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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Corinthians 2

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 2:2

For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?

Gladness for sadness

Self-improvement is preceded by dissatisfaction with self. This is true of all self-improvement. We find it so in education. And other things being equal, that child will learn most rapidly who is most sorry when it cannot master its task. The same statement applies to improvement in mechanical skill and in so-called ornate accomplishments. Certainly there is desire to excel, but that implies dissatisfaction with present attainments. The principle is equally applicable in the moral and spiritual sphere. In this sphere there can be no upward progress without repentance. Search for a new master in this realm presupposes dissatisfaction with the old. There is a discontent that is praiseworthy. A passing reference to the other side of the same truth will more clearly show this principle. Arid the other side is--He rarely makes any advancement who is opinionated, self-satisfied. Men have to be roused out of their contentment.

The “sorrow” of the pupil is the “gladness” of the teacher--provided, of course, that the “sorrow” of the scholar be in connection with the teacher’s special function. Failure, through waywardness to do right, always brings “sorrow” to the partially educated child. But as often as the child manifests “sorrow” at its failure, just as often is its mother made “glad.” And the highest “gladness” which the Christian teacher knows comes not through him who passes an eulogium upon his sermons, but from him whom the sermons have made “sorry” on account of sin. (J. S. Swan.)

Verses 5-11

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

But if any have caused grief

The aim of Church discipline

is in the last resort the restoration of the fallen.

The Church has, of course, an interest of its own to guard i it is bound to protest against all that is inconsistent with its character; it is bound to expel scandals. But the Church’s protest, its condemnation, its excommunication even, are not ends in themselves; they are means to that which is really an end in itself, a priceless good which justifies every extreme of moral severity, the winning again of the sinner through repentance. The judgment of the Church is the instrument of God’s love, and the moment it is accepted in the sinful soul it begins to work as a redemptive force. The humiliation it inflicts is that which God exalts; the sorrow, that which He comforts. But when a scandal comes to light in a Christian congregation, what is the significance of that movement of feeling which inevitably takes place? In how many has it the character of goodness and of severity, of condemnation and compassion, of love and fear, of pity and shame, the only character that has any virtue in it, to tell for the sinner’s recovery? If you ask nine people out of ten what a scandal is, they will tell you it is something that makes men talk; and the talk in nine cases out of ten will be malignant, affected, more interesting to the talkers than any story of virtue or piety--scandal itself, in short, far more truly than its theme. Does anybody imagine that gossip is one of the forces that awaken conscience, and work for the redemption of our fallen brethren? If this is all we can do, in the name of all that is Christian let us keep silence. Every word spoken about a brother’s sin, that is not prompted by a Christian conscience, that does not vibrate with the love of a Christian heart is itself a sin against the mercy and the judgment of Christ. (J. Denney, B. D.)

Sufficient unto such a man is this punishment.--

Christian punishment and absolution

The Christian idea of punishment includes in it--

1. The reformation of the offender (2 Corinthians 2:6). The ancient system of law sacrificed the individual to the society, and feeble philanthropy would sacrifice society to the individual, whereas Christianity would save both.

2. The purification of society. Sin committed with impunity corrupts the body of men to which the sinner belongs; and this purification is effected partly by example, and partly by removal of the evil. The discipline by which this removal was effected was excommunication, and at that time apostolic excommunication represented to the world God’s system of punishment.

3. The expression of righteous indignation. For there is a right feeling in human nature which we call resentment, although in the worst natures it becomes malice. It existed in Christ Himself. Mark what follows from this. Man is the image of God: so there is something in God which corresponds with that which we call resentment, stripped, of course, of all selfishness or fury. So we must not explain away those words of Scripture, “the wrath of God,” “God is angry with the wicked every day,” “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” These sayings contain a deep and an awful truth. If the wrath of God be only a figure, His love must be but a figure too.

The Christian idea of absolution. Forgiveness is one thing, absolution is another. Absolution is the authoritative declaration of forgiveness. When Christ said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee,” He did not forgive him; he was forgiven already, but He declared his forgiveness. Now the case before us is a distinct instance of ecclesiastical absolution. St. Paul says, “I forgive.” This is absolution; man’s declaration of God’s forgiveness--man speaking in God’s stead.

1. Consider the use of absolution. It was to save from remorse, and is here considered as a “comfort.”

2. This absolution was representative--

(1) Of the forgiveness of God. St. Paul forgave the sinner “in the person,” that is in the stead “of Christ.” Thus, as the punishment of man is representative of the punishment and wrath of God, so the absolution of man is representative of the forgiveness of God.

(2) Of the Christian congregation: “for your sakes.” Every member, therefore, of that congregation was forgiving the sinner; it was his right to do so, and it was in his name that St. Paul spoke; nay, because each member had forgiven, St. Paul forgave. Absolution therefore is not a priestly prerogative. It belongs to man, and to the minister because he stands as the representative of purified humanity. Who does not know how the unforgivingness of society in branding men and women as outcasts makes their case hopeless? Men bind his sins--her crimes--on earth, and they remain bound. Now every man has this power individually. For years the thought of his deceit, and the dread of his brother, had weighed on Jacob’s heart, and when Esau forgave him, it was as if he “had seen the face of God.” When we treat the guilty with tenderness, hope rises in them towards God; their hearts say, “They love us; will not God forgive and love us too?” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.--

Overmuch sorrow

When sorrow is overmuch. It is notorious that Overmuch sorrow for sin is not the ordinary case of the world,

1. When it is fed by a mistaken cause. If a man thinketh that a duty which is no duty, and then sorrow for omitting it, such sorrow is all too much, because it is undue, and caused by error. Many fearful Christians are troubled about food, clothes, thoughts, and words, thinking or fearing that all is sinful which is lawful, and that unavoidable infirmities are heinous sins.

2. When it hurteth and overwhelmeth nature itself, and destroyeth bodily health or understanding. God would not have us hurt our neighbour, nor have us destroy or hurt ourselves.

How overmuch sorrow doth swallow a man up.

1. It often overthrows the sober use of reason, so that a man’s judgment is corrupted by it. A man in anger, fear, or trouble thinks not of things as they are, but as his passions represent them.

2. It disableth a man to govern his thoughts, and ungoverned thoughts must needs be both sinful and very troublesome. You may almost as easily keep the leaves of trees in quietness and order in a blustering wind, as the thoughts of one in troubling passions.

3. It would swallow up faith itself, and greatly hindereth its exercise.

4. It yet more hindereth hope.

5. It swalloweth up all comfortable sense of the love of God, and thereby hindereth the soul from loving Him. And in this it is an adversary to the very life of holiness.

6. It is a false and injurious judge of all the word and works of God, and of all His mercies and corrections. Whatever such an one reads or hears, he thinks it all makes against him.

7. It is an enemy to thankfulness.

8. It is quite contrary to the joy in the Holy Ghost. Yea, and the peace in which God’s kingdom much consisteth.

9. It is much contrary to the very tenor of the gospel, which is glad tidings of pardon and everlasting joy.

10. It greatly advantageth Satan, whose design is to describe God to us as like himself, who is a malicious enemy.

11. It unfits men for all profitable meditation. The more they muse, the more they are overwhelmed. And it turneth prayer into mere complaint, instead of child-like, believing supplications.

12. It is a distemper which maketh all sufferings more heavy.

What are the causes of it?

1. With very many it arises from distemper or weakness of the body, and by it the soul is greatly disabled to any comfortable sense.

2. But usually other causes go before this disease of melancholy. And one of the most common is sinful impatience, a want of sufficient submission to the will of God.

3. The guilt of some wilful sin; when conscience is convinced, yet the sin is beloved and yet feared. God’s wrath doth terrify, yet not enough to lead to the overcoming of sin.

4. Ignorance and mistakes in matters which peace and comforts are concerned.

(1) Ignorance of the tenor of the gospel.

(2) Mistakes about the use of sorrow for sin, and about the nature of hardness of heart.

(3) Ignorance of ourselves, not knowing the sincerity which God hath given us.

(4) Failure to fetch comfort from bare probabilities, when we get not certainty.

(5) Ignorance of other men, many think, by our preaching and writing, that we are much better than we are.

(6) Unskilful teachers cause the perplexities of many.

What is the cure?

1. Look not on the sinful part of your troubles, either as better or worse than indeed it is.

2. Give not way to a habit of peevish impatience.

3. Set yourselves more diligently than ever to overcome the inordinate love of the world.

4. If you are not satisfied that God alone, Christ alone, heaven alone, is enough for you, as matter of felicity and full content, go, study the case better, and you may be convinced.

5. Study better how great a sin it is to set our own wills and desires in a discontented opposition to the wisdom, will, and providence of God, and to make our wills, instead of His, as gods to ourselves.

6. Study well how great a duty it is wholly to trust God, and our blessed Redeemer, both with soul and body, and all we have.

7. If you would not be swallowed up with sorrow, swallow not the baits of sinful pleasure.

8. But if none of the fore-mentioned sins cause your sorrows, but they come from the mere perplexities of your mind, I will lay down your proper remedies, and that is, the cure of that ignorance and those errors which cause your troubles.

(1) Many are perplexed about controversies in religion. Directions:

(a) See that you be true to the light and law of nature, which all mankind is obliged to observe.

(b) As to God’s supernatural revelation, hold to God’s Word, the sacred Bible.

(c) Yet use with thankfulness the help of men for the understanding and obeying the Word of God.

(d) Take nothing as necessary to the being of Christianity, and to salvation which is not recorded in the Scripture, and hath not been held as necessary by all true Christians in every age and place.

(e) Maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, with all true Christians, as such, and live in love in the communion of saints.

(f) Never set a doubtful opinion against a certain truth or duty.

(g) Faithfully serve Christ as far as you have attained, and be true to all the truth that you know.

(2) If your trouble be about your sins, or want of grace, and spiritual state, digest well these counsels.

(a) God’s goodness is equal to His greatness.

(b) Christ hath come to save us.

(c). The condition of pardon and life is that we believe Him, and willingly accept of the mercy which He freely giveth us.

(d) The day of grace is never so past to any sinner but still he may have Christ and pardon if he will.

(3) But if melancholy have got head, there must be, beside what is said, some other and proper remedies used.

(a) Avoid your melancholy musings.

(b) Let those thoughts which you have be laid out on the most excellent things. The infinite goodness of God; the unmeasurable love of Christ; the unconceivable glory and joy which all the blessed have with Christ.

(c) When you pray, resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God.

9. If further the sorrow proceed from some bodily disorder, as it often doth, the physician must take the place of the preacher. This sorrow must be treated by medicine and diet. (R. Baxter.)

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 2:11

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Satan’s devices

We who “are called to be saints” are not ignorant of his devices. We know them, what they are, whence they come, and whither they lead. These are not matters of report or hearsay, but of personal knowledge.

