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2 Corinthians 11:1-6
Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly.
The next two chapters are entirely occupied with the boastings of an inspired apostle; in the previous chapters we find him refuting separately each charge, till at last, as if stung and worn out at their ingratitude, he pours out, unreservedly, his own praises in self-vindication. All self-vindication, against even false accusations, is painful; not after Christian modesty, yet it may sometimes be a duty.
I. The excuses St. Paul offered for this mode of vindication.
1. It was not merely for his own sake, but for the sake of others (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). Clearly this was a valid excuse. To refuse to vindicate himself under the circumstances would have been false modesty. Notice two words here--
(1) “Jealousy.” This was not envy that other teachers were followed, but anxiety lest they might lead the disciples astray. He was jealous for Christ’s sake, not his own.
(2) “Simplicity.” Now people suppose this means what a child or a ploughman can understand: but in this sense Paul was not simple. St. Peter says there are things hard to be understood in his epistles. We often hear it alleged against a book or a sermon that it is not simple. But if it is supposed that the mysteries of God can be made as easy of comprehension as a newspaper article or a novel, we say that such simplicity can only be attained by shallowness. “Simple” means unmixed, or unadulterated. We have an example in those Judaisers who said, “Except ye be circumcised, ye cannot be saved”: they did not deny the power of the Cross: they said something was to be mixed with it.
2. It was necessary. Character is an exceedingly delicate thing, that of a Christian man especially so. It is true no doubt, to a certain extent, that the character which cannot defend itself is not worth defending, and that it is better to live down evil reports. But if a character is never defended, it comes to be considered as incapable of defence. Besides, an uncontradicted slander may injure our influence. And therefore St. Paul says boldly, “I am not a whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles.” Some cannot understand this. But Christian modesty is not the being or affecting to be ignorant of what we are. If a man has genius, he knows he has it. If a man is falsely charged with theft, there is no vanity in his indignantly asserting that he has been honest all his life long. Christian modesty consists rather in this--in having before us a sublime standard, so that we feel how far we are from attaining to that. Thus we can understand Paul saying that he is “not behind the chiefest of the apostles,” and yet that he is “the chief of sinners.”
II. The points of which St. Paul boasted.
1. That he had preached the essentials of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). His matter had been true, whatever fault they might have found with his manner. St. Paul told them that, better far than grace of language, etc., was the fact that the truth he had preached was the essential truth of the gospel.
2. His disinterestedness (2 Corinthians 11:7). St. Paul had a right to be maintained by the Church, “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” And he had taken sustenance from other churches, but he would not take anything from the Corinthians, simply because he desired not to leave a single point on which his enemies might hang an accusation. There is something exquisitely touching in the delicacy of the raillery with which he asked if he had committed an offence in so doing. He asked them whether they were ashamed of a man of toil. Here is great encouragement for those who labour; they have no need to be ashamed of their labour, for Christ Himself and His apostle toiled for their own support. The time is coming when mere idleness and leisure will be a ground for boasting no more, when that truth will come out in its entireness, that it is the law of our humanity that all should work, whether with the brain or with the hands, and when it will be seen that he who does not or will not work, the sooner he is out of this work-a-day world of God’s, the better.
3. His sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). It is remarkable that St. Paul does not glory in what he had done, but in what he had borne; he does not speak of his successes, but his manifold trials for Christ.
4. His sympathy (2 Corinthians 11:29). This power of entering into the feelings of every heart as fully as if he himself had lived the life of that heart, was a peculiar characteristic of St. Paul. To the Jew he became as a Jew, etc. Conclusion: All these St. Paul uses as evidences of his apostolic ministry, and they afford high moral evidence of the truth of Christianity. It gives quite a thrill of delight to find that this earth has ever produced such a man as St. Paul. He was no fanatic, but was calm, sound, and wise. And if he believed, with an intellect so piercing, so clear, and so brilliant, he must indeed be a vain man who will venture any longer to doubt. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy.--
I. Its grounds and reasons.
1. It was lest their minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). Many, like the Galatians, begin in the Spirit, and end in the flesh. Professors of religion are evermore in danger of being tossed to and fro, etc. (Ephesians 4:14).
2. It was lest an increasing lukewarmness should prepare the way for greater departures from truth and purity. Persons may retain the doctrines of the gospel, and yet lose the spirit of it.
3. It respected the outward deportment, as well as the dispositions of the mind. Men may turn grace into wantonness, and use their liberty as an occasion to the flesh. Corruption is not so mortified in the best of men as to preclude the necessity of watchfulness and godly jealousy.
4. It was founded in his knowledge of the depravity of human nature. He himself found it necessary to keep his body under, etc.; and the same principle excites his jealousy and fear with respect to others (1 Corinthians 9:27). The best of men are but men at the best.
5. It was derived from his acquaintance with the stratagems and the strength of the great enemy. He himself had a messenger of Satan to buffet him; and what he had felt himself, made him fear for others (verse 3). None but Jesus could say, The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in Me.
6. It was justified by various instances of defection in the apostle’s time (1 Corinthians 10:6).
7. It was augmented by the apostle’s peculiar relations with the Church. He had espoused them as a chaste virgin to Christ, and should he at last be disappointed in them, it would be to him a matter of inexpressible grief, and to them of shame and dishonour (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:8).
II. Its peculiar properties.
1. It proceeded from the purest motives, from a sanctified heart, and was marked with sincerity and truth. He who was jealous over others, was not negligent of himself. Many indulge in what they condemn in others, and by making a virtue of their fidelity, intend it as a substitute for all other virtues.
2. It was expressed not with rancour and malice, but the greatest good-will. The apostle had learned of Him who was meek and lowly in heart, and did not indulge his own prejudices under a pretended zeal for religion.
3. It had for its object the promotion of true godliness. He was not only zealously affected, but it was in a good thing, and to answer the best of purposes. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Jealousy is sensitive aliveness to any abatement or transference of affection. There is a sense in which God Himself is said to be jealous over His people. For God will endure no rival. And the faithful ambassador may be allowed to indulge his Master’s feeling. It was such a sentiment that filled the heart of Paul here. Note--
I. The work of a faithful minister. There is a delicacy in the figure employed, viz., that souls who are brought into covenant with God in Christ are betrothed to Him. And the ministers of Christ are represented as the friend of the Bridegroom, who transacts between the Bridegroom and His future bride, and bespeaks her and betroths her to the Bridegroom against the nuptial day. We have a beautiful illustration in the mission of the faithful servant of Abraham. This is the minister’s highest and holiest function.
II. His hope and purpose--“that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” At the coming of Christ to have a goodly company of saved souls. What an expectation past all that our poor hearts can conceive! That those whom he has sealed with the seal of Christ in baptism; that those whom he has warned, rebuked, exhorted with all longsuffering, may be preserved, undefiled, uncorrupted, from the simplicity that is in Christ; that is the goal to which he must ever look. All short of this cannot content an earnest minister’s mind. That they should respect and love Him; that they should be regular in frequenting the house of the Lord, etc. All this is in its place important; but all comes short of his desire and prayer.
III. His consequent duty. To watch over his people with a godly jealousy. Not with an unhallowed or unfriendly jealousy; not with a censorious and a suspicious spirit. It is not the prerogative of ministers to judge. On the contrary, it is for them to have all longsuffering and charity--they need it themselves, and they should exercise it in the Church. But they are jealous for their Master. And if they see any who profess Christ’s name falling into error in doctrine or viciousness in life, then the minister ought to be jealous for the honour of Christ and for the souls of his people. It is a godly jealousy; it comes from God, it is unto God. The man who is jealous for his own party and sect, alas, for him! Surely we may fear lest your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christi! How many have corrupted it by observances that the gospel requires not, and that its spirit is at variance with! And how many are departing from the simplicity of their trust in God’s holy Word as their only foundation of faith, and Jesus as their only resting-place! How many there are, too, who are drawn aside into wordly conformity! (H. Stowell, M. A.)
I have espoused you to one husband, that I may betroth you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
The soul’s espousal to Christ
I. Ministers are entrusted with this great work.
1. Consider this match betwixt Christ and His people.
(1) The first degree of it was the purpose of it, in the heart of God, from all eternity.
(2) Impediments are next removed. Justice says, there can be no match betwixt God and guilty man till I be satisfied. The law says, they are mine, and I will not part with them, till death part us. Truth says, God Himself made this marriage betwixt them and the law, and therefore they cannot be married to another, unless first death dissolve the marriage. But the designed Bridegroom removes these impediments by His obedience to the law, and by His death in our nature and in our stead (Galatians 2:20). The sinner dies to the law in Christ, and the law dies to the sinner (Romans 7:4). And so the parties being thus dead, the truth of God has nothing to object against the purpose of this new marriage.
(3) The contract is written and ready for the subscribing. There are two things in the contract--
(a) Christ’s consent to match with poor sinners (Revelation 22:17).
(b) The dowry promised to the bride (Romans 8:32). A large maintenance and a good house (John 14:3).
Yea, the contract is subscribed by the Bridegroom and His Father (Jeremiah 31:33). The contract is also sealed. “This cup,” saith the Bridegroom, “is the new testament in My blood.” All this before famous witnesses (1 John 5:7-8). The whole is registered in this Bible.
(4) The courting of the bride in order to gain her consent. And this is managed in two places.
(a) Christ comes into her mother’s house, to the public ordinances, and there He, by His ambassadors, courteth her consent.
(b) Christ comes into the chambers of the heart, and then there is a heart conference betwixt Christ and the soul, without which the former cannot prevail.
(5) The espousals. The soul being overcome, gives its consent to take Christ for a husband, renouncing all others. The soul makes choice of Christ. With the whole soul, the soul makes choice of a whole Christ. Makes choice of Him all, for all, and instead of all.
(6) The espousals are in this life, at our believing the marriage is consummated in glory (Revelation 19:7). Now there is a time betwixt the espousals and marriage.
(a) This time is for the trial of the bride. The old lovers will come back again, and endeavour to recover her affections which they have lost, and often do they succeed.
(b) This interval is that the bride may make herself ready by making progress in sanctification.
2. What hand ministers have in this match.
(1) They are proxies for the Bridegroom, sent as Abraham’s servant, to seek a wife for their Master’s Son (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
(2) They are witnesses, though not to the formal consent, yet to that which imports a consent. They see how their message is entertained.
(3) They are the attendants of the bride, to adorn her for her husband. It is by the word that the espoused soul is made clean and fitted for Christ, as the Greek word in our text signifies.
(4) They present her to the Bridegroom at the last day (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
3. Why the Lord employs men in this great and honourable work.
(1) It is in condescension to our infirmities. If God had employed angels, how could we have looked upon them?
(2) It is very agreeable in that the Divine nature is united with the human in Christ, that men should deal with men.
(3) That God may have all the glory.
II. The great design of espousing sinners to christ is that they continuing chaste and faithful may at last be married to him.
1. What it is for the espoused to keep chaste.
(1) They must never be called by another name than their espoused husband (Hebrews 10:23).
(2) They must never go back to their former husband, for the soul that is really espoused to Christ, is divorced from idols, and lusts, and the law (Romans 7:2).
(3) Christ must always have their hearts.
(4) They must cleave to Christ over all the world’s smiles and frowns. They must neither be bribed nor driven from Him (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).
(5) They must be separated from the world: not only in their hearts, but in their practices (Revelation 14:4; Romans 12:2).
(6) They must be sincere and upright, Hypocrisy would spoil all. Our espoused Husband is a searcher of hearts.
