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2 Corinthians 6:1
We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain
Once when a number of employees were invited down to Mr.
George Moore’s country house, Mrs. Moore, going out one morning, met a venerable man standing and staring about him with astonishment at the gardens and buildings. “Are you looking for somebody?” asked Mrs. Moore. “No,” said he, “I am just looking round about, and thinking what a fine place it is, and how we helped to make it; I have really a great pride in it.” Then, with tears in his eyes, he told how he was the first porter for the firm forty years ago, and how they had all worked hard together. (H. O. Mackey.)
The preaching and reception of the Gospel
I. The admonishers.
1. Not loiterers, but labourers; therefore they are often compared to husbandmen, builders, soldiers, and fishermen. They who imagine that the ministry of the gospel is an easy work are greatly mistaken.
2. “Workers together.”
(1) With God. They are engaged in the same cause with Him who “would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Without Him they can do nothing. Melancthon began with too much confidence in himself, and after many fruitless exertions, said, “Old Adam is too strong for young Melancthon.” But old Adam is not too strong for the God of all grace, who hath said to His ministers, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
(2) But the words “with Him” are in italics, and may be omitted. As if He had said, we differ in our abilities, modes of preaching, etc., and there are some who take advantage of this to form divisions, and say, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas”; whereas we are fellow-workers.
II. The subject of their address.
1. What are we to understand by “the grace of God”?
(1) The source of the gospel. Was it not “free” in every sense of the word!
(2) Its subject. The gospel is an offer of free, full, and everlasting salvation to sinners.
2. The gospel is received in vain when it is received--
(1) Partially. If you regard it as a system of doctrine only, or as a system of duty only, you only receive one-half of it, and the one cannot live without the other.
(2) Speculatively. I mean in distinction from experience and practice; for such a reception does not accord with the nature and design of it.
(3) Unperseveringly. “He only that endureth unto the end shall be saved.”
III. The reasons of their anxiety and earnestness. They “beseech you.”
1. They apprehend the event which very commonly follows. In all ages God’s servants have been compelled to complain, “Who hath believed our report?” Four soils received the very same seed. Only one of the four yields anything to the purpose.
2. They dread the event as deplorable. They are affected by the thought of it--
(1) On God’s account. They know how He is dis-honoured; Christ is made to have died in vain.
(2) On your own account: they knew that hence will arise your chief sin and condemnation.
(3) On their own account. It is painful in the extreme to plant and not to gather, to sow and not to reap. (W. Jay.)
Receive not the grace of God in vain
I. What this grace of God is. In the language of the schools it is anxilium speciale, “that special and immediate furtherance” by which God moves us to will and to do. And this is that which St. Paul mentioneth (1 Corinthians 15:10-11). But this is not the grace meant in the text, which is “the grace of” reconciliation by Christ, the doctrine of “the gospel,” which Christ commanded to be “preached to all nations.”
II. And what is a gift, if it be not received? Like a meal on a dead man’s grave, like light to the blind, like music to the deaf. What is the grace of God without faith? The receiving of it is that which makes it a grace indeed--gospel. We usually compare faith to a hand, which is reached forth to receive this gift. Without a hand a jewel is a trifle, and the treasure of both the Indies is nothing; and without faith the gospel is nothing. Without this receipt all other receipts are not worth the casting up. Our understanding receives light, to mislead her; our will, power, to overthrow her; our affections, which are “incorporeal hands,” receive nothing but vanity. Our moral goodness makes us not good: our philosophy is deceit. Our habits lift us no further than the place where they grow. But with this gift we receive all things: we receive the favour of our Creator, who in Christ is well pleased.
III. This grace may be received in vain. The philosopher will tell us: “All is not in the gift; the greatest matter is in the manner of receiving it.” The gospel is grace indeed; but it will not save a devil, nor an obstinate offender. Seneca tells us: “A foul stomach corrupts all that it receives, and turns that meat, which should nourish the body, into a disease”; and a corrupt heart poisons the very water of life. The grand mistake of the world is in the manner of receiving Christ. “To one it is the savour of life unto life; and to others the savour of death unto death” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Great care then must be taken that we may not receive it in vain. We must receive it to that end it was given. We must receive it as law as well as physic. God gives us this gift, that we may give Him our obedience; and He hath done this for us, that we may do something, even “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” This grace, then, we must receive both to save us and instruct us; as a royal pardon, and as a “royal law” (James 2:8). To interline the pardon, and despise the law, makes a nullity: and this is “to receive in vain.”
1. A pardon we must not interline. For to blend it with the law of works, or our own merits, is to make it void (Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:8-9). Works, though they be a condition required of a justified person, yet cannot be brought in as a part or helping cause of our justification.
2. It is equally vain when we receive the grace of God only as a pardon, and not as a law. It is our happiness by grace to be freed from the covenant and curse of the law; but it is our duty, and a great part of our Christianity, to square our lives by the rule of the law. Therefore religion was called in her purer times “The Christian law.” (A. Farindon, B. D.)
Receiving the grace of God in vain
I. This takes place when it is not used at all--when the great salvation is neglected (2 Corinthians 6:2). In vain is it here, within the sphere of our knowledge and the grasp of our faith, if it be simply ignored. Here is gold in a casket or bag, and I am poor, and yet I will not unloose the strings or open the casket. Of what avail to me is that locked-up wealth? Here is seed-corn, and I have fields where it might be sown, yet I will not sow it. Of what avail to me is the seed, or the soil, the sun, or the shower? I am going on a journey through an unknown country, and here is a guide-book, yet I never open it, but go wandering on. That guide-book is as utterly “in vain” to me as if it were in the depths of the ocean. “Ah yes,” you say, “but the grace of God is not so definite, so available, as the money,” etc. Yes it is. It shines out in the light of every Sabbath day; it is the keynote of every true sermon; it is in every providence, whether dark or bright; it is everywhere, and always abundant, sufficient, and free. It is sad that many will not be persuaded of this. When the sleeping mind begins to awake; when the dull heart begins to feel, and the glad discovery breaks on the soul that all this is a present and sure gift of eternal love, then begins the actual reception of the manifold blessings of the gospel; but until then “the grace of God,” with all its riches which we proclaim and set forth as common property, and free alike to all, is “in vain.”
II. A thing is received in vain if it is perverted and turned to some alien use.
1. It may be made a cloak for sin. The danger is that we magnify God’s grace and slur over the evils of our own hearts.
2. It may be made a tent for indolence. Somehow we get the comfortable conviction that what has to be done in and by us will be done soon or late, and that we shall have full entrance at length into perfect purity and eternal life.
3. It may be made the signal for perpetual controversy. We are glad of controversy, in proper spirit and measure--it braces the soul; it clears the air; it defends and instrumentally perpetuates the truth among men. But there is hardly anything which runs more easily to excess, and becomes a perversion, and no longer a defence of the grace of God. The grace of God is gracious; and in its prevailing influence ought to lead us into gracious ways, and words, and dispositions.
III. It is received almost in vain if it is used very little and very imperfectly. This is the case with many Christian people. The plough is taken to the field, but does not plough the whole day; or it ploughs one little field, and leaves all the rest fallow. The seed-corn is cast in only in patches, and some of these but thinly sown. Here is a great world of grace brought down to us, waiting for us, and we may have as much or as little as we will. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The grace of God received in vain
This is to be understood as--
I. The gospel of His grace (Titus 2:11), or “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32; Acts 14:3), termed the grace of God, because it proceeds from that grace (Luke 1:78-79), displays it, and is the instrument whereby we receive it and its fruits.
II. Redeeming grace.
III. Enlightening grace.
IV. Justifying grace.
V. Regenerating and renewing grace.
VI. Strengthening and qualifying grace (2 Timothy 2:1).
VII. Comforting grace, which is given that we may be supported amidst all our trials; but in vain, if we are still cast down and decline from God: and that we may comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-6), but in vain, if this end be not answered. (J. Benson.)
Grace received in vain
I. How the grace of God has been manifested in revealing unto man the whole course of this method of salvation. This is seen--
1. In the fact that the great God Himself speaks to men. It is grace that He should have anything to do with us. Why did He not, since we put out the light, leave man to grope his way in the dark? What a wonder that God should speak in this way to sinners.
2. In the suitability of the gospel to those to whom it is sent. Here we are vile; there is mercy for the vilest. How beautifully this suits the case of men!
3. In the way God has revealed His holy truth.
(1) By degrees. The great truths that are now taught you the world was not always ripe for. You don’t get daylight coming in all its bright glory at once. The Lord gave the first glance of the light of the morning in that sweet promise about the seed of the woman.
(2) At first by types and symbols. When you teach children you don’t often make use of abstractions, but you get pictures. Now the Book of Leviticus is God’s object lesson of the gospel. Every lamb was a picture of that true Lamb, and every priest of that true Priest. That whole Temple service pointed to Calvary.
(3) By adapting it to different types of mind.
