wings before the throne of God, while the man fears to offend against the Father’s love.
5. His joys and sorrows are now found where they never went before; he rejoices in the Lord, and he sorrows after a godly sort.
6. His memory also now retains the precious things of Divine truth, which once it rejected for the trifles of time, and his powers of meditation and consideration keep within the circle of truth and holiness, finding green pastures there.
7. This done, you shall see the same enthralment cast over the Christian man’s desires and aspirations. He has flung away his old ambitions, and aspires to nobler things.
8. The same blessed servitude binds the man’s plots and designings. He plans still, but it is not for his own aggrandisement; his grandest design is to bring jewels to the crown of Christ. Does this sound rather like sarcasm to you? If it does, stand convicted, for every thought is to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
9. The renewed man’s love and hate are both held captive by the power of grace. He loves Jesus truly and intensely; he hates sin with his whole soul.
10. It is a fair sight to see Christ’s sacred bands worn by our tastes, which are so volatile and hard to constrain. The fancy, too, that impalpable cloud, painted as by the setting sun, that will-o’-th’-wisp of the spirit, even this is impressed into royal service, and made to wear the livery of Christ, so that men even dream eternal life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The present struggle of error, and complete future victory of the gospel
I. What is meant by imaginations? Imaginations in respect to--
1. The being and character of God. Some have imagined that there is no God (Psalms 141:1-10.). Others have degraded His character by false representations of Him (Romans 1:23; Romans 1:25). There is the Pantheist--his god is identical with the universe; the Deist--his God is in the heights of heaven, wholly uninterested in the concerns of men; the narrow-minded religionist--his God is implacable and arbitrary.
2. Our own merit and excellence. The Corinthian Church was full of this, and many modern professors have no other standard than themselves, and condemn all who differ from them, however excellent they may be.
3. The performance of the duties of religion.
(1) Prayer. It is to God alone, we are to pray.
(2) The sacraments.
(3) The preaching of the gospel. A poetic style is all very well, but many “darken counsel by words without knowledge.”
II. These imaginations are perfectly incompatible with the true knowledge of god. “That exalteth,” etc. They are incompatible--
1. With the whole tenor of the Scriptures; as regards--
(1) The character of God. “God is a Spirit.” “God is light.” “God is love.”
(2) The character of man (Job 15:14; Psalms 8:4; Romans 3:10-13).
(3) The various duties of religion.
(a) Prayer must be offered to God from the heart, and in the name of Christ (Psalms 65:2; Hebrews 11:6; John 14:14).
(b) The ordinances. Compare the commandments of Christ with the false teachings of men (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26).
(c) Preaching (2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 9:27).
2. With true philosophy. All sciences point to God.
3. With the experiences of the wise and good in all ages of the world.
III. The tendency of the gospel in regard to these imaginations. The weapons by which they are to be demolished are--
1. The circulation of the Scriptures.
2. The preaching of the gospel in its purity.
3. The influences of the Spirit. Conclusion: We see--
(1) The certain destiny of error. It must perish.
(2) The future felicity of the world. Free from all error.
(3) Our duty in the present. Oppose error, and serve truth. (Congregational Pulpit.)
1. Ignorance is one of these strongholds. Nothing but their ignorance of Christianity makes two-thirds of the world heathen to-day.
2. Indolence may also be mentioned as a stronghold of Satan. Souls may be lazy as well as bodies.
3. Appetite is a formidable stronghold. Some persons, from natural propensity or habits of life are much more under this tyranny than others. With some it has been a point which absolutely commanded the soul, and when Satan succeeds in intrenching himself there, he can usually shell out most of a man’s religion from his heart. Fort Drunkenness, Fort Licentiousness, and Castle Gluttony are masters of one-half the world. Many a soul has played the role of Esau, and sold its eternal birthright for a mess of toothsome pottage.
4. Pride is a lofty height which commands many a soul, and which Satan is very sure to get possession of. It is hard for pride to own itself an abject criminal at the bar of God, and to beg for mercy.
5. I need not say that Satan has no more powerful stronghold than the love of money. He prefers gold-plated defences to iron, and if he can succeed in sheathing a soul with sovereigns, he will pretty surely hold it against all assaults. This is par excellence his stronghold in the heart.
6. The power of habit. It is not merely that an old sinner is more depraved than a younger one, which makes us less hopeful of his conversion, but because he has formed a habit of sinning, which, like all other habits, becomes more and more difficult to break. Every time a godless act is repeated is like casting a new spadeful upon the breastworks and fortifications by which we are shutting ourselves off from God, till, finally, the stronghold of Satan rises about us frowning and impregnable as the very ramparts of hell. (The Church.)
And bringing into captivity every thought.--
The moral discipline of the intellect
Men live more lives than one. There is the life of thought as well as the life of action, and the one must be moralised as well as the other. We must practise mental morality. Let us then consider in detail this moral culture of the mind--
I. As it relates to self.
1. Avoid a wrong self-estimate. Neither overestimate nor underestimate. Beware of pride, vanity, conceit, and kindred vices.
2. Cultivate humility--mental modesty. Live in the presence of God, of His holiness and greatness, and keep a fresh and high ideal--pride cannot then exist.
II. As it relates to nature and man.
1. In relation to nature. Let us in our interpretation of it preserve a deep love of truth.
2. In relation to man. Cultivate sobriety in judgment and reflection.
(1) In matters personal. Do justice to distasteful individuals. Be charitable.
(2) In matters political. Beware of blind and bitter partisanship. Argue for truth, not victory.
(3) In matters social. On such questions as capital and labour, allow for the “personal equation“--for class prejudice and self-interest. Beware of rash theorising.
III. As it relates to God and religion.
(1). Beware of an unscrupulous conscience.
(2) Beware of an over-scrupulous conscience--weak, narrow, morbid, unenlightened.
(3) Let conduct increase in efficiency, with knowledge.
2. Speculatively. Beware of wanton doubt-dabbling. (E. S. Keeble.)
The conflict of faith with undue exaltation of intellect
The recent history of Cilicia may have well suggested this language, it having been the scene of some very fierce struggles in the wars against Mithridates. The dismantled ruins of 120 strongholds may have impressed the boyish imagination of Saul with the destructive energy of Rome; but the apostle only remembers these earlier impressions to give them a spiritual application.
I. It is “the undue exaltation of” intellect with which the Church of Christ is in conflict.
1. With intellect itself religion can have no quarrel. It were a libel on the All-wise Creator to suppose that between thought and faith there could be any original relations other than those of perfect harmony.
2. Here, as elsewhere in human nature, we are met with unmistakable traces of the Fall. A range of granite mountains, which towers proudly above the plain, speaks to the geologist of a subterranean fire that has upheaved the primal crust. And the arrogant pretensions of human thought speak no less truly of an ancient convulsion. The Fall so disturbed the original structure of our nature as to make reason generally the slave of desire instead of its master. And therefore the intellect which exalts itself against revelation is often in reality not free intellect, but intellect working at the secret bidding of an irritated passion. Yet intellect never vaunts its freedom so much as when it is in conflict with revelation. We do not pose as champions of free thought in mathematics. We solve an equation as dispassionately as if we were ourselves pure reason. But revelation challenges the activity of will and conscience; and the passions sound an alarm at the first signs of the coming of the Son of Man. Then natural intellect feels it necessary to be upon its guard, and to maintain an attitude of suspicion.
