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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 2-corinthians-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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2 Corinthians 13:1-14
This is the third time I am coming to you.
Paul’s epistolary farewell to the Corinthians
There is no evidence that Paul wrote a word to them after this. The letters had evidently been a task to a man of his tender nature. No doubt he felt a burden rolled from his heart, and a freer breath, when he dictated the last sentence.
I. Words of warning. He warns them of a chastisement which he was determined to inflict upon all offenders against the gospel of Christ.
1. The discipline would be righteous (2 Corinthians 13:1). He will not chastise any without proper evidence. Therefore the true need not fear; the false alone need apprehend.
2. The discipline would be rigorous (2 Corinthians 13:2). He had threatened this in his former letter (1 Corinthians 4:13-19). There is no more terrible chastisement than excommunication from the fellowship of the good.
3. The discipline would demonstrate the existence of Christ in him (2 Corinthians 13:3). He could have given this proof sooner, but he acted in this respect like Christ, and was content to appear “weak “ amongst them, in order that his power might be more conspicuously displayed (2 Corinthians 13:3-4).
II. Words of exhortation (2 Corinthians 13:5). Self-scrutiny is at once a duty the most urgent and the most neglected. Observe--
1. The momentous point to be tested in self-scrutiny.
2. The momentous conclusion to be reached by self-scrutiny. “Know ye not” (emphatic), etc. If you are in the faith He is your life. Should you find you are not in the faith, ye are counterfeits, spurious, not genuine; tares, not wheat.
III. Words of prayer (2 Corinthians 13:7). Not for his own reputation or himself, but--
1. That they should be kept from the wrong. “Do no evil,” nothing inconsistent with the character and teaching of Christ.
2. That they should possess the right. “Not that we should appear approved, etc.
IV. Words of comfort (2 Corinthians 13:8).
1. Truth is uninjurable. Man may quench all the gas lamps in the world, but he cannot dim one star. Men can destroy the forms of nature, level the mountains, dry up the rivers, burn the forests, but can do nothing against the imperishable elements of nature, and these elements will live, build up new mountains, open fresh rivers, and create new forests. You can do nothing against the truth.
2. Goodness is unpunishable (2 Corinthians 13:9).
(1) Because it is goodness. The best of men are too “weak” in authority to punish those who are “strong” in goodness. The way to paralyse all penal forces is to promote the growth of goodness.
(2) Because it is restorative. (2 Corinthians 13:10). Its destiny is edification, not destruction.
V. Words of benediction.
1. Be happy. “Farewell,” which means “rejoice.”
2. Be blest of God. “The grace of our Lord,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 13:3-5
Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.
The proof of our ministry
I. God’s method of operation in the Church by His appointed servants.
1. The rebellious Corinthians had spoken ill of the apostle as lacking in power: his personal presence was not commanding, his speech was not fascinating. Paul does not deny the charge, but declares the general principle of power in weakness, by which the Lord conducts the gospel dispensation.
(1) Life, born of death, is the life of our souls (2 Corinthians 13:4). By assuming our weakness Christ gained the power to act as our substitute, and put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Because of His being obedient to death, even the death of the Cross, “God also hath highly exalted Him,” etc. By this sign He conquered: the ensign of His Cross is the seal of victory. It is Himself thus slain which is His power to pardon and to save.
(2) Our Lord’s power over our hearts comes by His great love, and this matchless manner of His showing it. Stooping so low to save such unworthy ones He conquers our hearts. His dying love has begotten living love within us.
2. Why did Paul interject this teaching? To show us that God does not save by the strength of His ministers, but by their weakness.
(1) Paul was willing to lose all personal honour, though, in truth, not a whit behind the chief of the apostles. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” etc. He cheerfully sank that his Lord might be exalted.
(2) In those days there was a great liking for philosophy. But Paul determined not to know anything among them save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. “But at least,” they said, “what he has to say ought to be delivered with the graces of oratory.” “No,” says Paul, “my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
(3) He might have come among them and said, “I am an apostle; I have supreme power over churches; out of this Church I shall eject offenders without any question”; yet he never used such authority; on the contrary he was the servant of all, gentle, unselfish. If any one was grieved, Paul was grieved with him; if any suffered trial, Paul was tried. Thus he was a power among them. By laying aside authority he became mighty to influence them for good. All who desire to be useful must learn that in self-sinking their usefulness will be found. He who becomes least is greatest of all. “When I am weak, then am I strong.”
II. The sure proof of power; the indisputable evidence of any minister’s call from God to preach the gospel.
1. “Ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.”
(1) He did not care about what they thought of his own speaking; but he was greatly concerned that they should not think lightly of the Lord Jesus who spoke in him.
(2) Further, the apostle declares that even the power of the living Christ is the power of God. Our Lord kept nothing to Himself, but His weakness through which He was crucified, for He liveth by the power of God. Such must be the power of every Christian worker.
(3) Then, says Paul, “If you want a proof of Christ’s speaking in me with power, look at yourselves.” He says elsewhere, “Ye are our epistle.” “Ye are God’s husbandry,” and the test of how far our husbandry has been the Lord’s husbandry must be found in your fruitfulness. The proof that Christ really doth speak by us is that He has wrought by that speaking in you after such a fashion as proves the doctrine to be Divine. Your souls are the seals of Christ’s power. If ye seek any proof of Christ speaking by me, ye have it in your--
1. Conversion. When the chief priests and scribes saw the man that was healed standing with Peter and John, they could say nothing against them. Conversion proves that He by whose means it was wrought was sent by God.
2. Comfort. If by our speaking the Lord strengthens your weak hands and confirms your feeble knees, He points us out to you as His messengers.
3. Correction. Have you not sometimes felt your hearts turned inside out, as if the spirit of burning were scorching and purging you? Was not that of the Lord?
4. Conduct. My heart sinks within me when I hear of some who have been numbered with us. Do people say, “These are members of Spurgeon’s church”? You are either our joy and crown, or else our sorrow and dishonour. You must estimate whether a man farms well by the crops which he raises. True you cannot condemn him if a few thorns and thistles spring up in the hedgerows, but if there is a preponderance of weeds, everybody says, “This is wretched farming.”
5. Consecration. When your zeal burns, when you speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, then again I can say, seek ye a proof of Christ speaking by me? You are my witnesses inasmuch as by our word you have been stirred up to speak in the power of the Holy Ghost for the winning of souls.
6. Completion of the Christian character, and the display of it in the last hours. I have come down many times from the chamber of dying Christians with faith confirmed and joy increased. No dying man has looked me in the face and said, “Sir, you did not preach a religion which a man can die with.”
III. A needed proof of ourselves.
1. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” It is something to have our ministry attested, but it is much more to have your salvation attested.
(1) Therefore you are not to take it for granted that you are saved. In London years ago every shop had its sign, and they had a saying that the house which had the sign of the sun in a certain street was darker than any other. So there are some who have grace for their sign, but no sign of grace. To have a name to live is a wretched thing, if we be really dead
(2) Of course we are to examine our lives, but he says, “Examine yourselves.” Sin within will ruin even if it be not seen in act. Of course we are to examine our doctrines, but even more we are to examine ourselves. Heart error is more deadly than head error.
(3) “Prove your own selves.” Pry deeper. You have already given yourself a sifting; take a finer sieve and go to work again. You have already been in the crucible--go in again, and become as silver tried in a furnace purified seven times. A man cannot make too sure work about his own salvation. But can we not be certain of our safety? Yes, we can: but certain because we have not shunned the most rigorous self-examinations.
2. And what is to be the point of search? “Whether ye be in the faith,” whether what ye believe is true, and whether you truly believe it.
3. Dwell mostly on this point, “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Is Jesus Christ in you? I know all about Him. Yes, but is He in you? I read of Him. Read on, but is He in you? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith … Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
The professing Christian tried
All are not Israel who are of Israel. All who are professing Christians are not real believers. Tares and wheat grow together. This state of matters is of very ancient date. When Adam and his family constituted the Church, there was in her a wicked Cain. When the Church floated in Noah’s ark, there was at least within her pale an impious Ham. An Ishmael was in Abraham’s family--a profane Esau in the family of Isaac.
I. Regarding the duty of self-examination, we observe--
1. That it is a commanded duty. It is not imposed by human authority. Now, the duty of self-examination is plainly implied in several commands in Scripture. It may be inferred from the injunction to confess Christ before men; for how could one rightly confess Christ before he had ascertained that he belonged to Him? It is implied in the command to rejoice evermore; for how could one rejoice before he knew that there was reason for his joy?
2. A knowledge of our state is attainable. It will hardly be doubted that an impenitent sinner may discover his state of condemnation and wrath. This is what is meant by conviction of sin and misery. And it may be proved, from several instances in Scripture, that an assured confidence of our being in a state of grace may likewise be gained. Jacob could say with the utmost confidence that the Lord God had appeared to him at Luz and blessed him. David could say, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength.”
3. The persuasion that one is a real Christian would assist greatly in the performance of duty. Why is it that professing Christians are so dull in the performance of duty? It arises to a great extent from the uncertainty which hangs over their state. The persuasion of the love of God would make their souls, like the chariot of Aminadab, to run swiftly and smoothly in the way of new obedience.
4. Self examination is necessary, from the danger of self-deception. If there was no hazard of mistaking the way to heaven, there would be no need to inquire whether we were walking therein.
5. It is necessary for the believer’s real comfort. In no case is a state of doubt a happy condition. Though the matter should be comparatively trivial, yet if the mind is doubtful regarding it, there will be little inward peace.
6. We must sooner or later undergo a trial. It is evident, from what we have already said, that self-examination is an indispensable duty. We were--
II. To consider some evidences of being in the faith--that is, of being real Christians.
1. Those who are in the faith run not to the same excess of riot with others. If persons are habitually indulging in known sin, they give evidence that they belong not to Christ. It matters not what zeal such persons may possess. Jehu could say, “Come here, and see my zeal for the Lord.” Nor does it alter the case that they have performed deeds of benevolence and of outward religion. Achish protected a persecuted David. Another class consists of those who persevere in known sin more secretly. They restrain themselves before men; but in their retirements they transgress with avidity.
2. Those who are in the faith are a people zealous of good works.
3. We remark again, that those in the faith have peculiar views of sin.
4. Those who are in the faith have peculiar views of the Redeemer. Others see no beauty in Him.
5. Those who are in the faith, differ from others in the views which they take of themselves.
A little consideration will satisfy us that the generality of men are high-minded. It belongs to you to make conscience of the work of looking into your hearts.
1. And you ought to engage in the duty often. It is not enough that you examine yourselves before such solemn occasions as the Lord’s Supper. It ought, like secret prayer, to be performed daily.
2. Further, let not your examinations be superficial. Keep searching your hearts until you arrive at a conclusion regarding your state. Endeavour to probe your heart to the very bottom.
3. Beware of being discouraged from the duty. Let not the fear of exposing yourselves before your own eyes, deter you from it.
4. Above all, put the case into God’s own hand. “Search and try us, O God, and see if there be any wicked way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting. (A. Ross, M. A.)
I. The duty of self-examination based upon self-ownership and self-competence.
1. Self-ownership. “Your own selves.” Christ paid profound deference to the individual man. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? “His own soul, which he can never abdicate, nor alienate. No power, no process, can cut off the entail of your own personality; but what an awful moment is that when a man like the prodigal comes to himself, and sees for the first time the being that must be his own for evermore. This is the crisis which we call conversion.
2. Out of this arises self-trusteeship. No executor, ecclesiastical or other, can take that off your own hands. It is said of a duke when he went over to the Roman Church, the Roman Catholics undertook that if his soul was lost they would bear his damnation for him, and he could never find any other sect that would undertake that. “Thou fool! thy soul shall be required of thee.” We cannot relieve you of the responsibility.
3. Self-competence. “Know ye not your own selves?” Every man’s interior nature is a terra incognita to everybody else. “No man knows the spirit of a man,” etc. But it does not rest there only. Paul is speaking to people who have heard the gospel, and so Christ says to those who had the Old Testament, “Judge ye not that which is right.” Self-searching and Scripture-searching must be carried on contemporaneously. Then you have the Holy Spirit to enlighten you. “They shall be all taught of God.” It is this which constitutes your self-competence, running parallel with your self-ownership. God’s ministry is not intended to rescue God’s people from the labour and exercise of thought upon the subject of their religion. We are to think to set you a-thinking.
II. The process of self-examination. Examine yourselves; then prove yourselves. The word “prove” in Scripture means both to prove and to approve. “If we would judge ourselves we should not be condemned in the world.”
1. This process of self-examination is based upon the selfsame principles on which all examinations arc held. First examine and then prove, as the man of science does, and then draws his generalisation; as the judge, who collects the evidence and then gives his charge to the jury; as the medical man, who finds out the symptoms and examines until he obtains a diagnosis of his case, and then gives the prescription of the treatment; as the examiner, who puts his questions and then decides upon the classification of the examined. We must get all the facts together as clearly as we can, and then determine our classification in the sight of God.
2. A man examines himself when he studies his own past history, when he lays bare the habits of his life, when he asks himself what difficulties and temptations lie across his path, and considers with what aids and weapons he can best meet them, and when he calls up before him the last strong fainting agony, and asks with what strength he is provided for that terrible moment; when he sends out his thought to that interminable duration that goes beyond the grave, and asks how he is provided to meet the exigencies of the eternal world; then, and then only, does he examine himself.
III. To what this self-examination is directed: “Whether ye be in the faith.” Faith is the moral element, the spiritual atmosphere in and by which we have our being. When we say a man is in a rage, or in love, or in drink, we mean that rage, love, or drink has got possession of him. And so with a man “in the faith.” It means that his views are coloured by, and that all his affections and habits are under the mastery of, faith. Now, a man may entertain strong affection or resentment, and yet not be in a rage or in love; and so a man may have the faith in himself and yet not be in the faith; may have no doubt as to the historical verity which constitutes the faith, and yet not be in it. How sad it is that with all this preaching, and singing, and school-teaching, the faith has so little influence over us. That is what we must examine ourselves about.
2. There are two classes in the present day.
(1) One says the question is whether you be in the right; “For creeds and forms let graceless zealots fight,” etc. This is neither the beginning nor the end of the matter at all, unless the beginning be to be right at first. Everybody knows that the moral quality of an action depends upon the motive of that action. More than that; a man’s motives grow out of his heart. A good heart cannot produce bad motives. A bad heart cannot produce good motives. Now the moral and spiritual quality of the heart depends upon and is derived from the object upon which a man’s heart is set. If a man’s highest object in life is self, then selfishness is the ruling motive of his actions. And if a man’s heart is set on Christ, he lives a Christly life, and will be thus judged at last. Are you then in the faith?
(2) Nor will it do to say if a man is in the Church he must be all right. No doubt if you are in the faith you will do what Paul did, “essay to join yourselves to the disciples.” You will do it by a necessity of your own nature.
IV. What is the test of being in the faith?
1. Is Christ in you? That will determine that matter. Is He now--
(1) In your thoughts? Does Christ dominate the whole field of your life as some grand cathedral rises above the spires of a city, or as some mighty mountain range visible from every part of a continent?
(2) In you, the chief of your affections? Have you thrown open the state apartments of your heart to Him, and does He reign there? When Christ enters the heart He does not come incognito. When the doors are lifted up that the King of Glory may come in, the soul knows it.
2. But what is the terrible alternative? “Except ye be reprobate”--rejected and cast away. The idea of judgment is kept up all the way through. This is the subject of examination. Examination arises respecting the last decisive test. If when you come before the bar of God, and the secrets of your hearts are judged according to the gospel, Christ is not in you, you must be a wandering wreck for ever--cast into outer darkness, where is weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. (B. Gregory, D. D.)
It is readily admitted that self-knowledge is about the most necessary of all knowledge. From of old it has been accounted a precept of the highest wisdom, “Know thyself.” Might we not, then, wonder that attention should be so much averted from this concern? Can it be that men do not think it worth while? Or is it from fear lest the state of the case should be less satisfactory than is assumed? If so, here is a strange spectacle. A soul afraid of itself. It is easily apprehended how a human spirit might be afraid of another spirit in a human body, or of a disembodied spirit, evincing its presence by voice or appearance; or of a spirit of mightier order. But think of a human soul in dread of itself. A man uneasy in a local situation, or in the presence of other men, may think of escape; but in his own soul! there he is, and is to be perpetually. But now think of the pernicious operation of such fear. To fear that there may be, or is, something incompatible with safety, and therefore decline ascertaining it! Not to be willing to see how near is the precipice! In short, to abandon ourselves to be all that we fear--rather than encounter the self-manifestation and the discipline necessary for a happy change.
I. The necessity of self-examination. Every one actually stands placed against a standard unseen, but real--that by which God judges--the eternal law--the rule of Christian character. Think of all our assembly thus placed! If the fact could be an object of sight, whatever inquisitiveness each might feel respecting the rest, surely his own marked state would be the chief object of his eager attention. Well, but should it be less so when he considers and knows it is so discriminated in the sight of God? Is there anything in the world so important for him to know?
II. The objects of self-examination. We might ask a man, “What are you most concerned to know of yourself? Something in which you hope for a gratification of your pride? Your merits as contrasted with those of other men? Instead of this, we would advise--examine in that as to which you most feel you need to know when you approach the throne of God. Examination should be directed towards the points made by the apostle.
1. “Whether ye be in the faith.” Whether you are decidedly more than a cold assenting believer in the Christian doctrines. That a man may be, and yet at the same time be in a spirit opposite to all these heavenly truths. But--in the faith so as to be powerfully withdrawn from the spirit and dominion of the world? So as to have a habitual prevailing order of views, feelings, etc., animated by it? So as to be in a zealous league with its faithful adherents?
2. “That Jesus Christ is in you.” Is He in the thoughts as a commanding object of contemplation? Is He in the affections--the object of love, and of awful reverence? Is He in the conscience, as an authority? Is He in the soul, in the sense that somewhat of His likeness is impressed upon it; an indwelling presence, without which it were lifeless and hopeless? In all such important points, let men beware of assuming, without the process of “proving.”
III. The correct and salutary performance of this duty.
1. Two things are necessary.
(1) A distinct, strong, steady apprehension of the pure standard fixed by the Divine authority.
(2) A habit of reflection. There can be no effective self-examination without a resolute and often repeated effort to retire inward, and stay awhile, and pointedly inspect what is there.
(1) Should not expend its chief exercise on the mere external conduct; for if that alone were to be taken account of, a well-regulated formalist or Pharisee, nay possibly a hypocrite, might go off with considerable self-complacency.
(2) Should be exercised on a principle of independence of the estimates of others. It is true, that good use may be made of these, but they may have a wrong effect.