4. The revelation which God makes of Himself. Suppose you are standing over against some palace, and it is near midnight, and the gates are opened. Forth from that palace gates there comes a procession. The prince has come forth attended by many of his train. He has not gone far, however, before you hear that the prince has dropped a beautiful gem. He is anxious about that gem, not simply for its intrinsic value, but it was the gift of one he loved, and he calls for lights. Now, the light which falls on the road where that gem is lying goes up also into the face of the prince, and while he finds his gem you see him as you never would have seen him but for that loss. Now, it is like that with the revelation of God. When God came forth from the shrouding darkness that had been about Him in His own eternity, to the salvation of men, there was light which, while it was thrown on the poor, lost sinner that he might be found, was thrown upon the face of God, who came to seek him and to save him.
II. When may we be said to receive the grace of God in vain? When men--
1. Do not believe it. Suppose that during the time of that Indian revolt I had been sent by Her Majesty with a commission--say to the Nana Sahib, and I had been told to proclaim to him that if the rebels would come and yield themselves up entirely to her mercy, she would entirely forgive them. But suppose that that fierce ringleader had said to me, “Ah, if they can only just get hold of me, I know what mercy they will give me; I know it is too far gone for that.” Well now, he has to surrender in three months, or the law is to take its course. The time passes, and the man is captured, and he is brought to the gallows. Now, whose fault is that? You see he received the Queen’s grace in vain. Now, it is like that when I come and tell you of God’s readiness to pardon, and you won’t believe it. You might as well expect a man to be fed by bread that he will not eat as expect a man to be saved by a gospel that he will not believe.
2. Despise it. Yonder there are a number of suffering poor, and of course some are of a very independent spirit. Now suppose I go to some pale, haggard man, and say to him, “Here is a ticket for you; if you will apply at yonder office you will get the relief you need,” and the man says, “Sir, what right have you to talk to me as if I were a pauper? what right have you to suppose I want any man’s charity?” That poor man is too proud to take help, and to-morrow he is dead on his cottage floor for want of food. Now, whose fault is that? He despises the grace that was offered! That is just how it is with many sinners. They will not have God’s salvation because they cannot buy it. If they could take their little petty, paltry doings, and buy it with their deeds, they would have it. If they could go and purchase it, they would have it; but because they must have it as a gift they despise it.
3. Neglect it. Now suppose that there had been during the time of the great fire at Moscow some miserly wretch up at the top storey of some tall house. There is great trouble in the town, but all he cares about is his gold bags. The alarm bells are ringing in all directions, and everybody is trying to escape; but that old man never listens to the alarm bells, and while he is counting his cash the fire is creeping up the stairs from chamber to chamber till at last it is burning the very joists of the floor on which he stands. You see he neglected the alarm. That is very like the worldling. We go and tell him of danger and salvation. You know if you go and stand by a blacksmith’s smithy and you talk to him, he is so busy with the sound of his hammers that he can’t hear what you say, and he keeps on hammering in spite of all your remarks, and does not hear a word. So it is with the busy worldling. Busy with the din of their worldliness, they never seem to hear the message. They neglect the great salvation. They do not deny it, but they just leave it alone. Now if you neglect this great salvation you will perish. (S. Coley.)
Grace received in vain
I. The meaning of the apostle’s caution.
1. What is meant here by grace? Sometimes it denotes the free and unmerited love of God in redemption (Titus 2:11). Sometimes the gospel generally (John 1:17). Sometimes all the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 12:9). But in the text the word includes not only all the overtures of grace which God has made, but all those ministries by which those overtures may be most easily accepted.
2. Now such is the perverseness of man’s will that all these means and ministries may be offered to him to no purpose. The injured Father of our spirits may stretch out His hand, and find there is none to regard it.
(1) Take the instrumentality of the Word. Grace is received in vain.
(a) When the Word is not received in the love of it. Now no place is left for any possible deficiency in the Word itself; in its evidence, that it is not strong enough; in its statements, that they are not clear enough; in its motives, that they are not encouraging enough. It is of no use saying, “I cannot see these things in the same light as others do,” for we answer, “You do not see them because you have never honestly tried to see them, never put up the prayer in earnest, ‘Lord open Thou mine eyes that I may see the wondrous things of Thy law.’”
(b) When we neglect to apply the gospel message to our own heart and conscience. To have received the incorruptible seed in barrenness is to have received the grace of God in vain.
(2) And so of those communications of divine grace which come to us apart from the agency of the Word. The Holy Spirit speaks to the ear of the inner man by the lessons of Providence, by the ministries of friendship, and the incidents of common life, etc. And to check these inner convictions, as Agrippa did, or to dismiss them, as Felix did, is to receive the grace of God in vain.
II. It is a real option with us whether this grace of God be received in vain or not. It is practically competent to every one to use such means as shall facilitate the effectual influence of grace upon our minds. The best answer to the man who should object that he could do nothing towards his own salvation because he is not the subject of divine grace, is that he does not believe in his own objection, would not act upon it if accident or sudden sickness should threaten him with the probability that he might die to-morrow. And herein it is that the sinner will be condemned out of his own month. Never mind how much or how little he could do towards the making of his peace with God, has he done all he could? He could not cause the glorious light of the gospel to shine into his heart, but was he compelled to close the door against the entrance of that light? Though the ordinances and instrumentalities of grace have the most perfect adaptation to our state and character, they yet demand all the concurrence of our own moral effort, to work within us a saving result. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The dignity of life
(cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9):--We are fellow-workers with God. The one thing which increased learning proves to us is the absence of caprice in the government of the world. The one thing forced upon us is the inevitable sequence of cause and effect. If, on the one hand, we seem to sink into the inconsiderable atoms of a whole too vast for the mind to grasp, on the other we rise to the majestic conception that we are fellow-workers with God. Where can we find a thought more fit than this to stir the heart and rouse the courage within us? The false and frivolous view of life that lies at the root of all our evils, shrivels up the worth of our manhood. It is not our own little interests alone, it is the weal and the woe, the growth and perfection of the whole human family around us, which rests upon us. It is nothing short of world-wide interests which hang upon our doing, with truth and honesty, and hearty energy, that little morsel of God’s work we find placed before us. Our own little fragment of it is no longer the sordid shred of a chance struggle for existence, but the distinct though humble portion of God’s great redeeming work. Let us see how this consciousness of the solemnity and reality of life touches all our commonest actions and employments. Our natural business here is intellectual work. To some it becomes merely an interesting amusement for the mind. To many it is a half distasteful necessity which is undergone in obedience to the dictates of society, to fit us to occupy our proper place in life. To still more, perhaps, it represents the preparation for the future struggle of the world. Regard it in its true light, and all these views seem trivial. It is the search for truth. It is the development of ourselves, because it is fitting to improve to its uttermost the gifts we have received. It is something holy; it is the work of God. What is not given here to intellectual training is chiefly given to social intercourse. Now what is that to most of us? A mere seeking of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, or perhaps an exaggerated recreation-time far beyond our requirements. Such things in the light of the reality and seriousness of life it cannot be. For our social intercourse is then the chosen ground in which our wits clash with those of our fellows, that part of our lives where intercourse with them gives us our only chance of drawing from them good for ourselves or of implanting good in them. It is a time when we may in the most natural way be helping forward the great work of God. Yet certainly some of you will say, “according to this, the very fact which makes our calling so high deprives it of all virtue. The very argument on which the glory of our position as fellow-workers with God with all the coercive force it might exert, is rested, is upon necessity. We are workers with Him because everything, for good and evil alike, is like a piece of mechanism of which He keeps the key. Necessity excludes responsibility: we, like the rest, must do as He bids us do.” To such an answer neither I nor any other man can give a full reply. We cannot but know that with each of us there lies the momentous choice whether we will consciously give our work to further God’s work, or put ourselves as hindrances to check its way. Hitherto we have found the dignity which hangs about us as the fellow-workers with God in the fact of His universal presence. It is the all-pervading character of His work- and the consequent serious and holy character of life.
which has supplied us with the belief of the grandeur of our calling. Can we not find something which shall raise us with respect to our inner selves to the same height which we have to reach with respect to our outward energy? Now the imagery of my second text seems to give us such a thought. For it leads us to recollect that we are at once the workers and the work, at once the labourers and the husbandry, the builders and the house built. If we grasp the idea of the unity of the world, and of the presence of God in it all, it is plain that while we are acting as God’s fellow-workers upon others, those others will act upon us--that while we are helping the world onwards we shall ourselves be helped. In the general unity it is impossible but that we shall play both parts. While we ourselves are building we must become a portion of the edifice built. And that building is nothing less than the home and temple of Christ. (J. F. Bright, D. D.)
Grace received in vain
I. In what sense is a minister “a fellow-worker with god”?
1. In the same way that the husbandman, in the fields, works with the elements. Can he do anything without them? And yet, has not God covenanted to send them, to give effect to his labour?
2. In the same way as the mariner works with the wind. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” but as he sits at the helm and holds the canvas in his little boat, he is conscious, “I am working with the wind.”
3. As ambassadors. The ambassador has no pretension to be the king, he is only a favoured subject. Nevertheless, so long as he is an ambassador, he carries the king’s credentials, dignity, and power.