2. The presenting to Christ of those that keep chaste.
(1) The time of it--it will be at the great day (Matthew 25:1-12).
(2) They, and they only, shall be presented. They that depart from Christ here shall be made to depart from Him there.
(3) The bride’s attendants. Angels that were witnesses to her espousals, shall also be witnesses to her marriage. Christ’s ministers shall say, “here are we, and the children Thou hast given us.”
(4) The place where the marriage shall be solemnised, that is the Bridegroom’s Father’s house, even in heaven. (T. Boston, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 11:3
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
I. The sources of man’s liability to yield to Satan’s influences.
1. The heart. Many of our strongest moral propensities remain undiscovered until the force of outward circumstances brings them into action. Moses knew nothing of his impatience; Hazael of his cruelty; Hezekiah of his pride; yet from their youth each one of these had been nourishing the seeds of these evil propensities in their hearts. “Search me, O God! and know my ways,” etc. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” etc.
2. The moral darkness which has come over our mental and moral faculties. True, God has left us still the directive light of conscience, but even on this pure light the shadow of the Fall rests; and, there is a danger, that even the very light which is within us may become darkness. There is nothing which more helps a man to mistaken views of his own condition before God, than a corrupted conscience. And then the effect for evil is the greater, because it enables a man to sin upon a plan, to ruin his own soul upon a system. “We have got conscience and reason on our side, what can God have given these lights to us for, if it were not to direct us the way He would have us go?” The answer, God has given us two lights--a greater light to rule the conscience, and a lesser light to rule the will. There is one greater light to which conscience must do homage, the light of the Word, of the Spirit, of Christ’s blessed example; and this lesser light of conscience, if it borrow not its flame from this sun of truth, will soon become corrupt and obscure. Paul’s conscience taught him to do many things contrary to the religion of Jesus of Nazareth.
II. The means by which this corrupting process is effected. Satan beguiles us--
1. By concealing the nature and effects of sin. His way is to bid us look at the fair side of temptation; he says nothing of the wormwood, and the gall.
2. By leaving us in ignorance of the magnetic and attractive power of sin, the way in which one sin drags another after it. No, the man is made to think that he can stop at any point he likes.
3. By teaching us to invent excuses for our own conduct. Such, e.g., as the habit of charging our fault upon others. He taught our first parents this lesson. And most of our excuses are as hollow as that of Aaron when he said, “The people gave me this gold, and I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” Again, are we conscious that as Christians we are living a low, worldly life? We begin to excuse ourselves by saying we were not blessed with godly parents as some were, our earliest influences were unfavourable, and we find it very hard to turn our usurped affections into a new channel now. And so with regard to our religious duties and exercises. “I would be more frequent in prayer,” a man will say, “more self-denying, more active in good works, but the cares of a family, and the demands of business interfere.” Do not doubt that this is the voice of the arch-impostor.
4. By the speciousness of a religious profession. Christianity has now a firm footing in the world, and a man endangers his character who does not pay to it the homage of outward respect. Yet this homage has caused men to mistake profession for practice, the name for the deed, the poor skeleton of a form of godliness for the living reality of its power. Conclusion: The great lesson must be the duty of diligent trying of our own spirits, a frequent proving of our own work, a prayerful and habitual inquiry into the state of our own souls before God. The simplicity that is in Christ--the simplicity of His doctrine, of His rule of life, is the test whereby we are to try ourselves whether we belong to Christ or not. (D. Moore, M. A.)
From the simplicity that is in Christ.--
The simplicity that is in Christ
The simplicity that is in Christ stands here contrasted with the subtilty of the serpent: and the instance given of the serpent’s subtilty illustrates what is meant by the simplicity which is opposed to it. In that first temptation, all on the part of God was abundantly simple; the command with the warning was simplicity itself. On the other hand, the subtilty of the tempter is apparent in the complex pleading which he holds with Eve. God has but one argument against eating; Satan has many for it; and there is no surer sign of subtilty than the giving of many reasons for what a single good one would better justify and explain. The simplicity that is in Christ may be discerned in every stage and department of His great salvation.
I. In His own finished work of righteousness and atonement. There is simplicity in Christ, as the Lord our righteousness, as the servant of the Father, and the substitute, surety, and saviour of the guilty. It was in this character that He came into the world: and with entire simplicity did He sustain it.
1. That there is nothing here that transcends man’s finite understanding, and baffles his restless curiosity--we are far from saying. But is there not a simplicity in it that comes home to the heart of a poor despairing sinner?
2. But it is the policy of Satan to mar it, and by his subtilty to corrupt your minds from the simplicity that is in Christ, and Him crucified. Hence the endless questions he has contrived to raise in connection with it.
II. In the free offer of the gospel as connected with it.
1. How simple in its freeness (Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17). How near does it bring Christ! (Romans 10:6-9). How very plain as well as pathetic is the Lord’s pleading with sinners! (2 Corinthians 5:20; Isaiah 1:18). How explicit, how unequivocal, are His assurances! (Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 33:11; John 6:37). How clear as it might seem beyond any sophistry is the declaration of the Lord’s will that all men should be saved.
2. Yet, it is here especially that Satan puts forth all his subtilty to beguile. How many reasons for doubt and unbelief does he contrive to set up against God’s one reason for believing. Here am I--a lost sinner. There is Christ, a living Saviour. It may be, Satan tells us, that you are not elected; that you may have committed the unpardonable sin. Or perhaps you are not convinced enough of your sin, or sorry enough for it; or perhaps you are not repenting, believing, praying aright. But it is upon no may-be that the blessed Lord invites you to commit your soul to Him. He has but one word to you. Let no subtilty of Satan corrupt your minds from the simplicity that is in the gospel offer of a free, a full, a present salvation.
III. In the completeness of believers as one with Jesus.
1. The apostle speaks to you as espoused to Christ; and we would be jealous over you, for duplicity now on your part towards Him is nothing short of spiritual adultery, and is sadly inconsistent with His simplicity towards you. And what, the apostle adds (2 Corinthians 11:4), would you have? Would you have one to come to you with another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel? Are ye so soon weary of the homely fare of the Lord’s kingdom that ye would look out for new and foreign dainties?
2. The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, causing her to be discontented with the simple profusion of Eden’s blessings and the simple tenure on which she held them. And the like spirit of discontent he would fain cherish in you in regard to the simplicity that is in Christ--the simplicity of a rich and royal liberality, alike in His gifts and in His manner of giving. How simple is His treatment of you, that are His. “Ye are complete in Him.” “All things are yours.” All that He has is yours upon the simple footing of your abiding in Him.
IV. In His guidance of you, as your captain and Example.
1. It is a guidance--
(1) According to the free spirit, and not the mere servile letter of the law.
(2) Through the motive, not of a servile dread of still impending wrath, but of love to Him who has first loved us.
(3) By the power of that Spirit abiding in us, who worketh in us, both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure.
(4) In the very steps of Him who hath left us an example. Surely there is great simplicity in such guidance as this.
2. But the subtilty of Satan, how manifold is it in this department.
(1) For the rule--oh it cannot always be the strict unbending morality of the Ten Commandments. All men except recluses know that allowances must be made in social life, and regard must be had to circumstances.
(2) Then the motive of all you do ought doubtless to be not servile fear, but filial love, and it is plain that this motive might prompt many a service and sacrifice. Still, practically, as things now are, it is a great matter if a Christian keep clear of what is positively forbidden, and if nothing palpably wrong can be established against him.
(3) So also as to the power, it is admitted vaguely and generally, that you have a promise of Divine aid. But this, alas! does not hinder a large measure of apologetic pleading of human frailty.
(4) And when we look to the pattern, how aptly does Satan teach us to evade the obligation of a full following of Christ, by suggesting that there are many things in which Christ, being Divine, must be admitted to be inimitable.
V. In connection with his second coming and glorious appearing.
1. As to all that is essential and influential, it would seem to be simple enough. The Lord cometh as our Judge. He cometh as our exceeding great reward. Thus regarded, it is practically a most influential hope; influential for its very simplicity. It sets you upon working, watching, waiting for the Lord. How simple and how blessed an attitude!
2. Yet here Satan has been expending not a little of his subtilty throughout all the ages of the Church’s history, sometimes hiding the doctrine, at other times complicating and embarrassing it with a variety of questions, scarcely, if at all, bearing on its real, vital and practical import. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
The simplicity that is in Christ
I. The simplicity. The word signifies “one-foldness.” It has manifold applications. It is opposed to what is difficult, double, compound, cunning, deceitful; it is simple, easy, elementary, guileless, open. Now, in Christ we have--
1. Intellectual simplicity. The gospel is intended and adapted for the poor, and for the children.
2. Moral simplicity. The principles and duties which it enjoins are simple; and, if they appear complex, they may be reduced to simple elements. All the details of gospel morality grow from “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” etc.
3. Spiritual simplicity. The motives and the means of holiness are simple; and, whether the individual or the community concerned be learned or ignorant, the same truths and facts supply spiritual nourishment. This simplicity appears in--
(1) The Saviour’s teaching. The parables and discourses of Jesus are clear and intelligible.
(2) The way of salvation is plain.
(3) The gospel call is clear, distinct, unwavering.
(4) The life of faith to which the believer is called is composed of many stems and branches, but they all draw their nourishment from one common root. “Looking unto Jesus.”
II. Corruption of this simplicity.
1. Scientific, philosophical, metaphysical speculations imported into the gospel tend to corrupt the mind from its simplicity.
2. The moral simplicity that is in Christ may be corrupted by casuistical questionings and scrupulosities of conscience. The single eye may become distorted; the spirit of inquiry may be hypocritical.
3. The plan of salvation may be lost sight of. Another gospel, another Jesus, may be substituted.
III. The comparison. As the serpent beguiled Eve.
1. The position of our first parents was simple, and easy to understand. “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,” etc. What could be plainer? Yet they were beguiled.
(1) Their minds were diverted from the one simple command.
(2) Doubts were started as to its meaning and purport.
(3) The Divine goodness was called in question if the command was rightly understood.
(4) Fair promises were made of something better.
(5) All this was done by gradual steps, cunningly and skilfully.
2. The same elements of temptation which beguiled them are at work to beguile us. As the law was misinterpreted, so the gospel is mystified, and souls are ruined thereby.
3. It is Satan’s subtilty--cunning--that we have most to fear. His mode of attack. He works ruin in such a way as to appear to be doing the reverse. He undermines our position while professedly raising us higher, “He deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
4. This cunning on his part is not to be met by counter cunning on ours. We are no match for him with such weapons. We must fall back upon the simplicity that is in Christ. Gospel truths are true still. We have not followed cunningly devised fables. (James Smith, M. A.)
Simplicity towards Christ
This is one of the many cases in which a slight alteration makes a great difference. The Authorised Version by its reading suggests erroneously that the “simplicity” is something belonging to Christ; and we have all heard the use of the phrase as expressive of what is supposed to be a plain, simple gospel, as contrasted with man’s refinements. But if we read as we ought to do, “the simplicity that is towards Christ,” we see that what the apostle is thinking about is not a quality belonging to the gospel or to its Lord, but to the believer, and that it expresses no characteristic of the Redeemer or of His revelation, but something about the way in which we ought to receive and to cleave to Him.
I. Then note the attitude required. The English words simple and simplicity, like their Greek equivalents, embody a striking figure. Simple literally means without a fold, and the noun here formed from it means consequently, if we may coin a word after the analogy of manifoldness, singlefoldness. Hence it is used to express the two kindred ideas of perfect genuineness or, as we say, straightforwardness, and of thoroughness and out-and-outness. So that the two ideas that are conveyed here are those of genuine and out-and-out simpleminded devotion. He would have them to be, as a bride ought to be, wholly filled with the love and confidence of Him to whom he presents them. The phrase, then, as interpreted by the emblem that stands by the side of it, suggests these three things.