3. Take note of the varieties of intellect which enter into this conflict. There is--
(1) Mercenary intellect. Necessity, it is said, knows no law; and that poverty cannot afford to have a conscience. And sometimes this hired intellect passionately asserts its monopoly of freedom. It even tells the ministers of Christ, who have freely entered His service, that we are not free. Under the circumstances, conflict with religion is natural.
(2) Self-advertising intellect, which is bent on achieving a reputation, no matter how. It will write something startling, “original.” When it asserts that Scripture is a collection of foolish legends, it takes pleasure in thinking of the trouble which its irritating productions will occasion. But its object is notoriety.
(3) Sensualised intellect, whose purpose is to rouse in the imagination and veins of man those fiery passions which are his worst enemy.
(4) Self-reliant or cynical intellect, that slave of a sublime egotism; but its cold, clear, incisive energy passes for perfect intellectual freedom. 4.We must not forget that among earnest opponents are souls which glow with a love of truth. They have not yet found the road to Damascus; but we may safely leave them to the love and providence of God.
II. It is implied in the language of the apostle, that intellectual opposition to revelation, except on great occasions, and under the leadership of distinguished captains, does not usually seek us in the open field. Its customary instinct is to take refuge on some heights, or behind some earthworks. It screens its advance under the cover of some disputed principle, or of some unproved assumption.
1. A primary characteristic of sceptical intellect is its unwillingness to make room for faith; it assumes to command the whole field of truth. It feels itself humiliated if debarred from the the sight of any spiritual fact.
(1) But we find no such sensitiveness respecting the power and range of the organ of sight. Ask the astronomer whether the stars and suns that reveal themselves to his telescopes are the only ones which exist. Ask the entomologist whether his microscope has discovered the most minute embodiment of the principle of life. It is no discredit to the organs of sense that they are thus limited. Nor should reason complain if, as we ascend the mountain of thought, she reaches a region at which she must leave us.
(2) Reason, indeed, can do much, even beyond the province in which she confessedly reigns. She can prove to man that he possesses a soul and a conscience, and that his will is really free. She can even attain to a certain shadowy knowledge of the First Cause of all. But she can do no more. Her highest conquests but suggest problems she cannot solve, afford glimpses of a world on which she may not presume to enter. What knows she of the inner life of God? What can she tell us concerning sin, or its removal? etc. Reason must accept her providential place as faith’s handmaid, not as faith’s substitute; or her pride will surely prepare for her a terrible chastisement.
2. But when the possibility, need, and even the fact of a revelation has been admitted, the rebellious intellect stipulates that revelation must not include mysteries. Whatever may be revealed, it must be submitted to the verifying faculty.
(1) But surely it is unreasonable to determine beforehand what a revelation ought or ought not to contain; we are in no position to speculate on such a subject. But let me ask, what is a mystery? Not a confused statement, a contradiction, an impossibility, an unintelligible process, a reverie of the heated religious imagination. A mystery is simply a truth hidden, in whatever degree. We see some truths directly, just as in the open air we gaze upon the sun. We know other truths indirectly, just as we know the sun is shining, from the ray of sunlight which streams in at the window. Now a mystery is a truth of the latter kind. It can only be known from the evidence or symptoms of its presence. Yet the evidence proves to us that the truth is there; and the truth is not the less a truth because it is itself shrouded from our direct gaze. Thus St. Paul speaks of the mystery of the Incarnation, and of the calling of the Gentiles, and even of marriage.
(2) Now the world we live in is a very temple of mysteries. In spring everywhere around you are evidences of the existence of a mysterious power which you can neither see, nor touch, nor define, nor measure, nor understand. What do you really know about the forces you term attraction and gravitation? And you yourselves, what are you but living embodiments, alike in your lower and your higher natures, and in the law of their union, of this all-pervading principle of mystery?
(3) To object to mystery as a feature of a Divine Revelation is therefore irrational. Surely, as we mount in the scale of being, we must expect an increase both in the number and magnitude of these hidden truths.
3. Granting this, the wayward reason falls back upon the demand that revelation shall not be dogmatic. Christianity must abandon the pretension to offer a defined body of truth, and is bidden to accommodate herself to the changed circumstances and imperious necessities of the time.
(1) But this is only a disguised form of opposition to the truth which dogmatic statements embody. A theist, e.g., has no objection to saying explicitly that there is one God. It does not occur to him, that in making that statement he is guilty of an intellectual narrowness or of bad taste. Nor does he hold it necessary presently to balance his profession by some other statement which shall reduce it to the level of an uncertainty. Yet to say that there is one God is to make an essentially dogmatic statement. If, then, he presently hesitates to say that Jesus Christ is truly God, or that His death was a propitiatory offering for human sin this, we must suppose, is because he does not believe the truths which are thus stated in human language. If he urges that a dogmatic statement is more or less unsatisfactory in that, owing to the imperfection of human speech, it leaves unanswered, or rather it suggests, many concomitant questions; it may be rejoined that this is no less true when you assert the unity of God, than when you assert the Godhead or the satisfaction of Jesus Christ. If he dislikes dogma because, forsooth, dogma is the “stagnation,” or the “imprisonment,” or the “paralysis” of thought, his objection applies to his statement that there is one God, just as much as to any other proposition in the creeds.
(2) The fact is, faith discerns in dogma the regulation of its thought, just as the mathematician finds in the axioms which are the base of his science, the fixed principles which guide his onward progress, not the tyrannical obstacle which enthrals and checks him.
(3) This prejudice against dogma is the last stronghold of the enemy; it is a position from which he must be dislodged at any cost, or all previous victories may soon be forfeited. Surely it is of little avail to grant that a revelation has been given, and even that it is replete with mystery, if no one revealed truth may be stated in terms as absolutely certain. If religion is to be a practical thing, it must depend, not upon beautiful thoughts, but upon clearly-defined certainties. When tempted we need something solid to fall back upon; not a picture, not a mist, not a view, not an hypothesis, but a fact. (Canon Liddon.)
Christian subjection of thought
A sceptic once said to me, “Why, Christianity actually wants the control of your very thoughts. Who could really conform to a system like that”? My rejoinder was, that a man’s thoughts were his very life, and that a religion which is going to do anything for a man must work upon his thoughts and endeavour to lift them, by giving him both a law and an ideal of thinking. This is one of the glories of Christianity. In paganism you have religious observances divorced from morality--a cult which panders to a man’s lowest passions. And even in Christendom, amongst communions which have more or less lost touch of the Bible and Christ, the problem is how to satisfy the religious instincts of men without troubling them to move out of their present level of thought and practice. The purpose of New Testament religion is the subjection of every thought to the obedience of Christ. Is that too great a programme? It is a difficult one, certainly. Study the development of character in a man who, from practical paganism, has been brought under the power of gospel like Bunyan. First, there was the outward act of submitting himself to Christ. Next follows a reformation of outward conduct. But the greatest conquest comes later. For a long time the trouble was that the thoughts, the grooves of which had been cut in the old dissolute days, could break loose and revel like devils in the chambers of his brain. And it required many a period of wrestling and much powerful work of the Divine Spirit before that great realm of life was fully in the Master’s hands.
I. “Every thought” is a phrase which covers pretty nearly the whole inner life of man. Philosophical analyses of man’s mind usually divide it into thought, feeling, volition; but, as a matter of fact, these are all mixed up and act together. You love a person; but the feeling is full of thought. On the other hand, thought is full of feeling. The feeling of gladness or hope produces thoughts of one sort, the feeling of gloom those of an opposite. And when you come to volition or will, you find thought and feeling combined in its every act. And Christ will aim at nothing less than that the whole inner life be subjected to Him. Now what is meant here is simply that all our thinkings be after the pattern of God’s own mind. The ultimate triumph of the gospel is that we shall love to find out what His thoughts are, to interpret them, to enjoy them, to obey them.