II. This great thought of the fellowship which he had in his work with God, St. Paul used to enforce the exhortation not to receive the grace of god in vain. It was as though he said, in reference to his Master, what his Master said in reference to His Father, “The words that I speak unto you are not mine, but His that sent me.” When he added “also,” it was because he himself had “not frustrated the grace of God,” for, as he said to these Corinthians, “His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain,” so that he was the better prepared to urge upon others not to receive it in vain.
III. What is it to receive grace in vain.
1. We must look at this discriminatingly. No word of God, under any circumstances, is ever “vain” (Isaiah 55:10). But every word does not comfort, convince, save. What, then, does it do? It cannot do nothing. Does not it harden, condemn? Is the light not light, when it blinds the eye that is not fitted to receive it? Or is warmth not warmth when it hardens, but does not melt? No; God’s word “cannot return void”--it must glorify God either in His mercy or in His justice. Therefore the words must be taken only in relation to man, for that which has not produced holiness and peace to us has evidently been “in vain.”
2. There are several ways by which this sin may be committed.
(1) Many “receive the grace of God in vain,” in the same sense in which that word is used in the third commandment--in the trifling, irreverent, inconsiderate manner in which they deal with God’s truth. Men go to church almost as if they went to any other assembly. The mind is not set to the sacred tone of the services in which they are mingling. The message of mercy is to them just as a pleasant tale, or a mere matter of criticism and of conversation.
(2) But there are serious people who see the dignity and gravity of religion. But “grace” has only reached their understanding; it has not gone down into their hearts. They can define faith, but they cannot use faith.
(3) There are those who have felt the power of Christ’s grace in their hearts; but they have lost it. The force of early convictions has passed away. Many an influence of the Holy Spirit is now being quenched in them. Consider what it will be to have once carried such a treasure, and then to have dropped it!--to have known and loved such a Saviour, and then to have denied Him!
(4) There are those of you who have “received the grace of God,” but you have never yet known what it is to rest, with a quiet assurance that you are forgiven. Now, when God’s “grace” came to you it had this express purpose. If, then, you do not quietly accept His love, and settle down in a happy sense of your pardon, then “grace” is of no effect to you t What use is it, then, to talk of your faith; if you have no confidence? (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Grace received in vain
I. What is meant by the grace of God? The doctrine of the gospel (Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:6; Acts 20:32; Titus 2:11). And it is so-called because--
1. It is graciously, and out of the free favour of God, bestowed.
2. Its subject-matter is grace. Whatever saving benefit is contained in the gospel, is all from grace.
(1) Forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7).
(2) Eternal life (Romans 6:23).
(3) Calling (2 Timothy 1:9).
(4) Faith (Philippians 1:29).
(5) Repentance (2 Timothy 2:25).
3. It is the instrument, under the Spirit of God, of bestowing the benefits of free grace upon us. It is an invitation to the benefits of free grace, and it is our warrant of receiving those benefits, and of applying them.
II. The receiving thereof in vain. The word signifies to receive it “emptily, unfruitfully, unprofitably.” The gospel cannot save us unless it be received; and therefore you read of receiving it (Matthew 13:23; Acts 2:41; Acts 11:1; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). But the gospel may be received ineffectually.
1. In regard of the manner of receiving. When we receive it--
(1) Not with an empty hand. When it is not so received as to be empty of the opinion of our own works and righteousness (Luke 1:53).
(2) Not with the highest estimation. When it is not looked upon to be “worthy of all acceptation” (1 Timothy 1:15; when it is not received as a pearl of greatest price. If all be not sold for it, soon will it be left for any thing.
(3) Not with the greatest ardency of desire.
(4) Not with a particular fiducial application of Christ, but only by a general assent--i.e., when we receive it into our heads by light, but do not receive it into our hearts by faith. When we receive it only into our ears, lips, and professions; but do not receive it in the soul.
2. In regard of the issue.
(1) When it is not received so as to purify the heart; when men will have an angelical gospel, but will live diabolical lives.
(2) When it doth not quicken us to new obedience. When there is a receiving without returning; when there is no “delight in the law of God;” “when faith is not made incarnate,” as Luther speaks, “by maintaining good works” (Titus 3:8).
(3) When we so receive grace as that it doth not sustain us in our troubles, nor bear us up in our sufferings. When it is not a “word of patience” (Revelation 3:10).
(4) When we so receive grace as not to impart it, and communicate it unto others. If we be living we shall be lively Christians; if we have the life of grace in us, we shall warm others. If we do no good, it is a sign we have got no good.
(5) When it is so received as that thereby we do not obtain salvation. “The gospel of salvation,” received into your houses, heads, or mouths, brings not any to heaven (Matthew 7:23). (W. Jenkin, A. M.)
Divine grace received to profit
(Text and verse 2):--We have here the privileges of the Christian dispensation.
1. Connected with the heart of God.
2. Associated with the services of the ministers of Christ.
3. Looked at as in the hands of confessed Christians.
4. Regarded as the blessing of the present time. We can, however, only deal with two of these topics.
I. What is meant by “That ye receive not the grace of God in vain”?
1. Merely to hear, is to be like a sick man who is told of a physician, but who does not apply to him; or a poor man who is told of a treasure and does not seek it. They receive the communications “in vain.”
2. Only to comprehend intellectually the word of God’s grace is to receive it “in vain.” It is to be like a man who devotes himself to the study of the chemistry of food, but who neglects to eat. Of what advantage is his knowledge?
3. Only to be pleased with the Christian manifestations of the grace of God, is to receive it “in vain.” This is like a man who, delighting in good advice, follows his own counsel.
4. To believe what is said of the grace of God without a personal application of those words, is to receive it “in vain.” It is to be like a man in a house on fire, who sees a way of escape, but does not flee. He will be burned.
5. Anything short of a complete use and enjoyment of the grace of God, is in measure, to receive it “in vain.” If present pardon, e.g., be not enjoyed as well as possessed, then, in a certain limited sense, it is received “in vain.”
II. If “the grace of God” come to us in a time accepted, and in a day of salvation, it cannot be received prematurely, and therefore we ask you to receive it. Open your mouth wide, open your hands and stretch out your arms and “receive.”
1. This is God’s giving time.
2. This is God’s redeeming time. He is working out your personal salvation on the basis of the sin offering, which His own Son has made.
3. This is your needy time. You will never be more needy than you are now. God seeks to drive that need away, and to fill you with blessings. It is true that you are guilty and most unworthy, but you may receive. Receive, then, to the highest purpose. Receive to the largest extent. Some professing Christians are like cups turned upside down. They will have to be converted before they can be filled. Your capacity to receive will have to be directed heavenward. Let a cup or any vessel be placed on the angle, and can you fill it? Just so with your religion. It must be true to God, to the Saviour, to the Spirit, or you cannot be filled with the fulness of God. (S. Martin.)
The needful caution
I. The exhortation explained. The subject is “the grace of God.” The great plan of reconciliation is “the grace of God” in question.
1. This is called “the grace of God” by way of eminence, because--
(1) The gift of Jesus Christ is the highest display of the goodness of God to man (1Jn 4:10; 1 John 3:1; Romans 8:32).
(2) It is that which procures for us all other-blessings.
2. Now this grace is to be “received”
(1) The mind must have a clear perception of it. Many call this head-knowledge; but is not our religion to be “in all knowledge and spiritual understanding”? If we knew more, we should love more.
(2) The heart must receive the Saviour. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
(3) There must be a practical reception of this grace--an adorning of it in the conduct; not talking, but working. Thus the judgment, the affections, the life, all receive the grace of God.
3. Now this grace must not be received “in vain.” Many have so received it.
(1) The light within has become darkness, and “how great is that darkness.”
(2) The love they once had, where is it? Their hearts are a moral icehouse.
(3) Their ways now have no tendency to glorify God.
II. The exhortation enforced.
1. From a consideration of the value of the benefit--God’s greatest gift.!--the astonishment of heaven! We value a thing occasionally--
(1) By the amount it cost us. But, ah! we know not what was the value of this, for, though it was bestowed freely, it cost heaven all!
(2) From what it purchased for us. It redeems from death and purchases heaven. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
2. From the fact that if this be received in vain, every other benefit is in vain. All the sermons you have heard, all the prayers, all your afflictions, convictions, all the strivings of God’s Spirit, etc. In vain pious parents, a religious education, early impressions, good resolutions, etc.
3. From the punishment awaiting such a one.
4. Because this is the only day in which you can receive the grace of God. When time ends with thee, then eternity. Time is the term for thy salvation. (J. Summerfield, A. M.)
Grace given in vain
In the Eastern country, as I dare say you have heard, there are great deserts of sand. For many miles in every direction, you can see nothing but bare and barren sand. You might dig down and down, and you would still find nothing but sand until you came to the hard rock. Nothing grows in these deserts, as you may imagine; nothing can grow there. When the rain which brings greenness and fertility, grass and corn and palm trees, everywhere else, falls on this barren, sandy tract, it does no good at all. It just sinks in for a time until the surface is baked again by the hot sun, and then it rises up again in vapour. Anywhere else it would clothe the soil with greenness; but here it is useless--it does no good. Now what a picture this is of the heart that receives and does not obey God’s grace I As the rain would render the soil fertile with grass and corn, so God’s grace would inspire the heart of man with good thoughts and good actions. As the raindrops, when they fall upon the sand, are wasted and made useless, so the divine grace, the pleadings of the Blessed Spirit, falling upon a heart that obstinately neglects them, or refuses them, or resists them, not only bring forth no fruit, but lay up for the impenitent sinner a heavy load of guilt and of punishment. (The Literary Churchman.)