(a) If they are partial and favourable, to a highly flattering degree, will not the man be mightily inclined to take this for just?
(b) Suppose the contrary case, then an excitement of all the defensive feelings! “All these censures are from ignorance, perverseness, or perhaps even from jealousy.” There is, therefore, a necessity for cool, deliberate independence of judgment. And this will be promoted by a solemn sense of standing before the judgment of God--the grand requisite in all selfexamination.
(3) Should avail itself of the circumstances and seasons which may aid self-revelation.
(4) Slight symptoms should not be disregarded. In medical science, what seem slight symptoms are sometimes regarded as of great significance; the skilful judge is struck by their recurrence as indications of something serious, and as deciding what it is.
(5) Should take a comprehensive account. For, if a man contents himself with selecting only some particular points, his self-partiality will almost be certain to choose those which seem the most favourable; and he may be betrayed to make these the interpreters or substitutes of all the rest.
(6) Must beware of making some mere doctrinal point the great test and assurance, in self-defence under the absence of immediate experimental and practical evidence.
(7) Should be strongly enforced, by doubt and uncertainty. (J. Foster.)
I. Self-examination being so important an exercise, permit me to direct your attention towards it in regard to the general manner in which it ought to be conducted.
1. Seriousness is the first requisite of self-examination.
2. For similar reasons self-inspection must be frequent. An account with conscience, like worldly accounts, unless often looked into, is apt to run into confusion. Besides this daily reminiscence, the more solemn return of the Sabbath, in which all classes of men may find some leisure for their spiritual concerns, may well be employed, in part, in the useful business of self-inspection.
3. Self-examination, thus solemn and frequent, ought moreover to be conducted with candour. The introverted eye must search the remotest recesses, and penetrate with keen glance the darkest foldings of the soul. Men are but too apt to satisfy themselves on false grounds with respect to the security of their condition. Deal with thyself plainly, impartially, strictly. Scrutinise the foundation of thy confidence towards God.
4. But all this seriousness, frequency, and candour will be of little avail if unaccompanied by earnest prayer unto Him who is the presiding judge, and the all-seeing witness, in the secret court of self-inspection. Unless there be a deep sense of His presence, His purity, His infallibility.
II. Seek a more particular qualification for the work of self-inspection, by furnishing ourselves with those inquiries of which its Substance ought to consist. Self-examination respects the past, the present, and the future.
1. As it respects the past, it is requisite that Christians carry back their investigation to the earliest period of their lives; and mark in what instances they have failed of their duty to God, their neighbour, and themselves. Take note of all your minuter but habitual and ingrained faults. Do we own, on the whole retrospect, that we are inexcusable before God, and have only to throw ourselves upon His mercy, through Christ, for spiritual health and for salvation?
2. From these reflections the Christian will be led forward to inquire into the tenor of his present conduct. How stand now his affections towards God? Do they centre all in God, as the supreme object of love? Does he think of Christ as his only stay--of the Holy Spirit as his essential guide? His other motives--are they those of the gospel? How have these principles, if genuine, operated in detail? Has their efficacy been manifested by any substantial improvement in holiness? Is anything perverse in his disposition corrected?
3. Anticipation of the future is now the last link in the chain of self-examination, and is as intimately connected with attention to the present as that is with reflection on the past. A mighty conqueror of old sat down and wept because he found no more of territory to subdue; but this can never happen in the Christian warfare. The Canaanites are still in the fastnesses of the land; and even in the repose of conquest there remaineth much country to be gained. How have they made up their minds to encounter temptations yet to come? Are they not inclined to anticipate apologies for future remissness?
4. In conclusion, may we not observe, that the happiest effects can be prognosticated from self-.examination thus wisely conducted? (J. Grant, M. A.)
The Corinthians were the critics of the apostle’s age. They criticised Paul’s style. “His letters are weighty, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Nay, not content with that, they denied his apostleship. So he wrote two letters to them in which, having wrested the sword of their criticism out of their hands, he pointed it at their own breasts, saying, “‘Examine yourselves.’ You have disputed my doctrine; examine whether ye be in the faith. You have made me prove my apostleship; ‘prove your own selves.’” The fault of the Corinthians is the fault of the present age. Let not any one of you say “How did you like the preacher? What did you think of the sermon this morning? “Do you come here to judge God’s servants? Ye should say, “Let me take unto myself that which I have heard, and I come up here to be judged of God’s Word, and not to judge God’s Word.” I shall--
I. Expound my text.
1. “Examine,” that is--
(1) A scholastic idea. A boy has been to school a certain time, and his master questions him, to see whether he has made any progress. Christian, catechise your heart to see whether it has been growing in grace.
(2) A military idea. Just as the captain on review-day is not content with surveying the men from a distance, but looks at all their accoutrements, so do you examine yourselves with the most scrupulous care.
(3) A legal idea. You have seen the witness in the box, when the lawyer has been cross-examining him. Question your heart backward and forward, this way and that.
(4) A traveller’s idea. In the original it is “Go right through yourselves.” Stand not only on the mountains of your public character, but go into the deep valleys of your private life. Be not content to sail on the broad river of your outward actions, but go follow back the narrow rill till you discover your secret motive.
2. “Prove your own selves.” That means more than self-examination. A man is about to buy a horse; he thinks that possibly he may find out some flaw, and therefore he examines it; but after he has examined it, he says, “Let me have it for a week, that I may prove the animal before I invest in him.” A ship, both before and when launched, is carefully looked at; and yet before she is allowed to go to sea, she takes a trial trip; and then when proved she goes out on her long voyages. Now, many a man’s religion will stand examination that will not stand proof. It is like some cotton prints that are warranted fast colours, and so they seem when you look at them, but they are not washable when you get them home. It is good enough to look at, and it has got the “warranted” stamped upon it; but when it comes out into actual daily life, the colours soon begin to run, and the man discovers that the thing was not what he took it to be.
3. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” Oh! says one, “You may examine me; I am an orthodox Christian.” But the question now is not whether you believe the truth--but whether you are in the truth! Take an illustration. There is the ark; and a number of men around it. “Ah!” says one, “I believe that ark will swim.” “Yes,” says another, “it is strong from stem to stern.” Ay, but when the flood came, it was not believing the ark as a matter of fact--it was being in the ark that saved men.
4. “Know ye not your own selves?” If you do not you have neglected your proper study. What avails all else that you do know if you know not yourself? You have been roaming abroad, while the richest treasure was lying at home. And especially know ye not this fact, that Jesus Christ must be in your heart, formed and living there, or else ye are reprobates? Now, what is it to have Jesus Christ in you? The true Christian carries the cross in his heart. Christ in the heart means Christ believed in, beloved, trusted, espoused, Christ as our daily food, and ourselves as the temple and palace wherein He daily walks.
II. Enforce the text. “Examine yourselves,” because--
1. It is a matter of the very highest importance. Tradesmen may take coppers over the counter without much examination; but when it comes to gold, they will ring it well; and if it comes to a fivepound note, there is still more careful scrutiny. Ah! but if ye be deceived in the matter of your own souls, ye are deceived indeed. Look well to the title-deeds of your estate, to your life policies, to all your business; but, remember, all the gold and silver you have are but as the rack and scum of the furnace, compared with the matter now in hand. It is your soul. Will you risk that?
2. If ye make a mistake ye can never rectify it, except in this world. A bankrupt may have lost a fortune once, and yet may make another; but make spiritual bankruptcy in this life, and you will never have an opportunity to trade again for heaven. A great general may lose one battle, and yet win the campaign; but get defeated in the battle of this life, and you are defeated for ever.
3. Many have been mistaken, may not you be? Methinks I see the rocks of presumption on which many souls have been lost, and the siren song of self-confidence entices you on to those rocks. Stay, mariner, stay! Let yon bleached bones keep thee back. Do not tell me that you are an old Church member; for a man may be a professor of religion forty years, and yet there may come a trial-day when his religion shall snap after all.
4. God will examine you.
5. If you are in doubt now, the speediest way to get rid of your doubts and fears is by self-examination. Look at that captain. He says to the sailors, “You must sail very carefully, and be upon your watch, for I do not exactly know my latitude and longitude, and there may be rocks very close ahead.” He goes down into the cabin, he searches the chart, he takes an inspection of the heavens, and then says, “Hoist every sail, and go along as merrily as you please; I have discovered where we are; the water is deep, and there is a wide sea room.” And how happy will it be with you if, after having searched yourself, you can say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him.” And what if it should have a bad result? Better that you should find it out now than find it out too late.
III. Try and help you to carry the text into practice.
1. Begin with your public life. Are you dishonest? Can you swear? Are you given to drunkenness? etc. Make short work with yourself; there will be no need to go into any further tests. “He that doeth these things hath no inheritance in the kingdom of God.” And yet, Christian, despite thy many sins, canst thou say, “By the grace of God I am what I am; but I seek to live a righteous, godly, and sober life, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Remember, by thy works thou shalt be judged at last. Thy works cannot save thee, but they can prove that thou art saved; or if they be evil works, they can prove that thou art not saved at all.
2. How about your private life? Do you live without prayer, without searching the Scriptures? If so, I make short work of the matter; you are “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity.” But if thou art right at heart, thou wilt be able to say, “I could not live without prayer; I do love God’s Word; I love His people; I love His house.” A good sign, Christian, a good sign for thee; if thou canst go through this test, thou mayest hope that all is well. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. What it is about ourselves which we have to examine.
1. Our principles. Let us ascertain whether they are according to the word of truth, or whether they arc the mere inventions of men, if they be not indeed the conjectures of our own unthinking minds.
2. Our feelings. Is the love of God and Christ indeed in us? This affection is the root of all others.
3. Our practice (Galatians 6:4).
II. By what rules we are to conduct this very important investigation. There is no other standard than the Word of God; and this work of self-examination has perhaps been more marred by the overlooking of this circumstance than by anything else. The Word of God gives us the fruits of the Spirit, it gives us the works of the flesh. Take each list and see which contains the lineaments of your character. It presents to us various precepts which we are called upon to obey. Examine if they are the outlines of your everyday doings. But how is the examination to he conducted upon this high standard?
2. Frequently, for we are constantly changing.
3. With a view to improvement. The man who examines himself merely to know that he is safe is a selfish man. When he goes further, and endeavours to know what as a saved being he is to do, he is pursuing a course which, while it will discover to him his defects, will at the same time point out the means of his further progress.
4. In reference to the world at large. How far are we setting before the world, by our example, the Christianity by which we think we are ourselves saved?
5. In reference to all the situations in which the providence of God may place us.
6. In reference to all the principles that we discuss. There is no principle deserving discussion if you do not think it worth your while afterwards to inquire how far you have made it useful. (J. Burnet.)
This verse has been made to sanction a doctrine of morbid self-scrutiny utterly at variance with the healthiness and reasonableness of the New Testament. Narcissus, becoming enamoured of his own beautiful image reflected in the silvery fountain, was changed into a flower; but what toadstool kind of transformation is likely to follow persistent brooding over the vision of sin disclosed in the turbid depths of our own heart? It will pay us much better to look up at a fairer vision. Self-vivisection is one of the worst forms of that illegal science. Still, self-acquaintance is a duty--a duty to be performed in a wise spirit, and we ought from time to time to assure ourselves of our heart, our character, our walk.
1. “Examine yourselves”: not your neighbours. The Corinthians had been busy in their criticisms on the apostle; he asks them for a while to turn the keen investigation upon themselves. One of the Puritans says: “The windows of the soul should be like the windows of Solomon’s temple,‘broad inward.’” We are to watch ourselves, to judge ourselves, to condemn ourselves, far more severely than we do the Church or the world.
2. “Examine yourselves”: do not confuse yourself with others. “Prove your own selves.” The other day I saw two lads weighing themselves on a weighing-machine; they put the penny in the slot, and together got upon the scale. They thought to defraud the proprietor of the machine by their cleverness, two occupying the scale intended for one. But the result must have been very unsatisfactory to the astute youths. They knew their aggregate weight, but neither of them knew his personal weight. As I watched the lads, it struck me that in making our moral estimates we sometimes fall into a similar fallacy. We do not detach ourselves and seek to ascertain our personal merit; we ingeniously confuse ourselves with others. We are sons and daughters of parents who have passed into the skies. We do not isolate ourselves and prove our own selves. We shall at last be weighed in the balances one by one, and we had better weigh ourselves that way now.
3. “Examine yourselves”: know your real selves, not your seeming selves. We sometimes fancy that we know ourselves, when, in fact, we know only our seeming self. The Chinese are said to be fondest of the dress which most effectually conceals their true figure; and by a variety of sophistries we hide our real selves from ourselves. If we strictly examine our virtues, they may turn out no virtues at all. Zeal keenly tested proves to be temper; charity reveals itself as vaingloriousness; economy is disguised covetousness; courage is presumption; honesty is expediency with a fine name; conscientiousness is only the subtle working of self-will; contentment is really sloth; and amiability an easy-going disposition that lets things slide. We must not be content to note the surface.
4. “Examine yourselves”: your present selves, not your old selves. It is rather a common thing to judge ourselves by what we knew and felt and did in past years. A disastrous change has taken place, and taken place so gradually that we have failed to note it. Are we converted men and women now? Is the Divine fire burning still? Are our prayers availing to-day? Are our last works more than the first? These are the questions.
5. The grand test in self-examination is this: “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? “One of the great perversions of the duty of self-examination is that we make it more a quest for the evil that is in us than a quest for the good. The miner does not look for the dust and dirt of the mine; he watches for the streak of gold. And we must not search our heart for the beast and the devil, but for the manifestations of the indwelling Christ. (W. L. Watkinson.)
I. Self-examination is a necessary duty belonging to every one in the Church, and requires much diligence in the performing of it.
1. It is a necessary duty, in regard of our comfort. What comfort in Christ, in His meritorious passion, in His triumphant resurrection and ascension, in His prevalent intercession, unless we know that by faith we are united to Him? It is necessary
(1) Because there are common graces. There is an acceptation of the law for an outward practice, without an affection to the lawgiver, or an esteem of the spirituality of the law itself.
(2) Because there are counterfeit graces. There is much false coin in the world. Good things may be imitated, when they are not rooted. The apostle speaks of a dead faith (James 2:26). There is a repentance unto life (Acts 11:18) which supposeth a dead repentance.
(3) Because every man is in a state of grace or nature. There is a state of grace (Romans 5:1); a state of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It is necessary, therefore, to inquire whose we are.
2. It is a duty that requires diligence and care. That which is of infinite consequence in the state of your souls ought not to be built upon sandy and slight foundations. It is called communing with a man’s own heart (Psalms 4:4). Not a slight glance and away: sweeping and looking with a candle (Luke 15:8), wherewith every cranny and chink is pried into.
(1) Diligence is requisite, because the work is difficult. It is no easy matter to be acquainted with ourselves. The judgment of man is corrupted, and misrepresents things. Where grace is small, and corruptions many, it must be hard to discern it, as it is for an eye to discern a small needle, especially if in the dust and rubbish. The roots of sin also lie deep, not easily to be found without good directions.
(2) Diligence is requisite, because man is naturally unwilling to this duty. Men are more willing to have their minds rove through all the parts of nature, than to busy themselves in self-reflection; would read any book or relation rather than the history of their own heart. We are nearest to ourselves physically, and furthest from our own selves morally. Men whose titles are cracked and unsure, are loth to have them tried before the Judge and come under the siftings of conscience. Ever since the fall we run counter to God. Satan is no mean instrument in this; he is said to blind the world that they might not know their state. This unwillingness ariseth--
(a) From carnal self-love. It is natural to man to think well of himself, and suffer his affections to bridle his judgment. Every man is his own flatterer, and so conceals himself from himself. Very few that are uncomely in body, or deformed in mind, but think themselves as handsome and honest as others. Every blackamore fancies himself to have a comely colour. And this self-love keeps men off from this work, for fear they should behold their own guilt, and their souls be stung with anguish.
(b) From presumption and security.
(3) Diligence is requisite, because man is hardly induced to continue in this work. That self-love which makes them unwilling to enter upon it, renders them unfit to make any progress in it. When we do begin it, how quickly do we faint in it! How soon are our first glances upon ourselves turned to a fixedness upon some slighter object!
(4) Diligence is requisite, because we are naturally apt to be deceived, and to delude ourselves. How many extend their hopes as far as their wishes, and these as far as a fond fancy and imagination!
(5) Diligence is necessary, because, to be deceived in this is the most stinging consideration. To drop into hell, when a man takes it for granted that he is in heaven, to dream of a crown on the head, when the fetters are upon the feet, will double the anguish.
(6) Diligence is necessary, because many have miscarried for want of it.
II. The use.
1. If this be our duty to examine ourselves, then the knowledge of our state is possible. If we are to examine ourselves, we may then know ourselves. Reflection and knowledge of self is a prerogative of a rational nature. We know that we have souls by the operations of them. We may know that we have grace by the effects of it. Grace chiefly lies in the will, and it discovers itself in actions. There can be no sufficient reason given why the understanding should not as well know the acts of the soul and will, as the acts of the sense, and the motions of the body. We know our particular passions and the exercises of them. There is no man that fears a danger or loves an amiable object but he knows his own acts about them, as well as the object of those acts. If a man have faith and love, why should he not be as able to know the acts of faith and love as to know the acts of his particular affections?
2. How foolish is the neglect of this duty!
III. Use of exhortation. It is our highest advantage to know what should become of our souls in eternity. I shall, lastly, give you some directions about this duty of self-examination.
1. Acquaint yourselves with those marks that are proper only to a true Christian. Overlook all those that are common with the hypocrite, such as outward profession, constant attendances, some affections in duties. Let us not judge ourselves by outward acts: a player is not a prince because he acts the part of a prince. But we must judge ourselves by what we are in our retirements, in our hearts. He only is a good man, and doth good, that doth it from a principle of goodness within, and not from fear of laws, or to gain a good opinion in the world. Grace is of that nature that it cannot possibly have any by-end. As it is the immediate birth of God, so it doth immediately respect God in its actings. Let us examine first the truth of grace, and afterwards the height of grace. A little of the coarsest gold is more valuable than much of the finest brass. See how the habitual frame and inclination of the heart stands. One sound and undeniable mark is better than a thousand disputable ones.
2. Let us make the Word of God only our rule in trials. This is the only impartial friend we can stick to, and therefore it ought to be made our main counsellor. It is safe for us to take that rule which God Himself will take.
3. Take not the first dictates of conscience. He that trusts his own heart is a fool (Proverbs 28:26), i.e., without a diligent inquisition it is not wisdom to do so; but he that walks wisely shall be delivered: he that makes a strict inquiry into it shall be delivered from its snares and his own fears. It is a searching, examining, proving our hearts that is required, not taking them at the first word. There may be gold at the top and dross at the bottom.