1. We must have simple-hearted love. A bride’s love that is halved is destroyed. And the Christian man’s heart that is divided is empty of all genuine love to the Master. He requires that we shall love Him all in all, or not at all; and interprets that as treason which is not out-and-out surrender and consecration to Him. The heart need not be emptied of other affections. The central diamond may have round about it a cluster of brilliants, but they must be kept in subordination, small and encompassing. And so our lives are then pure and blessed, not when the love of Christ chills our hearts to other dear ones, but warms and purifies our loves to them into some effluence and likeness of itself.
2. A single-minded submission to Him as fountain of truth, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, is another part of the simplicity that is towards Christ. Just as, in regard to single-hearted love, there is no impoverishing of the affections because He claims the first-fruits of them all, so, in regard of this single-minded discipleship, there is no limiting of the faculties, excluding of Christians from any field of thought, because He claims to be “first and last and midst and without end,” the only teacher whose word is absolute truth. All our other thinking ought to be held in subordination to the truths that He reveals.
3. Single-eyed consecration of the practical life to Him is another part of this “simplicity that is towards Christ.” Where the heart is single, and the mind filled with His thoughts and commandments and promises and revelations, the life will, of course, yield itself to be directed by Him.
II. This singleness and thoroughness is the only attitude that at all corresponds to what Christ is to us, and what we say we are to Him. We are to cleave to Christ only because Christ is enough. God, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, had the right to demand all the devotion of heart, soul, mind, strength, because He had the power to satisfy and to bless all the faculties that were consecrated to Him. Jesus Christ has no right to ask me to give my whole self to Him unless He has given His whole self to me; and unless, in that gift, I can find nourishment and strength, and the supply of every craving and every need. If our mind is bowed before the incarnate truth of God we shall know neither the unrest of resultless search nor the gloom of continual doubt, but shall have the light of life to shine upon our road.
III. Note the blessedness that will attend such out-and-out and genuine Christian life. The true misery of men comes because they do not know their own minds nor consistently and persistently keep to one course. Distraction is misery. Unity is peace, and peace is strength, and unity and peace and strength, in the utter devotion of myself to the worthy Christ, are the blessedness of earth, the predictions and foretastes of the transports of eternity. “The simplicity that is towards Christ” is the beginning of the “rest that remaineth for the people of God.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The danger and evil of being turned away from the simplicity that is in Christ
The gospel is supposed by many to be something very easily understood. No doubt its leading truths are comparatively few and simple, but the evil heart of unbelief, our natural blindness, and the efforts of the adversary, often bring it about that men misunderstand it, pervert it, add to it, or detract from it. Hence Paul expresses himself in the language of anxiety, “I fear.” And if so the evil he deprecates must be a great evil. Note--
I. Satan’s temptation of Eve, as a proof of his subtilty and our danger (cf. Genesis 3:1-6).
1. His subtilty is manifest in his availing himself of the circumstances in which Eve was placed.
(1) She was alone. Had Adam been near she would surely have consulted him. Satan’s success manifestly depended on his giving no opportunity for consulting one perhaps possessed of more vigour of mind and judgment than herself. Here learn that in times of temptation we should avail ourselves of the benefit of Christian counsel.
(2) She was in the situation where temptation was most likely to be successful--near the forbidden fruit. She apparently had but to lift the eye, and the object of temptation was before her. Had she been obliged to travel to a distance, there might have been time for deliberation; but being upon the spot, the very sight of the forbidden fruit would bring new feelings and desires into action, and add fuel to the fire. Let us learn from this to be especially upon our guard when near the object of temptation.
2. Satan’s subtilty is manifest in the way in which he assailed her, viz., by the serpent. The very fact of the serpent’s speaking must have awakened no ordinary surprise and curiosity. Her mind could not be in a calm state. And the remarkable occurrence might only the better prepare her for giving credit to his subsequent statement. And does not this teach us that Satan is ever more to be dreaded when he speaks to us through the instrumentality of others. Peter, no doubt, thought he was but giving utterance to his own feelings when he said, “Far be it from Thee, Lord.” But Christ’s words are, “Get thee behind Me, Satan,” etc.
3. The subtilty of Satan is more especially manifest in the nature of the temptation, and the manner in which it is conducted.
(1) The first step of the temptation is laid in the remark, “Yea, hath God said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”
(a) Here Satan’s effort seems to be to awaken doubts of God’s goodness and truth. “Is it so? Can it be that God hath made this restriction? Can He have created the fruit; given you appetites and desires, and forbidden you to indulge them? He must either be a hard master, or you must be labouring under some strange delusion.” This is the way in which he still works. Sometimes he will work through the burden of sin pressing upon the conscience; sometimes through present suffering, or our natural craving after things forbidden; and if he can but awaken doubt or suspicion, a separation is made between the creature and the Creator. The creature stands helpless and alone, and the after steps are comparatively easy.
(b) Look now to the results. These are brought before us in the answer of Eve. From the extensive nature of the grant, so illustrative of His goodness, her attention is turned away. A separation is made between Eve and God.
(2) Satan has her now at a great advantage. “And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die.” Emboldened by success, Satan daringly sets up his word in opposition to the word of the God of truth. But a few moments before he would not have ventured thus to accost his victim.
II. The evil which the apostle fears and deprecates. “Lest your minds should be corrupted.”
1. From the simple, poor gospel, that is in Christ. Free in Christ are held forth all spiritual blessings. The gospel--simple, intelligible, and plainly revealed. And yet, how few understand it, believe it! The apostle had preached it at Corinth, and yet he speaks of Christ crucified being to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. Well aware of the importance of clear and realising views of the gospel, Satan is ever active in his efforts to mislead, to blind, or to obscure (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Ah! be then upon your guard. Bear in mind that you have such an adversary, not the less to be dreaded because unseen.
2. From the simple, direct, confiding reliance upon Christ. This is our duty, and it is our interest. But obligatory and blessed as it is our minds, through the subtilty of Satan, are very apt to be corrupted or turned away from it. He will suggest that your sins have been too many and that the sacrifices that you will have to make are too many or too great.
3. From the simple, ruling aim, of glorifying God in Christ. (J. Thomson.)
Simplicity towards Christ
1. Simplicity, here, has been supposed to describe a quality belonging to Christ or the gospel. Hence “Give us the simple gospel” has been the cry, and preachers have been expected to reiterate commonplaces, which have made both them and their hearers listless. The gospel is simple, but it is also deep, and they will best appreciate its simplicity who have most honestly endeavoured to fathom its depth. When we let our little sounding lines out, and find that they do not reach the bottom, we begin to wonder even more at the transparency of the clear abyss.
2. It is not simplicity “in” but “towards” Christ of which the apostle is speaking. Note--
I. The attitude towards Christ which befits the Christian relation to Him.
1. The word has had a touch of contempt associated with it. It is a somewhat doubtful compliment to say of a man that he is “simple minded.” All noble words, as indeed all good things tend to deteriorate by time and use. It means to be “without a fold,” which is, in one aspect, to be transparently honest and true, and in another to be out and out of a piece. There is no underside of the cloth, doubled up beneath, running in the opposite direction; but all tends in one way. A man with no under-currents, no by-ends, who is down to the very roots what he looks, and all whose being is knit together and hurled in one direction, that is the “simple” man whom the apostle means.
2. The attitude which corresponds to our relation to Christ as bride and Bridegroom (2 Corinthians 11:2), is that of--
(1) A faith which looks to Him exclusively as--
(a) The source of salvation. Paul feared that the Judaising teachers would find their way into this church and teach them that obedience to the Jewish law was a condition of salvation, along with trust in Christ. And because they thus shared out the work of salvation between Jesus and something else, Paul regarded them as preaching another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). That particular error is long dead and buried. But has this old foe not got a new face, and does not it live amongst us as really as it lived then? I think it does; in the grosser kind of ecclesiasticism which sticks sacraments and a church in front of the Cross, and in the definite denial that Christ’s death is the one means of salvation, and in the coarse, common wish to have a finger in the pie and a share in the work of saving myself, as a drowning man will sometimes half drown his rescuer by trying to use his own limbs. These tendencies that Paul fought are perennial in human nature. And we have to be on our guard for ever against them. It is not Christ and anything else. Men are not saved by a syndicate. “Beside Him there is no Saviour.” You go into a Turkish mosque and the roof is held up by a forest of slim pillars. You go into a cathedral chapter-house, and there is one strong support in the centre. The one is an emblem of the Christless multiplicity of vain supports, the other of the eternal sufficiency of the one pillar on which the whole weight of a world’s salvation rests.
(b) The sole light and teacher of men as to God, themselves, their duty, their destinies and prospects. In this day of confusions let us listen for the voice of Christ and accept all which comes from Him. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou only hast the words of eternal life.”
(2) An exclusive love which He demands or rather permits or privileges. It is the joy of the betrothed that her duty is to keep her heart clear from all competing affections. But it is none the less her duty because it is her joy. Not that we are to love nothing but Him, but we are to love all things else in Him. Love to one who has done what He has done for us is in its very nature exclusive. The centre diamond makes the little stones set round it all the more lustrous. Divided love incurs the condemnation that falls heavily upon the head of the faithless bride.
(3) Absolute obedience. In all matters His command is my law, and, as surely as I make His command my law, will He make my desire His motive. “If ye love Me keep My commandments.” “If ye ask anything in My name I will do it.”
II. The solicitude for its maintenance.
1. Think of what threatens it. 1 say nothing about the ferment of opinion in this day, for one man that is swept away from a whole-hearted faith by intellectual considerations, there are a dozen from whom it is filched without their knowing it.
(1) By the world. Who can hear the low voice that speaks peace and wisdom when Niagara is roaring past his ears? But it is possible that we may so carry into all the whirl the central peace, as that we shall not be disturbed by it; and possible that “whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we may do all to His glory,” so that we can, even in the midst of our daily pressing avocations and cares be keeping our hearts in the Heavens, and our souls in touch with our Lord.
(2) By our own weaknesses, waywardnesses, senses, passions, desires. All these have a counteracting force, which needs continual watchfulness in order to be neutralised. No man can grasp a stay, which alone keeps him from being immersed in the waves with uniform tenacity, unless every now and then he tightens his muscles. And no man can keep himself firmly grasping Christ unless by conscious effort directed to bettering his hold.
2. If there be dangers around and within us, the discipline which we have to pursue to secure this uniform single-hearted devotion is plain enough. Let us be vividly conscious of the peril; let us take stock of ourselves lest creeping evil may be encroaching upon us, while we are all unaware; let us clearly contemplate the possibility of an indefinite increase in the closeness and thoroughness of our surrender to Him; let us find time or make time for the patient, habitual contemplation of the great facts which kindle our devotion; let us, too, wait with prayerful patience for that Divine Spirit who will knit more closely to our Lord. Alas, how remiss we are in all this.
3. Half and half religion will bring no praise to Christ or profit to ourselves. A half-and-half Christian has religion enough to prick and sting him, and not enough to impel him to forsake the evil which yet he cannot comfortably do. If we are to be Christian men at all, let us be it out and out. Half-and-half religion is no religion. “One foot on land, and one on sea. To one thing constant never!” That is the type of thousands of professing Christians. “I fear lest by any means your minds be corrupted from the simplicity that is towards Christ.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Satan himself transformed into an angel of light
I. The way of his operation upon the soul, in conveying his fallacies in the minds of men.
1. By moving, stirring, and sometimes altering the humours and disposition of the body. He knows that there is no grace but has its counterfeit in some passion; and no passion of the mind, but moves upon the wheel of some humour of the body. So that it is easy for him to refine the fire of a choleric humour into zeal, and raise the operations of melancholy to the semblance of humiliation.