2 Corinthians 6:2
For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted … behold now is the accepted time … the day of salvation.
God never says “Behold,” without tolling something worth listening to.
I. Salvation the thing to be sought.
1. Greatly needed.
2. Graciously provided.
3. Gratuitously proffered.
II. Now is the time to seek it. Double “Now.”
1. Commanded by revelation.
2. Commended by reason. Conscience, reason, gratitude, self-interest, say “Now.” Why delay?
(1) Unnecessary. “All now ready.”
(2) Unreasonable and wicked. Rebellion.
(1) Dangerous. Maybe last offer.
(2) Destructive. Ruinous to conscience, character. (Hom. Monthly.)
The imperative “Now”
I. You can gain nothing by delay.
1. As to God’s terms.
2. As to your own circumstances. Your difficulties may change but will never cease.
3. As to pleasures of sin.
II. You will lose much by delay.
1. Fervour and freshness of feeling.
2. Opportunity for usefulness. Delay daily narrows in this possibility.
3. Fulness of reward in heaven.
III. You may forfeit your salvation by delay. (Hom. Monthly.)
The day of salvation
I. There is a salvation so important that it gives its name to a whole period called a day, but signifying all the era through which that salvation is made accessible to us. It is called, by way of eminence and distinction, “the day of salvation.”
1. The salvation which marks this day is the salvation of the soul. Not the salvation of a captive, a criminal under a human law--not of a hopeless patient from a bodily disease--not of an empire--but the salvation of the immortal soul. Men do not believe that their souls are in this danger; they make a mock of sin.
2. Consider that this salvation is effected expressly and exclusively by the power and grace of God. To Him belongs the entire glory of it, and it is His grace that makes any period of our lives a day of salvation. He is therefore the author of eternal salvation. All the resources necessary for carrying it into effect were of God, and not of us.
3. But we ought more particularly to notice Him on whom devolved the work of salvation--who is described by the name of our Saviour, and to whom the honour of it will be for ever rendered.
4. It is necessary to observe that all the effects of this salvation are eternal, all the blessings it confers are for ever, the felicity to which it brings us is immortal. The effects of it will not only extend to, and penetrate through eternity, but they will give a character to that eternity.
II. That this Divine blessing has given a character and a name to a period of our time, here called the day of salvation.
1. It signifies the day or time when salvation is attainable by us--when it is revealed and published, or urgently set before us. In this sense it seems to be used by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 49:8; Leviticus 7:0; 62:1), as quoted by the apostle Paul.
2. The gospel age may indeed be more emphatically designated the day of salvation, since the doctrine of salvation by a crucified surety and Saviour has been more fully illustrated and proclaimed, and since there has been no lack of those means which might encourage and help us all towards the attainment of the happy consummation. It is light that makes the day as distinguished from the night. The night of Judaism is past, it has been succeeded by a clear shining of the light of life, which makes ours indeed a day of salvation.
3. Times of special privilege when salvation is brought near to us.
4. We may especially denominate the Sabbath the day of salvation. It rises up most resplendent with this heavenly light.
III. Consider, if God has given us this day of salvation, and we now enjoy it, there is something for us all to do. We must execute the work of salvation in the day of salvation.
1. The day of salvation requires faith in the blessings then brought nigh. “This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom He hath sent.”
2. The day of salvation requires of you diligence, haste, serious application without delay to this work which you have to do.
IV. Observe, the day of salvation we all enjoy now must have an end. (The Evangelist.)
The day of salvation
The Lord has had His days of vengeance. How terrible was the hour when He opened the sluices of the firmament that the rain might descend in torrents, and bade the fountains of the great deep rise to meet the descending floods.
I. The grand reason for this day--“Now is the day of salvation.” Read the context in order to understand why there is a present day of salvation. This is the day of salvation because “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” There could have been no day of salvation if a Saviour had not appeared.
1. Notice that according to the context this is the day of salvation, because we may now be reconciled to God. “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
2. The plain statement of the twenty-first verse explains it all: “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” Here is the grand doctrine of substitution.
3. To help us to understand mercy’s great expedient still better, the Holy Spirit tells us that the Divine design in Christ Jesus is to make us the “righteousness of God” in Christ.
II. The glorious day itself--for the day of salvation is rich with blessing.
1. I would commend that day because of its fourfold excellence. Read again the verse in which our text stands. Although the words must be regarded as spoken, in the first place, to our Lord, the best expositors say that they are also addressed to His Church in Him.
(1) So then, in this day of salvation our prayer will be heard, “I have heard thee in a time accepted.”
(2) We are further told that this day help will be given. What does it say? “In the day of salvation have I succoured thee.”
(3) And then it is added, “Behold, now is the accepted time,” so that the third blessing is that coming sinners will be accepted. If you will come to God He will not reject you, whoever you may be.
(4) And then the fourth excellence is that it is a time of salvation, You need saving; be glad then that it is salvation’s own day.
2. Now, let me notice that this ought to be peculiarly pleasant news to those who are heavily laden with guilt.
3. The truth of our text should also be very encouraging to those who are fighting against inward sin.
4. While this is very encouraging to penitents and to those who are fighting with sin it should be equally cheering to tried believers.
5. And do you not think this truth should encourage all who are at work to win souls for Jesus?
III. Something about a dark cloud which may darken the close of this day of salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The accepted time
1. It is the wish of most men to obtain salvation; and therefore it is their resolution at some time or other to repent. Now they are engaged in some important business; they have met with some worldly disaster; they are in pursuit of some pleasure; they feel an indolence of temper which indisposes them for exertion; but they are determined not to let life pass away without securing salvation. Some favourable opportunity will occur.
2. Thus lulled into security many go on to disregard the secret remonstrances of conscience, and to despise the warnings and invitations of the Word of God, till at last they die as they had lived.
3. Now to be convinced of the folly, guilt, and danger of this conduct, consider--
I. The nature of repentance and the commandment of God concerning it.
1. Repentance is turning from sin to holiness. With what propriety, then, can we put it off? Can it be reasonable to delay?
2. Consider the commandment of God concerning repentance. If we admit God’s authority to be supreme, and that He has enjoined the duty of repentance, we cannot discharge it too soon.
II. The longer repentance is delayed, the more painful and difficult will it become.
1. Remember the power of habit. Thoughts and practices which we have long indulged acquire such a seat in the heart and character as to become a part of our system. And hence habit is spoken of as a second nature. Now if habit, simply considered, is powerful, its power must be increased in proportion to the length of time during which it prevails. The person, therefore, who resolves to repent hereafter, is not only careless of the obstacles which habit lays in the way of his repentance, but waits till these obstacles are augmented. What folly! thus to allow habit to acquire additional force.
2. But the extreme folly of delay appears farther, when we consider the nature of the habits. These are not those to which they are naturally averse. On the contrary, they are highly agreeable to them; cherished by the natural corruption of the heart, operate with a reciprocal influence, and give to that corruption a greater efficacy. The roots of natural depravity and those of evil habit are thus interwoven, and therefore to eradicate evil habits is like tearing the heart in pieces.
3. It is true that Divine grace can, and alone can, subdue all opposition;but it is also true that Divine grace has not promised to work miracles in your behalf--that God will not deal with you as mere passive machines in whom there is no will, no affections, no habits to be conquered by ordinary means.
III. Circumstances may occur to render repentance impracticable, and consequently to secure your ruin.
1. Every sin renders you guilty; but when warned of your guilt, and danger, you go on to aggravate the one and to despise the other, you provoke God to give you over to a reprobate mind, and to harden your heart. And will you risk this for all that the universe can give?
2. But supposing that God does not shut up His mercy, may you not be placed where there shall be nothing to secure your return to Him?
3. Again, the power of disease may lay you low on the bed of languishing and pain. That, indeed, you may flatter yourselves, will be a fit occasion for attending to your spiritual interests. Alas! you know little of the nature of repentance if you think that the time of bodily distress is the time for repentance. “Sufficient unto that day is the evil thereof.”
4. And is there not soundness of mind, which is still more necessary than health of body for attending to the concerns of the soul; but of which you may be deprived when you are least expecting it?
5. But though none of these things should take place, we know that we must die, and we know not when. We may be cut off in the midst of health, and youth, and gaiety. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
The tremendous importance of “now”
This language implies a need and an opportunity of being saved on the part of those addressed. And, if we understand the Scriptures, to be saved is the supreme good for men.
1. One feature is suggested by the text--namely, a limited period of grace. But why should there be any limit to the period of probation? Why should the door of recovery from sin ever be closed? Plainly, because it would be useless to keep it open for ever; because choice has a tendency to become irrevocable, and character to become permanent. God’s methods are never arbitrary. The amazing longevity of the antediluvians appears to have resulted in equally amazing wickedness.
