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2 Corinthians 4:1
Therefore seeing we have received this ministry.
The apostolic ministry
Paul represents this
I. As a ministry of light (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
1. Cf. John 1:5. Nothing could be more different than the minds of Paul and John, and yet both call revelation “light.” According to John, to live in sin was to live in darkness; according to Paul, it was to live in blindness. The gospel threw light--
(1) On God: light unknown before, even to the holiest. Out of Christ, our God is only a dreadful mystery.
(2) On man. Man, with godlike aspirations and animal cravings, asks, “Am I a god or beast?” The gospel answers, “You are a glorious temple in ruins, to be rebuilt into a habitation of God.”
(3) On the grave; for “life and immortality” were “brought to light through the gospel.” Until then immortality was but a mournful perhaps.
2. Note three practical deductions.
(1) Our life is to be a manifestation of the gospel. We do not tamper with the Word of God (verse 2). It is not concealed or darkened by us, for our very work is fearlessly to declare the truth, and to dread no consequences.
(2) Light is given to us that we may spread it (verses 5, 6). If God has illuminated us, then we are your servants, to give you this illumination. This Paul, who had himself been in darkness, felt vividly; and shall we refuse to feel it? Perhaps we who have been in the brightness of his revelation all our lives scarcely appreciate the necessity which he felt so strongly of communicating it.
(3) It is the evil heart which hides tim truth. Light shines on all who have not deadened the spiritual sense. “Every one that is of the truth heareth Christ’s voice.” “The evidences of Christianity” are Christianity. The evidence of the sun is its light. Men who find their all in the world (verse 4)--how can they, fevered by its business, excited by its pleasures, petrified by its maxims, see God in His purity, or comprehend the calm radiance of eternity?
II. As a reflection of the life of Christ.
1. In word. Cf. verses 2 and 13. We manifest the truth, “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience,” because we speak in strong belief. Observe the difference between this and theological knowledge. It is not a minister’s wisdom, but his conviction, which imparts itself to others. Nothing gives life but life. Real flame alone kindles other flame. We only half believe. In verse 5 Paul says he preaches Christ, and not himself. The minister is to preach, not the Christ of this sect or of that man, but Christ fully--Christ our hope, our pattern, our life.
2. In experience. It might be a matter of surprise that God’s truth should be conveyed through such feeble instruments--“earthen vessels” (verse 7). But this very circumstance, instead of proving that the gospel is not of God, proves that it is. For what was the life of these men but the life of Christ over again--a life victorious in defeat? (verse 8-11). In their sufferings the apostles represented the death of Christ, and in their incredible escapes His resurrection. Figuratively speaking, their escapes were as a resurrection. In different periods of the same life, in different ages of freedom or persecution--as we have known in the depressed Church of the Albigenses and the victorious Church of England--in different persons during the same age, the Cross and the Resurrection alternate and exist together. But in all there is progress--the decay of evil or the birth of good (verse 16). (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Paul, the model minister
I. His motives.
1. His sense of the glory of his office. “Seeing we have this ministry.” This arose out of iris conception of the glory of the gospel (Romans 11:13). With this view of his office the apostle always strove to rise to the level of its dignity (1 Thessalonians 2:4),
2. His sense of his indebtedness to Divine mercy. “As we have received mercy, we faint not.” His whole being was penetrated with a sense of the munificence of God towards him. He never touches upon this theme but his words glow with extraordinary power.
3. The Divine cognition. “In the sight of God” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:11). What an incentive to earnestness and honesty of purpose is this fact of God’s infinite eye being ever upon us! By these motives Paul was sustained, so that he fainted not. His sail was the exalted dignity of his office, his rudder his sense of the Divine eye ever upon him, his ballast the deep-felt gratitude of his heart for the mercy of God. Every Christian minister has need of the same motives--
(1) To stimulate industry and conscientiousness.
(2) To sustain in the face of apparent want of success.
(3) To inflame zeal in the face of want of appreciation.
(4) For support in face of the difficulties usually besetting ministerial work.
(5) To guard against any partial discharge of duties.
II. His method.
1. Negative. “But have renounced,” etc. In the discharge of the duties of his exalted office he totally repudiated all methods and practices of which he had reason to be ashamed. He entirely avoided “tricks of the trade.” By his emphatic repudiation he implies--
(1) That particular care should be shown by us to avoid degrading our office by resorting to unworthy tricks and dishonest craft for securing success.
(2) That peculiar care should be shown to avoid all tampering with God’s Word with a view to please men.
2. Positive. “By manifestation of the truth.” What does this involve?
(1) An honest, clear, naked statement of it. It is impossible to convey gospel truth in too naked a form. The painted window of the cathedral may be exquisitely beautiful, yet it dims the light, and clothes the surrounding objects with false though gorgeous hues. The window which does the greatest justice to the light is the one that transmits it in all its purity, without manipulation or distortion.
(2) A full statement of it in all its parts and bearings. It is only as it is thus presented in its completeness that it can prove a saving power upon men’s hearts. Any one-sided presentation of it will certainly fail to attain that perfecting effect it is calculated to produce. Light consists of three primary colours--red, blue, and yellow. Not one, however, of these elements alone will produce vegetable growth in full perfection. Experiments have shown that yellow, while yielding the largest amount of light, prevents the germination of seed. Under the red the most heat is produced, but the plant is unhealthy. Beneath the blue the strongest chemical effect is produced, but under this influence the strength of the plant fails to keep pace with its growth. So a representation of the truth all doctrinal is like light all yellow; it has in it only illumination for the head. A representation of it all love is like light all red; ii has in it only warmth for the heart. A representation of it all ethics is like light all blue; it has but chemistry for the conscience.
(3) A manifestation in the life. The ministry must needs be illustrated by the life.
III. His power. “Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience”--not to their prejudices, passions, or tastes. It was a power arising, not from the charm of office, but from the charm of truth, earnestness, and holiness. (A. J. Parry.)
2 Corinthians 4:2
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty.
The true minister
Paul here introduces himself as a true minister appointed by God. He is led to this assertion by the insinuations of false teachers. He gives certain marks which characterised his ministry, but which were altogether wanting in that of these false teachers. These were--
I. Purity of motive. “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty.” By this he implies that these false teachers used such means to promote their schemes as would need only to be known in order to ruin the cause they were intended to promote. For men see at once that the cause cannot be a good one which requires to promote it such crafty schemes as cannot bear the light of day.
II. Purity of conduct. “Nor walking in craftiness.” The whole life of these false teachers was a crafty attempt to appear what they were not--to appear as if their actions were guided by a changed heart, whereas they really continued to live as they had formerly done, without any change of life or conversation. And what is he now but an impostor who pretends to teach others the road to heaven without himself leading the way?
III. Purity of doctrine “Nor handling the Word of God deceitfully.” There can, of course, only be two reasons for this deceitful handling: either--
1. To arrive at false doctrine, or--
2. To further some selfish end. Men do the first when they try, as some of these early teachers did, to fit Scripture into some system of human philosophy, and to teach as Divine truth the views which they brought to the sacred book. And men do the latter when, instead of preaching Christ, they preach themselves. (J. Clarkson.)
The conditions and character of a true ministry
1. The common forms of opposition to the Christian ministry.
2. The mode and spirit in which such opposition should be met.
3. What the Christian ministry must be if it is to overcome all the opposition that may be brought against it.
I. The conditions of a true ministry in the Church of Christ. These are contained in the first three clauses of the verse.
1. “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty.” The word rendered “dishonesty” occurs six times in the New Testament. In every other instance it is translated “shame,” and this is its proper meaning. The expression, “hidden things of shame,” will have a twofold application. It may refer to things “hidden” as opposed to “manifestation”--that is, concealed from men through a feeling of shame; and in that case it would concern the gospel which the apostle had to declare. Or it may refer to things shameful in themselves, carefully hidden from the eyes of men; and in that case it would concern the apostle himself. Taking both applications, the force of the apostle’s statement seems to be this: “There is nothing in the gospel which I am ashamed to tell men.” “There is nothing in myself which I am ashamed for men to know.” The Christian ministry demands the utmost honesty on the part of those who are found in it. The truths men are most indisposed to hear, and which are most likely to offend, are often the truths which men need most to know. The moment men begin to suspect that there are things in a man’s life which will not bear examination--“hidden things of shame”--his work is over. The first condition of a true ministry is that these shall be renounced.
2. The utter absence of selfish and subtle designs. “Not walking in craftiness.” The word literally means “unscrupulousness.” The idea is that of one who will resort to any artifice to secure his own ends. We are to learn that craftiness is utterly out of place in the ministry of the gospel. Though the end desired may be laudable, we are never justified in adopting crafty measures for attaining it. This has been the error into which, throughout a great portion of her history, the Church of Christ has fallen, and from which, according to some, she is not yet wholly free. The employment of craftiness has not only been wrong and sinful, but a mistake--a failure. It has been so in other domains of life. It has been well Shown by one writer that the policy which thought to govern India by sending out shrewd and unscrupulous men to meet and watch the keen, subtle, treacherous Hindoos, has altogether failed.
3. “Nor handling the Word of God deceitfully.” We are not to tamper with it, as one who defaces, injures, impairs the value of the coin of the realm, We are not to adulterate it, as one who introduces another and inferior element into that which originally was pure and good.
II. The character of a true ministry. “By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” This is opposed to all reserve and concealment, all that is personal and selfish, all that is crafty and deceitful.
1. All that is obscure, and mystical, and unintelligible in Christian teaching is excluded. “We use great plainness of speech.” To place the truth within the apprehension of all must be the one aim and desire. Not to envelope it in a mysterious symbolism, not to wrap it up in strange and difficult terms, but to hold up the truth, like a torch uncovered, so that no human device shall lessen its brightness.
2. Such a ministry requires the utmost sincerity in those who sustain it. To manifest the truth must be the one object, and nothing in the man himself must be allowed to obscure its manifestation. He must sink himself in the truth he declares. The truth is often obscured by the person who proclaims it. The truth, not himself--the manifestation of the truth, not the presentation of himself--must be the grand object.
3. The evidences of such a ministry will appear in the response it awakens in the consciences of man. “Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.” There is truth in every man corresponding with the truth in the book. “In the original structure of the soul there is an unwritten revelation which accords with the external revelation of Scripture. Within the depths of the heart there is a silent oracle which needs only to be rightly questioned to elicit from it a response in accordance with that voice which issues from the lively oracles of God.” A Christian minister is the living link between the truth in the Book and the truth in man. His work is so to manifest the truth contained in the Book that the consciences of men shall recognise it and answer to it. This constitutes the great hope and confidence of his ministry. The truth he has to manifest is not something requiring a new sense or a new faculty in man for its reception.
4. The solemnity of the ministry. “In the sight of God.” Self will obtrude itself--pride and vanity will appear--unless a man remembers that all is done “in the sight of God.” (W. Perkins.)
But by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.--
Conscience a witness to the truth
There are two of these assertions of St. Paul which we wish to select and take as the subject of our discourse. The first is his assertion as to his “not handling the Word of God deceitfully”; the second is his assertion as to his “commending himself, by manifestation of the truth, to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” With regard to handling the Word of God deceitfully, both the promises and the threatenings of the Bible may be handled deceitfully. A not uncommon error is the regarding fear as too base and slavish a thing to be introduced as instrumental to religion. There is many a Christian who is disquieted by the thought that it is only the dread of punishment which withholds him from sin, whereas he feels that he ought to abhor the sin itself, and not merely to hate its consequences. But it is handling the Word of God deceitfully when fear is thus represented as unbecoming a Christian. No doubt the love of God ought to be the governing principle in the genuine believer. Fear ought gradually to give place to a mote generous sentiment; but, nevertheless, fear may be instrumental to the bringing a man to repentance, and it ought not to throw suspicion on the genuineness of repentance that fear has been the agency employed in its production. Now this brings us to the second topic of discourse; and that is, the fact of there being a manifestation of truth to the conscience when perhaps it is not acted on, nor even acknowledged. There is something very expressive in the words, “in the sight of God.” St, Paul was satisfied that the doctrines which he preached, and the motives by which he was actuated, were equally such as approved themselves to God. This assurance of the approval of his Master in heaven must have been more to the apostle than the applause of the world, and might well compensate for its scorn. We will confine ourselves to the alleged manifestation of the truth to the consciences of the hearers. Let us consider how, in preaching of future judgment and a propitiation for sin, a preacher is likely to commend himself to the consciences of those whom he addresses. I shall appeal in evidence to yourselves. The case is one in which you must yourselves pass the verdict, otherwise it will necessarily be devoid of all force. We are now before you simply to announce a judgment to come; and if you will not give us audience out of reverence to Him in whose name we speak, we claim it on the ground that what we have to publish is of an interest so overwhelming that no being with an understanding and a heart; can refuse to give heed. And it is a great source of encouragement to the preacher thus to feel that he has conscience on his side. He knows that the message which he delivers carries with it its own proof. And on this account, then, may we venture to speak of a manifestation to the conscience, as the preacher, after wielding the thunders of the law, sets himself to persuade by the announcements of the gospel. Is there one amongst you who trembles at the thought of appearing as a sinner, with the burden of his iniquities, before the Being who is pledged and armed to pour destruction on every worker of evil? Let that man listen; we seek now to persuade him. “God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Oh! does not this vast scheme of mercy commend itself to you? I think it must; I think that its very suitableness must be an evidence with you of its truth; I feel as if I were uttering that which seeks no proof but what it obtains from yourselves. I appeal to no prodigies, I neither quote nor work miracles; but I feel that in proposing deliverance, through the blood and righteousness of Christ, to those who, weighed down by their sins, shrink in terror from the judgment, I am proposing what must approve itself to them, as bearing the trace of a communication from God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Truth and the conscience
No change in religious thought is more remarkable than that which recognises that the ultimate appeal is not to authority outside of man, but to the authority inside. I have heard it solemnly argued that if men were left to themselves, even though they followed that which was best within them, they would come to as many different conclusions as there are men to think, and, as a result, each would be a law unto himself. Within a quarter of a century emphasis has been placed upon the doctrine of the immanence of God--that is, God is not outside His universe, beyond the stars and spaces, but in the universe, pervading it, controlling it, using it, as the spirit of a man uses his body. With that central thought other truths have come into prominence. If God is within man, even though the Divine may have little, if any, opportunity for manifesting Himself, there is something to which appeal can be made. The apostle made his appeal, as a religious teacher, to the necessary correspondence between truth and conscience. His thought is something as follows: A man may be surrounded by a million of others and see no friendly face. Suddenly a companion of his boyhood appears. The recognition is instant. We are in a strange land. Faces are unfamiliar. The speech is like jargon. The door opens; a friend appears; instantly the eye brightens, and the recognition is complete. In the same way truth is recognised. We have been accustomed to be afraid of conscience--to think that it could not be trusted. But to it the Apostle Paul boldly turns. Two questions arise. What is the truth to which he referred? It was the gospel which he was preaching. What is the conscience? That is a more difficult question. There are many things which we know which we cannot define. The man approving the right and condemning the wrong is perhaps all that can be said concerning conscience. The being never lived who did not realise that he ought to do right and ought not to do wrong. There have been many explanations of this fact. Where did it come from? It is as old as history, It is universal. Opinions differ as to what is right, but not as to its authority. For myself I believe that conscience is the voice of God in every man. To violate conscience is to disobey God. Now the apostle, in his epistle, says that his appeal is made to the correspondence of the gospel that he preaches and this consciousness of right in every man. To realise that there is something within ourselves to which we can bring all questions, and by whose judgment we must stand or fall, makes excuse for wrong-doing an impossibility. I ask you to consider this appeal of the apostle. He did not say that conscience was a revealer, but that it had a judicial function. It judges concerning what comes before it, and its approval is all the authority which any statement needs. The truth which commends itself to conscience may be accepted wherever it comes from. This text teaches certain lessons which may well be studied by those who desire to know whether there is any solid foundation for truth. There is something in the natural man to which truth may appeal. Paul did not say that he was commended to the converted man, but to every man’s conscience. The same thought is expressed in the second chapter of Romans: “For when Gentiles who have no law do by nature the things of the law, these having no law are a law unto themselves, in that they shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith.” Again, in Romans 12:1, he appeals to reason: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies … which is your reasonable service.” If there is not something even in a bad man which can be trusted, it is useless to present to him truth. If he cannot recognise it he is not blamable for rejecting it. If a man knocks at your door, and you have no means of telling whether he is a thief or a friend, you are not culpable if you turn him away. If in the heathen, or those wrecks of humanity which we see in all great cities, there is not something essentially Divine, they can never discover the Divine when it is manifested. There is that in all men which knows the good, feels the force of duty, and recognises the truth when it is presented. Exceptions to this statement are apparent, but not real. The Hindu mother believes that she ought to throw her child to the River God. In her ignorance she obeys. In the world’s history there is not a more superb example of loyalty to conviction. What does that example show? That the woman is ignorant and needs instruction, not that her heart is wrong. This inner light may be obscured. The light in a lantern may be hidden by filth on the glass; the singing of a bird may be lost in the noise of a great city; the voice of a mother may be drowned by songs of dissipation. But the light in the lantern is waiting only for the filth to be removed. This inner light is an elemental fact. Elemental facts are those which inhere in the nature of things. Hunger is a fact. Love is a fact. The correspondence between the eye and the light is a fact; and these facts are not affected by theories concerning their origin. It is safe to appeal to this moral sense. If that cannot be trusted, nothing can be. If that deceives, there is no way by which a revelation about God, duty, or what lies beyond the grave could be received. If that cannot be trusted we may as well burn our Bibles, for it is precisely because of the appeal which the Scriptures make to it that they get their authority. Coleridge said, “I believe in the Bible because the Bible finds me.” I put emphasis on this fact because it leaves unbelief without excuse. That which satisfies and completes our moral nature carries with it the evidence of its own truthfulness. I do not tell you to accept Christ because the Bible says He is Divine, but I do tell you that He will satisfy and complete your nature if you will only once bring Him where your inmost eye can clearly see Him. To this something in the natural man the Christian doctrine of God is presented. Does it commend itself as true, or is it repelled as false? What is the Christian doctrine of God? It begins and ends in Fatherhood. The apostle of culture says that God is that power outside ourselves which makes for righteousness, and that definition is clear and beautiful as a marble statue or a dome of ice. There is nothing in it which appeals to struggling humanity. Fatherhood touches all hearts. The New Testament says that God is Father. That does not mean that He is weak, the slave of His affections, but that all His relations towards humanity can be best indicated by the relation of parent and child. Then it is said, God is love; God is light; He makes all things work together for good; and, It is His nature to seek the salvation of those who are lost. What a splendid ideal comes from those old Hebrew writings! Love must be severe when severity is necessary. It must cut out the cancer that the whole body may be saved. It will punish the child to-day that he may be a man to-morrow. It will seek good at any cost. There is no conflict between love and justice. Nay, rather, justice is only the shadow of love. The Christian idea of God is so glorious that I wonder that any ever turn from it. Not a sparrow falls without His notice. He clothes even the lilies. Then what man is ever forgotten? The heart of the gospel is the proclamation of forgiveness, or the doctrine of salvation. The experience of guilt is the most universal and terrible. Those who laugh at the idea of a spiritual nature cannot get away from this fact. In all nations and ages the conviction of guilt has been a reality. Nothing has been sought more eagerly than an answer to the question, How can one who is in wrong relations with himself and the universe be made right? The doctrine of sacrifice is old as human history. The inquiry had been, What can we do? How can we get rid of these burdens? What can we pay? We will give of our flocks and our fields, of the fruit of our body for the sin of our souls. But the world’s guilt grew heavier. The Master came with His message: “You cannot save yourselves. You cannot get away from the past. What you seek in vain by costly oblations and wearisome labours, I offer as a gift. Believe Me. You are not in the hands of a tyrant anxious that all his debts shall be paid; you are in the hands of a Father who is seeking for you as a shepherd for a sheep that is lost. Believe Me; if you will stop where you are and turn from the evil of your life, and follow Me, you will be forgiven.” What a wonderful message! How simple! How strangely it has been misinterpreted! What shall I do to be saved? Turn from evil; follow Him who is the truth and the right. But how about that past? Leave that with God. That is the message of salvation. Have faith in Christ when He tells us that, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Is not that reasonable? Has not difficulty about this subject of forgiveness arisen from the simple fact that we have imagined that God was a tyrant who demanded something which could not be paid, and we have said, “We cannot believe in such a God”? But when we get to the Divine revelation, when we read the story of the prodigal, and see that the son came back and found the father waiting for him, with a kiss and a new robe, and all that was necessary for him to do was simply to come home and enter into a new life, do we not find that which satisfies our consciousness of right? Now, you who are fighting this or that theory of the atonement, who are saying, “I cannot accept Christianity, because it shocks my moral sense,” simply take the parables in the fifteenth chapter of Luke, which are the revelation of God’s dealing with the repentant sinner, the first two showing how He seeks for the lost, and the third how He receives the penitent, and answer your own heart. Is there anything in that which does not attract? And again I say, Can that which satisfies the profoundest longings of your soul, which gives peace in the midst of the struggle of life, be only a dream and a falsehood? If now we turn to the teaching of Christianity concerning duty, do we not find the same correspondence? There have been as many theories of ethics as there have been thinkers to devise them. The old problem concerning obligation has had a million answers. How simple and beautiful is the teaching of Christi Make clean the inside of the cup. Pharisaism is hateful. External righteousness may be a garment hiding a corrupt spirit. The devil may masquerade in a cloak of light. Make the fountain pure, and the stream will be pure. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good. Think right thoughts, and there will be no trouble about right acts. That is where the teaching of Christ begins. The next point concerns the value which should be placed upon self. Old theories of ethics had exalted the individual. Christ says it is the privilege of the individual to efface himself for the welfare of the many. The world says, “Exalt yourselves”; Christ says, “Humble yourselves.” The culmination of Christ’s ethical teaching was in the new commandment wherein He says, “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye should love one another as I have loved you.” Nothing indefinite! nothing mystical! clear as the light! Do not ask who wrote the first books of the Bible. Do not care whether Jonah is history or fiction. Simply bring yourself face to face with these questions: Does Christ’s teaching concerning God satisfy my conscience? Can I leave myself and all men in the hands of such a Being, assured that no harm can come from Him to any one? Is there anything but comfort in Christ’s doctrine of salvation--that He has come to give power to all those who will repent of their sin and turn towards Him to cease from sinning and live the Divine life? Is there anything that is either unreasonable or in violation of the moral sense when He asks us to believe Him that, us we forgive our children when they repent and begin to mend their ways, so the heavenly Father forgives us? And is there anything which does not carry with it the evidence of its own truthfulness in these high and searching principles which our Master emphasised? Make the tree right in order that the fruit may be right. Use all powers for the good of humanity, and remember that those who have injured you most are those whom you should serve most. “Love one another as I have loved you.” You ask, “What am I to believe as the truth of God?” Here is a statement in the Bible. It can be explained in two ways. One way my moral nature commends; the other, I am told by those who profess to know, is the true interpretation. Which one am I to accept? I reply, always choose that which commends itself to your moral nature. If the Apostle Paul could appeal to conscience to certify truth, you cannot be wrong if you do the same. (A. H. Bradford, D. D.)
The self-evidencing nature of Divine truth
1. Truth may either derive its authority from the teacher, or reflect on him its authority. As the receiver of money may argue either that the money is good because it is an honest man who pays it, or that the man is honest because he pays good money, so in the communication and reception of truth. It is the latter mode of inference which is employed in the text. The message Paul had spoken was so completely in accordance with reason and conscience that he needed no other credentials in proclaiming it.
2. That there is an order of truth such us that to which the apostle refers, every thoughtful mind must be aware. At the root of all knowledge there are first principles which are independent of proof, which to state is to prove to every mind that apprehends them--they commend themselves at once to my consciousness in the sight of God. Now to this class belong many of the truths of revelation. As it needs no outward attestation to prove to the tasteful eye the beauty of fair scenes, as sweet sounds need no authentication of their harmony to the sensitive ear, so, between the spirit of man and that infinite world of moral beauty and harmony which revelation discloses, there is a correspondence so deep and real that the inner eye and ear, if undiseased, discern at once in Divine things their own best witness and authority. By the statement that the truths of revelation commend themselves to the conscience or consciousness of man--
I. It is not implied--
1. That man, by the unaided exercise of his consciousness, could have discovered them. If there be an internal revelation already imprinted on the human spirit, what need, it might be asked, for any other? In asserting that Divine revelation is self-evidencing, do we not virtually assert that it is superfluous?
(1) The answer is that the power to recognise truth does not imply the power to original it. We may apprehend what we could not invent. To discover some great law of nature, to evolve some grand principle of science, implies in the discoverer the possession of mental powers of the very rarest order; but when that law or principle has once been pointed out, multitudes who could never have discovered it for themselves may be quite able to verify it. All abstract science or philosophy, in fact, is but the bringing to light of those truths which implicitly are possessed by all; but these truths would never become really ours but for the aid which the discoveries of high and philosophic minds afford them. So, again, to what is it that the great poet owes the power to charm the minds of men but this--that he gives expression to thoughts and feelings which, though none but men of rarest genius could articulate them, the common heart and soul of humanity recognises as its own?
(2) Apply this principle to the case before us. There are inscribed on the mind and conscience of man the characters of an unknown language, to which revelation alone supplies the key, and which, read by its aid, become the truest verification of that which interprets them. In that world of invisible realities to which, as spiritual beings, we belong, there are mysteries too profound for fallen humanity, of itself, to penetrate. But though by no unaided “searching” could we “find out God”; though, again, the conception of a pure and holy moral law, or the vision of a glorious immortality, be unattainable by any spontaneous effort of human reason, yet there is wrought into the very structure of man’s nature so much of a Divine element, there is a moral standard so ineffaceably inscribed on the conscience, there slumbers in the universal heart a desire and yearning after immortality so deep and strong, that that Bible which contains in it the revelation of God and holiness and heaven finds in the awakened soul an instant response and authentication of its teachings.
2. That the consciousness in its unrenewed and imperfect state is qualified fully to recognise and verify these truths when discovered to it.
(1) It might be admitted that the mind of man, in its perfect state, is so in harmony with the mind of God as at once to echo and respond to the utterance of that mind in His revealed Word. But the moral reason has become dimmed and distorted. How, then, any longer can the soul be regarded as the criterion of truth? How can it be asserted that the truth commends itself to every man’s consciousness? Is not such a statement at variance with 1 Corinthians 2:14? How can light be perceived by blind eyes, harmony by dull or deaf ears?
(2) The solution of this difficulty will perhaps be found in the consideration that Divine truth exerts on the mind of man at once a restorative and a self-manifesting power. It creates in the mind the capacity by which it is discerned. As light opens the close-shut flower-bud to receive light, or as the sunbeam, playing on a sleeper’s eyes, by its gentle irritation opens them to see its own brightness, so the truth of God, shining on the soul, quickens and stirs into activity the faculty by which that very truth is perceived. It is in this case as in secular studies--each advance in knowledge disciplines the knowing faculty. With each new problem mastered, each difficult step in science or philosophy overcome, the mental habits are strengthened, and thus a wider range of knowledge, a larger, clearer, more comprehensive view of truth, becomes possible to the mind.
II. In what way may we conceive of Divine truth as commending itself to the consciousness of man?
1. By revealing to man the lost ideal of his nature.
(1) Whilst man, fallen and degraded, could never have found out that ideal for himself, yet, when it is presented to him in Scripture, there is that within him which is capable of recognising it as his own. You cannot blot out from his mind the latent reminiscence of a nobler and better self which he might have been, and which to have lost is guilt and wretchedness. Confront the fallen moral intelligence with its own perfect type, and in the instinctive shame and humiliation arising therefrom there is elicited an involuntary recognition of the truthfulness of the portraiture.
(2) Now, such is the response which the spirit of man, in the hour of contrition, renders to the perfect type of moral excellence which the gospel brings before it. For the sorrow and self-abasement which the “manifestation of the truth” calls forth derive their peculiar poignancy from the fact that it is a sorrow not so much of discovery as of reminiscence. In the contemplation of God’s holy law, and especially of that perfect reflection of it which is presented in Jesus, the attitude of the penitent mind is that not simply of observation, but of painful and humiliating recollection. The mental process is analogous to that in which the mind goes in search of some word, or name, or thought which we cannot at once recall, yet of which we have the certainty that once we knew it. Or it is still more closely parallel to the feeling of one who revisits, in reverse of fortune, and after long years of absence, a spot with which, in other and happier days, he was familiar. At first such an one might move for a while amidst old scenes and objects unconscious of any past and personal connection with them, until at last something occurs to touch the spring of association, when instantly, with a rush of recollection, old sights, impressions, incidents, come thick and crowding on the spirit, and the outward scene becomes clothed with a new vividness, and is perceived with a new sense of identity. Now, if the life of Christ were an ideal of excellence altogether foreign to us, the shame of the convicted conscience would lose half its bitterness. But the latent element that lends sharpness to the stings of self-accusation in the mind aroused by the manifestation of the truth is the involuntary recognition in Christ of a dignity we have lost, an inheritance we have wasted, a perfection for which the spirit of man was formed, but which it has basely disowned. Repentance is the recognition by the fallen self of its true self in Christ.
2. By discovering to man the mode of regaining it. The Scriptures claim from the conscience, not only a response to their description of the disease, but also a recognition of the suitability and sufficiency of the remedy they prescribe. No state of mind can be conceived more distressing than that of a man who, voluntarily or involuntarily, is falling below his own ideal. For a man’s own comfort, he must either forget his ideal or strive to realise it. The great obstacles to the soul’s recovery of its lost ideal are the sense of guilt and the consciousness of moral weakness.
(1) The soul aspiring after holiness craves deliverance from guilt; and to that deep-felt want the gospel responds in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.
(a) In some respects the analogous case of the debtor’s embarrassments may help us to conceive of the needs of the guilty soul. Debt acts as a dead-weight on a man’s energies. What this man wants in order to rouse him to effort is to cut off his connection with the past, to sweep away its obligations, and let him have a fair start in life again. Or reflect, again, on the depressing influence often produced by loss of character and reputation in the world. A man who has lost caste in society has lost with it one of the most powerful incentives to effort. If he could begin life anew it might be different with him.
(b) But all such analogies are but partial and inadequate representations of the moral hindrance of guilt. An insolvent man may, by redoubled exertions, or by the intervention of a friend, be freed from the depressing responsibility for the past. But in sin the aroused conscience feels that there is a strange indelibleness. The man, again, who has compromised himself with human society may, by lapse of time or removal from the scene, escape from the depressing influence of social suspicion and mistrust. But from the ban of Omniscience there is no such escape. Infinite justice is independent of space and time. Nay, even if God, by a simple act of oblivion, could pass over the awakened sinner’s guilt, his own conscience would not suffer him to forget it. He would be “the wrath of God unto himself.” The aroused conscience does not want a mere act of amnesty. Nothing will satisfy it, unless the sin be branded with the mark of the law’s offended majesty--unless the culprit sin be, as it were, led out to execution and slain before it.
(c) Now, it is this deep necessity of the awakened spirit which the gospel meets--a revelation in the person, life, and death of Jesus, which includes at once the most complete condemnation of sin and the most ample forgiveness of the sinner. Surely the trembling heart may cease to despair of itself, or regard the past with hopeless despondency, when that very Being in whom all law and right are centred condescends to wed the nature of guilty man into closest affinity with Himself. But more than this, the gospel brings relief to the self-condemned spirit by exhibiting infinite purity passing through a history which brings it into ceaseless contact with sin in all its undisguised hatefulness and hostility to God. And, finally, the gospel permits us to think of Christ as one who, in conveying pardon to guilt, instead of relaxing the strictness or bringing slight on the unbending rectitude of God’s law, offers up the grandest possible tribute to its majesty and the most awful atonement for the sins that infringed it.
(2) The other great obstacle is the conscious inertness and impotence of the soul in its endeavours after holiness.
(a) It is in the attempt to reach its lost ideal that the soul becomes aware of its own moral weakness. It is not when the sick man lies prostrated by disease that he feels most his own feebleness, but when he begins to rally, and attempts to rise and walk. When despotism has so quelled a nation’s spirit that it cares not to put forth the feeblest resistance to its thraldom, it is not then that it is in a condition to discover the hopelessness of its bondage; but when, the spirit of insurrection roused, the attempt has been made to throw off the hateful yoke, and made in vain--it is then that it learns the terribleness of that power which keeps it down. So it is not when sin holds undisturbed dominion in the soul, but when the new ideal of holiness dawns upon its vision, that, in the feebleness of its resolutions and the miserable ineffectiveness of its attempts to be good, there is forced upon it the painful conviction of its own moral weakness. And then, too, rises the intense longing for spiritual help.
(b) Now, the gospel commends itself to the consciousness by responding to this. For it reveals to the soul Christ as not only outwardly the ideal, but inwardly the hope and strength of humanity. It would go no little way towards meeting our needs if, in our loneliness and weakness, there should be granted the perpetual presence and guardianship of some lofty angelic nature. Or, better, let any contrite soul, longing for the goodness it cannot reach, perturbed by the evil from which it cannot escape, think what it would be to have Jesus of Nazareth dwelling for a single year with it as a familiar companion and friend. But how much more are the soul’s needs met in that which is the great crowning blessing of the gospel--the dispensation of the Spirit. A Spirit, would we but realise His presence, is ever with us to prompt each holy thought and nerve each pure resolve. If Christ, as an outward visitant, would be eagerly welcomed in the dispensation of His grace, we are told of a blessing greater still--of a presence of Jesus within the heart. To every soul that will receive Him, that very Jesus who departed as a visible presence from this earth comes back as an inward and invisible comforter--“Christ in you the hope of glory.” (J. Caird, D. D.)
The mission of the pulpit is
I. A mission of the truth. In this aspect it is scarcely possible to exaggerate its importance. At home sensuality, worldliness, and scepticism, and abroad the corruption of apostate Churches, the fanaticism and immorality of heathenism, suffice to show that this mission is urgently needed. Truth in general is the agreement of a symbol with the thing symbolised. Science is truth when it is a correct interpretation of the phenomena of nature, history when it is a faithful record of facts, worship when it is a reflection of a consecrated soul, and doctrine when it is according to godliness. It is in the last conception that the apostle is treating of it in the text. The Word of God is the fountain and standard of truth. The truth is embodied in Christ, who is “the Truth.” To manifest this truth is the mission of the pulpit. The truth must be presented--
1. Clearly. This is indicated both by the force of the word “manifestation,” and by the contrast between Paul and the false teachers. They traffic with the hidden things of dishonesty; we manifest the truth. The truth as revealed in the Word of God embraces the most profound problems, such as God, the creation, the origin of evil, the Incarnation, etc. And that these should contain things hard to be understood is not surprising. “The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong unto us and unto our children for ever.” They are expressed in simple language. Who can understand, “God is love, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” “In My Father’s house are many mansions”? These are some of the primary principles of that truth; and why should it not be presented with that unsophisticated simplicity in which it appears in the Word of God? On the contrary, it is sometimes encumbered with a pompous rhetoric and beclouded by the jargon of a vain philosophy. This is to hide the truth rather than manifest it. The pulpit is a lighthouse; and if the light shine dimly, or be permitted to go out, or if false lights be exhibited, struggling and storm-tossed souls will be wrecked.
2. Fully. The false teachers handled the Word of God deceitfully; they mutilated, perverted, corrupted, and impaired it. It would, of course, be impossible to embody the details of the truth in the longest sermon; but it is quite possible to convey the essentials of the truth in the shortest sermon. We are in constant danger of shaping the truth to our creeds, instead of conforming our creeds to the truth. The Socinian, the Romanist, and the Antinomian profess to find their religion in the Bible; but they break the harmony of the truth--they embrace it in part, and not as a whole. Again, the preferences of hearers are sometimes a temptation to present it with studied reserve. The spirituality of God’s law is an offence to the sensual, the Cross of Christ to the self-righteous, the new birth to the formalist, the judgment to come to the worldling. What then? We must ever be ready to maintain those impugned doctrines, to enforce those neglected duties, to denounce fashionable sins.
3. Authoritatively. The truth authenticates itself no less by its internal nature than by its external attestations. It is not more certain that the sun is the workmanship of God’s hand than that Christianity is the embodiment of His love. Every true preacher has settled this question in his own mind once for all. “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.” We cannot, therefore, regard the gospel as a debateable topic. When Christ gave His last commission to His disciples there was an air of stupendous majesty in His address which should remind His ministers that they are sent, not to prove the gospel, but to preach it.
II. A mission to the conscience. Conscience is that simple and original faculty of our nature which points us to the great laws of duty, pronounces judgment on our actions as good or bad, produces painful or pleasurable emotions in us, according to our conduct, and by its combined energy prompts us to do that which is right. It may be resisted, but it cannot be dethroned; it may be seared, but it cannot be destroyed. The worm that dieth not is the avenging power of an infuriated conscience. This mission has--
1. Its advantages. The man who appeals to the conscience by the force of truth sways a sceptre of irresistible might, if we appeal to the imagination, we shall be perpetually chasing clouds and shadows; if we appeal to the reason, we shall encounter a network of sophistry and scepticism; if we appeal to the passions, we Shall create floods of sentimental sorrow and troops of fictitious saints; but, if we appeal to the conscience by the truth, there is not a law, precept, prohibition, or warning of the Word of God to which the conscience will not instantly respond. Conscience is the preacher’s best ally. He may be regarded as a fanatic, or as a fool; but conscience will always recognise in the faithful preacher the chosen servant of God.
2. Its difficulties. Although conscience is always on the side of truth, yet its decisions are against man, who is a sinner. Now, there is in guilt an instinctive shrinking from exposure. Just as a culprit, who, when pursued for a crime, will lurk in secret to escape pursuers, so will a sinner when confronted by his conscience. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” They try to create peace by bribing the conscience. The atheist would persuade himself that he is the offspring of chance, and hopes to sleep for ever in the grave; the pagan tortures himself; the Romanist takes asylum in the confessional; the Pharisee thanks God that he is not as other men; the worldling rushes to the counting-house, to the tavern, or to the theatre; and all these refuges of lies must be stormed and scattered before we can present the truth to the conscience.
3. Its responsibilities. Conscience is the great judgment-day in anticipation. A faculty so wonderful is a talent of overwhelming magnitude, and one for which we must render an account at the bar of God. If conscience were to be banished, the earth would become a scene of universal lawlessness. And yet every man who conspires to undermine the sovereignty of conscience is responsible for contributing to this frightful result. It is probable that no impression once made on the conscience is ever wholly lost. How often has the memory of a person whom you injured in days gone by called up your guilt! The preacher would faint under the fearful pressure of his responsibilities, but he knows that the conscience of those who have slighted his counsels will acquit him in the last great day.
III. A mission for God. “In the sight of God.” Such solemn inspection as that which is connected with the mission of the pulpit is--
1. A powerful motive to diligence in study. There is no department of Christian service which demands more careful preparation. Those who have had the longest experience in this arduous work know that the result of the pulpit is in proportion to the power which they have husbanded in the study. But mark well what that power is, and whence it comes--it is obtained “in the sight of God”--it is the effect of close communion with God. The preacher’s manual is God’s Book; the preacher’s study is God’s presence. The great preachers, whose memory is an everlasting heritage, got their strength from the skies, not by ballooning, but by praying. A praying ministry is often the result of a praying Church. “Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course,” etc.
2. A powerful motive to fidelity in preaching. It will effectually check all levity, self-confidence, and fear of man. This solemn inspection extends to the pew as well as the pulpit. You are listening, while we are speaking, in the sight of God. Do not shun His face; do not despise the riches of His love; do not quench His Holy Spirit.
3. A powerful motive to patience in trial. Adversities may darken around us, difficulties may menace us, men may frown, and devils rage; but with the eye of God upon us, with the life of God within us, and with the heaven of God before us, we shall be able to breast the storm and to seize the crown.
4. An assurance of ultimate success. Amid difficulties and discouragements, the promise that the Word shall not return void, that we shall reap if we faint not, fills us with an unwavering confidence and an unfaltering hope. The precious seed possesses an indestructible vitality, and will not be all wasted on a barren soil. Conclusion: If our preaching is to be effective we must preach the law and the gospel the law in order to probe the conscience, the gospel in order to heal it. The preaching of the law alone will lead to Pharisaism; the preaching of the gospel alone will lead to Antinomianism; the preaching of both will, by God’s blessing, issue in a pure and living Christianity. (G. T. Perks, M. A.)
The sphere of the pulpit, or the mission of minister’s
I. The pulpit has chiefly to deal with the common conscience of humanity.
1. Conscience is not so much a faculty of being as the very stamina and substance of being--the “inner man”--the man of the man--that without which we should be sensuous organisms or thinking animals, but not men. This gives a felt connection with the spiritual universe. As without the physical senses I could never feel my connection with this material system, so without this conscience I could have no idea either of moral government or God.
2. Now, to this primary part of your nature the religious teacher has to appeal. There is a ministry which mainly aims at--
(1) The passions. If the emotions are stirred the discourse is considered powerful and effective. But I am bound to say that to aim at this as an end is to obstruct the true progress of virtue.
(2) The imagination. Poetic pictures and sonorous periods are forms into which all the ideas are thrown. But truth does not require your painting; it is itself beauty. Take your brush to set off the rainbow, or give a new tinge of splendour to the setting sun, but keep it away from the “rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley.”
(3) The intellect. Verbal criticisms, philosophic discussions, subtle distinctions, are the staple elements of its discourses.
(4) Now, I am far from supposing that religious teaching ought not to wake the passions, etc.; but I do feel that to aim at these as ends is to pervert religious teaching. The true teacher has to do with conscience--that which underlies and penetrates every other spiritual faculty and power in man.
3. But, whilst all men have consciences, their consciences are found existing in very different conditions. There is--
(1) The torpid class--those that have never been awakened, and those which, having been aroused, have relapsed into insensibility again. The former comprehends the copsciences of children and uneducated barbarians; the latter involves those which were once awakened by conviction, but which have sunk into apathy again. It is a solemn fact that a state of torpor is the general state in which the conscience is found.
(2) The alarmed class.
(3) The peaceful class--those consciences from which the sense of guilt has been removed. Now, in one of these general classes every man’s conscience is to be found. Indeed, the true Christian man has passed through the first two, and is settled down in the last. In Romans 7:1-25. Paul gives this moral history of the “inner man.”
II. The pulpit has to deal with the common conscience of humanity through the medium of the truth.
1. “The truth” Paul here calls the “Word of God,” and “our gospel.” To him, therefore, the special revelation of God developed in the teaching, embodied in the life and illustrated in the death of Jesus, was the truth--the truth humanity wanted to raise it from its fallen state.
2. Now, this truth Paul sought to manifest, so as to commend himself to “every man’s conscience,” and this his history shows him to have accomplished. He manifested the truth, not as it appeared in the traditions of the fathers, or in the formulae of sapless systems, but as it appeared “in Jesus”--which exactly suited each of the three classes of conscience.
(1) The element of truth in Jesus required to rouse the dormant conscience is the ethical. The conscience is the organ of moral vision; but, unless the light of moral law fall on it, it will be dead and useless. It is when the commandment comes that the conscience sees itself in the light of God, and exclaims, “The law is spiritual, but I am carnal--sold under sin.”
(2) The element of truth in Jesus required to pacify the alarmed conscience is the redemptive mercy of God.
(3) The element required to strengthen and to urge on to nobler efforts and higher attainments the pacified conscience is the alimental--the universal and ever-suggesting principles of Divine truth.
3. The pulpit, then, if it would do its work, must manifest the truth as in Jesus. It must cease to be the organ of party polemics, human formalities, abstract speculations. It must become the mouth of Christ. Truth in Him is not a dogma, but a life; not a mere letter, but a spirit. It is a thing of beauty and power. It meets the moral soul of humanity as light meets the eye, as water the parched tongue, as bread the hungry soul.
III. That the pulpit has chiefly to deal with the common conscience of humanity through the medium of the truth under the felt inspection of Almighty God. The apostle set the Lord always before him: he toiled and suffered as “seeing Him who is invisible.”