His devices in discipline. Towards the lapsed. Their not being ignorant of his devices is assigned as a reason for the apostle’s anxiety, “lest Satan should get an advantage of them.” He was fearful lest he should overreach them in the matter referred to. That was a case of discipline. A notorious scandal had gained currency that “one should have his father’s wife.” The severe discipline had sufficed to produce the desired effect. Whatever might be the mind of “the many who inflicted” the censure, it would seem that there was a party among them unwilling to forgive the offence, remove the sentence, and restore the offender. To all of them the apostle says, “Ye ought rather to forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” And this exhortation is enforced by his own example in the person and presence of Christ. “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person or in the sight of Christ” 2 Corinthians 2:6-10). By their excessive severity in continuing the censure it was possible that the spirit of such an one would give way to despondency or despair, would entertain hard thoughts of God, of the government of His Church, and “thus draw back into perdition.” In such a fatal issue the spirit would be lost to Christ and gained by Satan. On these accounts the apostle was anxious “lest Satan should gain an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” From this instructive case of primitive discipline it would appear that his devices to corrupt the Church of Christ, maintain a party spirit, and mar its unity, and prevent purity of communion were, and still are, these--no discipline, laxity of discipline, and partiality in discipline between rich and poor, master and servant, one party and another, on the One hand; and excessive severity of censure, disproportionate to the offence, and continued for too long a time, on the other.

His devices to prevent the salvation of the lost. If such are his devices to keep within those who ought to be without, and to keep them without when they ought to be received again within the Church, what are his devices in keeping sinners from Christ and His salvation? His chief devices, his master-machinations to prevent sinners “from giving themselves to the Lord,” seem to be the four following.

1. No joy. There is no joy in Christ, no joy in His religion, no joy in His service, and no joy in His salvation. Christians go mourning without the sun. To become a Christian is to bid farewell to all joy, pleasure, and amusement for the life that now is. This device is specially intended for the merry-hearted. It will not stand examination. Try it by reason. Surely every one possessed of reason and speech will admit that the Maker of us all can make His creatures happy or miserable. For He is “the blessed, as well as the only wise God.” Happy in Himself, He is also the source of all happiness to His creatures. The very supposition is not less irrational than it is impious. Is the knowledge of God, who is good as well as blessed for ever; faith in God; trust in His providence and promises; the hope of eternal life likely--are such exercises to inspire sadness? Assuredly not. And whether are the benevolent affections of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” or malevolent affections toward God and men most fitted to give true and lasting joy? Try it by revelation. And what are its tidings? The gospel is not bad but good news from heaven to earth, from God to men. And is good news fitted to produce gladness or gloom, joy or sorrow? Tried by Scripture, no joy in religion is seen and shown to be a lying device and a lying wonder of Satan. Try it by experience. Now on what does real joy or happiness depend? Not on worldly conditions or external circumstances, but on the state of the mind and heart. Well, “The good man shall be satisfied from himself”--not with himself but from himself--“out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” For what does he pray? “Rejoice the soul of Thy servant.” “Are the consolations of God small with thee?” One thing is certain: the consolations of God are not small in their source, not small in the promise, and not small in themselves; and if they are small with thee, is there not a cause? It may be owing either--

(1) To thy partial, defective, or erroneous views of the character or gospel of God; or

(2) To the want, the weakness, or wavering of thy faith, under a fair and flaming profession; or

(3) To some “secret thing with thee,” to some secret duty neglected, some secret sin indulged; or

(4) To thy constitutional temperament, moody and sickly, which depresses thy spirits, and diminishes thy consolations. “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.”

2. No haste. There is no haste for you to be found on the Lord’s side, and be devoted to His service, For all this you have time enough, and to spare in the length of days that lie before you. In the meantime take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry. This device is specially adapted for the young, the strong, the healthy, and aspiring in the outset of life. If No Joy fail with this class, No Haste, and no danger from delay, is more likely to take, as it falls in with the presumptuous spirit and procrastinating habits of fallen man. This device is second to none in danger, and in success with the sons of men. It is a most deceitful and destructive device of Satan. If it takes, Satan, in the majority of cases, has gained his end. By it unstable souls are beguiled from day to day to their eternal undoing and ruin. This device, even still less than the former, will not bear examination. For is it not the part of reason and wisdom, to give the first and most earnest heed to things of the greatest importance. “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” Now what time is secured to man for the business of salvation? “There is a time to be born and a time to die”; but what is the time to live? Who can tell? The commands of the Master accord with the dictates of reason, and the results of observation, in this matter. They are all in the present time, all personal, all pressing, and all supreme in obligation on all men. For the Saviour’s commands are enforced by Scriptural “ensamples, written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world,” or of the ages, “have come.” What are they? Felix is a fitting type of many hearers under the preaching of the gospel. They are convinced, but they are not converted to Christ. Their convictions are stifled, it may be never to return. And does not the experience of unconverted sinners under the preaching of the gospel correspond more or less to these ensamples written for our warning? Do they not feel that every delay tends to make the ears dull of hearing the Word?

3. No danger. There is no danger of your losing your soul, or of coming short of the promised rest. This device is specially intended for the outwardly decent, the moral, the well-to-do sort of people. They are satisfied with themselves; are at peace with themselves, and at peace with the world; and they see and feel no danger from any other quarter. Such peace is delusive and short-lived. It is like the calm that precedes the storm. They admit that they are sinners, as all men are, not from any heartfelt conviction of its evil, but in extenuation of their guilt by its diffusion over all; but they have never been convinced of their own sinfulness so as to make them feel the urgent need of the Saviour. They love mammon more than mercy, their sins more than their souls, self more than the Saviour, and pleasure more than God. They are the friends of the world and the enemies of God. Satan thus gets an advantage over them, for they are ignorant of his devices. “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”

4. No hope. There is for you no hope of salvation. This is the last, chief device of Satan, but it is not the least. Terrors are increased by the vivid recollections of privileges misimproved; of opportunities lost. Well does Satan know that more sinners perish from despair than through presumption. Like all his other devices, this last is a lying device of Satan. For while there is life there is hope. (Geo. Robson.)

Advantage sought

1. That Church discipline is necessary.

2. That discipline should be extended to every member of the Church, whatever his worldly position

3. That Church discipline has its limits.

The evil power that seeks advantage over us. The Bible has much to say of him, but nothing different from its teaching here. We are taught--

1. Satan’s names.

2. His condition. Reduced in estate, brought down by pride, etc.

3. His character.

4. Unmixed evil.

5. His calling. He is pre-eminently the tempter.

Some of the many ways by which Satan seeks an advantage.

1. He tempts with systematic subtlety.

2. He insinuates evil suggestions.

3. He makes use of men to tempt their fellow-men.

4. He conceals his designs, so as not to be perceived or suspected.

5. He avails himself of the advantages presented by the disposition and circumstances of those whom he tempts.

The rich, the poor, the gay, the proud.

The knowledge which should frustrate the desired advantage. We have no excuse for ignorance. A pious mother said to her well-instructed but ungodly son, “Well, Morgan, you are going straight to destruction, but you don’t go there in the dark, your mother has put the candle in your hand.” What is the Bible, the preaching, and the religious meetings we have? There are only so many candles, warnings, like the red lights of danger, as well as the beacon lights of safety. (D. Davis.)

Satan’s devices

There can be no greater evidence of men’s degeneracy than that their minds are so easily imposed upon in matters of the greatest moment, and that by little arts of sophistry they are led into paths immediately destructive both of their nature and their happiness. Being therefore placed in such dangerous circumstances, nothing can be more prudent than that we should keep our discerning faculties wakeful, lest Satan should get an advantage of us. Note--

Some of the more successful methods and trains of temptation whereby the great enemy of souls is wont to blow up men’s resolutions for a holy life.

1. By secret disbelief of the truth of things.

2. By making false representations of religion.

(1) That its restraints are unjust and unreasonable. So religion is looked upon as a tyrannical encroachment upon the natural rights and privileges of mankind.

(2) That the precepts of it are difficult, if not impossible.

3. By tempting men to place all religion in a few empty and external pretensions to piety, devoid of the inward life and spirit of religion.

4. By tempting them to such vices as have a shadow and resemblance of virtue. This crafty spirit knows very well that sin will never take in its own naked shape, and therefore dresses it up in a better garb, and calls it by another name. Pride never spreads its plumes with more success than when it is recommended as gentility, and a just valuing of ourselves according to our desert and quality. Many a man would never be betrayed into excesses did he not look upon it as an argument of a free, generous mind, and a piece of good fellowship.

5. By improving the influence of powerful and prevalent examples. Mankind is of a sociable and pliable temper, easily drawn aside when the multitude do evil. We are apt to look upon it as some kind of shelter and patronage to sin in company, and to act contrary to the company we are in is looked upon as a trespass against the laws of civility and good manners.

Therefore it concerns us to stand continually upon our guard, to preserve our consciences quick and tender, to be infinitely watchful, that our foot be not taken in any of those snares that are purposely laid to ruin us. It is no contemptible enemy that we have to deal with, nor the less to be feared because invisible, for by this means he maintains a nearer and more secret intercourse with the spirits of men. He is admirably acute to plant his engines, to make his batteries in the weakest part. But, alas! though men had no foreign enemy there is an enemy within their own breasts (James 1:14). Herein lies Satan’s great advantage. He knows our strength is small, our propensions to sin impetuous, and how apt we are to be betrayed by our appetites and passions.

1. Let us, then, treasure up in our minds a great sense of God and of ourselves, let us suffer conscience freely to discharge its duty. Let us reverence the nobility of our natures, which are of a more Divine frame and temper than to be defiled.

2. Let all opportunities and occasions of vice be avoided with a quick and jealous care; a temptation is easier prevented than removed, when once it has thrust itself upon the sinner.

3. We should frequently review our lives, and call our actions to a severe and impartial examination that we may know what is their spring, tendency and consequence.

4. But above all we must solicit Heaven that God would enable us to defeat the subtleties of the tempter. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” (W. Cave, D. D.)

Satan’s temptations and the necessity of resisting them

Now the first trait in the character of Satan is deceit. It is evident sin originated in deceit (Genesis 3:13; Revelation 12:9). Hence arise those frequent monitions in the Word of God not to be deceived if we would not sin.

The next device which the tempter exercises for the seduction of mankind is enticement or the entanglement of the affections. No sooner is the mind drawn aside from the path of duty than the affections are instantly assailed and enticed to sin. Like the bait with which a fish is taken on the hook, so does Satan seek to allure men to their destruction. The days of this captivity will be heightened when he can insidiously prevail upon the imagination to entertain vain thoughts with secret complacency and delight.

A third stratagem which the great seducer employs to get an advantage over us is to extenuate the guilt of sin.

Let us inquire how this danger is to be avoided, and point out the necessity of resisting the crafts and assaults of the devil.

1. In the whole course of your obedience attend minutely to the wisdom of Solomon, and “keep thy heart with all diligence.”