4. In all implore the assistance of the Spirit of God. Natural conscience is not enough in this case, there must be the influence of the Spirit. It is God’s Interpreter that can only show unto a man his righteousness (Job 33:23). The sun must give light before the glass can reflect the beams.
5. Let us take heed that while we examine our graces and find them, our hearts be not carried out to a resting upon them. We may draw some comfort from them, but must check the least inclination of founding our justification upon them. Graces are signs, not causes of justification.
6. In case we find ourselves not in such a condition as we desire, let us exercise direct acts of faith. (Bishop Hacket.)
I. What is premised in the text. We are exhorted to examine ourselves. We may err in supposing--
1. Educational influence as synonymous with the faith.
2. In confounding a regard for, and an attendance on, religious services with being in the faith.
3. In mistaking inward emotions with being in the faith.
II. To what the text distinctly refers. “Being in the faith,” evidently, having the true faith of a disciple of Christ. Now if we are in the faith, then manifestly--
1. The faith of the gospel will be in us.
2. The experience of faith will be in us.
3. The signs of faith will be upon us.
III. The course the text enjoins. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” And--
1. Do this with earnestness of spirit.
2. Do this with the Word of God as your rule.
3. Do it in the spirit of prayer.
4. Do it from time to time.
IV. Some motives by which this course may be enjoined. We should regard it--
1. As a duty. We should regard it in reference--
2. To our comfort. It is for the comfort of the traveller to know he is in the right way; for the mariner to know his course of sailing is correct; for the heir to be sure that his title is unquestionably valid.
3. It is connected with our safety. (J. Burns, D. D.)
On being in the faith
To be in the faith therefore implies--
1. That we make an open confession of Christ, as the founder of the Christian religion, by union with His professed followers (Matthew 10:32-33).
2. A sincere and hearty belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Corinthians, before they embraced Christianity, were idolaters. Paul wished them to examine and see if they had really renounced all dependence upon their idols, and were putting their trust in the living and true God alone, and in Jesus Christ whom He had sent. It is possible, too, to embrace Christianity from interested motives. Any new system will attract some admirers. The apostle, therefore, was afraid lest their faith should be insincere or superficial, and hence wished them to examine carefully into their motives and character.
3. The phrase “in the faith” means an actual participation in the blessings of Christianity.
(1) If “Christ is in you,” you are conscious of communion with Him.
(2) As your Lord and Master you admit Him, for instance, as the Lord of your faith, your Teacher, leaning not to your own understanding, but meekly sitting at His feet and saying, “Lord, what I know not, teach Thou me.”
(3) If you are in the faith, Christ is in you as your Sanctifier.
(4) As a Comforter. (C. Williams.)
Know ye not your own selves.--
The question, “Know ye not,” etc., is exceedingly impressive as addressed to the Corinthians. They prided themselves in the Greek philosophy, whose wisest precept was, “Know thyself.” Put to them, therefore, the question expressed--
1. Astonishment, in view of their real self-ignorance.
2. Irony, in view of their pretended self-knowledge. We do not know our own selves.
I. Physically. If men thoroughly understood the body and perfectly obeyed the laws of physical life, probably most would attain to the full threescore years and ten. How strange, nay, how sinful, is this ignorance! True, we excuse it by our reliance on medical science. And the excuse would be good if we employed physicians to keep us in health, rather than to aid us in sickness.
II. Intellectually. Many men practically ignore their intellectual faculties. Their only self-culture consists in taking care of the body. Some men never think at all. And even among those who recognise their intellectual nature, how strangely is it treated! Every man has his special intellectual gift, which often he does not discover till too late to develop and employ to profit.
1. Self-knowledge here promotes comfort. Of the passions and emotions which belong to our moral nature, some are painful and some pleasurable, and our happiness depends upon quickening the play of the latter and diminishing the power of the former. The soul of man is a dwelling of many apartments. In it love may be supposed to have a fair banqueting hall--anger a dark cell; faith and hope to have glorified chambers looking heavenward, and the lower passions dungeons of gloom. And possessed of such a house, how foolish to practically ignore those loftier and lovelier pavilions of gladness--deliberately choosing to abide in the dungeons of envy, anger, impurity, rather than to sit at love’s great banquet, or to recline in the pavilion where benevolence makes sweet music, or to ascend to the bright chamber of faith and hope, and look forth upon heaven from their open casements.
2. Our character depends upon it. It is marvellous how little most men know morally of themselves! And this, not because they cannot, but because they will not. They do not look carefully after those favourite or easily-besetting sins which colour, yea, constitute character. Reading himself wrongly, a man manages himself wrongly. Every man, possessed of a moral nature, whose development must be into immense growths either of good or evil, should understand it thoroughly, that the flowers and fruits of its culture may be good and glorious.
1. There are persons who think themselves Christian, but are not. Such self-deception is altogether unnecessary. Surely if there be anything made plain in the Bible, it is the evidence of true Christian character. A true Christian--
(1) Loves God. Believes in Christ--not merely with a speculative faith but with a loving trust as his Saviour.
(3) Sincerely repents of sin.
(4) Loves the duties of religion.
(5) Loves his brethren. And he knows that he hath passed from death unto life because he does so. Now these are the obvious evidences of regeneration. How strange, then, is it that men should be self-deceived!
2. There are some not thinking themselves Christians, who are yet real children of God. Sometimes this self-distrust arises from--
(1) A temperament constitutionally gloomy. The man who looks habitually on the dark side of everything, of course looks on the dark side of his religious character.
(2) Bodily infirmity. What the man wants to make him a hopeful and joyous Christian is bodily regimen and exercise, and not theological casuistry.
(3) An over-estimate of the particular manner or circumstances of conversion. They can indeed perceive a radical change in their own feelings and conduct; but the manner and manifestation of the change does not satisfy their conscience. As if it mattered how a blind man’s eyes were opened! or with what instrumentality the drowning man was saved!
(4) Assuming false tests and standards of Christian character. They entertain extravagant notions of the effects even of regeneration. They have read the biographies of distinguished Christians, wherein it seems as if life were uninterrupted in its wrapt communion with God, but wherein there is no mention of faults and failings. And thus the humble man, finding his own experience so different, turns away in despair. Conclusion: The text appeals--
1. To the self-deceived. To be in the Church without piety is of all conditions the most dreadful. Not because false professors are more sinful than other men--though even this may be true, but because there is less hope of their conviction and conversion. Let us, then, be willing to know the very worst of our character and condition!
2. To the self-distrustful. Your trust for salvation is not in what you are, but what Christ is. If, with a penitent, and believing, and loving heart, you cast yourselves upon the Redeemer, then you know you are Christians! For He says you shall “in no wise be cast out,” and “shall never perish! “ And thus, “knowing your own selves,” your place should be in Christ’s visible Church.
3. To the openly impenitent. In one sense, indeed, these men do “know their own selves.” They know that they are unconverted. They stand boldly in the ranks of rebellion against Jehovah. But “Know ye not your own selves?” that you are not beasts that perish, but immortal creatures! Two eternal worlds watch you and strive for you. Come to Christ Jesus for life.
4. To the Church. The text intimates that between the professing people of God and the world there is so little visible difference, that it is difficult to distinguish them. Surely, then, it is time for us to rise into higher frames and spheres of religious life! (C. Wadsworth, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 13:7-9
Now I pray to God that ye do no evil.
Paul’s prayer for the restoration of the Corinthians to corporate perfectness
The prayer is--
I. For the perfect recovery which would result from “not doing the evil.” The vices that infested the Corinthian Church are those which have been the bane of the Church from the beginning.
1. Rebellion against the supreme authority of the Divine Revealer and Inspirer of truth in the person of the apostle. There was a tendency to rely on the light of their own reason, and to criticise revelation. Rationalism in the individual is fatal to religious stability and growth, and in the Church is the root of all disorganisation, and must be put away before either can put on “perfection.”
2. Lax maintenance of some of the vital doctrines of the Christian confession--the direct result of the former. The Corinthian heretics assailed the resurrection generally, and Christ’s resurrection in particular. Hence their doctrinal errors went perilously near to an abandonment of the atoning death of Christ; and it was not to be wondered at that they misapprehended the design of the Sacrament. Obviously the integrity of their faith was in his thought in 2 Corinthians 13:8.
3. Neglect and irreverence in divine service, which invariably follow hard upon laxity of doctrine. The flagrant disorders rebuked in the First Epistle were doubtless checked, but this Epistle indicates that the same leaven was at work; and the final prayer includes the removal of that spirit of disorder, and the observance of all that is “decent” (2 Corinthians 13:7) in its wish for their restoration to perfection. Never was this prayer more needed than now. Two kinds of dishonour are done to the divine service--the one taking away its simplicity and discerning more in ordinances than they have to show; the other robbing everything external and symbolical of its true value, and reducing religious ceremonial to the level of mere human arrangement. Both are equally distant from ecclesiastical perfection. From the equal sins of excess and defect may we be saved.
4. The spirit of faction, closely connected with the preceding elements of disorder and imperfection. This evil seems to have been rebuked by the First Epistle in vain (1 Corinthians 12:20), and it might seem as if the apostle had a presentiment of the calamities which would befall the Church through this spirit of division; for he sets no limit to his indignation in dealing with it. And it was with a distinct apprehension of its exceeding sinfulness that he expressed the hope that they would cease to do this evil, and wished their “perfect restoration to order.”
5. The violation of Christian morality. In 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 there is obvious reference to those two classes of moral offence from which, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, they had been exhorted to cleanse themselves.
(1) The sins of the spirit are summed up in the completest of those catalogues for which St. Paul’s Epistles are remarkable.
(2) The sins of the flesh are lamentable. Many were no less infamous in their secret sensuality than in their open turbulence. And this condition was the necessary result of the other elements of disorder.
II. For the attainment of all the completeness which may belong to a Christian Church. Note the wonderful fact that a Church encompassed by such corruptions should be prayed for as capable of immediate and perfect amendment as the result of energetic co-operation with Divine grace. Paul knew that the enemies of order and purity were only a minority, and it may be that his Master gave him a secret assurance of success. And this is an abundant encouragement to us in our day. There need be no more than a step between great disorder and a sound amendment.
1. The bond of ecclesiastical perfectness is, in Paul’s view, a compact organisation vivified and kept in living unity of the Holy Spirit. It was this for which he prayed. The Greek term expresses the apostle’s ardent wish that the community might be “perfectly joined together” under one discipline: all factions suppressed, and the separate congregations of the city united in one corporate body for common worship, communion and work. And it expresses the Holy Spirit’s will concerning us that division and discord should cease. Lawlessness within a church itself and bitterness towards other churches are both alike inconsistent with its corporate perfection.
2. The Church’s order of worship may even on earth attain a certain standard of perfection; and this must be included in the present prayer. Happy the Christian congregations who seek to attain in the Spirit’s own method the ideal which the Spirit proposes; avoiding the two extremes, of a ceremonial that stifles the simplicity of devotion, and of a bareness and poverty which dishonour the holy name of Him who is in the midst. That there is such a perfection of praise and prayer attainable as shall make the place where the disciples meet the antechamber of heaven, and the Christian communion the earnest of an eternal fellowship, let us never doubt.
3. Paul’s ideal of corporate perfection included a noble theory of mutual help. These epistles are a complete depository of the social principles of Christianity. Their teaching is that every member of the body must in his vocation and stewardship render back to Christianity all that in Christianity he receives, and give to the community the fullest advantage of whatever talent he as an individual may possess. This ideal is most fully realised when charity has the disposal of the Church’s wealth; where employment is given in various ways to the diversified talents of its members; where mutual exhortation and encouragement are secured by periodical meetings; where, in short, every joint, according to its deferred function in the common organisation, supplieth the measure of its effectual working to the edifying of the body in love.
4. The apostle’s ideal embraces a high standard of Christian morality. The purity of the Church must be guarded by a rigid discipline. But this discipline is of two kinds.
(1) It is ecclesiastical. Where that is relaxed the Church is already on its way to dissolution, or worse.
(2) But the more effectual discipline is the maintenance of a high standard of morality in the common sentiment of the people through the instruction of the Christian ministry. It is not, however, because the world expects it or because consistency demands it, that the “approved” Church aims at a lofty ethical standard. It is because Christ is in it (2 Corinthians 7:5), and prompts by His Spirit to every good word and work. Where vice reigns, or even moral laxity, the Church is in the way to declare itself “reprobate.” Its perfection, however, as prayed for by St. Paul, is its aim at a perfect holiness.
5. The end of perfection is charity. Note the apostle’s extraordinary anxiety for the due and cheerful exercise of benevolence towards the poor Christians at Jerusalem. And we may regard this as only one illustration of that boundless compassion towards the miserable inhabitants of this sin-stricken world which every Christian community is bound by its allegiance to Christ to exhibit. No other excellence, and no combination of excellences, will compensate for the lack of this. Conclusion: Scarcely any reference has been made to the individual believer, because the peculiar word demands an ecclesiastical application. Still, every application of scriptural truth finds its way to the individual. Let every one, then, who hears this “wish” bethink himself of his own soul, and ask what there is in himself of disorder and imperfectness, and seek to bring his own heart into the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” so making sure that his own part is contributed to the Church’s perfect harmony. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 13:8
We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
The impotence of revolt against the truth
I. The futility of revolt against the truth.
1. There are two great truths against which the world has been in perpetual revolt.
(1) The moral truth of God’s government. This means that there is a living and a righteous God; that He will reward righteousness and punish evil. That is the sublime belief uttered in every page of the Bible. By that belief the noblest nations have lived, and the noblest periods of history been shaped. Denying that truth, the world becomes a fathomless and maddening problem. It becomes what Carlyle said the materialists made it, “A mill without a miller,” whose wheels turn endlessly in the tide of the ages, but without purpose or result. Such revolt is the madness of an empty pride, and is as futile as it is wicked.
(2) The spiritual truth of God’s government by Jesus Christ. Christ stands before men as the embodied holiness of God, and His law of life is the law by which human holiness is attained. Against that Divine Presence the world has been in perpetual revolt. The past sign of that revolt is Calvary; its present sign is the selfishness and un-Christliness of human life. But long since, on the steep stairs of sacrifice, Christ has ascended into universal supremacy. The Pharisees had hated Him living, and they feared Him dead. And so they came to Pilate, who said, “Ye have a watch”--set it; seal the tomb; “make it as sure as ye can.” How sure was that? Was it prophecy or irony which animated Pilate’s speech? The revolt against Him was futile then, and it is futile now. He being “lifted up,” is drawing all men unto Him. There are those who resist that infinite attraction. Some of you have done it. But again the voice of Paul speaks, and eighteen centuries have only added victorious confirmation to his words, “We can do nothing against the truth.”
2. But it may be said, where is the proof? One proof of truth, at least, is found in the eternity of its life. Error carries the seeds of its own death with it. It is error that changes; truth abides. The history of civilisation is a history of the slow but certain conquests of truth. There have been periods when the world has seemed to have fallen asleep. But at length from that vast slumbering host one man has seen a new light kindling in the far firmament. He has risen and announced his great discovery, and called on men to believe in it. Such men have always been disbelieved, persecuted. But time has tried them and the truth has proved itself truth by living and triumphing. Astrology and alchemy have perished, but astronomy and chemistry survive. The scientific heresies of one age have become the commonplaces of the next. Time has threshed out the wheat from the chaff, annihilating the false and keeping the eternal truths.
(1) One proof of the moral government of God is, that the centuries assert it. Think how many great monarchies have arisen and covered the world with empire, and where are they now? Did ever empire seem more likely to endure than the Roman? What does the philosophic historian say about France? “France slit her own veins and let her own life-blood out on the day of St. Bartholomew, and has been perishing of exhaustion ever since.” On all nations which have become corrupt, the same fate has fallen sooner or later. And what does all this mean, but that there is an avenging holiness in the world?
(2) And how is it that the spiritual empire of Jesus Christ has survived? The world has been leagued against it from the beginning. The key-note of revolt and hatred struck on Calvary has echoed through the ages. Yet the kingdom survives, and the fiery waves have fallen back quenched and impotent, and the wrath of man has passed like a waft of smoke. The Christ survives, and is the moral Emperor of the universe to-day. What does it all mean? It means that the kingdom of God in Christ is a fact, and cannot be destroyed. The whole rebellion of man against God is one wild spasm of despair; “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.”
3. You can, of course, deny the truth and defy it. So, too, you may deny the law of gravitation, but if you defy it and leap from yonder steeple, there is one sure result--the law triumphs and the man is slain. You can deny the penalties of vice, but if you defy them the slow poison will eat the heart out notwithstanding. There are certain things which have long since been lifted out of the realm of speculation into certitude. Why is it no one doubts? It is because we have discovered certain laws of the universe which are subject to no caprice, open to no revisal. And so in the spiritual universe. When we see the same cause producing the same effect through the long course of various centuries, we know we have found a truth. And when we see through all the faded past of human history, Christ’s love inspiring love, and Christ’s light bestowing light, and Christ’s life imparting life, we know that we are dealing with an unchangeable force, and can forecast the spiritual future of the world with unerring accuracy.
II. The truth even prospers on opposition. “But for the truth.”
1. It has always been so in the day of persecution. The hurricane has carried the seed of truth afar; the fire has purged the hearts of men; the storm has destroyed the old building, only that it shall be replaced by a nobler and more stable structure. It is the very irony of victory! God indeed holds His enemies in derision when their best-planned revolt crowns His arms with new glory, and the very ingenuity of their hatred helps on His sovereign purpose.
2. But impotent as we are to assail the truth, we are all able to assist it. You cannot revoke the laws of science; they are the same to-day as when the dawn of the world broke: but they lurk in silence, and wait the approach of the intellect of man, and the demand of his noble curiosity. You can destroy none of these forces; but how much you can do for them! It is even so with the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
3. Let our hearts rejoice, then: Christ’s kingdom cannot be shaken. Think of the continuity of faith which has run through all the ages, of Christian saints in every century, and then ask: Is it possible that all these believed in vain? To-morrow the sceptic will propose his question; you propose yours, Is it probable that all the ages have been wrong, that at last Herbert Spencer and his little following should be right? I prefer to believe that vast anthem of certitude which rolls upward from the saintliest and noblest hearts of all the world’s great past: “I know whom I have believed,” etc. Conclusion: The text is a call
1. To loyal submission and noble service. Cease from a revolt which is impotent, enter into that allegiance with God from which shall issue peace and victory.