2. By suggesting the ideas and spiritual pictures of things to the imagination. From whence it is, that poor deluded women talk much of sudden joys and raptures, etc. Again, some perhaps have had a text cast into their fancy, e.g., Jeremiah 48:10, whereupon they presently thought themselves commissioned, by an extraordinary call from heaven, to cut and slay.
3. By an actual ingress into the man like a vicarious soul. And now how easy must it be for this spirit to cast any person possessed by him into an ecstasy. And the person possessed (Acts 19:16) could never have prevailed over so many men, had he not had something in him stronger than man. But what needs there any further arguing when we read how often our Saviour cast him out of men?
II. The grand instances in which the devil, under this mask of light, has imposed upon the Christian world. It has been his constant method to accommodate his impostures to the prevailing notions of each particular age.
1. The ruling principle of the first ages of the church was zealous devotion, and concern for the worship of one only God, having been so newly converted from the worship of many. Accordingly, the devil sets up Arianism, and with a bold stroke strikes at the Godhead of the Son of God.
2. As the Arian ages had chiefly set themselves to take away our Saviour’s divinity, so the following ages, by a kind of contrary stretch, were no less intent upon paying an exorbitant devotion to every thing belonging to His humanity. For from hence men came to give that inordinate veneration to the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. After which, with great industry, they got together and kept all relics, which any way represented His memory, till at length they even adored them. This superstition extended itself to Christ’s martyrs; the memory of whom they celebrated with solemn invocations at their sepulchres. And thus by degrees paganism came to be christened into a new form and name. Then mortification was (in show at least) advanced, and Satan began to play the white devil, by prohibiting, upon pretence of higher sacerdotal purity, the marriage of the clergy, forbidding also certain sorts of meat, and enjoining others: as likewise imposing many corporal severities, for the recommending of all which to men’s use, they taught them that these practices were satisfactory for sin, and meritorious of heaven.
3. When the mist of ignorance began to clear up, men began to smell out the cheat. But then again, lest so sudden and mighty a light might baffle all his projects, he began wisely to light up his candle, too, in the new sect of Ignatius Loyola, a sect composed of the best wits and ablest heads. And by this course he quickly fought the protestants at their own weapons. For he saw well enough that it was learning which must do his business, when ignorance was grown out of fashion. So having long imposed upon Christendom by popery, and at length finding a new light sprung in upon a great part of it, he thought it his interest to trump up a new scene of things, and so correspondently to the two main parts of religion, speculative and practical, he fell upon two contrary but equally destructive extremes, Socinianism and enthusiasm.
III. Some principles by which he is likely to repeat the same cheats. And these are eminently three.
1. The stating of the doctrine of faith and free grace so as to make them undermine the necessity of a good life.
2. The opposing the power of godliness irreconcileably to all forms. And what is this but in another instance to confront subordinates, and to destroy the body because the soul can subsist without it?
3. The ascribing such a kingdom to Christ, as shall oppose and interfere with the kingdoms and governments of the world. (R. South, D. D.)
Satan transformed into an angel of light
Satan was once, in deed and in truth, an angel of light. He became an angel of darkness, and he is now transformed into an angel of light again; not into the reality, but into the form and semblance.
I. Satan appears in the guise of an angel of light. In such a guise it was that he presented himself to our first mother, Eve, in Paradise (Genesis 3:4-5). In such a guise it was that he assaulted the Son of Man in the wilderness. To this encounter he brought with him the Word of God. Fancy not that every one who has a Bible in his hand, and a text in his mouth, is therefore taught of God. The devil will quote scripture with any one of you. Satan transforms himself into an angel of light and becomes a great preacher of--
1. Philosophy. And so contrives to mysticise the Word of God. He can so confound principle with speculation, and argument with assumption, as to leave you in doubt between the simplest elements of fact or truth, and the wildest theories of imagination.
2. Morality. And so he labours to degrade the Scriptures: to take away the spirit, and leave nothing but the letter; a formal code of decency, without life.
3. Expediency. This is his grand bulwark of defiance against the efficacy of the Word of God. Here the world can find a reply to any appeal, however urgent; an evasion of any duty, however solemn. There is always something to be urged, in answer to the commands of God; some plea of necessity, convenience, etc.
4. Rites and ceremonies. The world is always pleased to rest in outward observances, and to substitute the form of godliness for the spirit. The devil knows that and gives them, in his gospel, a full supply.
5. Austerities. This, however, is one of those refinements in the gospel of Satan which he promulgates not to the world at large, but reserves, as a special boon, for those of a more morbid temperament.
6. Superstitions. To make the services of religion irksome is one of his devices; to make them ludicrous is another.
II. The marks which denote the minister of the gospel of christ.
1. He hesitates not to declare the whole counsel of God. There may be much he cannot understand, much he cannot reconcile; still he believes all, proclaims all.
2. Beyond all things and above all things, he manifests a concern for souls (2 Timothy 4:2).
3. In the midst of all his labours he casts off the confidence of the flesh. He knows that Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God must give the increase.
1. It is when false apostles are transformed into angels of light that they most effectually promote the kingdom of darkness.
2. There is a transformation, and that, too, from darkness to light, which leaves a man but a devil at the last. This is the transformation of the head and not of the heart, and gives men a devil’s faith, without works; a devil’s zeal, without knowledge. How careful should we be, not only to attain a transformation, but the right and true conversion, which none but God can impart. (R. Hall, M. A.)
The transformation of evil
If evil were as frightful in its aspect as in its essence we should be in little danger from it. We shrink from a tiger, rattlesnake, vulture, etc. But just as the Oriental invests destructive beasts with a certain glamour, so vice attains a certain glamour in our eyes. Note--
I. The transfiguration of evil. It is transfigured--
1. By imagination. A naturalist writes concerning “The beautiful methods of killing the delicate inhabitants of the sea.” What beautiful methods there are for killing the delicate inhabitants of the land. The bard robes corruption in cloth of gold. In fiction immoral characters are often made heroic and charming. How artfully has intemperance been metamorphosed into delightful shapes. Bacchus marches accompanied by choicest songs. It is the same with war. In a certain village we saw a slaughter-house cleverly concealed by evergreens; and the slaughter-house of nations has been similarly hidden by flowers of rhetoric. Libertinism is often made to glow with delusive lustre. In nature we see sometimes the dirtiest puddles tinged with bits of rainbow: oftener still in literature. On the banks of the Amazon there is a brilliant spider that spreads itself out as a flower, and the insects lighting upon it find death. So in human life.
2. By philosophy which may mislead us.
(1) In matters of faith and worship. There is a philosophy which explains the gospel--
(a) In the sense of worldliness. It regards Christianity as favourable to health, temperance, economy, etc., and ignores all its heavenliness.
(b) In the sense of anti-nomianism. Under the pretence of honouring Christ it transgresses the law of righteousness which He came to maintain.
(c) In the sense of unbelief. False apostles urge their theories as doctrines of Christ whilst the essentials of faith are lacking in those theories. In the name of reason, independence, progress, we are exhorted to conclusions which make the Cross of Christ of none effect.
Many have philosophised about the gospel until they have embraced despair. Eastern travellers are mocked by splendid mirages until they will not believe in the real oases when they see them. And we may philosophise about the church until we find ourselves embracing superstition. The church itself may become a siren alluring us away from Him who is the sinners’ peace and hope.
(2) In matters of conduct. What unsophisticated men regard with simple abhorrence clever reasoners can show has a good side to it. Take e.g.--
(a) Improvidence. Mr. Nisbet says, “Indirectly the poor man who brings forth children he cannot feed is a public benefactor; he renders the struggle for life more acute, and by that means stimulates the energies of his race.” The simple-minded feel that he is a shameless wretch.
(b) Intemperance. Mr. Matthieu Williams says “That all human beings who are fit to survive as members of a civilised community will avoid intemperance, whilst those who are incapable of self-restraint are provided with a happy despatch by natural alcoholic selection, provided nobody interferes with their desire for a short life and a merry one.” So the sot is an unconscious philosopher!
(c) Impurity. Mr. Sinclair says, “Prostitutes are not the worst, but generally the best of the lower classes; people of fine physique, who cannot get their true match in the sphere where born, but must, by the holiest of all instincts, that of truth, seek upward by any means.”
(d) War. Powerful writers assure us that war is a sacrifice to the cause of progress, as wholesome as a lightning storm, a school of virtue.
(e) And not content with affirming that certain evils are necessary evils, philosophy declares boldly that there is no evil at all. Good and evil are only different degrees of the same thing.
3. By society. The practical world is a great transformation scene where the imp often appears a fairy, and the beast, beauty. Acts of revenge are vindicated when they are called “affairs of honour”; debt is innocency itself when known as “pecuniary obligation”; libertinism is purged of all taint when characterised as “gay life”; the most brutal gladiatorship has suffered a change into something rich when it becomes “the noble art of self-defence.” But by whatever alias evil may be known its action is equally ruinous. The arrow is not the less fatal because shot from ambush or winged with an eagle’s feather.
II. The path of safety amid these dangerous illusions.
1. Let us not forget that the chief danger of life lies in this moral illusion. It is often hard to persuade us that there is any such danger of deception. But the scientist while he believes his eyes takes great pains so that he may be sure he sees truly. The connoisseur is equally careful, and the businessman, knowing the trickery in his province, acts warily. And caution is particularly needed in the moral world. Satan conceals his fell purposes as the Greek assassins did their swords in myrtle branches.
2. Let us be sincere in soul. Much depends on integrity of purpose in life. Under all deception is self-deception--a secret willingness to be deceived because we have pleasure in unrighteousness and purpose to follow it. An adventurer persuades you that a few shares at a trifling cost will make you a millionaire; but you find ere long that you have been cruelly deceived. Will the public pity you? No. You were easily blinded because of your inordinate desires.
3. Let us respect the written law. The Bible is a wonderful book for destroying the glamour of sin. It makes palpable--
(1) Its sophistry. It exposes the deceitfulness of the heart, and pierces the maxims by which society excuses its folly and vices.
(2) Its horror. It compels the transformed devil to return to his true shape.
(3) Its fruits. Once our Master encountered Satan in his uttermost transfiguration. With the words “It is written,” our Lord pricked one gorgeous bubble after another, and we must follow His example.
4. Let us constantly see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and bring to Him whatever theory or thing may solicit us. In His light we shall know exactly what is true. (W. L. Watkinson.)
2 Corinthians 11:16-20
I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me.
St. Paul’s character
This is a very curious and somewhat perplexing passage. It is not quite what we should expect to find in Scripture; yet it is a most suggestive passage.