2. Let this consideration animate us at all times to resist steadfastly in the faith, “knowing that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”

3. For this purpose let us always bear in mind the example and sufferings of the blessed Jesus.

4. Let us, then, rejoice that we are called to serve under so good a leader, so solicitous for our success, so careful to promote it, and so ready “to help in time of need.”

5. Finally, let us remember that in all our encounters with sin, the world, and the devil, we are but following the footsteps of the Captain of our salvation, and travelling to the attainment of the same glory, through the same rugged paths of sorrow and temptation. (E. Brackenbury, B. A.)

Satanae stratagemata

Chabryas was wont to say that he was the best commander in war who best understood his enemies.

First, of the caution. Some render these words, Lest Satan should usurp upon you; and they give this reason, because, say they, Satan hath no right to any place; wheresoever he getteth footing he is an intruder and usurper. Others read, Lest Satan circumvent us agreeably to the circumstances of the place and the practice of the devil. But why doth the apostle say, “Lest he get advantage of us”? Was St. Paul in any danger, or had Satan any design upon him? We may conceive that St. Paul joins himself with them, because he esteemed all those whom he begot to Christ by the gospel no other than his own children, and the father cannot but suffer in the loss of his child. The shepherd must needs be endamaged when any of his flock is diminished. St. Paul was further interested in this business, for the Corinthians had excommunicated this incestuous person by order from the apostle, and therefore if he had miscarried, Satan had made his advantage upon all: upon the incestuous person, whose soul he would have ruined; upon the Church, which he had maimed of a member. These were Satan’s devices, which he could not carry so closely but that the apostle’s vigilant eye descried them, for, saith he, “We are not ignorant of his devices.” Did the householder know what night the thief would come to rob him, he would certainly guard his house; did the birds know a snare were laid for them, would they come near it? “Devices.” Devices are subtle means to compass our ends, such as are tricks in gaming, fallacies in disputing, and stratagems in war; the enemy of our soul is full of them.

1. The first stratagem, policy, or device of Satan is to observe the natural constitution of every man’s mind and body, and to fit his temptations thereunto. For he knoweth well that, as every plant thrives not in every soil, so neither every vice in every temper and complexion. As the mariner marks the wind, and accordingly hoisteth up or striketh sail, or as the cunning orator learneth which way the judge propendeth, and ever draweth him where he seeth him coming on, so the devil maketh perpetual use of the bent of our nature to help forward his temptations.

2. The second stratagem, policy, or device is to observe our natural abilities and endowments, and accommodate his temptations thereunto,

3. The third stratagem, policy, or device of Satan is to accommodate his temptation to men’s outward estate, condition, and place, which much swayeth either way,

4. The fourth stratagem, policy, or device is to tempt us by method, beginning with questionable actions, thence proceeding to sins of infirmity, from them to wilful transgressions, after to heinous crimes, and last of all to obstinacy and final impenitency. No wool or cloth is dyed purple or scarlet at the first, but after divers tinctures at the last taketh that deepest dye. He that hastily turns the peg to wind: up a treble to his pitch will sooner break the string than tune it, but if he strain it: up by little and little, he bringeth it without danger to the height.

5. The fifth stratagem, policy, or device of Satan is to bring us from one extreme to another.

6. The sixth stratagem, policy, or device of Satan is to turn himself into an angel of light, and thereby to persuade the children of light that his suggestions are the motions of God’s Holy Spirit.

7. The seventh stratagem, policy or device of Satan is to make advantage of time, not only by alluring every age to the peculiar vices thereof, as children to idleness and vanity, youth to lust, perfect age and strength to violence and audacious attempts, old age to covetousness, and every one to the sins of the time, but making use of the present opportunity to thrust a man suddenly into the next sin.

Instruct you how to employ his own engines, and turn his own ordnance upon himself.

1. First, doth Satan play the physiognomer, and observing our natural temper fit his temptations thereunto? Let us also make use of physiognomy, and take advantage of our natural inclinations to further the works of grace in us. If we find ourselves by nature timorous, let us endeavour to improve this fear into awful reverence; if audacious, to improve this boldness into spiritual confidence.

2. Secondly, doth Satan play the poet, and fit every player with a part that he is best able to act? Let us also make use of poetry, and observing our natural abilities of mind and body to fit our spiritual exercises accordingly. If we are endued with pregnancy of wit, to employ it in the study of heavenly mysteries; if with maturity of judgment, employ it in discerning between the true and false religion.

3. Thirdly, doth Satan play the politician, and inquire into every man’s estate and condition of life, and accommodate his temptations thereunto? Let us also make use of policy, and by our outward estate better our inward, labouring for those graces which are most proper for our place and condition. If we are in authority, let us strive for gravity and integrity; if under the command of others, for obedience and faithfulness.

4. Fourthly, does Satan play the logician and tempt us by method? Let us also make use of logic, and observe method in the science of salvation.

5. Fifthly, doth Satan play the false pilot, and by persuading us to decline from a rock on the right hand, carry us so far the contrary way that we split our ship upon a rock on the left hand? Let us also make use of the art of navigation in our course to the fair havens in heaven.

6. Sixthly, doth Satan play the crafty merchant, and cheat us with counterfeit stones for jewels, with shows of virtues for true graces? Let us also imitate the wisdom of merchants, who will be perfect lapidaries before they deal in pearls and precious stones. Let us study the difference between true and seeming graces.

7. Lastly, doth Satan play the temporiser, and time all his suggestions? Let us also in a pious sense be timeservers, let us perform all holy duties in the fittest season. (D. Featly, D. D.)

Satan’s devices

To draw the believer into sin.

1. He takes advantage of his peculiar temperament. Does he see David inclining to pride and vain confidence, he tempts him to number the people, well knowing the judgment that would follow (2 Chronicles 21:1). Did Satan behold in Peter the fear of man? He instigates a maid to accuse him of being a follower of Christ, and thereby causes him to deny his Lord. Did he see in Lot too much leaning to the world? He takes advantage of it to make him linger in Sodom. Just so now. Satan knows our besetments. It may be irritability of temper, or over-sensitiveness, taking offence quickly at the slightest cause, or spiritual pride, or too much clinging to the world, etc. Of all these he takes advantage.

2. He chooses fitting instruments. He employed Eve to seduce Adam, and Job’s wife to tempt the patriarch to “curse God and die.” He will tempt a parent to do wrong in order to gratify the caprices of a favourite child; he will tempt a child to act contrary to the dictates of his conscience through fear of disobeying a:parent; he will tempt a Christian to wound his conscience rather than offend another on whose support he may entirely depend.

3. He presents the same temptation under different forms. This was the device which he employed against the Saviour. He tempted Him personally and then by Peter. Foiled in his designs upon us he departs, but only until a feeling of security has stolen over us, then he creeps back again more wilily than ever.

To keep believers in a sorrowful and doubting state. He does so--

1. By making them look at their sins instead of away from them to Christ.

2. By inclining them to misinterpret God’s providential dealings.

3. By making them confound faith with assurance.

To keep believers from holy duties. He does so--

1. By presenting the world in a false light.

2. By suggesting a multitude of vain thoughts.

3. By striving to make, them content with a low state of religion, instead of seeking higher degrees of personal holiness, “growing in grace,” etc. (A. W. Snape, M. A.)

The devil’s devices

To occupy our minds with worldly things, so that no time may be left to care for our souls.

To discourage those who show any disposition to do right.

To misrepresent religion itself.

To make use of the achievements of science to further his own purposes. Hence the idea that there is no limit to human investigations; that the utterances of reason are supreme; that faith in the unseen is but the pitiable weakness of superstition and ignorance. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

Satan’s devices

The justice of God in suffering us to be tempted is vindicated from the following considerations--that we are here in a state of disorder; that He has promised not to suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear, and not only so, but to him that overcometh He will give a crown of life. As to the first question, what time of life? I answer, we must expect to be tempted by him, in some degree or other, all our lives long. Second, point out some of those devices which Satan generally makes use of at our first conversion, in order to get an advantage over us.

1. First device I shall mention, which Satan makes use of, is to drive us to despair.

2. A second device that Satan generally makes use of to get an advantage over young converts is to tempt them to presume or to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think.

3. A third device I shall mention which Satan generally makes use of, “to get an advantage over us,” is, to tempt us to uneasiness and to have hard thoughts of God, when we are dead and barren in prayer.

4. Fourth device I am going to mention--his troubling you with blasphemous, profane, unbelieving thoughts, and sometimes to such a degree that they are as tormenting as the rack.

5. Fifth I shall mention, which is not the least, tempting us by our carnal friends and relations.

6. Sixth device, which is as dangerous as any of the former, by not tempting us at all, or, rather, by withdrawing himself for a while in order to come upon us at an hour when we think not of it. (G. Whitfield, M. A.)

Satan’s devices

The important words in the text are of the same root--“Satan is very knowing, and always on the alert to get the better of us; but we are not without knowledge of his knowing ways.” It was Paul’s acquaintance with the wiles of the devil which made him anxious to see the restoration of the penitent sinner duly carried through.

A scandal in the Church gives the devil an opportunity. When a Christian falls into open sin it is a chance offered to the enemy which he is not slow to improve. He uses it to discredit the very name of Christ; to turn that which ought to be the symbol of the purest goodness into a synonym of hypocrisy. Christ has committed His honour to our keeping, and every lapse into vice gives Satan an advantage over Him.

The devil finds his gain in the incompetence of the Church to deal with evil in the spirit of Christ. It is a fine thing for him if he can drive the convicted sinner to despair, and if he can prompt those who know little of God’s love to implacability. If the disciples of Him who received sinners look askance on the lapsed and chill their hope of restoration, there will be joy over it, not in heaven but in hell. And not only this, but the opposite is a device of the devil of which we ought not to be ignorant. There is hardly a sin which some one has not an interest in extenuating. Even the incestuous person had his defenders who gloried in what he had done as an assertion of Christian liberty. The devil takes advantage of Church scandals to bribe and debauch men’s consciences; indulgent words are spoken, which are not the voice of Christ’s awful mercy, but of a miserable self-pity, and could any one imagine what would suit the devil better than the absolutely unfeeling but extremely interesting gossip which resounds over every exposure of sin?

The devil finds his advantage in the dissensions of Christians. What an opportunity he would have had in Corinth had strained relations continued between the apostle and the Church! What opportunities he has everywhere, when tempers are on edge, and every movement means friction, and every proposal rouses suspicion! The last prayer of Christ was that all His disciples might be one; to be one in Him is the final security against the devices of Satan. What a frightful commentary the history of the Church is on this prayer. It is giving ourselves away to the enemy, if we do not at all costs, “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (J. Denney, B. D.)

Verses 12-17

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Furthermore, when I came to Troas.

The effect of the gospel ministry

The work which the minister undertakes. I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel”; “God maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us”; “For we are not as many which corrupt the Word of God.” According, then, to the apostle, the minister’s work consists in the faithful exposition of that Word which contains the knowledge of Christ’s gospel. In nature we mark the footprints of the Creator, but God’s Word gives us the marvellous embodiment of His providential and redemptive thoughts.