1. There are three causes of pulpit inefficiency which this would remove.
2. How are these causes to be removed? Let the preacher feel that God is one of his auditors, and--
(1) Man-fear will depart. His spirit will rise superior to all ideas about the smiles or favours of man.
(2) All affectation will end. His simple nature will show itself in every gesture, look, and tone.
(3) All dulness will pass away. The deepest sympathies of the soul will heave under the eye of God, as the forest and field under the breath of spring, throwing out new forms of life and beauty every hour. Conclusion: Note--
1. The worth of the true pulpit.
2. The qualification for the true pulpit. Ministers must be pre-eminently men of conscience. The moral in them must transcend the intellectual, as the intellectual transcends the animal. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The minister’s aim, weapons, and encouragements
I. The minister’s aim--the conscience. As in the breast-plate of the high priest, amid the glittering stones, there was one of peculiar beauty and lustre, the Urim and Thummim, which glistened at God’s “Yes,” and dimmed at God’s “No,” so in the heart of man there is the regal faculty of conscience. We need not ask how it came there. Enough to say that it is part of the constitution of human nature. In every man there is a conscience. It is to this faculty that the minister appeals.
II. The minister’s weapon. “The manifestation of the truth.” To the apostle all truth is ensphered in the gospel of Christ. When we seek light we go to the sun, though we do not deny that the waters of the Mediterranean may sparkle with light when ploughed by the keel of the vessel. Ancient religions have elements of truth, and so have modern systems, but for truth in complete symmetry, and in perfect, full-orbed beauty, we must go to Jesus Christ. You remember the story of how, when King Richard was imprisoned in a castle of the Austrian Tyrol, his faithful minstrel went from castle to castle, playing under their steep fastnesses the songs that King Richard knew, until from the heart of an old fortress there came back answering notes. So the Christian minister has to come to the grim fortress of many a life, and it is not till he hears the answering notes of conscience that he knows that his message is received. I should not dare to stand in this pulpit, nor to undertake the great responsibilities of this place, were it not that my message has a double corroboration--a witness--
1. From the Holy Ghost, who spake the word, and--
2. From the heart of every man who hears it. Sir Walter Scott tells us how Old Mortality spent his days in removing the lichened incrustations from the tombstones of the martyrs, till the inscriptions could be read fair and clear. Something like that must be the work of my ministry among you.
III. The minister’s encouragements.
1. He himself has received mercy.
2. He has the commendation of conscience.
3. His work is wrought in the sight of God. In His sight we are standing now. His eye searches us as the sun searches all the recesses of the landscape. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
The hidden gospel
I. What is our gospel? You may call it either “God’s news” or “good newsy” for “God” and “good” are one and the same thing. The “gospel” is God’s good news. And what is “the good news”? Now, if I were to say that God is our Creator and Father, this might be “good,” but it would not be “news.” Almost all nature teaches that. And if I were to say that His Son came into this world, it might be “news,” but it might not be “good.” But when I add that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, is not this “news”? Is not this “good”?
II. But some of you do not see it.
1. You say--
(1) “It would never do for God to forgive sin so easily. It will encourage sin.” You do not see that the acceptance of forgiveness provides the cure for sin.
(2) Or you feel “there is a simplicity in that which is contrary to all my ideas of the greatness of God.”
(3) Or you take very little trouble to understand it. It is an abstraction--like any other philosophical dogma.
(4) Or you know it is true. You always heard it, and you have been educated up to it. But it has no power over your heart. It is “hidden.”
2. And if it is “hidden,” what “hides” it? A thing may be “hidden” from one or other of three causes--
(1) The organ of vision may be weakened or destroyed. The apostle assigns to the Corinthians this cause. “The god of this world” had “blinded their minds.” The right image is not formed. There is no reflection of the object inwardly. You have not the capacity of seeing such things as these.
(2) Something has come in between you and truth. A big sin hinders the view.
(3) Men drive God to do an act of retributive justice. Neglected light has been withdrawn.
4. What underlies the threefold process? Your sin. You were not prepared to accept the gospel of His grace on the conditions. And so sin dulled the perceptive power; sin drew the veil; one sin was punished by another sin. From long darkness your heart grew dark.
III. “To them that are lost.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The veiled gospel
I. That certain states of mind may veil or conceal the gospel from our view. That is the main idea of the passage; notwithstanding its glory, it may be a thing of darkness, a “savour of death unto death.” In the Corinthian Church, party spirit, contentions, immoralities, and self-laudation, prevented their full perception of the glory and purity of the gospel.
1. Indifference may cause the gospel to be veiled. We cannot see anything except we look at it. Having the gospel is not examining the gospel. It has a personal claim, founded on facts of the most solemn character.
2. Misapprehension of its nature may veil the gospel from our minds. They have difficulties about church-government, about baptism, about election, dec.; and so to them the gospel is veiled.
3. Sometimes the troubles of life may veil the gospel from our hearts.
4. The recollections of, and despair on account of, past sins may veil the gospel from our hearts.
II. That the provisions of the gospel are all intended and adapted to remove these obstacles. (W. G. Barrett.)
To whom and why the gospel is hid
The gospel which fills the Old Testament and the New is the most wonderful arrangement that Divine wisdom and benevolence ever made. God is more seen in the glorious work of redemption there unfolded than in all His other works. Unbelief is most unreasonable and wicked in itself. Men do not reject the gospel from any want of evidence. They believe a thousand things on far tess evidence. The greatness of the sin of unbelief appears in this, that it opposes all the manifestations of God which are made in the Scriptures.
1. First, men reject the Bible because it condemns them. It reproves their sins and disturbs their conscience. A book that does this is an uncomfortable companion, and they must get rid of it to preserve their peace.
2. Secondly, men reject the Bible because it alarms their fears. It speaks of a judgment to come.
3. Thirdly, men reject the Bible because it requires them to give up sins and idols which they are loth to abandon. They love the world supremely.
4. Fourthly, men reject the Bible because it requires them to perform duties which they do not relish.
(1) The unreasonableness and wickedness of unbelief is, then, one cause why the decree has gone forth, “He that believeth not shall be damned.”
(2) Another reason is that it necessarily excludes men from the only remedy provided.
1. Are there any present who deliberately doubt the Divinity of the Scriptures?
2. I will apply the subject to those who, though they do not deliberately doubt, are yet stupid in sin.
3. Let me address the subject to those who, though not stupid, have not yet believed with the heart. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
Veiling the gospel
We have here--
I. Man veiling from his own eye a divinely revealed good. The gospel facts are “manifestly set forth,” yet men hide them from themselves--
1. By prejudice, as in the case of the Jews.
2. By enmity.
3. By fire.
4. By carnal selfishness. Love alone can interpret love.
5. By despondency,
II. Man lost by the side of a power designed and fitted to save. The gospel offers men--
1. Light, and yet they walk in darkness.
2. Pardon, and yet they walk in condemnation.
3. Health, and yet they groan with a moral malady.
4. Heaven, and yet they march towards hell. How great at once their folly and guilt. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The true gospel no hidden gospel
The Revised Version gives a better translation: “But and if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing.” Paul had been speaking of Moses with the veil over his face; our gospel wears no veil.
I. The gospel is in itself--
1. A glorious light. In countless places it is so described. This light--
(1) Reveals “the glory of Christ.”
(a) It tells us that He is the eternal Son of the Father, by whom and for whom all things were made, and by whom they continue to exist. This might not have been good news to us if it had stood alone; but the gospel further reveals to us that Christ became as truly man as He was assuredly God. This was the first note of the gospel, and there was so much of delight in it that it set all the angels in heaven singing, “Glory to God in the highest,” etc. Furthermore the gospel tells us that this same mighty God dwelt here among men, preaching and teaching and working miracles of matchless mercy. But the gospel’s clearest note is, that this Son of God in due time gave Himself for our sins. Yet there is another note, for He that died and was buried is risen from the dead, and has borne our nature up into the glory, and there He wears it at the Father’s right hand. He is by His intercession saving sinners whom He purchased with His blood. But I must not leave out the fact that He will come again to gather all His own unto Himself, and to take them up to be with Him where He is.
(2) Reveals God Himself, for Christ is the image of God.
(a) He is essentially one with God.
(b) He shows us what God is. What higher conception of God can you have?
(3) Is light to us.
(a) It brings illumination. It is a lighting up of the soul “to know the only true God,” etc.
(b) It affords comfort when under a sense of sin; in sorrow; in the prospect of death.
2. Most plain and clear. The gospel contains nothing which can perplex anybody unless he wishes to be perplexed.
(1) That God should espouse our nature is so far a mystery that we do not know how it could be; but we do not want to know how it was done; it is enough for us that it was done.
(2) So with the doctrine of the atonement. If God has set forth Christ to be a propitiation for our sins, our most reasonable course is to accept Him. We need not quarrel with grace because we cannot understand everything about it.
(3) I am not asked to understand how God justifies us in Christ, but I am asked to believe that He does so. The fact is plain enough, and the fact is the object of faith. At times persons inquire, “What is believing?” Well, it is trusting, depending, leaning upon, relying upon--that is all. Is there anything hard about that? The shepherd on Salisbury Plain can understand the gospel as well as the Bishop in Salisbury Cathedral; and the Dairyman’s Daughter can feel its power as fully as a princess.
II. In the true preaching of the gospel this simplicity is preserved. Paul said, “Having this hope in us we use great plainness of speech,” and “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The apostle was a deep thinker, but he devoted all his energies to the unveiling of the gospel. He wrote some things hard to be understood, but when he came to the gospel he would have nothing but simplicity there, The true man of God will not veil the gospel beneath ceremonies. I know numbers who would disdain to do that, and yet they hide their Lord under finery of language. Let tawdry ornaments be left to the stage or to the bar, where men amuse themselves or dispute for gain.
III. If the gospel be veiled to our hearers it is a fatal sign.
1. Not to believe and accept the gospel is a sign of perishing. You who receive the gospel are saved; faith is the saving token. The sun is bright enough, but those who have no sight are not enlightened. He that believes not on Christ is a lost man. God has lost you; you are not His servant. The Church has lost you; you are not working for the truth. The world has lost you; you yield no lasting service to it. You have lost yourself to right, to joy, to heaven.
2. The apostle explains how a man gets into that condition. He says that Satan, the god of this world, hath blinded his mind. What a thought it is that Satan should set up to be a god. Christ is the image of God; Satan is the ape of God. To maintain his power he takes great care that his dupes should not see the light of the gospel. The veils he uses are such as men’s selfish hearts approve; for he speaks thus, “If you were to become a Christian, you would never get on in the world.”
3. But you may be found yet; lost to-day, but you need not be lost tomorrow. The Good Shepherd has come out to find His lost sheep. Are any of you blinded? There is one abroad to-day who opens blind eyes. Is the god of this world your master? He need not be so any longer. Whatsoever keeps you from beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ can be removed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gospel hidden to the lost
I. To whom the gospel is hid.
1. To those who deny its Divine authority.
2. To those who are ignorant of its peculiar doctrines.
3. To all those who do not obey it, however extensive and correct may be their views of its doctrines.
II. The danger of their condition.
1. The blindness of those to whom the gospel is hid is voluntary and criminal. It cannot be ascribed to the want of light.
2. Their danger is increased by the measure of light and evidence which they resist.
3. No other means will be used for their salvation but those which have been tried and proved ineffectual.
4. They are in danger of being given up of God, to continued ignorance and error. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
The god of this world blinding man against the gospel
And in it we observe these three particulars. First, the non-proficiency specified and supposed: “If our gospel be hid.” Secondly, the censure and judgment that is passed upon it: “It is hid to them that are lost.” It is a sign, they are cast away. Thirdly, the true cause of their non-proficiency assigned. First, is the original and natural inbred cause in themselves, that is infidelity, a voluntary unbelief. Secondly, is a cause that increases this non-proficiency of unbelief, that is spiritual blindness inflicted and wrought into them:--“Their minds are blinded.” Thirdly, is the author and worker of this blindness, that is the devil: “The god of this world.” Fourthly, is his end and purpose why he blinds men’s minds: “Lest the gospel should shine into them, and they should be converted.” And this assigning of these causes of their unproficiency removes other pretended causes of their unbelief. They must be one of these three.
I. They will say, God He conceals Himself from them. No; it is the god of this world, not the true God.
II. They pretend the gospel is dark and mysterious. No; that is full of light, of glorious light.
III. They say the apostle is obscure in propounding it to them. No; it shines evidently to them in his preaching, and would shine into them, would they but open their eyes and behold it. The first thing considerable is the pretended obscurity of the gospel, and so their unproficiency supposed: “If our gospel be hid.” Here are three things considerable. First, is the special truth which St. Paul labours to free from obscurity, and the unproficiency under which he thus heavily sentences, that is the gospel. Secondly, is the special relation and interest that St. Paul claims to this blessed truth, he calls it “our gospel.” Thirdly, is the imputation that is charged upon this truth, which he labours to remove, that is obscurity: “If it be hidden.”
I. The gospel and the justifying of it was the main scope and the end of his ministry. His employment was the publishing of the glad tidings of the gospel (Acts 20:21; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 11:13; Philippians 1:17). An ambassador, in point of honour, must maintain his commission, avow the truth and authority of it. If Paul preaches the law, he doth it still in reference to the gospel.
1. To convince you of your great necessity to lay hold on the gospel, by showing you the impossibility of performing the law.
2. To enforce you to fly to the sanctuary of the gospel, so to escape the curse of the law.
3. To direct you how to live under the gospel by that rule of holiness prescribed in the law.
II. Paul maintains the dignity of the gospel, threatens our unproficiency under it; because the gospel is the most clear, evident, convincing means of salvation. They might more excuse-ably have charged obscurity upon the law of Moses; there was some darkness in that ministration. But the gospel is revealed in all evidence and manifestation (Romans 1:17). Clearer and clearer in it the way to heaven is laid open. There is a light in the law; but the gospel is far more resplendent.
III. Paul is severe against those who are unproficient under the gospel, because the gospel is the most powerful means to work our conversion. In respect of this the law was impotent, it made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19). God accompanies the word of the gospel with the efficacy of His Spirit. The law administered no strength; required all, but helped nothing; but the gospel, it is the ministration of the Spirit. When that is tendered to us and we refuse it, then God saith, “What can I do more than I have done to save you?” Secondly, the second thing considerable is St. Paul’s claim and interest in the gospel, he calls it “our gospel.” What Christ said of John’s baptism, we may say of the gospel, “Is it from heaven, or from men?”
No doubt from heaven. And St. Paul elsewhere ascribes it to an higher author and owner; he calls it “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
I. It is St. Paul’s gospel, it was committed to St. Paul’s care and trust; he owns the gospel as his chief charge. And how thankfully he took this trust; he blesses Christ for “counting him faithful, and putting him into the ministry.”
II. St Paul counts the gospel his gospel; it is an expression of love and affection. It is the property of love to appropriate what it loves, and to account it its own.
III. “Our gospel,” it is a speech of challenge; he claims the gospel to himself against all carping opposers.
IV. “Our gospel.” It is a speech of confidence and full assurance. Paul is assured the thing that he preached unto them was the truth of the gospel.
1. His preaching was infallible; he was guided by an unerring Spirit.
2. His preaching was with all evidence, he concealed nothing, but acquainted the Churches “with the whole counsel of God.”
3. His preaching was ratified with the great confirmation.
4. Paul’s preaching was most successful. Thirdly, the third thing considerable is the imputation which is cast upon the gospel, that it is hid and obscure; and the apostle seems to grant there is some obscurity in it.
I. It is true the gospel in itself, in its own nature, is an hidden, a secret, reserved thing. It is the mystery of God locked up in His secret counsel, naturally unknown to men or angels.
II. Even after God had published it by His Son, yet still it is an hidden, obscure thing to every natural man.
III. The gospel in some measure and degree is hid and obscure, even to the saints of God.
IV. It is true that for all this hiddenness of the gospel, yet even those that are but wicked men may attain to some kind of knowledge in the gospel, nay, to a great ability of understanding. Balaam may prophesy of Christ, Judas may preach Him.
1. A wicked man may understand the words of Scripture, but not the things contained in them.
2. Suppose a wicked man may know those things that are in the Scriptures, yet his knowledge of them hath no spiritual apprehensions of them. All the knowledge he hath it is but natural and carnal, where reason stops he stops too. As he that looks upon a map judges of foreign countries by some imaginations he fancies to himself, not by an immediate clear apprehension of the places themselves.
3. Suppose a wicked man may attain to some supernatural knowledge of Divine truths, but his knowledge of them it is merely notional, not cordial Christian knowledge.
1. It is more certain.
2. It is more comfortable.
As a man may guess at the goodness of wine by the colour, but better by the taste. Secondly, to the censure and judgment that the apostle passes upon those that can see nothing in the gospel to whom it is an hidden thing. And that censure it is sad and heavy. And here are two things considerable. First, is the doom he passes upon them: “They are lost.” Secondly, is the manner of denouncing this doom and sentence upon them. First, the doom and censure is that they are lost. What means that? How shall we estimate the heaviness of this burden? The Scripture accounts us lost many ways.
I. We are lost in our original, as we are all the children and offspring of Adam.
II. Every sin we commit is a farther loss to us. The life of a sinner, it is a continual losing of himself.
III. There is yet a farther loss, that is a loss of sentence and judgment; when a sinner is cast in law, when sentence and condemnation is passed upon him, he hath incurred that heavy curse which God’s law threatens against offenders.
That shuts up all men in condemnation. These three--
I. The loss Of natural corruption.
II. The loss of sinful transgression.
III. The loss of legal malediction. But this loss which St. Paul speaks of, it is the final, irrecoverable loss beyond all redemption. It implies three things.
1. A loss in declaration. They that will not obey the gospel are lost in God’s account and estimation.
2. There is a loss in condition. Such as refuse the gospel, they are in an actual state of perdition “The wrath of God abides upon them” (John 3:36). Those whom the gospel cannot recover, they are undone for ever.
3. There is a loss in destruction. No, if the gospel do not convert thee it will confound thee; it will be either bliss or thy bane; it will either help thee to heaven or sink thee to the bottom of hell. We have seen the doom and censure which the apostle passes upon unbelievers; now let us take notice of--Secondly, the manner of denouncing of it: “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” And for the manner of denouncing this sentence, take notice of three qualifications in it.
I. This form of denouncing of it is hypothetical, by way of supposal only, if there be any such. As if he should say, “It is strange and wonderful that after so much preaching there should any remain ignorant, unteachable, unconverted; it is almost incredible men should neglect so great salvation. Had any other mystery been taught them of less advantage than this mystery of the gospel, would they have continued ignorant of it?
II. This form of denunciation, it is illative, brought in by way of proof and inference. It is not in the nature of an immediate absolute prediction, but by the way of menacing, and upon presupposal of their unbelief.
III. This form of sentence, it is suspensive and general. “If it be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” This thunderbolt hovers over their heads in a dismal cloud of generality. The apostle fastens it upon no man’s person in particular. And so the observation is thus much. That ignorance of the gospel, and unproficiency under the ministry of it, it is a fearful token of perdition, Such an one had need look to himself lest he prove a reprobate. See the truth of this in three particulars; in respect--
1. Of the want of the gospel.
2. Of the neglect of the gospel.
3. Of the rejection of the gospel.
These leave them in a condition of damnation.
1. Single ignorance of Christ’s gospel is damnable. As a man that is sick of a deadly disease, not only the refusal of the sovereign medicine to cure him, but the bare want of it makes him irrecoverable. Ignorance, it is the hold of Satan, where he keeps his captives in chains of darkness.
2. A second point is wilful and careless and supine ignorance, when the gospel is offered and tendered to us that is worse.
3. A third point is obstinate, resolved and final ignorance and contempt of the gospel, it is an infallable mark, an evident token of perdition. Thirdly, to the causes of this their unproficiency. First, of the natural, inbred cause of this unproficiency, that is unbelief. It is that which makes all means of grace unprofitable. An unbelieving heart is unteachable, it frustrates all offers of grace (Hebrews 4:2). This sin of infidelity makes a stop of our conversion at the very beginning, destroys the first conceptions of grace. An unbelieving heart, it is like some ill-conditioned, cold, barren ground, that chills and deads the seed as soon as it is sown. It is a sin to be striven against, because--
I. It is a sin exceeding natural. It was that sin that gave us the first slip in our first fall, when we all fell from God in Adam. And it being the first it became the most natural sin. And this native ill-quality of unbelief shows itself specially in” refusing the gospel. Three reasons of it.
1. The gospel propounds very high, sublime mysteries, truths that are exceeding spiritual and Divine. Now the soul of man by infidelity is so bowed down that it measures all truths by sense, or most by reason. It will not believe God further than it sees Him.
2. The means of salvation which the gospel propounds seems to an unbeliever exceeding unlikely and improbable, and so he refuseth them. Here is the perverseness of infidelity; some things are too high in the gospel, he cannot reach to them; again, some things seem so mean and low, he cannot stoop to them. That our Saviour should be crucified, and by such a death save us, it cannot sink into him. So all the means of grace infidelity judges them poor and contemptible. The preaching of the Word, it is but foolishness to them. The sacraments, how unlikely to be conveyances of grace to us?
3. The heart of every man by nature is full of privy guiltiness, conscious to himself, that all is not well betwixt God and him; and that makes his heart draw back by unbelief and not embrace the gospel. This guiltiness of conscience that God is become our enemy, that heaven and we are at variance, makes a man start and be shy at any appearances of God, at any message or tidings from Him. As an indebted man or malefactor is afraid at the sight of an officer, he thinks he comes to apprehend him, as Ahab was troubled at the sight of the prophet: “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” He looks upon the Scripture, nay, the gospel, as a writ to arrest him. As traitors and rebels that reject pardon they will fight it out, they look for no mercy. That is the first, infidelity is a sin exceeding natural.
II. It is a sin exceeding difficult and hard to be cured. There is no sin more inexpugnable than the sin of infidelity.
1. The long continuance in our nature makes it hardly curable; like a tree deeply rooted, it is hardly digged up.
2. Infidelity is hardly cured, it is a disease of the understanding and rational soul. And rational diseases are most incurable. It is a difficult work to take off a film from the eye. And unbelief, it is a film upon the understanding. Unbelief, it is hardly removed, because it seems to be reasonable. What, will you put out our eyes? bid us believe we know not what? make us go further than reason teaches us?
III. Infidelity, it is a sin exceeding dangerous and pernicious, of great provocation.
1. It is very dangerous. It is seated in the most vital part, in the mind and understanding. An unbeliever errs in the first principles, and so errs more perniciously, as he that mistakes and goes wrong at first setting. It stops our entrance into the Church.
2. It is of greatest provocation. It offers an high contempt to the glory of God. It calls His truth and goodness into question. We come, secondly, to the cause increasing this unproficiency, that is spiritual blindness: “The god of this world hath blinded their minds.”
I. The author of this spiritual blindness is the god of this world. Who is that? It is a high title. So, then, we must make these two inquiries.
1. What is his dominion?
2. What is his deity? It is this world. Here is one word seems to enlarge his dominion, “the world,” a word of wide compass; but here is another word that confines it, it is “this world,” that is a word of limitation. It spoils his divinity to limit him. Ye mar a god, if ye come to confine him. A wicked man’s god is but the god of this world, both for extension and duration. But our God, He is the Lord of heaven and earth, there is the extension; and His dominion is from everlasting to everlasting, there is the duration of His dominion. How, then, is Satan the god of this world?
(1) Take it for the territory, and then I demand, Is Satan indeed the god of this world? Surely, “The world is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” Yet something there is that he bears the sway, carries the name of the god of this world. He is so--
1. By usurpation, like an audacious traitor, that sets himself up against his lawful sovereign, and will order the kingdom without him.
2. By God’s permission.
(2) Take the world for the inhabitants. St. Peter calls it the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5). In that sense especially Satan is the god of this world. Wicked men are called the world.
1. There is a world of them. A few good, very few in respect of the bad, they fill the world.
2. They are called the world, that is their proper element. David calls them “The men of this world, whose portion is in this life.”
3. They are the world, they bear all the sway.
2. The second inquiry is, What is Satan’s deity? How comes Satan to this greatness, to be the god of this world? I answer, he attains to the godship three ways.
(1) By necessary devolution. If the Lord be not our God then Satan will be.
(2) Satan becomes the god of wicked men by their real and voluntary submission to him.
(3) Satan becomes the god of wicked men by God’s just desertion and giving them over. Obstinate sinners God gives over to Satan; He sets Satan to rule and to be effectual in them.
It shows us the great calamity that we bring upon ourselves by departing from the living God.
(1) Wicked men make Satan their master, and themselves his drudges, and that is a base subjection.
(2) Wicked men have a nearer relation, Satan gets greater interest in them; they make themselves his children. A fearful thing to be reckoned Satan’s offspring.
(3) The devil gets a more supreme dominion over them, he becomes their king (John 14:30).
(4) But of all submissions this is the vilest, to set up the devil to be our god. It shows us the high contempt that God suffers from the men of this world. A wicked man, as much as in him lies, puts God out of His throne and places Satan in it. The author of this spiritual blindness is the devil. “The god of this world.”
II. A second thing considerable is the advantage and opportunity that Satan hath in wicked men and unbelievers to blind them, it is by being in them. Iris a speech of very great emphasis, and shows that power Satan hath over the souls of unbelievers--he is in them as in his possession. As those who are sanctified and believe, God’s good Spirit dwells in them. So, on the contrary, every wicked man is the habitation of Satan. Here is the difference betwixt a saint and a sinner. Satan may busy himself about a good man as an assailant, but he hath the full possession of a wicked man as an inhabitant.
III. We proceed to the third particular, that is the mischievous effect which Satan works in them; he strikes them with spiritual blindness; he blinds the minds of unbelievers. That increases their infidelity, makes them uncapable of the mysteries of the gospel, they cannot see the light of it (John 12:37). Will you see the nature of this woeful disposition to be given over to blindness? There be many considerations of it that make it woeful, and those that are under it exceeding miserable.
1. A spiritual evil; and of all evils that can befall us spiritual evils are most grievious. The spirit of a man is the chiefest part of a man. Deformity of body to a sober judgment seems nothing so evil as a deformity in the soul. Bodily blindness is a rueful spectacle, but to have the eye of the soul darkened is much more grievous.
2. Blindness in our minds, it is a woeful blindness. Why the mind it is the highest faculty of the soul of man.
3. This spiritual blindness, it is a just judgment that befalls unbelievers thus to be struck with this woeful blindness. It is most just and suitable to their sin. They will not understand, and therefore they shall not understand. This is the proportion of God’s rewarding and punishing. He rewards our faith with increase of faith, and our good use of grace with more abundant grace. But He punishes the neglect of grace with the loss of grace. He blows out the candle when men will not work by it.
4. This evil, it is the heaviest judgment that can be inflicted, thus to be given over to this spirit of blindness. Oh, it is a heavy judgment not to be able to see Christ and the means of salvation; such a man bears the brand of God’s heavy displeasure. Of all punishments those are the most deadly by which we are given over to sin more wickedly.
5. Spiritual blindness, it is a great evil, it lays us open to all other evils. A man struck with this blindness is prone to fall into the grossest errors, strong delusions, unreasonable apprehensions. Even those truths that they know shall vanish away. Voluntary blindness brings penal blindness. Then the inquiry must be how Satan works this spiritual blindness. First, he doth it not by any violent means. Satan cannot offer any violence to our souls. Secondly, nor can he do it by any immediate action upon our souls, by any intimate real working upon our understandings. The soul of man is out of the reach of Satan. How is it then?
I. He blinds men’s minds by the efficacy of some false persuasions, by which he deludes them. He persuades most men there is no such danger as these preachers do talk of. He persuades men there is no such necessity of knowledge of the gospel as they would bear us in hand. That is the first way, false persuasions.
II. Satan works this blindness in men by the efficacy of errors and deluding superstitions. When he cannot keep religion out of the world, then he bewitches men with erroneous, and false; and superstitious religions.
III. Satan works this blindness by the efficacy of divers lusts that he nourishes in the hearts of men, and they steam up into the understanding, and overcloud and darken it.
IV. It is for some special purpose that here Satan, that is said to blind men’s minds, is called the god of this world. It points us out the main instrument which he uses to work this mischief, and that is the love of this world. He knows full well that the love of the world and the love of religion can never stand together. The bribes of the world will blind the eyes of the wisest men. Satan hath more confidence to keep us off from religion by this love of the world than any other lust. His persuasions drawn from this sin.
1. They are more cunning. He will tell us that the world and the profits of it are real and substantial; you may see it and enjoy it, full bags and full barns. He will tell us that the world and the wealth of it is a present good; here it is, we are sure of it, and you may now presently enjoy it. This sin is more persuasive, because it pleads with appearance of reason.
2. The god of this world hath most confidence in this lust of the world, thereby to blind us to keep men off from religion, because it is a most commanding lust. It bears the greatest sway in a man’s heart more than any other lust. The devil makes the world his viceroy. Now, then, if Satan can get this sin into our hearts, it will bear such sway in our soul that there can be no entrance for Christ or religion. Such a man sees so much in the world that he can see nothing in the gospel. So, then, are unbelievers blinded by Satan, is this their condition? Of it let us make some use.
I. Are unbelievers blind by nature and blinded by Satan? It removes the scandal of the gospel that so few in comparison do embrace it.
II. Are unbelievers blind men? It slights the prejudice that such men have of religion. Are unbelievers worldly men, blinded in matters of religion? Then regard not their judgment, be not troubled at their censures which they pass upon religion. They understand not what they censure, therefore regard them not.
III. Are men that believe not no other than blind men? It should move us to pity them in their errors and mistakes in religion. And, as the effect is mischievous, to strike them with blindness, so his intent is malicious, He blinds their minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. The first thing considerable is, what that is which Satan mainly opposes, that is the gospel. Of all the ways and works of God his greatest spite is against the gospel; his greatest endeavour is to hinder the success of that. And the apostle doth not barely name it, but with a magnificent expression. He calls it “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.”
I. Let us take notice of it as it is a description of gospel. And here observe two things.
1. Paul calls it so. He names it with this addition of excellency, the glorious gospel.
(1) It is the expression of his affection that he bare to the gospel. The honour of the gospel was dear to St. Paul, he could never say enough of it, never sufficiently admire it. There are three things that St. Paul never spake of but with great ravishments of affections.
(2) Jesus Christ.
(3) A second thing which Paul mentions with much affection and delight is free grace (Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:7).
(4) A third thing Paul speaks of with great affection, it is the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:9). And this St. Paul doth both as a Christian and as a minister.
(5) Paul calls it a glorious gospel, in opposition to that contempt which they in Corinth put upon the gospel. They slighted it, they saw no glory nor excellency in it. That is the first, Paul calls it a glorious gospel. And as St. Paul calls it so--
2. The gospel is “a glorious gospel.” So then we have here a magnificent description of the gospel.
(1) Here is the quality, the gospel, it is full of light. That is one degree of dignity in the gospel. It is an excellency. Creatures, the more lightsome they are the more noble they are and of greater dignity. Now what is spiritual light but truth? So then the gospel is a shining light, that is, it is the manifestation of saving truth. The better to conceive that the gospel is light, we may understand it, as light stands in a double opposition.
1. Light is opposite to darkness.
2. Light is opposite to dimness. We live in days of actual truth, saving truth is unveiled to us. If thou missest the way to heaven, thou mayest accuse thine own blindness, thou canst not plead the gospel’s darkness.
(2) Here is the excellency of this quality, it is “glorious.” There is light in a beam of light; but glory, it is the collection of all the beams of light, as when the sun shines forth in his full strength. Indeed light, it is a most glorious creature. Truth, the more clearly it shines, the more fully it is manifested, it is the snore glorious. It is a preposterous way to think to honour truth by concealing of it. Were it not so common, so much preached, it would be more reverenced. Nay, verily, the more it is preached, as it should be, the more the glory of it appears. True worth the more it appears the more it excels. So then the gospel, it is a glorious gospel. Wherein doth the glory of the gospel consist? I reduce it to two heads.
1. The doctrine of the gospel, it is a glorious doctrine, because in it the glory of God is most conspicuous. And wherein God appears most there is most glory. Glory is nothing but the shining forth of His majesty. And as that glorious mystery of the Trinity, so that gracious mystery of redemption, the glory of it shines in the gospel.
2. The gospel, it is a glorious gospel, because the state of the gospel is a glorious state. The Christian Church under the gospel is made exceeding glorious. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, thou city of God.” The prophet Haggai tells us “that Christ, at His coming, will fill His Church with glory.” Glorious privileges, glorious ordinances, glorious endowments; with all these He hath enriched His Church. Our calling to the gospel, it is a glorious calling (2 Peter 1:3). The spirit of the gospel it is termed a spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14). The hope which the gospel propounds to us is a glorious hope (Colossians 1:27).
(3) Here is the derivation of this excellency of the Gospel, from whence it hath all its glory.
A double derivation
(1) Is that which is direct and immediate, that is from Christ. It is the gospel of Christ. That makes it glorious that Christ shines in it (2 Thessalonians 1:8). All other treasures of knowledge, they are but trifles to this great wisdom (Ephesians 3:19). A glorious author makes his work glorious (Galatians 1:11). The second derivation of this glory--
(2) Is mediate, and by reflection from the excellent glory of God the Father. It is the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For better understanding this great mystery, that Christ is the image of God, we must conceive two things are implied in the nature and being of an image. The first is an impression. The second is an expression. In both respects Christ is the image of God. First, take Him in His Divine nature; so He bears upon Him the impression of God. Secondly, take Him in His office, as He is our incarnate Mediator, so He is the lively expression of God the Father, and of His will and pleasure. Take Him in the first respect, so He doth perfectly exemplify Him. Take Him in the second respect, in His office of Mediator, so He doth perfectly notify Him, and fully declare Him. If it be a perfect and exact image, it must be a complete similitude. Not a likeness in some one part or respect only, and defective in the rest, but it must be commensurate and fully equal to that whose image it is. Now, in all these respects to the full Christ, and only Christ, as the second person of the Trinity, is the image of God the Father.
I. Christ is the image of God, He bears His similitude. Indeed, in substance they are both one.
II. Christ is the image of God, such a likeness as is betwixt a father and his own natural and genuine son. The eternal generation of the second person from the first, that is the ground of this derivation. He is therefore like Him, because He is begotten of Him.
III. Christ is the image of God, not only in some general notion, but He is the image of God in His most special and proper being. Not only as God is a substance, so the Son of God is a substance; nor only as God is a spirit, so His Son is a spirit; but He is the image of God, as He is God, the holy and Divine nature of the Godhead as communicated to Him.
IV. Christ is the adequate, exact, and complete image of God. All the excellencies and perfections of God are entirely in Christ. All the glory of God the Father is communicated to His Son. Equality of nature requires equality of glory (John 5:23). That is the first consideration of Christ’s being God’s image, as an image betokens an impression, and so doth exemplify. Secondly, an image serves for expression, it is of use to notify and make known that thing whose image it is. As the former belonged to His person, so this shows us the office of Christ. Wouldst thou acquaint thyself with God? Behold Him shining in His Son Christ as His living image (John 14:8). So then, from this description of the gospel, take notice of these two corollaries. First, take notice of the truth and blessedness of our Christian religion. Secondly, let us take notice of the reason of Satan’s opposing. The gospel is a most glorious image of God, and therefore the devil do so much malign it. He is the prince of darkness, and is an enemy to any light, but his main spite is at the light of the gospel. First, he can better endure the light of nature, that is a dim light, and imperfect. Secondly, there is another light which Satan can better endure, that is the light of the law. Sunder it from the gospel, it is but a dead letter. Thirdly, this expression is purposed as an aggravation of the great sin of rejecting the gospel. It puts upon this sin a threefold aggravation. First, it makes it a most audacious presumptuous sin. Dost thou offer contempt to the gospel? Thou offerest contempt to Christ, to God Himself, who shine forth in the gospel and offer themselves to thee. Secondly, it makes a sin inexcusable. He that opposes the gospel sins against a clear, glorious light. Such cannot plead ignorance. Thirdly, it makes it to be a malicious sin, and of the greatest impiety. Why so? Because it opposes the glory of God that wherein God’s glory doth shine most clearly. Secondly, what is the opposition he makes against it? What is the course he takes to hinder it? It is by keeping the world in desperate ignorance and obstinate infidelity. Satan had other practices to hinder it, as--
I. Falsifications of truth by heresies.
II. False imputations by slanders and infamy.
III. Persecutions by bloodshed and all kind of cruelty.
But the main engine is infidelity. Thirdly, what is the end of Satan’s opposition? That the light of the gospel of Christ should not shine unto them. Satan envies the world the benefits of this blessed light which is shed abroad by the gospel. What are they? Take these four.
I. This light of the gospel, it is “The light of life” (John 8:12). It is a quickening and enlivening light. That makes Satan malign and oppose it. The region of death, that is the territory of Satan. The gospel recovers us out of that woeful condition and restores us to life.
II. This light of the gospel, it is a discovering light. It lays open all the impostures of Satan. That wisdom detects his impostures, and that makes him envy it.
III. This light of the gospel, it is a light to direct and guide our feet into the ways of peace. It makes our way to heaven plain before us.
IV. The light of the gospel, it is a refreshing, cheering, and comforting light, and that Satan envies us. Light and gladness, darkness and sadness, they go together. Now the gospel ever brings joy with it. (Bp. Brownrigg.)
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.--
The thwarting tendency in life
There are two very curious tendencies in the development of human character which always give interest to the study of our individual life.
1. The first of these is the thwarting tendency, or the appearance of the unlooked-for in our human nature. Children grow up to a certain age, when suddenly some strange and unlooked-for tendency asserts itself. It is like some blight, or seam, or gnarled deformity in a tree, or plant, or flower. Right across our hopes, and prayers, and efforts this thwarting power appears. But this strange, mysterious, thwarting tendency--be it from inheritance, be it from habit, or be it from the devil--makes itself felt in our daily lives! It hangs about us like a fog; it pollutes us; it laughs at our bondage to the flesh. Our nature suffers an eclipse from it; the evolution of our characters is imperfect; the revelation of God to us is hidden under the presence of this infirmity. We are lost in the growth of something which once was not in us, but which has after a while appeared!
2. The other tendency of our nature is the “blinding tendency.” A very curious study of human character is this shutting of the eyes to the unwelcome facts and truths which face us in our daily life, and this leaping through the dark into nowhere, or else into ruin. The social world of to-day is filled with these moral wrecks. These, then are the two tendencies which help to spoil our spiritual nature in the fight of life. The first is the thwarting tendency from without; the second is the blinding tendency from within. Before this thwarting principle gains greater headway, before this blinding principle puts out the light of Jesus Christ in our lives, I beg you, struggling, tempted fellow-sufferers in the discipline of existence, to get our souls out of the ruts of indifference, indecision, and decay. Do not let this growth of your evil nature choke that seed of immortality which you feel at times is within you. Do not let the brute god of this world blind your eyes. (W. Wilberforce Newton.)
The mind blinded against the light
I. The gospel as light.
1. Light penetrates, so does the gospel (Hebrews 4:12). We all know the difficulty of excluding light. If there be a crevice, however small, light will enter. And so man may despise the truth, may hate it, as Ahab hated Micaiah, the preacher of the truth; but, if it be the Lord’s will, He will find some crevice in the heart through which the light of the gospel will penetrate.
2. Light enables us to see (Ephesians 5:13; cf. Psalms 119:113). The gospel--
(1) Opens up to us the nature of sin. Men do not really know what sin is, except by the Word of God.
(2) Enlightens us upon the remedy for sin. Man would have found out the atonement except it had been revealed in the gospel.
(3) Shows how sin may be overcome.
3. Light has a guiding power--so that by it we may know our way. Just as a light carried before us in the dark night is “a light unto our feet, and a lamp unto our path,” so the gospel shows us Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
4. But the text tells us that the gospel is a glorious light, because--
(1) Of its author--God.
(2) Of its substance--Jesus, “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.”
(3) It opens up to us all the glorious riches of Christ.
II. The great hindrance to the reception of the gospel. “The god of this world.” While the gospel shows us Christ in all His beauty, it leads us also to see clearly what Satan is. Now Satan employs a variety of means; therefore, “be not ignorant of his devices,” which are--
1. Pride. You look within and say, “Men are not so bad as they are described”; and as for the commandments, “All these things I have kept from my youth up.” Pride is that shutter put up by the devil to keep the light of the truth from entering your hearts.
2. Prejudice against the gospel.
3. Evil passions.
III. How the hindrance may be removed.
1. Satan, “a strong man armed,” who keeps what he has just as long as he can--not as long as he would. All depends, therefore, upon our finding a “stronger than he.” I look, therefore, for Him who “is light”; and I know that the Spirit of God can open my eyes, and make me see that light which is able to set me free, and deliver me from the power of Satan.
2. If you are really desirous of having the light, go and plead God’s promises in prayer.
3. If you want now to receive the gospel, exertion on your own part is necessary. “Awake thou that sleepest,” etc. (Bp. Montagu Villiers.)
The blinded ones
1. These are awful words--a hidden gospel! a lost soul!
2. The expression “hid,” signifies veiled, or covered over. It was probably suggested by the language of the preceding chapter. The will of God, under the Mosaic dispensation, was revealed through types and shadows, but that veil is done away in Christ.
3. But if the gospel be so clear, how is it that so many who hear it continue unenlightened and unbelieving? The answer is, the veil is no longer upon the dispensation, but upon the heart. Bug from whence comes this veil on the heart? The text gives the answer, they are blinded by the devil! Note--
I. The characters spoken of. They are “lost.”
1. What are meant by the lost?
(1) Not those who are now in hell. True, they are lost; but not in the sense in which the term is used in the text.
(2) But to those who are alive now, who are spiritually dead; alive, but perishing. The same expression is made use of, and in the same sense, in Matthew 10:6; Luke 15:4; Luke 19:10. Then, by the lost are meant--
(1) All who have not come to Christ. Coming to Christ is the first step towards salvation.
(2) All the unconverted. I speak thus widely because it embraces every shade and degree of sinner out of Christ.
(3) All unbelievers. “Them which believe not.” Now, under this character may be classed--
(a) The unbelieving Jews, who still reject the Lord of glory as their Messiah (John 8:24).
(b) All who do not savingly believe in Christ. There is a vast difference between belief and saving belief. We may believe Christ to be the Saviour of sinners, and yet know nothing of Him as our individual Saviour.
II. Their awful condition.
1. “They forsake their own mercies.” Awful thought! to exclude oneself from mercy, to reject the only Friend who can extend mercy to us. Jesus seeks the lost.
2. Their ignorance of it. They are like a blind man on the brink of an awful precipice, ignorant of their danger, although the very next step may plunge them into irretrievable ruin, both of body and soul.
3. Abiding wrath, at any moment, may become executed wrath.
III. The cause of their awful condition.
1. Who is the person who blinds the minds of them which believe not. “The god of this world” (John 12:31; John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2). The name is given him, not because he has any of the attributes of God, but because he actually has the homage of the men of this world; and though they do not worship him in words, yet they do so practically, by pursuing his plans, yielding to his temptations, and by submitting to his rule. But will Satan be “the god of this world” for ever? No! His time is limited, and he knows it (Revelation 11:15).
2. What is the particular character under which Satan is represented? “The blinder of them which believe not.” He blinds--
(1) By not permitting the word to take root in the unbeliever’s heart (Mark 4:3-4; Mark 4:14-15).
(2) By producing a disproportionate view of the value of objects. A very small object will obscure the light of the sun; and a very small object will hide from us the light of the Sun of Righteousness. Satan therefore places between the unbelieving and the glory of the gospel the things of a perishing world. We have a remarkable illustration of this in the case of the young man in the gospel, who asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
(3) By representing in a false light the effects of the gospel on mankind. He insinuates that to be religious is to be melancholy. This is as false as its author. It is living in sin which causes real unhappiness. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” True, Satan may make sin pleasant now, hiding from the eyes of the perishing its awful consequences; but, too, on the other hand, the gospel is glad tidings of great joy.