2. To increased faith in the victory of the kingdom of Christ. It has triumphed over greater odds than any now arrayed against it. Picture the young convert of Paul’s day as he enters some great Pagan city. On every side he sees the pomp of martial power, the luxury of sensuous life. Vast temples rise, and there philosophers dispute. But to him, poor youth, all this seems strange, sad, hateful. Is it possible all this can be changed? But he turns aside into some lowly street, and amid the humblest people begins to preach that strange gospel of Jesus Christ. And in three centuries not a heathen temple is left in Rome.
3. To new and nobler enthusiasm for this kingdom. Enthusiasm is the true fire of manhood, and when that leaves a man, a church, a nation, its true glory is departed. We want the enthusiasm of that young minister who refused a hard and poor station, but that same night heard Bishop Simpson preach, and at last sprang to his feet and cried, “Bishop, I will go anywhere for Christ now!” We want the enthusiasm which shames men of their niggard gifts, and counts no box of frankincense too precious for that Head which bowed in death for us.
4. To new and nobler effort for this kingdom. Enthusiasm is much, but action is more. Fix it in your minds; you can help the truth. You, bright youth, with all the unused powers of heart and intellect; you, poor widow, with the few coppers in your worn purse; you, rich man, with your social position and wealth. If you have ever gazed upon the Matterhorn, you will have thought that if ever there was a type of majestic strength it is standing there. But ask science how the Matterhorn was made, and it will tell you how, ages upon ages since, there were drifting mica-flakes floating in an abysmal sea, and one by one they came together, and were beaten into hardness and consistence, and grew in bulk and steadfastness, until at last the waters rolled back, and there was uncovered that vast Alpine tower. And even so Christ’s kingdom is built up. Little by little, life by life, the kingdom grows. It is built up inch by inch, until at last it rises mighty, impregnable, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Shall our lives be added, as living stones, to this growing grandeur? Shall they be fretted out in blind rebellion against this rock against which men are broken, and which when it falls crushes men to powder? For, or against? But before we answer, the decree is fixed: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (W. J. Dawson.)
The impotence of man in antagonism to the truth
Truth is reality--that which is; falsehood is non-entity--that which may seem to be but is not. We may illustrate Paul’s maxim in reference to--
I. Human science.
1. In the region of the material, that which has been established is true, has being. To fight against it, to be frightened at it, is not rational, is not reverent. Unless you can disprove it, it is as much a part of the truth as anything else that God has done or spoken.
(1) There are those who cannot accept this. Investigation is viewed with suspicion. At the exact point where knowledge stood when they were in the cradle, there it must remain at least till they are in the grave.
(2) What calmness, what dignity, would it give to the Christian if he were to say, truth and the truth can never really be at variance. The God of the Bible is the God also of nature, and the one cannot contradict the other. Therefore I wait, rest, and trust.
(3) It is otherwise with human theories. They are not yet, and may never be parts of the truth. It is by no means true that men can do nothing against them, for they have been disproved and displaced all along the ages. But facts, once proved, are a part of the truth, and we can do nothing against that.
2. What can we do for it? We may help the onward march of truth by an attitude towards it of respect, interest, and gratitude. We can assure the toilers in the field of science that, so far from dreading and disparaging the results of their labour, we recognise in them fellow-workers in the cause of God and man. And of them the Christian asks for the truth’s sake--
(1) That science will worship while she explores.
(2) That she will exercise towards workers in other fields that forbearance and respectfulness which they manifest towards her; that she will never allow herself to speak as though there were no vast region within which telescope and microscope give no vision. Science is a fighter against the truth when she arrogates to herself the whole of it.
II. Life and conduct. There are such things as reality and unreality, truth and falsehood, in the realm of action. We speak, e.g., of a true man and a false man. Good itself is truth, in contrast with evil, which is always hollow and evanescent.
1. There are men who have thought, in this sense, to do something against the truth. Men have defied morality and hoped by the force of position, or genius, to put down virtue herself. Have they succeeded? Has not the judgment of the next generation, nay, even of their own, gone against them? In nothing has the application of the word “truth” to morals been more powerfully attested, than in the failure of these champions of a new licence, to move from its firm base by one hair’s breadth the impregnable rock of the human instinct as to the virtuous and the vile. But for one man who attempts this audacious enterprise, tens of thousands have hoped to do something on a smaller scale. Then the appeal lies to all of us. And it is this--Did you find by sinning that you were able, practically, to do anything against the truth? Was it happiness while the sin reigned in you? No man grown to man’s estate will feel the slightest disposition to gainsay the old utterance, There is no doubt on which side God is in the great world-wide and age-long war between vice and virtue.
2. We can do nothing against virtue. Can we do something for it? I address the young. It is comparatively little to see an old man, or a family man, or a clergyman, virtuous. It is expected of him. But who shall speak of the “power for the truth” which is yours? Just in proportion as the life is young, and the snares many, is the admiration if you stand steadfast. Then can you plead for truth against the lie, and be listened to. Then can you influence one or two of your nearest and dearest to walk with you in the way of purity and peace.
III. The gospel, which Paul had in his mind.
1. Many think or thought that they could do something against the gospel. Outspoken infidels and false brethren have tried to bring the faith of Christ into disrepute. Now and then they have even seemed, in some corner of the field, to have gained a victory. But look again, is the truth overborne? Is the gospel weaker to-day than it was five, ten, fifteen centuries afore-time? Were there ever more diligent students of the Bible, more earnest men of prayer, more holy lives, more Christian deaths than is this age? Are the impugners of the faith satisfied? Do you hear no laments over their own departed days of believing and worshipping--no envious lookings upon men that have hope and can give reason for it? We do not deny that it is in the power of any man to be an antagonist of the gospel. Any fool can parody verses of the Bible; can say smart things against creeds. And some of these things will stay by us, and make it harder to be good than it need have been. It is quite possible to make a believer into an infidel and have the misery of hearing, late on in life, that an associate of yours has lived without God and died without hope. Thus far can we go, and no further. But against the gospel you have no power.
2. Can we do nothing for it? The gospel seeks not yours but you. It does not want your help--it wants your happiness. Not till you have embraced it will it accept anything of you. But when this is done we can add one little chapter to its evidences and show, by our example, that its whole tendency is good. So, when the last day of life comes, your last breath shall be drawn, not in the disconsolate cry, “O Galilean, Thou hast conquered!” but in the confiding utterance, “I know whom I have believed; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Dean Vaughan.)
Christ’s truth uninjurable
The text may be taken--
1. As expressing the strong disposition of a truth loving man.
2. As a statement of a universal fact. The religion of Christ--
I. Is truth.
1. Religion is not to be understood either as theology, ecclesiasticism, or ritualities, but as those eternal principles that are hungered after and agree with the reason, intuitions, and wants of humanity.
2. The great cardinal principles of all the religions of the world are more or less identical with those of Christ. They all involve--
(1) Absolute dependence upon the Supreme Being.
(2) The obligation of the highest love and devotion to Him.
(3) The duty of exercising justice and beneficence towards men.
(4) The existence of a future state of retribution.
(5) The idea of mediation.
3. These principles are therefore the truth, the reality. Christ brought them out in His life and teaching in a form more perfect and powerful than they were ever brought forth before. He is their exponent, their incarnation, Hence Paul speaks of the truth that is “in Jesus Christ.” He says Himself, “I am the truth.”
II. Is indestructible.
1. Man can do much against the theology or theory of truth.
2. Man can do much against conventional manifestations of the truth. Christendom calls Christ Master and Lord, but many deny Him in their daily life.
3. Man can do much against its ecclesiastical representation.
4. But whilst man can do much against all these things he can do nothing against the truth. The truth that Christ taught and incarnated is independent of these. Conclusion: Whilst you can do nothing against the truth, remember that in opposing the truth you may do much against yourselves. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 13:9
For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong:.
. even your perfection.
I. The object desired. Perfection.
1. As individual believers. No such thing as aggregate holiness can exist, without the sanctification of its units. A church cannot be perfect except as its members are so, any more than the body can be healthy unless its organs are sound. In what he considered this to consist we may gather from his writings:--“In understanding be men,” literally “perfect”; “that I might perfect that which is lacking in your faith”; “perfect and complete in all the will of God”; “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every, good work”; “perfect in Christ Jesus.” He would have Christians--
(1) Of vigorous understanding, not feeble minded, not intellectual dwarfs, not liable to be carried about with every wind of doctrine in consequence of their slight comprehension or grasp of the truth.
(2) Of strong faith, not sceptical, doubting, hesitating, but, like Abraham, strong in faith, giving glory to God; living by it, walking by it, taking it as their principle and guide; and by it giving the future ascendency over the present, the spiritual over the material.
(3) Perfect in all God’s will; not correct in creed and defective in practice; not strong in faith and deficient in love, but showing faith by works; being all that Christianity requires and Christ was.
(4) “Careful to maintain good works”; active, diligent, zealous, devout.
(5) And all this “in Christ Jesus”; not from a spirit of legality, self-righteousness, or self dependence, but by grace derived from Christ, by the indwelling spirit of Christ, actuated by the love of Christ, and doing all to His glory. This is an object at which we may all aim. The highest kind of excellence is presented to the view of each. You cannot perhaps be great, you may be good--wealth may be denied you, worth is not. And this is what we want. If each one will consecrate themselves by a more personal surrender to Christ, and will resolve in God’s strength to be more what the Word of God requires, a new era will dawn upon this fellowship.
2. As a Church.
(1) And here we are at once reminded that there is much which a Christian Church may possess which does not constitute Christian perfection. Like the capital to which the city gave its name and which is the composite of many other forms of beauty, the Corinthian Church had great excellence, but it was not perfect, It had wealth, gifts, numbers probably--yet it was not perfect. The perfection of a Christian Church does not consist in outward things. Not that they are to be despised. They may be valuable adjuncts. But we are in danger of putting, e.g., beautiful architecture in the place of a spiritual house; melodious music in the place of harmonious feeling; of mistaking eloquence for gracious words; of idolising intellect instead of yielding to truth; but in proportion as we do this we content ourselves with the shell instead of the kernel, we grasp a shadow, but we miss the substance. “The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.”
(2) In thinking of what constitutes Church perfection, I place too in a very subordinate position mere outward organisation. Not that I despise it; but I regard it as a means.
(3) If I am asked what then constitutes the perfection of a Church, I point you to the Pentecostal Church (Acts 2:1-47.).
(4) As we would obtain this perfection, let us try and avoid whatever would impair or destroy it. In this letter the apostle had animadverted on many points of reprehension. There was party-spirit, forbearance of needful discipline, undue conformity to the world, defects in the mode of conducting worship and in dispensing ordinances, an undue regard to ostentatious display of gifts, a lack of such liberality as was exhibited by other and poorer churches, unkind depreciation of him as their teacher and apostle. These and similar evils led him to say (2 Corinthians 12:20), “I fear, lest when I come I shall not find you such as I would,” and no wonder that he so earnestly desired greater perfection.
II. The wish expressed. Here observe--
1. The lofty aim of the Christian ministry.
(1) Look at it in itself, and how spiritual, vast, important--the fullest development of individual and collective character. And then recollect this was desired in order to something beyond--the world’s salvation and the glory of God. The Christian ministry seeks the Church’s perfection, and this in order to higher aims still.
(2) I go a step farther: it not only seeks it but it is greatly instrumental in promoting it. God has many means by which He works, as He can dispense with all; but of all the means He has blessed to this end, none have been more hopeful than an earnest, evangelical ministry. This we wish as ministers--your perfection.
2. The deep emotions by which earnest minds are characterised. The term wish but faintly intimates the apostle’s obvious feeling. We might illustrate it by some other of his expressions:--“My little children of whom I travail in birth again till Christ be formed within you.” “God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.” Be in earnest, and let the earnest emotion of others on your behalf urge you to concern for yourself.
3. The conscious dependence of the apostle upon an agency superior to his own to secure the object desired. We wish! but some one else must grant. Perfection will never be secured by mere wishing. This indeed will never secure anything.
(1) There must be effort. What a man sows that shall he also reap. If he sows only wishes, wishes light as thistle down will be his only harvest. If he sows real effort, diligent persevering exertion, a daily advance to perfection will be his glorious reward. Are we putting forth this? Say not it is discouraging to be constantly failing. Remember the effort braces the moral nature, and is thus its own reward. Let conscious failure only quicken to further exertion.
(2) Likewise pray--so did the apostle; well did he know that only the Perfect One could give perfection. (J. Vincy.)
I. The nature of the apostle’s wish.
1. It was very serious and solemn, and of the nature of a fervent and affectionate prayer (Romans 10:1).
2. It was benevolent. The apostle had reason to be offended with the Corinthians, yet he manifested towards them the greatest kindness, and was at all times their advocate at the throne of grace.
3. It was seasonable and suitable. It implies that some things had taken place amongst the Corinthians which he lamented, and desired to see removed.
4. It was full and comprehensive, including both their present and eternal welfare. The greatest thing that is said of glorified saints above is, that they are made perfect. The greatest thing that can be said of God Himself is, that He is perfect.
5. It was highly apostolic, being in unison with his character and office.
II. Its object “perfection.” This is what he laboured himself to attain (Philippians 3:12). For the Corinthians he entertained the same holy desire (2 Corinthians 13:7). Corrupt principles and evil habits had crept in among them, and he wished to see these corrected and laid aside. Not content with negative purity he adds: “This also we wish, even your perfection.”
1. Christian perfection is--
(1) Legal. In the eye of the lawgiver, all the saints are complete in Christ, who is their head and representative (Colossians 2:10-11).
(2) Moral, which is either full, or partial. Man was originally free from moral defect, being created in righteousness and true holiness. Christ was also holy and sinless. Both were perfect, being in every respect what righteousness could require. The only perfection to be found amongst fallen creatures is partial; a perfection begun but not consummated; entire in all the integral parts, but not in degrees, as a child is perfect in possessing all that is requisite to constitute a complete and entire human being, though not grown up to the fulness of the stature of a man. So where patience has its perfect work, in connection with all the other graces, the believer is said to be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:4).
(3) Comparative (1 Corinthians 2:6).
(4) Synonymous with sincerity and uprightness (Genesis 6:9; Genesis 17:1; Job 1:8; Psalms 37:37; Psalms 101:2; John 1:47).
2. The perfection which Paul desired on behalf of the Corinthians would include
(1) A maturity of understanding in the great mysteries of the gospel. The entrance of God’s Word giveth light (Colossians 1:13); but all true religion is progressive.
(2) A pure heart and an unspotted conversation.
(3) A high degree of spirituality.
(4) Tenderness of conscience.
(5) An aptitude for spiritual and edifying conversation.
(6) Joining in Christian fellowship, and attending on gospel ordinances. Conclusion:
1. The sincere Christian, though he has not attained perfection, earnestly breathes after it, and cannot be satisfied without it.
2. What the apostle wished for others, let us anxiously seek for ourselves.
3. As the most eminent and perfect part of the Christian character consists in making Christ all and in all, so let this be the life and substance of our religion. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The objection to this is probably the loudest of all objections ever urged against Christianity. It is said to be clear fanaticism, false in fact, and ridiculous in appearance. And yet it is likely that a very slight examination will show that the common creed of all men has not a more clear or prominent feature or section in it than this very doctrine. And here we inquire, is it a new and strange doctrine peculiar to Christianity? Ask the orator how high he has fixed his standard of perfection in the powers of oratory, beyond which point he does not aim? His young manhood makes war upon all who have preceded him. His pride disdains the achievements of mortals; and he would, if he could, hold his audience nerveless and breathless--subject only to the flash of his eye and the move of his finger. His motto is perfection. Ask the painter--if he would not, were he able, make the canvas whisper! The sculptor, if he could, would chisel the marble, that you could see the very life blood coursing in its veins! To excel is the desire of every man who is not a drone or a sluggard. What means achievement? Is it a word without a meaning? “Go on to perfection” is the only motto worthy a God-created, heaven-aspiring mind. It is the first thing the child learns, and the last thing the sage grasps after. And would you deny this heavenly doctrine to the Christian? Must he, and he alone, be deprived of its cheering influence? May not his heart, too, be fired with its vital flames? Must he, and he alone, be fettered and chained down to the mere experience of the common herd? Or may he not rise above the earth likewise, and go on to perfection too? Let him go! Let him rise! Let him fix his aspiring gaze higher, yea upon the very spot where the Saviour sits at the right hand of God. (Homilist.)
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Finally, brethren, farewell.
I. The apostolic exhortation.
1. The state to be attained: “Be perfect,” which conveys the idea of repairing, or putting in order. It is used e.g., of the disciples mending their nets, and also in Galatians 6:1, the idea there being that of a dislocated limb; and just as a surgeon will reduce that limb and restore it to its proper place in the body, so Christians were to restore a fallen brother to the position which he had lost. So it is for you to inquire whether there may have been in time past anything wrong. It was a complaint of Him who searches the heart, “I have not found thy works perfect before God; remember, and repent.” At the same time the exhortation is rather for our future guidance. Every believer has his proper place in the Church, and has his proper duties to perform, and it is for us to ask of God to teach us what it is, and then give us grace to do it.
2. The happiness to be enjoyed: “Be of good comfort.” Comfort is needed, for we are in a world of sorrow. Comfort is needed even by the believer, for he is called sometimes to suffer under the chastisement of a Father’s hand, and “no chastisement is for the present joyous, but rather grievous.” But amidst all the dispensations of providence with which God deals with him, he may still be of good comfort. For remember the foundation on which the gospel bases this comfort. “Be of good comfort, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Comfort is supplied by--
(1) The assurances of the gospel: “God is faithful who hath called you to the knowledge of His dear Son”; “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: the Lord knoweth them that are His”; “I know My sheep, and am known of Mine”; “I know their sorrows and will deliver them”; “I will never leave them nor forsake them.”
(2) The promises of the gospel. Whatever there be that we want, there is some promise or other of which we may plead the fulfilment at the throne of grace; and our Lord has said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, believing, ye shall receive.”
(3) The hopes of the gospel.
(a) They extend to the very verge of life. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
(b) They cast a light even upon the dark “valley of the shadow of death.”
(c) They give us the assurance of heaven.
3. The unity to be sought: “Be of one mind.” Now this has reference to the state in which the apostle found the Corinthian Church. They formed parties and factions. One of them liked one minister better than another. But the apostle asks, “Who is Paul and who is Cephas, but ministers by whom ye believed?” They are mere instruments after all. He teaches the Corinthians to honour Christ alone. Look, then, off from the preacher. Determine to honour Christ only, then there will be no fear, but you will “be of one mind.” And then, in order to do that, let His Word only be your authority. Then unite in His work.
4. The spirit to be manifested: “Live in peace.”
(1) With God.
(2) With one another. Seek to promote peace in your families, in the social circle, in the church.
II. The apostolic assurance. “The God of love and peace shall be with you.” Notice the ground on which this assurance is given. It is not as a condition, but rather as an encouragement. “The God of love and peace shall be with you” to encourage you in the discharge of duty.