The influence he exerts (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Relationship increases responsibility. Who can define the responsibility of the parent? The teacher also assumes mighty responsibilities.

The source of the minister’s qualifications for his work. “He causeth us to triumph in Christ.” (T. Moir, M. A.)

Verses 14-16

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Now thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.

God’s triumph and Paul’s

The authorised translation at first sight strikes us as most suitable. Practically Paul had been engaged in a conflict with the Corinthians, and for a time it seemed not improbable that he might be beaten; but God caused him to triumph in Christ--i.e., acting in Christ’s interests, in matters in which Christ’s name and honour were at stake, the victory, as always, had remained with him. But there can be little doubt that the Revisers were right in translating “leadeth us in triumph.” The triumph is God’s, not the apostle’s. Paul is not the soldier who wins the battle and shouts for victory as he marches in the triumphal procession; he is the captive who is led in the conqueror’s train, and in whom men see the trophy of the conqueror’s power. When he says that God always leads him in triumph in Christ, the meaning is not perfectly obvious. He may intend to define, as it were, the area over which God’s victory extends. In everything which is covered by the name and authority of Christ, God triumphantly asserts His power over the apostle. Or he may mean that it is through Christ that God’s victorious power is put forth. These two meanings, of course, are not inconsistent, and practically they coincide. It cannot be denied, I think, if this is taken rigorously, that there is a certain air of irrelevance about it. It does not seem to be the purpose of the passage to say that God always triumphs over Paul and those for whom he speaks, or even that He always leads them in triumph. It is this feeling which mainly influences those who keep to A.V., and regard Paul as the victor. But the meaning of the original is not really open to doubt, and the semblance of the irrelevance disappears if we remember that we are dealing with a figure, and a figure which the apostle himself does not press. Of course, in an ordinary triumph, such as that of Claudius over Caractacus, of which Paul may easily have heard, the captives had no share in the victory; it was not only a victory over them, but against them. But when God wins a victory over man, and leads his captive in triumph, the captive too has an interest in what happens; it is the beginning of all triumphs, in any true sense, for him. If we apply this to the case before us, we shall see that the true meaning is not irrelevant. Paul had once been the enemy of God in Christ; he had fought against Him in his own soul, and in the Church which he persecuted and wasted. The battle had been long and strong, but not far from Damascus it had terminated in a mighty victory for God. There the mighty man fell, and the weapons of his warfare perished. His pride, his self-righteousness, his sense of superiority to others and of competence to attain to the righteousness of God, collapsed for ever, and he rose from the earth to be the slave of Jesus Christ. That was the beginning of God’s triumph over him; from that hour God led him in triumph in Christ. But it was the beginning also of all that made the apostle’s life itself a triumph--not a career of hopeless internal strife, such as it had been, but of unbroken Christian victory. So the only triumphs we can ever have, deserving the name, must begin with Christ’s triumph over us. This is the one possible source of joy untroubled. We may be as selfish as we please, and as successful in our selfishness; we may distance all our rivals in the race for the world’s prizes; we may appropriate and engross pleasure, wealth, knowledge, influence; and after all there will be one thing we must do without--the power and happiness of thanking God. No one will ever be able to thank God because he has succeeded in pleasing himself, be the mode of his self-pleasing as respectable as you will; and he who has not thanked God with a whole heart, without misgiving or reserve, does not know what joy is. Such thanksgiving and its joy have one condition: they rise up spontaneously in the soul when it allows God to triumph over it. When God appears in Christ, when, in the omnipotence of His love and purity and truth, He makes war on our pride and falsehood and lusts, and prevails against them, and brings us low, then we are admitted to the secret of this apparently perplexing passage; we know how natural it is to cry, “Thanks be unto God, who in His victory over us giveth us the victory! Thanks be to Him who always leadeth us in triumph!” It is out of an experience like this that Paul speaks; it is the key to his whole life, and it has been illustrated anew by what has just happened at Corinth. (J. Denney, B. D.)

The triumph of the Christian minister

The immediate occasion of St. Paul’s expressing this sentiment was the glad tidings which he had received of the Church at Corinth, together with the door opened to him of the Lord at Troas.

The Christian minister’s triumph.

1. The idea of a triumph implies that there has been a conquest achieved; surely the success of the gospel of Christ has now, as well as in the days of St. Paul, the best title to this distinction. We have not now, indeed, like the apostles, to resist the authority of learning and rank, but we have still the ignorant and obdurate heart of man to conquer; we have still to cope with the love of the world, the dominion of passion, and the force of evil customs; we have still to subdue the pride and presumption of men, and to induce them to be saved by faith in the death and sacrifice of Christ. The drunkard is to be made sober, the unjust righteous. And is there no triumph in accomplishing this?

2. We admit, indeed, that to the eye of sense there appears no splendour in achieving these victories.

3. But still, to the eye of piety and faith, there was, amidst all, a triumph. The very external ignominy, sufferings, and infirmities of the apostle, contrasted with the effects of his preaching on the hearts and lives of men, would only the more illustrate the surprising victory of the grace of God.

4. And in cases of remarkable revivals of religion, when the Word of God runs more rapidly and is glorified, may not the language of the text be applied in a still more full and appropriate sense? Is not this a magnificent triumph?

5. This triumph is described in the text to be in Christ, and that because it is gained entirely by His grace. It is not natural reason or the power or skill of the minister which can change a single heart.

6. It is also in Him because it is gained by His doctrine, and by that only. It is not by enticing words of man’s wisdom, but by plainly exhibiting the simple truths of redemption, that men are converted unto God.

7. It is likewise a triumph in Christ because it is effected by the means of God’s appointment; not by force or persecution, but by a holy example and continual efforts and affectionate warnings and invitations addressed to the heart.

8. How superior is this triumph to every other!

The special blessings which the Christian minister communicates. “And maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place.” There is always a proportion in the Holy Scripture between the description and the importance of the thing described. No triumph, no glorying is spoken of, except the occasion justly demands it. Thus, wherever the spiritual triumph of the apostle advanced, the knowledge of Christ, like a reviving odour, was diffused around, and men were refreshed and invigorated.

1. The knowledge of Christ is the leading blessing which the gospel confers. Other truths may be necessary as introductory to it or consequent upon it, but Christ, as the Saviour of sinners, is the basis and the substance of Christian doctrine.

2. The knowledge of Christ, strictly taken, more immediately regards the Divine person and grace of Jesus Christ, His glory as the eternal, incommunicable Word, His incarnation for our redemption, His obedience, sufferings, and death.

3. But who can describe fitly the savour of this knowledge? The mystery of redemption is not a cold abstract truth, like a subtle question in metaphysics, an obscure point in chronology, or a probable fact in history. It is something infinitely greater and more interesting than all these. There is, therefore, a savour, a fragrance, an unction, so to speak, in the knowledge of Christ. These expressions imply something of delight and refreshment in the doctrine of the Saviour which it is difficult adequately to describe. As a proof of this, ask only the guilty and self-condemned penitent. He will tell you there was a savour in the knowledge of Christ which no words can express. Inquire, again, of the afflicted, tempted, and perplexed Christian. He will rejoice to acknowledge, because he will have deeply felt, its unspeakable blessedness. Or ask the expiring Christian, as he lies on the bed of death. The name of Christ is to such persons as a reviving fragrance to the faint. This language may be regarded as tinctured with enthusiasm. We admit that the corrupt moral taste of men who have never so repented of sin as to abhor it, and therefore have never comprehended this doctrine aright, can find no sweetness or refreshment in it; but the holy and enlightened mind is not to be measured by the low, defective standard which is adapted to the sensual and immoral. Thus, in natural things, disease, it is true, may vitiate the organs, and the most exquisite perfumes may become in such cases offensive.

The gratitude which the apostle offers to God for this triumph. The language of the text is that of impassioned transport--“Now thanks be unto God,” etc. God, in the dispensation of His grace, uses such instruments as may best illustrate His own glory. And, indeed, if the Roman conqueror in his triumph is said to have deposited his golden crown in the lap of Jupiter when he arrived at the Capitol, and to have dedicated to him a part of the spoils which he had won, much more should the apostle of Christ cast his crown at the feet of his gracious Saviour, and devote all his acquisitions to His honour. The moment the minister of Christ, unfaithful to his trust, begins to glory in himself, and to ascribe his success to the might of his own power, he may expect to be deserted by his Lord. In comparison with such a triumph he will think nothing of his labours and anxieties.

1. Let us inquire, in the first place, whether we have indeed for ourselves obeyed the gospel of Christ. Have we considered the gospel in the manner in which the text represents it? Have we understood the triumph connected with it? Have we received the knowledge of Christ which it exhibits?

2. But, further, if, as I trust is the case with many of us, we have obeyed the gospel, let us inquire whether we are habitually acting agreeably to it. Are the effects of the victory evident? (D. Wilson, M. A.)

Gratitude presented

“Now thanks be to God.” These thanksgivings should be--

1. Ardent.

2. Constant.

3. Practical.

4. Indispensable to our happiness.

5. These thanksgivings will be eternal.

Hence these thanksgivings are--

1. Spiritual.

2. Public.

3. Private.

4. Costly.

5. Fiducial.

6. And Scriptural and holy. (T. B. Baker.)

The triumphal procession of the Christ

The Revised Version correctly alters the translation into “Thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ.” Paul thinks of himself and of his coadjutors in Christian work as being conquered captives, made to follow their Conqueror and to swell His triumph. He is thankful to be so overcome. What was deepest degradation is to him supreme honour. “He maketh manifest”--that is, visible--the savour of His knowledge. From a heart kindled by the flame of the Divine love there will go up the odour of a holy life.

First, then, let us look at that thought of all Christians being in the truest sense conquered captives, bound to the chariot wheels of one who has overcome them. The image implies prior state of hostility and alienation. Paul is speaking about himself here; he says, “I was an enemy, and I have been conquered.” What sort of an enemy was he? Well, he says that before he became a Christian he lived a pure, virtuous, respectable life. He was a man, “as touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” His conscience acquitted him of wrong, and yet he says, “Notwithstanding all that, I was an enemy.” Why? Because the retrospect let him see that his life was barren of the deepest faith and the purest love. That is the basis of the representation of my text. It suggests the wonderful struggle and victory of weaponless love. As was said about the first Christian emperor, so it may be said about the great Emperor in the heavens, “In hoc signo vinces” (“By this sign thou shalt conquer!”). For His only weapon is the Cross of His Son, and He fights only by the manifestation of infinite love, sacrifice, suffering, and pity. He conquers as the sun conquers the thick-ribbed ice by raying down its heat upon it, and melting it into sweet water. And what more does this first part of my text say to us? It tells us, too, of the true submission of the conquered captive. This picture of the triumph comes with a solemn appeal to every professing Christian. Think of these men, dragged at the conqueror’s chariot-wheels, abject, with their weapons broken, with their resistance quelled, chained, haled away from their own land, dependent for life or death on the caprice of the general that rode before them there. It is a picture of what you Christian men and women are bound to be if you believe that God in Christ has loved you. If we are thus won by infinite love, and not our own, but bought with a price, no conquered king, dragged at an emperor’s chariot-wheels, was ever half as absolutely bound to be his slave, and to live or die by his breath, as you are bound to your Master.