(4) By making men love sin. Consequently, they cannot see the beauty of holiness.
3. The design for which Satan blinds the minds of men. “Lest the light of the glorious gospel,” etc.
(1) There is implied here that the gospel is God’s instrument for the salvation of men. There is not one now in glory who was not saved by means of the gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”
(2) See now, more especially, Satan’s design to hide this gospel from perishing men.
(a) His craftiness. Satan dreads the gospel; he knows that the gospel and himself cannot reign in the same heart; that just as the natural sun scatters the shades of night, so does the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, received into the heart, dispel the darkness in which he has enveloped the soul. Hence he seeks to prevent this light shining into the souls of his victims. He tries to make them believe that there is no devil, no hell.
(b) His hatred. His object is to destroy the soul, and therefore he places every possible obstacle in the way of a sinner’s conversion; he hides from him the light of the gospel, that he may perish. (A. W. Snape, M. A.)
I. The gospel is the true lighthouse. First, then, the gospel is the true lighthouse. The gospel, like its glorious Author, is the light of the world.
II. By whose agency is this light hid from any? “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” How does Satan seek to hide the light?
1. By a show of wisdom. He endeavours to persuade such that the light of reason and conscience is sufficient.
2. But there are others, and these are the young, especially, who are blindfolded by Satan with a show, not of wisdom, but enjoyment. Satan endeavours to prove that the world can yield all the happiness they want, and that religion tends only to mar it.
3. But there are others more advanced in life, who are engrossed and distracted with manifold cares and anxieties, and earnest pursuit of earthly things.
III. The state of those from whom the gospel is hid. They are said, here, to be lost, as if they were already lost, because they are as good as lost--“He that believeth not is condemned already.” As we would say of a ship, drifting with the wind and tide towards a ledge of rocks, she is lost, although she has not yet struck; even so, we cannot but say of every unconverted impenitent soul, that he is a lost man. (H. Verschoyle.)
Unbelieving men blinded
I. Satan’s formidable title. “The god of this world.”
1. Elsewhere he is called “the prince of this world.” He and his allies are denominated “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” This designation belongs to a personal being. The devil is no mere power or principle of evil. When he is named here “god,” it is not in the strict sense of the term, but because he possesses a god-like authority, and receives a god-like submission. The sphere of his dominion is “this world.” There it is that he reigns and ravages.
2. But remember--
(1) His power is not supreme. There is a Lord above Satan. The Maker of this world is its real Monarch.
(2) His power is not legitimate. It has its origin in usurpation. It is founded on fraud, conspiracy, rebellion. Jesus had not to satisfy but to vanquish the devil, and this He did pre-eminently upon the Cross.
II. His fatal work. “Hath blinded the minds of them that believe not.”
1. He has blinded the minds of all natural men by the sin into which he seduced the race at first. But not satisfied with that old and far-reaching achievement of his, he carries on a constant, present process of blinding in the case of all thus brought under his terrible power, By error, sin, and ten thousand devices suited to the characters and circumstances of his victims, he withdraws them ever farther from the perception and appreciation of spiritual truths and objects. He rears up vast systems of darkness and delusion, under the influence of which the minds and hearts of millions are brought into a state of the most absolute and abject bondage. And his efforts are very specially directed against those who are surrounded by the light and plied with the overtures of the gospel. There is reason to fear that the light may break in, revealing their real condition, and leading on to their deliverance. Hence he blinds them by every method he can devise, and often in ways the direct opposite of each other.
(1) Thus he does it alternately by ignorance and knowledge.
(a) By ignorance. He shuts men out, if he possibly can, from all acquaintance with the gospel. He keeps from as many as he can the benefits of a Christian education--all religious teaching; and what he cannot prevent he labours to weaken and neutralise. He leaves no lights burning which he can extinguish; and when he is unable to put them out, he is an adept at dimming their brightness.
(b) But when he cannot exclude knowledge, he skilfully turns it into an instrument of his own purposes. How many does he bewilder, blind, and destroy by means of a boasted science and philosophy! Frequently, the higher persons rise in mere mental gifts, the lower do they sink in spiritual capacities and tastes.
(2) He does it alternately by worldliness and godliness.
(a) How does worldliness often put out any eyes the poor soul ever had! The eager pursuit of business or pleasure has a strongly carnalising, corrupting influence.
(b) And, stranger far, he does the same by godliness--that is, godliness in its profession and forms, not, of course, in its power. The shadow is put for the substance, the appearance for the reality; and by such means the devil’s purpose is effectually served.
2. This blinding is here attributed to Satan, the god of this world, but the subjects of it are not mere helpless victims, they are active co-operators. They are to be pitied, but they are also to be blamed. The devil has a terrific power, but, in a sense, he has none except what we ourselves give him. He cannot blind us against our wills.
III. His malignant purpose. “Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ,” etc.
1. Light here denotes light shining out with radiant lustre. There is not only light latent in the gospel, but light streaming out, and falling on all who hear it preached, or are otherwise brought into contact with the truth--light pouring around them as from a spiritual orb, and ready to pour into them, but for the internal barriers which are placed in its way--the blindness of mind and heart which shuts out all its brightness from the darkened bosom. The gospel is well entitled to be thus characterised. It is glorious, because it contains and reveals the glory of Christ, its great author and subject. It is full of His excellence; it is radiant with His brightness. It all treats of Him--His person, His offices, His work; and in every part of it we meet with His Divine lustre. Take Him out of it--His deity, His atonement, His righteousness, His Spirit, His distinctive features and actings--and you leave it a hollow, dark, worthless thing, a casket from which the jewels have been stolen, a sun from which the light has departed, turning it into a black, charred, unsightly mass of dead matter.
2. Now, Satan’s object is to prevent this light from shining into men, into their darkened minds and hearts; for this is what saves, overthrows his kingdom, deprives him of his subjects. It is the light of life quickening the soul, in the moment of its entrance with the power of the Spirit. And in how many is the dark design of this world’s god realised. It is so in the case of all the unbelieving, and who can tell their number? Alas! the blind are walking around us, sitting among us in our houses and churches. Are we blind also?
3. Mark here that, to be effectual, the gospel must shine into us. It is a great blessing to have it pouring its light around us--making known to us the way of salvation, and inviting us to enter on that way. But it can benefit us really and eternally, only by breaking through the barriers of ignorance, pride, and worldliness, and penetrating the hidden chambers, the deepest and darkest recesses of our being. (J. Adam, D. D.)
The gospel and its adversaries
I. The representation given of Christ. “The image of God” (Hebrews 1:3). This representation is not a solitary one.
1. The allusion is to the Divine nature of Christ, especially with reference to the incarnation. What an “image of God” Christ was in all His movements! Who can read those movements without being constrained to say, This is some person higher than a creature!
2. The subject throws great light on the truthfulness and the inspiration of the N.T. writers. They who could describe such a character as Christ, “the image of God,” must have been inspired by God, no uninspired men could write such a character. Heathens tried to do something in this way; but their deities were the personifications of wickedness.
3. Do you love this Christ--this “image of God”? Have you embraced Him? Have you gratefully acknowledged Him as your Saviour and King?
II. The description given of the work of Christ. “The light of the glorious gospel.”
1. The meaning of gospel is “glad tidings.” In the Saxon there was but one word for “God” and “good.” God is goodness, and there is none good but God. Then the expression “spell,” is not only news or tidings, but an attraction or charm. The gospel is God’s charm, God’s spell, or gospel. Indeed, it ought to act as a charm, for unless the Son of God had died, you must have been ruined.
2. The expression “glorious” may mean--
(1) “Brilliant,” because it is a striking description of the character of Godhead. Nowhere have we such an exhibition of, e.g., God’s justice, as the sufferings and death of Christ, “the image of God.” But the gospel is “glorious,” not because it brightens one attribute of deity, but because it shows forth all His attributes, His greatness, righteousness, truth, and also His grace, lovingkindness, and compassion.
(2) Excellency displayed--something super-excellent; nothing could ever be conceived like the gospel. Look at--
(a) Its design--to save poor sinners from impurity, and raise them to holiness; from wretchedness, and to raise them to happiness for ever.
(b) Its results. It is true the proud and the haughty reject it, but the poor are blessed by it; the man who feels himself a sinner is blessed by it.
3. The glorious gospel of Christ is the great light--it is a light to the sinner’s wants and necessities--it empties him of all self-dependence, and points to Christ as one who can fill the soul with pardon and peace.
III. The dangerous hindrances in the way. The devil acts by means of sin and temptation; he has been nearly six thousand years practising upon our race--so that he knows our weak points. Note a few of the many ways in which he makes his attacks.
1. By positive and direct influences.
2. By indirect agency--
(1) By encouraging infidel philosophy.
(2) By the encouragement of false religion. If men will not do without Christianity, he will try and make them accept of a false system.
(3) By representing things in undue proportions. He exaggerates the difficulties in the way of a godly life, and flatters the pleasures of a sinful.
(4) By stimulating men’s passions. One man is fond of pleasure, another of society, and another of amassing property, etc.
(5) But the great hindrance, “unbelief.” “The mind of them that believe not.” (H. Allen, D. D.)
The glorious gospel of Christ.--
The glorious gospel
All the works of God are glorious.
I. The gospel of christ. Notice--
1. The gospel, or the glad tidings of salvation (Luke 2:10).
2. It is designated the gospel of Christ. Sometimes called the “gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). “Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). “Gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 24:14). “Gospel of peace.” It is emphatically the gospel of Christ..
(1) As Christ is its author.
(2) He is the subject of the gospel.
(3) He is the great end of the gospel. The gospel is designed to make known Christ--to exalt Christ--to attract the souls to Christ.
II. Its glory. “The glorious gospel of Christ.” The gospel is glorious--
1. In the discoveries it reveals.
2. In the benefits it confers.
3. In the influence which it imparts.
(1) A holy influence.
(2) A happy influence.
(3) An exalting influence.
(4) A supporting influence.
4. On account of the discoveries which it unfolds.
This glorious gospel is--
1. The great theme of evangelical preaching.
2. The only hope of the guilty sinner.
3. And the joy and transport of the humble believer.
4. He who believeth it shall be saved--the unbeliever will most certainly perish. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Christ who is the image of God.--
The image of the invisible God
I. Christ, by the eye of faith, is apprehended as “the image of the invisible God.” “No man hath seen God at any time.” Yet a vision of God is a vital necessity for the soul. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Christ, however, is only “seen” by faith.
II. Through the medium of his history.
1. By immutable facts.
2. By its uniqueness. Among all histories that of Christ stands alone--
(1) In moral sublimity.
(2) In loftiness of endeavour.
(3) In spiritual power.
3. By the agency of the Holy Spirit. Whence comes the faith which removes the veil and floods the soul with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”? (Homilist.)
2 Corinthians 4:5-6
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.
The Christian ministry and its message
I. The true position of the Christian minister--his relation to those to whom he ministers--is here clearly set forth as--
1. A position of humble servitude. “We preach … ourselves as your servants (lit., bondservants).” He cannot preach Christ effectively who has not first learned the spirit of Christ--the spirit of complete self-sacrifice and self-abasement. He Himself, though Lord of all, took upon Himself the form of a servant. The service of the servants of God means the dedication of the inner man. The fetters of Christ are upon his heart.
2. But, on the other hand, the position of the Christian minister, as here indicated, is one of noble independence. “Your servants for Jesus’ sake (lit., on behalf of Jesus).” To the preacher the exhortation comes with special force, “One is your Master, even Christ.” And this complete independence of the Christian minister is absolutely essential to the faithful discharge of his duties. He is not set to please men. For only in liberty can he be strong, and only in bondage to Christ can he be free.
II. The subject-matter of the message; or, the preacher’s only theme. “We preach … Christ Jesus the Lord.”
1. Observe the uncompromising exclusiveness of this theme. It is a theme which must never be relinquished, or even temporarily lost sight of. Nothing else must ever be allowed to take its place. The subject-matter of the message is not morality; it is neither duty nor dogma, but Christ Jesus the Lord.
2. But although this theme is exclusive it is by no means narrow. I ask you to note its infinite comprehensiveness. It is not morality, yet it is all morality. It is not duty, yet it includes every duty. It is not dogma, yet it comprises the entire circle of Divine doctrine. In Christ there is the fulness of manhood, as welt as the fulness of the Godhead; and out of His fulness may we all receive encouragement and helpfulness in every circumstance of life.
III. The preacher’s high responsibility. “Not ourselves.” (J. Pollock.)
An apostolic ministry
I. The subject-matter of the apostle’s ministry--Christ Jesus the Lord. Wherever he went he preached nothing else. There are some who say that there is a certain style of preaching for the poor and unlearned, and a different style for the cultivated. But Paul preached the same gospel in Athens and Jerusalem. He preached Jesus as the Christ--the Messiah predicted in the O.T., and typified by the ceremonies of the Mosaic economy. He preached Jesus as the Messiah whom the world at that time felt convinced that they needed. He preached Him also as the Prophet and the Priest, and the King of His Church. He preached Him further in the dignity of His person, and in the combination of two natures represented in one person. He preached Christ in the grandeur of His miracles, in His wondrous atonement, in all the purity and power of His righteousness. He preached Him as the Lord of the conscience. We preach Him, then, as the Lord in every sense of the term--the Lord over the body as well as the soul. The Lord over our conscience, over our property, of our hopes, of our love and desires; the Lord of our future, and the Lord of our confidence here. Our Lord in times of prosperity and in times of trial, in times of joy, and when on a sick-bed; in the dying moment, at the day of judgment, and in eternity.
II. His mode. Paul regarded himself as the servant of the Church. The minister of religion should give to the Church, first of all, the entire of his time and ability, and should be with his people in times of trial, and especially in times of affliction. The minister has to do many things that other men will not do, and perhaps are not called upon to do. Let us look at--
III. His motive. I am Christ’s ambassador, and for His sake I will be your servant. (H. Allon, D. D.)
Self disclaimed and Christ exalted
I. What that selfishness is which the apostle here disclaims, etc.
1. It is not that regular self-love that induces ministers to zeal and faithfulness in the discharge of their sacred trust, from the consideration of future rewards and punishments.
2. This disclaiming ourselves does not imply a total disregard to our reputation and character among men, for on this the success of our ministry, and consequently the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, may in some measure depend.
But, positively, the selfishness here disclaimed is, in general, that which stands in direct opposition to the honour of God and the interest of Jesus Christ, which sets up self in the place of God in our estimation, affections, intentions, and pursuits.
1. Then ministers may be said to preach themselves when the matter of their public preaching is such as tends rather to promote self-honour and self-interest than the honour of God and the interest of Jesus Christ.
2. This selfishness respects the form as well as the matter of our preaching--i.e., the governing principle from which we act in our public ministry, and the ultimate end we have in view. And this is doubtless the principal thing here intended; for, be the matter of our preaching ever so good, yet self may be the root of it all, and the object of our principal aim.
II. To consider some of the operations of this corrupt principle in those particular instances that tend to discover its reigning dominion. A faithful discharge of this important trust requires more self-denial than any employment under the sun, yet there are many things in the sacred office that may be alluring baits to men of corrupt minds. A life of study, and an opportunity to furnish the mind with the various improvements of human science, may be an inducement to those who have a turn for speculation, and would be willing to shine in literature, from mere selfish principles, to undertake the ministry. And as these undertake the sacred employment for themselves, and not for God, so they will ever “preach themselves, and not Christ Jesus the Lord.” And, when self has done its work in their study, and made their sermon, it will attend them even to the pulpit, and there it will form their very countenance and gesture, and modulate their voice, and animate their delivery. And when the sermon is ended self goes home with the preacher, and makes him much more solicitous to know whether he is applauded than whether he has prevailed for the conversion of souls. Sometimes this selfish disposition will work up envious thoughts against all those who they imagine stand in their light, or, by out-shining them, eclipse their glory, and hinder the progress of their idolised reputation.
III. What it is to preach christ. “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” As it respects the matter, it includes in general the whole sum of gospel doctrine relating to man’s salvation by Jesus Christ--the original contrivance, the meritorious imputation, and actual application of it, through His blood and spirit. But particularly--
1. To preach Christ is to hold Him forth, not merely as a lawgiver, to be obeyed, but chiefly as a law-fulfiller, to be believed in for pardon, righteousness, and everlasting life.
2. To preach Christ is to exhibit to view His infinite Divine fulness and the freeness of His unbounded grace, His almighty power to save, and His willingness to exert that power.
3. To preach Christ is to make Him the grand centre of all the variety of subjects we enter upon in the whole credenda and agenda of religion. As to the formal manner, it implies that we aim at the honour of Christ and the advancement of His interest. Let me now endeavour to improve this subject by an inference or two from each of the principal foregoing heads, and then conclude with a particular application.
1. If ministers are not to preach or to seek themselves in the execution of the sacred office, then none can ever discharge this important trust acceptably in the sight of God who are under the reigning dominion of mercenary and selfish principles.
2. If the business of gospel ministers be to preach Christ, hence see the honour and dignity of their office. Let us guard against that fear of man which selfishness would prompt us to. If the reigning dominion of selfishness is inconsistent with a ministerial, it is equally inconsistent with a truly Christian, character. (D. Bestwick, M. A.)
Christ the supreme theme of a gospel ministry
I. That to preach Christ Jesus the Lord is the distinguishing characteristic and proper employment of a gospel minister. It may be affirmed that something concerning Christ hath been the principal subject of every revelation that came from God, downward from the original promise made to our first parents (Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:10). And if Christ was an object of such importance to those who lived before His manifestation in the flesh, it cannot surprise us to find that they who could testify that He was come, and had finished the work that was given Him to do, should in all their writings and discourses dwell upon Him as their constant theme. But what are we to understand by preaching Christ?
1. It plainly imports that we make Christ the principal subject of our sermons.
2. To preach Christ Jesus the Lord is to handle every other subject of discourse in such a way as to keep Christ continually in the eye of our hearers. We must acknowledge Him as the author of the truths we deliver, and improve them so as to lead men to Him. The apostles introduced upon all occasions the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, both into their discourses and epistles, and never failed to press the duties they enjoined by those regards which are due to Christ Himself. Thus humility and self-denial are recommended by the lowliness and patience of Christ. Husbands are charged to love their wives, “as Christ loved His Church.”
3. To preach Christ Jesus the Lord is to make the advancement of His kingdom and the salvation of men the sole aim of our preaching.
II. That preaching Christ is the proper business and the distinguishing characteristic of a gospel minister. Can anything be more reasonable than that they who profess to derive their authority from Christ should make Him the principal subject of their sermons, and recommend Him to the esteem and love of their hearers? But what I would chiefly observe is that preaching Christ Jesus the Lord is the great means which God hath appointed for the conversion of sinners; and therefore it is not only highly reasonable, but absolutely necessary. (R. Walker.)
Self rejected and Christ exalted
I. What we do not preach. “Ourselves.”
1. This practice is prevalent, and ought to be censured. Men preach themselves when they preach--
(1) Only to promote their own interest.
(2) Only to display their own talents.
(3) Only to maintain some particular system, regardless of the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls.
2. This practice is not apostolical, and should be avoided.
(1) Was emolument their object? “Silver and gold,” said they, “we have none.”
(2) Did they seek the applause of men? They were content to be “esteemed as the filth of the earth,” etc.
(3) Were they ambitious to display their own talents? “We came to you, not with excellency of speech,” etc.
(4) Had they a system of their own to establish--any human institutions to contend for? No. “We determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
3. This practice is ruinous, and ought to be condemned. It is, indeed, to defeat the very design of the gospel, and entails eternal ruin on those who persist in it.
II. What we do preach. “Christ Jesus the Lord.” How wide the extreme! From an object the most contemptible we turn to one the most dignified.
1. What is implied in preaching Christ Jesus the Lord?
(1) That His person and work be the principal subject of our preaching. It is not enough that we speak of Him occasionally. He must be the Alpha and the Omega. In every science there are first and general principles to which every teacher of that science constantly refers; and the first principles of the science which is to make men wise unto salvation are found in the scheme of redemption.
(2) That His glory must be the aim and the end of our preaching. Our own glory is to be placed quite out of the question; nor must we seek to please men, “for,” saith the apostle, “if I seek to please men I should not be the servant of Christ.” His own glory is the great end which God has in view in all His works. It is impossible it should be otherwise. What is the great end of all the works of creation? “For Thy glory they were and are created.” What is His great object in the government of the world? That He may direct everything to the grand consummation of that day in which the whole scheme of His moral government shall be accomplished. But what is the glory of creation and providence compared with that which shines in the great work of redemption? Hence--
2. The absolute necessity of thus preaching Christ in order to attain the great object of our ministry.
(1) It is the only object for which it has been appointed. Suppose, instead of setting up the brazen serpent, Moses had elevated a figure of himself, not many only, but all the people, would have perished.
(2) Its peculiar adaptation to all the purposes of our ministry proves the necessity of preaching Christ Jesus the Lord.
(a) Do we attempt to awaken the sinner, to arouse the careless? Shall we have recourse to moral suasion? Shall we exhibit the enormities of vice and the beauties of virtue, or the punishment due to the one and the rewards promised to the other? Alas! the moral history of the world is but a uniform record of the inefficacy of these efforts. But he who is insensible to every other attraction, and resists every other impression, is often affected by aa exhibition of the Cross.
(b) By what means shall we administer consolation to the wounded spirit? Palliatives may be easily found. Hence the complaint, “They have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly.” But has the arrow of conviction pierced the conscience? What can effect a cure but the balm in Gilead, applied by the hand of the Physician there?
(c) Do we seek to promote the edification, the holiness, the comfort of believers? These objects will be attained only as we preach “Christ Jesus the Lord.” That knowledge which is unto salvation is the knowledge of Him (John 17:3). Your holiness consists in conformity to His image. Comfort can only be given by Him who is the consolation of Israel.
(3) It is to secure the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, without which our ministry must be altogether ineffectual. Success depends upon His influence. “He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you.” Conclusion: We are taught from this subject--
1. The intrinsic value of the Christian ministry is to be estimated by the degree of attention it pays to the Redeemer, and the place which it assigns to Him, in the discharge of its functions. Rank, intellectual endowment, literary attainment, graces of oratory, are only subservient to the nobler pursuits of the Christian minister.
2. As it is the duty of ministers to preach Christ Jesus the Lord, it is equally the duty of those who hear to receive Him. Without this, the most eminent ministry will be in vain.
3. Are you willing to receive Him? He is willing to receive you. “He waiteth to be gracious.”
4. Have you received Him? Remember your obligations, and seek to glorify Him.
5. The certain perdition of all who reject Christ. (J. Hunt.)
Christ as Lord
1. “We preach.” Preaching is a peculiar function. No other religion but Christianity has preaching in it. It is not discussion or mere explanation; it is the proclamation of gospel truth in such a way that the lives of men may be made Christian. The Christian preacher must never wear a muzzle. He must pray for boldness, and his hearers must above all ask God to give him this gift. The surgeon needs a firm hand to perform an operation; the captain needs a clear utterance to keep the vessel’s head well to the storm.
2. “We preach not ourselves.” Preachers may have some influence, but it is absolutely of no worth if it glorifies the man. People soon tire of a prophet whose prophecy is only about himself or in his own name. If he gain influence, it is through his service.
3. Is tie, then, to be a kind of spiritual servant of all work? No; he is your servant for Jesus’ sake. An ambassador is a servant that waits in a foreign court; but it is to do the will of the monarch who sent him. Now, what is the substance of the message which a Christian preacher has to bring? “Christ Jesus as Lord.” We preach--
I. The Divine personality in Christ. Man’s greatest need is to see God. All Biblical history is a series of pathways leading to God. And if this be so the Bible was leading through the O.T. to Christ. All the history of God’s dealings with men sums itself up in Christ as Lord. If all men need to see God, the proof that Christ is God will be this that men do actually see God when Christ is preached to them. The real proofs of Christ’s Divinity are in the spiritual experiences of men who love Christ.
1. Christ legislates as God. When men hear Him they feel He speaks with authority. The world knows in its heart that it would be a Godlike world if it would but listen to Jesus.
2. He judges like God. He divides man from man, nation from nation, Church from Church, with unerring vision.
3. He loves like God. If He loves only Peter and James and John, what thanks has He, for these love Him in return? But when He loves Judas, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, and the poor dying thief, then men feel that a new manifestation of Divine love has come to them.
II. The Divine propitiation through Christ. When Paul first went to Corinth he made a special resolution--“to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” And there are people in all our large cities who need such a treatment as this to-day, because Christ crucified meets their central want. It is not that they do not want good books, music, politics, houses, etc., but the want that towers over all is that they want a Saviour. If man is morally diseased he needs a remedy, and that remedy is in Christ, who was crucified on the Cross for our sins. The word “propitiation” refers to Christ’s death, whereby God’s mercy is brought to us as sinners. But “mercy” is a very humbling word. Yet, when conviction has been brought home to us that we are guilty, it is the one word out of God’s rich vocabulary that we most of all need. “Mercy” is a twofold word.
1. It is a cry. You are labouring under one fell complaint, and you must cry for help. The prisoner has had a fair trial, and his guilt has been brought home to him. You are that prisoner.
2. It is an offer. The sick man need not die, for the Good Physician has come; the prisoner need not suffer, for Christ has borne the burden and curse of his sin.
III. The Divine sovereignty in Christ. “Christ Jesus as Lord.” We are apt to let this idea slip out of our conceptions of evangelical religion. As soon as we have apprehended Christ as Saviour, we suppose sometimes that the work is done, whereas it is but just begun. Christ is Saviour in order that He may be King. If Christ does not rule men He has failed in the purpose that called Him here. Christ is Lord of man; Lord of the woman; Lord of the child; Lord of the home, determining its expenditure, its giving, its habits, its prayers, and its purposes; Lord of the Church; Lord of the state, decreeing justice to all, bringing law into harmony with Divine teaching; Lord of the world, driving back the darkness, destroying false religion, bringing in the true, making earth like heaven. That lordship of Christ will not let us put on our religion and put it off like our Sunday clothes. It calls upon Christians to be the subjects of Christ everywhere--to obey Christ in business, in the home, in politics, in reading, in talking, in amusements, in social life, in crying, in laughing, in giving, in dying. There is a majesty about this name that men have not yet felt. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
For Jesus’ sake.--
The great argument
1. A melting argument. Of all the arguments that address the emotional nature of man, none can have such force as that which addresses him by the love of God--“For Jesus’ sake.”
2. A winning argument. It does not repel the soul; it draws it. It does not compel it unwillingly; it is an argument of love that wins a willing mind. Are you a man or woman of taste? If you will own the truth, that Jesus is the author of all the beauties that salute your senses, not only as the Creator, “without whom was not anything made that was made,” but as the Redeemer, without whose sacrifice the human race would not have any more blessings than the fallen angels had, then all the separate beauties of art and nature will be so many alluring voices to win you to Jesus. Are you a man or woman of intellectual acquirement? Go through the round of human studies. Revel in all the glories of the visible creation and of mind, and while you are doing it rise to the dignity of the fact that the master mind of your Creator--Redeemer--was the glorious model in which all these magnificent things were east, and how will you be allured to give yourself up to the worship and service of your blessed Master!
3. A commanding argument. Oh, there is that in the offices of our Redeemer, as governor of the nations and judge of the race, that invests the argument of our text with a commanding power which nothing can equal!
4. A comforting argument. “For Jesus’ sake” has brought the sublimest joys that earth ever witnessed, even amid the deepest distresses that earth ever endured.
5. An ennobling argument.
6. An all-embracing argument.
7. A comprehensive argument. It appeals to us to forsake all sin. “For Jesus’ sake” let us put away all sin. It appeals to us to perform all duty. (N. D. Williamson.)
For God, who commanded the light to shine, hath shined in our hearts.--
True soul light
There are two lights in the soul. There is--
1. The “light of nature.” This consists of those moral intuitions which heaven implanted within us at first. These intuitions are good enough for angels, did for Adam before he fell, but now, through sin, they are so blunt and dim that the soul is in moral darkness.
2. The light of the gospel. This comes because the light of nature is all but gone out, and this is the light to which the text refers.
I. It emanates from the highest source. “God.” The reference is to Genesis 1:3. It reminds us--
1. Of antecedent darkness. The state of the soul before this light enters it is analogous to the state of the earth before God kindled the lights of the firmament.
2. Of almighty sovereignty. “Let light be, and light was.” The luminaries of the firmament were kindled by the free, uncontrolled, almighty power of God. So it is with real spiritual light. It comes because God wills it.
II. It reveals the grandest subject. “The knowledge of the glory of God.” Gospel light entering the soul makes God visible as the eternal reality and the fountain of being, and the source of all blessedness. Where this gospel light is not the soul either ignores or denies Him, or at most speculates about Him, and at best has now and then flitting visions.
III. It streams through the sublimest medium. “In the face of Jesus Christ.” In the person of Christ the glory of God shone clearly, and the divinity appeared without a veil. This light coming through Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, is--
1. True light. He is the truth.
2. Softened light. The soul could not stand the light coming directly from the infinite source--it is too dazzling.
3. Quickening light. It falls on the soul like the sunbeam on the seed quickening into life. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. Its necessity.
1. When God viewed the earth it was formless and void, “and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” So, when He comes to the soul, He sees it full of disorder and ignorance.
(1) It is hard to determine at what period idolatry commenced. But there were “lords many and gods many.” As the object of worship was misunderstood, so the service rendered Him was no longer a reasonable service. Even human blood streamed upon their altars.
(2) Some acknowledge this to be a just statement of the ‘heathen world, but will not allow it as regards nations blessed with the gospel. But are men secure from error and delusion in a land of vision? Do we not often see their ignorance in their views of the evil of sin and of the way of salvation--in their subjection to the world and their disaffection to God? The rays of the sun may shine around a man, while yet, because of his blindness, he may grope in darkness at noonday. We may be delivered from gross idolatry, and yet indulge in a more relined species of it, and which is equally destructive to the soul. Many make “gold their hope, and fine gold their confidence.”
2. But this knowledge, of which we are destitute, is indispensable. “For the soul to be without knowledge,” says Solomon, “it is not good”; it is like the body without the eye, or the earth without the sun. The devil maintains his empire by error, but God maintains His cause by truth. One reigns in a kingdom of darkness, the other in a kingdom of light. All God’s operations in His people are begun and carried on in the illumination of the mind. Repentance, faith, patience, courage, love, result from, and are influenced by, just views of things, which supply what we call motives.
II. Its medium “The face of Jesus Christ” (John 1:18); He declared Him, not only by the doctrines He taught, but by the work to which He was appointed, and by His temper, His life, His character. If we would know what God is, we must learn of Him “who went about doing good,” and who said to Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Hence He is called “the image of the invisible God, the brightness of His glory,” etc.
1. Much of God is indeed displayed in the works of nature.
2. It is in Christ that we see the glory of God without being dazzled to death by the effulgence. There it is approachable, inviting. There we have the only discovery of Him that could meet our case.
III. Its residence--the heart. We may perish not only by ignorance, but by knowledge. The head may be clear while the heart is cold. The knowledge of which the apostle speaks is distinguishable from mere opinion and speculation; it has to do with the heart. It affects it--
1. In a way of godly sorrow. There is a “broken heart” which “God will not despise,” and here it is produced. “They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced,” etc.
2. In a way of desire. The man longs to appropriate what he discovers. It is called “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”
3. In a way of complacency. The believer not only submits, but acquiesces. His necessity is his choice.
4. In a way of gratitude. We love Him because He first loved us, and cannot but ask, What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards us?
IV. Its author--God Himself. When Peter had made a good confession, our Lord said to him, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” The same may be said of every enlightened sinner. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” The nature, efficacy, blessedness of this knowledge prove it to be of a Divine original. And to this every believer readily subscribes. (W. Jay.)
To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.--
The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ
I. The subject of that knowledge in which Paul delighted--God. A most needful knowledge. For a man not to know his Maker is deplorable. The proper study of mankind is God. Paul does not mean the knowledge of the existence or character of God; he had known that from the O.T. before his conversion. He meant that now he knew God in a clearer and surer way, for he had seen Him in the person of Christ. He had also received the knowledge of “the glory of God.” He had seen that glory in creation and in the law; but now, beyond all else, he had come to perceive it in the face, or person, of Jesus Christ, and this had won his soul. Consider this glory in the face of Jesus Christ--
1. Historically. In every incident of His life God is seen.
(1) At Bethlehem I perceive a choice glory, for God despises the pomp which little minds esteem so highly. The glory of God in Christ asks no aid from the splendour of courts and palaces. Yet mark how the Magi and the shepherds hasten to salute the new-born King.
(2) In the temple. What wisdom there was in that Child! “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
(3) In the carpenter’s shop. See there how God can wait! We should have hastened to begin our life-work long before.
(4) In His public ministry. Behold, while He feeds five thousand, the glory of God in the commissariat of the universe. See Him cast out devils, and learn the Divine power over evil. Hear Him raise the dead, and reverence the Divine prerogative to kill and to make alive. Hear how He speaks and infallibly reveals the truth, and you will perceive the God of knowledge to whom the wise-hearted owe their instruction. When He receives sinners, what is this but the Lord God, merciful and gracious?
(5) But never did the love of God reveal itself so clearly as when He laid down His life; nor did the justice of God ever flame forth as when He would suffer rather than sin should go unpunished and the law be dishonoured.
(6) In His resurrection He spoiled principalities and powers, led death captive, and rifled the tomb.
(7) In His ascension His Godhead was conspicuous, for He again put on the glory which He had with the Father or ever the world was.
(8) In heaven they never conceive of Jesus apart from the Divine glory which perpetually surrounds Him.
(9) The glory of God will most abundantly be seen in the second advent.
2. By way of observation. In the material universe the reverent mind perceives enough of the glory of God to constrain worship, and yet after a while it pines for more. Even when your thought sweeps round the stars, and circumnavigates space, you feel that even the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. In Christ, however, you have a mirror equal to the reflection of the eternal face, for “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” He is the image of God. In the person of Jesus we see the glory of God--
(1) In the veiling of His splendour. The Lord is not eager to display Himself. “Verily thou art a God that hidest Thyself.” God’s glory in the field of creation is as a light shaded to suit the human eye, and in the face of Christ it is so. How softly breaks the Divine glory through His human life! When Moses’ face shone the people could not look thereon, but when Jesus came from His transfiguration the people ran to Him and saluted Him. In Him we see God to the full, but the Deity so mildly beams through the medium of human flesh that mortal man may look and live.
(2) In the wondrous blending of the attributes, behold His mercy, for He dies for sinners; but see His justice, for He sits as judge of quick and dead. Observe His immutability, for He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and see His power, for His voice shakes not only earth, but also heaven. See how infinite is His love, for He espouses His chosen; but how terrible His wrath, for He consumes His adversaries.
(3) In the outgoing of His great heart; for He is altogether unselfish and unsparingly communicative. We may conceive a period when the Eternal dwelt alone. He must have been inconceivably blessed; but He was not content to enjoy perfect bliss alone. He began to create, and probably formed innumerable beings long before this world came into existence; and He did this that He might multiply beings capable of happiness. This is His glory, and is it not to be seen most evidently in Christ, who “saved others, Himself He could not save”? Neither in life nor in death did Christ live within Himself; He lived for His people, and died for them.
(4) There are two things I have noticed in the glory of God. I have stood upon a lofty hill and looked abroad upon the landscape--
(a) I have felt the outflow of Deity. Even as the sun pours himself over all things, so does God; and in the hum of an insect, as well as in the crash of a thunderbolt, we hear a voice saying, “God is here.” Is not this the feeling of the heart in the presence of Christ? Is not He to us the everybody, the one only person of His age? I cannot think of Caesar or Rome, or all the myriads that dwell on the earth, as being anything more than small figures in the background of the picture when Jesus is before me.
(b) I also have felt the indrawing of all things towards God as steps to His throne, and every tree and hill has seemed to return to Him from whom it came. Is it not just so in the life of Christ? “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.”
3. By way of experience. Have you ever heard Christ’s doctrine in your soul? If so, you have felt it to be Divine. Has your heart heard the voice of Christ speaking peace and pardon through the blood? If so, you have known Him to be Lord of all. There are times when the elevating influence of the presence of Christ has put His Godhead beyond the possibility of question.
II. The nature of this knowledge. How, and in what respects, do we know the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?
1. By faith. Upon the testimony of the Word we believe that God is in Christ. The Lord hath said, “This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him” (1 John 5:20).
2. By consideration and meditation. The more carefully we pay attention to the four evangelists the more is our understanding persuaded that no mere man stands before us.
3. By inward consciousness. We have come into contact with Christ, and have known, therefore, that He is God. We love Him, and we also love God, and we perceive that these two are one. It is by the heart that we know God and Christ, and as our affections are purified we become sensible of God’s presence in Christ.
4. Moreover, as we look at our Lord we begin to grow like Him. Our beholding Him has purified the eye which has gazed on His purity. The light of the sun blinds us, but the light of Jesus strengthens the eye.
III. The means of this knowledge.
1. Why did not everybody see the glory of God in Christ when He was here? Answer: It mattereth not how brightly the sun shineth among blind men. Now, the human heart is blind, and, moreover, there is a god of this world, the prince of darkness, who confirms the natural darkness of the human mind. He blinds men’s minds with error, ignorance, or pride. As only the pure iii heart can see God, we, being impure in heart, could not see God in Christ What, then, hath happened to us? That same God who said, “Light be,” and light was, hath shined into our hearts.
2. Do you see the glory of God in Christ? Then let that sight be an evidence to you of your salvation. When our Lord asked, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And our Lord replied, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in heaven.” “No man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost.” “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”
IV. The responsibilities of this knowledge. Some expositors make the verse run thus: “God … hath shined in our hearts, that we might give out again the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Never is a gleam of light given to any man to hide away. Only think of a person, when his room is full of sunlight, saying to his servant, “Close the shutters, and let us keep this precious light to ourselves,” So, when a child of God gets the light from Christ’s face, he must not say, “I shall keep this to myself,” for that would shut it out. No; you have the light that you may reflect it. If you have learned the truth, make it plain to others. Let Jesus manifest Himself in His own light; do not cast a light on Him, or attempt to show the sun with a candle. Do not aim at converting men to your views, but let the light shine for itself and work its own way. Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say “How bright he is!” but that they, getting the light, may rejoice in the source from which it came to you and to them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ
“The light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” A question arises as to the meaning of this expression. The knowledge of God is here metaphorically represented to be light. Now, as light, in Scripture language, is an emblem of purity, and as the glory of God is just the manifestation of the Divine character and attributes, the meaning of the whole expression, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” will be the correct knowledge; viewed in reference to ourselves, the correct and clear apprehension of the Divine character and attributes. This, the text tells us, is obtained in the face of Jesus Christ.
I. We are to consider this knowledge in the medium of its manifestation.
1. And here I would observe, this knowledge is gloriously manifested in the person of Christ. It is true that the whole universe manifests forth the glory of God. In all that He does He shows Himself to be inconceivably wise and good and great and excellent. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” But how vastly are these views of the Divine character strengthened, extended, and intensified by contemplating the glorious person of Jesus! Why, the gospel narratives furnish a convincing proof of their truth and inspiration merely from the fact of the moral grandeur with which they invest the person of Jesus.
2. I observe, further, that the knowledge of God is gloriously manifested in the doctrine of Christ. There is, so to speak, a heartfelt harmony between the person of Christ and the doctrines which He taught. The manifold excellences which encircle the former find their appropriate expression in the sublime benevolence which forms the very essence of the latter.
3. I observe, finally, that the knowledge of God is gloriously manifested in the work of Christ. The work of Christ is the foundation of the doctrines which He taught. Moreover, the benevolence of this work is equalled by the vastness of its aims. Where can the knowledge of God be more gloriously manifested than in the work of the incarnate Son? Here we see God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, seeing He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin.
II. Consider this knowledge in regard to the object on which it operates--the heart.
1. And here I remark that it operates on the heart first in the way of illumination--it makes the heart acquainted with itself. To make the heart acquainted with itself is no easy task. Indeed, the difficulties to be encountered in a work of this kind are, to a merely human power, entirely insurmountable, for the heart has no desire to be acquainted with itself, but, instead of this, the most sensitive aversion to everything like self-knowledge. But this is not all. It invariably resorts to those shifts and expedients which serve to make the light little better than darkness. How often do we find, when examining ourselves, that our hearts interpose to exhibit everything through a false and flattering medium. And there is no difficulty in accounting for this. Knowledge, which is external to ourselves, flatters our vanity, raises us in the eyes of our neighbours, and adds to our importance in the world. But a severe and searching inquiry into the state of our own hearts wounds our pride and lowers us in our own esteem. Now, it is upon this dark, deceitful heart that the knowledge of God operates. It may be asked, What effect does this revelation to him of the state of his heart have upon the sinner? The sinner trembles as he sees the sentence of condemnation which his conscience, now thoroughly aroused, writes on the scroll of his spiritual vision as in characters of fire; and, however self-satisfied he might formerly have been, now that he sees himself in the light of Divine truth, he readily confesses with Job, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I say unto Thee?”
2. I remark, further, this knowledge operates upon the heart in the way of purification. “The man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” Every follower of Christ must strive to be like Him--like Him in benevolence and benignity of character; like Him in purity and elevation of soul; like Him in thought, feeling, and action; like Him in all those qualities which constitute His true and proper humanity--“till he come through the unity of the faith to the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the fulness of Christ Jesus.”
III. Consider this knowledge in relation to its author--“God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,”
1. Now, in a certain sense God is the author of all things in relation to us. He made us, and not we ourselves. Our circumstances in life, our natural endowments, our means of instruction and improvement, and, as a consequence, our position in and influence upon the world, fall out according to the wise and beneficent arrangements of His providence. But while, in relation to these matters, God may be said to act by natural established laws, in certain other things in relation to us He acts by a direct creative act of His almighty power. It is “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” who shines in our hearts. In this descriptive appellation of God the apostle refers to the grandest exhibition of almighty power the universe ever beheld.
2. Further, the Divine authorship of this knowledge is apparent from its nature. You cannot more surely trace a ray of light to its source in the sun than you can trace the moral lineaments of that Being who is holy, wise, just, and good, in the revelation which He has given of Himself in Jesus Christ. The Divine authorship of any work is held to be proved when the means by which it is brought about are, humanly speaking, inadequate to the ends in view. Where are these conditions more amply fulfilled than in the revelation which God has given of Himself in Christ Jesus? Why, the work to be done is confessedly the most difficult in the world.
3. Finally, the Divine authorship of this knowledge is apparent by the blessedness its possession brings. This blessedness is altogether of a singular kind. It is singular as to its origin. It is not produced by the most fortunate collusion of outward circumstances, neither is it affected by the discontinuance of these. The world cannot give it, and the world cannot take it away. I would call upon all of you to remember that by nature we are all ignorant of the knowledge referred to in the text. God’s willingness to impart the knowledge of Himself, and the preciousness of this knowledge. Note the apostle’s language here. He does not state it as a thing that may be, or a thing that will be, but he states it as a thing that has actually occurred God hath shined in our hearts. (J. Imrie, M. A.)
God’s glory in Christ
1. In order to the perception of God’s material creation, two things are indispensable--the presence of light and the possession of an eye as the perceiving power or medium. So, in order to the knowledge of the highest spiritual truth, there must be a revelation and an appropriate organ or state of the soul. “Spiritual things” are “spiritually discerned.”
2. But reference is not merely to the receiving, but also to the imparting, of light. See preceding verses and chap.
3. “If we appear to be the speakers, it is nevertheless Christ, who works by us, and who inwardly enlightens us, in order that we should enlighten others.” Nor need we confine the design of such enlightenment to apostles or ministers. Every Christian is to be a “light-giver in the world.” Observe--
I. That the glory of God is most clearly and fully revealed in the face of Christ. In Christ we behold--
1. The real and direct expression of God. In nature we have the indirect--in the ancient modes of revelation the typical--expressions of God, in Christ the direct and true.
2. The Divine excellences embodied in a living person. The attributes of God, considered abstractly, have little influence compared with that exerted by their personal embodiment in Jesus Christ.