II. Only as the world’s thought is brought thoroughly into this subjection can it hope to get the best or soar to the highest.
1. What is a true musician, e.g.? Surely one who in that department is obedient to the thought of God. He is simply an interpreter of God’s laws of harmony. True, some of the great musicians have not been noted as religious men; but inasmuch as they were great in music, it was so by the strictness of their obedience to God’s mind in that one department of it.
2. What of the interests of truth, of scientific investigation? Will the world be shut up to narrow ideas? Why, do we not see that everything that can be found out by investigation, in the heavens above or on the earth beneath, is already true in the mind of God? Every new advance here is simply getting at another of God’s thoughts. Obedience stopping inquiry? Why, it is a call to inquiry. For we need to know more that we may more perfectly obey.
III. This needs pushing home to each one of us. We can never get the best out of life till we have all our thoughts brought into obedience to the Christ of God. Imagine a man regulated by this principle. All his thinkings are, as it were, coloured by the consciousness of God’s presence. Each thought floats in this as in an atmosphere.
1. It is only so that a man comes to understand what faith is and what it can do for him. The secret of the business is in realising that you have not to strain to get yourself into a state of higher exaltation of spirit to find Him, but to feel that He is just here where you are, working in and through your life each moment. When you lift anything and then let it fall, there is gravitation, you say. Yes; it is God at work. When you look at a tree coming into bud, the charm of it is in seeing God, your Great Companion, at work in it. No one else could do this. Yes. He is here as much as anywhere in the universe--here in all His wisdom, power, and love.
2. I have spoken of our thoughts as floating in an atmosphere, and as coloured by that. Just as in a landscape the rocks, woods, water, which yesterday looked black, frowning, almost repulsive, to-day, by their sunny brightness woo and fascinate you, and that simply by a change in the atmospheric conditions; so with persons and your thoughts about them. Now, when the mind is won to the obedience of Christ, the atmosphere in which our thoughts float is the atmosphere of His love. Ah, how differently do our fellow-men present themselves to us when seen through that light! Here, e.g., is one person looked at by three different pairs of eyes. It is that poor fallen woman who crouches at the feet of Christ. Yonder is a man, brutal and sensual, and his thoughts are only of the animal, of sensuous gratification. There is another looking on, a hard, flinty Pharisee, who sniffs here nothing but human carrion, and who goes away thinking how virtuous he is, and how wicked some people are. But there is Christ. We know something of what His thoughts were. Now if I come into obedience to the mind of Christ, I shall have just such thoughts as His about such an one. I should see her and pray to God for her salvation. (J. Brierley, B. A.)
Government of the thoughts
I suppose there are few prerogatives which men would be less inclined to part with than the absolute secrecy and independence of their thoughts. Each one should take care to keep himself inwardly as well as outwardly pure, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Here, however, an objection is sometimes raised. Our thoughts, it is said, succeed each other according to fixed and unalterable laws, one thought bringing up neither in a constant current, over which the will has no more power than over the current of blood in our veins. Unquestionably it is not for our will directly to determine what we shall think of at the moment; neither can we, merely by willing it, stop thinking altogether. Thus much is true; but it does not follow that we have no control whatever over our trains of thought. Suppose, for example, that I am thinking of a sinful indulgence; I am free to think of that side of it which invites, or of that side of it which repels; I can think of it as an indulgence merely, or as a sinful indulgence; and the train of thought to which the whole will give rise will vary accordingly. We are competent at any moment freely and deliberately to select out of a train of thoughts that one to which we will attend. But we will suppose this selection made, not freely and deliberately, but spontaneously, or from the impulse of the moment, as is probably the fact in most cases; still what we do from the impulse of the moment, depends on the state of our minds, and this again depends, for the most part, on what we have chosen to make it, or allow it to become. Accordingly it will not do to disown all responsibility respecting the government of our thoughts, on the plea that they are not subject to our control. Thus far, the aim of my reasoning has been to prove that no object is likely to suggest bad thoughts, except through the concurrence of a weakened or depraved mind. But, in a practical view of the subject, this is taking higher ground than is necessary, or perhaps judicious. Let us admit, then, that, in the present condition of humanity, there are some things so adapted of themselves to excite bad thoughts that they will have this effect on the best minds. Still this does not hinder us from being able to govern our thoughts, for it by no means follows that we are obliged to put ourselves in the way of such things. Let me add, that the control which every man has, or might have, over his thoughts does not consist in prevention alone. Bad single thoughts may flit, from time to time, through the minds of good men; but it is bad men only who encourage their stay. If we would expel bad thoughts, it must be by the preference we give to good thoughts, that is, by introducing good thoughts into their place. Away, then, with that subtle but most inconsistent form of fatalism, which teaches that we can help our actions, but not our thoughts. What is to choose but to think; and without freedom of choice what freedom of actions could there be? All freedom, therefore, begins and ends with freedom of thought. Within certain limits, therefore, and as far as morality goes, we have as real a control over our thoughts as over our actions or our limbs. This being conceded, nothing remains but to consider some of the reasons and motives which should induce us to exert this power wisely and effectually, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
I. Consider how much the thought’s have to do in forging and determining the whole character. “Thought,” says an eloquent writer, “is the rudder of human action. As the thought is wise or foolish, good or bad, vicious or moral, the cause of action is noxious or salutary. When, therefore, I am told it is but a thought, I am told that it is the most important of all things.” Tell me what are a man’s thoughts, and you do not tell me what he will actually do, but you tell me what he would like to do. Tell me what are a man’s thoughts, and you do not tell me what he is in the judgment of the world, for the world judges by the outward appearance. Thoughts have been called “the seeds of conduct”; but they are more than this. They are seeds which have already begun to germinate under ground; they have begun to develop their natural and essential properties. In this way the whole character may be covertly undermined. Melancholy instances of this description occur, from time to time, in what is regarded as the sudden fall of men who have hitherto enjoyed the entire confidence of the community. These men have been falling for years in the slow decay of all upright purpose and thought.
II. It will help us to understand how this can be, and at the same time strengthen our general conviction as to the necessity of controlling our thoughts, if we consider that every sin begins in a sin of thought; that is to say, in some vicious purpose or intention, and often in meditating, over and over again, when at length we are emboldened to do. As a general rule, it is only after frequently revolving crime in their minds that men find the resolution, or rather the hardihood, to commit it. Take, for example, the crimes of envy, jealousy, and malice; who does not know how often a man will wish evil to another, and imagine ways in which he would like to do him evil, before he arrives at the point of putting any one of his fancied schemes in practice? The same is also true of acts of fraud and dishonesty. Actual transgression, when first proposed, is never in itself agreeable to our nature, but always more or less revolting. A strong instinctive aversion must be overcome before we can go on. Our sense of repugnance to the crime has been blunted by familiarity. And here it is that the demoralising influence of ill-regulated thought appears.