I. Let us try to understand both its, language and its tone. St. Paul is evidently very much hurt by the treatment which he had received. The Church there was his own creation; and, accordingly, he was deeply attached to it. Now he finds himself the object of unsparing criticism. The taunts of his opponents, however, go a very little way towards producing the tone of wounded feeling which pervades this chapter. What grieved St. Paul was that the Corinthians were being seduced from their allegiance to himself, and the simplicity that is in Christ. It also made him indignant. Who are these men that his Corinthians should transfer their loyalty so readily from him to them? What are their claims, compared with his? Are they “Hebrews,” “Israelites,” “the seed of Abraham,” “ministers of Christ”? He is more. There was something too of scorn and wrong in Paul’s feeling. “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.” Of course you will cheerfully put up with me and my folly, being so very wise yourselves. It is little or nothing that I ask you to put up with, compared with what you put up with from these new teachers. You let them tyrannise over you to any extent. They may rob you, domineer over you; you put up with it all: so wise are you (verse 20). This, of course, is irony--half playful, half serious. But the playfulness of the passage bears a very small proportion to the intense seriousness of it. The prevailing tone of the whole is an almost passionate self-assertion, wrung from him almost in spite of himself, and with a kind of scorn of himself in the doing of it (“I speak foolishly”)--wrung from him, I say, by grief, and indignation, and anxiety.
II. Is this, or is this not, the tone of the passage? If it is, what are we to think of it and the writer? Is he to be less to us than he has been? I think not. Should we not all feel that its removal would be a real loss?
1. There is the strong human interest of the passage. It is a revelation of character. The writer lays himself bare to us. You hear, as you read, the very pulsations of his heart--pulsations wild and feverish, perhaps, but genuine, honest, manly, true. There are no conventionalities and etiquettes. We have the man himself, and find him one of like feelings with ourselves. He can be wounded, and hurt, and sensitive, as we can be. Without it he would be much less of a real character and person to us. Now this is an immense gain. For one thing, it makes all his letters much more real and forceful to us. They are not mere pages in a book, however sacred. They are the words of a man, a friend. It is through such a passage as this that the Epistles of St. Paul become not merely theological treatises, but an autobiography of the writer. They present us with a photograph of himself. He opens more than his mind; he opens his heart to us.
2. Cold critics, analysing St. Paul’s character as it unveils itself to us here, will find plenty of fault with it. They will say that he is too sensitive; that his assertion of himself is undignified and unworthy. It would not be difficult to dispute the ground with such critics, inch by inch, were it worth our while to do so. Instead of doing so, let us freely concede that there is a touch of human infirmity here. Now I say that this very weakness, being of the kind it is, not only increases the attractiveness of Paul’s character, but also makes it more powerful for good. The noble metals, gold and silver, require, as we all know, some alloy of baser metal, in order to fit them for the service of men. And it seems as if the noblest characters required some alloy if they are to take hold of other minds, and exercise upon them their full force for good. But then all depends upon the nature of this alloy. In Cranmer’s case, what gave such weight to his martyrdom was the natural sinking from such a horrible death. There could hardly be two men more unlike than Cranmer and St. Paul. But in St. Paul, too, there is what I call this dash of human weakness. What is it? We feel it as we read our text, without being able to define it. But whatever it be, there is nothing base in it,--nothing mean, coarse, or vulgar. It just makes us feel that there is a point of contact between us and him. It is a deep descent from the sinless weakness of Christ to the dash of human infirmity which we find in St. Paul. And what a descent again is it from St. Paul to ourselves! With him it is but a dash of alloy, making the noble metal all the more serviceable. With us it seems as if we were all alloy. (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage.--
A picture of religious imposters
These words suggest that they are--
I. Tyrannic. “If a man bring you into bondage.” The reference is doubtless to the false teachers of verse 13. False teaching always makes men spiritual serfs.
II. Rapacious. “If a man devour you.” Greed is their inspiration.
III. Crafty. “If a man take of you.” The expression “of you” is not in the original. The idea is, if a man takes you in and entraps you. This is just what religious impostors do, they cajole men, and make them their dupes.
IV. Arrogant. “If a man exalt himself.” It is characteristic of false teachers that they assume great superiority. They arrogate a lordship over human souls.
V. Insolent. “If a man smite you on the face.” The religious impostor has no respect for the rights and dignities of man as man. With his absurd dogmas and arrogancies he is everlastingly smiting men on “their face,” on their reason, their consciences, and their self-respect. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 11:21-33
I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak.
Howbeit … I am bold also.
Paul’s avowal of his advantages and his history of his trials
I. His manly avowal of his distinguished advantages.
1. His superior character (2 Corinthians 11:21).
2. His superior ancestry (2 Corinthians 11:22).
3. His superior apostleship (2 Corinthians 11:23).
II. His historic sketch of his extraordinary trials. The trials here sketched indicate several things.
1. The mysteriousness of God’s procedure with His servants. One might have thought that the man inspired with supreme love to Him, and receiving a commission from Him, involving the salvation of souls, would have made his way clear, safe, and even pleasant. The more important the Divine work intrusted to a man, and the more faithful he is in its discharge, the more trials will embarrass and distract him. For an explanation of this we must await the great explaining day.
2. The unconquerableness of Christly love in the soul. What stimulated Paul to embark in, and what bore him up under such an enterprise as this? The answer is, “The love of Christ constraineth me.”
3. The indelibility of the impressions which trials produce. They had long since transpired, but they were fresh in Paul’s memory. It is a law in our nature that our trials make a deeper impression on us than our mercies. Why? Because they are the exceptions, not the rule.
4. The blessedness which the memory of trials rightly endured produces. In Paul’s case--
(1) It generated sympathy with the woes of others (2 Corinthians 11:29). No man can sympathise with the trials of others, unless he has passed through trials himself.
(2) It inspired the soul with true rejoicing (2 Corinthians 11:30). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
In labours more abundant.--
Service in sorrow
Look at yon miller on the village hill. How does he grind his grist? Does he bargain that he will only grind in the west wind, because its gales are so full of health? No, but the east wind, which searches joints and marrow, makes the millstones revolve, and together with the north and the south it is yoked to his service. Even so should it be with you who are true workers for God; all your ups and your downs, your successes and your defeats, should be turned to the glory of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The trials of busy life
Now, from many causes, “from the temper of the day, and from the temper of our nation, the being busy is most natural to us”; around us on every hand men and women are largely occupied, toiling for the necessaries, for the comforts, or for the luxuries of life. The more men have, the more they seem to need, and so that desire. Still, to be busy is natural, and to be busy is good; slothfulness, in the case of the majority, would mean poverty or misery. Honest industry stands upon the footing of being a service agreeable to God. Herein lies one of the trials of this life.
1. In proportion as a person’s work is great, as the activity of busy life increases, especially if that activity be attended with temporal success, then increases the danger of this God-ward aspect being lost sight of--the work comes to be more and more regarded, as from the first it may have been taken up, only on its earthly side. So much of success seems to be dependent on the individual himself, his knowledge, his energies, his foresight, that at last he comes to say, “My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this,” forgetting “Who it is that gives power to get it.” Then mark what flows from this forgetfulness of God, or this failing to recognise life’s work as given us of Him.
2. Restlessness and disquietude, when success is denied: pride and presumption when it flows in full tide. The present are days of great restlessness; disquietude and much anxiety are too common. Oh! it is sad to see, “a sight which makes a thinking man weep at any time, to look around him anywhere, and see how Satan and the world are befooling souls for which Christ died, and which might find rest in Him.”
3. The third trial to which busy life is exposed, is the trial of procrastination, the putting off until the “convenient season” life’s higher duties. “Business” in these days seems to occupy all people’s time, and nearly all their thoughts. It thins our churches, breeds a painful irregularity in the actions of the truer life of the soul.
4. Another trial which attends busy life is the trial of steadfastness. “Business” is often another name for the world; and what a world is this with which we have to do! What a mixture of good and bad, of vice and virtue, of honesty and corruption! And when the Christian has to face all this, to mix daily with all this, to act under or against all this, how terrible must be the strain on his steadfastness, that is, his walking uprightly before God.
5. The last trial is the trial of integrity: that trial, I mean, which, in some form or other, comes to every one--the conflict between principle and our interest. Oh! in the busy life, does not this conflict rage? Such are a few, a very few, of the many trials of busy life. The one leading thought of them all, is this, their danger--unless we be watchful--to divert the soul from its God. Their snare is to leave no time, or to leave no inclination, or to leave no power for high and holy things. But this, remember, through the abuse of them, not through the right and prayerful use. If God has given us our work, however great, we must do it, and we may do it unto Him. (C. C. Chamberlain, M. A.)
2 Corinthians 11:26
In journeyings often.
The Christian away from home
Paul was a traveller. His journeyings by sea and land formed an important part of the educating influences that formed his Christian life. Notice--
I. The mental stimulus gained. Monotonous toil wears us out. It is good to get out of ruts, to look on new objects, to talk about new subjects, to freshen up our spirits. It is good to get out of one’s home, store, city, out of one’s country even, and see new heavens and a new earth, though for a little while. The rust and the dust of routine life are removed. This mental stimulus of travel is threefold. It is awakened by anticipation, it is intensified by actual enjoyment, and it continues in the joy of reminiscence.
II. The actual presence and guidance of God is more impressively felt “in journeyings oft.” It has been truly said that the spectre of uncertainty haunts the cabin of every departing ship. So of all vehicles and modes of travel. Their history has its tragedies, and the beginning of any journey should elicit the prayer, “If Thy presence go not with me, carry me not up hence.” Sweetly to the believer comes the answer, “I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land, for I will not leave thee.” Is thy journey by the sea? The sea is His. Passing through the waters, He will be with thee. So in malarious districts or in heated climes the same shelter is guaranteed. Not only in peril, but in perplexity, do we prove the truth of these pledges. “He leadeth me” when in doubt as to what is best to do, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” We enter a foreign city alone, and unacquainted with the language. Such exigencies of travel are educating. An uplift is gained by the trustful soul that is never lost (Job 31:32).
III. The fellowship of saints is realised abroad as it can never be in the familiar intercourse of home. How Paul’s heart did leap within him at Appii Forum! Ten miles farther on, another group, at Three Taverns, welcome him.
IV. Absence endears the localities, friendships, privileges, and employments of home.
V. Our journeyings remind us that life itself is a journey, to be pursued with thoughtfulness, with reference to life’s great ends and our eternal home. (E. P. Thwing, D. D.)
In perils of water
It required courage to be a voyager in olden times, the ships were small and clumsy, the rocks and shores so poorly defined; no weather “probabilities,” signals or lighthouses. Yet there are as great perils now, notwithstanding our sea-charts, lighthouses, ironclads, storm-signals, etc. The danger arises now from the multiplicity of crafts. Note--
I. The responsibility of those who hold the lives, or the property, or the souls of men in keeping.
1. Captains, guards, engineers, architects, have very great responsibility, and God will hold them to account.
2. Pastors of churches, private Christians who hold in their hands the souls of people, had better obey the injunction: Watch!
II. When we part from our friends, reunion is uncertain.
III. Elegant surroundings are no security. Iceberg, and storm, and darkness, and collision can see no difference between magnificent mail steamship and whaler with rusty bolts and greasy deck. Do not think that brilliant surroundings will keep off the last foe.
IV. Some Christians are nearer to glory than they think. Some of you are spending your last Sabbath, singing your last song, giving your last salutations.