3. The expression of the Divine perfections in their human form--perfections which, from their very glory and exaltation, we regard as beyond our imitation. In Christ, however, we see holiness, not merely in conjunction with infinite power, but in human circumstances, contending with human weakness and difficulties. And then His love--how human, tender, touching! He reveals the heart of God.
4. The perfect blending of all God’s attributes in beautiful harmony. In other revelations of God you have the divided, and sometimes distorted, beam; here, in the face of Christ, shines the pure and perfect light.
II. That God gives a state of soul adapted to receive and realise His glory in the face of Christ.
1. The appropriate state of soul is specially a heart preparation. “In our hearts.” Unlike other truths, which need to be understood in order to be loved, religious truths require to be loved in order to be known. How can the carnal mind, at enmity with God, perceive the beauty of holiness, or the narrow, selfish heart realise a love which is as wide as the world, which stoops from the highest glory to the deepest abasement, and gives itself forth unto death that others might have eternal life? The heart must be opened, purged, clear, to receive the light of the knowledge of Christ.
2. Such preparation is a great and Divine work. No mere resolutions or arguments can accomplish the new creation in the soul. Gently and almost unconsciously are men often led to behold the glory of God in Christ, as the eyelids unclose beneath the brightening beams of morning.
III. That the purpose for which God gives His light to some is that they may impart it to others.
1. The fact of our having received light enables us to impart it; and the more we receive, the more shall we be able to give.
2. This fact also renders it a most solemn duty, incumbent on all who have received the truth, to impart it to others.
3. And should we not, too, by dwelling on the glory of God in Christ, be inspired with motives sufficiently strong to bear us through all the difficulties attending the endeavour to diffuse the truth? (B. Dale, M. A.)
The face of Jesus Christ
1. How much is contained in the face of Jesus Christ? Everything--the glory of God, for Christ is the Son of God; all that pertains to ideal humanity, for Christ is true man; the history of everything pertaining to redemption is written there.
2. The Bible is a photographic album. It is full of faces taken from God’s camera. Chief among these is the face of Jesus. It is a remarkable thing that nowhere have we any clue to Christ’s physical identity. We have no portrait of His person, nor have we any authentic description of it. Coins and statues reveal the features of some contemporaries of Jesus, and history gives pen-pictures of Socrates, etc.; but of Him, the one historic personage of whose form and face the whole world most desires some knowledge, there is not a trace in the Bible.
3. Why this absence of Christ in marble or on canvas? Why this silence of inspired biographers? I believe it was from God. God sets Christ forth as man, and not as any particular man, so that He may not be localised.
4. We are satisfied with this way of presenting the face of Jesus Christ. While we do not have His features, we have His mind, His moral qualities, His spiritual nature. After all, is it not the aim of true art to set forth these qualities? A true artist is not satisfied with putting mere physical beauty upon the canvas. Let us turn the pages of the Bible album and look into some of the faces of Jesus Christ. There is--
I. The heroic face (Luke 9:41).
1. That face turned Jerusalem-ward is a mirror. He kept His face fronting awful realities. That fixed face ought to move our souls, and react in our fidelity to Him and His cause.
2. Do not undervalue His heroism as seen in this face. He did not find it easy to walk to Jerusalem. The shrinking of His sensitive humanity stood in the way. The words imply a desperate conflict, and victory won only by means of it.
3. This heroic face helps to set forth the fierceness of the battle of Calvary, which He won as our champion.
II. The face bruised by human contempt and intolerance. This picture is a revelation of the patience of Jesus. He was keenly sensitive, and yet He bore all this indignity without a murmur.
III. The face in the dust (Matthew 26:39). Gethsemane was to the prostrate form Calvary before its time. Gethsemane means simply Christ shrinking from sin.
IV. The face awfully marred (Isaiah 53:1-12.). This is the face of Christ when sin and suffering have completed their work. The hand of time takes the human face and works into it every experience through which the man passes, just as the sculptor works his thoughts into a piece of marble. His earthly career was enough to mar any face, and especially a face which belonged to a nature so exquisitely constructed.
V. The transfigured face. This revelation is better than the face of God in nature. When we look into the face of history the different attributes of God seem to clash; but in the life of Jesus all the attributes of God are brought into play, and they work together in perfect harmony.
VI. The face in the white throne. We can only recognise the fact that this face is there.
VII. The flashing face amid the golden candlesticks (Revelation 1:1-20.). In the face buried in the dust we saw a reflection of the dark past; in the flashing face amid the golden candlesticks we see a reflection of the glorious future. Conclusion:
1. Our treatment of the face of Jesus Christ is an index of our character. Among our privileges is access to the face of Jesus Christ. If we avail ourselves of this privilege we indicate a familiarity with Christ, and a knowledge of Christ, and a desire and a love toward Christ. We indicate that we are born from above and are the sons of God.
2. The face of Christ affords an inexhaustible and soul-satisfying study. Looking forward to his awakening from the grave, the Hebrew poet sings, “As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” The highest prayer which Christ found it possible to pray for us was, “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory.” (D. Gregg.)
The face of Jesus
Let us consider this as--
I. Grandly typical. Of what? Of the family of Mary? No. Of the tribe of Judah from which He sprang? No. Of the Jewish race? Nay, for He was less a Jew than a man. The appellation by which He designates Himself about sixty-six times is “Son of Man,” as if the blood of the whole human race was in His veins.
1. His face had no distinct, narrow, national type. Grecian, Roman, Syrian, Jew, ever bore the distinctive features of their age and nation. Not so with Christ. The whole world can claim kindred here and have the claim allowed. In His heart there is room for all; in His atoning blood there is merit for all.
2. His face typified the ideal man. He was “fairer than the children of men,” the perfect type of moral and spiritual excellency. Our best aspirations can never go beyond the infinite heights of holiness upon which He trod. The face of man is an index to his character. Place a light within a marble vase, and it becomes translucent. Let holy principles dwell within a man, and they will give an expression to the face. But on no human face yet were all excellences ever expressed. One has patience, another generosity, another gentleness, another boldness. But from the countenance of Jesus there beamed forth every ray from a full-orbed and complete character. His heart was bold as a lion’s, yet gentle as a lamb’s.
II. Touchingly historical. It doubtless laughed in infancy upon a mother’s breast. To behold it sages travelled far, and lowly shepherds bowed before it with reverence and awe. When Simeon beheld it, he said, “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” In the temple doctors gazed upon His face with wonder. From before it devils fled in fear, while poor sufferers sought it, finding it to be like a rising sun with healing in its beams. Often and often during the night-watches was it upturned for hours in prayer. Three times at least was it bedewed with tears. The fiendish mob spat in it and smote it, which indignity He bore with Godlike fortitude (Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 53:4). On the Mount “His face did shine as the sun,” but on the Cross unutterable anguish found dread expression there. And yet, to hearts instructed as to the cause of this grief, that fair face was never more lovely than when ploughed with furrows and stained with blood. A mother, young and beautiful, once dashed into the flames of a burning chamber, and thus saved her child; but to her dying day she bore in charred cheeks the effects of that awful moment. But who shall say her face, to husband and child at least, was not more beautiful than before? In rescuing us the face of Jesus became more marred than that of any man, and to those who know His love His face of sorrow is resplendent with the glory of God. Yet that face is very different now (Revelation 1:1-20.). It is the light of heaven, and all who trust and follow Him shall see it. Underneath the thin veil which covered the Athenian Jove, the worshippers could see the sharp outline of his countenance and some of his more prominent features. But on the festive days, when he was uncovered, and the sun shone upon that magnificent statue, women fell down fainting, and strong men were overcome; hence the proverb that was circulated through Greece … Unhappy is the man that has not seen the Athenian Jove.” Whatever veil of flesh or sense hides from us the face of our Well-Beloved, the day is coming when it shall be taken away, and as we gaze we shall feel, “Unhappy they who have not seen Thy face.” And yet, under one aspect or another, all must see it; “for every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him.”
III. Instructively beautiful. “The glory of God” was the specific name for the Shekinah, and by it we understand the pouring out from Himself of the perfectness and beauty of His own character. The glory of God may be said to bear a similar relation to “the Father of lights” as the rays of the sun bear to the great orb of day. By “the face of Jesus” we need not necessarily understand His countenance, for in Scripture the face is often taken to mean the person (Exodus 33:14). The text means that the perfections of the Divine nature were in the person of Jesus. Never had these been manifested so clearly, so fully, as now. Notwithstanding the wonderful disclosures of the Deity under the old dispensation, Jehovah was still a God that did hide Himself. But all the fulness of the Godhead was in Christ. In Christ we have--
1. Deity sweetly conspicuous. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” The Divine indignation against sin, the Divine love for humanity, the gentleness, patience, and mercy of God are more fully revealed to us in Christ than in all other revelations combined.
2. Deity sweetly attractive. The glory of God as seen in nature and providence often repels by its awful majesty. But in Jesus we see His glory in a human face--a face so gentle that children might well be attracted to it, and the most timid natures feel safe in its presence. (W. Williams.)
2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.
The treasure in earthen vessels
I. Compares the ministers of the gospel to earthen vessels, A vessel contains what is put into it. The vessels of the temple were some of gold, others of silver, and they were consecrated to God. In the most ancient times there were vessels of gold. This may remind you of Enoch. It must have seemed strange to observe one so much devoted to God as he was. He persuaded few. The treasure then, as now, was little esteemed. Silver vessels may represent the prophets. As the vessels of silver were the ornaments of the sanctuary, so were the prophets the ornaments of the Church. Earthen vessels may represent the weakness of man.
II. The gospel is compared to a treasure. The gospel finds man in a state of poverty, and he must remain in the same state unless enriched by it. The gospel is a treasure that the soul can enjoy. The gospel is a treasure which the thief cannot touch. The gospel is a treasure which will not leave the Christian at death.
III. The gospel gains glory from the meanness of the vessels in which it is contained. It is wonderful that such a treasure is in earthen vessels, because it exceeds the expectation of men. God is more observed when the instrument is weak. Such as are furnished with this treasure ascribe it all to the goodness of God. We shall now make a few inferences.
1. Is it so, that there is a treasure? Then it requires diligence to secure it. No man succeeds in this world who is not active.
2. Is it so, that there is a treasure? Then take heed that you do not despise it. When the Spaniards conquered South America, they made it evident that they adored its gold, and they practised every exertion to obtain it. Let the Christian show that he values the heavenly treasure by his diligence in seeking it.
3. Is it so, that this treasure may be obtained by all? Then value it. It is not in the power of all to be rich. (W. Syme.)
Divine power illustrated by the triumphs of the gospel
God designs His glory as the result of the instrumentality He employs. What apparently could be more visionary than the design of Moses to deliver the Israelites? But God chose to illustrate His power by “leading His people like a flock by the hands of Moses and Aaron.” But the twelve fishermen of Galilee appeared, in fanaticism, to exceed all their predecessors. But ere they died they had filled the world with their doctrine.
I. It states an important fact. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.”
1. The depositaries of Divine truth. Need I specify the truths of which they were made the depositaries? They received “Christ crucified”; they were put “in charge of the gospel”; the doctrine of man’s ruin by nature, and his recovery by sovereign grace. These truths are beautifully styled a treasure.
(1) Think on their value.
(2) Think on their magnitude.
(3) Think on their permanence.
There is a sense, peculiar to the apostles, in which they were made the depositaries of this treasure. Most of them had been admitted to personal converse with the Lord of heaven; the Spirit had taken of the things of Christ and showed to them what they had heard.
2. The instruments of Divine agency. “That the power may be of God.” All believers have this invaluable treasure, but to some it is committed with a more extensive design than to others. Jehovah’s wise and gracious plan is that of co-operation, and when He blesses any being it is to make him a blessing. Thus the world of grace corresponds with that of nature. The sun has the treasure of light and heat. Why? That he may shine--may display the glory of God, and show through nature His handy work; may fertilise the ground--may illuminate the system, and shed a lustre which some of tim receivers shall again reflect. The recommendation of Divine truth, according to the station which we fill, necessarily results, not only from the Divine appointment, but from the knowledge of the truth itself. It is a treasure which cannot be concealed.
3. The occasions of Divine glory. “The power”--“the excellence of the power”--reminds us that something worthy of God is produced. What has been the effect upon society. In the metaphorical language of Scripture, “the wilderness and the solitary place was glad for them, and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose.”
II. As the statement of a principle which religion will improve. The excellence of the power is of God. Let us consider it--
1. With reference to God. He will be acknowledged; He has written His name in all His hands have made. Jehovah’s eternal praise is to result from the redemption of a lost world. By it His nature is exhibited, His perfections are displayed, His government is illustrated. By this method He impresses us with the nature and importance of salvation; for we see the necessity of His immediate agency to effect it.
2. With reference to ourselves. “The excellency of the power” is “of God, and not of us.” This conviction is calculated to qualify for the engagement. It is adapted--
(1) To keep us humble.
(2) Therefore the conviction is further calculated to keep us near to Himself.
(3) This principle, further, will prevent our discouragement. “Therefore, seeing, we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.”
3. With reference to our hearers.
(1) It wilt produce in them satisfaction with our message. They will remember that our doctrine and our reproofs are not ours, bug His that sent us.
(2) Again, the belief of the truth in our text will induce our hearers to aid us--to aid us by their prayers. (J. Innes.)
The gospel treasure in earthen vessels
I. The gospel as a treasure.
1. There are on earth many mines of material treasures, but the mine which contains this is the Word. Here are contained all things which “are profitable.”
2. But while this treasure is spiritual, it is invaluable. “Man knoweth not the price thereof, neither is it found in the land of the living.” And if you ask for the evidence of this, you may see the price that it cost--not silver and gold, but the precious blood of Christ.
3. Spiritual and invaluable as it is, it is an obtained treasure. “We have it.”
II. This treasure is deposited “in earthen vessels.”
III. This treasure is contained in earthen vessels to show that the power is Divine.
1. When God predicted the success of the gospel, He said, “My Word shall not return unto Me void.” When the apostles looked upon their hearers, they said, “The power is of God.” And even now, when the gospel is preached, that mind which authority could not govern, nor vengeance terrify--how often has it been carried captive by Christ! And how excellent is this power! It keeps the heart and mind in the knowledge of Jesus Christ; it is a good hope through grace.
2. Now, had an angel been the depository of this treasure, we might have been ready to give praise to the angel’s eloquence and power; but it is not so now, “for God,” saith the apostle, “hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (J. Alexander.)
The gospel treasure
I. That the gospel of Christ is a treasure indeed, and it is our unspeakable privilege that we have that treasure. The gospel of Christ is indeed a treasure, for--
1. There is in it an abundance of that which is of inestimable value. “The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal them, the onyx, or the sapphire” (Job 28:19). There are treasures of wisdom and knowledge in the truths which the gospel discovers to us. There are treasures of comfort and joy in the offers which the gospel makes us, and the blessings it assures to all believers. These are things of value to the soul of man. And there is an abundance of them, infinitely exceeding that of light in the sun or water in the sea. In Christ there is enough of all that our souls need.
2. This is safely laid up for a perpetuity, and therefore it is a treasure. It is deposited in good hands. It is hid in God--in His wisdom and counsel. It is hid in Christ and in His undertaking for us, which contain all that we need as sinners. It is hid in the Scripture. There it may be found; thence it may be fetched by faith acting on Divine revelation, assenting to it with application and resignation. It is a treasure, for it is laid up for hereafter. The bulk of these riches is that which is reserved in heaven for us--a glory that is to be revealed in due time.
3. It is of universal use to us, and therefore it is a treasure. It is not only valuable in itself, but every way suitable and serviceable to us. It is a treasure in the world; it puts honour upon it, and puts good into it. It is a treasure to any nation or people. It is a treasure in the heart of every true believer who receives it.
II. Ministers are earthen vessels in whom this treasure is put. They are said to have this treasure, not only because they ought to have it in their hearts themselves firmly to believe it, but because they have the dispensing of it to others.
1. They are but vessels that afford no more, no other, than what is put into them, nor can give but just as they have received. God is the fountain of light and life. Ministers must remember this and religiously adhere to their instructions. People must remember this, and not expect more from their ministers than from vessels. We have a gospel to preach, not a gospel to make.
2. They are but earthen vessels. Some think here is an allusion to Gideon’s soldiers, who, advancing to battle in the night, took lamps in their earthen pitchers, with the glaring light of which, upon breaking the pitchers, the enemy was discomfited. By such unlikely methods is Christ’s cause carried on, and yet is victorious. Let us see why the ministers of the gospel are here compared to earthen vessels.
(1) They are made of the same mould with other people. All the children of men are earthen vessels; the body is the vessel of the soul, and it is of the earth, earthy. We are not only children of men, as you are, but we are by nature children of wrath, even as others.
(2) They are oftentimes, in respect of their outward condition, mean and low and of small account, as earthen vessels are not only men, but men of low degree, sons of earth, as the Hebrew phrase is. Their family, perhaps, like Gideon’s, poor in Manasseh. The first preachers of the gospel were poor fishermen--earthen vessels indeed--bred up to the sea.
(3) They are subject to many infirmities, to like passions as other men, and upon that account they are earthen vessels; they have their faults, their blemishes, as earthen vessels have.
(4) They are made of different sorts of earth, as earthen vessels are--all of the same nature, but not all of the same natural constitution. The bodies of some are of a stronger make, and more cut out for labour, while others are feeble, and soon foiled. But those of the finest mould, even the china vessels, are but earthen ones. A great deal of difference there is likewise between some and others of those earthen vessels in respect of natural temper; some are more bold, others more timorous; some more warm and eager, others more soft and gentle.
(5) They are of different shapes and sizes, as earthen vessels, notwithstanding which they may all receive and minister the treasure according to their different capacities.
(6) They are all what God, the great potter, makes them. Therefore we ought not to envy the gifts of those who excel us.
(7) They are all vessels of use and service in the family, though they are but earthen ones.
(8) They are oftentimes despised by men, notwithstanding the honour God has put upon them, and are thrown by as broken vessels in which is no pleasure. It has often been the lot of some of the most faithful ministers of Christ to be loaded with reproach.
(9) They are frail and mortal and dying, and upon that account they are earthen vessels. Thus the apostle explains it here: “We which live are always delivered unto death.” They are worn out with their labours, and are spent in the service of Christ and souls.
III. God has put the treasure of the gospel into earthen vessels that the divine power which goes along with the gospel may be so much the more glorified. The great design of the everlasting gospel is to bring men to fear God and give glory to Him. There was an excellency of power going along with the apostles which appeared to be of God, and not of themselves.
1. To strengthen them for the work they were employed in. To preach down Judaism and paganism, and to preach up the kingdom of a crucified Jesus, was a service that required a far greater strength, both of judgment and resolution, than the apostles had of themselves.
2. To support them under the hardships that were put upon them.
3. To give them success in that great work to which they were called.
Now for the application of this.
1. It may be many ways instructive to us who are ministers, and may remind us of our duty.
(1) Are we earthen vessels? Then we have reason to be very humble and low in our own eyes, and to take great care that we never think of ourselves above what is meet, but always think soberly.
(2) Are we earthen vessels? Then let us not be indulgent of our bodies, nor of their ease or appetites. What needs so much ado about an earthen vessel when, after all our pains about it, we cannot alter the property of it.
(3) Are we earthen vessels? Then let us not be empty vessels. A vessel of gold or silver is of considerable value though it be empty; but an earthen vessel, if empty, is good for little, but is thrown among the lumber.
(4) Are we earthen vessels? Then let us be clean vessels.
(5) Are we earthen vessels? Then let us take heed of dashing one against another, for nothing can be of more fatal consequence than that to earthen vessels--no, nor to the treasure that is deposited in them.
(6) Are we earthen vessels? Then let us bear reproach with patience, and not think it strange, or fret at it.
(7) Are we earthen vessels? Then let us often think of being broken and laid aside, and prepare accordingly.
2. This doctrine may be of use to you all. Are your ministers earthen vessels?
(1) Thank God for the gospel treasure, though it be put into earthen vessels--nay, thank God that it is in such vessels, that it may be the more within your reach.
(2) Esteem the earthen vessels for the treasure’s sake that is put into them.
(3) Bless God that the breaking of the earthen vessel is not the loss of the heavenly treasure. Ministers die, but the Word of the Lord endureth.
(4) Let the glory of all the benefits you have, or may have, by the ministry of the gospel be given to God--to Him only, to Him entirely--for from Him the excellency of the power is.
(5) Let the consideration of the frailty and mortality of your ministers quicken you to make a diligent improvement of their labours while they are continued with you. (Matthew Henry.)
The gospel treasure in earthen vessels
I. The excellency of the gospel. The gospel is described as a treasure for--
1. Its value. By some it is not estimated as a very great treasure; but let a man be convinced of sin, or be threatened with death, and he will prove its value.
(1) Is a Saviour of any value to the lost and the guilty? Why, this is a revelation of Christ and of salvation by Him.
(2) Is free favour of any value to the poor criminal, whereby the judge tells him the king has pardoned him? Then the gospel is precious to such a mind, for it is the gospel of the grace of God.
(3) Is life valuable to a dying man? Then the gospel is precious, for it is the word of life, and he that believeth it hath everlasting life.
(4) Is light valuable? This is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
(5) Is wisdom precious? All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are summed up in the gospel.
(6) Is not food precious? “I have estimated the words of His lips more than my necessary food.”
2. Its abundance. It is the glory of the gospel that in it atonement is complete. All the influence necessary to apply this gospel with Divine power to the heart is treasured up in Christ. When the Spanish ambassador was shown the treasures of St. Mark in Venice, he immediately groped to find the bottom of the treasure, and a page who was standing by said, “In this my master’s treasure excels yours--in that it has no bottom.” So we say of the gospel. None have ever reached the depth and sufficiency of this heavenly treasure. Millions in all ages have received, and yet there is abundance. There are in it the riches of pardon, justification, sanctification, expectation; and hence proceeds satisfaction. A man is never satisfied till he enjoys the gospel.
3. Its duration. “Riches and honour are with Me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.” Other treasures make to themselves wings, and flee away. Does it announce mercy? “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” Does it speak of joy? “The ransomed of the Lord shall come to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads.” Does it tell me of love? It is “the everlasting love wherewith God has loved me.” Does it tell me of strength which I am to receive? Well then, it is “everlasting strength.” Does it speak to me of salvation? “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.” Does it speak of the habitations beyond the grave? These are “everlasting habitations.”
II. The instruments who proclaim the gospel--earthen vessels. And ministers are so called for various reasons.
1. As to their origin.
2. As to the estimation in which they are held. They are received by the world only as earthen vessels--their poverty, their appearance. Paul’s bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. Moses said, “I am not eloquent heretofore nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant.” Amos was a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. Peter was a fisherman, Matthew a publican, John Bunyan a tinker, Whitfield a servitor at college.
3. As to their bodily constitution. Are you sick and dying? So are we. Are you subject to infirmities? So are we. Earthen vessels are subject to knocks, to falls, and speedily to be broken; they last generally but a short time. This has been the case with some of the most eminent servants of Jesus Christ.
4. As to their usefulness. An earthen vessel is useful for reception and effusion. Something must be put in, and something must be poured out.
III. The reason why this treasure is given to such instruments to dispense. “That the excellency of the power,” etc. Now, this Divine power is almighty, and therefore not all the powers of hell, of prejudice, of error, of ignorance, of obstinacy and blindness, can stand before it. But it is not a power which subjects an individual against his own will, but it is the power of light discovering darkness to the mind; of mercy showing the way of escape from the wrath to come; of truth overcoming error and prejudice in the mind; of love silently yet effectually drawing the soul to attend to Christ’s voice. (J. Sherman.)
2 Corinthians 4:8-12
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed.
Trials in the cause of Christ
I. The trials encountered in the cause of Christ are sometimes very great. “We are troubled on every side.” The man who is earnestly engaged in any cause in this world will have to encounter trials. The old prophets had theirs; some were insulted, some incarcerated, some martyred. So with John the Baptist, and so with the apostles, so with the confessors, reformers, and revivalists.
II. However great the trials encountered, they are not beyond bearing. “Yet not distressed,” or straitened; though “perplexed,” or bewildered, yet not benighted; though “persecuted,” or pursued, yet not “forsaken,” or abandoned; though “cast down,” or stricken down with a blow, yet not perishing. The true labourer in the cause of Christ, however great his trials, is always supported--
1. By the approbation of his own conscience.
2. By the encouraging results of his own labours.
3. By the sustaining strength of God. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
III. The right bearing of these trials subserves the good of souls. In the right bearing of these sufferings the sufferer--
1. Reveals the life of Christ to others (2 Corinthians 4:10). Who that has witnessed the true Christian languishing on the bed of suffering and death has not seen the spirit of the life of Christ revealed?
2. Promotes in himself and others the Christian life (2 Corinthians 4:11). “God,” says Dean Alford, “exhibits death in the living that He may also exhibit life in the dying.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Cast down, but not destroyed.--
Growth under pressure
“Sub pondere cresco”--I grow under a weight--was the motto on the crest of John Spreull, of Glasgow, who for his defence of religious liberty in the times of Claverhouse was imprisoned on the Bass Rock, in the Frith of Forth. This is the great motto of the worn. Nature is like a huge watch, whose movements are caused by the compression of the mainspring. Only by restraint is life possible. The forms of all living things, from the smallest moss to man himself, are determined by the extent and degree to which the force of life overcomes the dead forces of nature. The simple principle of growth under limitation will account for the shape of every leaf, and the formation of every organ of the human body; for the germination of a seed, and for the beating of the heart within the breast. The blossom of a plant is produced by growth under restraint. At the point farthest away from the root the vital forces are weakest, and the supply of nourishment almost exhausted; and therefore the ordinary leaves are compressed by their diminished power of resistance to the forces to which they are subjected, and modified into the strange shapes and changed into the beautiful colours of the flower. The compression goes on farther in the interior parts of the flower, according as the resisting power becomes less, until at last, in the innermost central part, the forces are brought to an equilibrium, and the plant finds rest in the round seed, which is simply the most complete compression of which the leaves are capable. The head of man is in the same way only a modification of the vertebral column, and his brain a compression of the spinal marrow, by the mechanical conditions under which they are developed. Have you ever watched a bubble of air rising up from the bottom of a clear pond to the top? If so, you cannot fail to have noticed that it ascends not in a straight line, but in a corkscrew or spiral form. The force which draws ii upwards to rejoin the native air from which it has been separated, would do so, if left to itself, by the shortest course; but it encounters continually the resistance of the denser element of the water, and this pressure delays its ascent through it, and makes it take a longer zig-zag path. If you understand the reason of this simple phenomenon, you will understand the way in which every herb and tree grows in the air, and why their shapes are what we see them to be. They all grow in the most varied and complicated spiral forms because they grow under resistance. This is the simple method of nature’s working, the law which determines all her forms. The same law obtains throughout the spiritual world. There, too, growth is under resistance. The law of the spirit, of life in Christ Jesus, contends against the law of sin and death; the law in the members wars against the law of the mind. The most essential character of spiritual life is that it depends upon the resistance or contest of one form of moral force by another: its tension is holiness, righteousness, self-control. We grow in grace as the trees grow in space--under limitations; and the various forms and degrees of spiritual life which men exhibit are due to the extent of these limitations. Spiritual life does not assume one stereotyped monotonous pattern. There is the same infinite variety in the spiritual world that there is in the natural, arising from similar causes. As no two plants grow in precisely similar circumstances, so no two human beings are exposed to the same spiritual influences. Of course there can be no growth without life. If the soul has no resisting power within, then the forces of the world without simply destroy it. If the soul is dead, all things deepen its death. But if it has spiritual life, then all things help to maintain and develop it. Like the sailing-boat that tacks to the wind, it takes advantage even of the contrary currents of life to reach its end. We may compare the soul that is dead and the soul that has spiritual life to two seeds, one infertile and the other fertile. The forces of nature play upon both seeds in the same way. In the case of the seed that has no life in it, these forces are unresisted; they have their own way, and they proceed to corrupt or break up the elements of which it is composed, until nothing of it remains. In the case of the seed that is possessed of life, the forces of nature are resisted, and this resistance becomes the source of living action, the very power of growth. The changes which the seed undergoes in germinating under the influence of those forces, duly controlled, form the basis of all the subsequent developments. And like these two seeds are dead and living souls. If the soul is dead it yields helplessly to the corruption that is in the world through lust; if the soul is living, it resists these disintegrating forces of the world, and uses them to increase its spiritual life and to build up its spiritual structure. It is only, therefore, of those who have spiritual life in themselves that it can be said, that though “cast down they are not destroyed.” To such, justification is a living doctrine--not merely part of a formal creed, nor an intellectual abstraction. Their faith is alive, and can prove its vitality by its energy. And the force of this life is remarkable. This faith can overcome the world. It can rise superior to all its temptations and trials. The force of natural life even in the lowest forms is extraordinary. The soft cellular mushroom has been known to lift up heavy masses of pavement by its expansion beneath them; the tender root of a tree insinuating itself in a crevice of the rock splits it up by its growth. And if life in its feeblest form can do such wonderful things, what may not be expected from spiritual and eternal life? The life that is in Christ Jesus by mere formality and profession, is like a dead branch that is merely mechanically united to the tree, and which, destitute of the tree’s vital sap and force, yields inevitably to the forces of nature, decays, and drops off into dust and ashes. But the life that is in Him by faith is like a living branch that becomes partaker of the whole force of the tree, and grows with its growth, and flourishes with its strength and beauty. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” It grows strong by opposition; it flourishes in the most adverse circumstances; it uses all the conditions of life for its maintenance; it makes even its hindrances to advance its life-work.
1. What casts us down most of all is the burden of sin. In the unrenewed heart this burden is unfelt. We are unconscious of the enormous pressure of the atmosphere upon us, because our bodies are pervaded with air which counterbalances the superincumbent air. But were the air within us removed, the pressure of the air without would crush us. And so, being sinful ourselves, we are unconscious of the weight of sin. But when the love of sin is taken away, then sin becomes a burden which is too heavy for us. We feel ourselves like Christian in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with his huge bundle upon his back. This pressure of sin has drawn tears from eyes which would have looked unmoved upon the martyrs’ fires. Sin is indeed the great adversity, the only thing that is truly hostile to us; and yet, in contending with it, we can use it as a fulcrum to remove the obstacles that lie in the soul’s upward path. But though this great adversity be taken away by faith in Christ, other evils are not taken away, for that would be to take away what determines the strength and shape of the spiritual life: that would leave it a weak and powerless thing. The Christian is not exempt from ordinary troubles.
2. In the world he has tribulation; and many are the afflictions of the righteous. In addition to the ordinary trials of all men, he has troubles of his own that are peculiar to the spiritual life. And these are felt most in proportion to the strength and vigour of the spiritual life; only that in his ease what crushes others proves a means of growth, calls forth, exercises, and educates all the powers of his soul, and brings down the powers of the world to come to shape his character and conduct. Sometimes, indeed, the weight is too much. There are many of God’s people who are so cast down by their circumstances that they seem almost destroyed. They are like a tuft of grass growing under a stone, The stone does not destroy the grass, nor prevent it from growing, for the vital force is stronger than the mechanical; but it dwarfs and distorts it; it blanches its colour, and it deforms its shape. Thus many lives are prevented from being what they might otherwise have been by the crushing circumstances of life.
3. Poverty often lies like a stone upon them. The sordid care for things that perish in the using seems to dwarf the immortal nature to the level of these things--seems to make the soaring spirit a part of the dull material world. The toil that is needed to support the body leaves little time or inclination for the cultivation of the soul. Though poor in itself it can make many rich. It is when the plant is poorest in material, and most limited in force, that it produces the blossom and the fruit by which the world is adorned with beauty and the generations of living creatures are fed. And so the poverty of the Christian may blossom and fruit for others. How often has this been the case in the history of the world! Few of the world’s greatest benefactors have had worldly advantages. The inventions and discoveries that have been of the greatest use to society have been made by persons who had little wealth. It is an axiom in nature that motion takes the direction of least resistance. Poverty, therefore, must be eminently helpful to the growth of the soul, insomuch as it removes many of the hindrances which make it hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. If the aspiration of the soul is heavenward, then a poor man encounters less opposition in that aspiration from his circumstances than one who is rich and increased with goods. He is relieved of that weight of worldliness--of those cares and anxieties which oppress the soul and give it an earthward tendency.
4. Sorrow is the commonest of all pressures that cast down the soul. This experience belongs to no class or condition of life exclusively. It is the great mystery of Providence that there should be such a prodigality of pain--how God can permit such forms of anguish. But the greatness of our sorrow is owing to the greatness of our nature. The highest mountains cast the largest shadows; and so the dark, wide shadows of human experience witness to the original loftiness of our being. Sorrow gives a tragic touch to the meanest personality. God has ordered that sorrow should be the most powerful factor in the education of our race. In the histories of the patriarchs and saints we see how suffering, deep and long-continued, ministered to a noble development. We see the baser earthy element in them crystallised into the purity and transparency of heaven through the fires of pain and sorrow. Many of the weights that press down the Christian life are visible and palpable. But as the palm-tree is pressed on every side by the viewless air, as it is exposed to the resistance of forces which the eye cannot see nor the hand feel, so the heaviest weights which drag down the Christian life are often invisible. Its crosses cannot be displayed. Many of its troubles are of a spiritual nature. It is east down, not by circumstances, but by the state of the soul. And these spiritual sorrows are the evidences of the reality of the work of grace; for where there is the principle of life there must be the changes of life. The form of godliness is a dead, invariable thing; whereas the power of godliness has its winter, its summer, and its autumn states. Sorrow arises in the case of most believers from inability to realise the ideal, to reach the mark of attainment they have set themselves. They have sorrow because of the remembrance of past sins and shortcomings. They have sorrow because of the sins of the world. All this is the godly sorrow that worketh repentance unto life. In this winter state the spiritual life is collecting and concentrating itself for renewed effort when the spring of revival is come. It waits upon the Lord, and so renews its strength. No life can grow or support itself in the void by its spontaneous buoyancy. All life upholds itself in the air by continuous effort. The humblest life is s vortex of unceasing forces. Much more is this the case in regard to the highest life of the soul, the life that is breathed into us by God’s Spirit and formed by faith in Christ Jesus. It has ever to do an uphill work. It has to grow against the gravitation of sin. But this resistance is meant to bring out all that is best in us, to stimulate our most strenuous exertions, to cultivate our patience, to educate our faith and hope, to mould us after the Divine pattern. It is the weight of the architrave upon the pillar that gives it stability and endurance; and it is the fightings without and the fears within that give strength to the character and perseverance to the life. What a beauty and grace does the spiritual life take from the pressure of the light afflictions that are but for a moment and that work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory! The thorny sorrow that springs from the grave of some dead love or hope forms the richest adornment of life. Not only is the outward form of the Christian life moulded into shapes of moral beauty--into whatsoever things are pure, and honest, and lovely, and of good report--but its inner substance is also made more lovely by the pressure of external shocks and internal sufferings. It is not the tree that grows in a rich soil and in a sheltered situation that produces the richly grained wood which is selected to adorn our finest furniture; but the tree that is exposed in its bleak, shelterless situation to every storm of heaven. The wild forces that beat upon it, and which it successfully overcomes, develop in it the beautiful veins and markings which are so highly prized by man. And so it is not when growing up in luxurious ease and comfort that we produce the gifts and graces which enrich and ennoble the Christian life. The natures that have the richest variety and the greatest interest are ever those which have grown under pressure of suffering, and by a vital faith have overcome the world. The Apostle Paul is an illustrious example of the law in question. His growth in grace was indeed under pressure of the most trying outward circumstances, and yet what a marvellous fulness and variety of form did it display! No man was more many-sided in his Christian attainments. We are not at the mercy of the thousand contingencies of life. The troubles that come to us are not accidents. Divine wisdom is shaping all our ends. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The frailty of the instruments and the excess of the power
I. Crushed, but not penned in a corner. The idea is that of being jostled in a crowd (Mark 3:9). They are hard pressed for space, but not driven into hopeless straits.
II. In difficulties as to the ways and means of carrying on their ministry effectually, but not reduced to utter helplessness.
III. Persecuted, but not left in the enemies’ hands--not given over to the persecutors.
IV. Thrown to the ground, but not destroyed. The notion is the pursuit of a fugitive in war, who, when overtaken and thrown down, is usually slain. Here was the overthrow, but, by God’s grace, not the slaughter. (Archdeacon Evans.)
The broken life
The mystery of evil has many aspects. There is one that is contained in that sad word “waste.” The germs of life that wither before they are sprung up, the lives often so full of power and promise that we see cut off in their prime, the gifted minds that are sunk in unconsciousness or madness. But there is another consideration that is still more practical, and that comes home to all men individually. How much that was born with each one of us must pass unused and undeveloped into the grave! The profession on which a young man has set his heart may be really the one best suited to him, and if he might enter on the preparation for it with his enthusiasm, his success might be morally certain, and the natural growth of character assured. But other wills have to be consulted beside his own; there are money difficulties which are thought to be insurmountable, or there is a fear of some loss of caste, or of some problematical moral consequences which are apprehended. And so the first flush of hope and resolution is checked by an untimely frost, and the leading sapling is nipped. Will the tree grow straight afterwards? That is the question. Or the life of the affections has been in some way warped or stunted. Some early disappointment, the discovery of some unknown defect for which no one living is to blame, some hardly avoidable error, makes us conscious of failure and limitation here, where the longing for the infinite is most insatiable. From this point onwards what is the life to be? These are marked instances of what we all find out at some point in our course--that feeling and energy have to be adapted to circumstance; that while desires and aims may be boundless, opportunity and time and human power are limited. And it is here that the difference becomes apparent between the true and false resolution and enthusiasm. We have attempted the impossible. The possible remains. But does there remain in us the strength and will to do it? Disappointment will have a weakening effect for a while, but it will only be for a while if we have any strength in us. The effect is various. The more speculative and dreamy temper discovers that the world is out of joint, and begins spinning theories of a new and regenerate condition of society, in which every nature shall grow without painful effort into the fulness of its ideal form. The more practical lose sight of their ideal altogether, and fall into a narrow, dull routine. The bolder nature becomes cynically embittered, the softer loses heart and subsides in caution and timidity. These are the subterfuges of weakness, and we must arise and shake ourselves from these if we would be spiritually healthy and strong. Suppose, then, the discovery to have been made, that of many plans only the one that seemed the least interesting can be pursued; that of many powers of which we have been conscious, only some of the more ordinary can find their natural fulfilment; that of all to which our hearts once clung, all but some poor fragment has been taken out of reach. Imagine the great soldier, struck down in middle life and doomed to drag out the rest of his time in feebleness and inaction. What then remains for us? If we are true to ourselves, perhaps the most fruitful portion of our lives. It is true that the desire granted is a tree of life, that there are some kinds of growth which can only come through the intensity or the continuance of joy. But it is also true that still deeper sources of life and growth are opened in times of sorrow and gloom for those who have recourse to them aright. Let us return to Him who, by the finger of His providence, has shown us the limits of our appointed way. Let us devote ourselves anew to do and suffer according to His will, and we shall find springing by the strait and narrow road many an unlooked-for blessing. If love and truth, humility and deep contentment be there, if the finite being is rooted in the infinite, there will be enlargement even in the least hopeful lot. The gifts that, with concurrent circumstances, might have adorned the literature of a nation, or made a lasting name in painting, or music, or some other path of art, may be concentrated on the training of one or two children, so laying up a store of usefulness for the coming time. The same energy which in some lives is seen breaking forth victoriously in all the brilliance of success has wrought not less heroically in others, underground, as it were, unsuspected and unseen except by very few, in a struggle with adverse fortune or adverse health. Viewed “under the form of eternity,” the one life is no less complete and no less successful than the other. Both pass into the hidden world with equal gain. If there be the fixed determination to do what the hand findeth to do, even though it may seem poor and mean, to do it trusting in the eternal strength and wisdom of Him who ordereth all things according to the good pleasure of His will, we need not fear that any experience, any aspiration, any love, any effort of our past lives will be utterly lost to us. To act in the present is not necessarily to break with the past. We learn to take up mangled matters at the best. We perhaps find out a way of turning to account even the accidents of life, and weaving them into the fabric of our design. Nor is experience, whether of success or failure, ever profitable for ourselves alone. The narrowest and most deserted life need not be lived wholly in isolation. If failure and sorrow have left the heart still fresh and sweet, as it will be if it have clang to a Divine support, then, wherever there are human beings, a way will be found of pouring the oil of consolation and the wine of gladness into other lives. There is so much that wants doing in the world, so few hitherto who have been roused to do even what they eaR. It is terrible to think that we may miss doing the little that is laid to our hands. Let us not waste time in vain regrets, or in vague dreams of what experience has clearly shown to be impossible, but let us gather up the fragments that remain. Though sometimes we may be cast down, let us know that we are not destroyed. (Prof. Lewis Campbell.)
Many kinds of seeds are gifted with powers not merely of retaining life under the ordinary circumstances of nature, but of resisting the most terrible attacks. When wine has been made from raisins, and the refuse has been scattered over the fields as manure, it has been observed that the grape-seeds have vegetated and produced young vines, and this notwithstanding the boiling and fermentation they have had to endure. The seeds of elder-berries have been observed to grow after similar trials. Many experiments have been made to ascertain exactly what amount of unnatural heat seeds can bear without being destroyed. It considerably exceeds that which plants can bear; and the same is the case with extreme cold. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
2 Corinthians 4:10-12
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.
Bearing about the dying of Christ
The first and literal meaning of these words is that Paul and his friends were in daily peril of such a death as Christ’s was, and that their trials left sorrowful trace upon form and feature. It is not so that we are called to be “conformable to the death” of our Redeemer. The days of martyrdom are gone. There are those who think to exemplify the text by bearing about with them the material representation of the Redeemer’s death--the crucifix. Ah! you may do that, and yet be hundreds of miles away from any compliance with the spirit of the text. Our Lord requires of us the devotion of the heart; it is spiritually that we are to bear about our Saviour’s dying.
I. We may bear about the memory of it.
1. Nothing can be more plain than that we ought never to forget our Redeemer’s death. When some one very near to you died, even after the first shock was past, and you could once more with some measure of calmness set yourself to your common duties again, did you not still feel, in the greater sympathy with the sorrows of others, in the quieter mood, that you had not quite got over your trial, that you were still bearing about with you the dying of the dear one that was gone?
2. The remembrance of our Lord’s death should influence all our views and doings. The kind mother who wore out her life in toiling for her child might well think that the child might sometimes come and stand by her grave, and remember her living kindness and her dying words when she was far away. And oh! when we think what our Saviour Christ has done for us by His dying--when we think that every hope, every blessing, was won for us by that great sacrifice--surely we might well determine that we never shall live as if that death had never been! You hear people say--truly enough, perhaps--that this world has never been the same to them since such a loved one died--that their whole life has been changed since then. It is sad to see a Christian living in such a fashion as to show plainly that he has quite forgot how his Redeemer died!
(1) When we think of sin, let us see it in the light of Christ’s death, and hate it because it nailed Him to the tree.
(2) Or is it suffering and sorrow that come to us, and are we ready to repine and to rebel? Then let us call to mind the dying of our Redeemer, and it will not seem so hard that the servant should fare no better than the Master.
(3) Or are we pressed with the sense of our sinfulness and the fear of God’s wrath for sin? Then let us remember how Jesus died for us, the just for the unjust--how His blood can take all sin away.
II. We may show in our daily life its transforming power. Our whole life, changed and affected in its every deed by the fact that Christ died, may be a standing testimony that there is a real power to affect the character in the death of the Saviour; and thus we may, in a very true and solemn sense, be always bearing about with us His death by bearing about with us a soul which is what it is mainly because He died.
1. When in the view of the Cross we see how bitterly and mysteriously evil and ruinous sin is, surely the practical lesson is plain that we should resolutely tread it down, and earnestly seek for deliverance from the curse of that fearful thing which brought such unutterable agony upon our Redeemer, and constantly pray for that blessed Spirit who will breathe new life into every good resolution, and vivify into sunlight clearness every sound and true belief.