2. Another feature in the economy of grace is seen in God’s withholding from the sinner a knowledge of the duration of his earthly life. As a rule no man knows the hour of his own death.
3. Another feature in the economy of grace is the influence of an animal body upon a sinful soul. An animal body is weak, perishable, exacting, and in certain respects heterogeneous to the soul. It renders a little service and requires much. With a large part of mankind the business of life is to provide for the body. How, then, can he give much attention to the wants of his spirit? But this is less than half the truth. The influence of a frail and exacting body may be favourable to the recovery of man from the terrible fascination of selfishness. For a body whose preservation must be purchased by so much toil and care reminds them by its frailty of the one coming event which can be postponed, but not averted. Again, it must be considered that care for physical life or health is a duty, though not the highest; it is right in itself, though not religious. We may exercise it, therefore, with a clear conscience. Moreover, it is safe to assume that the moral natures of men who are engaged in doing what is felt to be right will not deteriorate so rapidly as they would have done if the same men had been either idle or doing what was seen to be in itself wrong. Susceptibility to high influences will not be so quickly destroyed. And, therefore, the day of grace can be made longer than would otherwise have been safe or useful. “But look once more,” you may perhaps reply, “to the other side of the picture. Does not the body drag the soul downwards? Is it not a source of strong temptations rather than a spur to honest toil?” They are not, however, so numerous as the calls to useful service which are presented by the body, nor are they so powerful as to silence these calls. “But is not the mind clogged in its search after the highest truth by the body which it inhabits? And is not the possibility of its return to God dependent oil its clear apprehension of that highest truth? Must not this weak and exacting body, then, be a serious impediment at the very outset to religious life?” I freely admit that our present bodies are not perfect organs of the spirit. But let it not be forgotten that the search for truth which is rendered toilsome by a body whose senses are dull and whose energies are limited, leaves only a modicum of power to be worse than wasted in self-indulgence. Nor let it be forgotten that a little truth may have infinite value to the soul which receives it as a friend, or that effort to obtain truth because it is loved is a part of the blessed life itself. The great difficulty experienced by men in obtaining knowledge, because their bodies are now adapted to animal life more exactly than to spiritual life, is therefore a circumstance favourable to their prospect of recovery from sin and death.
4. Another feature of human probation on earth is the influence of domestic life upon sinful beings. This influence is very pervading and beneficent. The domestic affections, whether conjugal, parental, filial, or fraternal, must be contemplated with a reverence second only to that which we owe to Christian love. They are not indeed identical with love to God, nor do they imply or produce that love. They do not regenerate man, but they keep alive his power to enjoy fellowship, and to believe in the possibility of love. For of all natural avenues to unrenewed souls these affections are probably, next to conscience, the surest and the best. While they continue open, the way of salvation is rarely closed. They tend to prevent a final and utter hardening of the spirit against “sweetness and light.” Thus all the features of human life, in so far as they are ordered by our Heavenly Father, reveal His wisdom and goodness. In every instance they appear to have been chosen with a view to human salvation. (A. Hovey, D. D.)
The day of salvation
Here you find--
1. A note of attention--Behold!
2. An object to which the attention is called.
3. The period in which to act-now, not yesterday, that is past; not to-morrow, that is to come.
I. The gospel period is here called a day. The gospel period is called a day, because--
1. It discovers that which would have been otherwise concealed in darkness. In this day we discover the perfections of the Deity, the nature of sin, the worth of a Saviour, the only way by which sinners can be delivered from hell, and brought to heaven. The world has had many sorts of days, but never one like this before.
2. It is affected by some bright luminary. What makes a day--the stars, the moon? No; the sun. And what makes the spiritual day--ministers, the church? No; the Sun of righteousness. The man that is without Christ is in a state of darkness and death, and, if he dies, must perish.
3. It is time for people to work. “Go, my son, work in my vineyard.”
4. It is a limited time. “Oh, Jerusalem, if thou hadst known, at least in this thy day,” etc., etc. There is an end to days.
II. The property of this day. God has had many sorts of days; He had a day to create, a day to preserve, a day to afflict, a day to redeem, a day to judge; but the day in my text is a day of salvation. It would not have been a surprising thing if it had been a day of destruction, of affliction; but it is a day of salvation. And this implies the existence of sin; there would have been no need for such a day if sin had not caused it. This day includes the gracious provision of the Father’s love--the Son’s merit, and the Spirit’s grace. Make much of this day.
1. It is a necessary salvation. It is not necessary for a man to be rich, to have health, to be surrounded with friends, but it is necessary to have this salvation, or he is lost for ever.
2. It is a spiritual salvation. Not such as the Jews had in the Red Sea-not such an one as Daniel in the lions’ den. This saves the soul from sin, and raises man to the enjoyment of God.
3. This salvation is a suitable one. It is just what we stand in need of. It required infinite wisdom to contrive it, infinite merit to procure it, and infinite grace applies it to the soul.
4. This salvation is a free one. Christ is free, and the grace of the Spirit is free.
5. This salvation is a great one, It is as great as the requirements of Divine justice; as great as the misery of man. It is adequate to all its objects. It was the great God contrived it, it had a great Saviour to accomplish it, a great Spirit applies it, and a great multitude will be saved by it.
6. It is a glorious salvation. God saves without a spot on His throne; without a speck on His character; here is God glorified in justifying the man.
7. This salvation is a perfect one; there is no deficiency in it. It does not save from some sin, but from all sin. There is nothing wanting for God, for man, for life, for death, and an eternal world.
8. This salvation is an everlasting salvation, grace, and glory.
Conclusion: From our subject we see--
1. The goodness of God in providing such a salvation.
2. The misery of man, that required or rendered it necessary.
3. The awful state of the man that despises or neglects this salvation. (Theo. Jones.)
The accepted time
“Behold” is as a larum bell of attention, “now” is as a finger of indication or application to a season.
1. To awake our faith (Isaiah 7:14).
2. To awake our hope (Revelation 22:12).
3. To awake our love (1 John 3:1).
4. To awake our fear (Revelation 1:7).
5. To wake our joy (Luke 2:10-11).
6. To awake our thankfulness (Psalms 134:1).
7. To awake our compassion (Lamentations 1:12).
8. To awake our diligence.
“The accepted time.” The season is that in time which light is in the air, lustre in metals, the flower in plants, cream in milk, quintessence in herbs, the prime and best of it. Now there being a threefold season--
1. Natural, which husbandmen observe in sowing, gardeners in planting and grassing, mariners in putting to sea.
2. Civil, which all humble suppliants observe in preferring petitions to princes and great personages.
3. Spiritual, which all that have a care of their salvation must observe in seeking the Lord while he may be found. (D. Featly, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 6:3-5
Giving no offence .
.. that the ministry be not blamed.
Ministers cautioned against giving offence
To preach and to act so that none shall be offended would indeed be an impossible task; and that can never be our duty, which is wholly out of our power. The tastes of our hearers are so opposite and so changeable. The captious will censure our not doing what was either impossible or unfit to be done. Even truth and holiness give offence. But if men take umbrage at us for doing our duty, it becomes us to offend man rather than God. It is evident, therefore, the duty of giving no offence only means the giving no just cause of offence.
I. Our life and conversation should be inoffensive. Many eyes are upon us; and the same allowances will not be made for our miscarriages as for those of others. When our practice is manifestly inconsistent with our doctrines, the finest accomplishments will not screen us from deserved reproach. We move in a more exalted sphere than others; and, if we would shine as lights of the world, we had need to avoid every appearance of evil. The world expects that we should do honour to our profession. Many things, abstractly considered, may be lawful, which yet are not expedient.
II. We should give no offence by choosing injudiciously the subjects of our sermons.
III. We give offence if we do not insist on subjects suited to the spiritual state of our flocks, and to the dispensations of Providence towards them. A well-timed discourse bids fairest to strike and edify. In many cases we will instruct and admonish in vain, if we stay not till men’s minds are in proper temper to give us a fair hearing.
IV. We may give offence by a neglect or undue performance of the other public offices of our station. In leading the devotions of the Church, we give offence when either the matter, expression, or manner, is unsuitable. As to the discipline of the Church, we give offence if we exercise it with respect of persons; and, through a mistaken tenderness for any, or a fear of incurring their displeasure, allow them to live without due censure, who live inconsistently.
V. We give offence by the neglect or undue performance of the more private duties of our calling. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions.--
I. The nature of our office. We are “the ministers of God.” This implies--
1. That we are sent by God.
2. That you are to labour for God. If for God, then not surely for yourself. Some serve themselves by entering upon it merely with a view to temporal support; others, by entering it chiefly with a view to literary leisure and scientific pursuits. Draw by all means the waters of the Castalian fountain, cull the flowers of Parnassus, explore the world of mind with Locke, and the laws of matter with Newton; but not as the end of your entering the ministry. Not a few make the ministerial office tributary to the acquisition of mere popular applause. They ascend the pulpit with the same object which conducts the actor to the stage.