V. The world has not yet been persuaded of the nonsense of prayer.
VI. The importance of always being ready for transition. (T. de Witt Talmage, D. D.)
In perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness.--
Let us talk a little about what is known as environment. Men are apt to think they would be better if their circumstances, their surroundings were of another kind and quality. They do not go in upon themselves and say, We are to blame. We must get rid of that delusion before we can make any real progress in life. All history shows us that whatever a man’s environment may be he can conquer it; or he can respond to it in the degree in which it is Divine, beautiful, and fascinating. Where did man first fall, according to the Biblical history? Was it in some narrow, ill-lighted street? Was it in soma swamp or wilderness? It was possible to fall in Eden. Therefore do not say that if you were in Eden you would be safe. Men say that, if they were only in the city, at the very centre of civilisation, if they had the security of social life as it is to be found in the metropolis of any country, all would go well. The Apostle Paul answers that in our text, “In perils in the city.” You thought you would be safe in the city. Here is Paul in all kinds of cities, classical, advanced, thoughtful, immoral; and he says he was “in perils in the city.” Men think that if they could be only in the city, in the metropolis, where there is an abundance of literature, where all kinds of galleries are open to the people--picture-galleries, museums, art-repositories, music of’ every hue and range--then they would have something to think about, and to engage their attention, and to divide at least the intensity of the temptations by which souls are besieged. Paul says, let us repeat again and again, “In perils in the city.” The city grows its own weeds; the city opens its own fountains of poison-water. The city is eating out the best life of the nation. “In perils in the city.” Yet how many of these perils do we make ourselves, and how eagerly do we avail ourselves of many an open door that invites us to enter and go down to hell! I have seen this in the city--namely, young men, certainly not five-and-twenty years of age, before ten o’clock in the morning going into public-houses. Not vagabonds, but men who were evidently going to some kind of business afterwards, well-dressed young men. What would you say about an instance of that kind, except that it means ruin? You cannot trifle with that state of affairs. You cannot begin a little reform now and a little then. You must throw your enemy now! “In perils in the city.” What a temptation there is there to bet and gamble and trifle with other people’s money! You do not suppose that a young man makes up his mind to be a thief. In many instances he knows that he is honest in purpose, and he says that, if he can only succeed, no man shall lose a penny by him; he will only back his own judgment against some other man’s judgment. He says, “What harm can there be in my setting up my sagacity against the sagacity of some other man?” You cannot be fortunate in betting and gambling. Do not say that you know instances in which men have made tens of thousands of pounds, and are in great prosperity. There are no such instances. They may have all the pounds, but they have not the prosperity. There is no prosperity in wickedness. Do not think you can trifle with the spirit of evil and succeed. Resist the devil, and he will flee from thee. Then what do men say? They continue in this fashion--namely, If I could only get away from the city, if I could get into the country somewhere, if I could get into some quiet place, then all would be well. “In perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness”--in the solitude, in the great emptiness; as much peril in the wilderness as there is in Cheapside; as much peril in the desert as there is in the Stock Exchange. How often in passing through beautiful places have we said, Surely there must be peace in that habitation and in yonder dwelling. Go where you will, you will find the devil has been there before you. There are great perils even in solitude: in fact, it is possible that solitude may be the greatest peril of all. It is the voice of history that the devil comes to men individually, and not to them in crowds only. All the great tragedies are connected with individual instances. Solitude gives us a false standard of self-judgment. It is only by man meeting man, comparing himself with his fellow-men, seeking the judgment of higher minds than his own, that he becomes chastened and thus ennobled; rebuked, and thus elevated. Observe, then, that circumstances cannot give us security. You thought that, when you made ten thousand pounds, you would be perfectly secure. No man ever rested content with ten thousand pounds; there was always another sovereign which some other man had which he wanted; there was always another field which, if he obtained, would beautifully sphere out his estate; and going after fields is like going after the horizon, there is always “another.” Do not imagine that if you were rich you would be good. Let no man be discouraged because of his environment. You say, What can a young man do in my circumstances? He can do everything through Christ strengthening him. If men begin to sit down and say, What can I do with only five shillings a week? what can I do with only a workhouse education? what can I do with people such as these round about me? they will never come to anything. A man must not look at his surroundings, but he must look at his universe and at God enthroned above its riches and forces; and he must say, It is my business by the blessing of God to take hold of circumstances and twist them and bind them and round them into a garland or a diadem. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 11:27-29
The weariness of life
Weariness means to wear away the nervous sensibilities. Paul felt this. It is not lassitude which comes from indifference, but the exhaustion felt by the earnest and faithful soul. Let us thank God for restorative power. In nature how blessed this is! So with grace!
I. Weariness comes with temporary disappointment and defeat. God has promised to perfect that which concerneth us, but the way of perfection is just the way which wearies us. We are disappointed at the slow progress. And we are human. Think of Rebekah!--“I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth.” The motherly anxiety was at work. As we get older we feel “limitations” of power. Disappointment is a cloud, and we wait till the heavens are clear and the all-revealing light comes again! But we are defeated too! But first defeat has made many a true general, has quickened many an inventor, like Watt, Stephenson, and Brunel. Weariness comes to student, explorer, missionary, and philanthropist saddened with ingratitude. But this is not the weariness of sin, that not only exhausts, but destroys.
II. Weariness comes with self-discovery. The volcano tells what is in the earth. The lightning reveals the latent electricity in the air. Passions and lusts reveal terrible possibilities in good men. David said, “I am weary with my groaning,” and again, “I am weary of my crying.” Conflict with sin in all its forms is weary work.
1. The roots are so hidden. Like some garden weeds have roots that never seem uprooted, long white threads that interlace the earth and strangle other plants.
2. The battle is so varied. Like Stanley’s passage of the Falls, enemies on both banks and on the island, mid-stream.
3. The avengements are so real. There is no escaping the voice! Thou art the man. And the soul cannot pretend not to hear. But think of this same Paul. “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The answer is--Christ. More than conquerors!
III. Weariness comes with unbelief. The Greeks had an underlying sadness in their outwardly beautiful life. It is faith which gives life and zest. Thomas Carlyle says, “All epochs, wherein unbelief, under whatever form soever, maintains its sorry victory, should they ever for a moment glitter with a sham splendour, vanish from the eyes of posterity; because no one chooses to burden himself with study of the unfruitful.” Men must be weary who have lost faith.
1. Round of same duties without a goal.
2. Growth a mockery merging into weakness.
3. Health into pain. Vision into dimness. Thought into blank!
IV. Weariness comes from solitude. The regiment is thinning in which you started. You have seen many arms of the soldiers “dip below the downs” into the valley. You are beginning in a human sense to feel solitary. The Master was weary in solitude: “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?” So was Paul: “At Athens alone.” But the Christian is never alone. “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” (W. M. Statham.)
Beside … the care of all the Churches.--
Anxiety of the Churches
The word “care” is “anxiety”--the same word by which Christ (Luke 8:4-15) designates one of the three influences by which the good seed is “stifled.” St. Paul speaks here of it in the list of sufferings for Christ’s sake. That anxiety which our Lord reproved (Matthew 6:25, etc.; Luke 10:41) has a namesake among the graces. St. Paul, who says (Philippians 4:6), “Be anxious about nothing,” mentions this without apology as his daily experience. Just in proportion to the meanness of the one is the dignity of the other. The anxieties which choke the Word are commonly as selfish as they are earthly; those of which Paul was here capable are elevating, and, so far from choking the Word, grow out of it. Notice, respecting this care of all the Churches--
I. Its unselfishness. These people were nothing to him. They were neither kinsfolk, neighbours, nor countrymen. They were converts, but his idea of his responsibility towards them was not to do his duty and then leave it. He was solicitous, even to pain, about their continuous welfare.
II. Its strictness.
1. As regards his government of the Churches, with what eagerness both of authority and argument does he throw himself into questions even of dress! (1 Corinthians 11:3-16; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13-14). In our ritual controversies we are certain that he would have laid down, as it is now thought tyranny to do, the law of obedience (1 Corinthians 14:36).
2. His anxiety, as his Epistles show, was a doctrinal anxiety. He was fighting for Christ, and therefore was peremptory in his enforcement of doctrine.
III. Individual (2 Corinthians 11:29). True he made the world his province, but he took a personal interest in his converts. See how he deals with the incestuous person. He never suffered the supposed interests of Churches to eclipse the value of souls. I knew an archbishop who failed not, whatever his distance or occupation, to write at certain intervals to a common northern townsman whom he had reclaimed from intemperance for his establishment in grace. (Dean Vaughan.)
Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?--
Sympathy and indignation
I. There are two faults which alternate in human character--weakness and harshness.
1. We sometimes find a person who is extremely amiable, one invaluable in hours of distress, to whom we fly in sorrow. And yet in this character, so attractive at first sight, there may be a fatal defect. There may be a want of strength--a sympathy not only with the erring, which is right, but with the error, which is wrong.
2. On the other hand, we sometimes see a person of the greatest elevation and purity of character; we hear his judgment upon right and wrong; we fancy our own moral tone to be braced by his principles and example. And yet here too there may be something fatally wanting. He may be harsh, and have the effect of driving in upon itself, but not of correcting, that which is sinful in another. We feel, perhaps, that it would be impossible for us to confess a fault to such a person; therefore in his company we are tempted to deceive him if not ourselves, and that which is evil sinks the deeper in for being thus driven from the surface.
II. Turn now, and see a character which, by God’s grace, combined both these virtues and avoided both these faults.
1. By nature it was a strong character. Those whom he regarded as in error St. Paul once persecuted to the death. But, as soon as the love of Christ touched his heart, without losing one particle of strength, he learned to add to it tenderness. Knowing how much he had been forgiven, he knew how to forgive.
2. Now therefore his language is, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” Who is inexperienced or unstable in the life of God, living powerless in a perilous world, and I do not share his fears and sympathise with him to the full from the depth of my own experience? On the other hand, “Who is offended, and I burn not? “ I am weak with the weak, but I am not weak towards their tempter. Read the passage in the first Epistle, in which he consigns to a terrible punishment the guilty person, and then read the passage in the second Epistle, in which, after a due interval of exclusion, he bids them to receive back and comfort the penitent offender.
III. The lesson for ourselves.
1. Amongst you some are weak, vigorous in body, it may be, quick in mind, and yet weak. Some of you feel it, and accuse yourselves of it: “I am so weak, so unstable, so irresolute, so soon shaken from my purpose.” Now, then, St. Paul tells us here how we ought to deal with such weakness. He became weak along with it. This was the right way, he meant, to deal with weakness, to descend, as it were, to its level, and, in the very act of doing so, to help to raise it to his own. Do I recommend laxity of treatment? Far from it. Sympathy is not indulgence, for sympathy can rebuke severely, and severely punish. But there are two ways of doing everything; it is one thing to rebuke with sorrow, and another to rebuke or punish in coldness or in apathy.
2. “Who is offended, and I burn not?” It is the tendency of long carelessness, whether in an individual or in a community, to blunt the edge of the sense of sin. It is said of advancing age that its tendency is to make men more indulgent and less sanguine. Certainly we do find a great want in ourselves too often of righteous indignation. A strange companion, some of you may be saying, to that spirit of sympathy which has just been spoken of! St. Paul, however, did not think so. Now indignation is a dangerous quality to foster towards one of ourselves. But nevertheless it has its uses in the Christian scheme, and the loss of it causes a terrible injury to the health of a community, if not of an individual man. No tongue ever uttered words of such consuming indignation as those which Christ addressed to the Scribes and Pharisees. Would to God there were more who could be angry and sin not in the sight and hearing of some kinds of evil! It is the loss of this feeling which fills the courts of justice with records of unmanly aggressions upon the confiding and the feeble. (Dean Vaughan.)
Many-sidedness, which is an invariable characteristic of all really great men, was indisputably a feature in St. Paul. No doubt it has risks and disadvantages. There is the chance of shallowness. It is often, and with supreme unfairness, identified with insincerity. Capriciousness, too, is imputed to these large and sensitive natures, because we cannot always find them in the same mood. Perhaps that one feature of nature which has done more than any other to conciliate the affection of the Church is sympathy. Sympathy is feeling with others, and it is quite a distinct thing from feeling for them. The latter is more of a quick and evanescent sentiment, good as far as it goes, but not often going far. Sympathy is a habit, or temper of mind, which means prayer and effort and sacrifice. Let us first select certain types of circumstance which sympathy springs to meet.