2. When sorrow and suffering come, think of them as in the presence of the Redeemer’s death, and you will learn the lesson of practical resignation.
3. And in days of fear and anxiety, when you do not know how it will go with you, look to Jesus on the Cross, and learn the lesson of practical confidence in God’s disposing love and wisdom.
4. And, to sum up all, let us daily bear about His dying by dying to sin and living to holiness. That is the grand conformity which is open to all of us--that is the fashion in which we may be “crucified with Christ.” Conclusion: “Always.” Yes, always bear it; never lay that burden down. Always bear it; not in sourness--not in that hard, severe type of religion which we may see in some mistaken and narrow-hearted believers. Bear it in humility, kindness, charity, hopefulness, and cheerfulness. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
The Christian’s fellowship in the death of Christ
How do we bear about daily the dying of the Lord Jesus?
I. By cherishing faith in a crucified saviour.
1. The death of Christ is--
(1) The most wonderful of all facts, and we should not be warranted to believe it unless it were authenticated to us by Divine testimony.
(2) The most interesting. It is the foundation of all that is dear to man. It is the most interesting of all the facts that are recorded, not only in human narrative, but in the Book of God and in the annals of the universe.
(3) The most influential. It spreads itself through the whole revelation and economy of God, and pervades the moral government of the Most High. It is in the Book of God the first, if not in point of order, yet of importance. “I delivered to you, first of all, how that Christ died for our sins,” etc.
2. To cherish faith in this fact, then, is the first duty of man, and by so doing we become partakers of the sufferings of Christ.
II. By a continued remembrance of this great event. That which we believe most assuredly, in which we feel the deepest interest, and to which we give the highest placed will be best remembered by us; and the death of Christ, possessing all those requisites, with a good man will impress itself deeply on his mind. To help us in this great exercise is the most obvious design of the Lord’s Supper. If we forget Jesus who died for us, whom and what shall we rationally and religiously remember?
III. By a progressive improvement of this great event. The decease of our Lord is set forth in the Word of God and in the Lord’s Supper, not merely for contemplation, or for curious inquiry, but for deep meditation and practical improvement. Now, a good man is anxious to improve this death for all the purposes for which it was appointed of God and endured by Christ. Others may gaze upon the Cross; he glories in it. Others may cast a passing glance upon the Divine Sufferer; he hangs upon the Cross--he lives by it.
IV. By imbibing more and more of his spirit. And what was this spirit? It was a spirit--
1. Of holy love. “He loved us with an everlasting love,” and thence “gave Himself for us.”
2. Of holy submission to the Divine appointment. “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O My God”; and He well knew all that that involved.
3. Of determined decision in His great work. “I have a baptism to he, baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”
4. Of holy purity. He was the Lamb of God, “without blemish and without spot.”
5. Of invincible faith. “My God, My God!” He cried, claiming an interest in Him when the waters overwhelmed His soul.
6. Of entire resignation to God amid the agonies of death and the prospect of dying. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” Now, a good man bears about the dying of the Lord Jesus by seeking to drink continually into Christ’s spirit, and by exemplifying it more and more.
V. By a practical illustration of that great decease, of its character and power. Although it was not the only, or even the main, end of His coming in the flesh to exhibit a sublime example of perfect morality, yet doubtless He came to present to us a pattern of all goodness and godliness. Hence we are told that He hath “set us an example that we should follow His steps.”
VI. By a frequent solemn commemoration of him. (J. Mitchell, D. D.)
That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.--
The manifestation of the life of Christ
1. There is something beautifully emphatic in the idea that it is the life of Jesus that is manifested in the Christian. Century after century hath rolled away, and He who won to Himself, by agony and death, the lordship of this lower creation hath not visibly interfered with the administration of its concerns. The time, indeed, will come when sensible proof shall be given, and every eye shall gaze on the Son of Man seated on the clouds and summoning to judgment. But we are free to own that, since under the present dispensation there are no visible exhibitions of the kingship of Christ, it is not easy, if the authority of Scripture be questioned, to bring forward satisfactory proof that Jesus is alive.
2. Yet we are not ready to admit the total absence of direct, positive, practical witness. We thus bring the statement of our text, that there is such a thing as the manifestation of the life of the Redeemer. It was possible enough that the malice of persecutors might wear down to the wreck the body of the apostle; but there were such continued miracles in his being sustained in the battle with principalities and powers that, if challenged to prove that his Lord was alive, he could point to the shattered tabernacle, and answer triumphantly, the life also of Jesus, as well as the death, was made manifest in that his body.
3. The doctrine of Christ’s living for us is every whir as closely bound up with our salvation as that of His having died for us. The resurrection was God’s attestation to the worth of the atonement.
I. The persecutions which the apostles underwent, as well as the proclamations which they uttered, went to the proving that Jesus was alive.
1. The rulers said the body was stolen; the apostles said the body was quickened. Who sees not that, by persecuting the apostles in place of proving them liars, the rulers themselves bore witness to the fact that Jesus was alive? They had no evidence to produce of the truth of their own statement, and they set themselves therefore to get rid by force of the counter-statement. Power was substituted for proof, cruelty for argument. We therefore contend that no stronger attestation could have been given to the fact of Christ’s life than the persecutions to which the apostles were subjected for maintaining that fact.
2. We may yet further argue that by submitting to persecutions the apostles showed their own belief that Jesus was alive. There is a limit which enthusiasm cannot pass. Had not the apostles believed Christ alive they would not have joyfully exposed themselves to peril and death.
II. The grand manifestation of the life of jesus lies in the supports and consolations vouchsafed to the persecuted.
1. When the malice of the ungodly was allowed to do its worst, there was administered so much of supernatural assistance that all but the reprobate must have seen that the power of the Lord was sustaining the martyrs. They went out of the world with gladness in the eye and with triumph on the lip, confident that their Master lived to welcome them, and therefore able to cry out with Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
2. Now, we maintain that, whenever God directly interposes to preserve an individual while publishing a doctrine, God virtually gives testimony to the truth of that doctrine. If the published doctrine were the reverse of truth He would never mark the publisher with His approval; and thus we have a decisive and vivid manifestation of the life of Christ in the sufferings of the apostles.
3. Whilst Christ sojourned on earth He told His disciples that persecution would be their lot, but also that He would be alive to act as their protector. When, therefore, all occurred as Christ had predicted, when the supports were administered which He had pointed out as the result of His life, what can be fairer than maintaining that the supports were a proof of the life?
III. We would not have you think that the manifestation of the life of the redeemer was confined to the apostles. Take any one who now is walking by faith, and not by sight. He will tell you that his whole conduct is ordered on the supposition that he has a Saviour ever living to intercede in his behalf. He will tell you, further, that never has he found the supposition falsified by experience. He goes to Christ sorrowful, believing that He lives; he comes away comforted, and thus proves that He lives. He carries his burdens to Christ, supposing Him alive; he finds them taken away, and thus demonstrates Him alive. All, in short, that is promised as the result of Christ’s life comes into his possession, and is, therefore, an evidence of Christ’s life. If I am a believer, I look to Christ as living for me; I go and pray to Christ as living for me; and, if I am never disappointed in my reference to Christ as living for me, is there no strong testimony in my own experience that Jesus lives? In short, if the Christian live only by faith in the living Saviour, his life must be the manifestation of the life of the Saviour. If Christ be not alive, how comes it that they who act upon the supposition that He is alive find the supposition perpetually verified and in no instance falsified--verified by the assistance vouchsafed, by the promises fulfilled, by the consolations enjoyed in these mortal bodies, which are the theatres of truceless warfare with a corrupt nature and apostate spirits? Conclusion: What we wish for you is that you might manifest the life of the Redeemer--manifest it in the vigour with which you resist the devil, break loose from the world, and set yourself to the culture of holiness. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
2 Corinthians 4:13
We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed and therefore have I spoken.
Faith the mainspring of action
I. First, a man must have faith before he can hope to speak successfully. Believing deeply must go before speaking heartily. Take it with regard to any department of human science; suppose a man did not believe in the principles of astronomy or of geology, and yet pretended to teach these sciences, his heartlessness would quickly make his teaching useless. For suppose a man not to have this faith, how often will his judgment be at fault; how often will his spirit fail in the day of adversity; how often will his zeal expend itself in worthless objects.
II. That in proportion to our faith will be the energy of our speech. Peter and John believed, when they stood calm and self-reliant before the Sanhedrim. Whitfield and Wesley believed when they roused the religious convictions, and awakened the dormant consciences of this country in the last century.
III. When a man believes, he is bound to speak. It is a heaven prescribed duty; his soul-enshrined obligation. The whole problem of human progress hinges upon this obligation. It is “a day of good tidings; and we do not well if we hold our peace.” (W. G. Barrett.)
Faith and its utterances
We have here a description of a true prophet. A mere official speaks because he is expected to say something: a true prophet speaks because he has something to say.
I. I believed. These words refer--
1. To the truths that God teaches.
(1) God’s truths are all vital truths. The subject on which they treat is life. Clearly to see truth, and to firmly grasp it, is the life of reason. To choose the right, to do it, and to rejoice in it, is the life of the conscience. To have passions and feelings which invigorate, comfort, and ennoble is the life of the soul. Man is related to a Being who can give to him the light of reason, peace of conscience, holy and joyful emotions, and the favour of that great Being is life. His displeasure is death. Such is the momentous subject on which God’s truth speaks.
(2) And as the subject, such also is the matter of God’s truth. It consists of directions how to attain life, and how to escape death. Under any circumstances the knowledge of these directions would be of first importance. Some parts of the world are visited with the plague. Now suppose that a remedy were revealed, would it not be a great truth, and would we not be eager to proclaim it far and wide? But how incomparably greater is that truth which is God’s salvation unto the uttermost ends of the earth!
II. The manner in which God teaches these truths. The truth as it is taught by God exists in man.
1. As a clear apprehension. There is a great difference between clearly seeing a truth, and having only a general and confused notion of it. When you look at a landscape in a fog you can form no distinct conception of its characteristics. Truth, under similar circumstances, can produce no impression on the soul. Its beauty, importance, value are all lost upon him who has but a confused conception of it. Many think they have looked upon the Cross, but can see no glory in it. They have not really seen it. They are like the man who sees a landscape in a fog. It is owing to this that a general view of the Cross is often nothing more than a misconception; while, on the other hand, a true insight into the Cross stirs up the soul from its lowest depths. It is a heart-penetrating, soul-transforming vision; it leads the sinner to turn his back for ever on the world, and to worship the crucified One.
2. As an irresistible conviction. You believe in your own consciousness; you ask for no arguments to prove that your own consciousness is not always deceiving you. You believe in an external world; you ask for no arguments to prove that an external world is not a mire optical delusion. A child has faith in its nurse; it believes that its nurse will feed and love it and not hurt or destroy it. So he who is taught of God would be as able to disbelieve his own consciousness as to disbelieve that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
III. Therefore have I spoken. It is natural for the tongue to express what the soul knows and the heart feels; but there are two reasons in relation to gospel truth which turn, what in other cases is but natural, into a moral necessity.
1. Divine truth is of universal concernment. When “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” the news was important alike to every serpent-bitten Israelite; so this faithful saying is worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The antidote to sin’s poison should be made known wherever that poison rages.
2. The faith which the Church has received is one which peculiarly prompts the utterance of the tongue. (W. Alliott.)
Believing speech the evangelising organ of Christianity
I. In contradistinction to believing literature. Literature is one of the mightiest of human institutions, and of all literature that produced by believers on Christian subjects is incomparably the most valuable. But the best of these is destitute of the power which goes with believing speech. The latter has the presence of the author. The presence of a man before his brother is itself a power. Truth through the pen is truth in lunar ray. However clear, it is cold. Under its influence landscapes will wither and rivers freeze. Truth in the living voice, is a sunbeam penetrating the cold regions of death, and touching all into life. Hence Christ, who knows human nature and how best to influence it, committed the propagation of His gospel to the living voice. He commanded His disciples to go everywhere and preach the gospel.
II. In contradistinction to professional talk. Millions are preached to every Sunday who are never effectively influenced by the truth. Why? There is the living voice, but that voice is not the organ of the believing soul.
1. Evident honesty. Few hearers can fail to detect the difference between the utterance of conviction and that of a mere professional talker.
2. Living manhood. The man who speaks those things which have never become convictions with him stands before his audience only as a piece of mechanism. The mechanism may be symmetrical in form, graceful in movement; still it is mechanism, not manhood. But he who speaks his convictions rings out his manhood in his words.
3. Irrepressible influence. The man who preaches without faith does his work more or less as a task. Two things give this irrepressibility.
(1) The relation of the subjects believed to his social affections. The subjects of Christianity are essential to the salvation of the race, and his philanthropy urges him to make them known.
(2) The relation of these subjects to his religious sympathies. They have to do with the glory of God, whom he loves supremely, and hence his piety urges him to proclaim them. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christian missions the necessary result of Christian faith
The spirit of faith has in all ages been the power under whose inspiration the conflict against evil has been maintained and the victories of truth and righteousness won. Without faith the position of the apostles would have been discouraging indeed. Here, in this world of sight and mere reason, there was everything to depress. There, in the faithful Word of their unchanging God, in the presence of their living Lord, in the assurance of those mighty spiritual influences which were to crown their work with success, was everything to stimulate and strengthen. They saw that the whole world was moved against them; they believed that they worked for God, and that God worked for them. Whether other men understand it or not, our principle remains the same--“We believe, and therefore speak.”
I. Faith as the constraining principle of our work. Everywhere faith and speech ought to be united. The man who speaks what he does not believe is a hypocrite. The man who believes what he will not speak is a coward. It is not only that we, under the impulse of chivalrous devotion to the cause we have espoused and the leader whom we follow, choose to speak, but that we are under a power which renders it impossible for us to keep silence. The love of Christ constrains us that we must speak and work for Him.
1. Faith inspires a sentiment of loyalty to the truth which we believe. The feeling is not so rare surely that its existence in Christian men should be regarded as strange and inexplicable. The hatred of mere show and tinsel, the desire to be true and genuine, have given a character to our art in that realism which is one of its most prominent features. The noblest poetry of the times has been inspired by a similar sentiment. This power of truth has made itself felt in the world of politics, overthrowing many a time-honoured abuse, compelling every institution, however venerable, to vindicate its right to exist by giving the proof of its harmony with the eternal laws of right and the best interests of society. Above all is it manifest in the realm of scientific inquiry, where even the simplest principle has to verify itself by unquestionable evidence. In this hungering after truth we must sympathise. What we ask, however, is that these searchers after truth recognise the reasonableness of the homage to truth which is rendered in the missionary enterprise. Marvel if you will at the greatness of our faith, but admit that with our faith any other line of conduct would be treason to that truth for which you as well as we profess reverence. We have ourselves tasted and handled of the good Word of Life. To us the gospel is the true light, but should we refuse it to the world we create a doubt whether we regard it as a light from heaven at all, and whether there may not be a lurking suspicion in our own minds that it may be, as its enemies allege, an illusion of human fancy or a human superstition.
2. Faith strengthens our sense of obligation by teaching us that the gospel is not only truth but that it is the truth. The exclusiveness of the gospel is one of its most marked characteristics. It does not point to one Saviour among many, but distinctly tells us that there is but one name given under heaven among men whereby we can be saved. That such a provision would have been made if man could have been saved independently of it is a supposition which cannot be entertained by any one who has marked the wondrous economy of all the Divine procedure. All analogy teaches us that if man could have achieved salvation as easily as he has discovered scientific truth God would certainly have left him to do the one as well as the other. That God has sent His only-begotten Son into the world to redeem the world is the proof that without Him there could have been no redemption. But how tremendously weighty are the obligations which the belief that this is the one message of the Father’s love to His rebellious children and that we are entrusted with the delivery of that message imposes. Ask us why we should take so much trouble to disturb the faith of peoples who are quite satisfied with their old creeds--the question should rather be how it is possible for us, holding such a faith, to be content with the feeble attempts which the Church is making to instruct the millions who are alienated from God by reason of the darkness that is in them.
3. Faith calls into action a still mightier principle--loyalty to our Lord. The power of a creed, a sentiment, a principle, is weak compared with that of devotion to a person. And, while we love Him, we must share His passion for saving souls. There can scarcely be a surer proof of the want of accord between our heart and that of the Master than apathy in relation to the spread of His kingdom in the world.
II. Faith as giving us our assurance of success.
1. Christian men cannot be astonished at the utterly hopeless aspect which their enterprise wears in the eyes of those who judge it on the principles of mere reason. The purest form of your religion is not that which has been able to command the largest amount of support. If reason holds so little sway and superstition has such powerful attractions, even among the peoples who have come under the teaching of Christianity, what are we to anticipate from those who hear its doctrines for the first time? To such reasonings we have nothing to answer. If we are to look only to the “things which are seen,” we must confess that our enterprise is a wild extravagance. A few missionaries dwelling in an humble home in one of those marvellous cities of the Eastern world, gathering a few children into their schools, or a miserable fraction, at best, of the whole population into their chapels, to hear the Word they have to preach, and hoping in this way to overthrow an ancient religion and convert an idolatrous people, present a spectacle which, to any eye but that of faith, has something of the ludicrous belonging to it. If we are to judge by appearances alone, no conflict could seem so unequal, no issue so certain. It is because we believe that there are other forces which we do not see, but which are mightier than all the power that can be arrayed against them, that we look forward with assured confidence to the result. It is in these things that are unseen, the force of truth, the armour of righteousness, the omnipotence of the Spirit of God, the things that cannot be shaken, but are eternal, that we trust. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
2. The real power of these unseen forces, which men are prone to value so lightly, but which ever and anon vindicate their majesty in such wondrous ways, is not now to be learned for the first time, and the absurdity which some discover in our expectations disappears when we attempt to cast the horoscope of the future by the help of the history of the past. Who would have dared to prophesy at the time when the words of our text were written that when everything else belonging to that famed city of Corinth had passed away, when her altars and her gods had sunk together in the dust, that the one thing which would live and would carry the fame of Corinth into regions where otherwise her name would never have been heard, would be the gospel taught by that Jewish stranger. What happened in those first days has happened again and again since.
3. If ever there was an age which ought to distrust the boastful confidence which men are wont to express in mere material strength it is the present. It has not to search in the records of the past, for it has had under its own eyes evidence which ought to have convinced the most sceptical that there is truth and righteousness a power mightier than the strength of armies, than the overwhelming force of public opinion, than the prestige of rank and fashion, than the union of all the forces which the world can employ on behalf of terror. If it has not learned that there are mighty forces battling on the side of truth and righteousness, we know not what signs and miracles would remove its ignorance or shake its obstinate unbelief. To us at least they are as new calls to put our trust in God, not neglecting the employment of all the means which He may place in our power. The victory may be declared in a very unexpected way and at a time most unexpected. Some succession of events will disclose the secret weakness of those proud systems whose outward show of strength and glory has deceived the world as to their true character. Institutions which looked as strong have fallen, though wise men said they could not, and proud men said they should not fall, though their assailants were as hopeless as their friends were confident, though everything was for them except only the power of truth.
4. This, then, is our faith, and in that faith we speak and act. But let us beware lest our own conduct falsify our professions and inflict on our cause an injury more serious than any which it could receive from its enemies. The assertion of our faith has value and efficiency only so far as it can point to practical results. Mere evanescent excitement not only works no good, but helps to deceive our hearts. It is s miserable thing indeed if we have to throw ourselves back upon the triumphs of the past to find some consolation amid signs of weakness in the present. Where is its power now? What it once had it can have again. There is no motive which it has ever called into play that does not retain all its ancient force, there is no promise on which it rests that does not remain firm and unchanging, there is no force which it has employed in the past that is not equally at its command to-day. We profess to have the same faith which inspired the heroes of our Christian chivalry in the days that are past, and if it does not work out a heroism as noble in us it is because our souls have not been submitted to its power.
5. Lord, increase our faith. Then we shall cherish a broader and deeper sympathy with humanity. Then shall we hear the voice of our King, bidding us go forth in His name and by His strength to conquer all falsehood, all sin, all tyranny, all priestcraft. Then will our consecration be more perfect, and our zeal will put forth an energy and liberality whose large-hearted and generous deeds shall put to shame the niggard offerings of the present. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
2 Corinthians 4:14-15
Knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up also.
I. That Christ was raised from the dead. “Knowing,” etc. No fact in history is more firmly established.
II. That the genuine disciple of Christ will also be raised. “Shall raise us up also,” etc.
III. That all things are for the good of the good. “All things are for your sakes” (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:15).
IV. That all things in life should result in the true worship of God. “That the abundant grace,” etc. It is only in worship that the soul can find the free and harmonious development of all its spiritual powers. Worship is heaven. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
I. There is a duality in Christian manhood. The apostle was not only a great theologian, but also a great philosopher. He here speaks of an “outward” and an “inward” man, and speaks of them as distinct, though in this world they are wedded together. This outer man is part of us--is ours, but not us. I feel this body is mine, but it is not me. In the outward man there dwells an inward man, invisible to the eyes of sense; it loves, believes, hopes, etc., and accomplishes many acts which the outer man cannot do. Innumerable troubles, like an attacking army, were assailing Paul’s “outward man,” and at any moment it might be destroyed; but his “inward man” was calm and safe--as within the walls of a castle, and grew stronger and braver as the battle waxed hotter.
II. The growth or decay of this dual manhood is not necessarily co-ordinate. A man may grow outwardly, and his possessions may enlarge, while his mental and moral powers may dwindle away, and vice-versa. The outward man, or casket, may decay, while the inward man, or jewel, is being polished day by day, and fitted for the Redeemer’s crown.
III. These facts present blessed hope and encouragement to the good. (F. W. Brown.)
The perishing and the renewed man
I. God has set some types of this great truth of the text in objects that we see.
1. There is a fruit tree. Wood, bark; leaves, make up its visible figure. Every year it changes a little for the better or the worse, and every season gives some sign that it is growing old. Does everything about the tree, then, at last, perish? No. Underneath this visible form and colour there is a mysterious power at work. This does not grow old or decay. When this particular tree has done its whole work, that secret element of life is all hidden away in some seeds that survive.
2. You pass a cornfield. Last April that ground was bare and brown. Some weeks hence and the ground will be as bare and brown as when the last snow melted from it. Yet in the granary is stored up the life of the harvest. The outward part returns to the earth as it was; the inward part is renewed, and lives on.
3. Take machinery. Those levers, wheels, rollers, blades, valves, are continually wearing out. But there is a subtle power of nature operating through it which never wears out. The fruit of our industry often, at least, remains as lasting benefit,
4. In almost all our employments there are two such elements. First, there is the external apparatus necessary to carrying on the business, and always perishing. Besides this, there is the less palpable but far more important and abiding product of the business in the man that does it.
5. A great nation, by the outlay and sacrifice of a desolating war of defence, may be replenishing all the nobler sources of permanent peace and honour. At any rate, and in all times, the individual and his contemporaries disappear, but the national character goes on forming.
II. Now open your bible. In what new clearness this truth is written there I Here we have the key to all these ciphers in nature, which otherwise would be but an unintelligible riddle. Here we pass beyond all faint intimations out into the broad sunshine, where life and immortality are brought completely to light.
1. Something about you is transient.
(1) In this mortal part Paul includes the visible gains of labour and calculation, the surroundings of estates and furniture and dress; and, more than these, all intellectual accomplishments, social refinements, and advantages of rank and position which are not consecrated by faith and made a part of the spiritual man (1 Corinthians 13:8).
(2) The “inward man” is one simple, definite thing. It is that wherein the living Christ dwells through faith. There is not only a formal belief in an atonement wrought out by Him ages ago, but a hearty and loving reception of Him as a present and personal life.
2. Day by day the true Christian soul’s inner life grows deeper, stronger, and richer. It is not only a future immortality, but the heavenliness begins here. Never satisfied with the holiness attained, its large expectation is that of an unbounded faith, and according to its faith it is done, till this worn-out body is exchanged for the resurrection body, awaking in the Lord’s likeness, and satisfied with it.
3. In this way and no other the believer is able to look calmly on the changes of his mortality, on the flight of time, on the advance of age, on pain and infirmity, on disorder, on death itself. The outward man perisheth. Let it perish; its perishing will only set the inward man free, in an infinite and everlasting liberty. So martyrs sing their lives away in the fire. So sufferers in our common dwellings give God thanks in the midst of agony, their eyes fixed on a continuing city and a more enduring substance.
1. Healthy, happy, vigorous youth! Every day your body is gaining strength. Who, then, will say that this “outward” man of yours, which maketh daily increase, is perishing? The clock says so, with every second’s stroke. This growth and gain of your body are only a prelude for the inevitable decay which is close at hand. A few swift months more, and there will be some sign given that the hill-top is crossed. What will the end be? The grave? Oh, you would not have it so! Where, then, is the inward life? The soul has only one life, which is life in Christ. It has but one death. Unbelief, selfishness, sensuality, passion, vanity, the love of the world, kill it.
2. Here is comfort for old age. You have found that long-worn and tired body of yours less prompt than it used to be to do the bidding of your will. But if your old age is Christian, the maker and Father of your life will see, as He has promised, that your inward man, which is His image, shall never die. Let the earthly tabernacle crumble. You will only see more of the sky. (Bp. Huntington.)
Newness of life
If a man is renewed day by day there will be something new for him to learn, some fresh experience for him to tell; the world will be a new world, the Bible will be a new Bible. We so seldom get a new light on a truth. People tire of the same testimony in the same form. It grows rancid and musty; there is an unpleasant flavour about it. It seems as if the doors were opened into a room that had been growing faded and dank and dismal. All the furnishings hang rotting on the worm-eaten beams. Nothing has been renewed and replenished from the first day to this. It is just the same. It stands just as it has always done. And there the poor soul stands that was once well furnished, but that now is the sorrowful tenement of decaying experiences, vestiges of a past beauty, relics of a bygone day. Men tell us to-day that the Christian experience is not interesting. It does not seem to grow. We are just where men were a thousand years ago. Life in every other department is progressing to a goal. New discoveries are made everywhere else. But here all is antiquated. Its devotion to the past may be as pathetic as that still and decaying chamber that is preserved at Hampton Court to show you exactly how it stood on some memorable historical occasion, but it is fruitful only of despair and death. The inward man must be renewed day by day. A little while ago an American preacher, well known on the other side of the Atlantic, but whose name is not so familiar to us, wrote these words, which I will venture to read to you because they put this truth in his terse American way. “There is nothing in God’s earth,” he says, “that grows rank and foetid sooner than an experience. Our hymn asks--
“‘Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?’
Don’t know, and it wouldn’t do you any good if you had it. Blessedness won’t keep. It is one of the all-pervading principles that the more delicate a thing is, and the more finely organised, the more directly it will decay and fall to pieces when once it has parted from the root it sprang from. Strayed or stolen--a religious experience! The hymn just quoted from is an advertisement for a lost joy. It is like hunting after the blaze of the lamp that the oil is all burnt out of. Keep the wick trimmed and the lamp filled, you will have blaze enough, without advertising for last night’s blaze; you don’t know where that is, and you could make nothing of it if you did. Good things have to be made over and over, and everlastingly reduplicated. The fresh river must incessantly draw on the young rivulets that incessantly trickle from the hillside. Christian joy that does not bear the stamp of this very day and date is a silurian deposit, an evangelical relic, a fossilised piety.” Now I venture to think that there is underneath this somewhat remarkable form a great deal of sterling teaching. Once let a man’s prevailing tone of mind be the contemplation of what he was, and not of what he is, and spiritual dotage has begun. Just as Dean Swift could read over again his early writings and say, “What a genius I was when I wrote that book!” so the Christian whose spiritual life has grown old and weak, and whose spiritual experiences have been made up again and again, cut and trimmed and dyed every colour the imagination can conceive such an one, I say, looks back on the original and now distant experiences, and derives his sole melancholy satisfaction from the contemplation of what he was. Believe me, unless the present is the greatest hour in the history of a Church, unless this passing moment is the best in the spiritual experience of the individual Christian, there is something wrong. I want to say that I do not believe we have even begun to grasp the wonder of the spirit of man. I do not believe we have begun to grasp the extent to which we make life and thought and everything, just as God made man, “after our own image.” The man whose spirit is new every day lives in a new world, and does not tire of the world in which he lives; reads a new Bible, and never tires of the Bible which he reads. You do not want a new world to make heaven, but just a new soul to live in it, and to love the earth and the sea and the sky and the God that dwells in all. Here is the unrenewed man with his unrenewed soul and his weary look of ennui, tired of life, absolutely blase, and you suggest to him some change of scene. “Oh,” he says, “but I’ve been there”; “I’ve done theft.” He wants a change. Yes, so he does; he wants a change inside. It is the renewal of the inward man that he needs. He is just the sort of man who says, “Ah, yes, I’ve read the Bible; I wish you could recommend another book.” He has read it, and he wants a change; and so he does, I say again--he wants a renewal of the inward man. This is what will save this heavy, wearied, bored society which has grown up to-day, and which yearns for some new thing to read and to see; a baptism of the inward man. I trust I have carried you with me in this attempt to show you that what we need, if our religious life is to become interesting, is new life--life as new as the last ray of the sun that has reached us, the last drop of dew that has trembled on the blade of grass. We want this ever-flowing, ever-growing life. We want to make contact with the source of life. There are so many people whose spiritual life is governed on the seven-day clock principle. It is effectually wound up on the Sunday, end it is effectually exhausted on the Saturday following. And the coming Sunday will find it where the last Sunday found it. There will be no real progress, no gain, no growth. The play of the living spirit of a man about and around the facts and truths of the world makes them to live anew. The play of the Divine Spirit around the spirits of men makes them to live anew. God recreates men, and by doing so recreates eternally the world that He created. Here, for instance, are the eight notes of music and the semitones, and the human spirit has played around them and blended them into infinite variations through indefinite centuries. But they are not exhausted yet. The new man will find as much music in them still as has been found in them in the past. And so with the truths of revelation. Infinite combinations, infinite interpretations, but underneath all the same great foundation of the spiritual thought. So every new man makes a new theology, and renews his own day by day. It is hardly necessary to point out to you the practical application of such a law as this. To the Apostle Paul it was the principle of his religious life. He was a very busy man; he was the greatest preacher of his age; but he had always something new to say. He spoke out of a heart that was in constant touch with Christ. On what do you depend for the renewal of your spiritual life? Do not answer it hastily, but press this question home to your own consciences: “Do I depend on men or on God? Do I find my inward life dull and sluggish if I do not hear my favourite preacher?” On what do you depend for the renewal of your spiritual life? Do you require a peculiar type of aesthetic service? On what do you depend? I can conceive of nothing so perilous as that this matter of eternal moment should be allowed to depend on persons or places that are subject to change. Renewal is from above. (C. Silvester Horne.)
The inward man
There is much in this world to make men faint! Health is seldom long unbroken. Success is gained, and its sweetness lost, by the death of those we sought to secure it for! In religion, too, there would seem to be tendencies toward the same disappointment. Paul speaks of trouble on every side, of being perplexed, etc. But two especial sources of strength are referred to. In the “spirit of faith” (2 Corinthians 4:13), and the sustaining hope which springs from Christ’s resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:14). These were antidotes to all depressions, and remembering that his own bearing as a Christian soldier would naturally affect the ranks, Paul adds: “For all things are for your sakes” (2 Corinthians 4:15), and then explains the apostolic position in the text. Notice the position--thus:
I. The man--visible. Paul does not speak contemptuously of the body, nor did he encourage maceration or court martyrdom. He says, “Though the outward man perish.” It might happen, he well knew, and it did happen to him, but he was ready. “For which cause we faint not,” etc. Our circumstances differ widely from his, but we too are tempted in ten thousand ways. Let me therefore remark--
1. That Christians fret, but do not faint. They are still human. They fret when disappointments come, when vexatious law-suits have to be fought out--when impoverishment of the home-life comes. But the difference between them and the children of this world lies here--they do not faint--they stand. This word faint means to turn out a coward. “For which cause we are not cowards, but though our outward man,” etc.
2. That Christians fail, but do not faint. Our lives are stories of failure as well as of success. “Armies,” says Alexander Smith, “are not always cheering on the heights they have won.” No; there are retreats, and baggage-waggon captures and desperate frays with advanced pickets, and sudden and sharp conflicts. So it is with the Christian; he does not always come off victorious. No; he fails! And then he gathers together the scattered forces of his moral life--he takes unto him “the whole armour of God,” probably having neglected some part of it before, and again he renews the war.
3. That Christians die, but do not faint. Physical weakness and decay will come! “The outward man” must perish. Time is as stern an executioner as the headsman of old. “It is appointed unto all men once to die.” But the Christian looks for “an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away.” And that inheritance is in germ already within him. “Though the outward man perishes,” the great life-work is going on within; there the work of grace is meetening for the life of glory. I will ask two questions.
(1) Who can wonder that worldly men so often faint? Artificial stimulants can only sustain for a time. Society, friendship, enlivening pursuits--these often hide for a time the stern realities of life. Then the dream-land of joy is broken in upon, and the man awakes to his delusions. Then comes the indescribable faintness of a soul that has no everlasting arm to rest on, no promises to console, no inheritance to anticipate. If we are worldly, we too shall faint.
(2) Who else can supply what Christ provides? We have not in all history such records of consolation amid the changes of life, and in the coming of death, as we have in the Word of God. Nowhere else but in the gospel have we the power which gives spirituality to life, and solace in the hour of death, “For which cause we faint not.”
II. The man--invisible.
1. There is an inner man. This, indeed, has been the great teaching of Revelation from the commencement. Man is separated from all other forms of created life by this--he has a soul. The inner man asserts itself. Argue against its existence as man will, there, in the depths of consciousness, is the irresistible argument--“I am.” This inner man may become weakened, debased, depraved--it is a fact of history and experience that it has become so--day by day. It is in Christ that we have life; this, too, is a fact of history and experience. It is in this inner man we must find the seat of strength, and the spring of consolation. Let that be reached, and then we shall be able to triumph over the ills to which flesh is heir. We are strengthened with all might by Christ’s Spirit, says the apostle, in “our inner man.”
2. This inner man is renewed. Renewal is a series of acts. Just as life is one gift, but the daily renewal of it by food, by air, by exercise, is a series of acts. Thinkers must constantly study, meditate, read; or the old stores would actually, to a large extent, die out. So yesterday’s religion is a thing of yesterday. We need fresh draughts of living water, fresh breakings of the heavenly bread, fresh communings of conscience and heart with the Divine Lord.
3. This renewal is a daily one. Not a mere Sabbath one. “Give us this day our daily bread!” Day by day. (W. M. Statham.)
The renewal of life
The “outward man” is the visible, mortal man, which feels the exhaustion of endurance and endeavour. There is no magic fountain in which we can wash and be young. But the inward man must not decay. Its faculties are to be perennially vigorous--the inner eye clear, the hearing acute, the sensibility delicate, the step firm, the voice that of them who overcome. If this power and freshness are to be preserved the inward man must be “renewed day by day.”
I. Only through habitual devotion can the faculties of the soul be preserved and perfected. Darwin wrote--“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry … gave me great pleasure. Formerly pictures gave me considerable and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry … I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music … My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts ... If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week, for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have become active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature? Note here--
1. That mental faculties may be entirely extirpated by disuse. This is true touching spiritual gifts. Spiritual sensibility, imagination, sympathy, aspiration, may be starved and lost by men utterly immersed in secular life, and if the perishing of the aesthetic sense is a melancholy loss, as Darwin felt it to be, the loss of the diviner faculty, by which we appreciate the eternal beauty and glory of the moral universe, is yet infinitely more deplorable.
2. That constant culture is necessary to keep the intellectual faculties alive. And if we are to preserve the precious affinities, and energies of our deepest nature we must constantly stir up the gift that is in us--contemplating the highest beauty, listening to the music of eternity, holding loving fellowship with the perfect life and righteousness.
II. The lines of devotion in which we must habitually exercise ourselves.
1. “Day by day” we must instruct and elevate our mind by communion with God’s Word. Goethe said that every man should, every day, see at least one fine work of art, hear one sweet strain of music, read one beautiful poem. But we not only need the daily bread of mental delight, we need also daily manna for our spirit. Here, then, we must be spiritually mindful, and eat uninterruptedly immortal bread. Observe in Psalms 119:1-176. the continuousness of the Psalmist’s fellowship with the God of truth. The virtue of this continuousness is implied in the closing words of our Lord (John 15:3-7). The full beauty and fruition of the branch is dependent upon its complete and constant identification with the tree. The Orientals express the persistence of the friendship of the noble in their saying, “When the lotus is broken its fibres still remain,” and whilst the frailest thread of connection remains the flower does not at once miss all its bloom; so even in the believer’s declensions Christ still insinuates fresh energy into the soul by secret fibres of union; yet the full beauty and fruitfulness of life are soon missed if we permit our fellowship with the truth in Jesus to become limited and irregular. We are often deeply anxious about the outer world, its clouds, temptations, etc., but really our concern lies chiefly with the depth and force of the life within us. The authorities declare that it is not so much a matter of atmosphere with the London trees as it is of soil and draining; let the trees be right at the roots, and they will battle triumphantly with poisoned air. “Being rooted and grounded in love” and knowledge, we may defy all storms and deadly atmospheres, and put on and ever wear all the beauty of the summer (Psalms 1:3).
2. “Day by day” we must purify our soul in fellowship at God’s throne. No greater mistake could be made than to allow the vigour of a church to decline with the idea that periodical revival services would recover lost ground. And in our personal life we must not expect by extraordinary devotion to recover in an hour what we have neglected in a week. Only through constant communion with God can we perfect and preserve the purity of our spirit. We must attend to our toilet every day, many times a day, if we are to continue altogether presentable. And this is equally true of our inward life, with its thousand possibilities of defilement. The housekeeper cannot afford to let the furniture be tarnished with the design of restoring all things to brightness by some energetic periodical cleansing; the house can be maintained in true purity and comeliness only through daily industry and thoroughness. Thus is it also with character. What do days of neglect mean in a garden? What do days of neglect mean on shipboard? And the days of dulness and faithlessness in our life leave results of secret flaws and failures of character which many days of humiliation and painful striving may hardly retrieve. We must meet the wear and tear of probation by constant renewal in secret intercourse with God.
3. “Day by day” we must make the best of life’s opportunities.
(1) We must make the best of life’s opportunities in getting good. The moral wealth of life is not minted out of great occasions and extraordinary circumstances only, but through the wise economy of routine. Most people know about the gold and diamonds of Brazil; and yet the exports of sugar and coffee from that country in one year are of more value than all the gold and jewels found in it in half a century.
(2) And in doing good there must be the same faithful, systematic improvement of small opportunities. As Miss Havergal writes: “The bits of wayside work are very sweet. Perhaps the odd bits, when all is done, will really come to more than the seemingly greater pieces: the chance conversations with rich and poor, the seed sown in odd five minutes.” Our condemnation is that we let the days slip away despising the many simple chances they give for speaking kind words, doing little graceful acts by the wayside and the hearth. The wealth and beauty of the world spring not from the rare aloe whose scarlet splendour flames out once in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years; but from the grass which grows upon the mountain, and which is green the year round. We sometimes see a man in a comparatively small way of business; he makes the very least noise, and yet when he dies everybody is astonished by the large fortune he leaves behind him. So it is spiritually. Solomon appointed the priests to their service, the Levites, and the porters, “as the duty of every day required.” And it is by accomplishing our service “as the duty of every day requires” that we become “rich toward God.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
The inner man or soul growth
1. Man has two natures.
2. The outward nature is subject to the law of decay. The law of dissolution is operating on the body every moment. Particle after particle departs with every pulsation.
3. Whilst the outward man decays, the inner man may grow in strength. We would not depreciate the assistance which “the inner” derives from “the outer.” Like the atmosphere to the seed, the body is the medium which conveys to the soul those sunbeams and showers which quicken it into life and nourish its powers. All that is taught is that the soul can grow even while the body is decaying. Note--
I. The conditions of this soul growth.
1. There can be no growth, of course, without life. All plants and animals, however young, cease to grow the moment life departs. But the life must be healthful. What is the healthful life of a soul? Supreme sympathy with God.
2. There must be wholesome nutriment. No life can live upon itself.
3. There must be proper exercise. Christianity has a power to impart the life, supply the nourishment, and stimulate the exercise.
II. The characteristics of this soul growth.
1. Beautifulness. The growth of a flower is beautiful, so is the growth of a child, so is the growth of an empire. But the growth of a soul in virtue, in usefulness, in assimilation to God, is a more beautiful object than these. That flower will wither, but the soul will advance for ever--rise from “glory unto glory.”
2. Constancy. Growth is not a thing of fits and starts. The plant, the child, grow every hour; they do not grow one day of the week and pause on the others. If we are not religious always we are never religious.
3. Blessedness. A growing state is a happy state. See the lambs, the little bird, the child, etc. If you are growing in soul you are happy.
4. Endlessness. The capacity for growth in all other life under the sun is limited. The tree that grows a thousand years finds a point at which it stops and decays; not so with the soul. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
5. Responsibleness. Man may not be responsible always for the growth of his body; if he has a dwarfish body, he cannot help it, but if he has a dwarfish soul he himself is to blame.
We learn from this subject--
1. The necessary condition of man’s well-being. It is not that your wealth should increase, your influence extend, your social circle widen, for your body decays, and with this all these things lose their worth, but it is the growth of the soul.
2. The absolute necessity of the gospel. You cannot grow without spiritual life, nourishment, and incentives to action. And nothing but the gospel can give you these.
3. The true method of using the world. It is to make it promote the growth of the soul.
4. The Christian’s view of death. It is nothing but a change in the mere costume of our being. “This mortal must put on immortality!” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The growth of the spiritual life
It is assumed--
I. That spiritual life exists. The phrase, “inward man,” has the same meaning as the “new man.” The agent producing this life is the Spirit of God; and whilst there is great variety in the means employed to produce it, its main features are always the same, the character and habits brought into conformity with God’s will.
II. That this spiritual life is susceptible of growth. This growth consists--
1. In the more vivid apprehension of spiritual realities. Spirituality of mind distinguishes the sincere Christian from the formalist.
2. In the development of a holy character. The influence of truth upon the character of a good man is like that of the sun upon the blossom, which causes it to expand in fragrance and beauty.
3. In a more enlightened and comprehensive view of spiritual truth. “When I was a child,” etc.
III. That the growth of this spiritual life is best promoted by the faithful and active discharge of duty. Here were men who sought no monastic seclusion, who resigned themselves to no luxurious meditations who had no time for any lengthened seasons of retirement, and yet whose spiritual life grew. Conscientious obedience to the will of God will be followed by the advancement of the spiritual life. By this obedience we exercise its faculties and display its moral excellences. True, intercourse with the world has its dangers, but our dangers are our discipline, and it is by discipline that the spiritual life attains to maturity.
IV. That the growth of this spiritual life is gradual as well as progressive. “Day by day.” Elsewhere we read of “the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” There is, then, continuous agency on the part of God, and there are continuous efforts on the part of man.
1. This daily renewal of the inner life is needed. There is the influence of a depraved nature, and the constant presence of natural objects, and these would exhaust and enfeeble its strength.
2. Is accomplished by all the events and circumstances of our ordinary life. This was the case with the apostles, who rendered prosperity and adversity subservient to the promotion of their spiritual growth.