III. Hence a third consideration which should impress us with the necessity of governing our thoughts is, that unless the restraint is laid there it is not likely to be effectual. Because we maintain the sinfulness of bad thoughts, it does not follow that we must push this doctrine to the extent of asserting that the thought of sin is as bad as the deed. Unquestionably it is not. The actual perpetrator of a crime is guilty of a double offence, that of desiring to do it, and that of not restraining the desire. Nay, more; if the evil thought is suggested from without, and immediately disowned and rejected from within, it will depart and leave no stain. The guilt of evil thoughts does not consist in our having them, but in our indulging them. Let the check be put upon the thought, and we not only prevent the sin from coming to maturity, but we take the character of sin from its first beginnings; that is to say, we turn what would otherwise have been a temptation yielded to, which is sin, into a temptation overcome, which is virtue. Those, on the contrary, who indulge the thought, and yet rely on their power and resolution to prevent it from passing into act, do miserably miscalculate their strength. As has been said, “There can be no doubt with any reflecting mind but that the propensities of our nature must be subject to regulation; but the question is, where the check ought to be placed--upon the thought, or only upon the action?“ After all, the weightiest consideration which should lead us to govern our thoughts is that which religion suggests; they are known unto God, who will call them into judgment at the last day. Something, doubtless, would be gained, as regards the duty in question, if we would merely give heed to that apothegm of Pagan wisdom, “Reverence thyself.” For he who knowingly tolerates in himself what he would be ashamed to have others know, shows that he has less respect for his own good opinion than for that of the world. The mind, the soul, will go on thinking still, even in its disembodied state, and thinking as it did here, and takes its place according to the spirit and tendency of its thoughts. Is not this what the Scriptures mean when they say, “Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God”? (J. Walker, D. D.)
The captivity of thought
I. The power of thought. The greatest on earth is man, the greatest in man is mind, the great function of mind is to think.
1. The ability to think is man’s great distinction. By this, man seems to be distanced from every other creature by an impassable gulf; for, if other creatures have built the way which leads up to man, it is one they have not been able to follow.
2. Thought is the instrument of all man’s work. Within creaturely limits it is a power of creation. Consider what it has already accomplished, what is still being done by it, and what prophecies of work continue ceaselessly to proceed from man’s busy brain.
3. Thought is also the great material with which we work. All work is the working out and working up of thought. We sometimes hear men talk of being used-up. He only can be used-up who has not learned to use himself.
4. Thought gives value to everything.
(1) Works of skill are costly. Skilled labour commands the highest market price. And as the world completes its history thought will be more and more in demand. In all great crises the man of thought will come to the front.
(2) The value of thought, too, is seen in its power--when wisely directed--of control over the inferior powers. A man of rightly-directed thought cannot well be a low, bad man. Earnest and well-chosen engagement of mind disengages the body from every excess, and disqualifies it for low pursuits.
II. For our thoughts to have this value, we must learn to lead them.
1. Thought unled, like an unbroken animal, will be drawn hither and thither by the allurements of the senses; or left, passively subject to external influences and circumstances, to vegetate but not to bear fruit; for there is no order in the thought of an undisciplined mind, consequently no harvest--no accumulation of thought and its results.
2. If a man does not lead his thoughts, some other power will, the world, the flesh, or the devil, or all these powers combined. Now, the central character of the power of our thoughts makes it a first necessity that we should lead them, if we are to remain in possession of ourselves. Thought determines the man. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It arrests the attention, awakens feeling, inflames the passions, subdues the will, and commands action. Thoughts, therefore, unled will be to a man what winds and waves are to a ship under canvas but without a rudder, or what steam is to an engine without the guiding rail--a driving and destructive power.
3. What is so important, then, as that we should have power over our thoughts, that we should be able to choose them, to select those we wish to retain, and to dismiss those we would banish; that we should be able to hold and fix arrested thoughts, infuse them with our will, and work in and by them our good pleasure.
III. If we would lead our thoughts, we must know how to make them interesting. The mind readily places itself at the service of the heart. To master the details of any subject in which we are not truly interested is an irksome task. But when we take to a subject, with what eagerness we pursue it! The mind readily labours for what interests the heart. The heart lives with its treasure, and surrounds it with habitual thought. These thoughts repeat themselves so frequently that they soon become established. We should mark those thoughts which come unbidden, and ascertain their right to the place they seek to occupy. And we cannot do this too soon, for thoughts which occupy the heart become impassioned, and are difficult to dismiss, though they may be such as it ill becomes us to cherish; and, if not at once dismissed, become habitual.
IV. How may we lead our thoughts into captivity? Thought cannot be forced. To lead it we must observe the nature of the mind, which is susceptible of influence, but not of force. Our leading, therefore, must not be arbitrary, but in accordance with law and order--truth and justice. There is nothing more repugnant to the mind than the tyranny of wilfulness; but the appeal of law and order accords with its nature, and awakens their own deep-laid echoes in answering assent. To lead our thoughts, then, we must simply ask for obedience to an authority which, though it speaks without, appeals to its own “Amen“ within us. But to what authority?
1. To that of conscience. Paul only sought to enforce that which “commended itself to the conscience in the sight of God.” Man’s conscience is endowed with that power of judgment which makes him responsible for an obedience according to the light. Our thoughts must be led by our consciences.
2. The Divine Word. This has its correspondence in the conscience, as the light has its corresponding faculty in the eye which witnesses of the designed agreement between them. The Word of God, by awakening the conscience, awakens a power to whose judgment it submits the claims of its authority. But it is a higher authority than conscience. Conscience is corruptible, and has been corrupted. The Word is “incorruptible,” and “liveth and abideth for ever.” It faithfully represents the judgment of God, and enables the spirit, which is given to every man, when once awakened, to see things in His light--even the deep things of God. The spirit in the child has an ear which knows the Father’s voice, and an eye which discerns His light, and is the child’s capacity for being taught of God. Under the inherited corruption that is in the flesh, and the influence of the vain pageantry of “the course of this world,” the conscience is dead, and needs to be quickened and enlightened by “the Word, which is quick and powerful,” etc.
3. He who speaks in the Word. He is the last authority because, without the Word which addresses the conscience through the ear, we should be ignorant of Him. With light everywhere, men know not God. “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” whose minds “the god of this world hath blinded“ lest “the light of God should shine unto them.” It is through “the foolishness of preaching” that He is revealed to us as a God of attractive goodness and mercy. In Jesus Christ “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory,” etc. In Him we have, though last, our highest authority for the obedience of our thoughts. And when He is once seen, like the risen sun, He accounts for and claims as His all the light that preceded Him. He is the centre and source of every attraction. With His reign set up in the heart, submission becomes a devotion, obedience a worship, and the whole life moves in charmed circles of rectitude and peace. The powers of His life, His light, His love are, therefore, “the weapons of a warfare” which are “mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds,” etc. How blessed it is to know that there is a way for our thoughts, a way having all the authority of law, the satisfaction of truth, the charm of goodness, the promise of stability, and the certainty of perpetual progress! A right, royal, central way, which conducts to the centre of all blessedness! How blessed it is to know that this way is His, whose “counsel standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations,” who can cleanse the thoughts of our heart by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and who has undertaken to do so as “the Captain of our salvation.” Admit Him to our hearts, and He will lead our thoughts captive, not by force, but by the love He inspires. But, in order thus to lead our thoughts, He draws us not merely “with cords of love” but also by “the bands of a man“--by influences in harmony with the laws of our nature. He knows we are amenable to reason, that we carry an echo truth can awaken, that we respond to goodness and yield to mercy. By appealing, therefore, to our several powers in accordance with their own freedom of action, we are made willing in the day of His power, and yield ourselves up to His sway. (W. Pulsford, D. D.)