1. We have to do with the God of love--
(1) In every comfort and blessing which His bounteous providence bestows upon us.
(2) In every trial which we are called to bear.
2. And He is also the God of peace. He devised peace, arranged the plan by which it might be restored; He proclaims peace in and through the gospel; He delights in peace; He will ever pour upon His people the blessing of peace.
3. Then notice the comprehensive blessing to be realised: “The God of love and peace shall be with you”; in duty to strengthen you, in difficulty to guide you, in trial to support you, in loneliness to befriend you and cheer you, in death to be the strength of your heart, in judgment to be your Father and Saviour. (W. Cadman, M. A.)
Be perfect: be of good comfort.
Perfection and comfort
1. “Farewell” means rejoice. Just as the parting wish with us is that friends may fare well, so it was with the Greeks.
2. “Be of good comfort” conveys the same idea, but with reference to difficulties to be overcome. The apostle returns in this expression to the keynote which he had struck in chap. 1. The epistle, indeed, is a ministering of comfort united with a call to perfection, and the gist of it is therefore given in this verse. 3. Effort after perfection, however, seems a very different thing from joy on the one side and comfort on the other. These two are smiling and bright, like fertile plains watered by placid silver streams, but the other is a steep rock with its summit lost in the clouds. And yet if we look close we shall find a meaning in the collocation beyond that of mere contrast: Consider--
I. The pursuit of perfection.
1. The injunction may seem a strange one in the light of man’s condition and history. And yet he has been ever repeating it. In the Far East it is repeated by Confucius. The Brahmin and the Buddhist dream and speculate regarding it. The subtle Greek defined and analysed it. It seems as if man could nowhere escape from it. The very thought of a good suggests that of a better and a best. Every beautiful thing speaks of it. Even the desire to finish a piece of work thoroughly is a hint of it. It is because man has an ideal which rebukes him that he is smitten with penitence; because he has an ideal which gleams before him that he marches on with courage and enthusiasm. The child who tries to write, or draw, or learn a lesson perfectly, opens for himself a chink into the infinite. The idea of the perfect, the thirst after it, is thus one of the greatest powers in the common unideal everyday world. What benefactors the men have been who said, “I cannot and will not rest till I know the principle that underlies these facts”; “I must give perfect expression to that idea at whatever cost of time and labour”; or “I must bring out all the power that lies in this material”; “I must utter the beauty I see in things.” Those whose inspiration was the thought of perfection have been the most practical of men. There are many things that never would have been attempted or dreamt of but for this, and the whole fabric of work and thought is sustained and vivified by it.
2. And yet this perfection is everywhere unattainable. The horizon recedes before man to whichever side he turns. It is the same in the moral and spiritual world. Reason approves it, imagination dreams it, conscience demands it, love of God and man never cease to enforce it. The tender majestic glory of Jesus clothes it with unspeakable attraction. And yet ever far above the highest and best of men it towers--the unapproachable. But the pursuit of it is none the less imperative. We dare aim at nothing less.
3. Is this a contradiction? Is it unreasonable that the painter should seek a perfection which no earthly colours can supply, and no mortal hand can achieve? Would not his whole work descend to a poor daub without this ideal? And so without the thought of perfection the depth would depart from duty, effort would grow languid, and every walk of life would feel the blight. When we feel that we are sinking down from the conception we must chide and rebuke ourselves. If we keep the desire for perfection bright, the belief in eternal existence will be a necessity to us, and the entire spiritual realm and atmosphere will spread around us in living power.
II. The apparent incompatibility of the two injunctions.
1. The command to rejoice and be of good comfort is as truly a Divine command as the other. We conceive of joy as something which we may either take or not as we think fit. We forget that the joy inculcated in the Bible is no superficial thing, but a plant having its roots in great truths and blossoming into rich flower and fruit. In one sense joy is an easy thing, in another it is one of the most difficult achievements. We are to be glad in the Lord--how simple and direct this is--how different from the task of forcing joy on the soil of self; but, still, what a clear and steady vision it implies, and what a projection of our thoughts away beyond the sphere of self. To rejoice is natural and inevitable if one only keeps in the proper attitude and element--here lies both the easiness and the difficulty.
2. But the great difficulty to many minds is that of making both comfort and perfection objects of earnest pursuit. The idea is deeply rooted that one or other must be surrendered. And it cannot be doubted that the thirst for perfection often destroys comfort. The thirst for perfection in anything is apt to become absorbing, devouring, isolating. The current of life is drawn away in one direction, and the man becomes unsocial. He is lost in his aim. Religion has often taken this form. Men fascinated with the glory of perfection have often been deeply melancholy with only brief periods of heated joy. Many who are far enough from being thus engrossed in the pursuit, experience a measure of the like sorrow. They are so often disappointed.
3. How, then, can any man attend to both these injunctions?
(1) Emphasise the indispensableness of joy. Joy is a necessary and great part of perfection. As well speak of a perfect day without sunshine as a perfect man without joy.
(2) Never make perfection a solitary aim. The command to be perfect is only one of many commands. No doubt it includes all others; but it will never be so regarded, unless these also are made to stand out in distinctness and importance. Should not communion with God be placed even higher than our own perfection? And constant fellowship with God means rest and solace and joy. Should not looking to Jesus be the spirit of our life? and can we look to Jesus without getting peace and gladness? Should we not seek to live for others? and does not this self-forgetfulness bring strength and calm? Fellowship with God, faith in Jesus, and life for others, have rest and joy in them. And they are, at the same time, the things most indispensable to progress--they are the main elements in perfection. (R. H. Story, D. D.)
To most persons this is discouraging language. But the idea is, not that we should grasp perfection as an immediate result, but make it our aim; and this, so far from discouraging, only inspires. How many are satisfied to be as good as others, to reach the current medium of reputable character! But what is this perfection? First, it includes all the virtues. It suffers us not to rely on some good qualities to the neglect of others, or to hope that we can, by a partial innocence, compound with God for the commission of any sin. In the scales of His justice generosity will not atone for intemperance, irritability, or dishonesty. Again, perfection requires that each quality should be free from taint, like the Jew’s unblemished offering, and without debasing alloy. Lastly, perfection requires that all the graces be expanded to an unlimited degree. But, immeasurable as perfection is, shall it not be our aim? See how every thing great and good on this earth has grown out of the aim at perfection. Its fruits, if not in religion, are everywhere else around us. Why do we live in such comfortable dwellings? Because men were not satisfied with a cave in the ground or a rude fabric above it; but aimed at perfection. Why that proudest monument of architectural skill careering swiftly between continents, through the waste of waters? Because men were not satisfied with the creaking raft. There, again, is a man who has toiled in loneliness and secrecy upon the strings of a musical instrument till he has concentrated all the sweet sounds of nature into that little space, and can draw forth liquid melodies and mingling harmonies, the voice of birds, and the flow of streams; now the sounds of laughter, and anon the sobs of prayer, to the astonishment of assembled thousands. And shall Christians debate whether it is a possible or reasonable thing to make a perfect piety to God and charity to man their standard? No: there is no other aim worthy of your immortal natures. There is no perfection so glorious as that of moral and religious goodness. Satisfy yourselves no longer with moderate attainments. (C. A. Bartol.)
I. There is no absolute perfection in this life. By absolute perfection I mean a state without sin, and by this life I mean the present dispensation. I do not wholly deny that a creature may be without sin, yea, I must needs grant it, for God created our first parents without sin, and angels and men in heaven are freed from it. But I speak now of our present state and condition after the fall, when all mankind are corrupted. The testimonies which occur in Holy Scripture prove this sufficiently. Those infallible writings expressly deny a sinless perfection (1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Besides, Scripture attesteth this truth by the various instances and examples it presents us with. I might instance also in societies and communities of persons, for the Scripture testifieth the very same of these. The best Churches have sinned. In the next place I am to make this good by reason as well as Scripture and examples. First, if you consider the depraved nature of the best persons, you will conclude that it cannot be otherwise. Secondly, this might be made good from the consideration of the nature of the covenant of grace. A complete exact conformity to the law is not the condition of this gracious covenant made with mankind after the fall of Adam. Thirdly, this doctrine will appear most reasonable if you consider the end and design of God’s constituting repentance under the gospel. This great evangelical grace is useless, according to the notion of absolute perfection, for repentance supposeth guilt, but where there is absolute perfection there is no guilt.
II. Is this: that there is a perfection to be attained in this life.
1. The perfection which holy men attain to in this life is comparative, i.e., though they cannot arrive to an absolute and sinless perfection, yet they may be said, and expressly are said in Scripture, to be perfect, as they are compared either with others or with themselves at different times. First, I say, if they be compared with others, viz.--
(1) Those that are no Christians.
(2) Those that are profane and wicked, of what religion soever they are.
(3) The holy, but weaker, Christians.
2. Believers and holy men have an imputative perfection. This is the true evangelical perfection, namely, the being perfect by another.
3. The perfection of believers in this life, as it is imputative, so it is likewise personal and inherent. As they are righteous by another’s righteousness, so it is as true that they are righteous by their own righteousness, and accordingly they have a perfection of their own.
(1) The evangelical and personal perfection of the saints is a perfection of sincerity.
(2) The personal perfection of Christians is a perfection of impartial obedience.
(3) This perfection consists in our acquiring a habit of virtue and godliness.
(4) To climb to the most heroic acts and achievements of Christianity is perfection. Consequently self-denial, taking up the Cross, profound humility, patience, heavenly-mindedness, great mercifulness, and extensive charity, denominate a person perfect (James 1:4). And there is also the perfection of love as it hath God for its object. And so for that eminent grace of faith, that likewise when it is complete is said to be perfect (James 2:22). Conjunction with it, it hath its utmost perfection. Lastly, to be very eminent and exact in any one duty of our religion, to excel in any one grace, especially if it be very difficult, is in Scripture language perfection.
(5) To acknowledge our failings and to be thoroughly sensible of our imperfections is the true gospel-perfection.
(6) To desire and endeavour after the absolute and consummate perfection, to strive to come as near to it as may be, and as this state is capable of, this is gospel-perfection. He that aims at a star shall shoot higher than he that takes a shrub for his mark. Covet earnestly the best things, aspire to the highest pitch of holiness.
III. Proposition, which is this: that every Christian ought to make it his business to attain this perfection. Be careful that this perfection be made up of all its dimensions. Thus labour to be complete and entire in your religion; do every thing without reserves, ingenuously, freely, nobly. In brief, follow that advice which Socrates used to commend exceedingly to his scholars, viz., to act to your utmost. To which I must add two rules more, the first of which is this, repent of what you leave undone or what you do amiss. The second is, after all your omissions and commissions rely on Christ’s merits, who hath performed perfect obedience for you. Thus you will be perfect, i.e., you will arrive to the perfectest state that this life is capable of. And if you would know by what methods you may most successfully pursue and at last obtain this gospel perfection, I can only tell you that the means and directions in order to it are the same with those that I commended to you for your growing in grace. Evangelical perfection is not to be sought by any enthusiastic flights, and by affecting extraordinary discoveries and helps, but you must tread in the usual and appointed path of God’s ordinances, you must take the way and course that is prescribed you by the Word of God, namely, self-examination, meditation, communion of saints, ardent prayer, reading the Holy Scriptures, hearing the Word. (J. Edwards, D. D.)
Perfection in Christ
I. The text seems a very contradictory one.
1. “Be perfect.” We do not like that. Somebody says, “I do not believe in perfection.” What you believe is very little matter. When God speaks it is of very little use to say, “I do not believe in perfection.” I want you to say, “My God, what this perfection is Thou knowest, and I want Thee to give it to me.” However, these words seem contradictory. “Be perfect.” That seems as if the text took me up some slippery height and said, “That is where you have to get, and it is very few people who can get up there, only very clever mountaineers; and many who have got up have not been able to stay up there. They have come falling down again, and have talked about it all the days of their life.” “Be perfect.” Ah! most of us look up and sigh: “Yes, I very much wish I could be a better man than I am, but I cannot climb.” When I went to see the Matterhorn, I said to the guide, “I suppose there are some people who climb that?” “Yes,” said he, “a few.” I looked at him and said, “When do you think I shall climb it?” and he looked at me and smiled. I said, “Well, I will tell you. When I can fly.” That is how most people think about being perfect; they look at the top of that slippery height and say, “Yes, when I can fly.” When we have done with earth, then there will be some hope for us.
2. “Be of good comfort.” That seems to say, “Take it easy! If you are not as good as some people, never mind; you are not as bad as some are.”
II. What we want is to put these two things together. Let your ideal in Christ be as lofty and sublime as God’s ideal is, and yet do not worry. The glory of Christ’s religion is that it joins these two. There is many a heathen religion that has its ideal “Be perfect,” but it is by torture. Here are the two hands of our God; the right hand of His righteousness that saith, “Be perfect,” the left hand of His love that saith, “Be of good comfort.”
III. Many people lose both because they put them in the wrong order. It is a very common and mischievous religion, in which the whole aim is first of all “Be of good comfort”--a religion in which, when a man is converted, he is accustomed to say he is made happy. This religion is true enough until you push it to an extreme. There are thousands of young people in our churches who come home on a Sunday night and say, “Well, I think I’m saved, I feel so happy to-night,” and on a Monday morning they get up and say, “I do not think I feel much happier than I did on Saturday,” and they think they are lost again.
1. Now, is the idea of our religion, first of all, to make us feel happy? If so--
(1) I can find a loftier idea of life outside religion. Come with me into Westminster Abbey. Here are buried heroes, travellers, explorers who defied death in a thousand shapes, and went through all sorts of perils and agonies. What cared they for feeling? They flung feeling to the winds, and said, “There, that is where I have got to get, and that is where I will go,” and, nothing daunted, went and reached it. And here you get a very highly respectable tombstone, gilt, magnificent. Will you read the inscription? “Here lies a man who felt happy.” Think of that as an aim in life.
(2) It is a failure. Religion must, in order to make me perfectly happy, either change my nature, so that all circumstances shall minister to my happiness, or else so change my circumstances as that my nature shall find in them always that which makes me happy. Does it? I get the toothache; I find it pains me as much after conversion as before.
(3) You would not deal with your children after that fashion. I have got a boy at home. I do not think he ever told me a lie; but think if, one day, he came all red-eyed and sobbing, and confessed to me, “Father, I have told a lie!” Now, should I say, “Well, my boy, I do not want you to feel like this. Run away; fetch out your marbles; I want you to feel happy”? Not a bit of it. I should want that boy to feel very miserable indeed. If Christ has only come to say to me, “Don’t you trouble about sin, it is all right, I have settled that; now you go off. I want you to feel happy,”--I say I should be a better man, if by all the anguish of the ages, there should be just wrought through and through me a great, deep abhorrence of the thing that is evil. You have not learned the first lesson of the Cross, if you have not seen brought right out and nailed up in the sight of heaven what God thinks about sin, how He hates it, and must sweep it right away.
2. What is the purpose of the true religion of Jesus Christ? It is to help us to think more of Jesus and to be more like Him. How do you pray? “O Lord, clothe me, feed me, take care of me, prosper me in business, make me more happy, and bring me home to heaven when I die, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.” Well, your religion is simply a fattener of your selfishness. “But,” you say, “does not it say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’?” Ay! but you have left something out. “Our Father, who art in heaven,” etc.--all that first. That is what you are here for, that is why God gives us the crust of bread. That His name may be hallowed, that His kingdom may come, that His will may be done, “Give me this day my crust of bread.” Thou must not ask for thy bread till thou hast put God in His right place. First, set Christ upon His throne; think “now I have got to glorify Him.” What would that not do for the world? How quickly should the Church overtake the world when every man made the end of his religion not his own little self, not his own escape to heaven; but when the whole purpose of himself in everything and everywhere should be to make the whole world think well of Christ.
IV. A great many lose both perfection and happiness because they leave out the Lord’s part altogether.
1. Some great impulse seizes you, and you say, “Yes, that is what I have got to be, and that is what I will be.” Take care. How long will it last? Ah, how soon we have said--for I have been one of them--“Well, it is no good; I cannot.” We could not keep up the strain. If we cannot find something better to begin with than “I,” let us give up. The moment I fetch in “I,” I fetch in failure. There are some who do succeed. I have met with people who have made themselves perfect--the most dreadful people I ever knew, for they have narrowed and concentrated their whole thought upon themselves. They have begun to chip themselves and cut off their corners, and have made a hundred corners in cutting off one. They have sandpapered themselves, and sulphuric-acided themselves, and at last, after two, three, four, five years of that concentrated agony, and effort, and self-consciousness, they have brought out, what? Why, what else could you expect? from five to six feet of polished “I”--it is all “I, I, I.” I cannot believe very much in perfection when I look at human nature; I believe in it less still when I look at myself; but when I look at Jesus I cannot help believing in perfection then.
2. “Be of good comfort,” because it is not my straining and sacrificing and putting myself in the fire and melting myself and running myself out into a mould in the image and likeness of Christ; it is the getting away from myself, forgetting myself, bringing in a new consciousness. It is not my climbing the slippery height; it is Christ coming right down from that height to me, and saying, “Soul, this work is Mine, not thine; and I want thee to let Me come in and do it for you.” “Be perfect”--yes, with such a Saviour. “Be of good comfort”--yes, because it is His work, not mine. It is saying, “My Lord! Thou shalt do it all.” “Comfort”--what does it mean? “Co.,” that means “company”; “fort,” that means “strength”--strengthening by company. You can only spell holiness in five letters--J E S U S. Perfection is but letting Jesus have His own way with us in everything--Jesus, a perfect Saviour. My Master would not make an imperfect grass-blade, an imperfect daisy, an imperfect spider, and do you think He is going to let His perfect Son show all these things and that redemption shall show nothing of it? No. And now somebody will say to me, “Must not I do anything? For instance, if I am tempted to sin, must not I resist?” Well, I would advise thee not. “Well, but does not it say, ‘Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist’?” I thought it did once, but I looked again, and I found before Peter says a word about that, he says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” Get right in under God’s mighty hand, then turn round and say, “Now, devil, I am not afraid of thee a bit.” The first thing you have to do before you resist is to run away to Jesus. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Be of one mind, live in peace.--
its nature, here recommended, appears to be sufficiently expressed by the word concord, or unanimity.
1. So necessary is this agreement that bad men cannot execute their schemes without a temporary concord, founded, for want of better principles, either upon the mutual interest of all parties, or a fantastical kind of honour, which answers its purpose if it keep them together, till the deed of darkness be done and the prey divided. If Satan’s kingdom were divided against itself, it must presently fall.