1. First, let us not forget our apostle’s precept, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,” and not be so ignorant as to suppose that men do not value sympathy with happiness, though they may need it more in sorrow. All conditions of life, as well as all classes of men, claim and appreciate sympathy. Our Lord’s presence at the marriage feast at Cana, as well as at the feast at Bethany after the raising of His friend Lazarus, is an instance in point. Disappointment and wounded self-love may occasionally have something to do with our lack of sympathy in a friend’s happiness, but thoughtlessness and a certain lazy selfishness have more.
2. There are difficulties in religion, where honest and even reverent souls demand sympathy and do not always get it. Nothing so tends to discourage, or harden, or anger men into actual unbelief as a cold, harsh, dogmatic treatment of their difficulties. Sympathy here, indeed, must be prudent and frank.
3. It is hardly necessary to add how needful and blessed in hours of personal sorrow is the felt sympathy of a friend. People who don’t know are apt, by way of excusing themselves for negligence, to allege that sympathy at such times has no real value. Little they know about it. Here, again, we must premise that true sympathy has nothing morbid or softening about it. It braces, while it sighs; it points to Christ, instead of leaning on man. If it means tact and skill, it also means courage and power. In conclusion, let us say other things about sympathy. No doubt there are some people in whom it is a born instinct; so to speak, it is neither hard for them nor easy. It is a matter of course, for it is a part of themselves. Yet, even in them, it needs educating and disciplining by experience. Then let us be careful how, with the best meaning possible, we express sympathy with troubles and losses of which we have no sort of personal knowledge, thereby, it may be, making our kindly intended consolations clumsy, ludricrous, or even painful. Let us leave it to those who do know what they are doing, and so avoid the danger of making a second wound in our attempt to heal the first. Once more, no quality of the soul, when it is genuine and ripe and wise, is so gratefully accepted, so tenderly cherished, so lavishly repaid, as this grace of sympathy, and it does not need money, talent, cleverness--only the presence of love. The love of God and the love of man react upon each other. (Bp. Thorold.)
2 Corinthians 11:30-33
If I must needs glory, I will glory of mine … infirmities.
Glorying in infirmities
St. Paul, with all his gifts and all his triumphs as an apostle of Christ, led a life of constant trial. There was one very peculiar trial to which he was subjected, that of constant disparagement. Scarcely had he planted the Church at Corinth than another came after him to mar his work. One or two obvious remarks suggest themselves.
I. And one is as to the character of the Scriptures generally, in reference to their details of facts. All the books of Scriptures are of what is called an incidental character. The Gospels were not written to give a complete life of Jesus. And in like manner the history in the Acts was not written to give a complete life of each of the apostles, not even of the two apostles principally spoken of, St. Paul and St. Peter. In each case specimens of the life are given, enough to exemplify the character and the history of the first disciples, by illustrating the principles on which a Christian should act, and the sort of help and support from above which he may look for in so acting.
II. Another remark, not wholly unconnected with this, is as to the style and general character of this particular passage and its context. “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.” It is what we call ironical language. And there is very much of this tone in these chapters. I would beg you to notice what a very natural person St. Paul was; how he expressed strongly what he strongly felt; how he did not allow a misplaced or morbid charity to keep him from exposing, as any human writer would seek to do, the fraudulent designs and underhand practices of those whose influence over a congregation he saw to be full of danger.
III. But i must draw my third remark from the text itself, and thus prepare the way for its brief concluding enforcement. St. Paul says, “If I must needs glory, I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities.” I fear these words have been sometimes much misapplied. People have spoken of glorying in their infirmities. They have applied the words, all but avowedly, to infirmities of temper and of character, as though it gave them some claim to the estimation of Christians to be aware of their own liability to sudden outbreaks or habitual unsoundness of prevailing evil within. But now observe the three things to which St. Paul applies the term of infirmity or weakness.
1. The first of these is suffering--suffering for Christ’s sake, suffering of a most painful kind and a most frequent repetition--bodily discomfort, bodily privation, bodily pain. Such was one part of his “infirmity.” Suffering reminded him of his human nature, of his material frame not yet redeemed by resurrection.
2. The second kind of infirmity is denoted in these words, “that which crowds upon me daily, the anxiety of all the congregations.” A keen sense of responsibility is his second weakness. He knew so much in himself, he had seen so much in others, of the malice and skill of the tempter, that when he was absent from a congregation, and more especially from a young congregation busy in the formation or in the charge of distant Churches, he was distracted with painful care, and even faith itself was not enough sometimes to soothe and reassure him. He called this anxiety an infirmity. Perhaps, in the very highest view of all, it was so. Perhaps he ought to have been able to trust his congregation in God’s hands in his absence.
3. There was a third weakness, growing out of the last named, and that was the weakness of a most acute sympathy. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” That is, whenever I notice or hear of a weakness in the faith of any one, such a weakness as exposes him to the risk of failing in his Christian course, I have a sense of interest and concern in that case such as makes me a very partaker in its anxieties. I cannot get rid of it by putting it from me. I feel that weakness of character as my weakness; I feel that weakness of faith as my weakness. That is one half of my sympathy. But there is, along with this, another feeling, “who is offended?” who is caused to stumble? who is tempted to sin? and I am not on fire with righteous indignation against the wickedness which is doing this work upon him? Sympathy with the tempted is also indignation against the tempter. Sympathy has two offices. Towards the offended it is fellow weakness; towards the offender it is indignant strength. I have dwelt upon these things for the sake of putting very seriously before you the contrast between St. Paul’s weaknesses and our own. Our own infirmities are of a kind which a severer judge than we are of ourselves would certainly designate by the plainer names of defects, faults, and sins--indolence, carelessness, vanity, a desire for applause, a sensitiveness to ether men’s opinions of us. Compared with such things, how withering to our self-love must be St. Paul’s (so-called) weaknesses! The very least of them is a virtue beyond our highest attainments. Which of us ever suffered anything in Christ’s behalf? Where is our sense of responsibility?--our anxiety about those committed to us?
4. Finally, I would give a wider scope to the language of the text, and urge upon each one the duty and the happiness of saying to himself in the words of St. Paul, “If I must needs glory, I will glory in those things which concern,” not my strength, but “my weakness.” The things on which we commonly pride ourselves are our advantages, our talents, our estimation with others, our position in society, the pleasures we can command, or the wealth we have accumulated. But these things, by their very nature, are the possession of the few. St. Paul tells us how we may glory safely, how we may glory to the very end. Glory, he says, not in your strength, but in your weakness. Has God denied to you His gift of health? Has He seen fit by His providence to impair any one of your bodily organs--your sight, your hearing, your enjoyment of taste, or your power of motion? Or have you been treated with neglect by some one to whom you had shown only kindness? Has the poison of disappointment entered your heart? It is just in these very things, or in any one of them, that St. Paul would have you glory. For God’s gifts to us we may be thankful, but it is in His deprivations alone that we may glory. And St. Paul tells us why we may thus glory in our disadvantages, in our postponements, in our losses, in our bereavements. He says in another passage of this same Epistle, “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest (tabernacle) upon me.” And he speaks yet again in the same spirit “of bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,” being made like Him, that is, in His humiliation and in His death for us, “that the life also of Jesus,” His living power as it is now put forth in His servants, “might be made manifest in our body.” It is the dark side of life which brings us most closely, most consciously into connection with the supporting and comforting help of Christ within. (Dean Vaughan.)
Knoweth that I lie not.--
The happiness of entire truthfulness of heart
What a glorious appeal is this of St. Paul; the very spirit of holy truth breathes in it. It was an appeal which none but an entirely honest and faithful man would make to the One knowing all things, to judge the single truthfulness of his whole speech. We think, at first sight, what a convincing, triumphant appeal these words must have been to all that heard them. But as we dwell upon them a second thought rises up in our minds, “what a comfort and stay the consciousness of this must have been to him who could honestly say so much to himself.” What ease and peace and comfort, yes, and what power and vigour as well, must there have been there. Look only at the other side of the case, at the miserable condition of the untruthful, self-deceiving, double-faced heart. Think of the many discomforts, miseries of a heart that does not mean to seek the truth; think how such a heart would stand to other hearts; think, for instance, of all the wretched, uneasy fear of being found out. I do not mean only found out in telling lies, but in all the deceitfulness, the double dealing of a hollow, insincere heart. How can there be any groundwork of real and abiding affection where one is hiding his real thoughts from the other, or not even acknowledging to himself what he really feels? You know well how we draw towards the open, frank man who seems to speak from the heart. Here, then, is the first discomfort of an untruthful heart, that it is estranged from those to whom it ought to be most warmly attached, that it fears those it ought to love. Is this all? No, nor the greater part. There is one other with whom a man may be untruthful, himself. It may be our chief life occupation to carry on a long deceit of ourselves, sometimes knowing the better part and choosing the worse, sometimes blindfolding ourselves, so as to hinder ourselves from seeing what is the right way. Our Lord speaks of the helplessness of a house divided against itself. How can that be otherwise, when a man is actually divided against himself, and one half sets itself to deceive the other? Now, I ask, can there be any real peace of truth in a heart so divided? Can it be possible for such a heart to feel comfortable? But there lies deeper mischief still, greater discomfort from the rule of untruthfulness, insincerity, deceit in the heart. God is the king of the conscience, and the rule of right and truth is the law of His kingdom. Where, then, we are not thinking and living by rule, where we are dealing untruthfully with ourselves, we must be dealing also untruthfully with God, either doing what we like, without seeking to know His will, or, which is perhaps more common, seeking to find a loophole in His Word through which we can creep and have our own way, heaping up all sorts of weak excuses, false arguments, pretences of many kinds, under which we smother the plain meaning of the known Word of God, “handling the Word of God deceitfully,” and “changing the truth of God into a lie.” Can there be any comfort in this forced reign of untruth? Can there be any ease or real peace? Happy the man who escapes all this; happy the man who, by the grace of God, has set up the simple law of truth in his heart, who seeks only the truth, “for the truth shall make him free, and freedom will be happiness. He has but one rule, to deal honestly with himself, his neighbour, and his God. If he is open with God, God will be open with him, and the everlasting truth shall be his stay and joy, and exceeding great reward. (Archdeacon Mildmay.)
In Damascus the governor … kept the city … with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down.
I. That the eminently good are specially exposed to danger.
1. Because of the ability which they display in destroying evil (verse 22). The genius, culture, sagacity, and resolution of Paul. The tallest trees are most exposed to the tempest. Mountain summits rear themselves to the heights where lightnings are kindled and thunderbolts are forged.
2. Because of the influence which they exercise. The presence of Napoleon electrified his troops. The leading of the gifted good multiplies the power of Christians in general.
3. Because of the success which they realise. The conversion of Paul was a revival. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” Luther paralysed the papacy.
II. That the eminently good are sometimes exposed to very formidable dangers (verse 32). The governor of Damascus, instigated by the Jews, surrounded the city with soldiers to secure the apprehension and assassination of Paul.
1. The danger was powerful in its instrumentality. Church and State combined to crush Paul. Antichrist and assassination are synonymous.
2. The danger was skilful in its contrivance. The city was entirely surrounded with guards. The arrangement seemed admirably suited to the purpose--deliverance was hopeless. Sagacity, to a degree, and sin have been linked together from the days of Paradise Lost. Talent has been prostituted ever and everywhere.