3. That you are responsible to God.
II. In what way the duties of our office should be discharged. Approve yourself the minister of God--
1. By faithfully preaching His Word. The pulpit is the chair neither of philosophy nor of literature, and therefore never act there the pedant. Nor is it merely the seat of the moralist, but it is the oracle of heaven.
(1) As to the matter of your preaching, take care that it is truly and faithfully the word of God. Beware of substituting the inventions of ignorance for the doctrines of inspiration. Pray to be led into all truth. Preach the whole counsel of God. Elucidate its histories; explain its prophecies, etc. As a steward of the mysteries of the kingdom you have access to exhaustless stores. Still, as a minister of the New Testament, remember that Christ’s Cross is the centre of the whole system, around which all the doctrines and the duties of revelation revolve; from which the former borrow their light, and the latter their energy.
(2) Now as to the manner of your preaching. It should be characterised by--
(a) Deep seriousness.
(b) A holy and moral tendency. The truth as it is in Jesus is “according to godliness.”
(c) Instructiveness. The preaching of some men reminds us of the breaking open of the cave of AEolus, and letting loose the winds. To a thinking mind, nothing is more ridiculous than to see a man blustering about in a perfect vacuity of ideas.
(d) Plainness. “Use great plainness of speech.”
2. By the manner in which you preside over the Church.
3. By the character of your visits to the houses of your flock. As an under shepherd of Jesus labour to say, “I know my sheep, and am known of mine.” Let all your visits be--
(1) Appropriate. Go as the minister of God, and go to approve yourself such.
(2) Brief. Avoid the character of a lounger and a gossip. You are to teach the value of time, and will do this best, practically.
(3) Impartial. Especially remember the sick and the poor.
(4) Seasonable; and certainly not late in the evening.
4. By your general conduct, spirit, and habits.
(1) By the unsullied purity of your outward conduct.
(2) By the prosperous state of your personal piety. Seek to have all your intellectual attainments consecrated by a proportionate growth in grace.
(3) By exemplary diligence.
(4) By prudence.
(5) By a kind, affectionate disposition.
(6) By a habit of importunate prayer. (J. Angell James.)
2 Corinthians 6:6-9
The Greek word--like the cognate form, “holiness”--seems to come from a root denoting reverence. It suggests the thought of the awe with which nature herself regards the presence of purity. All kinds of purity carry an awe with them. Whether it be the purity of aim and motive in all things--the singleness, disinterestedness, unselfishness, which we see rarely but certainly manifested in social, political, ecclesiastical life--that high and noble principle which carries a man straight to the mark of truth and duty, without one side-look to the convenient, the remunerative, or the popular; or whether it be--and probably this is the thing more directly in view--that chastity of the heart and of the soul, which alone can see God, and alone move unscathed and unscathing on an earth rife with temptation--in either case we have here the primary condition of a blameless ministry, lay or clerical; in either case we have here the quality which wins reverence--which makes men feel, and the more closely they approach it, that here is a Divine presence--that here, in this man of like passions as they are, there is, moving and working, a Spirit not of man but of God--a Spirit which has a further message for them, whether they will hear it or whether they will forbear. (Dean Vaughan.)
A remarkable, yet most just, transition. St. Paul anticipates here a coming abuse and distortion. Pureness cannot be over-estimated. But there is a pursuit of pureness which is not according to knowledge. Witness the monastery and the confessional; witness the narrow, the enthralling, the degrading processes by which “ministers of God” have “given offence” in this matter--making purity the whole of grace, and debasing purity itself--as St. Paul saw some would debase charity--into a negative and a self-neutralising virtue. I read here the Divine warrant for the expansion of the human intellect; the assurance that the gospel is the friend and the nurse of enlightenment; that the true gospel never runs into corners, or hides its head in the sand, by reason of a fear of knowledge. I read here the benediction of God upon education--upon all that braces and adorns the intellect; upon all that enables a young man to judge of truth by truth, to exercise a sound mind upon doctrine presented to him, to try the very “spirits of the prophets,” whether they are of God, by ascertaining the vigour, and the consistency, and the satisfactoriness to conscience, of the language they speak. Above all, I read here the solemn, the awful duty of each minister and of each Christian to gain a clear and a piercing insight into the gospel as a whole, into the Bible as the Book of Books. The knowledge of which St. Paul wrote was pre-eminently a gospel knowledge. He lived in days when that title, so honourable, so easily assumed, was beginning to be fraught with mischief and ruin to the Church of God. He himself said elsewhere, “Knowledge puffeth up; it is love which edifieth.” And therefore we may be quite sure that the “knowledge” by which he “approved himself,” was distinctly a knowledge of revelation--yet a knowledge no less checked and tempered by other knowledge, than prompted and inspired by a Spirit not of the world. In these days the importance of knowledge, side by side with pureness, is asserting itself as perhaps never before. The necessity of Christian people being also an educated people. That they should be able to hold their own against all comers. That they should be able to refute--and not to be frightened at--the gainsayers. The timidity of conscious ignorance is the cause of half our compromises and our cowardices. We Christians flee where no man pursueth, because we have not taken the measure of the possible capacities of the imagined pursuer. But not less is it necessary that Christian men should “know” their own gospel. We snatch up, here and there, a text or a word, a phrase or a clause, detach it from its context, never define, never balance, and then, following some party leader, fight for the name and never “know” the thing. And so it may happen that, under the banner of the name, we may even be fighting against the thing. We may have a zeal for God Himself--and “not according to knowledge.” I speak fearlessly the praises of knowledge. Only let us take heed, first, that we be not bringing a “science falsely so called” into antagonism with Him who is “the truth”; and secondly, that we be quite sure that our Divine truth is the whole of truth--in other words, is Christ Himself--in His Deity, and in His Humanity--in His holiness, and His wisdom, and His love! (Dean Vaughan.)
If there be one virtue which most commends Christians, it is that of kindness: it is to love the people of God, to love the Church, to love poor sinners, to love all. But how many have we in our churches of crab-tree Christians, who have mixed such a vast amount of vinegar, and such a tremendous quantity of gall in their constitutions, that they can scarcely speak one good word to you. They imagine it impossible to defend religion except by passionate ebullitions; they cannot speak for their dishonoured Master without being angry with their opponent; and if anything is awry, whether it be in the house, the church, or anywhere else, they conceive it to be their duty to set their faces like flint, and to defy everybody. They are like isolated icebergs, no one cares to go near them. Imitate Christ in your loving spirits; speak kindly, act kindly, and think kindly, that men may say of you, “He has been with Jesus.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
By the Holy Ghost.--
This clause might be so interpreted as to include the rest. Pureness, knowledge, and love, are all gifts of the One Spirit. This reflection shows that when St. Paul wrote, “By the Holy Ghost,” amongst a number of particulars, he must have meant something more precise and less comprehensive. A man might have pureness and knowledge, and yet lack two things. We have known men of clean hands and a pure heart, of extensive knowledge and well-defined doctrine, who were singularly deficient in power. That elevating, transforming, re-creating influence, which brings a glow, and a force, and a rush into the whole being, and turns the commonplace into the original, and the natural into the spiritual, and the earthly into the heavenly, has not yet passed over them. They are clean and sound, but they are not illuminated and transfigured. Their life is not a motive life. It does not kindle, because it is not alight. No one catches fire at sleeping embers. These men are like a fire laid, to which the match has not yet brought the life-giving spark. Something of this kind is often made the special office of the Holy Ghost. The cleansing water is one of His emblems; but the rushing wind is another, and the enkindling fire is a third. And though the miraculous gifts are gone--gone because their work is done, and they would but impede the gospel progress in this nineteenth century--still power remains, as one of the proofs, and not one of the meanest or least convincing proofs, of the Divine origin of the gospel. Only let your mind receive into it, in answer to prayer, the real presence of God Himself in the Holy Spirit--and you are a man of power at once. The energy communicated to your soul must act and influence. The grace of pureness, the grace of knowledge, pass on into the grace of power. Multitudes,. even of sincere Christians, stop short of this; and, though safety may be theirs, it is a half-selfish safety--they go for next to nothing in the real battle-field of the gospel. Let us be Christians through and through. (Dean Vaughan.)
By love unfeigned.--
Pureness, and knowledge, and power--not even in this combination is the Christian character perfected. There might be a hardness, coldness, self-complacency, censoriousness, still--showing some lamentable deficiency in the presentation of the mind that was in Christ. Love, as the Greek says, unhypocritical, is an indispensable part of the “approving,” of the “not offending,” of the minister, of the Christian. What is purity without love? Cold, stern, how Unlike the holiness of Jesus! What is knowledge without love? Self-engrossing, contemptuous--how opposite to that Divine insight of which St. Paul says, “If Shy man love, the same knoweth,” or “is known”! What is power without love? Imperious, exacting, perhaps cruel--how, how incongruous with the position of a creature, of a sinner! Nature herself is witness that there is yet a more excellent way. Love--love unfeigned. Yes, that love which at the altar of God’s own love has kindled alike the love of God and the love of man. That love which is the handing on of love; the transmission, the transfusion--as of course, as that which must be, which could not be coerced or cabined--of a forgiveness, of a peace, of a joy, felt first, and felt as a gift, within. That love which has no stint and no limit, because it is the reflection of a love infinite, inexhaustible. Who does not know, who does not feel as he but listens, that the man who has this love in him is indeed “approved as God’s minister”? And without this love unhypocritical, what are gifts of intellect, of eloquence, of insight into truth, of scrupulosity in duty? Where is the attestation, in all these, of the ministry, or of the gospel? “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God”--men feel that God is in him, as a light, as a strength, as a love, as a consolation. (Dean Vaughan.)