The government of the thoughts necessary to holiness
Christianity is sometimes spoken of as the revelation of a plan by which the guilty may be pardoned, and sinners be saved. Thank God this is gloriously true. A truer designation of Christianity is, that it is the divinely offered means for exalting the debased character of fallen man to a fitness for the enjoyment of God and the blessedness of His presence in eternity. Again, Christianity is sometimes treated of as a scheme for improving the character and elevating the morals of mankind. It is certainly not a difficult matter for persons well brought up to be moral in their conduct and honest in their dealings. The light of conscience is abundantly sufficient for withholding us from the commission of numberless vices, and impelling us to the cultivation of some of the most exalted virtues. It is obvious, therefore, that if Christianity aimed at nothing higher than to excite our belief in certain truths, and to elevate our conduct to a certain standard, a very unnecessary expenditure of suffering has been endured for a purpose that might have been attained had Jesus Christ never suffered and His apostles never preached. But God never does employ any means but for an end fully worthy of them. That end is the one expressed in the text. “Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Yes, the gospel goes as no other teaching does, or can, to the hidden man of the heart. It came from God, and it has to do with that in us which constitutes our resemblance to God--the soul. What a work is this! Who that knows anything of his own heart, knows not the difficulty of restraining, controlling, governing, fixing, directing his thoughts and feelings? and our thoughts and feelings are ourselves--the actions, the movements of our souls. We are not so much what our actions are (for ten thousand motives may prompt our actions), but what our thoughts are, what our intentions, purposes, feelings, wishes, aims are. This, then, is true religion, to have every thought brought into captivity “to the obedience of Christ.” All below it may be amiable, but is not Christianity. “Our thoughts are heard in heaven.” Our thoughts are God’s rule, God’s standard for judging of our character, and fixing of our destiny; our words are but the expression of our thoughts, and our actions but embodied thoughts. Then only do we know what true Christianity is when we acknowledge its supremacy over the movements of our inmost souls. I exhort you to give to the gospel its righteous demands. Religion must have its proper place within us--or none. To give it a subordinate authority is even to pour contempt upon its author, assuredly to deprive ourselves of its promised bliss.
I. The nature of true religion is well expressed. To bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Not that it is meant that every thought of our minds is to be about religion, or that the will of Christ is always to be had directly in view, or the presence of Christ always perceptibly felt. Nothing so impracticable. This is a blessedness reserved for the faithful above. Yet an approach to it is implied and may be made. I speak of the really godly; Christ is enthroned in their affections. Just as gain holds in captivity every thought of the covetous man, or ambition of the worldly man, or pleasure of the man of fashion, or lust of the sensualist; just as music, or painting, or literature of the man of taste, even though ten thousand thoughts, independent of his predominating passion, pass through his mind, and direct his walk--so is it with the man of God. Christ holds in captivity every thought of the Christian. “To him to live is Christ.” His ruling passion, his prevailing taste, his one great work, is religion. He may have many worldly duties to discharge, but he has not in any a thought or a feeling at variance with the will of Christ. For him to be reconciled to sin, nay not to abhor it in all its phases and disguises, would be as contrary to his new nature as for a musician to be insensible to the charms of harmony or the jarring of discords. Religion with him is not only an appointed work, but a ruling passion, a Divine, a heaven-born taste. Like every other passion or taste (call it which you will), it may require many a strong effort of the mind, demand many a sacrifice, impose much self-denial. Seasons indeed there are in a true believer’s experience when the influence of grace is as powerfully felt as among the redeemed above. Then is the triumph of religion, and then too is the believer’s enjoyment complete. But not only then is it that every thought of his breast is in “captivity to the obedience of Christ,” even his most worldly occupations are under the blessed influence of His loving spirit. Pride, selfishness, anger, jealousy, malice, lust, are prohibited from entering the holy habitation of his heart. Such is true religion, and these are its fruits.
II. The means for making this attainment. Mighty as the change from our natural condition is to that implied by the word of the text, one thing, and but one thing can effect it, can reduce our souls to obedience, can reconcile us to God, and bring “every thought into captivity“--the Cross, the Cross of Christ, seen, approached, embraced. The life that flows from that death alone can quicken us to submit to His authority who endured it on our behalf. But the difficulty is to bring our souls within the influence of the Cross, within the range of its transforming energy. This can only be done by--
1. Devout meditation on your own soul’s worth, its powers, capabilities, and eternal duration; the present degradation of living without God in the world, and the unutterable misery of being separated from His presence in eternity. Meditate on the holiness of God, the heinousness of sin, and the fearfulness of that curse which its commission provokes. Then look up to the Cross and meditate on the love of Christ as exhibited in the atoning death.
2. Be much in prayer for grace to give you so lively an impression, to set and keep before you so vivid a perception of the love and power of Christ crucified, as may subdue your soul into obedience and love, and unite all its powers into one great and lasting effort to glorify His name.
3. Be diligent in good works. These, as we abound in them liberally, affectionately, self-denyingly, have a wonderful power in clarifying our spiritual vision; yes, and in perfecting our whole moral nature.
4. Be constant in the means of grace. These are instruments of even almighty power for saving and perfecting our souls in righteousness.
III. The blessedness of “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Verily, their “peace“ shall be “as a river,” and “their righteousness as the waves of the sea.” They shall be safe from evil and from the fear of evil. “His faithfulness and truth,” whose captives they are, shall be their ”shield and buckler.” Unmoved by trying providences, unfermented by earthly passions, unharassed by worldly cares, unsubdued by Satan’s temptations, they shall pass on their way heavenward in peaceful hope. The pleasures of sense and the promises of sin shall lose their power even to tempt and allure, by reason of the increasing fascinations which those of holiness are felt to impart. (T. Nunns, M. A.)
The subjection of the heart to Christ
The kingdom of heaven is in your hearts. But your hearts, too, are not like a single citadel, but rather a wide, diversified country. Does the kingdom occupy only a narrow space of hardly won ground, or does the royal standard float over every stronghold, and do the King’s writs run through all the wide region peopled by your purposes? Not until then, not till the sway of Christ commands every motion of our wills, not till He has imprisoned every rebellious desire and exiled every turbulent intention, not till He has conquered every ambition that threatens His throne with rivalry, not till our whole nature is a loyal realm, obedient to His sceptre, dare we cease with all earnestness of supplication to uplift the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” (C. A. Vince, M. A.)
Unreserved surrender to Christ
I remember reading--I think it was in the Indian Mutiny--of a siege which the British army conducted, how they captured, after long fighting, the walls of the city they had besieged; but the native garrison within only slowly retreated, fighting their way step by step, until at last they entrenched themselves in the citadel, and there defied the British troops. So it is with us. Self may be beaten by Christ in the outworks of life; it may retreat from Christ, until all the soul is open to Christ save one little room. Hold one thing back, you hold all; yield one thing you yield all. Yes, a man’s cross is just that which he finds it most difficult to yield. (G. S. Barrett, B. A.)
Christ must be our absolute Monarch
When we are in the right condition Christ and not self occupies the centre of our being. Then it is that He reigns with unhindered sway as King within. The writer not long since heard one who had been a Christian many years describe the nature of the blessing he had recently received in the following words: “I had heard of Christ being King. Well, He had reigned in me, but it was only as a constitutional sovereign. I was Prime Minister, and I did a good deal of the work myself. Then I found that He must be absolute Monarch. And so now He is.” (E. Hopkins, M. A.)