2. If we take a view of discord at its introduction into the world, we shall find that it was threefold.
(1) Between God and man, occasioned by man’s transgression, which estranged him from his Maker, whom from thenceforth he feared.
(2) Between man and himself, caused by the accusations of conscience thereupon.
(3) Between man and man, owing to unruly desires and passions, continually interfering, and never to be satisfied.
3. In opposition to this threefold discord, introduced into the world by the evil spirit, the concord effected in the Church by the good Spirit of God is likewise threefold. Man is reconciled to God by the righteousness of Christ, through faith; to himself by the answer of a conscience thus purged from sin; and to his brethren by Christian charity shed abroad in his heart.
4. All these operations worketh one and the same Spirit; whence the unity, of which we are now speaking, is styled “the unity of the Spirit,” which is represented as encircling all things in heaven and earth with a bond of peace. And is not the Spirit to the Church, or body of Christ, what the breath is to the body natural?
II. To induce brethren to “dwell together in unity,” God seemeth to have employed every kind of argument. He hath erected both worlds upon the basis of concord, and made harmony to be, as it were, the life and soul of the universe.
1. In contemplating the scenes of nature, where indeed there is neither voice nor language, yet it is impossible not to observe how the elements conspire to serve God, and to bless mankind.
2. From a survey of nature, proceed we to inspect the make and constitution of man himself, who subsisteth by a union of two very different parts, a soul and a body, between which there is a kind of marriage not to be dissolved “till death them do part.” Nor less observable is the union which obtains between the members of which the body is composed, and by whose mutual good offices it is supported and preserved.
3. It is not more necessary that the members should be joined together in the body, than that mankind should be united in civil society. Man comes into the world helpless. And therefore it is that an all-wise Providence has implanted in our nature that affection which is found to prevail between parents and children, brethren and sisters, those of the same family, kindred, house, city, nation, age, or vocation. Such are the means used to invite and almost force men to live in peace and concord.
4. Let us now see how the ease stands in that spiritual world.
(1) And here, if we look up and behold by faith the glory of the eternal Trinity, we must presently fall down, like the elders, before the throne, and in the power of the Divine majesty worship the unity. And as they are one, so all the angels and blessed spirits in the courts of heaven make their sound to be heard as one in blessing them for ever and ever. Not a discordant note is heard in all that celestial choir.
(2) From heaven we descend again to earth with Him who did so, for us men, and for our salvation, to the end that as body and soul are one man, so God and man might be one Christ who was to live and to die for us, to suffer and to save; as man to suffer and as God to save.
(3) By the union of God and man in the person of Christ, another union was effected between Christ and the Church. For is the vine united to the branches that spring from it?--“I am the vine, ye are the branches.” Is the head joined to the body?--“God hath made Him head over all things, to the Church, which is His body.” Is there a strict union between man and wife?--“This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”
(4) One more consequence should follow from this, viz., a union among Christians. Joined to one common head, they should be joined likewise to each other. “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” By concord in the Church, the kingdom of Christ is established on earth, as it is in heaven, where there is no rebellion or opposition to the will of God, but all are unanimous in doing it. By the gospel, enmity was abolished, and never should have been heard of more.
II. How shall we best perform this duty.
1. “Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace”; be at peace with Him and thine own conscience, and then thou shalt be at peace with all around thee.
2. Endeavour, by the grace of Christ, to moderate desires of earthly things. “Whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts, which war in your members?” (Bp. Horne.)
Unity, peace, and blessedness
I. “Be of one mind.” Let there be no division among us in regard to Bible doctrine, Christian experience, or religious duty.
1. Doctrines are the glory of revelation.
2. Again, unity in regard to views of Christian experience is of the utmost consequence to the Church.
3. “Be ye of one mind” in view of Christian duty; be unanimous in advancing the kingdom of our Lord Jesus.
II. “Live in peace.” This is the second injunction of the text. Living in peace is a true correlative of being of one mind. Spiritual congeniality of feeling sweetly accompanies agreement in sentiment, Religion is “first pure, then peaceable.”
1. The nature of the peace recommended includes love to our brethren in Christ, and good will toward all men.
2. The obligations to peace are manifest and manifold.
(1) Peace is the fruit of the Spirit. “We have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.
(2) The good of the Church is another of the obligations to live in peace.
(3) The happiness of the individual is an obligation to live peaceably.
(4) A regard for the salvation of others is an obligation to live a life of peace.
(5) The heavenly state shows the obligations to a life of peace. No angel in glory disturbs the harmony of the heavenly abode.
3. The manifestations of peace in our lives may be briefly illustrated in reference to our own Church, and in its relation to other churches.
(1) In our own Church, the manifestations of peace consist, in part, in a kind and conciliatory treatment of all sectional questions.
(2) Another mode in which peace may be exhibited, consists in avoiding the dangers arising from parties formed in admiration of men.
(3) A life of peace may be further manifested in the Church in our personal intercourse with our brethren. Let us all “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
III. First unity; then peace; then blessedness. “The God of love and peace shall be with you.” What a hopeful indication of the blessings that follow unity and peace is found in the very names here claimed by God! “And the God of love and peace shall be with you.”
1. He will bless His Church with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.”
2. Again, “the God of love and peace will be with you,” to enlarge the prosperity of the Church in His providence.
3. The God of love and peace will be with His loving disciples, to crown them with salvation in His glory. “The meek will He beautify with salvation.” (C. V. Rensselaer, D. D.)
The city of peace
I. Its walls--unity--concord.
II. The gates--
4. Recompense or satisfaction;
5. Humility--the little postern.
III. Its enemies--
1. Hostility without;
2. Mutiny within.
IV. The governor--God, who possesses supreme authority.
V. The law--the law of Christ.
VI. The palace--the temple where God is worshipped.
VII. The river--prosperity.
VII. The life of the citizens--love.
IX. The city’s general state--universal felicity.
X. The inheritance--eternal glory. (T. Adams.)
And the God of love and peace shall be with you.--
The highest character and the highest companion
I. The highest character of God. “Love and peace.”
1. Love is the highest attribute of any character. Higher than--
(1) Power. Mere animals have power, but not love.
2. “Peace.” Wherever there is real love, there is peace. The stronger the love, the more essentially pacific the soul. Peace implies--
(1) Freedom from remorse. Wherever there is a sense of guilt, there can be no true peace.
(2) Freedom from fear. Fear causes the soul to quiver as an aspen-leaf in the wind.
(3) Freedom from selfishness. A selfish heart can never be at rest; it is as the tide in the ocean. Jealousy, anger, pride, revenge, all of which are the offspring of selfishness, are antagonistic to peace. He is absolutely free from all these: hence He is a God of peace.
II. The highest companion for man. “The God of love and peace he with you.” No companion--
1. So tender. In all our affliction He is afflicted.
2. So wise. He knows all about us: What we have been; what we shall be. He can solve our problems, clear all our perplexities, baffle the machinations of all our enemies.
3. So constant. Human companions are constantly leaving us, either by change or death. But He will never.
4. So enduring. The greatest sorrow of earth arises from the loss of endeared companions. But no bereavement can tear Him away from us. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 13:14
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The benediction of the Church
1. If a man has been to visit his friend, and you see him leaving the gate, it is pleasant to notice in his hand a basket of fruit or a bunch of flowers. It would be very embarrassing, however, if the proof of friendship were always an outward gift. If a friend visits us, we place ourselves at his disposal; and if we visit a friend, we are delighted to receive the overflow of his life into our own. Now suppose under the old law a man had offered a lamb in sacrifice to God, and had found that his flocks did not increase according to his hope, and had then said, “I will offer Him no more lambs.” Might we not next suppose a wise friend saying to him, “God has done this to try your love. If you loved God, you would offer Him even the last lamb, feeling that it is better to have the heavenly Friend than to have only His property.” God invites us to His presence, and desires that we should have great pleasure in coming to see Him; and it is very certain that if we have come in the true friendly temper, we shall go away, taking something in our hearts, though nothing in our hands. No man that rejoices in God’s grace complains much of God’s providence.
2. Now, when we come to church God entertains us and sends us sway with a benediction. It is the benediction of the Church also; i.e., the Church desires that God may grant its members His blessing, and expresses its faith that He will. We will render the text, “May your faith, hope, and love be replenished.” We come in different states.
(1). There are persons who come in quest of truth. Suppose, then, in the sacred service something is said which the heart feels is sure. The heart cries out to itself gladly, “Whatever is doubtful, that is true.” Then the man has received a gift.
(2) There are others that believe, and yet are confounded. Well, suppose a person very tired in body and soul, almost hopeless, and something is said that excites hope. In the springtime the effect of the shower is perceived within a few minutes of its fall; and there is that in the soul a thirst for God that causes the season of drought to be indeed a springtime when once the shower descends. Hope enters this weary breast, and is not hope a gift?
(3) Then there are persons, not without belief or hope, that still yearn for sympathy. Now if the spirit of truth breathe itself forth as love, and the heart is comforted by love, then, too, it has received a gift.
(4) Faith, hope, love! Need we so distinguish them? No. You can never believe a little more, without beginning to hope too, and without feeling the glow of affection. When either of these three become prominent the two others are seen beside it as in shadow; and sometimes they take sisterly hands, and with a common brightness appear as equals. These three states of our spirit are an equivalent expression for the blessing uttered in the words of our text. Let me show this.
I. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. Recollect instances in which our Lord showed grace. When He had been speaking amongst His own townspeople “they wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth”; such sincere and kind words no one had ever heard before. A leper said to Him, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Jesus touched him; what nature loathes grace can love. On another occasion the only son of his mother was being carried forth to the grave. Jesus laid His hand upon the bier. Was this presumptuous handling? No; this was the hand of grace. The young man arose, and his mother received him by the hand of God’s grace. We remember how our Saviour said, “Sin no more,” and yet pronounced no word of doom for the sin that had been committed. His life abounded with gracious words, cures, and pardons, that showed the tender, compassionate favour with which He regarded us all in our weakness, sorrow, and sins. This is grace. Through such grace love makes us believe in it.
2. Now we might say, why not place the love of God first? Which is first, the door or the house? If God has a great mansion of love, He must provide a door to it, or we shall never get in. Grace is the door into love. Love is greater than any one of its own acts. There is more in a mother’s love than there is in her gentle touch. There is more in the father’s love than there is in his gift to his child on its birthday. In like manner, the love of God is more than any of His acts, more even than His grace--its own chief and most expressive instance; and why are we introduced through the grace into the love, but that we may trust that love and trust it always. So we may apply the Baptist’s words, “He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.” Grace wins our faith, and then through its trust we have a love of our own which responds to the great general love of God. That which “comes after” our faith, then, is love, which, though coming after it, is “preferred before it,” for “it was before it.”
II. The love of God. Assume, now, that we have faith; what is our state? I have seen a little child perplexed at losing on Hampstead Heath--not a very great and terrible wilderness--her sister, and crying because sister was a few paces off concealed by a bush. So it may be with our feeble heart; for in our times of loneliness we are all children, and we cry out for God, “Where is He?” Now, “the grace of God” is His answer to our cry. God says to the lost world, “Here I am.” When we have found Christ, then we have found God; we have found our Father; we now rest in our faith. But what have we found our Father for? If the child has found its sister or its mother, they will go away together home, and there will be many a happy work of affection then. If a man has found God as his Father through Jesus Christ, then that man is introduced into all the length and breadth of human participation in Divine benefits. The love of God will be bountifully manifested in all that he learns and all that he does. Out of this faith, then, will spring a hope. He cannot be received into union with God without continuing united in such a sense that he will constantly look onward with hope, feeling that all is right, that here and hereafter all necessary instructions and blessings will be given.
III. “The communion of the Holy Ghost.” If God’s grace in Christ is trusted, and God’s love, so broadly revealed in Christ, is hoped in, then we receive into ourselves a life which leads us on by progression towards all the fulness that is in God. God, through Christ, breathes into us His Spirit; this we receive, not alone, but conjointly one with another. God, through Christ, begins by imparting to our heart faith in His grace, and hope through His grace in all His goodness; and knowing and hoping in that; we abide in His love. Christ gives us His gracious Spirit, and all the onward motions of the leading Spirit are in harmony with the “grace of God.” The communion of the Holy Ghost is, in other words, the sharing of a common life of sacred love by which we feel brotherhood with one another, and by which we progress onward led by our purified inward motives, and traversing according to our ability the length and breadth of that kingdom of affairs which God has given to exercise and to enrich us. Such is the communion of the Holy Ghost; the fellowship of love, in a hope reposed on God, through faith created and nourished by His grace. (T. T. Lynch.)
The triune blessing
Consider the particular blessing from each person of the Holy Trinity St. Paul desires for the Corinthians.
I. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” By the “grace” of the Lord Jesus Christ seems meant His goodwill, His gracious favour in practical and perpetual exercise. When St. Paul desired and prayed that the Corinthians might be blessed with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, he meant just this: May all the blessings of Christ’s incarnation, redemption, and intercession ever be with you Corinthians. The blessing of Divine pardon, of spiritual cleansing, of reconciliation with God; the blessing of union with Christ and thereby union and communion with God; the blessing of progressive sanctification, etc. When the grace of Christ is with a man, it means that all heaven is with that man; that every blessing which is possible and good for a man is granted to him, according to his capacity to receive it. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned first, because all heaven’s blessings to man begin with Christ’s grace, favour, or good will towards man. Christ is man’s starting-point in all his relations with God, He being the Mediator between God and man. Unless our Mediator be first graciously disposed towards us, how is it possible to receive any of those blessings from God which are the result of His mediation? “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” Is it not true that by Christ we have access into every grace of God?
II. “The love of God.” The love of God is the fountain source of the threefold blessing mentioned in the text. All heavenly blessings proceed from the love of God, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. By the love of God in the text is meant, not simply the love of benevolence which God has for all His creatures in common, but what theologians call the love of complacency, which God has for those only who are the living members of the Son of God, who are the brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ, through spiritual union with Him. It is this love of God, the love of the Divine Father for His adopted children, who are the members of His dear Son, that St. Paul desires and prays may be the blessing of the Corinthians. The love of God truly comprehends all blessings. St. Paul might have said, The power of God, the protection of God, the guidance of God, the peace of God, be with you Corinthians; but instead of that he said what comprehends all, The love of God be with you. If the love of God be with us, all is with us that it is possible for man to have from God.
III. “The communion of the Holy Ghost.” By this is meant the fellowship, the partnership, the companionship of the Holy Ghost, or, in other words, the indwelling and inworking of the Holy Ghost. It is by means of the communion or indwelling and inworking of the Holy Ghost that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is conveyed to us. The Holy Ghost is the Divine Agent or Vicegerent by whom God the Father and God the Son carry on and carry out their Work in man. When St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “The communion of the Holy Ghost be with you,” it is as though he said, “I pray that you Corinthians may always have the Holy Ghost within you as your Divine Guest and Companion, to enlighten you, to strengthen you, to comfort you, to guide you; to fill you with God’s love, and joy, and peace; to form in you a holy character like unto the character of Christ; to fit you for your admission to the heavenly glory of Christ.” Such, then, is the triune blessing of the Triune God. Were there not a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, this apostolic blessing would be utterly unintelligible, and its language utterly misleading. Behold in this blessing the blessing of all blessings, in comparison of which all other blessings are absolutely worthless. Let the words of this apostolic blessing be regarded as a reality. When they are being pronounced, let all believe that the blessing they set forth is verily conveyed to all who devoutly receive it. Let them not be listened to in a formal spirit. (H. G. Youard.)
The Divine Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches us how the Infinite God has made Himself known to men. God, as He is in Himself, no man can comprehend.
I. Men have always believed in some power higher and greater than themselves. In old times they peopled the unseen world with innumerable deities, who presided over human affairs. But above all others one deity was supreme--Jupiter, the father of gods and men. Like children who have lost their way from home, they wrestled and prayed and sought to discover a God and Father, to whom they could yield filial obedience. In these later days we have been told that all such efforts are useless. Law, force, order--these are the ultimate discoveries of research; these are the gods of our modern Pantheon. But no such doctrine can ever satisfy the soul that has once begun to long for God. I am sure that my personality cannot be the result of blind law and force. The first cause from whom I come must be, like myself, a person, only infinitely greater. Thus there is nothing mysterious in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, as it relates to the everlasting Father. Rather does it clear up mysteries, by telling us that the laws and forces at work in the world and in ourselves are the operations of that Divine and gracious Father to whom it is our most blessed privilege to yield filial obedience.
II. But we need not only a Divine Father, but a Divine Son. We require the revelation not only of a perfect law and a supreme will, but also the revelation of a perfect and Divine obedience. We know the perfect fatherhood of God; what we want is a perfect sonship to bridge the gulf between us and God, a sonship in which the will of God and the obedience of man shall be blended into one beautiful and blessed life. We want, not only the love of the Father, but the “grace” of a perfect Son. Must there not be somewhere a perfect Ideal of what man ought to be; and where can this Ideal be found but in the mind of God? But mark how the Christian doctrine of the Trinity comes down to the utmost needs of fallen man. To redeem us from sin the Divine Sonship was clothed in flesh; passed through all the changes of mortal life, from the cradle to the grave. Here, then, towering above the ruins of our race, is the perfect manhood of Jesus Christ. Ever living to make intercession for us is this Divine Son, who has conquered sin and death and hell by patient submission and by filial obedience to the Father’s will.
III. If, then, we are thus brought nigh to the Father through the Son, it must be our highest privilege to hold constant communion with the ever present Spirit of God. (F. W. Walters.)