2 Corinthians 6:9-10
As unknown, and yet well known.
A catalogue of contradictions
In these and preceding verses we have the grand characteristics of apostolic life.
1. Their difficulties and dangers.
2. The methods of their ministry.
3. The seeming contradictions that made up their life. Examining these in order, notice--
I. Conspicuousness in obscurity.
1. God’s people are “hidden ones.” “The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” What conies within the range of the senses the world can understand; but what is only spiritually discerned the world cannot know.
2. But these hidden ones occupy a most prominent position before God, and all spiritual intelligences. “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous.” The entirety of their inner and outer life is well known in heaven. Their names are registered in the Book of Life.
II. Life in death.
1. The life of the old man dies by the painful, lingering process of crucifixion.
2. A new Divine life is planted in the soul which develops in proportion as the old man is crucified.
III. Safety in afflictive providences.
1. The primal spring of the chastisement of a child of God is parental love (Hebrews 13:1-25.). Without it, we should be condemned with the world; the dross of our many sins and corruptions would remain, and should not be wrought for us. We should fail to be conformed to the Lord Jesus, who was made perfect through sufferings.
2. But observe the safety guaranteed. “Not killed.” That is impossible, for omnipotence upholds them (Romans 8:35-39).
IV. Joy in sorrow.
1. The sources of a believer’s sorrows.
(1) In his heart and life there is much to cause depression, much that grieves the Holy Spirit.
(2) In his circumstances.
2. But he can look beyond all these to the counterbalancing joy. “The joy of the Lord is his strength.”
V. Munificence in poverty.
1. God’s people are often poor as to this world. “God hath chosen the poor rich in faith.” Christ Himself was a poor man. But apart altogether from external circumstances, God’s people are, and feel themselves to be, spiritually poor. In the fall man lost everything.
2. But a rich connection has been formed on the part of God’s chosen ones with the Lord of all, who has “unsearchable riches.” Hence it follows that he who is poor can “make many rich.” A true saint, who has nothing in himself, but all things in Christ, is the greatest benefactor of his race.
VI. Boundless possessions in utter destitution. (P. Morrison.)
Opposite views of a good man’s life
I. To the secular eye he was unknown; to the spiritual, well known.
1. The world has never yet rightly understood the real life of a Christian. To the world, Paul appeared a fanatic. John says, the “world knoweth us not.” The world does not understand self-sacrificing love. It understands ambition, greed, revenge, but not this.
2. This explains martyrdom, ay, and the crucifixion of Christ. But though thus unknown to men, they are well-known--
(1) To Christ, Christ knows all about His disciples; their inner life and outward circumstances.
(2) To heavenly spirits. They are famous in heaven. At their conversion heaven rejoiced, and over every step of their subsequent history heaven watches with a loving care. “He giveth His angels charge over thee.”
II. To the one dying; to the other living.
1. To worldly men Paul appeared as mortal as other men; with a frame scourged, wasted, he was nothing but a dying man.
2. But, spiritually, he was living. The soul within that dying body was living a wonderful life--a life of Christly inspirations and aims.
III. To the one, much tried; to the other, not destroyed. The word chastened here refers to his scourgings. For a catalogue of his sufferings, see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. To worldly spectators he, with all his wounds, would appear a dead man; but his spiritual purposes, enjoyments, and hopes were not killed,
IV. To the one, very sorrowful; to the other, always rejoicing.
V. TO the one, very poor; to the other, wealth-giving.
1. Paul and his colleagues had suffered the loss of all things. Often breadless, homeless, and clad in rags.
2. Yet spiritually they were not only rich, but made others rich.
(1) The highest work of man is to impart spiritual riches to his brother man. The most dignified and delectable work is this.
(2) Worldly poverty does not disqualify a man for the discharge of this sublime mission. The gospel is to be diffused not by man as a scholar, philosopher, but by man as man.
VI. To the one, destitute; to the other, enormously rich. “All things are yours.” Christliness gives us an interest in all things. They are given to man to enjoy. Conclusion: Do not estimate life by appearances. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
In the Scriptures we continually come upon double statements of this kind:--unknown, yet well known; possible, yet impossible; absent, yet present; on earth, yet in heaven; knowing nothing, yet judging all things. So we are at liberty to apply the words, which in their first meaning were restricted to personal experience, to the illustration of profounder truths and wider doctrines. Suppose we suggest future time. That is unknown, yet well known. Futurity is the mystery of life. We live for the future, even whilst we may deny its broader aspects. What is this magnet that draws us on? Its name is To-morrow. No man hath seen To-morrow at any time, any more than any man hath seen God at any time. Yet we cannot deny it, though we have never seen it, we have never lived it, we have no experience of it; we have a symbol by which we represent it, we acknowledge its inspiration, its mysterious, elevating, animating influence; but what it is, whence it comes, what it will bring, in what shape it will accost us, in what tone of voice, how grim its silence, how eloquent its salutation, none can tell. So we say the future is unknown, yet well known. Thus, in detail, for one moment. The farmer speaks of next harvest: will there be a harvest time? No man doubts it. What will it be in yield and in value? None can tell. It is known, yet unknown--known as a broad fact, unknown in all the minuteness of its detail, and the palpitation of its immediate results. Take the grim certainty of death. We now call it a commonplace when we say “all men are mortal.” That is undoubted. By what gate will you go out of this little land into the unknown territory? Will you begin to die in the feet or at the head? Will your heart suddenly stop like a hindered pendulum? So we have the known and the unknown. Is there anything else that combines these marvellous features of being at once unknown, yet well known? Take life. Who knows it? No man. It is as mysterious as God. The man who can accept life ought to have no difficulty in accepting the Triune God. What is life? No man has ever told. Where is it? No man has seen its sanctuary. Is there any other illustration open to the general mind which confirms this altruism, which the apostle so graphically represented? Take character. What is character? How is it made up? Can you handle it and say, Behold, such is its figure? Can you weigh it in pounds troy, and assign its weight, to the utmost ounce or carat? Can you walk around it? Have you ever seen it? Only in incarnation, just as you have seen God. What do you know about “a beautiful character”? You say how mild, how modest, how genial, how courteous. How do you know? We know nothing about character. Call no man good until he is dead, and even after death there may come revelations which will “fright the isle from its propriety.” So we come to the great mystery of all--God. He is unknown. We acknowledge it. The Bible says so. Yet God is well known. We cannot tell how we know Him, but we do know Him; imagination knows Him, the heart knows Him, reason feels Him near, conscience hushes the whole being into silence, because of a mysterious presence. We know some realities by the power of love, not by the power of genius. So we enlarge the whole sphere of altruistic vision, and come upon such words as “possible, yet impossible.” “With God all things are possible,” says Jesus Christ, and one of His apostles wrote in an epistle, “it is impossible for God.” Both statements are true, and both are needed to complete a statement of the truth. We refer to this now, because it helps us to a most practical point. It is possible for you to pull down your house, brick by brick, stone by stone, and to begin immediately to unroof the family dwelling; you have strength, you cannot procure instruments, all needful aids are at your service; you could in one short day dismantle and destroy your dwelling; yet you could not, you could do nothing of the kind. What hinders you? An invisible power. What is its name? Reason, common-sense, a correct apprehension of justice and righteousness. Then we are under spiritual control, notwithstanding our irreligiousness? (J. Parker, D. D.)
As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing--
Sorrowing, yet always rejoicing
I. We all want to find a way of so mingling sorrow and joy together, that neither shall contradict or weaken the other. You see people hugging a sorrow, feeding upon it. The wild cry of Constance, “Grief fills the room up of my absent child,” has been the cry of many a mother. You perceive that such indulgence is morbid and dangerous; but you take, in general, very unsatisfactory methods of curing it. You try to dissipate the patient’s mind, to present other objects which may cause the object on which it dwells to be forgotten. Often you succeed. But something is destroyed which should have been preserved. The waters of Lethe are not those which purge the spirit. They take away much that is best and strongest in it; they leave weeds and mud behind. Depend upon it, sorrow has that in it which we need and cannot afford to part with. He is a thief and an enemy who would take it from us. This is so, whatever be the occasion of the sorrow. Do not say, “This is a poor, mean occasion for a man to grieve about.” The loss is a calamity. The grief for it is a gift which you may turn into a curse or into a blessing. An illustrious historian said that he could discover in eminent men, of various periods, an impoverishment and decay of heart and intellect, dating from a crisis of their lives, when they had wilfully thrown off some great sorrow which might have given them consistency and depth. The question is, whether we shall merely nurse sorrow as if it were a warrant for misanthropy, or accept it as a message from above to teach us more of our relations to other men and of our relation to God. In this sense Paul was always sorrowing. There is not a trace in any of his Epistles of morbidness. He is always in action. He is thinking, feeling for others. In one sense he “forgets the things that are behind.” He determines that they shall not impede him. But in another sense, nothing is forgotten. All is coloured and shaped by his own previous experiences. What he has suffered enables him to look with straight eyes upon the suffering of the world. He regards it as a sign of derangement in that which is divinely good; therefore it makes him mourn. He regards it as one of the instruments for removing that which is deranged; therefore it cannot make him despair. St. Paul learnt to sorrow when he learnt to hope. He knew the anguish of conscience before; but he did not know sorrow till he had a revelation of One who cared for him, mourned for him, died for him. There then arose upon him the vision of a Man of Sorrows; and now he could desire nothing better than to enter into the mind of Christ.