The victory of Christ over thought
I. This gospel is to bring the thoughts of men into subjection to Christ. Christianity recognises man as a thinking being, “bringing into captivity every thought.” The thought of man may be regarded--
1. As the distinguishing attribute of his nature. It distinguishes man from the brute creation and assimilates him to God and fits him to enjoy Him for ever. Now--
2. As the great parent of his character. Man is what his thoughts are. If his thoughts be false, his character is false; if his thoughts be in harmony with the everlasting laws of God, his character will be so too. If a man thinks feebly, his character will be feeble; if he thinks vigorously, independently and progressively, his character will be the same.
3. As the chief instrument of his influence. Every other influence is utterly insignificant when compared with this. The corrupting influences of the world are only to be removed by the action of free and loving thought upon them. The death of mind is its departure from God. You cannot point to a country where some of the ideas of Jesus are not. Sometimes we take discouraging views of the progress of Christianity, but we should remember that the thoughts of Christ are mixed with the literature, the philosophy, the legislation, the commerce of the world. Is it not a glorious office of Christianity to bring these thoughts into captivity?
II. How does Christ captivate minds?
1. By arousing them into life and action. A man’s religion is valuable just in proportion as it engages his intense, solemn, and prayerful thought. The first action of Christ on the mind is to make us think.
2. By removing obstacles. “Strongholds” must be pulled down; “imaginations” or false reasonings must be cast down. What is the great hindrance to the subjection of mind to Christ? Human depravity--sin. But in what form does it manifest itself?
(1) Sensuousness--materialism. Sensuousness took Adam away from his allegiance, deluged the old population, broke up the Jewish nation, first degraded and then destroyed virtue in Greece, and overthrew Rome. Sensuousness is the dominion of the flesh over the spirit; the despotism of matter over mind. This is the most gross form of opposition to Christianity, the most common, and probably the most fatal. There is hope of men while they think, but there is no hope for men if they have sunk into sensuousness.
(2) False philosophy--the spirit of all wrong systems, which generally develops itself in scepticism.
(3) Religious superstition which substitutes mechanical action for mental activity.
(4) Secular authority.
1. Have you given your thoughts to Christ?
2. What are we to do to bring other minds to Christ? (Caleb Morris.)
2 Corinthians 10:8-10
For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority.
God’s gift of special power to man
The “authority” of which the apostle here speaks was, in all probability, a supernatural endowment (Acts 13:8-11; Acts 14:8-10; Acts 15:9-12). Having this power, he was superior even to the ablest of his censors, and he felt that should he “boast somewhat” of this there was no reason for him to be ashamed. Note that such special gift--
I. Is under man’s control. Paul’s language seems to imply that he might or might not use his “authority”; it did not infringe in any way his freedom of action. God has given exceptional power to some men, to Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Peter, etc.; but in all cases it seemed to leave them free to use it or not, to use it in this direction or in that. The Maker and Manager of the universe respects evermore the free agency of His rational and moral offspring. We may enslave ourselves, but He will not, and will always treat us as responsible for all we do.
II. Its design is usefulness. “The Lord has given us for edification,” etc.
not to pull down, but to build up. Usefulness is the grand end of our existence! We are formed not to injure, but to bless. Alas, how extensively men pervert these high gifts of heaven!
II. It is no protection from malice. Though Paul was so distinguished by signal endowments, he was nevertheless the subject of envy and slander (2 Corinthians 10:10). So with Moses and the prophets. The more distinguished a man is for gifts and graces, the more he is exposed to the detraction and hatred of others. It was so with Christ Himself. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak.--
The Corinthian criticism of St. Paul
is really of moral import, although it has been read in a physical sense. It does not say anything at all about the apostle’s physique, or about his eloquence or want of eloquence; it tells us that (according to these critics), when he was actually present at Corinth, he was somehow or other ineffective, and when he spoke there people simply disregarded him. An uncertain tradition no doubt represents Paul as an infirm and meagre person, and it is easy to believe that to Greeks he must sometimes have seemed embarrassed and incoherent in speech to the last degree (what, e.g., could have seemed more formless to a Greek than 2 Corinthians 10:12-18?). Nevertheless, it is nothing like this which is in view here. It is simply this--as a man bodily present he could get nothing done; he talked, and nobody listened. It is implied that this criticism is false, and Paul bids any one who makes it consider that what he is in word by letters when be is absent, that he will also be in deed when he is present. The double role of potent pamphleteer and ineffective pastor is not for him. To this kind of criticism every preacher is obnoxious. An epistle is, so to speak, the man’s words without the man, and such is human weakness that they are often stronger than the man speaking in bodily presence. The character of the speaker, as it were, discounts all he says, and when he is there and delivers his message in person, the message itself suffers an immense depreciation. This ought not to be, and with a man who cultivates sincerity will not be. He will be as good as his words; his effectiveness will be the same whether he writes or speaks. Nothing ultimately counts in the work of a Christian minister but what he can say and do and get done when in direct contact with living men. In many cases the modern sermon really answers to the epistle as it is referred to in this sarcastic comment; in the pulpit, people say, the minister is impressive and memorable; but in the ordinary intercourse of life, and even in the pastoral relation, where he has to meet people on an equal footing, his power quite disappears. He is an ineffective person, and his words have no weight. When this is true, there is something very far wrong; and though it was not true in the case of Paul, there are cases in which it is. To bring the pastoral up to the level of pulpit work--the care of individual souls and characters to the intensity and earnestness of study and preaching--would be the saving of many a minister and many a congregation. (J. Denney, B. D.)
2 Corinthians 10:11-18
Such as we are in word … will we be also in deed.
The vital in character, foolish in judgment, dishonourable in conduct, and supreme in obligation
I. A trait of character that is vital (2 Corinthians 10:11). The apostle claims for himself thorough and inflexible honesty. His enemies implied that he would not say in their presence what he wrote in his epistles. He denies this. A good man is incarnate honesty, always, everywhere, and with all. A splendid attribute of character this, albeit rare. Truculency and time-serving are, alas! rampant; they are a cancer that is eating up the life of the social body.
II. A judgment of self that is foolish (2 Corinthians 10:12).
1. They had represented Paul as cowardly. With oblique irony he says, “We dare not make ourselves of the number,” as if he had said, “Of course we cannot compare ourselves with men of your transcendent courage.” Satire is often a serviceable element in conveying truth; it cuts its way into the heart, and makes the nerves of self-conceit quiver,
2. But the point to be noticed is contained in the last clause of the verse, that is their foolish test of self-judgment, viz., the character of others. Nothing can be more unwise than for a man to make the character of another the standard by which to try his own, because--
(1) It would lead to a wrong estimate of self. The best of men are imperfect, and conformity to them would leave us far from what we ought to be.
(2) It will exert a pernicious influence. It will nurse vanity in the soul. Those who are conspicuously vain have their settled society among those who are inferior to themselves. On the other hand, the presence of the great humbles us.
III. A conduct of ministers that is dishonourable (2 Corinthians 10:13-16).
1. The teachers at Corinth who were calumniating Paul had gone into his “measure” or province of labour; they had gone to the Church at Antioch, which he had founded, and to the Church at Galatia, now they were stirring up strife at Corinth. They did not break up fresh ground. Paul did so everywhere; his commission was to the whole Gentile world; therefore he did not “stretch” himself beyond his province; therefore he did not “boast of things” without his “measure,” or of other men’s labours.
2. The conduct which the apostle here deprecates is pursued in these times--
(1) In interfering in other men’s spheres of labour.
(2) In appropriating other ministers’ sermons,
IV. moral obligations that are supreme.
1. Glorying in the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:17). This implies--
(1) Supreme appreciation. We can only glory in that which we value.
(2) Soul-appropriation. As a rule we can only “glory” in that which belongs to us. He who can say, “The Lord is my portion” may well glory.