Now we have here, as part of the ideal of the Christian life, the conquered captives partaking in the triumph of their general. Two groups made up the triumphal procession--the one that of the soldiers who had fought for, the other that of the prisoners who had fought against, the leader. And some commentators are inclined to believe that the apostle is here thinking of himself and his fellows as belonging to the conquering army, and not to the conquered enemy. But be that as it may, it suggests to us this thought--that they who are conquered foes become conquering allies. Or, to put it into other words, to be triumphed over by Christ is to triumph with Christ. We may illustrate that thought--that to be triumphed over by Christ is to triumph with Christ--by such considerations as these. This submission, abject and unconditional, extending to life and death, is but another name for liberty. The man who is absolutely dependent upon Jesus Christ is absolutely independent of everything and everybody besides, himself included. If you give yourselves up to Jesus Christ, in the measure in which you give yourselves up to Him you will be set at liberty from the worst of all slaveries--that is, the slavery of your own will and your own weakness, and your own tastes and fancies. You will be set at liberty from the dependence upon men, from thinking about their opinion. You will be set at liberty from your dependence upon externals, from feeling as if you could not live unless you had this, that, or the other person or thing. If you have Christ for your Master you will be the masters of the world, and of time and sense and men and all besides; and so, being triumphed over by Him, you will share in His triumph. And, again, we may illustrate the same principle in yet another way. Such absolute submission of will and love is the highest honour of a man. It was a degradation to be dragged at the chariot-wheels of conquering general. But it is the highest ennobling of humanity that it shall lay itself down at Christ’s feet, and let Him put His foot upon its neck. And the same thought may be yet further illustrated. That submission so unites us to our Lord that we share in all that belongs to Him, and thus partake in His triumph.

Lastly, a further picture of the ideal of the Christian life is set before us here in the thought of these conquered captives being led as the trophies and the witnesses of his overcoming power. That idea is suggested by both halves of our verse. Both the emblem of the apostle as marching in the triumphal procession, and the emblem of the apostle as yielding from his burning heart the fragrant visible odour of the ascending incense, convey the same idea--viz., that one great purpose which Jesus Christ has in conquering men for Himself is that from them may go forth the witness of His power and the knowledge of His name. First, the fact that Jesus Christ, by His Cross and Passion, is able to conquer men’s will, and to bind men’s hearts to Him, is the highest proof of His power. It is an entirely unique thing in the history of the world. It stands as an unique fact in the history of the world that from Christ of Nazareth there rays out through all the ages the spiritual power which absolutely takes possession of men, dominates them, and turns them into His organs and instruments. Christ leads through the world the train of His captives, the evidence of His conquests. And then, further, let me remind you that out of this representation there comes a very solemn suggestion of duty for us Christian people. We are bound to live, setting forth whose we are, and what He has done for us. Still further, Paul’s thanksgiving teaches us that we should be thankful for all opportunities of doing such work. So it comes to be a very solemn question for us--What part are we playing in that great triumphal procession? We are all of us marching at His chariot-wheels, whether we know it or not. But there were two sets of people in the old triumph. There were those who were conquered by force and unconquered in heart, and out of their eyes gleamed unquenchable malice and hatred, though their weapons were broken and their arms fettered. And there were those who, having yielded to become His soldiers, shared in His triumph and rejoiced in His rule. Which of the two parts of the procession do you belong to? The one live, the other perish. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The triumph of the gospel

The triumphs of the gospel by the apostles. They were triumphs--

1. Of truth over error.

2. Over persecution.

3. Over principles which dissocialised and oppressed society.

I select one--selfishness.

(1) See how this fatal principle operated among the heathen. Look at--

(a) Their poor. They had no almshouses or asylums.

(b) Their slaves, whose number was almost incredible. No laws were enacted for their protection, for they were hardly considered human beings.

(c) Their religion--no precepts of forgiveness or charity.

(2) Now took at the triumphs of Christianity over selfishness.

(a) The first general collection among the Gentile churches was for the relief of poor strangers. And I need not dwell upon the many affectionate precepts of our religion.

(b) As to slavery, Christianity teaches, “As ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” And so, when Onesimus was converted, the apostle exhorted Philemon to receive him, “not now as a slave, but as a brother beloved.”

(c) Look at Christian charity. “If thy brother sin against thee seven times,” etc.; “In malice be ye children,”

4. In the salvation of men. This was its noblest triumph; and in this it triumphed “in every place.”

(1) Over the ignorance and obduracy of men (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

(2) Over their gloomy apprehensions of futurity. Christ came to “deliver” those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

(3) Over their vices (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

(4) Over death itself.

The agency by which they were effected. All is ascribed to a Divine agency, which was marked--

1. In the selection of the instruments. It belongs to God to send forth His labourers, and this supposes selection. There was the bold simplicity of Peter, the soft persuasiveness of John, the fire of Stephen, the pointed, searching, epigrammatic turn of James, the ardour, learning, and strength of Paul. “I clear the ground,” says Luther, “and Melancthon scatters the seed.” The learning and moderation of Cranmer, the judgment of Ridley, and the popular eloquence, the searching wit, and the downright honesty of Latimer, admirably qualified them to co-operate. The ordinary ministry. There are sons of thunder and sons of consolation, etc,

2. In their personal experience. The gospel triumphed over the early ministers of Christ before they triumphed over the world. So necessary is personal experience that neither preacher nor people can understand the gospel efficiently without it. Who can know what true repentance is but by his own brokenness of heart? Who can know what faith is but by the personal possession and exercise of that principle? In the same manner only can any man understand the nature of a holy walk with God, of spiritual conflicts, and the renewal of the heart. Here, then, was the agency of God. “He hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation.”

3. In the effects produced--the salvation of men; and we need only fix upon the salvation of one individual to prove the direct agency of God.

The instrument by which all this is effected: the preaching of the gospel; the manifestation of the odour of the knowledge of Christ. Odours, much used in the east, revived the languid and refreshed the weary in those hot climates, and hence they afforded a natural and elegant figure to express whatever was grateful and reviving to the mind. What, then, was there in the knowledge of Christ to warrant this representation of it?

1. Its authority. That which has no authority from God is not religion, properly speaking; but here comes a religion from God, stamped and sealed as such, visibly, and in sight of all. Behold, then, the reason of its reviving and grateful odour to “the saved.” Want they truth? It is here assured to them; for what is from God is light, and no darkness at all. Inquire they for the will of their Maker? Here He had prescribed it Himself. Feel they the need of an atonement? Here God Himself had provided the Lamb for a burnt-offering. Need they the comfort of promises? Here they were found proceeding from lips which could not lie. Inquire they after future being? The resurrection and ascension of Christ had deprived death of its sting, and brought life and immortality to light.

2. Its adaptation. There was nothing here but what the case of man required, and there was everything that it did require. (R. Watson.)

The triumph of the gospel

Gospel successes set forth under the image of a triumph. Paul’s eye was resting upon a great future of moral conquest; truth making victorious way against all the powers that could oppose its progress. In this light let us investigate the fitness of the apostle’s allusion.

1. Was not the first planting of Christianity a great triumph? The religion which Christianity had to overthrow was sanctioned by antiquity, supported by power, defended by talent, nourished by rank and influence, and loved by its votaries, by reason of the sanction it gave to their crimes. Yet all this magnificent system crumbled into dust before the mighty power of the gospel.

2. The gospel triumphed over bigotry and persecution and pride. Ten persecutions wasted the infant Church, yet it spread further and wider for the mighty desolation.

3. The gospel was victorious over the selfishness, oppression, and all the social miseries of the heathen. The heathen lived only to themselves; of blessing and benefiting others they had not the slightest notion.

4. The gospel won its victories over the spiritual wretchedness of the heathen, over their gloomy apprehensions of futurity, over the wretched feeling of moral alienation.

The agency by which these triumphs were achieved.

1. The originating cause is manifestly God Himself. Not “thanks” to ministers, that they preach so zealously; to the people, that they hear so willingly; but unto God, which hath put such a victorious energy into His Word. In nothing does the apostle’s humility shine more beautifully than in this. And if we look at the nature of conversion we must see in it a Divine agency. We need not take the case of a continent or of a city; enough that we take the instance of one solitary soul. For what is the condition of that soul by nature? What are the moral requirements to be found in us before the gospel can triumph over our natural reluctance, and the savour of the knowledge of Christ be made manifest to our souls? Is it intellectual light only that a man wants? If it be, then Paul or Apollos were of themselves adequate to the task. But the unconverted soul wants changed affections; it wants to have its carnal enmity destroyed; it wants to have all its inborn antipathies transformed into the love of God; and all this is to be accomplished, “not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

2. Though God is the sole and efficient cause of all missionary triumphs, He disdains not to employ under Him secondary and subordinate agencies.

The outward means by which these gospel triumphs are to be achieved. The image suggests how grateful it is to men once fainting under the apprehension of deserved condemnation, and weary with attempts to make a righteousness for themselves, to have their eyes opened to a knowledge of Christ and all the abounding consolation of His gospel. Once they were blind, now they see; once they were under bondage and fear, now they have a good conscience; once they were “children of the wicked one,” now are they “the sons of God.” (D. Moore, M. A.)

The course of truth

The glorious progress of the gospel in apostolic times.

1. It was triumphant. The apostle did not find the hearts of men easy of access, so that he had but to enter and take possession.

2. It was intelligent. The apostles did not go forth demanding a blind and unquestioning acquiescence. The progress of the gospel was victory over darkness and ignorance; the victory, not of the secular sword, but of the sacred pen and the tongue of fire.

3. It was constant. “Always causeth us to triumph,” “in every place.” Sometimes it seemed doubtful which would win, truth or error; but it soon became decided that faith was the stronger, that more was with it than all that could be against it.

4. It was beneficent. The march of the army of King Jesus was not like the march of the conquering armies of Greece and Rome.

The glorious secret of the progress of the gospel in apostolic times. “Now thanks be unto God,” etc.

1. The apostle acknowledged that God was the author of the progress. He felt it was with God that he had to do.

2. The apostle acknowledged that Christ was the agent of the progress. “Triumph in Christ.” Jesus had been the agent in the great work of human redemption.

3. The apostle acknowledged that man was the instrument of the progress. “Causeth us to triumph”; “By us in every place.” What a wonderful blending of workers--“God,” “Christ,” “us”--the union of Divine power and human instrumentality! Apostles did not originate the gospel, they received it. Let every Christian worker learn from this the source and secret of success in the work of the Lord. (F. W. Brown.)

The ministry of the gospel

The absolute or real character of the gospel.