3. The danger was destructive in its design. “To kill him.” If the teacher is slain the truth will survive.
III. That the eminently good are sometimes very simply delivered out of danger (verse 3). The enemy was baffled by a basket.
1. The escape was novel in its method. “And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall.” Windows have often done service to the faithful. Baskets also have been friends in need. Necessity was the mother of invention.
2. It was unexpected in its adoption. The gates of the city were watched. They had not reckoned upon the window superseding the door.
3. It was justifiable in its principle. An act of policy is right if principle is not sacrificed.
4. It was complete in its success. “And I escaped his hands.” The secret disappearance through the window was a momentary retreat which led to endless victories. Every man is immortal until his work is done. Peter delivered from prison.
1. The value of a true worker for Christ. Paul. “Ye are the salt,” etc. “Ye are the light,” etc.
2. The world’s ignorance of its best friends. It has invariably persecuted the truest philanthropists.
3. The dependence of the great upon inferiors.
4. The ultimate defeat of sin.
5. The over-ruling power of Divine Providence. (B. D. Johns.)
The Damascene Ethnarch; foiled designs
1. His name is unknown at present. Future researches may reveal it. His master, Aretas or Hareth, was Emir of Petra and father-in-law of Herod the Great. When the latter turned away from his lawful wife and took Herodias, Aretas, to avenge the insult, seized Damascus, and placed a strong man over the city and its garrison. Paul may have met this governor, and have spoken as plainly to him as afterwards to Felix. He certainly proclaimed the gospel with power, and put to confusion the Jews. They in their deadly malignity planned to get rid of him, and seem to have won the Ethnarch over to their plan. By the way, however, in which the account is given, we should infer that the commandant was himself the subject of an unreasoning prejudice. He had a fixed purpose, and in every way he sought to carry it into effect. He had the gateways carefully watched by day and night, and intended to make short work with the apostle. A bowstring or sword-slash should quench his fiery earnestness and cut short his heretical teachings.
2. Paul was evidently in great danger, and he knew it. He must remain in hiding as long as possible. This would be trying to a restless, energetic man like him. He must attempt something. He is like many at this day who are harassed and see no opening. Every avenue of escape from temptation seems closed on the one hand, or of usefulness on the other. We doubt not that Paul had recourse to God in prayer. He would act as well. The Christians also are anxious. One friendly to him has a suggestion to make. The window of his house is in the wall of defence, and he can borrow a basket and a rope from a neighbour. Why should not the apostle escape thereby? Ah, the idea is a good one. Thanks many are expressed, and when the night is dark the great apostle of the Gentiles crouches in the creaking basket, and is lowered down. Possibly, instead of a wicker basket, something more silent, a strong net-like basket of rope, one like those ofttimes slung over the camels with fuel or food, was found.
3. Paul can breathe now. The period of intense anxiety made a deep impression upon him, and he refers to it as one of the pivotal points in his life. The man who “kept the city” could not keep all in his power. There was a greater than himself whom he had not taken into account.
I. God can always find a way of escape for His servants. He is never baffled, although we are constantly. His help comes in the most unexpected manner, and at the extremest point of our needs. Thus Peter found it when shut in prison and the gates were opened by the angel. Thus Daniel found it when God shut the lions’ mouths. Thus Jeremiah found it when an Ethiopian eunuch was moved to draw him up out of the miry prison. Thus the Israelites found it when, the foe behind and the sea before, they cried unto God and received the command, “Go forward.” And thus many of God’s servants have found deliverance--Wyclif when John of Gaunt stood by him, Luther when the Elector Frederick shielded him. Thus God has His window and basket for men now who put their trust in Him--one that will just fit them. He knows where to find it and when to bring it out. Trust Him. An old basket and half-worn rope becomes the salvation of an apostle, and the Cross of shame and torture the sign of the redemption of the world.
II. The way of God’s deliverances is sometimes humiliating to the carnal nature. We can imagine that when Paul first looked at that basket he would shrink from creeping into it. Shall he who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, he who was conscious of great ability to rule, have to submit to such humiliation? So it may seem repugnant to some to be saved simply by faith in a crucified Saviour. We like not to be reduced to depend on another. We have no objection to admire Christ, to attach ourselves to Him as to a great leader, or as an inspiriting example of self-sacrifice, but the Cross is still to some a stumbling-block.
III. When a spirit escapes from its slavery to evil habits we can imagine how the archenemy of souls will gnash with anger. The Ethnarch was foiled. Herod was foiled when the wise men went not back to tell where the Christ was born. Pharisees were foiled when the officers they sent to take Christ came back and said, “Never man spake like this man.” The forty men who bound themselves under an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul were foiled by the son of Paul’s sister, who carried the report to the Roman officers; and the governor of Damascus would doubtless rage when his officers said that Paul had escaped and was preaching in another city. “Foiled, foiled by that Paul!” Thus will the evil one be foiled in respect to those who trust in the work of the Crucified One, and humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. Thus, too, will all the opposition of the world to the truth of God be foiled. Attempts to suppress God’s truth will eventually only lead to louder praise and a more telling triumph.
IV. We can imagine, how great would be the apostle’s gratitude; and what will not be the depth of our thankfulness when we find we have been for ever delivered from temptation and sin! The God who foiled the Ethnarch and set Paul free can deliver us now and eternally. (F. Hastings.)
(text, and Acts 9:24-25):--This incident is mentioned by Paul in a curious manner. He appears to be about to give a history (verse 30) of “the things that concern mine infirmities.” The escape is thereupon narrated in a sharply detailed manner. And next he says, “It is not expedient for me doubtless (then) to glory.” It was a ridiculous, humiliating circumstance; most men would have concealed it. Of such odd things the religion of Jesus can make splendid use.
I. It was an instance of peculiar discipline. That there was something in Paul requiring to be thus dealt with we may be certain--an over-sensitiveness that might occasionally make him a trouble to himself and others; a deep-rooted feeling of personal dignity and Jewish pride. In such ways we get the “starch” taken out of us. Of the stiff but brittle Pharisee God was making a keen and flexible weapon. Many would have hesitated to avail themselves of such a means of escape. It tended to make the fugitive ridiculous. It might even be considered destructive of his authority and usefulness. Anything that stands in the way of God’s service will He in like manner remove.
II. It was a test of the faith of the disciples. There are many who cannot receive the truth apart from extraneous and meretricious recommendation. Moral influence is with them inextricably bound up with personal position and external dignity, etc. It is surprising how very few are able to receive the truth for its own worth. Yet a humble exterior is no proof of real lowering. Splendour may cloak corruption and spiritual death. One might fancy the Damascene Christians exclaiming inwardly, “Where is the miracle, the sign?” So here Paul banters the Corinthians--I am a fool, “bear with me.” With men God ever pursues this separative process, dissolving the temporal and accidental elements from the essential and eternal in His Word.
III. It was a specimen of the irony of Divine providence. In certain historical events one seems to detect such a mood. Especially in the more critical moments in the history of nations, churches, etc., does it betray itself. The means of checkmating the moves of the adversary of souls are reduced to a minimum--a ridiculous, preposterous circumstance, but it is sufficient. And when one compares, as he cannot but do, the huge preparations and complex machinery of Satan, with the simplicity and external meanness of the Divine instrumentality, the power and wisdom of God stand forth the more sheer and absolute. Because we feel the battle stern and long and difficult we find it hard to conceive of it being otherwise with God and higher intelligences. But there are traces of contempt for Satan in the Bible. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
Paul in a basket
I. On what a small tenure great results hang. The ropemaker had no idea how much depended on the strength of his workmanship. How if that rope had broken and the apostolic life had been dashed out? On that one rope how much depended! So it has been ever and again. What ship of many thousand tons ever had so important a personage as once was in a small boat of papyrus on the Nile? How if some crocodile had crunched it? The parsonage at Epworth took fire, and seven of the children were safe, but the eighth was in the consuming building. How much depended on that ladder of peasant shoulders ask the millions of Methodists on both sides the sea, ask the hundreds of thousands of people who have already joined their founder. An English vessel put in at Pitcairn Island, and found right amid the surroundings of cannibalism and squalor a Christian colony with schools and churches. Where did it come from? Missionaries had never landed there. Sixty years before a vessel on the sea was in disaster, and a sailor, finding that he could save nothing else, went to a trunk and took out the Bible which his mother gave him, and swam ashore with the book between his teeth. That book was read and re-read until the heathen were evangelised. There are no insignificances in our lives. The minutiae make up the magnitude. If you make a rope make it stout, for you do not know how much may depend upon your workmanship.
II. Unrecognised service. Who are those people holding that rope? Who tied it to the basket? Who steadied the apostle as he stepped in? Their names have not come to us, and yet the work they did eclipses all that was done that day in Damascus and the round world over. Are there not unrecognised influences at work in your life? Is there not a cord reaching from some American, Scottish, or Irish, or English home, some cord of influence that has held you right when you would have gone astray, or pulled you back when you had made a crooked track? It may be a rope thirty years long, three thousand miles long, and the hands may have gone out of mortal sight; but they held the rope! One of the glad excitements of heaven will be to hunt up those people who did good work on earth but never got any credit for it. If others do not make us acquainted with them God will take us through. Come, let us go around and look at the circuit of brilliant thrones. Why, those people must have done something very wonderful on earth. “Who art thou, mighty one of heaven?” Answer: “I was by choice the unmarried daughter that stayed at home to take care of father and mother in their old days.” “Is that all?” “That is all.” Pass along. “Who art thou?” “I was for thirty years an invalid. I wrote letters of condolence to those whom I thought were worse off than I. I sometimes was well enough to make a garment for the poor family on the back lane.” “Is that all?” “That is all.” Pass further along. “Who art thou?” “I was a mother who brought up a large family of children for God. Some of them are Christian mechanics, some are Christian merchants, some are Christian wives.” “Is that all? ... That is all.” Pass along a little further. “Who art thou?” “I had a Sabbath school class on earth, and I had them on my heart until they all came into the kingdom of God, and now I am waiting for them.” “Is that all?” “That is all.” Pass a little further along the circuit of thrones. “Who art thou, mighty one of heaven?” “In time of bitter persecution I owned a house in Damascus, and the balcony reached over the wall, and a minister who preached Christ was pursued, and I hid him away from the assassins, and when I could no more seclude him I told him to fly for his life, and in a basket this maltreated one was let down over the wall, and I was one who helped hold the rope.”
III. Henceforth consider nothing unimportant that you are called to do, if it be only to hold a rope. A Cunard steamer had splendid equipment, but in putting up a stove in the pilot house a nail was driven too near the compass. The ship’s officer, deceived by that distracted compass, put the ship two hundred miles off the right course. One night the man on the look-out shouted, “Land, ho! “within a few rods of demolition on Nantucket shoals. A sixpenny nail came near wrecking a Cunarder. Small ropes hold great destinies. In 1871 a minister in Boston sat by his table writing. He could not get the right word, and he put his hands behind his head and tilted back the chair, trying to recall that word, when the ceiling fell and crushed the desk over which a moment before he had been leaning. A missionary in Jamaica was kept by the light of an insect called a candle fly from stepping off a precipice a hundred feet. F.W. Robertson declared that he was brought into the ministry through a train of circumstances started by the barking of a dog. If the wind had blown one way the Spanish Inquisition would have been established in England. Nothing unimportant in your life or mine. Place six noughts on the right side of the figure “1,” and you have a million. Place our nothingness on the right side, and you have augmentation illimitable; but be sure you are on the right side. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24