Communion human and Divine
The great benediction of the Christian Church never grows old and never becomes monotonous. It is like the sunshine, which rises on us every day of our lives with a fresh beauty; or like our truest friendships, which are for ever new. There is no blessing more continually needed than “the communion of the Holy Ghost.” We go, then, first to the perpetual and universal facts of human life, for Christianity always uses them and is in harmony with them. And one of the deepest of these facts is man’s perpetual need of intercourse and fellowship. A life of solitude is never satisfactory to a truly healthy man. He needs some fellowship. And for his whole satisfaction he needs various fellowships: with those above him, on whom he depends; with those beside him, who are his equals; and with those below him, whom he helps. All three of these relationships furnish the life of a completely furnished man. And the essence of all these fellowships is something internal; it is not external. It is in spirit and sympathy, not in outward occupations. It is communion and not merely contact. This goes so far that, where communion is perfect, where men are in real sympathy with one another, contact or outward intercourse may sometimes be absent. What a man really needs, then, is a true understanding of other men; community of intelligence producing community of sentiment, interest in the same things producing the same feelings. This is communion. And then the second fact is that the communions or fellowship of men are seldom direct, but come about through a medium. They are not the mere liking of men for each other for qualities directly apprehended, but they are the result of a common interest in something which brings the men together and is the occasion by which their sympathy is excited, the atmosphere or element in which their communion lives. Is not this so? Two children in the same family grow up in cordial love for each other; but their love is a love of and in the family. They did not deliberately choose each other for friends, but their hearts were drawn out in the same direction, towards the same father, the same mother, the same home life, and so they met and came to know each other. So two scholars find their element of communion in their common study. Two business men reach each other and become friends through their common business. And two reformers enter into each other’s life in the indignation or enthusiasm of a common cause. In every case you see the union of men is made through a third term, an element into which both enter, and in which they find each other as they could not without it. This is the way in which men come to be gathered in those groups which make the variety and picturesqueness of human life. Now it is in the application of this same idea that there lies, I think, the key to this phrase, “the communion of the Holy Ghost.” Once more there is an element, an atmosphere, in which men are brought close together--brought together as they come under no other auspices, in no other way. That element is God. Men meet each other, when they meet in Him, with peculiar confidence, dearness, frankness, and truth. Just as there is a certain character which belongs to the intercourse of men who are met as the pursuers of a common business, and so are met in the communion of that business; and as there is another character which belongs to the intercourse of men who are met as the disciples of a certain study, and so are met in the communion of that study, so there is yet another deeper and completer character which belongs to the fellowship of men who come to have something to do with one another as the servants of God, and so whose communion is the communion of God. And now take one step farther. Who is the Holy Ghost? He is the effectively present Deity. He is God continually in the midst of men and touching their daily lives. He is the God of continual contact with mankind. The doctrine of the Holy Ghost is a continual protest against every constantly recurring tendency to separate God from the current world. Wherever the fellowship and intercourse of men has a peculiar character because it is born of the presence of God among men; wherever men’s dealings with each other, or men’s value of each other, is coloured with the influence of the truth that we live in a world full of God; wherever our communion with each other takes place through Him, the sacredness and usefulness of what we are to each other resulting from what He is to all of us, then our communion is a communion of the Holy Ghost. I doubt not there is a deeper philosophy in this than we can understand. The Bible truth is that the Holy Ghost is “the Lord and Giver of Life.” The power of life is the power of unity everywhere. It is the presence of life in these bodies of ours that keeps them from falling to pieces. The moment that life departs dissolution comes. And so life, which is the gift of the Holy Ghost--nay, which is the presence of the Holy Ghost in society or in the soul--is the power of unity in society or in the soul. The society in which there is no presence of a living God drops into anarchy and falls to pieces. The soul in which there is no presence of a living God loses harmony with itself, becomes distracted. Again, our idea finds its illustration in the different characters of different households. Lift the curtain, if you will, from two homes, both of them happy and harmonious, neither of them stained with vice nor disturbed with quarrels. One of them is a household of this world altogether. The domestic relationships are strong and warm. The loves of husband and wife, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, are all there. They prove themselves in all kind offices. Each helps the other, and there are no jealousies, no strifes. There is the best picture of the communion of the family affection. Now look into the other home. All is the same, but with this difference: that here there is an ever-live, strong, vivid, loving sense of God. As real as father or mother, as real as brother or sister, God is here. No act is ever done out of His presence. He is felt in the education of the children. The children are His gifts. The love of each member of the household for the rest is coloured all through with gratitude to Him. All of that love is deepened because each desires for each sacred and spiritual mercies. All these loves which were there before move on still, but they are all surrounded by and taken up into one great comprehending love; and he who enters in at the door of that converted house hears them all in deepened, richened music, the same strains still, only full of the power of the new atmosphere in which they are played. And so it is with friendship. Two men who have known each other for years become together the servants of Christ. His Spirit comes to them. They begin the new life of which He is the centre and the soul. How their old friendship changes! How it is all the same, and yet how different it is! It opens depths and heights they never dreamed of. Where they used to do so little for each other, now they can do so much. Where they used to touch only on the outside, now their whole natures blend. One of the most valuable changes which come to a human friendship when it is thus deepened into a communion of the Holy Ghost is the assurance of permanence which it acquires. There is always a lurking distrust and suspicion of instability in friendship which has not the deepest basis. No present certainty answers for the future. This must be so to some degree with an affection where each is held to each only by the continuance of personal liking. But when friendship enters into God, and men are bound together through their communion with Him, all the strength of that higher union authenticates and assures the faithfulness and perseverance of the love that is bound up with it. The souls that meet in God may well believe that they shall hold each other as eternally as He holds each and each holds Him. And the same power which insures the perpetuity of friendship must also secure a wider range of sympathy and fellow-feeling among men The more the associations of men come to consist in what is essential, and not in what is merely formal, the larger becomes the circle of a man’s fellow-creatures with whom he may have relations of cordial interest. So much of our communion with men is a communion, not of spirit, but of form. We associate with men because we happen to be thrown in with them in the mere circumstances of our lives; because we live in the same circle of society, and so our habits are the same; because we are seeking the same ends of life in the same kind of actions. And very often our sympathies are bounded by the same narrow lines which limit our associations. But the communion of the Spirit, the communion of the Holy Ghost is something deeper, and therefore something wider, than that. Wherever any human soul is loving the God whom we love, feeling His presence, trying to do His will, though it be in forms and ways totally different from ours, the communion of the Holy Ghost brings us into sympathy with Him. There is no influence of the Christian life more ennobling, more delightful than this. It takes you out of the low valley of formal life. It sets you upon the open summit of spiritual sympathy, close to the sun. Thence you look out into unguessed regions of noble thought and living, with which you never dreamed that you had anything to do. But meanwhile is it not a very lofty and inspiring ambition to offer to a man, that the more he knows and loves God the more he shall see the noble and the good in all his brethren? We should like to believe in men so much more than we do! We are almost ready to give up in despair; the meanness, the foulness, the cruelly of humanity crowd on us so. “If you will earnestly try by obedience and love to enter into communion with God, these brethren of yours, who are like sealed books with stained covers, shall open to you, and you shall see goodness, nobleness, truth, devotion, all through them.” Here is the difference between religious and secular philanthropy. Secular philanthropy loves and helps men directly, for themselves. Religious philanthropy loves and helps men in God. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
The apostolic benediction
I. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is mentioned first, not that it stands first in the order of these great blessings; but it is most obvious, most immediate, to the view of a Christian: Jesus Christ naturally came foremost before the apostle’s mind, as the procurer of all Divine blessings. And “grace” is mentioned as the peculiar property of Jesus Christ. Grace denotes free and sovereign favour. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The grace of Jesus Christ includes--
1. All that He has done and suffered for the Church. His grace drew Him down from above into our world and nature: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. All that He endured during His sojourn among men, and especially in Gethsemane and on the Cross, proceeded from His grace; all the peace, hope, confidence, and strength of His people are so many streams that flow from this fountain.
2. All that He still does for His Church. He sits above as its High Priest and Intercessor. He has all power given to Him for the interests of His people, and they receive all that they need out of His fulness. We shall never know, on this side of eternity, the full amount of our obligations to Christ; the manner and extent in which He guards, directs, sanctifies, and comforts His people.
II. The love of God. As the grace of Christ is the meritorious, so the love of the Father is the original cause of all spiritual blessings. The Father is represented in Scripture as originating the salvation of man, as giving and sending His Son. Love is the principle from which all redemption proceeds, and the apostle prays that his brethren might feel themselves the objects of this love. This is dignity, this is felicity, and there is none beside; to be embraced in the arms of the Divine Father as His beloved children! St. John stands astonished at this love, and exclaims, “Behold, what manner of love,” etc. But let it be remembered that, if we would enjoy the love of God, we must keep His commandments. None of the consolations of Divine love are to be found in union with disobedience.
III. The communion of the Holy Spirit. As the Father originates, and the Son executes, it is the part of the Spirit so to communicate Himself as to change and form His subjects. As Christ purchased all Divine blessings, so the Spirit dispenses the things of Christ. As Christ glorifies the Father, so the Spirit glorifies Christ. He is the Vicegerent and Deputy of Christ, as Christ of the Father, Let it be remembered that a suitable walk is required of those who would enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit. We must be careful not, by resistance, to grieve Him; if we sadden this Comforter, where shall we hope to find comfort? Conclusion:
1. In the text we have a distinct mention of three Divine persons. None will deny that the Father and the Son are Persons; it is reasonable to conclude that the Spirit is also such. Here the “grace of Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit,” could never have been placed in such a close juxtaposition with the “love of God,” if, as some have supposed, there were an infinite distance between them.
2. The doctrine of the Trinity is not a mere speculative mystery. Each of the Divine Persons has His office in the economy of redemption; and this gives us an idea of the grandeur and dignity of that redemption, in the economy of which there is such a co-operation; the Father devising it, the Son executing, the Spirit applying. How solemn and august the work of preparing a soul for glory, when each person of the Godhead has His own peculiar part in that work to execute. What manner of persons, then, ought we to be? (R. Hole, M. A.)
The threefold benediction
It is remarkable that this, which is one of the two most explicit recognitions of the Holy Trinity, should be in the form of a benediction. The fact is in itself a sermon. It tells us, above all, that the doctrine is not an object of speculation, but a living truth. It recalls us from metaphysics to life. God reveals Himself to us as a trinity of persons: the eternal Father, of whom we are the children; the eternal Son, who brings back to us our lost sonship; the eternal Spirit, by whom we and all things live. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. It is a trinity of benedictions. The love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit, come each of them round us, and enfold us in the wings of blessing. And yet they are not three benedictions, but one. The love and the grace and the fellowship are not different and apart; but one and the same.
I. The apostle begins with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, because that seems to be nearer to us; it is, as it were, the doorway through which we pass to the sense of the love of God. Grace means “gift.” It was the word which seemed best to sum up that which Jesus Christ did for us, and includes at once redemption, the knowledge of God, and the hope of eternal life. The world had been seeking for redemption, light, and hope; it had struggled with its pain, with its sorrow, with the problem of its disappointment and its failure, and it could not always beat the air in a fruitless battle; and there was coming over man, as the slow mist creeps over the fair landscape in an autumn afternoon, the sense of a supreme despair. And to men came grace, a sure and certain faith that God was in the world, and had not left us to be the struggling but inevitable prey to passion, and darkness, and death.
II. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was also, and was thereby the love of God. There are many Christian men who lose the conception of fatherhood. They tend to speak of the Almighty, or of Providence, as though He were not a person, but an abstraction. Many think of Him as the Supreme Judge and Ruler, and forget the infinite depths of love. He reveals Himself to us as a Father. He loves us in infinitely greater degree, but in some way like the way in which we love our children. He forgives us when we go back to Him. He helps us on our way when we tend to stumble, He gives us a Father’s arm upon which to lean and a Father’s hand to guide. The love of the Father is like the sun which shines in heaven, it shines upon one field and another; but upon one there is a crop of grain, upon another there is a crop of baleful weeds, the difference lies not in the sunshine but in the preparation of the ground. So it is with human souls. The love of the Father comes to us all, but the blessing of the love comes to us in proportion as we till the soil of our soul. It is dependent so far upon our effort; it comes not to supersede our work but to call it forth and to bless it.
III. And so the love of God becomes the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The eternal Father has not placed His love in some infinitely distant space, to blaze and burn like Sirius in some field of the universe which we can only see in the distance, which touches us with no warmth, which enlightens us with no knowledge, and which only reveals to us the unimaginable vastness of His power. He does not mock us with a panorama of sunlight, and the luxuriant growths that come of sunlight, passing as it were like a vast moving spectacle before our eyes. He comes close to us; He holds communion with us; He touches us with warmth; He enlightens us with His light. Conclusion:
1. The sense of a gift of a Divine Sonship, of the love of a Divine Father, of a Divine communion, are the prismatic colours of one perfect light. If you ask me to translate the text into the language of philosophy; if you tell me that no ray of that Divine light can reach my soul until I have told you of what chemical elements it is composed, I answer, Nay. The sun was shining in the heavens, revealing to the world the infinite beauty of form and colour for untold ages before its rays were analysed by the prism. It was bringing forth verdure by its warmth for untold ages before it was found out that oceans of hydrogen served upon his surface, and that heat like light is a mode of motion. What you and I want, and have, is not the bare truth that there is a sun, but the sense of his warmth. What you and I want, and have, is not an analysis of the idea of God, but the sense that there is a Father who loves us, the sense that there is a God who holds communion with us.
2. I will ask you thus to think of the Trinity to-day. Let the thought of God, as He is revealed to us, be with you not as a dogma, but as an ever present benediction. Let each pray for himself the prayer which the apostle prayed for himself and all the world. It is not a selfish prayer. The benediction of God is like the sunlight which must radiate back again for all upon whom it shines. The love of the Father cannot be in our hearts without shining. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be hid. The fellowship of the Divine Spirit is a sharing in His Divine activity in an unresting and untiring life, always moving because motion and not rest is the essence of His nature. (E. Hatch, D. D.)
The Trinity in unity
I. To lay before you what the Scripture teaches us respecting the doctrine of the Trinity in unity.
1. That there is but one God.
2. That this one God subsists under three relations or, as we commonly say, in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
3. That these three Persons, though in a manner inconceivable by us, are distinct from each other.
4. It is to be observed, in the fourth place, that the Scriptures teach us that each of these three Persons is truly and perfectly Divine.
II. To deduce from it some practical inferences. We infer from this subject--
1. How great is the happiness, how exalted the dignity, and how elevated the hopes of the real Christian.
2. How vain is the religion of those who refuse to admit this essential truth of Christianity.
3. How vain the religion and how fearful the state of those who, while they speculatively admit the doctrine of which we have been speaking, yet practically deny it, and live in the indulgence of worldly and sinful tempers and habits.
4. What abundant ground is there for the consolation of the real penitent!
5. Much of the nature of the Christian’s duty. Has God revealed Himself as subsisting in three distinct Persons? The Christian is bound to offer his thanksgivings to each of these Persons for the share taken by Him in the economy of redemption.
6. How highly we ought to value those Holy Scriptures, which alone contain a discovery of this inexplicably mysterious yet unspeakably important doctrine! (J. Natt, B. D.)