2. Seeking the approval of the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:18). To please Him is our highest duty and sublimest happiness (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The false and true method of estimating men
I. The false and true method of estimating the character of others (2 Corinthians 10:13).
1. To judge by public report is a wrong method. There was an impression in Corinth that not only was Paul’s “bodily presence” contemptible, but that his letters displayed a heroism of which the writer was destitute, and hence he was judged to be a boaster and charlatan. How common it is for people to judge by general report! But a miserably false standard of judgment is this. I have often received impressions concerning a person I have never seen, which a subsequent personal acquaintance has completely dispelled.
2. To judge by personal knowledge is the true method. “Wait, until I come, and you will find that I am true to the character of my letters.” A man’s letters, even when rightly interpreted, will not give a complete idea of the author. The author is greater than his book, and one hour with him will give a better idea of him than all the productions of his pen.
II. The false and true method of estimating our own characters.
1. The false method is comparing our own character with the character of others (verse 19).
(1) This is the general tendency of mankind. When we are accused we are prone to say we are not worse than so-and-so. A false standard this, because--
(a) The mass of mankind are corrupt.
(b) The best of men are more or less imperfect.
(c) There is only one perfect character--Jesus Christ.
(2) In these words Paul indicates--
(a) That it is a terrible thing thus to judge ourselves. “We dare not (are not bold enough) make ourselves of the number.” It is a terrible thing, for it leads to fearful issues.
(b) An unwise thing.
2. The true method is judging ourselves by the will of God (2 Corinthians 10:13). Though the apostle by the expression “rule which God hath distributed” primarily refers to the Divine limits or his apostolic work, as will appear again, the “rule” applies also to his personal character. God’s will is the standard or canon by which all characters are to be determined. Conclusion: “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 10:12
For we dare not … compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they measuring themselves by themselves … are not wise.
Two false standards of judgment
At the first reading we might scarcely see any distinction between the two faults spoken of. “Measuring themselves by themselve,” and “comparing themselves with themselves,” where is the difference? This habit of measuring self by self may arise from various causes.
1. It may arise from conceit. The man thinks himself perfect. Or, if not perfect--which no one says, or perhaps thinks--still sufficiently so for practical purposes. He needs no thorough remodelling; he may still be his own measure, though the measure itself may bear a little repairing to bring it up to statute and regulation. But the measuring of himself by himself may have another explanation.
2. Isolation will account for it. A man lives alone, does his own work, does not read, does not mix with others, never sees either self-denial or courage or patience or nobleness exemplified in life or action--how can he measure himself by any one or anything but himself?
3. A third account of it might be that sort of sluggishness and stupidity of the moral sense which acquiesces in the thing that is, thinks it will do, hopes all will come right. St. Paul does not “presume” or “deign” to make himself of the number. How palpably the opposite of that heroic soul which “counted not itself to have apprehended”! Self-measuring is one of the two faults, let us turn now to the other. “Comparing themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” Here the singular has become plural. The standard of the individual has become the standard of a multitude. The men spoken of compare themselves with themselves after all, only the self which they make their measure is a plural self, a composite self, a self of surroundings and circumstances, an “environment” of beings just like themselves, reflections of their own thought, their own principle, and their own judgment. This is, or may be, a less unlovely person than the former. He is no solitary, and he is no pendant, and he is no misanthrope. He does not profess himself the one wise man, or the one important man, or the one perfect. He is willing to let in some light upon the self-life. But it is a limited light. It is the light of his own little world. It may be a very little world. Some people--especially among the poor--pride themselves upon their littleness. They make it a merit not to go about houses. Men bound themselves by the workshop, the office, or the counting-house--women literally by the home. Yet within this fraction of the race multitudes of individual men and women are absolutely cribbed and cabined. They think within it, they judge within it, they act within it--worse still, they aspire within it. Not one idea comes to them but from it. St. Paul says that they who are described by either of these titles, self-measurers by self, or self-comparers with each other, “are not wise.” He might have put it more strongly. A man might be unwise, though applying a right standard to himself, because he was condemned by it, because he did not live up to it. But the man whose measure is self, or whose self-comparison is with other selves, as fallible and as prejudiced and as half-informed and as lazy-minded as himself, has no chance and no peradventure and no possibility of wisdom. He is on the wrong tack. “Measuring themselves by themselves, they are not wise.” What is to be done? Evidently self is the inordinate, the exaggerated, the overgrown thing. Self is here the thing which must be counteracted, combated, taught its place. “Measuring themselves by themselves,” they must be taught to measure themselves by something else. Almost anything will be a better standard. And now we must take the two men of the text, each by the hand, and bid them rise to a life higher for them both. We shall bid them to rest in no earthly heroism, and to acquiesce in no human example of virtue. We shall carry them on, without pause or dallying, to the contemplation of One in the presence of whose beauty and glory all such minor excellences pale and fade away. (Dean Vaughan.)
A wrong standard of measure
I. First, then, let us bring this question of comparison to the testing of character. We compare ourselves with others and say, “I am as good as ordinary Christians.” What is wanted is not just “ordinary Christians.” We ought each to pray with Wesley, “Lord, make me an extraordinary Christian.” Average Christians comparing themselves with average Christians may think they are about right.
II. Again, how practical this is for testing the measure of our self-sacrifice. Many people want to get to heaven as cheaply as they can. A man sees his neighbour do certain things on the Sabbath, therefore he claims a right to do them.
III. Once more, let this serve for testing the measure of our zeal and consecration in God’s service. As to work. Do you compare yourself with others? Are you ever tempted to say, “I do as much as my neighbour; I do not like to push myself forward; I never like to seem to take the lead!” Such feelings are born purely of a tendency to compare ourselves among ourselves. Let us try to be of the utmost use in the world.
I. The folly of adopting a false, worldly standard of character and conduct. The folly, viz., of--
1. Self-righteous reliance on ourselves, or our supposed excellences. See this in the parable of the Pharisee. “There is a generation pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filth.” Paul was once one of these Pharisees. “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” The death of legal hope became the life of evangelical obedience. The true Christian rests in Christ only and wholly.
2. Dependence on the opinion of mankind. A fatal indolence is apt to creep upon the soul when once it has attained the good opinion of religious men. Pursuit is at an end when the object is in possession. If at the judgment we were to be tried by a jury of fellow mortals, it would be but common prudence to secure their favour at any price.
3. Dependence on morality without religion. Society is a gainer from the absence of vice and the presence of virtue. We are, however, careful to mark the distinction between the morality which has for its only source the motives which begin and end in time, and that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, which has its root and origin in Christian motives and principles.
4. Dependence on religion without morality. Christianity must be received as a whole. Christianity is something more than a mere set of rules, it is a living principle of action. Faith works by love and purifies the heart. In acknowledging Christ as Redeemer we must not forget that He is Lawgiver.
II. The wisdom of adopting that standard of character which the gospel reveals.
1. As it regards the rule of our faith.
2. As it regards the test of practice. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Cliques in Church
“They measure themselves by themselves,” etc., they constitute a religious coterie, a sort of ring or clique in the Church, ignoring all but themselves, making themselves the only standard of what is Christian, and betraying by that very proceeding their want of sense. There is a fine liberality about this sharp saying, and it is as necessary now as in the first century. Men coalesce within the limits of the Christian community from affinities of various kinds--sympathy for a type or aspect of a doctrine, or liking for a form of polity; and as it is easy, so it is common, for those who have drifted like to like, to set up their own associations and preferences as the only law and model for all. They take the air of superior persons, and the penalty of the superior person is to be without understanding. The standard of the coterie--be it “evangelical,” “high church,” “broad church,” or what you please--is not the standard of God; and to measure all things by it is not only sinful, but stupid. In contrast to this Judaistic clique, who saw no Christianity except under their own colours, Paul’s standard is to be found in the actual working of God through the gospel. He would have said with Ignatius, only with a deeper insight into every word, “where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (J. Denney, B. D.)