V. That the physical life declines whilst the spiritual life advances. “The outward man perisheth.” True, that body is the workmanship of God. A fitting palace for the immortal guest within, but taken from the dust it must return to that from which it was taken. Contrast with this, the immortality of the spiritual life. In the forests of South America, it is no uncommon spectacle to see the trunks of aged trees covered with the joyous blossoms of climbing plants that have twined around them, as if Nature, with her kindly hand, sought to conceal and even beautify the corruption which she could not stay. In like manner, the beauty of the spiritual life appears amidst the decrepitude of the perishing body, giving grace and dignity to that which otherwise it would be pitiable to behold. Conclusion--
1. The words of the text suggest to us that the better part of our nature is the spiritual.
2. They furnish consolation to those Christians who are advancing in life.
3. Let each examine into his spiritual condition. (H. Gamble.)
That there is an inward invisible man who makes himself visible -by the body and uses it as his instrument, is admitted in some form by all. The inward and outward man are felt occasionally to have different interests, and there is a necessity laid on man to choose between these. The outward man is doomed to perish, and often is seen rapidly decaying, while the mental and moral powers are as visibly increasing in elevation and intensity. Why should the course of the one be upward, while that of the other is downward? Why should men have experience at the same time of two opposite processes? Let us fix our attention, in considering this subject, on--
I. The two contrasted but closely related processes. These illustrate the law of compensation which runs through all things.
1. Often the most painful and humiliating losses have the highest kind of compensation.
(1) When a man first loses his sight how irreparable the loss appears. But from the very moment of the loss a principle of compensation is at work. His hearing, by the increased strain upon it, becomes acute; his sense of touch grows keen and discriminating. But more; how often does the blind man, shut out from the visible world, retire into the world of reflection. The objects of thought grow real to him; he acquires a command over his faculties, and a power of working on without external aid.
(2) When wealth is lost, life seems emptied out. But even in the first shock there is a stirring up of the man, a groping about for something to take the place of the lost wealth. And thus gradually higher qualities are called out, a determined energy to recover, if possible, what has been lost, or a falling back on the higher wealth of the soul. Have we not here an approach to the compensation of the text, as if the inward man were becoming younger, while the outer man was growing old. And this is in very truth what the compensation comes to. The renewal of the Holy Spirit is the rising and widening of the being towards its true nature, its immortal ideal.
2. This compensation is the solidest and greatest of all realities in the present. To become like God, this alone is greatness and blessedness, and this carries eternity in it. I watched once a series of dissolving views. One especially riveted my attention--a beautiful scene in Italy. On the verge stood a ruin, which lent to the scene pathos and romance; but while it faded there rose, dim at first, but ever clearer, the outline of another picture, till at last, when the old had wholly gone, there stood forth in majesty, a picture of the sea, the mountains, and the stars overhead. The eternal had taken the place of the transient. The same lesson is read to us every evening. The bright day departs; but when earth is hidden, heaven begins to unfold its treasures; when we lose this little world we gain innumerable worlds. So in the renewal of the inner man we have both a transcendent compensation in the present, and the pledge of a glorious and eternal future, which also enriches and glorifies the present.
3. Look at the special form of compensation seen in successive coverings and materials which perish and leave gain behind them. The warrior’s armour is his most outward man inspired and guided by the inward man of his courage and skill. The armour is broken, but the warrior may survive many helmets and suits of armour. Dress is the ordinary outward man. It is that by which he is known to his fellows. His life is preserved and even dignified by it. But in thus adorning man apparel decays, yet the benefit it has conferred remains. The child has been growing all the while that the raiment that sheltered him has been decaying. The ship that carries the emigrant to the land of his hopes may be sorely battered on its course, and at last shivered on the rock-bound coast, but it has borne its passengers across the ocean. They escape and thrive in that new land; it perishes and sinks beneath the waves. Every book and pen which the child uses and wears out adds to his knowledge and facility. The paint and brush of the artist are used and expended by him in giving birth to that which endures, while his own faculty also is increased.
4. Human life thus yields innumerable examples of the gain remaining from materials that disappear. Shall not decay of the body, the decisive and the saddest decay, afford the highest example? If the body in its labour and decay does not work out permanent results of the best kind on the soul it accomplishes no result. It is only that which enters into the spirit that can survive death. If there is no compensation for the loss of the outward man, what an illusion are all the examples of the principle in the constitution of things. If the law fails here, what can it bring to us but sadness, however bright its manifestations elsewhere? And if there is compensation, it must be in the sphere of the inward man. When the temple falls, the priest will rise to the temple made without hands, eternal in the heavens.
II. The points of correspondence that should exist between the two processes.
1. Decay is constant. Each of us may say, “I die daily.” Our motion is ever onward to death. We ought then to have in this a constant stimulus to renewal of inward life. Let renewal day by day be our conviction, our task, and our joy.
2. Decay has times of special impulse when more progress is made toward dissolution in a few days than in many years. But this has its counterbalance in floods of grace, bursts of light, accesses of love and enthusiasm, that lift up and strengthen and gladden the inward man.
3. There is a waste caused by toil and a decay that goes on in rest; so, on the other hand, renewal is furthered by exertion and by quiescence. To labour and to rest in God are both necessary. We must contend against evil, and labour earnestly to be filled with the fruits of righteousness; but often renewal comes more from keeping the soul in a right attitude toward God.
4. Extremes and sudden changes hasten the decay of the outward man, so extremes and sudden changes of condition may hasten the renewal of the inward man. Some of these extreme and sudden changes you remember well; is it not true that they shook and roused you in an altogether peculiar way, and opened up for you unknown reaches of thought and aspiration?
5. The outward man decays both by pain and pleasure; the inward man should be renewed both by sorrow and joy. Have you known the power of physical pain in bringing down the outward man, and shall you not welcome the pains of the spirit which elevate and emancipate the inward man? Are there any that have known the weakening influence of unhallowed pleasures and joy? Will not they of all others pursue the joys that strengthen the soul and heart?
6. Decay sometimes proceeds from without inwards, as in the case of external injury; sometimes it proceeds from the very heart, and slowly makes itself felt in the outer activity. Is there not a similar twofold process m the renewal of the inner man?
7. The whole outward man perishes. But the renewal of the inward man often bears a most imperfect correspondence in this respect. A man cannot exempt any particular portion of his body from decay, but he can shut out whole regions of his inward nature from renewal. How often it seems as if some parts of a man are like desert, while others are like Eden, as if a portion of a man were inhabited by Satan, and another portion by Christ. But should not men who know their whole outward nature to be decaying, and doomed to perish, be constantly reminded of the need of the whole inward nature being permeated by life?
8. Decay is sometimes accelerated by materials and means which usually strengthen or heal; so in the inward man renewal may be promoted by things whose natural influence and effect is to corrupt and destroy. Often the debilitated frame is injured by the most healthful influences. The bracing air pierces it, the genial heat of the sun oppresses it. Food turns to poison. Healing medicine kills. But over against this is the great and cheering fact in the spiritual world--that temptations to evil may be the most potent means for good; that a wholly corrupt social atmosphere may disgust a man with evil, and throw him with intensity into a spiritual sphere; that doubts may conduct straight to the clearest faith; that there is no difficulty that threatens to swallow a man which may not issue in high and lasting gain. All poisons are changed into food and medicine to him who keeps near to Christ.
9. Decay sometimes proceeds at a constantly increasing rate. But if there is a downward gravitation there is also an upward. We call it natural that a stone should fall faster and faster as it approaches the earth, it is equally natural that a soul should be renewed increasingly, should rise faster and faster as it approaches heaven. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
For our light affliction.
., worketh for us a … weight of glory.
Light affliction and eternal glory
I. A few preliminary observations upon affliction.
1. There are afflictions which are common to humanity. Disease and death (Genesis 3:17-19).
2. There are afflictions which are of a self-procured character. We can no more sin with impunity against physical laws than we can against moral laws.
3. There are afflictions which are of Divine appointment.
4. Afflictions are not meritorious. They cannot make atonement for sin, nor regenerate our nature.
5. Afflictions in themselves, abstractly considered, are heavy, but light when compared with those of others.
II. Let us ponder our afflictions. They are light--
1. When compared with the demerit of our sins.
2. When compared with those of our forefathers. The saints have had to suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, fire, faggot, sword, imprisonment, and death (Hebrews 11:1-40.).
3. When compared with those of Christ.
4. When compared with the weight of glory referred to in the text.
5. Being but for a moment when compared with the eternity of glory.
6. When compared with the exceeding greatness and infinite excellence of the glory.
III. Consider the beneficial and gracious tendency of our afflictions. All trials, whether personal, relative, or national, may be regarded in the light of a gracious discipline. The tendency of affliction in the saint is--
1. The development and maturity of moral purity. There is much about him which needs correction and refinement. Afflictions operate as fire upon metal (Hebrews 12:5; Hebrews 12:11; James 1:2-4; James 1:12).
2. The development and exhibition of principle and character. It is possible for a man not to know his own real character and strength of principle, till cast upon his own resources. What a living embodiment of magnanimity, self-denial, goodness, and moral sublimity in the lives and deaths of many of the people of God!
3. To test the truthfulness of our Christianity and exhibit its character before the world.
4. The exercise and perfection of our faith. Faith is a principle which is strengthened by exercise. In trials faith finds ample scope for action (Hebrews 11:1-40.).
IV. The future glory of the saint is--
I. Substantial. The word weight gives us the idea of ponderousness. The Greek word “doxa” and the Hebrew word “kabhodh” mean an opinion, doctrine; and then praise, dignity, splendour, and perfection. The words are applied to the visible manifestations of the Divine Being. Heaven is spoken of as a most glorious locality. It is compared to “a house eternal in the heavens,” a “mansion,” “an inheritance incorruptible,” a “great city,” and “a prepared kingdom.” There will be perfect correspondence betwixt the resurrection body of the saint and heaven as an abode (1 Corinthians 15:39-58; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2). Glory embraces also the perfection of the soul. We shall be perfect in body and in mind. Enjoyments and employments will be all complete.
2. Ever-enduring. “The perpetuity of bliss is bliss.”
3. Ever-increasing. Progress is as essential to man’s nature as gravitation to the universe, and light and heat to the sun. (C. Briggs.)
The work of affliction
1. The text contains, a repetition of ὑπερβολη, which is generally used when a person in any excited manner oversteps the truth. What the apostle means, therefore, is that no proportion whatever can be instituted between present affliction and future glory.
2. Now, there is much in God’s dealings with our race which seems hopelessly intricate, and we satisfy ourselves by referring to the disclosures of another world when, evolving order from confusion, God shall vindicate His proceedings on the broad stage of the judgment. But while in the main this course may be correct, we must take heed that we do not refuse to be wise up to what is revealed. It would be a great clue for us, in the labyrinth of Providence, if we were to regard all that takes place in the body as preparatory to the dispensation of another state: e.g., we ought to be able to show that all which a righteous man suffers goes to heighten and multiply his future enjoyments; so that each sorrow shall not only be counterbalanced, but shall be distinctly preliminary to some portion of happiness. The apostle speaks of the affliction as “working out for us glory.” There is a vast deal more asserted than the mere succeeding of glory to affliction; there is the connection of cause and effect; the present and the future are so linked, that the two may be surveyed as parts of the same dispensation.
I. In what sense can it be true that “affliction worketh for us glory”?
1. It cannot be that suffering in this present life is to be accounted a make-weight for punishment in the next. We have heard persons express a hope that they should endure all their pains on this side the grave, as though pain had a power of making compensation for sin. No doubt pain is the consequence and punishment of sin; but it is evident that the future and not the present is the time at which God’s threatenings are especially to take effect. And if present suffering do not pass instead of future, much less can it procure for us favour and enjoyment. The splendours of eternity are too rare and costly to be procured out of the anguish of the sinful.
2. But if affliction do not procure for us glory through any inherent merit, it must have a working power; it must be because of the discipline which affliction exerts. Whatever was required for the pardon of our sins, was wrought out for us by our Surety. Nothing more is needed in order to our being freely forgiven and graciously received. But while all this has been done for us, there is something which remains to be done in us. This is what Scripture calls “the being made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” It were comparatively but little worth that we should be admitted into God’s presence, if there were no change rendering us capable of enjoying what is celestial and pure. To effect this work is the orifice of affliction. When you have admitted the need of refining, you must expect that the furnace of affliction will be placed in the pathway of the Christian.
3. Our text goes further. Not merely is affliction preparatory to glory, but that glory is to be increased by affliction. One Christian is evidently much more tried than another. The meekest and most devoted are often most so. Therefore we conclude that affliction produces different degrees of fitness, and that with these different degrees of fitness are proportioned different degrees of blessedness in the scale of future rewards. Upon this supposition, but on no other, that as “one star differeth from another star in glory,” so does one saint in heaven differ from another--can full force be ascribed to the language of our text.
II. The notices of the invisible world which we may extract from the passage.
1. That there shall be different degrees in the happiness of the saints in heaven. The dispositions and faculties of our fellow-men are almost infinitely various. If this variety did not exist a dull monotony would be introduced. Yes, religious men are cast in great varieties of mould. The lines of distinction are strongly marked between Peter and James and Paul. So one apostle was fitted for engaging in enterprises which would not have suited another. And so with all. There are no two Christians who are quite alike as Christians. One is remarkable for his humility, another for his love, a third for his faith, and a fourth for his zeal. And God places each Christian just where there is scope for his particular gifts. If there were no difference amongst Christians, the Church would lose its beauty and power. Is it, then, to be for a moment imagined that heaven alone should not consist of this wonderful diversity? Shall death produce over the whole face of humankind that uniformity against which God has now marvellously provided? This does not interfere in the remotest degree with the perfection of the happiness of every justified saint. That being is perfectly happy who has just as much happiness as he is capable of enjoying. And besides these arguments from analogy, you find in Scripture abundant reason for the opinion, that in hell the quantity of misery is not the same to all, and that in heaven the quantity of happiness is not the same to all. By being enormous in guilt, we may increase the capacity for pain; and by being eminent in piety, we may increase the capacity for pleasure. We should conclude indeed rashly if we should set down a believer more than ordinarily tried as designed for one of the highest places in heaven: for we cannot tell what training we may require for the lowest place in heaven. But putting together the simple propositions, that there are degrees of happiness above, and that affliction is one of the chief modes by which God prepares man for happiness, it follows that the sufferings we endure may have an effect in fitting us for a loftier throne, a richer crown, a nobler heritage; and thus may the apostle’s words most literally come true.
2. There is much material for thought in the hint that affliction at the most is “light,” and at the longest “but for a moment.” Now we can hardly expect that such verdicts will be assented to while we are on earth. The soul must be in glory before they can be pronounced with a deep feeling of their truth.
3. Observe, in order to the obtaining a better glimpse of things within the veil, that the aim of the creature has always been independence, and one great object of God’s dealings with our race has been to prove the nothingness of the creature, by placing him in a variety of estates, in none of which he is able to sustain himself. And we may well believe that the lesson thus painfully and woefully taught shall be continually in the view of the glorified multitude. Shall they not be conscious that Christ not only brought them to glory, but that Christ also supports them in glory? We find an intimation of this in a “weight of glory.” The Greek word is always used of something massive and hard to be borne; and it seems implied that the glory itself will be so ponderous, that the saints need help in sustaining it. In other words, they will be no more able to do without Christ in wearing their crown, than they could do without Christ in winning their crown. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
How we ought to view our afflictions
I. The manner in which the apostle teaches Christians to view their afflictions.
1. We are apt to magnify our troubles rather than to diminish them. In the human mind there is a strong aversion to trouble of any kind. It is indeed true that affliction, in itself, is not agreeable. “Now no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” But here the apostle makes it out to be a very insignificant thing. You think it heavy--a burden greater than you can bear, but the apostle says that it is light. And, besides, you think the time of your affliction long, however short it may be, and anxiously desire its removal; but the apostle wishes you to view it even as momentary. But Paul is here speaking comparatively. His eye was full of an exceeding weight of glory which language could not express; in comparison to that his affliction was levity itself, and by faith he saw the eternity of that glory, and then it seemed contracted into a point that was invisible.
2. You cannot feel sympathy with the apostle, in this exalted view of affliction, if you remain on the low ground of this world, where you are involved in darkness. You must aspire to attain the height of the subject. You must endeavour, in some measure, to comprehend the glory to be revealed.
II. The influence of affliction in preparing Christians for future glory. “Worketh for us.” Affliction is part of the discipline of the covenant of grace; and it worketh the peaceable fruit of righteousness in all who are properly exercised under it.
1. Afflictions work in Christians a meetness or suitableness for glory. Naturally they are unprepared, and corruption is strong within them. But afflictions weaken the power of corruption. The mind of the Christian may be unduly set upon worldly objects. These are removed, and then the Christian seeks his enjoyment in God, and raises his mind to heaven.
2. In proportion to the extent of the affliction of Christians will be their future glory. All that you can do or suffer for Christ, in itself, is without merit, but yet it will be rewarded.
III. What this glory is. Who can describe the greatness of things eternal? We can only judge from what we see; and it must be confessed that in the visible universe there is much that impresses us with the greatness and the power of God. But we must beware of losing ourselves in generalities. We are not destitute of definite ideas on which to fix our minds.
1. This is an exceeding weight of glory; it will, in its very nature, be substantial, weighty, solid. Now this forms a striking contrast to the objects of the world, even the weightiest and most important of them. But men consider wealth weighty. It is, however, all a mistake, “for riches make to themselves wings.” All the riches of this world are, in comparison, less than nothing and vanity.
2. This is such a weight of glory that Christians could not sustain it if they were not prepared and strengthened by Omnipotence to do it. Even in the world men are not always able to sustain their circumstances. Some sink under the load of affliction, prosperity. Now to bear up under this weight of glory it is necessary that the soul of the Christian should be absolutely perfect, completely delivered from sin; and at the last day, when there will be a vast accession to the glory, a body fashioned like unto Christ’s will be necessary: thus the soul and body of the Christian will not only be adapted to each other, but they will also be adapted to the glory which is to be bestowed upon them. At the present time you could not bear this glory.
3. And what will it be? It will be all the fulness of the Deity--all the glory of God in Christ.
(1) You will be blessed with all knowledge; all mysteries, in nature, providence, and grace, will shine out clearly in your view.
(2) Immense dignity will be conferred upon us; in the presence of the greatest spirits you will be honoured by God Himself, and will be exalted to sit on the throne of Christ.
(3) Your happiness will be complete; you will experience the fulness of joy.
(4) Add to all, it will be eternal, unlike the glories of the world, which are evanescent. Now, with this prospect, will not Christians welcome all their affliction? (T. Swan.)
Affliction and its issues
In the words there is an elegant antithesis of our future estate to our present. In our future glory there is--
1. Solidity and excellency. Glory is called a weight, because the same word, “chabod,” which signifieth a weight, signifieth also glory, and weight addeth to the value of gold and precious things. All words are too weak to express heaven’s happiness, and therefore he heapeth expression upon expression.
2. Eternity. This is opposed to the momentariness of our affliction. Both properties suit with God’s infiniteness and eternity. In the other world God will give like Himself. See how the apostle doth--
I. Lessen the afflictions of our present condition, that we may not faint under them.
1. The evil expressed, “our affliction.” God will have all tried, and the most eminent most tried (Revelation 7:14). Christ Himself was made low before He was exalted. And the members follow the head by a conformity of suffering (Acts 14:22).
2. The evil lessened. The highest comfort which philosophy could afford was, that if afflictions were great, they were short; if long, light; meaning thereby, that if their afflictions were grievous, they would shorten their lives; if of long continuance, by bearing they learned the better to bear. But here both light and short, too, in respect of our glorious reward, which being infinite, maketh them light, and being eternal, makes them short.
(1) Our affliction is light, not in itself but--
(a) Comparatively, in respect of the excellency and infiniteness of the heavenly glory (Romans 8:18). The trouble is nothing to the recompense, nor the cross to the crown.
(b) Copulatively. Though affliction be not light in itself, yet by the strong support and comfort of the Spirit, God maketh it light and easy to us.
To a strong back a burden is light which crusheth the weak and faint; a man well clad may without great annoyance bear the cold of winter, which pincheth the naked (2 Corinthians 1:5; Romans 8:37). Now there is a more liberal allowance of these comforts and supports to God’s suffering servants than to those who live at ease (1 Peter 4:14).
(2) It is short as well as light. If they should last for our whole lives, they are but momentary compared with eternity.
(3) To make this more evident, let us consider how the afflictions of God’s people are long and short.
(a) Concerning their length. They seem long to those that reckon by time and not by eternity. The longest time to eternity is nothing (Psalms 90:4). They seem long because of the impatiency of the flesh. We love our own ease, and therefore affliction soon groweth irksome. An hour seemeth a day, and a day a week. Winter nights seem long in the passing.
(b) For their shortness; they seem short, partly because they are not so long as they might be in regard of the enemies’ rage (Zechariah 1:15).
Satan and wicked men know no bounds. Partly they are not so long as we deserve. The evil of one sin cannot be expiated in a thousand years; but God “in the midst of judgment remembereth mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). Partly they are not so long as they might be in regard of second causes and probabilities (Habakkuk 3:2). Partly because faith will not count it long; for to the eye of faith things future and afar off are as present (Hebrews 11:1). Partly because love will not count it long (Genesis 29:20). If we had any love to Christ, we would be willing to suffer a little while for His sake. But chiefly in regard of our eternal reward and blessedness; so it is a light affliction, that is but for a moment, like a rainy day to an everlasting sunshine.
II. Greater heavenly things. They are set forth by unwonted forms of speech, but such as you may observe an exact opposition of our happiness to our misery.
1. Affliction and glory. In our calamities we are depressed and put to shame, but whatever honour we lose in this mortal life shall be abundantly recompensed in heaven.
(1) Are you pained with sickness and weariness of the flesh? In heaven we shall have everlasting ease (Hebrews 4:9).
(2) Are you cast out by man? There you are received by the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
(3) Have you lost the love of all men for your faithfulness? You shall everlastingly enjoy the love of God (Romans 8:39).
(4) Are you reproached, calumniated in the world? Then your faith shall be “found to praise, glory, and honour” (1 Peter 1:7).
(5) Are you cast into prison? You will shortly be in our Father’s house (John 14:2)
(6) Are you reduced to sordid poverty? There you read of the “riches of the glory of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Ephesians 2:18).
(7) Have you lost children for Christ? They shall not come to you, but you shall-go to them.
(8) Must you die, and the guest be turned out of the old house? You do but leave a shed to live in a palace (2 Corinthians 5:1). If you are forced out by the violence of man, the sword is but the key to open heaven’s doors for you.
2. “A far more exceeding weight of glory” and “light affliction.” Things excellent we count weighty; small, light (1 John 3:2).
3. This glory is eternal, in opposition to our momentary affliction. If we desire to prolong this life, which is obnoxious to divers calamities, how much more should that life affect us which shall be fully happy and never have end?
III. Show how the one is the fruit of the other. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Sanctified affliction, its tendency and result
I. The manner in which affliction is to be estimated by the Christian believer. It signifies something that beats down, presses sore, and is in itself grievous and tormenting. The forms of human trial are like the lineaments of the human countenance, boundlessly diversified.
II. The beneficial tendency of affliction. The present state of man is not his ultimate condition, nor is this world his final home. While on earth his state is not only one of probation, but also of discipline and--
1. It is designed to correct and reclaim. There is in the heart of man a natural proneness to wander from God. In vain, perhaps, have been the attempts of other agencies to win the thoughtless wanderer. It is in mercy, therefore, rather than in anger, that he is smitten with affliction, that he may return to God.
2. The grace of God beats the spears of affliction into pruning-hooks, to them that are in Christ.
3. In affliction there is something which exerts a subduing influence upon the mind. It prostrates pride, subdues self, disenchants creation of its bright and fleeting colours. It is often the means of bringing the will of the Christian into a more entire subjection to the will of God.
4. It has a tendency to purify, refine, and elevate the Christian character. The trial of faith is said to be “more precious than that of gold.”
III. The glory for which the Christian believer is prepared by sanctified affliction.
1. The final issue of sanctified affliction will be a higher position, greater felicity, more glory in the heavenly state. The Christian would have had glory without it, but he will have more by reason of it.
2. This glory will be eternal in its duration. The highest enjoyments this world can afford are short-lived. Life itself is short. “The fashion of this world passeth away.” But the glory of heaven will endure for ever.
3. This glory is further spoken of under the idea of weight.
Conclusion: The design of God, in afflictions, being to prepare us for “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” let us devoutly strive to improve them.
1. By deep humility and self-abasement. When the soul is truly humbled before God, His Spirit lifts it up, and lets in upon the feelings the genial light and warmth of the Sun of righteousness.
2. By a renewed consecration of ourselves to God. (J. Lambert.)
The world of glory
I. The celestial state will impart exalted and perfect felicity to those who shall enjoy it. It will be a state of--
1. Unsullied and absolute holiness. Mourning, as now you do, over your waywardness and sinfulness, how must you exult in the prospect of being “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light!”
2. Vast intellectual illumination (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). As to the objects of celestial knowledge, we may believe them to be the Divine character and perfections; the reasons of providential government, the counsels of grace; the breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights of the love of Christ which “passeth knowledge,” etc. As holiness is our moral glory, attainment of such knowledge, will be our intellectual glory, both being associated with happiness which is incomparable and supreme. “The tree of knowledge,” there will hide no serpent in its foliage, and instil no poison with its fruit. It shall be “the tree of life,” as well as “the tree of knowledge,” and there shall not be a leaf that adorns it, or a cluster that enriches it, that will not be found redolent with rapture, and that can decay or die. Ye who love and long for knowledge, endeavour to find your sphere in heaven; and while now, at the best, you can but collect the fragments and the crumbs, be it your high ambition to pant always for the full banquet of intelligence in immortality.
3. Delightful communion. A vast proportion of the enjoyments of the present life arises from intercourse; the more refined that intercourse, the more delightful it is; and the delights of intercourse will be found perfected amidst the purity and the expanded illumination of the skies. If man be permitted to enjoy fellowship with God, while still he bears the remains of his sinfulness, much more will he possess that fellowship when all his impurities shall be removed, and when he shall exist perfectly in the image of his God. Intercourse with God is the very life of heaven; and were that intercourse to be withdrawn, the light would wane, and the glory would be shrouded, and the music would be hushed, and the bliss would die, and the reward would be transformed into wretchedness.
4. Active and devoted employment. The rest of heaven is not synonymous with indolence; it is rest merely from corporeal languor, pain and disease, mental sorrow and foreboding. But this rest is not incompatible with employment. As Luther said, “God requires servants in heaven as well as on earth.” Worship, in presenting the expressions of adoration and of praise; study, in the contemplation of the grand themes of knowledge; and active employment, in promoting the high behests, which probably will be multiplied upon us by the vastness of our capacities and by the deathlessness of our existence.
5. Permanent and imperishable duration. Heaven bears over its golden portals the inscription, “There shall be no more death.” You read of heaven as a substance; it is “a better and enduring substance.” As a kingdom, it is an “everlasting kingdom.” As an inheritance, it is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” There is nought in that world of glory, which is not for ever and for ever.
II. The contemplation of the celestial state ought to produce powerful influences and effects, while we are existing in the present life.
1. We ought to embrace the one appointed method, by which alone the enjoyment of the heavenly state is to be secured. Do any of you ask what is the way to heaven? By the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” if you would “be saved.” Bear with fortitude, in the prospect of that celestial state, the various difficulties and sorrows of the present life. In the context you see how the fortitude of the apostle and of his companions was secured by the prospect of the future.
3. There ought also to be a constant anticipation of the period when the celestial state shall be entered by ourselves. Conclusion: Let me remind you there is no middle state, no compromise between a destiny of splendour and a destiny of darkness and despair. (J. Parsons.)
2 Corinthians 4:18
While we look not at the things which are seen … which … are temporal
The law of the higher vision
The seen exists in the midst of the unseen. There are two worlds--the world of sense and the world of spirit; and the world of spirit surrounds, enspheres, and interpenetrates the world of sense. We speak as if the world of sense came first, and the world of spirit came after; whereas the truth is that the world of spirit is about us now, though the veil of sense hangs between. We imagine that we dwell in time here, and shall dwell in eternity hereafter; while the fact is we dwell in eternity here, though we take a little section of it and call it time. And if this be the correct way of putting it, see the fallacy of our common conceptions of death. We conceive of death as if it were an act of migration, a journey to some distant star. Is not the Scripture view rather this--that unseen realities encompass us now? What sights might we not see, at every moment of our existence, at every turning of our path, had we only eyes to see them I And death will be merely the giving of those eyes. The seen exists in the midst of the unseen, the temporal in the midst of the eternal. We are like sentinels in their booths on the floor of some great cathedral, “cabined, cribbed, confined,” while all around us, if we only knew it, are the soaring arches, the far-down aisles, the blazoned glories, and the white-robed choristers of God’s great temple. Soon the booths will be broken by death, and what then? Then, when heaven and earth have dissolved, folded like a scroll, vanished like a dream, we shall be face to face with the realities behind, even the only true, only solid certainties that are unseen and eternal.
II. While it is true that the seen exists in the midst of the unseen, it is also true that the unseen is sometimes concealed and sometimes revealed by the seen. The seen is in one sense a blind that hides, in another sense it is a transparency that discloses. Take the illustration that is yielded by man himself. Is it not true of man that he both conceals God and reveals Him? It depends on which side you look at him. Take man in his littleness; with his selfishness, his ambition, his lust, his passion, he often makes it hard to believe in God. But take man in his greatness, he becomes a living epistle of the Deity, an incarnate, moving, breathing testimony to the reality of the unseen. Or, again, take Nature. Judge by Nature in her harsh and destructive aspects; judge by Nature in famine, pestilence, earthquake, fire; she offers a contradiction to the unseen realities we are fain to believe in--an unseen Father’s mercy, an unseen Father’s love. Ah! but judge by Nature in her gentler and more beneficent aspects, and she becomes instinct through every process and scene with hints of a Divinity beyond. Think of the yearly miracle of the spring.
III. But whether there be concealing or revealing, it is our duty not to stop short with the seen, but to pass beyond it, and look at the things that are unseen. What does this imply? Several things, and these among others--
1. That we look away from the seen trial to the unseen support. What was the seen trial in the case of the young man whom Elisha exhorted? The seen trial was this, that the ground round the city was black with the hordes of the Syrians, savage warriors, prancing steeds. But he looked away from the seen trial to the unseen support, and to the mountain glowing with the hosts of a present God, even horses and chariots of fire.
2. We look away, too, from seen vicissitudes to unseen possessions. The vicissitudes may be manifold. Who shall separate us from the love of God? Who shall exclude us from the grace of Christ? Who shall deprive us of the communion of the Holy Ghost? These form abiding realities, which the shocks of circumstance are powerless to change.
3. We look away, too, from the seen reflections to the unseen substances. We are compassed with these reflections. Everywhere pictures are around us. They are “patterns of the heavenly things”--“figures of that which is true.” So the visible is a parable of the invisible, things temporal the types of things eternal. How many stop short with the parable! How many begin and end with the type! To the reality they cannot reach. The essence they do not understand. Surely the advantage lies with those who cannot look round upon God’s bright earth and be conscious the while that, though the outward embodiment is good, the inner reality is better; that, though the reflection be fair, the substance has the glory that excelleth. Have you never felt it? “What a beautiful sky!” said one of the company. “Yes,” was the sudden reply of another, whose words breathed the longing of these lone mountain lands, yet fitted themselves to the mood of us all--“yes, if we could only see behind.” So near may Nature bring us to the heart and the secret of things! So clear are her token! So thin is her veil! The spell of the eternal lies upon her (W. Gray.)
Looking at the unseen
Let us consider the advantage of a steady contemplation of things unseen and eternal.
I. It brings repose to the spirit amidst the ceaseless changes of life.
II. The presence of the unseen and eternal gives assurance of the final triumph of truth and rectitude.
III. The sense of things eternal gives endurance to bear the pains of present discipline.
IV. The contemplation of eternal realities places this life before us distinctly as the sphere of duty and of toil. (B. M. Palmer, D. D.)
All on which the eye rests is temporal. Paul refers directly to the visible sources of his trouble, hunger, thirst, etc. But he includes other things--all he had ever seen in Tarsus, Jerusalem, or Corinth; things man has made, but and palace, encampment and city, clan and empire; things God has made--flower and tree, river and ocean, hill and mountain; things men dread and hope for, love and hate. Now if these things seen are temporal--
I. The good things seen are not enough for us.
1. All that affects man is not visible. We are conscious that we are spirit, and not flesh. We know that reason is not the eye, nor faith the ear, nor will the hand or foot, nor emotion and conscience the nerves of sensation. We are conscious of commanding the eye, ear, hand, and foot. We say, instinctively, “I looked, I listened, I walked, I wrote”; thus tracing our actions to an inner self.
2. Now the invisible in man thirsts for the invisible. There are two kinds of rest--one in the body, the other in the soul; two classes of enjoyments--those derived from things, and those drawn from thoughts; and for the unseen sources of enjoyment and rest men thirst. Men will continue to live, when on earth they are no more living. We desire continued existence constitutionally, and we may infer that the object of this desire is provided by Him who implanted the thirst.
3. Now familiarity with what is seen would leave us unprepared for a future state of peace and blessedness. Yonder, God is more seen than His creatures. His will is the only law of conduct; His glory the supreme object. Pleasure, yonder, is spiritual and divine. Now if we be ignorant of God, if temporal things have been our end, if our enjoyments have been pleasures only of sense, there we shall be like living creatures taken from their native element, unable to rejoice, unable to live. Because there is more in man than what is seen, because the invisible in man thirsts for the invisible outside and beyond, because making things seen our portion will expose us to destitution in a future state, we say that the good things seen are not enough for us. We want living bread--water of life--raiment that waxes not old--houses not made with hands--treasure that moth and rust corrupt not.
II. The grievous things seen should not make the Christian faint. The afflictions of Christ’s disciples are all temporal; the good wrought by their sorrow abides. “The peaceable fruits of righteousness” remain after the blossoms are destroyed. The fire of the refiner is transient, the refinement endures. To Christ’s disciples there is no inextricable thorn in the body; their prisons have no everlasting doors, the breath of their persecutors goes forth. They weep now, but they shall sing. They are in much tribulation; but see, they are going up out of it. Their circumstances are complicated, but all are working together for good. Night is over them, but morning will be the daughter of that night. Compare the affliction with the glory--it is a trifle, and momentary. Then shall he faint under it? Of the glory it shall be said in every stage of consciousness, “More, more”; but of the affliction the Christian may say, “Less, less.”
III. Then in nothing seen ought a man to find either his hell or his heaven.
1. No consuming fire here, mark, need be unquenchable. No gnawing worm here need be immortal. No pit here need be bottomless. You may carry fire yonder, and there it will be everlasting. You may carry a worm with you yonder, and there it will be undying. A temporal pit may lead to an eternal pit; but thanks be to Him who has given us a Saviour; all this is not inevitable. There is a fire annihilator, a worm destroyer, a Brother able and ready to raise you from the pit. No man need be buried in affliction, lost in sorrow, destroyed by grief. He may be saved by hope--for “the things that are seen are temporal.”
2. And none can find heaven here. “Fulness of joy,” and “pleasures for evermore,” perfect peace, undisturbed rest--these are not to be derived from things temporal. Worldly things perish in the using. Wealth, honour, happy homes, all cry, “Heaven is not in us.” The things that are seen are temporal. This common truth has long been in our Bibles; will it ever be written on our hearts? Hear the wise man (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Come to the feet of Jesus Christ, and hear Him say, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” etc. “Labour not for the meat which perisheth,” etc. “I am the bread of life,” etc. “If any man thirst,” etc. Conclusion: There are two duties springing from this truth.
1. The duty of moderation in our use and enjoyment of all things seen (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Hold the good things seen with a slack hand. They are temporal, and they will be taken from you, or you will be taken from them. If you grasp them firmly, the removal of them will shake you from head to foot; if you hold them lightly, when they are taken away, although you may regret that they are taken away, you will stand unshaken.
2. The duty of seeking a heritage and portion in that which is unseen and eternal. Spiritual in our nature we are spiritual in our wants and thirsts. Immortal in destiny, immortality clothes our necessities and desires. Let us provide for the future. “Seek those things that are above.” (S. Martin.)
The temporal and the eternal
Paul makes an appeal for life as in the presence of these two empires, “the seen and the unseen”; that every day the heart beats in both, and that a man cannot alienate himself from the one and stand solitary in the other. Not a little of our teaching and a large proportion of our practice have been busy with the other theory, that we are simply manipulating those matters that belong to the material side of life, and that after death, in some way, we are to be brought into contact with the unseen principalities. The life that transcends the senses is the real one, not the life that is simply in the senses. The senses make us conscious of our environment. We have five gateways of knowledge to bring us rot, contact with the visible world; but that visible world is a symbol of another. It is not the reality. The life, therefore, that proposes barely to be girt by the seen, to deal only with those facts that can be measured and weighed, is the life that is making the most serious of all blunders. You cannot go very far in experience without realising the sweep of such forces as love and faith and hope, and these at once draw you away from the material. What is love? You cannot see it. What is aspiration? You cannot measure it. And yet these are the powers that are entering into you moment by moment, and are teaching you of other things than those of the seen. We are thinking of the words of a man who was thoroughly tried by the antagonisms of this world’s wrong. The closing part of the fourth chapter in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians is a brief diary of St. Paul’s career. We follow his path; it is shadowed by storms. His gaze is fixed on the unseen. He steadies his life by the standards of a Divine righteousness. No trap of man’s craft set for him can really catch his feet, because he walks with God. Here we have the creed of life--of the life that is to be lived by those who recognise God, and are seeking a more enduring realm than the dominion of the visible. St. Paul says the seen is a temporal thing. It is not worthy of trust, because evanescent, like autumn-leaves on forest boughs. In a little while winter winds will snatch and strew them afar. The true philosophy of life is the philosophy that turns the eye of the soul toward a present eternity. Yes, one answers, it is easy to theorise, but you have not taken into account the fact that we are surrounded perpetually by the visible. The visible will not wait, hunger and thirst are not patient. Why is the world so lovely? Why are we fashioned in this body of mortality? There is a mighty plea for the seen, which is made by very many persons just in that mood. They say of the teacher of truth, “These are fine aspirations, noble aims, but they are too high for the common, work-day world.” I avow that it is not the closest thing to him; that the seen is not so near to you as the unseen. Pressing in upon your soul are certain primal facts of which you cannot rid yourself. What are these? Take the fact of God. His Divine personality brings him into immediate contact with your very self. Take the fact of His truth. That truth makes a law of right which you must observe. Take the fact of righteousness, which simply means God and truth wrought together into conduct, turned out into life and made fluent by speech and action. That righteousness ceaselessly throws its fibres round your nature and draws you upward. It is one gravitation against another. The earth would hold you, but righteousness counterworks the earth and wins you Godward. Take the fact of your desire for the nobler being which yet you are not. These are patterns before you evermore, and you cannot swiftly throw them away or break the charm of their dominion over your spirit. The stars may gleam and the forests array their banners in beauty, the grass send up its soft, low music, and the clouds shine like the white thrones of judgment on the sky; but if a great grief is at work on you, if a large joy has entered the chamber of the soul, you do not see the stars or hear the whisper of the grass or note the loveliness of the forest. A closer thing has come; what is it? A thing invisible, a thing that refuses to be tabulated as you can tabulate your accounts in a book. It is a power, nevertheless. Yet you say the invisible is so far off, the unseen is so distant. Believe me, the unseen is at the very core of things; and there would be no significance in the visible but for that other. The doing of the evil that you would not, and leaving undone the good that you would, make you cry for God perpetually. You ask for Him, not as the stern Judge that is to deal with your heart on the simple basis of justice, but as the infinite Father who is to pity and lift you out of difficulty and defeat unto His own strength. This God for whom you long, this Father’s compassion for which you yearn, will not report to your mortal eye. He will not consent to press His face out between the constellations even just once. Nevertheless He is real. You are certain of Him. This unseen, invisible God constitutes the verity of yourself. It is the standard of His speech that must decide daily conduct. He demands that you measure your life by that, and not by the foot-rules of your fellow-men. Instead, therefore, of the seen, of the great outer world, being a barrier to the unseen, it is its basis. The unseen is the nearer experience. It would be far more difficult for a man to undertake to live his life utterly denying these great facts of God, truth, honour, and righteousness, than it would be for him to live his physical life outside the girdle of this visible world. But you may respond, “Is it possible to take up this standard, to live by these invisible things, and at the same time do that which is best and wisest in the actual contact of life with the world? I am in business, and my business tasks all my strength and tact. How may I be devoted to these interests that have a lawful claim, and at the same time hold by these spiritual powers?” Why, if you do not hold by the spiritual powers.you cannot rightly weigh the claims of your business. Until you come to recognise the fact that God is a reality to your toil just as much as He is a reality to your faith you will be a stumbler in the world, and will be perpetually falling. You cabinet take up any matter that comes to your everyday struggle, and look at it really with the finest insight until you look at it spiritually--until you look at it righteously and consider it from a religious standpoint. You must expound to yourself this doctrine: “My contract with my fellow-man or pledge with my neighbour is an opportunity to be just and true. I must reverence his rights as well as my own in the work which connects as, in the commerce which brings us together.” Do you not see where the large outlook flashes in? It comes on that side where the whole thing is weighed and comprehended, not as a matter that is bound to the earth, but as a matter that can be transfigured with the very light of heaven. But let us turn aside from that and think of other things. There are experiences that are more sacred to you than those of barter and trade. There are emotions that are more hallowed than those that come up on exchange. You have a deeper life than that which can be reckoned by your ledgers. This is the life of the spiritual, which is being trained for a Divine destiny. By that life of the Spirit God often brings to you dispensations of discipline and disappointment. Now, if you think only of that which is visible you will be utterly puzzled. If you take faith away from the world where you stand the eyes of your heart will be smitten with blindness. (W. R. Davis, D. D.)
The power of things invisible
“Temporal,” more properly transitory. It was a supreme point of view the apostle had attained. It is natural for men to be impressed by things visible, by things which they call “solid,” as property, commerce, government. The city of Ephesus, which Paul had left, was celebrated the world over for its magnificence. The wealth, the magnificence, seemed destined to last to the end of time. Yet Paul looked upon all and said, “These things are transitory.” He looked up with other than the physical vision, and saw God and declared Him eternal. Yet this God is unseen, as unseen as that force that holds the world together.
1. This insight of Paul was evidence of great spiritual attainment. It showed that his soul had been struck through and through with heavenly truth.
2. This experience was not peculiar to the apostle. Says he, “While we look,” etc.” He was writing to the Corinthians, whose spiritual attainments were low. This spiritual insight belongs to all Christians, but more perfectly to those who are more perfect.
I. The glory of the gospel is, that it brings these truths to the minds of men continually and irresistibly. This is the evidence of its Divine authority. It addresses the faith, revealing the eternal nature of invisible things.
II. How these truths reveal to us the glory of the human soul, We speak of the grandeur of the intellect in man, as manifested in art, literature, laws, forms of government, and we do well. We grow eloquent over the power and beauty of the human spirit. Nowhere as in the gospel does the Divine mind address the human mind as co-substantial.
III. No man is great in any department who does not see the things that are invisible. The statesman, only when he looks above the material and grasps great principles, has breadth and depth of observation. He sees when others see not. The poet, thus inspired, beholds what others do not see, as he locks upon the storm, that seems to tear and split the very azure overhead. What a grasp this insight gives the philosopher! It makes the master everywhere. So, if we look upon the Church. When sorrow surges against us, when difficulties spring up as mountains before us, and we are able to smile at them all because we know that they are short-lived, because we have a vision of the things that never perish.
IV. Here is indicated the function of the Church. The world says, “Look at me, look at my art; see the permanent things that I have wrought.” The world is unfriendly. Now the Church does not exist, primarily, for charity, nor for education; but to bring men to Christ, and then lead them to see the source of all true permanence. No man has the Christian work wrought in him until he grasps the invisible.