1. What anything is, is determined by what it is to God. Things are to us what we are to them. Light is most pleasant to the healthful eye, but nothing is more pernicious when it is diseased; food, in certain conditions of the body, will be as prejudicial as poison, and poison as beneficial as food. And there are who “call evil good and good evil,” etc. And, similarly, God is to us what we are to Him.

2. In itself the gospel is God’s spell, a message from God possessed of a charm. He that hath ears to hear it will be won by it; but “the wicked, who are like the deaf adder, will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” In the gospel God appears in all the attractive attributes of His grace, that He may regain the alienated affections of His rebellious children.

3. It was not only declared by, but embodied in, Jesus, who was “set forth” to reveal the Father in His relations to a sinful world. Apart from Christ, man has no true knowledge of God, and is “without hope.” In Christ God is personally manifested and personally present. His message in the gospel is embodied in His messenger. Christ not only proclaims, but is the gospel. “His name is as perfume poured forth”--the diffusion of “the sweet savour of the knowledge of God.”

4. He is this because He is the manifestation of that which is the very soul of personality--Love. In the wide circumference of things God has gone forth in the division of His powers, but in Christ His deep central unity appears--His love. He who possesses the love of another possesses that other. “God is Love,” and the gospel is its complete display.

5. The gospel also reveals the depth of love in its wisdom. There is nothing so wise as love. God is “the only wise God,” because He is Love. The restoration of alienated man is the problem in the solution of which the love of God displays the marvellous resources of its wisdom. In the gospel the practical intelligence of the Divine love makes such a display of the Divine character that it appeals to all the influential motives operative on man’s nature, so that, if he is not won by it, he is left “without excuse,” and God is left to lament, “What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?” etc. “O Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered,” etc.

6. The gospel also taxes to the utmost the resources of the Divine love and wisdom combined. Love takes counsel of wisdom how to make the most effective appeal to the sinner’s heart, and wisdom calls upon love for that winning display of the Divine goodness which looks upon the sinner with mercy whilst it exercises vengeance on his sin. It was with tears Christ pronounced the doom of Jerusalem. Mercy is that look of wisdom and love which pities where righteousness blames.

7. But the gospel is also the display of mercy in its deepest agony of effort! It is the Divine tragedy in which “the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” in which sin is judged, condemned, and slain, and the sinner justified, liberated, and restored.

(1) No wonder Paul felt the proclamation of its glad tidings to be the celebration of a triumph of God. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest,” as the preface to their song of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

(2) And no wonder that preachers of this gospel “were unto God a sweet savour of Christ.” What can be so pleasant to love as that of being made known? What so fragrant to God as the diffusion of the sweet mystery of the Cross, “to the intent that now unto principalities and powers,” etc. And just as the scattered flowers, fragrant shrubs, and sweet incense breathed forth a perfume of sweet savour before the advancing ranks in the triumphal procession, irrespective of its effects on victor and vanquished, so, irrespective of its consequences with respect to those who hear the gospel, the ministry of its glad tidings is unto God the diffusion of a sweet savour.

Its critical influence as seen in its opposite effects on those to whom it is preached. The gospel embodies the wisdom and power of the Divine love in their endeavour to meet the requirements of man’s sin, and is in itself perfectly adapted as the chosen body of truth to radiate the influence of the Holy Spirit, to awaken the mind, arouse the conscience, subdue the heart, and reform the whole nature. In it God appeals to us by motives which He knows to be influential, which exercise a constraining power on the thoughts, affections, and will, and in which “He is mighty to save.”

2. The effect, therefore, on those who listen to it must be great. We cannot come under the ministry of the gospel and remain-the same as we were before we heard it. It either subdues or hardens, alienates or reconciles, kills or cures. What it may be to us is dependent on the disposition we exercise towards it. We bring to it what determines its effect. The gospel changes not; it is always, in itself considered, “the power of God unto salvation”; but its effects on us vary with our varying dispositions. To those who seek peace God is a “God of peace,” but to those who strive with Him “He is a man of war.”

3. “To the one we are the savour of life unto life.” The ministry of the grace of God in Christ is the breathing forth of a spiritual essence fragrant with life. It has the power of life; of the sweetness, joy, beauty of life.

4. To the other the “savour of death unto death.” Paul felt acutely that he could not be the minister of the word of life to men without increasing their responsibility. For in proportion to its quickening power of life in those who receive it does it work death in those who refuse to accept it. Just as the balmy, life-giving breezes of spring bring life to the constitutionally sound, but death to those radically diseased, so is it with the gospel. To some it is life to hear it, to others “death unto death”--the death of indifference to the death of obduracy; the death of ignorance and darkness to that of light and knowledge having become darkness; the death of hopelessness to that of despair. The height of privilege bestowed upon man in the offer of the gospel is antithetic to the depth of ignominy which its rejection involves. (W. Pulsford, D. D.)

The minister’s manifesto

The ministry in its relation to God.

1. It is “of God.”

(1) As having been instituted by Him.

(2) Because He called men specially to occupy it.

2. It is under the special inspection of God. “In the sight of God speak we in Christ,” Feeling this, Paul was particularly careful--

(1) Not to corrupt or adulterate the Word of God, to “make merchandise” of it--i.e., to make it more marketable by a little politic admixture of things more to the taste of the people.

(2) To be himself actuated in his work by the purest motives. “But as of sincerity.” This sincerity applies to the preacher just as the incorruptibility applies to the gospel. Here, then, we have a pure preacher and a pure gospel.

3. It will be approved of God, whatever be its effects upon men (verse 15). “Sweet savour” always indicates approval. This is the expression generally used to denote the acceptableness of an offering.

The different effects of this ministry upon men (verse 16).

1. To the saved--life. The savour of life means that which produces life and nurtures it.

2. To the lost or perishing--death (2 Corinthians 4:3; 1 Peter 3:7-8). There are certain conditions pertaining to certain men which convert the means of life into an instrument of death. The sun, which converts the generous soil into a fruitful garden, reduces the clay to the hardness of a stone. So is it morally, only with a great difference. The clay is not responsible, but men are responsible. One thing, then, is clear--no one will escape Without some effects from the ministry. What is there more beautiful than the sunbeams? Yet there are some objects which can convert them into a consuming fire. So there are moral characters which transform the loving, life-giving gospel into an instrument of destruction; in short, cause the God of love to become to them a consuming fire.

The demand of the ministry upon the minister.

1. The unspeakably solemn character of the results of the ministry demands the gravest and most prayerful thought, and the greatest anxiety for the salvation of souls. Note, for example, the surgeon when performing some critical surgical operation that might be for life or death to the patient. So careful and deeply anxious is he that he will not operate except in association with others. The preaching of the gospel is an inexpressibly solemn operation that may affect men for weal or for woe to eternity. And, knowing this, how natural to ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

2. But this sense of insufficiency ought not to be confounded with helplessness; on the contrary, it makes a minister all the more strenuous and unsparing in applying his entire energies to the work (Colossians 1:29).

The ministry’s encouragements and source of confidence. (verse 14). Whatever be the difficulties of the work, however great our fears and deep our sense of insufficiency, over against them we have God assuring us the victory. Through God the gospel is always having the victory. Much as it has been opposed and persecuted, yet God has always caused it to triumph. (A. J. Parry.)

And maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place.--

The savour of Divine knowledge

The expression was suggested by the figure of the triumph which was present to his mind in all its details. Incense smoked on every altar as the victors passed through the streets of Rome; the fragrant steam floated over the procession, a silent proclamation of victory and joy. So the knowledge of Christ, the apostle tells us, was a fragrant thing. True, he was not a free man, but Christ’s captive. Necessity was laid upon him, but what a gracious necessity it was! “The love of Christ constraineth us.” The Roman captives made manifest the knowledge of their conqueror; they declared to all his power; there was nothing in that knowledge to suggest the idea of fragrance. But as Paul moved through the world, all who had eyes to see saw in him, not only the power, but the sweetness of God’s redeeming love. The mighty Victor made manifest through him, not only His might, but His charm; not only His greatness, but His grace. It was a good thing men felt to be subdued and led in triumph like Paul; it was to move in an atmosphere perfumed by the love of Christ, as the air around the Roman conqueror was perfumed with incense. “Savour,” in connection with the “knowledge” of God in Christ, has its most direct application, of course, to preaching. When we proclaim the gospel, do we always succeed in manifesting it as a savour? Or is not the savour--the sweetness and charm of it--the very thing that is left out? We miss what is most characteristic in the knowledge of God if we miss this. We leave out the very element which makes the gospel evangelic, and gives it its power to subdue and enchain the souls of men. But, wherever Christ is leading a single soul in triumph, the fragrance of the gospel goes forth in proportion as His triumph is complete. There is sure to be that in the life which will reveal the graciousness, as well as the omnipotence, of the Saviour. And it is this virtue which God uses as His main witness, His chief instrument, to evangelise the world. In every relation of life it should tell. Nothing is so insuppressible, so pervasive, as fragrance. The lowliest life which Christ is really leading in triumph will speak infallibly and pervasively for Him. (J. Denney, B. D.)

Verses 15-16

2 Corinthians 2:15-16

For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved and in them that perish.

Dissimilar effects of the same thing

Consider the totally different effects which the same thing has on different people. An act, simple in itself, will rouse the joys of one and the rage of another. A substance which is food to one man is poison to another. The same medicine which effects a cure in one case will in a similar case in another man aggravate the malady and enhance his sufferings. Look again at the effects of the tempest on creation. & large number of the existences on the globe are terrified. But the seals love above all the tempest, the roaring of the waves, the whistling of the wind, the mighty voice of the thunder, and the vivid flashings of the lightning. They delight to see, rolling along in a sombre sky, the great black clouds which predict torrents of rain. Then it is that they leave the sea in crowds and come and play about on the shore, in the midst of the fury of the elements. They are at home in the tempests. It is in these crises of nature that they give full play to all their faculties, and to all the activity of which they are capable. When the weather is fine and the rest of creation is full of enjoyment they fall asleep, and resign themselves lazily to the dolce far niente. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)

The fragrance of Christian life

The life of every Christian should be like the fragrant breeze which, in tropical waters, tells the mariner, while still far out at sea, that the land from which it comes is a land of pleasant forests and gardens, where “the spices flow forth.” It should testify, truthfully and clearly, of the sweetness and grace of heaven. (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)

Gospel a savour to God in them that perish

Round about the very perdition of the impenitent there is a circle and influences and associations that are acceptable to God. If you have lost a child by death, you know what a satisfaction it is to you to remember that all the medical skill that money could command was brought to bear, all that kind and unceasing ministrations of tenderness could do to save the precious life was done. Friends were hour by hour coming to the door ready to help, to sympathise, to pray; by and by thoughts of these things became a great solace to you, and you could bow yourself to the inevitable. Your life might have been shadowed to the very end, if there had been carelessness, neglect, indifference at any single point; if friends had been slow to help, advise, condole; if expedients for the salvation of the child could have been afterwards devised that you never thought of at the time. And so with God, as He looks upon the second death of those created in His own image. There is no sting of regretful reflection. The possible was done to its very last detail. All is quiet contentment and satisfaction. God did more than He had ever done for His universe before. The Son thought no sacrifice too great. The servants and disciples of the Son forgot all thoughts of self in their endeavours to save men. The perdition of the impenitent man is a terrible fact, but round about that fact there ever gather unselfish ministries and services upon which God looks with contentment, and which maintain the unbroken tenor of His blessedness. (T. G. Selby.)