2 Corinthians 10:13-16
We will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us.
The mission field admeasured
I. The field measured out for the labours of the preachers of the gospel.
1. The world. It was impossible for the apostle, with all his impulsive zeal, to go beyond his measure. Not that the world had been left without moral assistance from revelation. In the care of the Father of the spirits of all flesh, all nations have had an interest. The antediluvians enjoyed the benefits of all the revelations which were made in that first age. The long life of the patriarchs secured this. In the truths which were introduced by Noah into the new world, and the additional revelations, his sons were sharers; and that the whole might have been preserved is evident from the fact that many of them still exist. The vocation of Abraham was intended for the instruction of the world (Hebrews 11:10). The Jewish institute was designed for the benefit of the world (1 Kings 8:41-43). To all the world Christ sent His disciples; and to a great part they actually went. The continuance of the zeal of the first ages would have left no “regions beyond.”
2. Why, then, do we wonder at the mysteries of Providence, in leaving so many of our race to live without the gospel? God has not left them, but they have been left by their more highly favoured fellow-men. It is a mystery, not of Divine reprobation, but of human unfeelingness. The Jewish and Christian Churches, in succession, have incurred the guilt of unfaithfulness. If any person say this only shifts the difficulty, we may allow it. But why should we single this out as a peculiar mystery? Has not God made man dependent upon man in everything? Christians are the light of the world; and if we refuse to hold forth the word of life, then are we verily guilty concerning our brother.
II. The means by which those labours were directed.
1. The “measure of the rule“ refers to the line which marked out the racecourses, or that which was used in measuring land. The apostles were appointed to places by Him who knew where they might be best employed.
(1) Sometimes the direction was supernatural, as when Peter was taught by a vision and Paul by a man of Macedonia. Sometimes the Spirit of God spoke in an audible voice (Acts 8:29).
(2) In other cases--
(a) A strong impression was made upon the mind, as when Paul was “pressed in the spirit” to preach Christ in Corinth.
(b) They were directed by what appeared the most effectual means of promoting their great work. Thus Paul, in one of his journeys, purposed to return through Macedonia, and oftentimes to visit Rome.
(c) The peculiar moral wretchedness and want of some particular people affected them (Acts 17:16).
(d) They were led by the spirit of enterprise and experiment, and concluded from their success that the line had been stretched out.
2. These views are of importance from their connection with modern efforts. Too long have Christians dozed upon the pillow of lukewarmness, waiting to be roused to action by a miraculous summons.
(1) Our duty is as extensive as theirs. The command, “Go ye into all the world,” etc., has never been repealed.
(2) Have we no men “pressed in spirit“ as the apostles were? What about those Moravians who went into the West Indies, to sell themselves as slaves, that they might preach to the negroes? Did not God then stretch out their line? What about Carey and Dr. Coke?
(3) Did the first preachers meet with men like Gaius, zealous to encourage their labours? The revival of this disposition in the present day is another proof that our line is extending. Tens of thousands are ready to assist the mission work by their prayers and contributions.
(4) Did the apostle consider the sight of the superstitions of Athens a call to preach Jesus? The circumstance that the state of the heathen world is brought before us is our call to the same work.
(5) Did the apostles see in opportunities of access the hand of God stretching out their line? By what authority do we put a different construction upon the openings which are everywhere presented to us? Where have we no access? Does commerce see her lines extending in so many directions, and shall we be so blind as not to see that she marks the track which Christian zeal is to follow?
(6) Did the apostles contemplate their successes as the proof that God had directed their progress and assigned them their work? Where have modern missionaries laboured without substantial proofs of this kind?
III. The compassionate regard of the apostle for those nations which were not visited by the light of Christianity. His line had stretched as far as Corinth; and he now looks with anticipation into larger fields. And why? Because he knew their moral condition and subsequent danger, and that the gospel would save thousands who would not be saved without it. This is the case in regard to heathen nations now. What they were in the apostolic age they are now, and they ought to excite equal regards, They are regions of--
1. Darkness. That is so dense that the plainest morals are confounded, and the only way of reconciliation hidden.
2. Vain, inefficient superstitions. Many are ridiculous, but they have been laughed at too long, and we ought now to weep over them. They offer sacrifices which leave sin unatoned; they call on Baal, but he hears them not; they purify the body, but the polluted spirit retains all its foulness (Isaiah 44:20). Do we laugh at the ravings of lunacy? Do we scoff at the stumbles of the blind? Who, then, would not give light to them that sit in moral darkness, and wisdom to those who have no spiritual understanding?
3. Diabolical dominion (Romans 1:29-31).
4. Misery. “Happy is the people that have the Lord for their God.” Change the God and you reverse the effect.
IV. The manner in which the apostle connects his missionary enterprises with the co-operation of Christian churches (2 Corinthians 10:15).
1. The apostle supposes that the Corinthians were equally bound with him to the duty of enlarging the sphere of evangelical labour. We collect from this that as soon as a church is established in the faith, it is to become co-operative in exertions to spread the kingdom of Christ. As soon as its own lamp is trimmed, it is to be held forth to direct the steps of others.
2. But by what means can this enlargement be granted by you?
(1) By your friendly and affectionate feelings towards Christian missionaries. The word “enlarged” also signifies to extol, to praise. The missionary spirit ought to be held in high esteem. Can we more effectually damp the holy ardour by which it is characterised than by treating it with lightness and coldness?
(2) By considering the cause your own. You should identify yourselves with it.
(3) By your prayers.
(4) By your counsels and contributions. In these respects the first Christians were “fellow-helpers to the truth”; and they have left us an example. (R. Watson.)
For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure.
The true sphere of human usefulness and the source of human glory
I. The true sphere of human usefulness.
1. It is a sphere in which we are placed by Divine appointment. Paul teaches that his sphere of labour at Corinth was according to God’s will (2 Corinthians 10:14). “I am not come to Corinth merely by my own inclinations, or as a matter of impulse or caprice, or as an intruder. I am licensed by God to this sphere.”
2. The consciousness that we are in this sphere is a just reason for exultation. “Not boasting of things without our measure.” Paul’s opponents boasted of their influence in the Church which he had founded, whereas his rejoicing was that he was doing the work of God in the sphere to which he had been sent.
3. It is a sphere which widens with our usefulness. The increase of their faith would lead to an enlargement of his sphere of labour. The true method of extending the sphere of labour to which we have been sent is by the multiplication of our converts.
II. The true source of human exultation. Paul boasted--
1. Not in crediting himself with the labours of other men. He did not “boast in another man’s line (province) of things made ready to our hand.” How common it is for men to credit themselves with the labours of others! In literature there are plagiarists, in scientific discoveries and artistic inventions there are unjust claimants, and even in religion one minister is often found to claim the good that others have accomplished. Paul was above this. The genius of Christianity condemns this mean and miserable dishonesty.
2. Not in self-commendation. “For not he that commendeth himself is approved.” That conscience approves of our conduct, though at all times a source of pleasure is not a true source of exultation; for conscience is not infallible.
3. But “in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)