V. How this vision of the perishable nature of these earthly things and of the enduring quality of the spiritual things enables the Christian to triumph over all things on the earth. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Looking upon the unseen
Whatever is unknown, dark or mysterious, has a strong attraction for a certain order of minds. We find this fact illustrated in all departments of human knowledge. The profoundest secrets of the material world do not discourage, but rather give zest to persevering investigation. Facts in nature as yet unexplained are sure to be the facts to which the greatest amount of thought and inquiry are devoted. If any doer is shut, that is sure to be the one men are most anxious to open, and at which they knock with untiring persistency. No failure, no difficulty, no loss, can quench this feeling. Thus, for instance, how many expeditions have been sent out to discover a north-west passage through the regions of eternal ice? Now there is something in this tendency of the human mind far nobler than idle curiosity, and we know that it answers a most important purpose. Had it not been for thin insatiable craving after the unknown, the boundaries of knowledge would never have been pushed to their present extent. Nor is this tendency altogether unlawful when manifested towards religious truth. Any man who, acknowledging the limitation of his faculties, sets himself to understand all that the Scriptures reveal about the invisible world, undertakes a perfectly justifiable as well as an important and interesting inquiry. There are certain features of our life in the present day which are well calculated to stimulate our craving after the things which are not seen. The common occupations of the world, the keen and ever-increasing competition of business, the cares of home, have a most pernicious effect upon us, unless some strong counteracting influence is brought to bear. They make us grow intensely secular in thought and feeling. They beguile us by insensible degrees into the belief that what we see is the only reality. Only yield to the unrestrained influence of “the things which are seen and temporal,” and they will soon drag you down to the very dust. Now the great corrective of this state of mind is to look away to the things which are not seen. The very remembrance that all round about us there is a region of spiritual existence--a world which, though unperceived by the senses, is as real, nay, far more real, than the solid earth on which wetread, will help to keep the soul from injury. Within that invisible region lie all our supreme interests. God is there and Christ is there, and all the gracious influences which save and sanctify the soul. The unseen magnetic pole controls the needle of the compass, and enables the mariner to navigate the pathless ocean. The injurious secularity and materialism which grow out of the busy occupations of common life, are re-enforced by a tendency which pervades modern thought. The errors of mankind seem to move in a circle, and as the wheel revolves ancient heresies are found to turn up again, only slightly modernised. Thus some who set themselves up for our teachers in these times, are attempting a revival of Sadduceeism. They are trying to prove that we are shut in on all sides by solid walls of matter, and that there is no existence outside and independent of it. Men feel a spiritual existence within them, which no philosophy can satisfactorily explain away. The course of God’s providence in our life, will often turn our thoughts towards the unseen. Poverty, disappointment, failure--anything which deprives this earthly existence of its attractions, quenches its joys, and turns it into a scene of suffering, naturally leads us to look elsewhere for the happiness we can no longer find here. Of course this does not always follow. The poor may be as worldly as the rich, the depressed, and the sorrowful, as the hopeful and the happy. But the painful discipline is designed for this end, and it is accomplished in those who pay reverent attention to the lessons of Divine chastisement. There is one kind of sorrow, however, which is more successful for this purpose than any other--that which we feel when God calls our friends into the unseen. The emigration of relatives to some distant country of the earth, instantly invests that country with a new interest. It may be useless for us to think about the future for the purpose of discovery, but it is not useless for the purpose of preparation. The truest wisdom, as well as the truest piety justifies this attitude of mind. (Benwell Bird.)
It needed no Divine revelation to teach us the fact of the text.
1. The transient condition of everything around us we are compelled to learn in every successive stage of experience. The scenes and thoughts of childhood differ from those of youth. Manhood opens out prospects unseen before. Even in maturity nothing continues in one stay.
2. If we take a wider view we learn the same lesson. Science shows us the vast structural changes ever going on in the material world which we have regarded as abiding for ever. The historian tells of conditions of national and social life which existed a few generations ago, and that are altogether novel to the present age.
3. Now, this fact may be made to appear very sad, if not disastrous, unless we look at it from a higher standpoint than that of selfishness. Many would have all things remain as they were from the beginning, and, because they cannot escape change, they declaim against the uncertainties that surround their comfort. But we are bound to look at it in another light. God means that this changeableness shall work out high and noble results. If we saw the same things before our eyes each day, what could we learn? But, turning new pages, we become acquainted with new facts, and life has larger meaning. God intended the things that are seen to be temporal, and He will not alter the make of the world because it is unpleasant. We have to adapt ourselves to His will, and try to understand His gracious purpose. The more we do this, the more shall we perceive how good is the arrangement; we shall then thank Him that life is saved from the dreariness of monotony. “The things that are seen are tcmporal,” may be to us--
I. A word of stimulus.
1. There are those who are depressed by the remembrance that the morrow will be unlike to-day, that the best work they do is but one of the temporary things. “What is the use of toiling? Our relation with the world is of the briefest kind”; so they stand aside from all social, political, and religious strifes, and, watching the efforts of their neighbours with a kind of contemptuous pity, say, “It will be all the same a hundred years hence.” Is this correct? No! That which is done in this generation may not last till the next, yet the character of the next will be determined by it. Again, it will not be all the same to ourselves a hundred years hence if we have failed to do our duty now. We shall have lost our chance of education. We shall have been unfaithful to present responsibility.
2. But let those who are depressed by the temporary nature of things take the example of God Himself. “The grass of the field to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven”; but God does not say, “It does not matter how I make this, for it will soon be back again to dust.” Despite the fact that its being is so brief, God makes it as welt as if it were to last for ever. There are myriads of tiny living creatures that live but one summer. But put them under a microscope, and you will see that God has put into them the same skill and power as is seen in the colossal creatures that are to live for a century.
3. Remember, too, that it is not the work done, but its results, to which we are to look. Walk down any street, and look at the shops and warehouses. What is their chief business? Why, to provide things that perish in the using. But these perishable things are necessary to sustain the body, and within that body are a mind and a soul being trained for an immortal life. Is there not stimulus to activity in this thought?
4. This is an answer to those who taunt us with making much of the other world and little of this--this world is more to us than it ever can be to the man who believes in no future. For we see the high reason for which we are placed here. The things we deal with are temporal, but they are destined to help in producing eternal results. We are bound to use them carefully, diligently, lovingly, with a sense that they are consecrated to the noblest and loftiest ends.
II. A word of warning.
1. We Christians believe that this world is our Father’s world, that it is according to His gracious will, and for the best ends, that we should have to do with things that perish. It would surely be a gross wrong to imagine that there has been some mistake in the arrangements for which God is responsible. The temporal character of the things is according to the will of God, and therefore should be regarded not as a curse but as a blessing. Is there any condition in which you have ever been placed which you would like to last? You know that it would become intolerable after a while--nay, that your mind is so constituted that, if things without did not change of themselves, you would labour to produce a change on your own account.
2. It is at this point, however, that the special warning is essential. Much with which we have to do is beautiful and desirable. To delight in them is but natural, and there come times when we not only wish they were permanent, but when we are inclined to think that they ought to and must last. Ah, when such thoughts come stealing into the mind, would that voice could be heard gently reminding us of the fact that the “things that are seen are temporal,” and so save us from the calamity of forgetting the unseen things which are eternal, and which must soon break in upon our delusions and dispel our dreams!
III. A word of comfort and hope. It was so to Paul himself in the special difficulties and troubles which tested his strength and courage. Look at the description he gives of his condition in this very chapter. Now, a man thus tried must find consolation and help somewhere; he finds it chiefly, no doubt, in the presence and grace of his Divine Master, but he finds it likewise in the remembrance that the things seen are temporal, that that which he endures will not, cannot last for ever. While it may be true that those who are in prosperity and are filled with earthly satisfactions dread the approach of any change that may disturb their peace, the possibility of change is the very thing that affords hope to those who are distressed and perplexed. It would be a horrible prospect to them if they thought that things must remain just as they are. But, thank God, invariability is unknown in human life. The man whose situation is worst to-day thinks of to-morrow with its possibilities, and that comforts him. At least, this the Christian knows for him-self--that there will be an end of his sorrow at the last; the final change of all will bring him rest. And in the thought of that he endures “the light affliction,” etc. (W. Braden.)
The seen and unseen
Here we have an exposition of St. Paul’s life, the key which unlocks the most extraordinary character, perhaps, which this world has ever given. If we ask why he was so abundant in labours, so patient in suffering, so persevering in his work, why he did so much and sacrificed so much, and was so cheerful and triumphant through it all, here is the answer. He looked not at the present and transient things, but he looked at the unseen and everlasting things. It must be so with us; all true religion begins and ends with the invisible. It has to do with the invisible God, with the unseen Saviour, with a future judgment, with another world. You will perceive that in these words we have--
I. The seen. We have here, then, two classes of objects. The seen, by which Paul specially meant the visible sources of his trouble. He meant the prison at Philippi, the scourge, the rod, the stoning, the amphitheatre at Ephesus, and all the outward sources of trouble through which he had passed. But he meant a great deal more than that; he meant everything visible to the senses, all that he had ever seen--his native city and province, the class around Gamaliel, the Holy City, the temple at Jerusalem--all that was splendid in Christianity, all that was magnificent in Rome, all that was luxurious at Ephesus. He meant more than that: things men had made--the but and the palace, the clean and the impure. He meant things God had made--trees, flowers, rocks and rivers, mountains and valleys--everything visible to the bodily eye, everything within the sphere of our mortal life. These are the things which are seen.
II. By those which are not seen he meant, first and chiefly, God. All invisible things roll themselves up at last into that one great word, “God,” and Paul meant that; for while the bodily eye sees the material universe, the Christian man looks beyond the mere structure, and he sees the Creator God looking out through every star, touching every flower, fashioning all rivers, moving the springs of the universe, keeping them aright--that in all this there must be a God, an infinite Spirit, the unseen. He meant, further, by the unseen, the spirit of man. We look upon the body and see man as he stands before us--man in his bodily form; but we do not see man. There is something beyond the mere house; we see the house, but not the inhabitants. The real man--the spirit that looks out through the eyes, that listens through the ears, that moves all those springs--is unseen. And then we go yet further. The Christian man believes that there is another world which is not visible to the senses, that in that world God is actually revealed. God is here, but we do not see Him; He does not manifest Himself. We can only know Him by faith, by communion with the Spirit; but the moment a soul leaves the body God is visible. And there is yet more than this which the Christian man often thinks of. We see around us all kinds of actions; we see a great deal of excitement and turmoil; but underneath all these things the Christian man beholds great principles--truth, justice, loyalty to God, love, faith--and he regulates his life accordingly. To illustrate this: There is that word “law” that we so often use. What a force it has in our own country! But what is law? It is not the policeman, the magistrate, the jurors, the judge, the court, the legislation, nor the Queen--these are but the outward and visible signs of the power which we call law. Law, then, is unseen, and yet it is a force pressing upon us every day, touching our life at home and abroad, keeping society together. It is so with regard to the eternal principles which a Christian man looks at. He sees beyond all the fluctuations and excitements of society great principles, and he looks at the things which are not seen.
III. Then we have the contrast between these two classes of objects. The things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal. Now you may view this contrast in several ways. If you take the material universe in its present form, the oldest of the things which are seen are temporal. It began to be, it will cease to be, as it now is. “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth and all that is therein shall be burnt up.” But now place in opposition to that the fact that God is eternal. The creation changes, the Creator is the same. If all material things vanish, I have the Father of my spirit to whom I can plead. I can do without the material; I cannot do without God, and I have Him still. That which connects us with the visible is temporal, while that which connects us with the invisible is eternal. St. Paul makes the distinction in this very chapter. He speaks of the outward man and the inward man. Now it is the body that links us with the visible, and the body is temporal, but it is the soul which links us with the invisible, and the soul is everlasting. Well, now, look at the habit of the Christian man in relation to these things. We are said to look at the things which are not seen. The word “look” is a very peculiar one, and it has these two meanings. First of all the steady, fixed gaze. You walk through a garden with some friend, and you see the shrubbery and the flowers and the walks, and as you pass through, your friend says to you, “Did you see such a flower? did you notice such a tree?” You turn back, you look at it again, you look until it is impressed upon your memory and your mind. You had seen the whole of it before, but you had not looked at anything in particular. The other meaning of the word is even more forcible than this. Our word “scope” in the English language is taken from the very word which St. Paul here uses, and the meaning is that the scope of our life is towards the invisible. Everything tends towards that; our life is arranged on that plan; that is our aim to secure the invisible blessings; that is the scope of our life. To use a modern phrase, you know that in the great railways there are many branch lines; but there is a trunk line into which all the branch lines run, and so the trunk line of the apostle was the invisible. He was kind to all with whom he met, he took an interest in everything that he saw, he was gentle to everybody, and was willing to help everybody, he admired everything that was worth admiring; but still the trunk line of his life was towards the invisible, the everlasting, and all his earthly plans and joys ran into that and served it. We have still business to attend to; we have the family and literature and recreations; but all must be arranged in relation to the everlasting. It will not make you less attentive to earthly duties. It is said of the lark that while up in the sky it can see the smallest speck of grass down below. And so the man soaring in contemplation and looking towards the everlasting God will attend to all the little duties that come upon him day by day. It should be so with us. And now for some results which I will only just mention to you, and the first will be this. Looking at the unseen and the everlasting, you will have decision of character--you will have a controlling influence for your whole life. In the early days of navigation the mariners did not venture far from the coast. They were guided by the hills and the mountains, and they were afraid to go out of sight of them, so they could not go far to sea; but when the compass was invented they could then guide their ship away at sea as well as near to the land; they could guide it in the darkness as well as in the light, and so they could make long and perilous voyages. It is even so with us. We must have something to guide us. If we have the unseen and the everlasting, we shall not be influenced so much by things that are seen all around us--the excitements of life, the turmoil, all the stir and bustle of this earthly state; we shall have some higher, some nobler influence guiding us continually. Temptation says, “Enjoy the present; drink that cup of joy now”; but the man who looks at the unseen says, “No! I can seethe serpent at the bottom of that cup, and in the results of that sinful pleasure.” And so once more looking at the unseen gives calmness and even joy, amidst the sorrows and afflictions of life. He heaps one word upon another in order to express his meaning. He says our “light affliction.” In labours more abundant, in stripes beyond measure, in prisons more frequent (“light affliction”!), of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one (“light affliction”!). Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep (“light affliction”!). (Ishmael Jones.)
Things temporal and things eternal
If you were to track the first steps in the growth of a flower just emerging from the seed, you would discover, upon the cracking open of the seed, that one minute vegetable fibre commences presently to be pressed thence away up through the overlying soil into the air and the light, and another vegetable thread begins, at the same time, to wind itself away down through the underlying soil into the ground beneath. If, now, you will sink a single delicate thought into the botanical fact just stated, you will see, I am sure, that that very process of groping up into the air of one part of its nature, and at the same time groping down into the deep places of the earth with the other part of its nature, is a statement in miniature, and a quiet prophecy of the double affinity with which the plant is endowed, and the twin congeniality with which it has been by God made instinct. I have made use of this illustration only that it may serve us as a picture to study our thoughts by as we grow them. Man also buds in two directions; he too is underlaid with a twin tendency. He is Divinely endowed with one impulse that tends to push him out into the world, and into the association of things that lie easily in sight, and he is endowed, also, with a companion impulse that inclines to conduct him into the fellowship of things upon which the sun does not shine. But each, like the soil under the plant, offers to become to him the means of his life and the material for his fixity, his power, and his hope. One object we have had in guiding our thought here by the simile of the plant has been that we may guard ourselves against the easy and all too common danger of cutting off one of two impulses that assert themselves in us for the sake of avoiding the painful conflict that we are liable to be involved in when both of these impulses work in us at She same time, If the plant were intelligent or conscious, we can imagine how easy and natural it would be for it to lop off its plumules (the portion by which it rises into the air) that it might throw all its vigour into the radicle, or to lop off its radicle in order to throw all its vigour into the plumules. It is noticeable that in the realms of matter and of persons both tendencies and forces are harnessed up in pairs. God always drives in pairs. The earth, in its daily progress, is maintained by the power of a centripetal as well as a centrifugal force. Truths, like the early apostles, always go two and two. There is not one truth, whether in science or in theology, that we can quite make an all-over commitment of ourselves to. We resemble the plant, then, in being endowed with two impulses, both of them God-given, but to neither of which we can allow absolute monopoly. One of them is the impulse to let ourselves out into the contact of things that are in easy view, to things that can be seen and heard and handled; the other--an impulse equally Divine--to draw into intercourse with the realm of invisible realities--the soil in which are intertwined the roots of our life, the hidden ground in which are laid our life’s deep foundations. We have dwelt at some length upon this feature of the matter for the reason that we do not like to leave the impression, or even to start the suspicion, that intercourse with things that are seen or contact with things that can be handled is any less proper or any less Divinely intended than fellowship with the invisible realities with which the seen ones are underlaid. It is as proper to eat as it is to pray. We must scrupulously dissociate from that word “eternal” all such idea as that its reference is distinctively future. It is as true of us as of the flower we have just mentioned, that we are living in two worlds at one and the same time. Unconsciously, perhaps, to ourselves, this realm of the eternal is continually giving a colour to our thoughts and putting its blessed application upon our experiences. There is not a day we live but what, with greater or less distinctness, there looms up before our minds, like mountains impalpably establishing themselves in the darkness, the dim outlines of realities that words cannot teach, but only hint at, that no more pertain to the region of days and things, and that are dimly felt by us as no more subject to the laws of change and decay than truth and justice and love and righteousness are conceived by us as coming in with the dawn and then going out with the evening twilight. Indeed, it is just that sort of realities precisely--truth, justice, love, and righteousness--which go to compose the realm of the eternal. You can call the right an abstraction, but it grows logically concrete so fast as your thought begins to twine itself about it and your heart to pulse its gentle wave into it. This sense of the Eternal spelt with a large “E”--then, is the key to the religious position, to the Christian position. To quicken that sense, to develop it, to intensify it, is bound to be the master-purpose of all religious training. It is with this end in view that we meet one another here in the sanctuary. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
Things temporal and things eternal
I suppose there is no one who would doubt the truth stated in our text, and yet I am afraid that the bulk of us act upon the conviction that there is nothing so permanent as the tangible and visible, and nothing so illusive and transient as the invisible. Yet--
1. The truth affirmed in our text is confirmed by history, and, after all, the story of successive ages can show best of all the relative permanency of the seen and the unseen. If we go back over history we shall find that the most transient are the things which we can see with the physical eye and feel with the physical touch. Review the history of the building up of empires. Solomon,s empire is gone, but the truths he uttered remain. What we have of Roman power to-day as a living energy is not found in physical structures, but in the wisdom that was embodied in her laws.
2. This truth is taught by science. It is strange that, as the result of the study of material objects, men are forced to the conclusion that material things are the most transient. Man talks loftily, and says, “I like to stand on terra firma,” and he thinks he has said a very strong thing. Now, what of it? This grand old Book has always said that there is a time coming when terra firma will cease to be terra firma.
3. This truth is confirmed by our personal experience. Here is this body of mine. They tell me that it changes completely every few years. My personality does not depend upon what the physical eye can see of me. Amid all these changes there is something within which is not seen. Well, then, what are the meaning and ministry of these tangible things? They are intended as helps to enable us to get at the intangible and the invisible. For instance, gold and silver and other earthly possessions are only symbols of the real wealth of which God would have all men be heirs. (D. Davies.)
Looking at the unseen
I. Now, first, i wish to say a word or two about what such a look will do for us. Paul’s notion is, as you will see if you look at the context, that if we want to understand the visible, or to get the highest good out of the things that are seen, we must bring into the field of vision “the things that are not seen.” The ease with which he is dealing is that of a man in trouble. A man that has seen the Himalayas will not be much overwhelmed by the height of Helvellyn. They who look out into the eternities have the true measuring rod and standard by which to estimate the duration and intensity of the things that are present. We are all tempted to do as villagers in some little hamlet do--think that their small local affairs are the world’s affairs, and mighty, until they have been up to London and seen the scale of things there. If you and I would let the steady light of eternity and the sustaining pressure of the “exceeding weight of glory” pour into our minds, we should carry with us a standard which would bring down the greatness, dwindle the duration, lighten the pressure of the most crushing sorrow, and would set in its true dimensions everything that is here. It is for want of that that we go on as we do, calculating wrongly what are the great things and what are the small things. But, on the other hand, do not let us forget that this same standard which thus dwindles also magnifies the small, and, in a very solemn sense, makes eternal the else fleeting things of this life. For there is nothing that makes this present existence of ours so utterly contemptible, insignificant, and transitory as to block out of our sight its connection with eternity. If you shut out eternity from our life in time, then it is an inexplicable riddle. Further, this look of which my text speaks is the condition on which time prepares for eternity. The apostle is speaking about the effect of affliction in making ready for us an eternal weight of glory, and he says that it is done while or on condition that, during the suffering, we are looking steadfastly towards the “things that are not seen.” But no outward circumstances or events can prepare a weight of glory for us hereafter, unless because they prepare us for the glory. Affliction works for us that blessed result in the measure in which it fits us for that result.
II. And so I note that this look at the things not seen is only possible through Jesus Christ. He is the only window which opens out and gives the vision of that far-off land. I, for my part, believe that, if I might use such a metaphor, He is the Columbus of the New World. Men believed, and argued, and doubted about the existence of it across the seas there until a Man went and came back again, and then went to found a new city yonder. It is only in Jesus Christ that the look which my text enjoins is possible. For not only has He given a certitude so as that we need now not to say we think, we hope, we fear, we are pretty well sure, that there must be a life beyond, but we can say we know. Not only has He done this, but also in Him, His life of glory at God’s right hand in heaven, is summed up all that we really can know about that future. We look into the darkness in vain; we look at Him, and, though limited, the knowledge is blessed. Not only is He our sole medium of knowledge, and Himself the revelation of our heaven, but it is only by Him that man’s thoughts and desires are drawn to, and find themselves at home in, that tremendous thought of immortality.
III. And now, lastly, this look should be habitual with all Christian people. Paul takes it for granted that every Christian man is, as the habitual direction of his thoughts, looking towards those “things that are not seen.” The original shows that even more distinctly than our translation, but our translation shows it plainly enough. He does not say, “works for us an exceeding weight of glory for,” but “while” we look, as if it were a matter of course. Note what sort of a look it is which produces these blessed effects. The word which the apostle employs here is a more pointed one than the ordinary one for “seeing.” It is translated in other places in the New Testament, “Mark” them which walk so as ye have us for an “ensample,” and the like. And it implies a concentrated, protracted effort and interested gaze. There has to be a positive shutting out of all other things. It is no mere tautology in which the apostle indulges when he says, “Whilst we look not at the things that are seen,” but see. Here they are pressing in upon our eyeballs, all round us, insisting on being looked at, and, unless we consciously avert our eyes, we shall not see anything else. They monopolise us unless we resist the intrusive appeals that they make to us. We are like men down in some fertile valley, surrounded by rich vegetation, but seeing nothing beyond the green sides of the glen. We have to go up to the hill-top if we are to look out over the flashing ocean, and behold afar off the towers of the mother city across the restless waves. Now, as I have said, the apostle regards this conscious effort at bringing ourselves into touch, in mind and heart and faith, with “the things that are not seen” as being a habitual characteristic of Christian men. I am very much afraid that the present generation of Christian people do not, in anything like the degree in which they should, recreate and strengthen themselves with the contemplation which he here recommends. Let us turn away our eyes from the gauds that we can see, and open the eyes of our spirits on the things that are, the things where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
In and by things temporal are given things eternal
There is a great deal said about looking away from the things of time to the things of eternity; and Paul, I suppose, is credited with this idea on the score of the language here cited. Whether he would accept the credit is more doubtful. It certainly is no conception of his that we are to ignore the temporal, and go clear of it, in order to being fixed in the eternal. It is not to literally look away from temporal things in order to see the eternal, but it is to see the temporal in the eternal, or through it and by means of it. Paul, I am sure, had no Other conception. By not looking at the temporal things, he means simply not fastening our mind to them, or upon them, as the end of our pursuit; for he calls them “things that are seen,” which implies that, in another and more simply natural sense, they are looked at, for how can they be things seen if they are not?
I. There is, then, I am going now to show, a fixed relation between the temporal and the eternal, such that we shall best realise the eternal by rightly using the temporal. Things temporal he saw a great deal more penetratingly than any mere worldly mind could; saw far enough into them to discover their unsolidity and their transitory consequence, and to apprehend just so much the more distinctly the solid and eternal verities represented by them. Things and worlds are passing--shadows all that pass away. The durable and strong, the real continent, the solid landing-place, is beyond. But the present things are good for the passage, good for signs, good as shadows. So he tramps on through them, cheering his confidence by them, having them as reminders, and renewing, day by day, his outward man by what of the more solid and glorious future is so impressively represented and captivatingly set forth in them. He does not refuse to see with his eyes what God puts before his eyes. He rejoices that the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead--all the truths eternal--are, from His creation, clearly seen. He loves society also--rejoices in its new prospects now that the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus is set up in it. And, what is more than all, the Son of God Himself has come out in His eternity to be incarnate in these scenes, and live in them and look upon them with His human eyes. And so these all are hallowed by the enshrining, for a time, of His glorious divinity in them, becoming temporalities redolent of His eternity. Our apostle looked thus on the things that are temporal as not looking on them, but as looking straight through on the things eternal, which they represent and prepare. He looked on them just as one looks on a window-pane when he studies the landscape without. In one view he looks on the glass, in another he does not. Thus it is a true use, I conceive, of things temporal that they are to put us under the constant, all-dominating impression of things eternal. And we are to live in them as in a transparency, looking through every moment, and in all life’s works and ways acting through, into the grand reality world of the life to come.
II. Having gotten our conception thus of the apostle’s meaning, as well as a good argument from his religious habit and character to prove it, let us next consider the fact that all temporal things and works are actually designed or planned for this very object--Viz., to conduct us on, or through, into the discovery of things eternal. Every existing thing or object in the created empire of God, all forms, colours, heights, weights, magnitudes, forces, come out of God’s mind covered all over with tokens, saturated all through with flavours of His intelligence. They represent God’s thought, the invisible things of God; and an angel coming out into the world, instead of seeing nothing in them but only walls, would see God expressed by them, just as we are expressed by our faces and bodies. The invisible things of God, all His eternal realities, would be clearly seen. No, we do not become worldly by looking at things temporal, but by not looking at them closely enough, and with due religious attention. How different, for example, would they be if we could but stay upon them long enough, and devoutly enough, to see the prodigious workings hid in them. We should find them swinging and careering in geometric figures, weighed and spaced in geometric proportions; and what are these but thoughts of mind and laws of thought, eternal in their very nature? There is yet another and more popular way in which these temporal and visible things carry forces and weights of eternity with them--they are related as signs or images to all the most effective and most glorious truths of religion. They are all so many physical word-forms given to make up images and vocables for religion, for which reason the Scripture is full of them, naming and describing everything by them--by the waters and springs that quench our thirst, by the bread that feeds our bodies, by the growing corn in its stages, by the tares that grow with it, by the lilies in their clothing, by the hidden gold and silver and iron of the mountains, by the sea, the storms, the morning mist, the clouds, the sun, etc. Our complaint, therefore, that temporal things hide the eternal, and keep them out of sight, is much as if one should complain of telescopes hiding the stars, or window-panes shutting out the sun, or even of eyes themselves obstructing the sense of things visible. There is a way, I know, of handling these temporals coarsely and blindly, seeing in them only just what a horse or a dog might see. A brutish mind sees only things in things, and no meanings. But it cannot be said, without the greatest wrong to God, that He has given us these temporalities to live in for any such use. Spirituality of habit and thought could not be made more possible, or the lack of it more nearly impossible. Hence, also, the fact so often remarked, that forms, colours, objects, scenes, have all a power so captivating over childish, and indeed over all young, minds. The child or youth thinks not of it, and yet the power of the fact is on him. The real and true account of the fact is that the eternals are in the things looked on so eagerly by these young eyes, shining out, filling them with images, starting their thoughts, kindling fires of truth and eternity in their spirit. Again, it is the continual object and art of all God’s management, temporal and spiritual, secular and Christian, to bring us into positions where we may see, or may rather be compelled to see, the eternal things of His government. So little reason have we to complain, as we do continually, that our relations, occupations, and works take us away from the discovery of such things, and leave us no time or capacity for it. Thus, at our very first breath, we are put in what is called the family state. In the providence of it we live. By the discipline of it we learn what love is, in all the severe and faithful and tender offices of it. And so, as it were from the egg, we are configured to the eternal family state for which we are made. So, also, if we speak, or revelation speaks, of an unseen government or kingdom, where we get the very form of the thought from our outward kingdoms below. Meantime the ordinance of want and labour, and all the industrious works and cares of life--fearful hindrances, we say, to any discovery of God--what are they still but works and struggles leading directly into His very seat? What do you do in them, in fact, but just go to the earth and the great powers of nature, to invoke them by your industry, and by your labour sue out, as it were, from them the supply you want? And when you come so very close to God, even to the powers and laws which are His reigning, everlasting thoughts, what temptation have you to lift your suit just one degree, and make your application even to God Himself! His scheme of providence, also, is adjusted so as to open windows on us continually in this earthly house of our tabernacle, through which the building of God, not made with hands, may be the better discovered. God is turning our experience always in a way to give us the more inward senses of things, acting always on the principle that the progress of knowledge, most generically and comprehensively regarded, is but a progress out of the matter view into the mind view of things; for all the laws, properties, classifications of objects, as we just now saw, are thoughts of God made visible in them, so that all the growth of knowledge is a kind of spiritualising of the world--that is, a finding of the eternal in the temporal. For God will not let us get lodged in the temporal, but is always shoving us on to what is beyond. Besides, once more, we have eternals garnered up in us all, in our very intelligence; immortal affinities which, if we forget or suppress, are still in us; great underlaid convictions, also, ready to burst up in us and utter even ringing pronouncements; and, besides, there is an inevitable and sure summons always close at hand, as we know, and ready for its hour, whose office it is to bring the great eternals near and keep them in power. Here, then, we are all going on--or in, rather--to be unsphered here, and reinsphered, if we are ready for it, in a promised life more stable and sufficient. The eternal has been with us all the way, even when we could not find it. Now it is fully discovered, and become our mansion state. The fugacities are left behind us. The eternal things are now most distinctly seen, and the temporal scarcely seen at all. So that, as we now look back on the old physical order, it was arranged, we see, to be a kind of transparency, and we were set in among and behind its objects and affairs, before open windows, as it were, there to look out on the everlasting and set our life for it. Two things now, having reached this point, let me ask you to note, or have established.
1. First, that you are never to allow yourself in the common way of speaking, that proposes to look away from the things of time, or calls on others to do it. Never speak as if that were the way of an unworldly Christian, for it is not. The unworldly Christian, if he has the true mettle of a great life in him, never looks away from the things of time, but looks only the more piercingly into them and through. He does not expect to find God beyond them, but in them, and by means of them. God help you rather to be manly enough to use the world as it is, and get your vision levelled for eternal things in it and by it. You will come up unto God by uses of mastery, and not by retreat and feeble deprecation.
2. Another correspondent caution, secondly, needs to be noted, and especially by those who are not in the Christian way of life. They inevitably hear a great deal said of spiritual-mindedness, and they see not any meaning to give it which does not repel them. What are called spiritual things appear to them to be only a kind of illusion, a fog of mystic meditation or mystic expectation, which the fender, less perceptive believers press out thin, because they have not strength enough to body their life in things more solid and rational. The spiritually-minded person spiritualises temporal things and the temporal life by nothing but by just seeing them in their most philosophic sense. He takes hold of the laws, finds his way into the most inmost thoughts, follows after the spirit force everywhere entempled, and puts the creation moving at every turn in the supreme order of mind. If this be illusion, God give us more of it. The spiritual habit is, in this view, reason, health, and everlasting robustness. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The things which are not seen … which … are eternal--
Looking at the things which are not seen
I. Let us explain this state or habit of mind.
1. The apostle draws a marked distinction between things seen and not seen. The first includes all terrestrial pursuits, customs, callings, and objects--all those things after which “the children of this world” seek. Many of these things are lawful and necessary, and a vast multitude unlawful. The Master says, concerning them, “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” On the other hand, the text mentions “the things which are not seen.” These are eternal.
2. At these things not seen, whether spiritual in this life, or celestial, the text requires us to “look.”
(1) There is the looking of the natural eye. This, of course, is not referred to, for how can we look at that which is not seen with the bodily eye?
(2) The looking of the mind. We constantly speak of perceiving things with which the organs of bodily vision have nothing whatever to do--e.g., the truth. Now, it is in this sense, in part, that we are to “look at the things not seen.” We should endeavour to acquire a clear understanding, a just comprehension of them so far as they are revealed to us.
(3) The looking of the heart. This may be directed either to forbidden objects or to lawful and holy ones. Lot’s wife looked back. In what did the guilt of that look consist? Was it merely the circumstance that her visual organs caught sight of the city? The fact was, her heart was in Sodom still. But the text presents to us our duty. The affections of the renewed mind are centred on new objects, on things that are pure and immortal. When we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, and His love is shed abroad in our hearts, our desires will be toward Him and the remembrance of His name.
II. Let us attend to a few arguments and encouragements which may incite us to aspire to it.
1. The uncertainty of all things that are seen, and the certainty of things that are not seen.
(1) In all things below there is the uncertainty--
(a) Of attainment. Many who labour, of course, reap a full reward of their toil. But others, whose plans were equally well laid, whose perseverance was equal to that of their more fortunate brethren, from untoward circumstances have never prospered. Again, how often does it come to pass that a man appears to be prospering, and just at the crisis of expectation some unexpected blow demolishes his fairest hopes.
(b) Of possession. No man holds his life on a secure tenure. “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” What we cherish most is often first taken from us.
(2) But no such uncertainty prevails in regard to the things that are not seen. They are firm and sure as the everlasting hills. The children of this world may mourn over toil unrequited, but no man, except by his own fault, ever yet worked for God and lost his labour.
2. The immensely superior value of things not seen. On the same principle on which we would readily sacrifice one pound to gain a thousand, or endure five minutes’ pain if it would secure to us a life’s comfort, we must admit that things below ought to be subordinated to things beyond.
3. In looking at the things which are not seen there is required at times self-denial and taking up the cross. Pursuits which we formerly cherished must be abandoned. We are aiming at a heavenly treasure, and we may calculate on difficulties in endeavouring to secure it, for there is no crown without a cross. But the Lord Jesus left heavenly glories for us; shall we not be willing to leave earthly vanities for Him?
4. The things that are seen will soon lose all the value which they now appear to possess. Gold cannot procure a plaster that will heal a wounded conscience, nor a pillow that will ease a dying head. The voice of fame and popular applause is sweet siren-music for a while, but it is not heard in the chamber of death. Sensual delights have their day; the enfeebled body cannot endure them. Pitiable beyond explanation is the case of the dying worldling; all his joys are past, and his sorrows are to come. How glorious, on the other hand, are the prospects of the faithful in Christ Jesus! The trial is ending, but the triumph is commencing. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The Christian looking at things not seen
I. Two different classes of objects.
1. Things which are seen.
2. Things which are not seen.
II. The conduct of the Christian with reference to these objects.
1. The text. It represents him in an attitude of attention. The word rendered “look” signifies to look at earnestly, intently, as an archer, for instance, looks at the mark which he wishes to strike, or as a man in a race looks at the goal which he is pressing forward to reach (Philippians 3:14).
2. But what does this involve?
(1) Faith--a belief in the existence of unseen spiritual things. Many earthly things which we have never seen we all firmly believe to exist. And the Christian is just as well satisfied of the reality of spiritual things. These things have a probable existence in the estimation of most men. They are believed in very much as we believe that the planets are inhabited, or that such a town as Troy once stood somewhere on the earth. But this is not the Christian’s faith. His is a faith which is to him “the evidence,” or manifestation, “of things unseen.” It serves him in the place of eyes whereby to discern them, enabling him to feel sure of their existence, as sure as you feel at this moment that London exists, or that a few miles from you the ocean is washing with its waters England’s shores (2 Corinthians 5:1).
(2) A high estimation of invisible things--. superlative esteem of them. The apostle, having divided in his mind all existing things into two classes, seems to have asked himself, “Which are the best? which shall I take as the objects of my pursuit?” and then to have decided on invisible things. You cannot bring the men of the world to this. They look only on the things nearest to them, and these, contemplated alone, appear all-important.
III. The reason the apostle assigns for this conduct of the Christian. Here, as elsewhere, he almost surprises us by the low ground he takes. Ask us why unseen things are to be preferred to the things around us. “They are so much more excellent,” we should say, “so much more able to satisfy the soul.” But the apostle merely says that he prefers them because they are more durable. And here breathes forth the immortality of the soul. “What matters it to me what things are?--will they abide? I am to last for ever--will they?”
IV. The happy effect produced on the Christian by the peculiar conduct here ascribed to him.
1. It makes all present afflictions seem light to him (verse 17).
2. It will sanctify our afflictions. What Paul means in the previous verse is that they ripen us for the glory before us. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Things unseen to be preferred to things seen
I. I shall give a comparative view of visible and invisible things.
1. As to their intrinsic value, and in this respect the disparity is inconceivable. This I shall illustrate in the two comprehensive instances of pleasure and pain. To shun the one and obtain the other is the natural effort of the human mind. And these principles are co-existent with the soul itself, and will continue in full vigour in a future state. Nay, as the soul will then be matured, and all its powers arrived to their complete perfection, this eagerness after happiness, and aversion to misery, will be also more quick and vigorous.
1. Visible things are not equal to the capacities of the human soul. The soul, which lies obscured in this prison of flesh, gives frequent discoveries of surprising powers; its desires in particular have a kind of infinity. But all temporary objects cannot afford it a happiness equal to its capacity, nor render it as miserable as its capacity of suffering will bear. On the other hand, the soul may possess some degree of happiness under all the miseries it is capable of suffering from external and temporal things. Guilt, indeed, denies it this support; but if there be no anguish resulting from its own reflections, not all the visible things can render it perfectly miserable; its capacity of suffering is not put to its utmost stretch. But, oh! when we take a survey of invisible things we shall find them all great and majestic--not only equal, but infinitely superior, to the most enlarged powers of the human, and even of the angelic, nature. And let me also observe that all the objects about which our faculties will be employed then will be great and majestic, whereas at present we grovel among little sordid things. And, since this is the case, how little should we regard the things that are seen in comparison of them that are not seen!
2. The soul is at present in a state of infancy, and incapable of such degrees of pleasure or pain as it can bear in the future world.
3. And, lastly, all the happiness and misery of the present state, resulting from things that are seen, are intermingled with contrary ingredients. We are never so happy in this world as to have no uneasiness. On the other hand, we are never so miserable as to have no ingredient of happiness. In heaven the rivers of pleasures flow untroubled with a drop of sorrow: in hell there is not a drop of water to mitigate the fury of the flame. And who, then, would not prefer the things that are not seen to those that are seen?
II. The infinite disparity between them as to duration. Can you need any arguments to convince you that an eternity of the most perfect happiness is rather to be chosen than a few years of sordid, unsatisfying delight?
III. To show the great and happy influence a suitable impression of the superior importance of invisible to visible things would have upon us. This I might exemplify in a variety of instances with respect to saints and sinners. When we are tempted to any unlawful pleasures, how would we shrink away from the pursuit had we a due sense of the misery incurred and the happiness forfeited by it! When we find our hearts excessively eager after things below, had we a suitable view of eternal things, all these things would shrink into trifles. When the sinner, for the sake of a little present ease, and to avoid a little present uneasiness, stifles his conscience, has he then a due estimate of eternal things? Alas! no; he only looks at the things that are seen. When we suffer any reproach or contempt on a religious account, how would a due estimate of eternal things fortify us with undaunted courage! How would a realising view of eternal things animate us in our devotion! How powerful an influence would a view of futurity have to alarm the secure sinner! How would it hasten the determination of the lingering, wavering sinner! In a word, a suitable impression of this would quite alter the aspect of things in the world, and would turn the concern and activity of the world into another channel. Eternity then would be the principal concern. (S. Davies, M. A.)
Looking at the unseen
1. We think of men, of their wealth, power, mechanisms, and institutions; we think of our country and the globe. All these seem real, while those things that are unseen we leave for the philosopher’s speculation, and for the poet’s pen, as being not matters for the consideration of practical men. But the spirit of industry is more than wealth, for it will renew--nay, even surpass--the loss of the past in the achievements of the present. The genius that rears the imposing edifice is more than the edifice itself. We see the vast warehouses which commerce plants, and the spacious mansions which wealth builds; but the spirit of law--that impersonal power that protects them--is more than these visible objects and immediate results. So is it with the institutions of men. Life is the basis, the motive, the end of all man accomplishes. Hope is better than that which hope gets. So it is that statesmen and philanthropists in their wisest aims work for the conservation of these invisible, hidden forces.
2. So, in the physical universe, it is what we do not see that is of prime importance, rather than the things that are seen. The diamond is beautiful, but it were better that all the diamonds should be crushed than that the law of crystallisation should cease to act. Better level the mountain rather than the soil which it helps to nourish should lose the element of productiveness. Better far were it that the stars should be annihilated than that the law of gravitation should fail. These unseen forces appear neither to our hearing nor to our vision, but they are real and abiding.
3. Paul gained what no historic research or scientific insight alone could discover--an apprehension of the unseen by means of religious faith. It was a great achievement on his part, for his life was not one of retirement. He was familiar with Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, etc. It is not the philosophic or scientific, but the Christian temper that belongs to the religious life; it is a devout appreciation of God in Christ; it is an intelligent recognition of His providential control of the world’s affairs. Paul saw this unseen power in other lives, and felt it in his own. He knew, and so do we, how this indwelling life and love blazed forth in the suffering martyrs and toiling missionaries, and was a more real, palpable power than city or sea, or the mountain that shadowed both. He saw the greatness of immortality. Several suggestions grow out of this train of thought. Here is--
I. The best possible illustration of the fineness and power of the human soul, which can thus rise from the transient to the eternal. We are impressed by the genius of the sculptor that sees the angel in the stone; we admire the genius of the musician to whom the music of unwritten harmonies comes before he has touched either organ or score, and that of the scientific man who conducts us amid nature’s mysteries through the occult ministry of forces unseen. But I know no other point at which the human spirit comes into nearer contact with Divine wisdom than here. The wisdom that shines in the senate, and the military sagacity that conducts a campaign, command our respect; but the disciple of Christ in humble life that can say, “I know God, although I have never seen Him; I know eternity, although I have never been there,” reveals God’s interior light in the soul. It is a higher revelation--it is a prophecy of immortality! Do not tell me that such a soul is to die with the body, affiliated as it is with the spiritual, carrying in itself the promise, the assurance, of everlasting life--an immortality full of splendour!
II. The secret of a great character. Power of character comes not from intellectual training or association with the greatest men of the race, but by conscious relations to God, by reflecting the glory shining from above.
III. The glory of the gospel. It is saturated with the unseen. The quiet lake, over whose bosom not the faintest breeze is felt, seems like a mirror swimming between two immensities, the one seen above, the other in its liquid depths. So the gospel shows the Divine realities of both worlds as in a mirror.