God glorified in the preaching of the gospel

If you consult the Acts of the Apostles, you will perceive that St. Paul’s course, as a preacher of Christianity, was very diversified; that in some places he rapidly formed a flourishing Church, while in others he encountered fierce persecution, or could make little or no impression on the reigning idolatry. It is very remarkable that, although defeat was thus mingled with success, the apostle could nevertheless break into the exclamation, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causes us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place.” You would think from his tone that he had only to enter a city and its idols trembled and falsehood gave place to truth. There is no great difficulty in understanding what St. Paul means when he describes himself and his fellow-labourers as being “unto God a sweet savour of Christ.” He alludes to a notion common among the heathen, that God was pleased with the smoke which ascended from the sacrifice burnt on His altars. Indeed, the Scriptures frequently speak of Jehovah in language borrowed from this prevalent opinion. Thus when the waters of the Deluge had subsided, and Noah standing on a baptized earth, had offered burnt-offerings of every clean beast and fowl, we read--“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake.” When, therefore, St. Paul speaks of a “sweet savour of Christ,” we should understand him as referring to the acceptableness of the sacrifice of Christ, and to its prevalence with God as a propitiatory offering. And when he speaks of preaching as being “unto God a sweet savour of Christ,” he means that by setting forth the sacrifice and causing it to be known, he was instrumental in bringing to God more and more of that glory which arises from the sin-offering which He provided for the world. He knew that he preached the gospel to many who would perish, as well as to many who would be saved; but, nevertheless, he would not admit that in any case he preached in vain. He contended, on the contrary, that wherever the sacrifice of Christ was made known, there ascended fragrant incense unto God; that God obtained honour from the display of His attributes, whether men received or whether they rejected the Redeemer. Now, we may observe to you, of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that it is a revelation of all which is most illustrious in Godhead, and of all that as sinful creatures we are most concerned in ascertaining. It is a revelation of those attributes and properties of God which natural theology could but dimly conjecture, or which it could not at all satisfactorily combine. He would not allow that it could at all depend upon the reception with which the gospel may meet, whether or not God could be glorified by its publication. Why should it? Suppose it were the pleasure of the Almighty to give some new and striking exhibition of His existence and majesty to a people that had been indifferent to those previously and uniformly furnished; suppose that the vault of heaven were to be spangled with fresh characters of the handwriting of the everlasting God, far outshining in their brilliancy and beauty the already magnificent tracery of a thousand constellations, would not God have splendidly shown forth His being and His power? Would He not have given such a demonstration of His greatness as must triumphantly contribute to His own glory, even if the people for whose sake the overhead canopy had been thus gorgeously decked were to close their eyes against it. We read, that when God rested from the work of creation, He saw everything that He had made, and He beheld that it was very good; and He surveyed His own work with unspeakable pleasure. He saw, He knew it to be good; and if no anthem of lofty gratulation had ascended to His throne from intelligent creatures, He would have reposed in majestic contentment in His vast performances, and have felt Himself so praised in His deeds, that neither angel nor man could break the mighty chorus. And why should we not hold the same in regard of the gospel? We may acknowledge or despise a manifestation of God; but this is the utmost we have in our power; we cannot obscure that manifestation; we cannot despoil it of one of its beams. But St. Paul wished to put his meaning somewhat more explicitly, and therefore he went on to speak of two separate classes, or to show with greater precision how his position held good in regard equally of the saved and the lost. To the one, saith he, “we are a savour of death unto death,” to the other “a savour of life unto life.” We do not think it necessary to speak at any length of the preacher as a “savour of life unto life,” to those who flee at his warning from thee wrath which is to come. But what are we to say to the preacher being “a savour of death unto death” to those who perish in their sins? It is implied in such saying, that the gospel did but in some way or another prove injurious--“a savour of death” unto those by whom it is heard and rejected; and, nevertheless, that this proclamation, even when thus injurious, brought glory to Christ, or contributed to the display of His perfections. Now, are these things so? Is the gospel indeed ever injurious to the hearer? and if injurious, can those who proclaim it be indeed unto God “a sweet savour of Christ”? Yes, the gospel may prove injurious to the hearer; but it cannot prove otherwise than glorious to its Author. You are not to think that the gospel can be a neutral thing, operating neither for evil nor for good. It is easy to come to regard that as an ordinary or unimportant thing, which is of such frequent occurrence, and to attach no solemn, no responsible character to these our weekly assemblings. But we have every warrant for asserting that the gospel which he is permitted to hear either improves a man or makes him worse, so that none of you can go away from God’s house precisely what you were when you entered it. You have had a fresh call from God, and if you have again refused, you have made yourselves less accessible than ever to the message. There is a self-propagating power in all kinds of evil; and every resistance to God’s Spirit, operating through the instrumentality of the Word, makes resistance easier. This is not the only case in which the gospel is “a savour of death unto death.” It is so whenever men abuse Scripture doctrines, whenever they pervert them, whenever they wrest them to the giving encouragement to unrighteousness, or use them as an argument for procrastination. It was this view of the office of the preacher which extorted from the apostle those words, “Who is sufficient for these things?” We are sure that it ought to be perfectly overcoming to a man, to see himself with an office, in performing which he thus makes himself a witness against multitudes. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The two effects of the gospel

The gospel produces different effects. There is scarcely ever a good thing in the world of which some little evil is not the consequence. Let the sun pour down floods of light on the tropics, and the choicest fruits shall ripen, and the fairest flowers shall bloom, but who does not know that there the most venomous reptiles are also brought forth? So the gospel, although it is God’s best gift.

1. The gospel is to some men “a savour of death unto death.”

(1) Many men are hardened in their sins by hearing it. Those who can dive deepest into sin, and have the most quiet consciences, are some who are to be found in God’s own house. There are many who make even God’s truth a stalking-horse for the devil, and abuse God’s grace to palliate their sin. There is nothing more liable to lead men astray than a perverted gospel. A truth perverted is generally worse than a doctrine which all know to be false.

(2) It will increase some men’s damnation at the last great day.

(a) Because men sin against greater light; and the light we have is an excellent measure of our guilt. What a Hottentot might do without a crime would be the greatest sin to me, because I am taught better. If he who is blind falls into the ditch we can pity him, but if a man with the light on his eyeballs dashes himself from the precipice and loses his own soul, is not pity out of the question?

(b) It must increase your condemnation if you oppose the gospel. If God devises a scheme of mercy and man rises up against it, how great must be his sin!

(3) It makes some men in this world more miserable than they would be. How happily could the libertine drive on his mad career, if he were not told, “The wages of sin is death, and after death the judgment!”

The gospel is to others “a savour of life unto life.”

(1) Here it confers spiritual life on the dead in trespasses and sins.

(2) In heaven it issues in eternal life.

The minister is not responsible for his success. He is responsible for what he preaches; he is accountable for his life and actions, but he is not responsible for other people. “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, as well in them that perish as in the saved.” An ambassador is not responsible for the failure of his embassy of peace, nor a fisherman for the quantity of fish he catches, nor a sower for the harvest, but only for the faithful discharge of their respective duties. So the gospel minister is only responsible for the faithful delivery of his message, for the due lowering of the gospel net, for the industrious sowing of the gospel seed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The opposite effects of the ministry of the gospel

In the language of the text we have a description of the very opposite effects of the ministry of the gospel, and of the consequences to which they lead. The same cloud which was dark to the Egyptians was bright to the Israelites.

1. As ministers, we are ordained to be unto God “a sweet savour of Christ,” in duly administering His sacraments, faithfully preaching His gospel, and in exemplifying it in our conduct.

2. It is then, instrumentally, by our life and doctrine, that we must diffuse in our respective spheres of duty the savour of the knowledge of Christ. In doctrine we must show incorruptness, gravity, sincerity.

3. It is by our manner of life also that we must spread the savour of His name and truth among these who are within the sphere of our influence. (W. Chambers, D. D.)

The gospel ministry

Its manward aspect. Consider--

1. Its vivifying influence. It produces new spiritual life in the souls of men.

2. Its deadly influence. There are principles which render it certain that the men who reject it will be injured by it. One is founded in eternal justice, and the other two in the moral constitution of man.

(1) The greater the mercy abused the greater the condemnation. The Bible is full of this truth. “Unto whomsoever much is given,” etc. “If I had not come and spoken unto them,” etc. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin,” etc. “And thou Capernaum,” etc. “He that despised Moses’ law,” etc.

(2) Man’s susceptibility of virtuous impressions decreases in proportion to his resistance of them.

(3) Man’s moral suffering will always be increased in proportion to the consciousness he has that he once had the means of being happy. From these principles the gospel must prove “the savour of death unto death” to those who reject it. The hearing of the gospel puts a man on a new level in the universe. To have heard its accents is the most momentous fact in the history of man. Do you say you will hear it no more? But you have heard it. This is a fact which you will ever remember and feel. If the gospel does not save you, better you had never been born.

Its godward aspect. In both cases, if we are true to it, “we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ.” The true ministry is pleasing to God, whatever may be its results on humanity. If this be so, two inferences seem irresistible.

1. If the gospel ministry is in itself grateful to God, it must be in itself an institution for good, and for good exclusively. Never could an institution in itself calculated to deaden and destroy the soul of men be grateful to the heart of infinite love.

(1) While the true gospel ministry saves by design, it destroys in spite of its design. That it is designed to save, who can doubt? “God so loved the world,” etc. Men can, men do, pervert Divine things. Did God give steel to be brought into weapons for the destruction of human life? Did He give corn to be transmuted into a substance to drown the reason and to brutalise the man? No! But man, by his perverting power, turns God’s blessings to an improper and pernicious use. So it is with the gospel. He wrests it to his own destruction.

(2) The true gospel ministry saves by its inherent tendency; it injures in spite of that tendency. Is there anything in the doctrines, precepts, provisions, promises, and warnings, of the gospel adapted to destroy souls? Was the ocean made to injure man, because it has terrified many a mariner and engulfed many a barque? Was the sun created to injure man, because by leading to the discovery of the robber and the assassin, it has proved their ruin? Was food created to injure health, because by intemperance and gluttony, it has brought on disease and death?

(3) That the gospel ministry saves by Divine agency; it destroys in spite of that agency. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.”