The inner nature of the Deity is an impenetrable secret, which the human mind cannot explore; and the Trinity is, in one aspect of it, a name for this unfathomable mystery. We therefore freely concede at the outset the difficulties of the subject. To these difficulties those who reject the doctrine urgently appeal. On the basis of them they declare it to be inconceivable and irrational. In regard to this claim I would say that the intellectual difficulties which beset a truth are not necessarily a bar to belief in it. Nor is the credible always limited to the conceivable. The primary question respecting the Trinity is whether there are adequate grounds for belief in it. The essence of the doctrine of the Trinity is, that God exists in a threefold mode of being, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of these is, in the strict sense, Divine, that is, partakes of the nature of Deity. All three of them together constitute the one only God. There is a unity of nature or substance in God, and there is, at the same time, a threefoldness or trinality which represents eternal distinctions in the Divine essence. God is one and God is three, but not, of course, in the same sense. He is one in substance or essence; but there exists within this one essence three persons or subsistences, which are revealed to Us under the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are many notions of God’s nature which stand in contrast to the Trinitarian idea. One of these is the Unitartan doctrine. On this view God is one and solitary; He is in no sense three There is no room, according to this conception, for interrelations or intercommunion within the nature of the Divine Being. Another contrasted view is the pantheistic. On this view God is at once the One and the All. The universe itself is taken up and lost in God; or, stating the idea from its other side, God is identified with the universe and lost in it. This mode of thought almost necessarily surrenders the personality of God. Still another view is the polytheistic, which admits the existence of many gods, and assigns to them various limitations of nature and function. The great fact which occasioned the development of the doctrine was the incarnation. The claims which Christ made for Himself, and the claims which the New Testament writers make for Him, compel the admission of His eternal pre-existence and His Divine nature (John 17:5; John 8:58; John 1:1; Philippians 2:6). If Christ is Divine, and yet, at the same time, can speak of the Father in distinction from Himself, these two facts, taken together, give us both the idea of the unity and that of the distinction between Him and God. But a further fact meets us. Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit as distinct both from the Father and from Himself, and yet ascribes to Him Divine prerogatives and powers. He is “another Advocate,” distinct from Christ (John 14:16). He bears witness of Christ (John 15:26); and His coming to the disciples is conditioned upon the Saviour’s departure (John 16:7). Personal pronouns are used in referring to the Spirit, and personal activities are constantly ascribed to Him. The doctrines of the deity of Christ, and of the Trinity, cannot be denied except upon grounds which involve the surrender of the historicity and truthfulness of the New Testament. Some persons who have acknowledged that the teaching of Jesus and of the apostles involved the doctrine of the equal Divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, have avoided the acceptance of the commonly received doctrine of the Trinity by holding that these three terms designate three phases or modes of the Divine self-manifestation, and not essential and eternal distinctions in the nature of God. This is the so-called Sabellian doctrine. It holds to a Trinity of revelation only, a moral as opposed to an immanent Trinity. It is, however, an unsatisfactory explanation of the facts with which it seeks to deal. It does not accord with the New Testament teaching respecting the eternal pre-existence of the Son of God in a form of being distinct from the Father. Moreover, if God is revealed as a Trinity, it is reasonable to suppose that He exists as such. He is revealed as He is. I have already alluded to the objection so often made to the doctrine of the Trinity, that it is inconceivable, and therefore irrational. It is necessary to weigh this objection more carefully. If, when it is said that the Trinity is inconceivable, it is meant that the mind can form no mental picture of it, the statement is quite true. The truth of the Trinity transcends the reach and power of the imagination. But so also do thousands of truths for which the evidence is commonly deemed to be overwhelming, and which are therefore generally accepted among men. We cannot imagine, that is, form any definite mental concept, of the human soul. We cannot picture to ourselves the various faculties or powers of our own mysterious personalities. Our powerlessness to conceive of these things does not overbear the testimony in their behalf. We also accept many inconceivable facts for which the evidence is found outside our own mental life. Such are many of the truths of science. The nature and action of natural forces, and especially the marvellous phenomena of psychical action--such as the influence of mind over body, and of one mind upon another--are utterly beyond the power of the imagination to construe. The truth is, that when we come to reflect upon the matter, we find that the province of the imagination is very restricted. It can never be made, in any sphere of knowledge, the measure of our convictions, or the final test of truth. That we cannot conceive of the Trinity is, therefore, no real evidence against its truth. But when it is said that the Trinity is inconceivable, it is sometimes meant that it is contrary to reason. If the doctrine of the Trinity were that God is one and three in the same sense, it would be absurd, and belief in it would be stultifying. But this is not the doctrine. The truth of the Trinity is not contrary to reason although it is above and beyond reason. What mental law forbids us to believe that there is an external trinality in the one absolute Being? With the acceptance or rejection of the doctrine the evangelical system of theology has commonly stood or fallen. The doctrine of the Deity of Christ, and the significance of His saving work, are involved in the truth of the triune nature of God. The denial of the Trinity on account of its mysteriousness has usually carried with it the denial of some of the most characteristic doctrines of Christianity on account of their mysteriousness. If men are too impatient of mystery to accept the Trinity, they will probably be too much so to believe in the incarnation, the atonement, and related truths. We have always carefully to distinguish between the acceptance of a truth upon adequate evidence, and the satisfactory explanation of that truth in itself. If the doctrine of the Trinity is approached directly, and is taken up as a problem for solution, the mind will probably be baffled and repelled. The true method of approach is along the line of those facts of Divine revelation which lead us at length to the heights of this mystery, where we can no longer define and describe, and where thought must acknowledge its bounds and find its resting-place. If it is urged, as it sometimes is, that the doctrine is not taught in the Bible, the answer is, that, while it is not explicitly and formally taught, the elements of truth which compose it, such as the Deity of Christ and the Personality of the Spirit, and the facts which require it, such as the incarnation and atonement, are fundamental factors in all biblical revelation and teaching. It may fairly be said, in the first place, that it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Absolute exists in a mode of being to which finite nature furnishes no adequate analogy. The Deity does not belong to any class of beings whose attributes can be made determining for the conception which we are to entertain of His nature. He stands alone and unique. It cannot be urged that because nature and human life furnish no examples of such a Trinity in Unity as we believe to exist in God, the belief is contrary to reason and experience. It is above and beyond all experience; it may be, in important respects, above and beyond reason, but it is not on that account contrary to it. There are, moreover, some suggestive facts which present themselves to our view in contemplating the universe, with which the idea of the Trinity in God does strikingly accord. We find, for example, that as we ascend the scale of being, life becomes diversified and complex. Not only do we observe this general fact in the world of matter, but in the world of mind as well. The mental life of the lower orders of creation appears very simple. Their souls act in but a few directions and in but a very limited sphere. The mental organisation of man, on the contrary, is very complex and diversified. I lay no stress on the threefoldness of this well-nigh universal analysis of man’s mental constitution, nor do I urge the complexity of mental life in the highest form of being which we immediately know as, in any strict sense, an argument for the doctrine of the Trinity. I do, however, claim that it would be according to analogy to expect that in the Supreme Being there should be a manifoldness and complexity of life surpassing those which we find to exist in the highest forms of finite being. Considerations like this which I have presented are not strictly a part of the evidence for the truth of the Trinity; but they do fall into line with that evidence, and serve to confirm it from the side of reason and observation. I turn now to a brief consideration of the argument for the doctrine of the Trinity which is derived from the nature of God as love. We must suppose that there was once a time when this finite world did not exist. If God alone is uncreated and self-existent, then the entire universe, including all men and angels, must have begun to be. Let our thought now travel back to the time when God alone existed. Shall we think of Him as absolutely single and solitary, dwelling in eternal silence and self-contemplation, or as having within Himself the conditions of a social life? Which conception best befits the notion of His inherent perfection? If God is truly the absolute Being, as theists commonly suppose; if He is not dependent upon the world in respect to His own existence and perfection, but has freely created the same--then must His nature be perfect in itself, and in this nature all the conditions of blessedness must be realised. It seems to me that the Trinitarian doctrine of God, which affirms distinctions and relations as eternally existing in His essence, best answers to the idea of His inherent perfection, because it supposes the Divine life to be, by its very nature, social and self-communicating. If this seem an abstract method of presenting the subject, let us approach it by saying that there is an eternal Fatherhood in God. He is not merely the Father of men and of all higher orders of created beings. He did at some point begin to be a Father. The relations of Fatherhood and Sonship which concretely express to us what we count most dear in the nature of God, are eternal and constituent in His very being. It is commonly agreed among Christians that the most perfect description which can be given of the Divine nature is that which is contained in the Scriptural statement--“God is love.” If this means, not merely that God, as a matter of fact, does love, not merely that He may be or that He has love, but that love is an eternal quality of His moral nature which is absolutely fundamental and constitutive in His being--then it would seem that there must be within His nature itself occasion and scope for the exercise of love, apart from His relations to finite existence. Love is a social attribute, and the conditions and relations which love implies must exist in the very essence of God. In the Trinitarian view of God these conditions have for ever existed in the eternal personal distinctions and reciprocal relations of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God did not begin to love when He created, nor is His love a mere potentiality which in the silent depths of eternity looks forward to creation for its satisfaction. Love is the very core and essence of God’s moral nature, and as such is ceaselessly active within the internal relations of Deity. Love is eternally in full exercise, since God is love, and love ever found in God’s own perfect being the full fruition and blessedness of its exercise in self-communication and fellowship. We thus see that, despite the difficulties which the Trinitarian doctrine presents to the imagination, it has the great advantage of according with the highest conception which revelation yields us of the moral nature of God. It enables us to maintain that God eternally is what He is revealed to be. The Trinity is a practical truth. High as it is above reason, baffling as it is to the imagination and to thought, it accords with the demands and deliverances of the Christian consciousness. It conserves the truth of Christ’s essential Divinity and that of the reality and power of the work of the Spirit, which He described as the sequel and completion of His own work. It accords with belief in the incarnation, and makes the redemptive work of Christ a Divine work. All this the Christian consciousness craves and requires. We want to know, not merely that God has sent us a message, not merely that in Jesus He has raised up an exceptionally pure and holy member of the human race, but that in Him God has come to us, and that His work of revelation and redemption is a work of God. Our sense of sin is met and answered only by the knowledge of a Divine Redeemer. Mystery as the Trinity is, it is a mystery which is full of heavenly light. The doctrine of the Trinity conserves the idea of the richness and fulness of the Divine life and love, and of the amplitude of their manifestation. According to its terms, God is revealed to us as our Father, and His eternal nature is shown to be fatherly; Jesus Christ is presented to us as a true incarnation of God in humanity, a Redeemer whose Divine person and work are a veritable revelation of God; and the Holy Spirit is conceived of as an actual Divine agent who dwells and works in human life, influencing and moulding it into the Divine likeness. According to the Trinitarian doctrine, we have to do, in Christianity, with Divine realities. Our religion is not a subjective play of fine ideas, memories, or aspirations. Our religion is intensely supernatural. It is fitted to quicken and foster in our hearts a living sense of God. The forces that provide and complete our salvation are truly Divine. It is God that has wrought for us and in us; our life is ensphered in Deity, and filled with the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. (George B. Stevens, D. D.)
The Trinity a practical truth
1. The distinction between doctrinal and practical exists rather in popular impressions than in reality. Doctrine simply means what is taught: practice what is done. Christian charity, as delivered in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, is a doctrine; as it enlarges souls and sweetens life it is a practice. In general, Christian practice is simply Christian doctrine gone into the life of mankind.
2. The Trinity is the meeting-point of the doctrinal with the practical elements of our faith. For, on the one hand, it represents facts lying far above us, in the inscrutable Being of God; but it also lays the foundation for the personal faith which brings peace to the heart and for the duties which give use and honour to life. The Trinity has just the mysteriousness which belongs to, say, the connection of your mind with your hand, or the growth of a tree from a seed. Much about these things you may well understand; but much more, which you cheerfully accept because it is familiar, is just as completely inexplicable to reason as the Trinity. Yet you may traverse every field and you will find no form of goodness that has not its origin in this Trinity of God--in the parental providence of the Father, the renewing grace of the Son, the sanctifying communion of the Spirit. For the proof, we may look to three different regions of revelation in order:
I. The inspired Scriptures.
1. There is no Divine quality which is not ascribed to each of these Persons. Each is separately declared to be eternal, almighty, perfect in holiness, knowing all things, and worthy to be worshipped. Yet with equal emphasis they are not only, as in the text, associated together, with no suggestion of degrees of rank, but they are explicitly declared to be one in substance, power, and glory.
2. These three are so set before us that the entire Christian system could not be complete or even consistent without them all. Each refers to the others as co-equal Persons--the Father to the Son and the Spirit, the Son to the Spirit and the Father, the Spirit to the Father and the Son.
3. Taking up the Scriptures in their historic order--
(1) The Holy Ghost appears with the Father from first to last. Amidst the miracles of creation He broods upon the face of the waters; holy men “spoke as they were moved by” Him; it is by His power that the Messiah is miraculously conceived, and that His mission is attested at His baptism. The Spirit’s more manifest coming forth is at length made ready as the Saviour departs, till, after Pentecost, all the preaching of the apostles, and all the upbuilding of the Church, and all the conversion of the world, are effected by the same Spirit.
(2) With corresponding measure moves the revelation of the Son of Man. In the beginning He was with God, and was God. Not without Him too, says the apostle, the worlds were made. In Eden we foresee Him “born of a woman,” bruising the serpent’s head, and atoning for the Fall; known to Job as the Redeemer that shall stand upon the earth; blessing all mankind in Abraham’s seed; the Shiloh that should come of the family of Judah; wrestling with Jacob; worshipped as the Jehovah-angel; leading Israel in the burning column; foretold as the everlasting High Priest in the Psalms of David; the Emmanuel, Wonderful, Counsellor and Mighty God, of Isaiah’s prediction; “The Lord our Righteousness” named by Jeremiah; the glorious appearance of a Man on the sapphire throne, before whom Ezekiel fell in adoration; Daniel’s “Messiah who should be cut off, but not for Himself”; Haggai’s “Desire of all Nations “; Malachi’s “Sun of Righteousness.” He is the theme of the whole Bible, the Bond of living unity between Old Testament and New.
II. The moral constitution and history of man. Outside the Bible there are three different regions for the manifestation of God to man.
1. Nature. In it the one God has a peculiar work, creating. But as we commonly apply the term “creating” to the originating of things, that process by which He preserves and so ever re-creates nature is named Providence. God is a Creator, and creatorship is the first work of personality in His threefold Being.
(1) Nature was not enough for man’s spiritual education and salvation. He needs a supernatural mediation for the unfolding and ripening of his religious powers, and for rescue when the choice has been wrong and the forces of sin have brought him down. As a conscious soul man has thoughts that the whole natural world cannot interpret, desires that the natural world cannot fill, aspirations that the natural world and even natural religion cannot meet. Nay, it is just when the world does its bravest for us that our supersensual life is most oppressed with the feeling of its insufficiency, and the homesick heart feels out into infinitude for the light that never was on sea or land.
(2) Man is lost till the Son of Man comes forth from the Father. The palace of nature is empty till the King enters.
(a) If it is moral excellence that the world is seeking for, the Second Person of the Trinity not only carries up all ideas of character to their loftiest pitch, by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect,” but He matches the precept by an actual embodiment.
(b) Is it some vision of self-sacrifice that the higher thought of humanity is feeling for? Then in the same Person God sets up the Cross, planting its foot in the very core of the world’s heart, and binding about it the reverent affections of all ages.
(c) Is the world yearning for reconciliation with God? None less than He, no daysman of baser rank, can make the necessary atonement, at once magnifying the law, and yet the justifier of the sinner. It must be both God and man, the God-man, who redeems. Nature is fair and orderly, for it is the workmanship of God. But can it atone for this lost soul that has gone down under the powers of sin, and is now in the terror and the punishment of a separation from its God? It says, “Obey and live. Hast thou, O foolish child, disobeyed? Then be wrecked against our iron necessity; perish amidst our pitiless magnificence!” Man sees no cross in nature till the Saviour rears it at Calvary.
3. By the very conditions of the visible Incarnation, however, it must be limited and temporary. For here the Eternal comes into history, and thus is made subject to limitations of time and place. Jesus, the Son of Mary, wears a human body, which must pass from the world. It is expedient for us that He should go away. Hence the third development of the Trinity-mystery. There is a third realm where the one God is also to be revealed--the inner world of the believer’s heart.
(1) Christ saw the deep necessity for that, and made careful preparation for it in the promise of the Holy Ghost. Like the Eternal Word, that Paraclete has been from the beginning, and was with God, and was God. But now, in the heavenly order, the Spirit shall appear; He shall proceed both from the Father and the Son, for Christ expressly says both, “I will send Him,” “Whom My Father will send.” The symbol is shown when Christ breathes on the apostles before His ascension. The august reality is seen when the day of Pentecost is fully come.
(a) When the weary and heavy-laden heart comes home repenting to the Father’s house, through faith in the Son, it is known to be the Holy Spirit that quickens it.
(b) When the secret mercy of peace tranquillises the sorrow of troubled breasts, it is the same Spirit that is the Comforter.
(c) When a hidden inspiration bears on advancing Christians from one degree of sanctity to another, it is by the same “Spirit of the Lord,” the Sanctifier of the faithful.
(d) When new tides of consecrated feeling rouse the Church to her aggressive work, it is the coming, again and again, of the same blessed Paraclete.
III. The gospel kingdom or Church of Christ.
1. Just on the eve of Christ’s departure His accredited apostles are gathered about Him. Now the ambassadors shall be told what is of supreme importance in the work they are to do, and the message they are to bear. He speaks: “Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature,” “teach all nations, baptizing them.” But teach them what? Baptize them into whom? This is the last and highest question to be answered. The doctrine ye are to proclaim, the threefold cord with which ye are to “bind,” the covenant names into which ye are to baptize--hear these: the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. The three names send out their light over Christendom with co-equal, co-eternal, and blended beams. They are one. By the power hid in that truth the world was to be saved: by no other.
2. See then how, in the very terms of the office assigned to His Church, there is an exact correspondence with this fundamental doctrine of the faith.
(1) There is action--“Go ye.” This answers, on earth and in men, to the creative work of the Godhead. The natural power must work; natural means must be employed.
(2) There is the continued presentation of the fact of redemption, under its due sign and sacrament, coupled with the preaching of the gospel. As the Second Person was the embodying of the Word and redeemed the world, as that Word was made flesh, so the living Word must still go forth, beginning at Jerusalem, to all the earth. The new covenant, superseding that of the elder Testament, is to pledge the blessings of propitiation, gather and bind in one the Catholic family of Christendom, and, by the sanctifying of water to the mystical washing away of sin, bring back clean blood into the disordered heart of the race.
(3) But, finally, that this Christian system should take effect, create a real regeneration, and yield the Lord a bride without spot or wrinkle, the energy of the Spirit must attend it. The Holy Ghost, sent down from heaven, must accompany the preaching. God’s flock must be fed by men whom the Holy Ghost hath made overseers. Conclusion: What is remaining but that in the simplicity of a searching and earnest faith we should put the question to ourselves and to one another: Has this wonderful and blessed doctrine entered in, to bear its gracious fruit in our own lives? (Bp. Huntington.)
And the communion of the Holy Ghost.--
The communion of the Holy Spirit
I fear that our familiarity with these words serves in a great measure to veil their meaning. They become more associated with the closing up of the service than anything else, as is the case with one of the grandest choruses in the Messiah, the “Amen Chorus.” It is the last in the whole Oratorio, and every one takes it as a signal to begin to depart. Paul is here pouring out his heart’s love in the very best wish that he can think of. What do we understand by the communion of the Holy Ghost? What is the meaning of the word “communion”? I do not know any better way to explain the meaning of that word than is given in the following verses of the Bible (Galatians 2:9): “When James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship.” That is, they took Paul into their communion as a sharer in the concern; they gave him the right hand; he became partner with them in the work. That is the meaning of the word “communion.” In Luke 5:10, we read that James and John “were partners with Simon.” You see that it would mean part-ownership in that boat; they would no longer speak of that boat as my boat, but our boat. So, I think, that the best meaning of the word “communion” is “partnership.” Thus the text will read: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the partnership of the Holy Ghost be with you all.”
I. Partnership with a glorious person. First of all we must realise the personality of the partner; we must grasp the personality of the Holy Ghost by practical experience. Do we know much about this? Hundreds of you could say, “I know what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is.” But do you know what is partnership with the Holy Ghost? Partnership implies a partner, and we cannot be long in partnership without knowing the partner. The Holy Ghost is a living personality as much as the Father, whose love we receive; a living personality as much as Jesus, whose grace we delight in, and whose name we adore. It is not an “it” we have to do with. All the attributes of a Person are His. He has understanding, will, grief and love; for when Paul writes to the Romans, he says (Romans 15:30). How necessary it is we should know His attributes, since we are living in His dispensation. The Old Testament records belong to the dispensation of the Father, and tell of one coming, the Gospels are the record of the dispensation of the Son, and Christ still points on and says, “It is expedient that I go away, but I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever.” The Lord Jesus Christ has ascended to the Father, He has gone up to Heaven, and is sitting at His Father’s right hand, and it is just because He is there that the Spirit is here. The Spirit came only when Jesus was glorified. God is thus on earth to-day in the Person of the Holy Ghost, and He receives no better treatment now than the Lord Jesus did when He was on earth. He has come to take the same place as Jesus took, and to be as real to you as Jesus was to His disciples. The reason we have so many dull faces in our churches to-day is because the Holy Ghost is not thought of as present, and is not welcomed as a personal, helpful Friend. But the ministry of the Spirit is only a time ministry; this dispensation is not going on for ever. Jesus fulfilled His mission and then He ascended, and I believe that the Holy Spirit will have His ascension, and then Jesus will come to reign. There is a further beautiful meaning in the word “communion,” namely, a common interest. Thus, you love Christ: so does the Holy Ghost. You love prayer: the Holy Ghost maketh intercession for us. In Romans 8:16, we read, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit.” What beautiful partnership is that! You want to be holy; the Spirit wants you to be holy. If you want Jesus to come, so does the Holy Spirit, You see you have common interests all the way through.
II. Partnership in His glorious work. All that Jesus did, He did in the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, like a dove, had sought, for four thousand years, a heart that would be His resting place, and sought in vain, until He rested on Jesus by the Jordan’s brink. Then Jesus went forth to His work filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He cast out demons, He healed the sick, He raised the dead, and, indeed, all that He did, He did in the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at our churches--north, east, south and west? They are trying to carry on their work without the partnership of the Holy Ghost. But it is so difficult, you say, to realise what we cannot see. You have never seen the wind, yet you feel and believe it is there. You have never seen electricity, but put your hands on the handles of the battery, and you start with the shock. And if I am going into partnership with the Holy Ghost, I must believe He is here, though He is not seen by mortal eyes. His Sovereignty I must know as well, and fully yield myself to His direction and control. We read in the Acts that the Holy Ghost forbade the apostles going to Asia to preach the Word. There are diversities of His will, and we need to be entirely in His hands. If we have fellowship with Him, we must be willing to let Him work in us. At times the Holy Spirit has to uproot a man, strip him of all his possessions, of health, wealth, and position before He is made willing and obedient. We must be willing to be just what He wants us to be in this great partnership. (A. G. Brown.)