IV. The aspiration for us. It is the life within the veil. We dwell in cities crowded with monuments of skill, of power, and wealth. The contemplation of these things is apt to pull us down to low level unless we feel the corrective which the power of the Holy Ghost in our hearts exerts. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Things seen and unseen
“The things which are seen are temporal”--what is it but the tritest axiom of proverbial lore? “The things which are not seen are eternal”--what is it but the furthest reach of faith, the uttermost effort of aspiration? Yet surely such recognition is needed. In view of the changes of time, the mind is in quest of the constants of eternity; but, till the problem be fully stated, what can we hope for but inadequate solutions? Let us attempt, then, to trace the development from human experience of the idea of change, and then consider the flights of fancy, the findings of the reason, and the verdict of the spirit in search for fixity. Change is a thing to which we become inured before we begin to think, while scarcely we can feel. Think of a child, upon a bright May morning, in the middle of a flowery field, himself unfolding, like a blossom in the sun, to the first keen sense of life’s delightfulness. He is busy with a thousand plans which no lifetime would suffice to execute, but they are all to be carried out upon that bright May morning. Now picture the sky overclouded, the falling of big raindrops on the grass, the flowers drenched and drooping on the darkened earth, and the child hastening homeward in sorrow. Here is a first lesson in the reading-book of life, a first line in the primer of experience. But how gently is the truth conveyed! For the sun will soon shine out again. But the child will live to see the summer pass; he will live to see the bright days fewer and the dark days more; he will live to see the leaves turn yellow and fall, the flowers wither, and the year decay. Then they will tell him of the coming spring, and make him glad with the promise of fresher flowers and greener leaves. Then comes another step more hard to take, another lesson more sorrowful to learn. There are changes which outlast the seasons; there are losses which the year’s revolution can never more repair. There is the change of sickness in cheeks that are daily more hollow, and eyes that are daily more dim. There is the change of death. There is change, too, in the living and the healthy--changes of tone and feeling, changes of frame and figure. There is a change of places, too, as well as of persons. Who that has revisited his childhood’s playground or his boyhood’s haunts, the old home of the far-sped years, but has felt it like a shock? Here the poplars and the elms of his infancy are felled. We have spoken of the changes that are measured by a lifetime, and we talk sometimes as if there were no others. The farther we extend the range of historical research, the deeper we sink the fathom-line of geological discovery, the higher we raise the scaling ladder that reaches beyond the stars, the closer we scrutinise the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral domain, the more does all seeming permanence dissolve in change. Many landmarks of supposed stability are being washed away. The doctrine of progressive development has taken the place, in scientific minds, of the once familiar notion of a stereotyped creation. We speak no longer of fixed species, but of successive and surviving forms. And thus, with a wider range of observation, and a broader field of induction, we seem to be rapidly approaching the point of view anticipated of old by Heraclitus, the sage of Ephesus, who found in nature only constant flux, and gazing on the river as it coursed along its channel, the same, yet not the same, each moment that it flowed, saw the facts of the universe exemplified, the mirrored mutability of all things. But we have not yet exhausted the realm of the changeable. For among the things which are seen may be counted, without absurdity, not only the more immediate objects of corporeal vision, but equally those products of the mind which, when formulated, registered, and promulgated, acquire an objective reality in the eyes of men. In many an ancient custom, in many a lordly structure, in many a ponderous tome, we behold the visible embodiment of some tenacious opinion, or doctrine, or phase of faith. And often the fabric outlasts the faith that reared it, the book survives the opinions of the men who wrote it, the custom perseveres when the belief that produced it is dead. The thoughts of men have undergone a revolution far greater than all the changes that have taken place in the style of our architecture, while the usages of society and the epochs of literature are but a halting and uncertain index of the progress of ideas--a progress which, indeed, they tend sometimes to hinder, and but seldom simply reflect. And now, to conclude our picture of the instability of the things of time, let us think once more of death. Let the world change much or little, we must leave it soon; our eyes shall close upon the tide of time, with its eddying ebbs and flows, the vicissitudes of human fortune, and the changes of human thought. Wherever and whenever in the history of our race the mutability of the things of sense has been strongly impressed upon the mind, the question has inevitably arisen, Is there anything steadfast and sure? Is there rest in the turmoil of life? Shall we find a fixed point amidst the vortex of existence, or a stable bottom to its rolling sea? The search for fixity in the midst of change has assumed sometimes the form of an intellectual problem. When Heraclitus had propounded his doctrine of perpetual flux, a kind of panic seized the mind of Greece. Men despaired of the possibility of knowledge. The sophists, or clever talkers of the day, took advantage of this novel conception of universal change to ridicule the reason of mankind, and rampant scepticism threatened to reign supreme. “No truth,” was the alarm-cry raised, “for there is nothing steadfast to speak the truth about.” If any one were hardy enough to maintain that man was a rational being, or any equally simple proposition, he was instantly met with the retort, “Man is not the same for two moments. Who, then, is the man whom you assert to be rational?” Then Socrates came to the rescue with those general definitions which his disciple, Plato, poetised into animate ideas. Socrates was the first who consciously constructed an abstraction. He was the first to see that, while men changed from hour to hour and died, man stiff continued permanent, the species outlasting the example, the kind the individual unit. Out of this piece of sober reasoning, by the aid of a vigorous imagination, Plato constructed the ideal world, and endowed it with substantial existence. And thus, behind the transient phantasms of sight and sound, he pictured an everlasting universe of unchangeable realities. Infuse into this Greek conception a little of the Hebrew spirit, endow it with an interest less purely intellectual and more essentially religious--the very fate which actually awaited it when Jews and Greeks were blended in the Alexandrian schools--and so fitly does it harmonise with the Christian mood of mind that the words of my text themselves might almost be mistaken for the verbal reproduction of an old Platonic saw. And this is no surface likeness, this is no chance resemblance. Alike to the Athenian and the Nazarene was it given to lay hold upon the unseen world, and if the grasp of Jesus was the firmer, yet the grasp of Socrates was the first. It is not the philosophical value of abstract definitions, but the moral tone which inspires the philosopher’s researches, upon which we should fix our attention. And what is the verdict of the spirit upon this finding of the reason? It were needless to say we reject, as belonging to the childhood of philosophy, the notion that our abstract ideas, as such, have any substantial existence outside the mind that produced them. For us the religious and intellectual worth of the ideas is this--that they draw our attention to the fact of the permanence, the continuity of these very minds amid the shifts and changes of the outer world. True, not even our ideas are immutable--they vary and expand with our knowledge--and yet they are comparatively lasting as measured against the objects of sight, the sensuous impressions of the moment. But there is a something more enduring still the link that binds them each to each and blends them in a sovereign unity, the principle of selfhood, the consciousness that makes them ours. And here a new light breaks in upon us, for is it not this constancy of self, this perseverance of the conscious subject, to which alone we owe the knowledge that the world is changing around us? But there is yet another of the findings of reason which the spirit finds fruitful and suggestive. This is that axiom of physical science, anticipated by Empedocles and Leucippus in Greece, and popularised by Lucretius in Rome, concerning the eternity of matter. There is no such thing in nature as annihilation. All change is dissolution only. Corruption is the food of life, decay the beauty and the strength of bloom; and the same leaves that wither in the autumn, and rot upon the ground in winter, clothe the bare branches with a fresher green when spring comes round again. Here, then, we are presented with another exemplification of the truth that the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal. Matter, in its outward and momentary manifestation, is visible and transient; in its inner, persistent, continuous identity, invisible and permanent. The outward changes we perceive by the senses, the inward constancy we grasp with the mind. And this power of mind to grasp the eternity of matter is a witness of its own eternity. The invisible things of faith are invisible not in fact alone, but equally in nature. The great realities of the spiritual world are neither objects of sense nor the abstractions of such objects, nor imaginative copies of material things. Rather are they certain imperishable principles that pervade the universe. The principle of love, the principle of progress, the principle of reverence, the principle of hope, the principle of trust, the principle of freedom--it is these that pervade all nature, these that outlast all change. And these, the invisible things of eternity, are clearly descried by faith in the visible things of time. For look at the very changes to which the things of time are subject, discerning the end from the beginning--is it possible to doubt that they are changes for the better? Finally, as in all else besides, so, too, in the dogmas of theology, there are permanent principles of truth underlying the changing shape. It is never the form of a creed, it is only the faith it inspires, which has wrought any deliverance in society and done any good in the world. As the chords of the spirit still vibrate when the strings of the lyre are mute, and the strain which the ear has drunk in makes melody for ever in the soul, so, though the words of ancient creeds are silent on our lips, the eternal sentiments of veneration, love, gratitude, and trust shall yet maintain their hold upon our lives, shall yet perpetuate their music in our hearts. (E. M. Geldart, M. A.)
The changeable and the unchangeable
I. Here is a written creed drawn up by the finest genius of the Christian Church. Every line bears traces of critical and most pious care, but at the same time the whole was done as the result of human cooperation. How shall we place this creed? We may instantly place it among things which are temporal. What then is it which is by its nature opposed to this thing which is temporal, and is therefore to be reckoned amongst things eternal? The answer is faith. The difference between a creed and faith is the difference between things which are temporal and things which are eternal. Faith is not a human creation, a human contrivance. The creed will vary--faith will abide. One creed cometh and disappeareth after another, but faith abideth for ever.
2. Denominationalism is to be ranked with things which are temporal. What is the quantity which is set in direct opposition as being permanent, yea, everlasting? Its name is Worship--religious homage, religious loyalty, praise of God, and consecration to His service. Denominationalism, like all our little systems, has its day; it serves a most useful purpose. But worship endures.
3. We may apply the same principle to a religious institution. Let us say the Sabbath. Some say that the Sabbath should be on Saturday, and some that it should be on Sunday. The mere day must be set amongst things which are temporal. What is it that is eternal? Rest. You can appoint the day if you please to be Saturday, to be Creation Day, or Resurrection Day, or Pentecostal Day, but the thing you cannot trifle with is God’s gift, God’s command of rest. With perfect reverence we may apply the principle to the Bible itself. Looking at the Bible externally, it is a book which men made; they made the paper, they cast the type. The Bible, therefore, considered as a book, a manufacture, must be ranked amongst things which are temporal; it has its human aspects. Then what is it that is eternal? The answer is: the thing which is eternal is Revelation--the contact of the Divine mind with the human mind, the specific communication from heaven of heaven’s high purpose; a revelation of the nature of God, the economy of providence, the whole scheme of life, with all its mystery of sin, and all its sublimer mystery of atonement. In the fields of controversy we should assent to things eternal. What does controversy intermeddle with? With things that are temporal. Controversy takes up little subjects, minute points; displays its shrewdness and cleverness in the detection of flaws or discrepancies in human economies. What a ground of union we have discovered now in things which are eternal! Who does not in all the Christian Church believe in the necessity of faith, worship, philanthropy, revelation? Yet who has not allowed himself to be driven off into adjacent lines that he might fight angry battles about unimportant things?
4. In coming to God in prayer, we should fix the mind upon things which are eternal, and regulate our prayer by their wide sweep. We are not to ask for things which are temporal, with any desire to insist upon them. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. Our knowledge of the future life is entirely a matter of revelation.
II. Revelation does not describe the “unseen things,” it does state explicitly that they have this quality of duration.
1. It tells us that our life that is lived here among things that change and pass away, will then be surrounded by what is permanent, that the relationships into which we shall enter there will never be broken, that the good we attain there we shall never be in danger of losing. Here nothing is constant. The eternal things are like God Himself; they are fixed and secure.
2. Probably, however, some are saying that if life in heaven is thus permanent, there is a prospect of monotony. But progress is perfectly consistent with the idea of permanence. Heaven need not change, though we may become increasingly familiar with its glory. The Divine Being need not change, though we may grow in knowledge of His will, and receive fresh revelations of His character. Our natures may not alter, though we may become grander in our intellectual conceptions, and be enriched in our spiritual life. The tree which five years ago bore but a bushel of fruit, and this year bears five, is the same tree, and the fruit is of the same kind, only more abundant. No change in its nature has been effected. The boy who awhile since stammered through the letters of the alphabet with difficulty, but who can now read the masterpieces of English literature, is the same boy, though his intellect has grown. (W. Braden.)
Things seen and things unseen
Here is a paradox: our eyes, are they not made to look at things that are to be seen? Direct them to what is unseen, is that wisdom? But there is truth in many a paradox. What did Paul mean? It is the truest of metaphors that the soul has eyes as well as the body. Your eyelids may close, and leave your soul all the freer to gaze on the world within--the world of thought and feeling. Paul did not, indeed, employ only his body in his various activities; but the energy he exhibited was sustained by his keen gaze on spiritual realities, which “eye hath not seen, or ear heard.”
I. The transitoriness of all things seen, the perpetuity of things unseen. The text exhibits a truth wider than perhaps we all suspect.
1. Take your home. There is the visible house, garden, etc.; but they alone do not make the place home; because to other people, who come and see the same things, it is not home. Then what have you there which they have not? You have the dear associations and fond attachments of many happy years. Those two things make a place home; on the one hand, the house and its belongings; on the other hand, the associations of years. The one set, “the things seen,” and the other, “the things unseen.”
2. Take the inmates of that home. Their forms, once so familiar to our eyes, may have lain for years in their graves; but the love and fidelity, the minds and hearts which animated them, these God has taken--they cannot die. They live and glow with unfading brightness though their bodies have crumbled away--“for the things which are not seen are eternal.”
3. Now these are but striking examples of a principle which runs all through our life. Mere lapse of time cannot change love, it may live and grow, though the visible object of it is no more. The seen is not all, or half; but as shadow to substance; sign, to thing signified.
II. Fixing the view on things temporary or eternal. This far-reaching truth has very practical bearings. It seems most obvious that the thoughts and affections of spiritual beings should be set, not on the transitory objects which perish in the using, but on those underlying verities, sublimities, spiritual realities, which abide. Set your heart on a flower, a day will blight your joy. Employ your faculties and interests on the marvellous laws and forces which produce it, and your interest will be called forth perpetually. So let your heart be set on human beauty; it is but a question of a little longer time, and you will be weeping over its loss. But let your affections fix rather on charms and graces of character, and you may have a good hope that you will find them again unchanged, imperishable, like your own recollections. So, again, fix your whole soul on material wealth, and the good things of earth, or on anything you can see: your happiness is a mere question of years. Pursue honour, fidelity, truth, beauty of soul, especially in the living form of God revealed, eternal truth, eternal beauty; He is unseen, the invisible source and fountain of what we behold now, and shall behold hereafter. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
The things seen and unseen
I. The things themselves. The Christian man looks at the outward fluctuation of life-at what is done, endured, enjoyed; but amidst all, his eye is fixed upon those great eternal principles, which come directly from the God that is above him; and he feels His great government to be a living power, pressing perpetually upon him, and making him to be what he is.
II. The contrast betwixt these two classes of things. Very different degrees of duration belong to “the things which are seen”; but none of them possess perpetuity.
1. If you take that which has the longest duration--the material universe--still, we are taught by Scripture that it is temporal, and reason confirms the idea. The eternity of matter would make matter to be God. The whole universe is but the material manifestation of God, and the time will come when the great God, having for ages worn this splendid regal robe, sparkling with its innumerable lustrous lights, will just put it off, fold it up, and lay it aside; while He Himself changeth not, but is ever the same, from everlasting to everlasting! So that you see, compared with God, that which has the greatest duration is yet temporal and transitory.
2. Again, there is greater duration belonging to the structure than to the race who inhabit it; and to that greater duration God has opposed His own eternity. Humanity has a less duration than the universe, the habitation; and the individual has a much less duration than the race. But contrasted with this, there is the “spirit in man”--the “inspiration of the Almighty, which giveth him understanding,” and which partakes of the indestructibility of God.
3. Again, the great things that make life what it is--the bustle, activity, ambition, the sweat and stir of mankind--why, they are not even so long as life itself. The little child outlives the things which to his age are “the things which are seen,” and which please while they last. So is it with the youth, and with the young man, and with the man of “full age.” So you find it with men everywhere; they outlive the things for which men live--they often outlive even the capability of enjoying them if they had them. All the particular forms of human action, virtue, glory, temptation, suffering--all these are temporal and transitory; but the principles connected with them all are eternal. I do not expect to have to buy and sell in heaven; but whatever I do there, I must do justly and uprightly--the principle that must regulate my buying and selling here.
III. The relation of the Christian mind and heart to these. “We look,” etc. This language implies--
1. A perfect persuasion that these things are. Everywhere the thoughtful have thought--surely, there is a great Spirit; surely, I myself have a spirit. And not only so, but that there is a difference between this thing and that; I call the one right and the other wrong, this bad and that good. But there have been doubt, scepticism, and uncertainty--mingled with all this--reason, wanting satisfaction on authority. And the very condition of our nature here, as being in a state of probation, demands that principles of this sort, the great ruling laws by which we ought to be regulated, should not be overpowering in their manifestation. But the Christian man believes, on the authority of the declaration of God, that there are these unseen existing things and persons and principles.
2. That he looks at them attentively, regards them habitually, realises the fact of his being surrounded by these unseen things, and acts in relation to them.
IV. The results of this condition or relation of the Christian mind and heart to these things.
1. It elevates and dignifies all things. The world and man are no longer mere material; life is no longer little or mean, for everything is capable of being associated with these eternal, infinite, unseen things. Your poets and novelists can sit and laugh and snarl at human life. But why? Because they look only at what is seen, at what is little, mean, degraded. But there is no littleness even in the follies and vices of society, when we regard their aspect to God and to eternity.
2. It affords the Christian a firm footing for the fulfilment of duty and the resistance of temptation. Duty--what is that? “Whatever thy hand findeth to do,” do it, because the principle is an eternal thing. Temptation--what is that? “Child of mortality, turn aside, take thy present pleasure, enjoy it now!” But the man whose eye is clear, and whose heart is true, says, “No, no! I see through it, I understand it, it is all hollow, false, empty.” Temptation is nothing to the man that sees it is but the bubble rising to the surface of the stream, and knows that though it looks beautiful for a moment, in the sunbeams that are falling upon it, it shall perish and pass away, but that he has to do with things real, Godlike, and enduring.
3. It is the great secret of the inward life, by which we may bear sorrow, and get good out of anything that may come upon us. It is thus the apostles were sustained. They could sing in the gaol, because they could glory in tribulation, looking at “the things which are not seen.” They could say, “Our light affliction which is but for a moment,” etc. (T. Binney.)
Seen and unseen things
The apostle here discloses the great secret of his life-power. He was one of the world’s greatest benefactors; and yet the world repaid him with contempt, stripes, imprisonment. But all his sufferings fitted him for his work. His nature was kept near God, weaned from all low and selfish aims, and filled with zeal. But there was one condition essential to this elevation and purifying, viz., that in all his suffering and struggles he looked not at things seen, but things unseen. Above him was the Sun of Divine love. The apostle does not say he looked at future things. The invisible things that he looked at were also present. The present things that he looked at were eternal.
I. Many regard the text as presenting a hard and all but impossible duty. You complain that the outward world lies too close to you, and that it is difficult with this visible world forcing itself on you to look to the invisible. Do you never think that the unseen world presses itself still closer to you? The visible world is not always before you. Darkness comes on, you are in solitude. Do you not feel a world of thought pressing closer to you than any visible things, ever did? Are not men followed by ideas, by plans, by the voice of conscience, m a far closer way than the outward world can follow? Do not say that the visible world shuts out the invisible; for have you not often been absorbed in your own thoughts, while the outward world flowed by you unnoticed? And is not the thought of God, of Christ, of truth, of righteousness, of duty, of love, of the perfect and the beautiful in life--are not these thoughts of such a kind as to lay hold of the soul? They are not easily shaken off. Unseen things are present realities. They are things which your heart and conscience are crying after. Your heart needs a Father, you need the sense of forgiveness, help, rest, comfort, light over your future and heavenly guidance. You cannot say that it is difficult to look at these things. The difficulty is to be a man with a conscience and a heart, and not to look at these things. Conceive what a struggle any man must have who utterly refuses to look at the things which are invisible. But it may be said the visible things stand between men and the invisible. But do all men feel that the seen things hide the unseen? Are there not some at least to whom the seen things are reminders of the unseen? Are there none to whom rising and setting suns speak of a day that never ends, of the flight of time and the nearness of eternity? What are all human relationships but types and shadows of unseen realities? Are not fatherhood and motherhood drawing and wooing the heart to the Infinite One, who is our true Father and our Mother too? Are not separation and death pointing on the bruised soul to a world of re-union?
II. Some of the means and helps to looking at things unseen. Man by his very constitution must look at things unseen. Whoever feels the words right or duty real, is looking at things unseen. But yet to look fully and steadily at the unseen requires effort. It is not the less binding or necessary on that account. But a person may make huge effort about a thing, and yet come much farther short of the mark than one who makes little effort.
1. Take up a right position in reference to anything, and that is half the labour saved. Here is a man striving hard to see the object he is working at. Now, if he would only take a few steps nearer the light this would be all unnecessary. Here is a man looking up at the stars from the ground-floor of his house. He has difficulty in seeing on account of the houses around him. If he would but go up to the topmost fiat of his house, what an expanse there would be before him without the slightest effort! The secret of looking at things unseen and finding it easy just lies here--take up the right position. The right position is the spirit of reconciliation. Many fail to look at unseen things just for this reason--they have not accepted the reconciliation. A cloud is lying between their soul and God. Come out into the sunshine of God’s love and you will see unseen things.
2. Whatever unseen thing is clear and prominent to you already, whether it be a doctrine or a person, or a prophecy, dwell on that unseen thing which you see. It is most precious, as the earnest of the whole. Make the most of it. The great difficulty is to you already overcome. The unseen is seen. The one spot stands for the whole to you, and it may bring the whole.
3. Look steadily at the unseen things of duty that are most real and weighty to you. There are some matters of duty and right that stand out clear before almost every one. Only be faithful and resolute, and follow on. It will take no long time for a tender and brave conscience to come in sight of the greatest things.
4. Cherish a penitent spirit. Sorrow for sin visits all men, but only some welcome it. But the wise recognise it as among their best friends. There is a peculiar power in sorrow for sin to make the unseen seen. In the darkness of life men see the stars of heavenly guidance.
5. Think much of Christ as He appeared on earth. He was the invisible made visible. God was visible in Him. When the visible Christ stands out clear, beautiful, real, strong, winning before you, the invisible Christ will be real. Christ is the bridge between the seen and the unseen.
6. Be in the habit of considering all seen things as pictures of the unseen. (R. H. Story, D. D.)
The seen and the unseen
I. Here we have an authoritative account of the Christian point of view in respect of two worlds--the seen and the unseen.
1. “The things that are seen” are not simply whatever meets the eye of sense in this present life. Along with the things we see go naturally our associations; we have our impressions, and judgments, and hopes, and fears about them. “The things that are seen” mean the complex life of the society in which we live, the life of a great community, the State of which we are members, the life of our neighbour, the life of our immediate friends, of our family. Now a Christian, St. Paul says, is in the position of a man who is aware of the presence of the visible world, while his gaze is fixed persistently upon the world invisible. He is mentally in the position of a traveller passing through scenery which is interesting, but who is absorbed in a discussion arising out of the scenery which makes him concentrate his thought on something beyond it.
2. “The things which are not seen!” Those truths and virtues which are obscured or crowded out of view in the present life of most of us, but which are nevertheless beautiful and enduring realities; they are justice, charity, truth, sanctity. We do not see God. The King, eternal and immortal, is also the invisible. We do not see the angels. We do not see the souls of the departed. “We look at the things which are not seen.” We are citizens, as the apostle says, of heaven; “we walk by faith and not by sight.” And what is the reason for this? “The things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal.” That which meets the eye of sense is here only for a season; it will pass away. That which meets the eye of the soul illuminated by faith will last for ever. This quality of eternity suffices to outweigh the advantages which at first sight might seem to be on the side of the world of sense. So far as matters of this world are concerned, it has, no doubt, much to say for itself, but it is outweighed by the fact that the world which we hold in our hands is already passing. This present life--it is like one of those acidulated drops which melt in the mouth, even as we enjoy it. In this world, “Change and decay in all around I see.” Friends die off, society around us wears every year a new face, our power of body and mind become modified and weaker. And how different our country is to-day from the England of George IV., from the England of Pitt, from the England of Nelson; but Almighty God, tie is exactly what He was at each of those periods, and the great moral virtues and the ever-blessed angels, and the conditions of the unseen world--they are just exactly what they were; and then as now, and now as then, souls who desire to escape from this torrent of change and decomposition around us and to lay strong hold upon the alone unchangeable must, with St. Paul, look not at the things which are seen, but the things that are not seen. And this had been before the teaching of our Lord. The kingdom of heaven which He founded on earth was but the vestibule of that kingdom in heaven. To any who thought that this world would be the main scene of the new kingdom. He addresses that solemn parable of the man who would pull down his barn and build a greater.
II. To these considerations an objection has often been made which is worth notice. “See how you Christians,” it is said, “with your faith in eternity., forget the duties that belong to time.” But this is grossly untrue. It is contradicted by the Christian doctrine of judgment, by 2 Thessalonians, and by Christ’s example (note particularly John 13:1-38.). This truth as to the relative importance of the seen and the unseen, if it be really held, will affect our lives in not a few ways.
1. It will govern our disposal of our income. If we look only at the things which are seen, we shall spend it mainly upon ourselves, reserving, perhaps, some portion for objects of a public character, which it is creditable or popular to support; if we look mainly at the things which are not seen, we shall spend at least one-tenth, probably more, upon some agencies that shall bring the eternal world, and all that prepares men for it, home to our fellow-creatures. It might help some of us to try to think what we shall wish we had done with the means which God has given us, five minutes after our hand has become unable to sign a cheque.
2. It will affect our whole view and practice in the matter of education. If our reason is confined to this life, we educate our children for this life and this life only. If, with the apostle, we look to the things that are not seen, we educate our children primarily for that existence which awaits them beyond the grave, and secondarily for this life, which is but a preface, though a most important preface, to that which will follow it. Conclusion: There used to be in bygone centuries, perhaps there is still, a custom at the enthronisation of a Pope which embodied this truth with vivid effect. When at the most solemn moment of the great occasion the procession of which the new Pontiff was the central figure, was advancing along the nave of the great church, representing, as it did, all that art and worldly splendour could do to enhance the idea of mingled ecclesiastical and civil sway, a master of the ceremonies led a torch which slowly died away until it went out, and as he bore it aloft at the head of the procession he chanted the words, “Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi”--Holy Father, thus does this world’s glory pass away. That was a bit of hard truth in a scene where there may well have been much to mislead, to inflate, to overlay spiritual realities by temporal pomp--that was a bit of hard truth that we might do well to remember solemnly at the proudest and brightest moments of life when friends surround us with kind, perhaps flattering words, which self-love might easily weave into a robe that would hide our true selves from our inward gaze. “So passes the glory of this world.” No doubt it is a commonplace, but each generation of men forgets the accumulated teaching of experience, and has to learn for itself the old lesson over again. Only when the evening of life is come on, only when the shadows are lengthening do most men who are not deeply influenced by Christianity repeat it with entire sincerity. (Canon Liddon.)
The visible and the invisible
The truth proclaimed in the text indicates--
I. The standard of true power. It is an immeasurable practical truth.
1. This spiritual discernment, throwing all things into true relations, gives to each thing its real value. The man who habitually contemplates these permanent realities is delivered from scepticism. The importance of all life, the inherent greatness of being, is to him made apparent. He whose vision is limited to that which is seen may easily fall into doubt and disparagement. To him things may seem to have no purpose. He sees them growing and decaying, appearing and vanishing, in a wearisome monotony of change. “The things which are seen are temporal”; and, if the existence of man is involved with these alone, what object is there in lofty and self-sacrificing work? But encouragement for such endeavour is at once made manifest when we regard this lot of ours as involved with “the things which are not seen”; for “the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2. Nor is the man who looks at “the things which are not seen” to be regarded visionary, while he whose eyes are fixed upon “the things which are seen” is to be reckoned as the man of solid and practical sense. Quite otherwise. That man is not visionary who discerns things as they are, but he who lives in the illusion of a false or partial vision. He is not a fanatic who takes the broadest compass of being for the standard of things; but he who lives in the delusion of the senses, and the narrowness of his own conceit. There are fanatics of the senses, visionary worldlings, who, with a bit of coin, hide all heaven from their own eyes, and who bury their souls in the limitations of the flesh. Read in this chapter the record in which the apostle recounts his labours, his sacrifices, and his sufferings, and then remember that the man who thus wrought and endured looked to “the things which are not seen,” and was able thus to do and to bear, because he looked to “the things which are unseen.” It was something not yet seen for which Russell suffered and Hampden fell. Things not seen hovered above the Pilgrims’ stormy passage, drew Columbus onward, and made Luther say, “Here stand I: I cannot otherwise. God help me!” Things not seen fired the apostle’s heart, and bade him challenge the corruption of Corinth, and the pride of Athens.
3. All the highest kinds of power are unseen. In the material world, the things we see are only phenomena projected by energies which we do not see. The sap and root of all life in nature are unseen. And, in this human organism, where is the principle of life that moves the heart and drives the blood? No knife has ever laid it bare, no galvanic current has forced its secret. These great instruments of civilisation, too, the printing-press, the steam-engine, the ship--behind them all stands the inventor’s idea, the builder’s thought. The grandest actions, the mightiest endeavours, are they not inspired by unseen forces of thought and will? When we look to the things which are not seen, we look to the sources of the highest power.
II. The standard of true knowledge.
1. The most fatal hindrance to all knowledge is the conceit of present attainment. For intellectual life consists in the consciousness of perpetual acquisition and perpetual need. When our knowledge becomes a pond, instead of a river, it stagnates. In what practical forms this conceit breaks out! It is expressed by him who virtually limits all truth to his own creed, or all right to his party, who regards every innovation as heretical, and every adverse argument as folly. But truth will not be thus cramped and excluded.
2. A cure for such assumptions is found by looking to “the things which are not seen.” The immense region which lies outside our actual knowledge, forces upon wise minds the conviction that we know but little; which, if in some degree a humiliating, is also a profitable and consoling conclusion. For who shall estimate the riches, the possibilities, that are hidden from our sight? This earth on which we dwell, how fruitful is it in sources of astonishment! And yet, in the sweep of telescopic vision, our earth, with all that it contains, dwindles to an atom. But all this magnificent theatre of the visible is merely the vestibule of the invisible, while the entire physical creation is only the star-woven veil that hides those finer realities, with which, as yet, we are not fitted to hold communion. And yet there are men who talk, and who live, as though all things lay open to the natural eye.
3. And, passing into the region of our daily life, I ask, considering the conditions of our actual knowledge, is there not a suggestion and a caution as to how we decide upon the movements of Providence? For the works and the ways of God are intimately involved with “the things which are not seen”; and surely, in this consciousness of human limitation, there is ground not only for humility, but for trust and consolation.
III. The standard of true life. For man’s true life is above the level of the senses. That in which we have the deepest interest, which sustains us while we sleep, and flows in all the currents of our action, and rebukes or consecrates all we do, is not palpable, like our food or raiment or houses or money. It is unseen. And in a short time, at the longest, our bodily peculiarity and all that pertains thereto will drop as a garment, and we shall pass into the unseen. And if practically we neglect this truth we cannot truly live. That which we implicitly trust, that which we truly love, forms an essential constituent of our being. There is nothing that the eye sees, or the hand touches, that is not liable to change and to vanish. In proportion as we trust in that which is seen, we are weak in its weakness, and insecure in its uncertainty. And it is thus with whatever we truly love. Our affections are sure of their objects only as they intwine themselves with the unseen, the deathless thought, the beauty of the soul, the wealth of immortal love, all recognised, but all unseen. Our possessions are firm when they become parts of ourselves, intrinsic elements of our spiritual but hidden nature. And he whose hope is anchored in heaven, and whose reliance is upon God, is entangled with no uncertainty, and fears neither the hostility nor the failure of earthly things. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
Things eternal weighed against things temporal
There are two ways in which to consider these assertions. We may speak of the former as temporal, and of the latter as eternal, either as they are in themselves or as they are possessed by us.
I. “The things which are seen are temporal.”
1. Is it, then, so that the glorious and mighty fabric of the material universe is to last only for a time? We must be careful that we do not overstrain the apostle’s expression, but it practically matters little or nothing whether matter is to be annihilated, or whether it is to be lost in new shapes and combinations, provided only that in either case there is to be so complete a removal of the existing system of things that the earth and the heavens may be said to “flee away before the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne.” This certainly suffices to affix a temporal character to all that is seen, and therefore to vindicate the apostle’s statement in our text. And upon this we would fasten your attention. Is ii not a confounding thought, that by a simple effort of His will the Almighty is to unhinge and dislocate the amazing mechanism of the universe, and yet remain Himself the great “I am,” the same when stars and planets fall as when, in far back time, they first blazed at His command? Who amongst us does not feel rebuked by this, if he be living in preference of the objects of sight to the objects of faith? Man of pleasure! go on delighting thyself with things which gratify the senses; man of learning! continue to neglect the wisdom which is from above, and account thyself knowing because acquainted with certain laws and phenomena of nature; man of avarice! persist in digging for gold, and consume thy days and nights in labours to become rich; man of ambition! still toil for distinction and spare no sacrifice which may gain a higher title; but know, all ye worshippers of visible things, that, immortal yourselves, you are cherishing as your portion what is finite and perishable.
2. But some may say, “The things which are seen may thus be only temporal; but where the duration is so immense there is nothing very affecting to the mind in proving that it is not infinite.” Let us descend, therefore, to lower ground. Our connection with earth must be terminated by death; the sun must rise on us for the last time, though millions of cheerful eyes will hail his rising on the morrow.
3. Will ye not then allow, that, forasmuch as there is to be this total separation between you and “the things which are seen,” these things are to be called “temporal,” whatever their duration? And since, however attractive these things may be, it is unavoidable that our connection with them must be brief, and our separation from them final, will ye not confess theft it cannot be the part of wisdom to place our affections on them, and to devote our days to their acquisition? We will not argue with the sensualist in the midst of the fascinating objects wherein he delights; we wilt not argue with the philosopher as the broad arch of heavens fixes his study; but we will argue with them all amid the graves of a churchyard. That tomb!--it is that of an opulent merchant. He made thousands, and then could carry nothing away with him of all that he had accumulated. Yonder proud marble!--it marks the resting-place of one who attained high rank. He wore stars and ribbons, and then left them for a winding-sheet. Beneath your feet is the dust of a voluptuary. He thought nothing worth living for but pleasure; he took his fill, and was then stripped of every power of enjoyment. This stone covers a man of science. He delighted in searching after knowledge; and, having stored his mind with a varied erudition, he was hurried into a world of which he had gained no intelligence.
II. “The things which are not seen are eternal.”
1. Who can hear of “things not seen,” and not immediately feel his thoughts turn to that amazing and glorious Being of whom it is said, “No man hath seen God at any time”? Let man decay, let the forests wither, let the mountains subside, let the rocks crumble, yea, let the very heavens cease from what we are wont to call their everlasting march, and God will have undergone no change throughout this immeasurable series of revolutions; “I Am that I Am,” when this series commenced, “I Am that I Am,” when this series shall have closed.
2. But though eternity is thus to be affirmed of God in a sense in which it cannot be of anything besides, there are “things which are not seen” and which are “eternal” in the ordinary acceptation of the word. It is here that we must deal with the word “eternal” in the manner in which we dealt with the word “temporal”--consider it, that is, in reference not only to objects in themselves, but to our own connection with them. If you have the riches which are seen, they are but temporal, for you must part with them at death; if you have the riches which are not seen, they are eternal, for you shall never be deprived of their possession. If you suffer pains here they are temporal; they shall end, if not before, yet with the close of life. If you suffer pains hereafter they will be eternal. And do ye believe this? Then what meaneth this devotion of your energies to what is earthly and perishable? What meaneth this setting of the affections upon shadows and upon baubles? What meaneth this languor and indifference in religion? The grand object of practical Christianity is to gain its rightful ascendancy for invisible things. It is here that the struggle lies. Faith and sense, these are the contending parties, and ye are under the dominion of the one or of the other--judge ye which; but let no one call himself a believer in the reality and superiority of invisible and eternal things, when he is manifestly engaged with the love and desire of visible and present. The truths of the Bible are of such a nature, that there can be no evidence of our believing them except our obeying them. Do ye believe in the happiness of heaven? Not unless ye are trying to secure it. Do ye believe in the wretchedness of hell? Not unless ye are striving to escape it. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The Christian’s habit of mind
To be a Christian you must look at the things “unseen and eternal”; to continue to be a Christian you must habitually regard them. Paul was a converted, i.e., a turned man. Before his conversion he looked one way, after he looked quite in the opposite direction. Two facts, then, are plain--first, the habit of the worldly mind is to “look at things seen and temporal,” and second, the Christian habit of mind is to “look at things unseen and eternal.” In a time of persecution, it is said that seven Christian youths of Ephesus found refuge in a cave. They slept for two hundred years, till “kings had become nursing fathers to the Church.” When they awoke they entered the city cautiously, inquiring if there were any Christians there. “Christians!” was the reply; “yes, we are all Christians here.” On one side they were pointed to a splendid dome with a golden cross; on another to schools where Christianity was taught. No longer the rack, the stake, the sword. Further inquiries, however, grieved them. They learned that as Christianity prospered, it had become worldly and corrupt. “You have shown us,” said they, “something but little better than you were before; where, after all, are the Christians?” In great sorrow they returned to their cave, and God removed them to heaven. Note--
I. The tendency to look at temporal things mainly. How accounted for.
1. The natural difficulty of fixing attention upon spiritual and heavenly things. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Yet we must not allow too much to this adage. Things unseen may and do powerfully affect us, e.g., stars to the astronomical student, even when out of sight, are present to his mind; an absent friend, a loved one in heaven. Why then forget God and eternity?
2. Moral indisposition. It comes of unbelief. Many banish thoughts of the eternal us intrusive.
3. Procrastination. Temporal concerns are termed “business,” as though they only deserved attention, and higher things might be deferred to leisure moments. Men have their premises insured, but alas! in reference to eternity they seek no insurance.
4. The blinding power of sinful habits. He who is confirmed in any sinful habit is rendering himself less inclined to and less capable of religious thought. The man is of the earth, earthy. His soul comes into no affinity with spiritual things.
II. The Christian habit of looking at “things unseen and eternal.”
1. It is not an occasional impulse; it is a habit. His eye rests on those things that have the stamp of endurance. Young Christians must not be discouraged if the habit is not rapidly formed. The albatross has to skim at first on the surface of the water, but once risen, it soars till its extended wings are almost invisible.
2. The benefits of this habit.
(1) It will lift us up above a base and worldly life. Spiritual dignity attaches to that man’s character whose “citizenship is in heaven.”
(2) It will afford comfort in changes and adversities. Paul realised this consolation, for he felt affliction to be but “light and for a moment.” The same pole-star will guide us if we look up to it. See the pilot in the tempest at night. He keeps his eye on the light of the harbour. He does not look at the surging waves as they strike on the rocky coast, but he looks to the light till he passes safely into “the desired haven.” In severe trial there is no other talisman than looking to “things unseen and eternal.”
(3) It will prepare us for death. Christians form the habit of looking forward with expectancy to the change from mortality to a blissful immortality. (D. Fraser, D. D.)
Vanities and verities
The text is a double paradox. Things that can be seen are, naturally, the things to be looked at. And yet the apostle tells us not to look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. But how can you look at what you cannot see? This is only one paradox of the Christian life, but we shall soon see that there is no difficulty whatever.
I. Let us look at what can be seen, and ask, what is meant by this protest?
1. Lightly esteeming present joy and sorrow, as if they were not worth looking at. The present is so soon to be over, that Paul does not care to look at it. Here he is persecuted, despised, forsaken. “It will not last long,” saith he. “We are like a man who stays at an hostelry for a night whilst he is on a journey. Is the room uncomfortable? When the morning breaks it is of no use making a complaint; so we merely chronicle the fact and hasten on. If a person is going a long distance in a railway carriage, he may be a little particular as to where he shall sit, but if it is only a short stage, he does not think about it. A whole eternity lies beyond, and therefore a short temporality dwindles into an insignificant trifle.” Paul meant more than that, however, viz., that be had learned not to regard the things of the present as real, substantial, or enduring. Like as clouds when they float overhead assume divers shapes but change their form while we are gazing at them, so events as they seemed to be transpiring were to him no more than apparitions. Look upon loss or suffering in the light of time, and see what a fleeting thing it is, and bear it bravely like a Christian man, because you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
2. The word is sometimes translated “mark.” We are not to mark the things which are seen as if they were worth notice. Children clap their hands and otherwise express their delight at a new toy or frock. Be not children, but quit yourselves as men, and look on the things of this life as toys. But carefully mark down the eternal things. Did the Lord appear to you? Mark that down. Did you win a soul to Christ? Mark that down. Did you have sweet answers to prayer? Mark that down.
3. Another meaning is, take heed. The apostle was not anxious about the things which were seen. “After all these things,” says Christ, “do the Gentiles seek.” Well, let the Gentiles follow their pursuits; but the child of God should not, for our Lord says unto us, “Take no thought,” etc.
4. Paul in Galatians 6:1 uses the word in the sense of considering, e.g., if the apostle knew that he should glorify God by preaching the gospel, and if friend or foe should say to him, “Paul, you will risk your life if you do,” he would never take their caveat into his consideration. And if they had said, “If you administer such and such a reproof in a certain Church, you will lose caste among them,” again he would have smiled. It would have had no more influence upon him than it would have upon a merchant should you say to him, “If you go into such a district you will have to encounter clouds of dust.” He would reply, “Why, if I can net a thousand pounds, what do I care about dust or no dust?”
5. By “not looking at the things which are not seen,” we may understand not making them our scope. That is the nearest equivalent to the Greek. Alas, there are many whose whole scope of life is that they may prosper in this world. The next world may go as it wills; their scope ends here. Eternal things seem dim and unsubstantial. Now, it must not be so with us. We should say, “The things eternal I pursue. I am no more a citizen of this world, but a pilgrim bound for the celestial city.”
II. Looking at the things which are not seen.
1. Realise them by faith. Try to look at these things as present facts. Some will never do so.
2. Look on them with the eye of delight. Is it not a delicious thing to look forward to heaven? The poor girl who goes home from this joyous place of worship to her own little cheerless room would feel miserable indeed if she looked at the shady side of her condition; but she says, “My Lord is in this room,” and the place glows as if it were made of slabs of gold. She settles down and begins to think of the heaven that is hers. On the other hand, if you are not converted, I would urge you to look upon the eternal future with an intense dread, for without Christ what is there for you among the things which are not seen, and are eternal, but misery?
3. Look to them with hope. Long for the bright appearing of the Lord. Should there be any young man here who knows that when he comes of age he is to enjoy a rich heritage, I will be bound to say he has often forestalled the time because he is sure of his title. If any one of you had a legacy left him of a large estate, he would be off this week to have a look at it. Christian, be sure to survey thine own possession in the skies. What a sanctifying influence such anticipations will have upon you! “Every one that hath this hope purifieth himself.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. To illustrate the general nature of eternity. But who can explain it? who can comprehend it? Our conception of it is somewhat like the survey a man takes of the ocean from on board a ship sailing in the midst of it. He sees the ocean, though not the whole ocean; and where his sight is terminated by its own weakness, can perceive that the ocean extends further than he can see.
II. Consider eternity with particular application to our own souls, their immortal nature, and future everlasting state.
1. Our souls are immortal or everlasting.
2. The state to which our souls remove at death is an eternal, unchangeable state.
1. How great are our obligations to God and the Redeemer for discovering eternal things to us, and making provision for our escaping everlasting misery, and obtaining everlasting life.
2. What folly and madness are men chargeable with, for neglecting eternal concerns!
3. How serious should ministers and parents be in addressing the souls committed to their charge!
4. What an awful thing is it to die and enter upon an eternal state!
5. How much is it our duty and interest to look at unseen and eternal things! or to eye and regard eternity in all we do!
1. I am to consider what looking at eternal things includes. And that is a firm belief of their reality, a serious consideration of their importance, and steady aims and pursuits agreeable thereto.
(1) Looking at eternal things implies a firm belief of their reality, that we have immortal spirits with us, and that there is an eternal state and world just before us.
(2) A serious consideration of their importance. The word here translated “look at,” is in other places rendered, “take heed, consider, mark, or observe attentively,” and signifies serious, fixed, repeated consideration.
(3) A steady aim and diligent pursuit, agreeable to their nature and importance; or a diligent incessant care to escape eternal misery and secure eternal happiness. The word “look at” signifies also to “aim at” or “pursue.” To excite you to this, I am--
2. To propose some motives and arguments.
(1) Life and time and means are given us, that we may prepare for eternity.
(2) We must quickly go out of time into eternity.
(3) As our character is when our time ends, so will our eternal state be.
(4) Many present and great advantages will attend our looking at eternal things--advantages which will have a powerful effect upon our present temper and character, and consequently on our eternal state; and they are these. Looking at and regarding eternity will restrain our fondness for the world; increase our hatred of sin and love to God and the Redeemer: it will make us careful to redeem our time, promote our patience under afflictions, make us serious and lively in all the duties of religion, dispose us to do good to others, and make us willing to die. (J. Orton.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25