2. If the gospel ministry is in itself grateful to God, it must be an institution from which a much larger amount of good than of evil will result. If greater evil resulted from it than good, I cannot believe that it would be grateful to infinite love. Remember--

(1) That the rejection of the gospel does not make the hell of the rejector; it only modifies and aggravates it. As a sinner he would have found a hell, had the sound of the gospel never greeted his ears.

(2) The restorative influence which the gospel ministry haft already exerted upon the race, It has swept from the world innumerable evils; it has planted institutions amongst us to mitigate human woe, abolish human oppression, heal human diseases, remove human ignorance, and correct human errors; and it has conducted millions to heaven.

(3) That what the gospel has done is but a very small instalment of the good it is destined to achieve. It is to bless a nation in a day. There are millennial ages awaiting it, and in the coming centuries it will be found that the evil which the gospel ministry has occasioned is no more to be compared with the good which it will cause than the pain which the light of the sun gives to the few tender eyes, with the streams of blessedness it pours into every part of nature. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Savour of death or of life

In thought stand near those three crosses on Calvary, and see how near to each other are blessing and cursing. As you gaze on that sacred, awful scene, how plainly are revealed to you life and death. Now, wherever the gospel message is made known the effect will be the same as on Calvary--to some it will be the savour of life unto life, and to others the savour of death unto death.

Let us look at the two sides of the gospel message. The word gospel we associate with all that is lovely, tender, merciful. Now, all this is quite true; but it is not the whole message. Honestly read your Bibles, and you will find that it makes known to you salvation and damnation--heaven and hell. The gospel message is, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Now, consider the double working of the gospel message. The gift of God must be either accepted or rejected; there is no alternative. Thus was it in the days of the apostles; their preaching was either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. But there are some who would raise objections to the gospel because it is thus the savour of death as well as of life. Better, say they, not to preach the gospel at all. To them we reply, Because some abuse God’s greatest gift, would it be better that the gift had never been offered? Because fire sometimes destroys, would it be better that a fire never were kindled? (James Aitken.)

Who is sufficient for these things?--

Who is sufficient for these things?

(Inaugural Sermon)--

1. St. Paul asked this question with a miraculous conversion in memory, with all the signs of a chiefest apostle in possession, with a crown of righteousness laid up for him in prospect.

2. That which weighed upon St. Paul was--

(1) The recollection of the issues for immortal souls, of having the revelation of grace offered to them (verses 15, 16).

(2) The difficulty of fidelity (verse 17). It would be easy, he says, to discharge this great office, if we might make traffic of the Word of God; if we might throw in here a grain of flattery, and there a scruple of indulgence; adapt it to the taste of the audience, or take counsel concerning it of the genius of the age. But to preach the gospel in its fourfold completeness--“as of sincerity,” “as of God,” “in the sight of God,” “in Christ”--this demands of the messenger that loftiest grace of an incorruptible fidelity.

3. It is easy to say, easier to think, that the first days of the gospel were more anxious than our own. We can understand how important, difficult, and perilous it was for the new faith to gain a hearing. And so men sympathise with the apostles as engaged in an enterprise disproportioned to their strength; but they have nothing but pity or ridicule for the ministers of to-day, especially if a minister should bewail his insufficiency, or recognise the need of Divine help to qualify him for his work. Thoughts such as these throw a very real stumbling-block in the way of the gospel. The minister himself has to dread their infection. “Against these things,” he has to ask himself, “who is sufficient?”

4. The difficulties which faced St. Paul were open and tangible. On the one side there was Jewish bigotry, and on the other side Greek speculation; here the charge of apostasy from ancestral sanctities, there of insubordination to existing authorities; here some definite risk of persecution, there some insidious corruption of gospel simplicity by Judaizing admixture or Alexandrian refinement.

5. But St. Paul was spared some experiences, belonging to an age not his. When he wrote 2 Timothy 3:1, etc., he scarcely sounded the depths of our sea of trouble, and nowhere quite prepares us for those developments which are the phenomena of this latter part of our century, and which draw forth from our hearts half the cry of the text, viz.

(1) The restless reckless impatience of the old, even when the old is God’s truth; the insolent disdain of Christ’s ordinance of preaching, except in so far as the preacher will fling away his Bible, and prophesy out of his own spirit; the light bandying of sacred subjects at every social table; the choosing and rejecting amongst the plain sayings of Scripture, as though each particular revelation were an open question.

(2) The schism of thought, where not of feeling, between the teachers of the Church and those who ought to be among the taught.

(3) The opposite experience, the surrender of all that is distinctive in the ministerial office, or the abandonment of all that is at first sight difficult in the Divine revelation. Not thus will the breach between clergy and laity be effectually healed--as though the Church’s commission were a thing to be ashamed of, or as though the one object were to show men that the Bible contained nothing which they might not have known without it.

(4) The timidity of the believing in the face of free thought and scientific discovery. I count it a great evil when true believers betray an uneasiness in the presence of true seekers. Truth and the truth can never really be at variance. Let not the evangelical doctrine ever fear lest the God of creation should betray it, or leave it naked to its enemies. Least of all let faith think that by hiding its head in the sand it can elude pursuit, or that by a clamorous outcry, “The gospel in danger,” it can breathe either confidence into its troops or panic into its foes. Let us be brave, with a courage at once of man and of God. Conclusion: Men have said to me, in the prospect of this ministry--

1. “You must be careful what you advance. Say nothing which is not sound in logic, whatever it be in rhetoric. Assume nothing--prove your points.” Is the gospel itself to be, as between me and you, an open question? Am I bound, every time I mention the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Divinity of Christ, to prove each to you by some novel argument? Honestly do I say this to you, If that was what you wanted, I am not the man. If you believe not the gospel, I cannot hope to prove it to you. I am here, a steward of God’s mysteries, to bring out to you from His storehouse something profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for discipline in righteousness.

2. “You will have a critical audience. Everything will be discussed.” “‘A fair field and no favour’ will be the motto of your congregation.” The caution falls chillingly upon the ear. I believe not one word of it. Not to judge the preacher, but to hear the Word; not to say “The sermon was long,” but to say, “On this day God has provided me with a sweet solace of heavenly hope and spiritual communion; and now I depart, warmed, cheered, edified for another week’s labour, and for the everlasting rest beyond”--this shall be the attitude of your ear and heart as you listen to the voice of your minister. (Dean Vaughan.)

Difficulties of the pastoral office

I shall briefly survey some of the many and important duties of the pastoral office. Christ crucified, and salvation through Him; the law, as a schoolmaster, to bring men to Christ; and exhorting the disciples of Jesus to adorn His doctrine ought to be our chief themes. A comprehensive knowledge of Christian faith and practice. Great skill is requisite to explain the sublime mysteries of our holy faith, to unfold their mutual connections and dependencies, and so to demonstrate their certainty, that the sincere lover of truth may be convinced, and even the captious silenced. Our task, however, would be comparatively easy were men lovers of truth and holiness. Add to all this that the genius, spiritual condition, and outward circumstances of our hearers are various; and a manner of address proper for some would be improper for others. But our services are not confined to the pulpit, or to closet preparation for it. It is one important branch of our work, to instruct and catechise the young and ignorant in the first principles of religion. Parochial visitation, if managed in a way easy to plan, I will not say easy to execute, would be equally useful. Reconciling differences is a work highly suitable to the character of ambassadors of the Prince of Peace. In private reproof, what zeal for God, and what tender compassion for perishing souls are needful to overcome that aversion every good-natured man must feel, to tell another he has done amiss. There is another duty incumbent on ministers as such, more difficult than any I have yet mentioned, and that is, to show themselves patterns of good works (Titus 2:7).

I shall now complete the argument by considering the temptations and opposition which may probably arise to divert us from the right discharge of the duties of our office. Ministers, though bound to exemplary holiness, are men of like passions and infirmities with others, and equally exposed to be seduced by Satan, the world, and the flesh. But our chief danger arises from indwelling corruption. Our office obliges us to preach and pray on many occasions when our frames are dull and languid. Discouragement may have a fatal influence. Once more. As we grow older aversion to fatigue and love of ease grow upon us. Judge from the whole of what has been said, if the work of the ministry is so easy, as many, through ignorance or inadvertency, are apt to imagine. (R. Erskine, D. D.)

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 2:17

For we are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God.

Corrupting the Word of God

The expression has the idea of self-interest, and especially of petty gain, at its basis. It means literally to sell in small quantities, to retail for profit. But it was specially applied to tavern keeping, and extended to cover all the devices by which the wine-sellers in ancient times deceived their customers. Then it was used figuratively as here; and Lucian speaks of philosophers as selling the sciences, and in most cases (πολλοι a curious parallel to St. Paul), like tavern keepers “blending, adulterating, and giving bad measure.” There are two separable ideas here. One is that of men qualifying the gospel, infiltrating their own ideas into the Word of God, tempering its severity, or perhaps its goodness, veiling its inexorableness, dealing in compromise. The other is that all such proceedings are faithless and dishonest because some private interest underlies them. It need not be avarice, though it is as likely to be this as anything else. A man corrupts the Word of God, makes it the stock in trade of a paltry business of his own, in many other ways than by subordinating it to the need of a livelihood. When he exercises his calling as minister for the gratification of his vanity, or when he preaches not that awful message in which life and death are bound up, but himself, his cleverness, his learning, humour, fine voice or gestures, he does so. He makes the Word minister to him, instead of being a minister of the Word; and that is the essence of the sin. It is the same if ambition be his motive, if he preaches to win disciples to himself, to gain an ascendency over souls, to become the head of a party which will bear the impress of his mind. (J. Denney, B. D.)

The way to preach the gospel

With conscious honesty. “As of sincerity” in direct antagonism to all duplicity and hypocrisy. No man can preach the gospel effectively who is not a true man--true to himself and to the doctrines he proclaims. He must be uninfluenced by prepossessions, by sectarian bias, by worldly interests or fame. No man can have this conscious honesty--

1. Unless he preaches his own personal convictions of the gospel. Not the opinions of others, nor even his own opinions, but convictions self-formed, vital, and profound.

2. Unless his own convictions have been reached by impartial, earnest, and devout study. The man who thus preaches, preaches a fresh, living, mighty gospel.

With conscious divinity. “Of God, in the sight of God,” i.e.--

1. From God. He must feel that he has a Divine commission.

2. Before God. “In the sight of God.” He must feel that the God who hath sent him confronts him. This consciousness will make him--

(1) Earnestly living. His soul will be all excitement.

(2) Utterly fearless of man.

With conscious Christliness. “In Christ.” There are two senses in which we are said to be in another.

1. In their affections. Without poetry or figure we are in those, in the hearts of those who love us. The child is in the heart of the loving parent, etc. Thus all Christ’s disciples are in His heart, in His affections. They live in Him.

2. In their character and spirit. Thus the admiring student lives in the character and spirit of his loved teacher, the admiring reader in the thoughts and genius of his favourite author, etc. This is the sense that is specially implied in the text. What is the spirit of Christ? It is that of supreme love to the Great Father and self-sacrificing love for humanity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)


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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 2". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.