II. A man who is always sorrowing in this way, must be also always rejoicing. Such a weight of sorrow could only have been sustained by a joy that was commensurate with it.
1. We all confess this truth in one way or another. The most frivolous person says, “I have had much trial of late; I must have more than ordinary pleasure that I may endure it.” We often denounce such language, but there is a meaning in it, though an inverted one. The joy which we seek for to quench sorrow, is on the whole a poor flimsy joy; not the joy which penetrates far below the surface. That joy which lies at the very root of our being, which is as necessary for human life as moisture is for vegetable life--that joy which, amid the frosts of the world, would perish utterly if Heaven did not watch ever it--that joy does not seek to escape from sorrow, but encounters it and finds its own strength in enduring it. As Paul found in the Son of Man the climax of all human sorrow, so he owned in that same Son of Man and Son of God the source and climax of all human joy. As he recollected what the work of the Sorrower on earth had been--how every act He had done was to take away some disease, some death-anguish, it was not possible but that he should believe that there was another cup besides that which His Father had given Him, and which He drained to the dregs. Every hour that Jesus was walking among men He was giving them some foretaste of this joy, some token that He came to make them inheritors of it. But there was a special hour in which we are told He rejoiced in His own Spirit (Matthew 11:25-27). I think I read here the secret of St. Paul’s continual joy in the midst of his continual sorrow. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The sorrows and pleasures attendant on true piety
I. The causes of the believer’s sorrow.
1. The painful sense he entertains of his remaining imperfections, sinfulness, and weakness.
2. The difficulty of maintaining a steadfast belief in the great and essential truths of the gospel of our salvation.
3. The prevalent impiety, the wide-spreading moral wretchedness, with which he sees himself continually surrounded.
4. The natural evil, the physical suffering, which prevails to so wide an extent in the world around him.
II. The sources of his joy.
1. The blessed hope that when he shall have accomplished his day, he shall find admittance into that blissful region where “all tears shall be wiped from all eyes, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away for ever.”
2. The privilege of drawing near to God in acts of public and private devotion.
3. Christian fellowship with persons of a kindred spirit with his own.
4. Grateful and sincere obedience to his heavenly Father’s will--more especially in kindness to those whom our Redeemer calls His brethren. (C. Townsend, M. A.)
Rejoicing in sorrow
Joy lives in the midst of the sorrow; the sorrow springs from the same root as the gladness. The two do not clash against each other, or reduce the emotion to a neutral indifference, but they blend into one another; just as, in the Arctic regions, deep down beneath the cold snow, with its white desolation and its barren death, you shall find the budding of the early spring flowers and the fresh green grass; just as some kinds of fire burn below the water; just as, in the midst of the barren and undrinkable sea, there may be welling up some little fountain of fresh water that comes from a deeper depth than the great ocean around it, and pours its sweet streams along the surface of the salt waste. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
As poor, yet making many rich.--
Poor, yet rich, and enriching others
I. Wealth without the riches of the world. “Having nothing, yet possessing all things.”
1. This may be true of men as men.
(1) Knowledge is wealth. A child well educated is better endowed, though his parents do not give him a single penny, than the child who is uneducated, and who is heir to a large fortune.
(2) Wisdom is wealth. The prudence and sagacity which enable a man to see what is best is the most valuable capital with which a man can conduct business.
(3) Contentment is wealth. To make the best of things as things are.
(4) Hope is wealth. Because a man has but brass to-day, and is looking forward to gold tomorrow.
(5) Cheerfulness is wealth.
(6) Love awakened by all that is true, beautiful, and good, is wealth.
2. But look specially at the wealth of a true Christian. He possesses--
(1) The Spirit of God, and in Him light and life and love.
(2) In the Son of God a Redeemer who is devoted to him, to save him from his sins.
(3) In the God to whom he is reconciled, a Father. He is “an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ.”
(4) In salvation the greatest good which God can bestow and a title to “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” 15) As a saved and sanctified man, knowledge, wisdom, contentment, cheerfulness, hope, love.
(6) All the most useful things--“living bread,” “living water,” raiment that waxeth not old--“robes of righteousness and garments of salvation.”
(7) All the most enduring things--“an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away.”
(8) All the most precious things, “for all things are yours.” “My God shall supply all your need from His glorious riches by Christ Jesus.” “He that overcometh shall inherit all things.”
II. The power of enriching others co-existing with poverty. The “making many rich” is not dependent on material wealth.
1. Well doing is required of all, irrespective of poverty or of riches. Multitudes have done good without material wealth. The chief benevolent and religious works are done by those who live by their daily labour. Look through our Sunday and Ragged Schools, etc., and the evidence is complete. Some of you who “possess all things,” in another sense, are keeping back from “making many rich.”
2. True riches cannot be purchased with money, and the rich are not God’s elect to make others rich. “God hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith,” etc.
1. Rich Christians who have been brought low may learn a cheerful lesson. I want such to see that they “possess all things”--a Saviour enthroned, a Father in heaven, the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
2. The poor, Who are kept poor, may learn a lesson of contentment. It is God’s arrangement. God is using this as a means of discipline; He is teaching you certain things by poverty that you could not so well learn from any other tutor.
3. Let Christians learn--
(1) Their responsibility. Now there are some who are ever ready to sing, “How vast the treasure we possess!” But it would puzzle some of you to find anybody enriched by you--by your instruction or consolation.
(2) Their privilege. To “possess all things” is a privilege, but it is a far greater privilege to make others “rich.” Oh! to make one poor neglected brother rich. But to make “many rich,” this is to share the joy of heaven--this is to taste that satisfaction of the Saviour which rewarded Him for the travail of His soul. Let this stimulate you. If God put money into your hand, He does so prudently and properly to scatter, not to hoard. You may do as much good in circulating your money in employing labour as by bestowing it in what is called charity. There is like danger of covetousness with regard to our spiritual privileges. If we do “possess all things,” we should certainly be moved by such a possession to strive to make others “rich.” (S. Martin.)
The affluent poor
1. That the gospel is a system to enrich man. Some religious systems impoverish both mind and body. The enrichment of the gospel gives man a property in “all things.” This spiritual wealth is inalienable, whereas the wealthiest carry not a fraction of all their possessions to the grave, Moral goodness is worth, everywhere and for ever.
2. The gospel enriches man through the agency of poor men. The poor can receive the gospel, and do indeed receive it to a greater extent than any other class. Heaven has placed no obstacle in the way of any class. But if the poor can receive it they can also propagate it. It came into the world through a poor man. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. He elected to carry on His work by poor fishermen. These He sent forth without “purse or scrip.” The same order has been more or less observed up to the present day. Our great reformers, theologians, missionaries, and ministers have, with but few exceptions, sprung from the ranks of the poor. I infer from all this--
I. The kind of instrumentality on which the diffusion of God’s gospel necessarily depends. If the poor can propagate this system, then legislative enactments, worldly influence, high intellectual culture, may be dispensed with. But what of worldly wealth? All that money can do is to furnish machinery--temples, Bibles, and preachers; and these we have in abundance now. The necessary instrumentality is Christ-like thought, spirit, and life.
II. That no Christian man is freed from the obligation to diffuse the gospel of God. If the poor can promote the gospel, how much greater is the obligation of every higher grade in society!
1. The wealthy. Though wealth is not an indispensable qualification, it is undoubtedly a talent suited to augment man’s power for this glorious mission.
2. Men of leisure. The poor are doomed to toil for the mere means of subsistence, and can scarcely snatch an hour for spiritual usefulness. How will those amongst us who “kill time” by idle amusements stand in the Last Judgment?
3. The educated.
III. That there is no ground for self-gratulation in the success of our evangelical efforts. Had angels been employed we might have referred its triumphs to their brilliant talents. But finding that the poorest can achieve the grandest spiritual results, there is no alternative but to trace success in all cases to God.
IV. That the highest honour is within the reach of all. This is not to have lordly inheritance or a famous name, but to be the regenerator of souls.
V. That there is good reason to hope for the universal diffusion of the gospel. The poor can spread it, and therefore the gospel is not dependent upon any class. And then, moreover, the poor have the largest amount of power; they have always been and still are the millions--the muscles of the world. My poor brother! repine not because of thy worldly lot. Luther was the son of a miner; Bunyan was a tinker, Carey a cobbler, Morison a last-maker; and Knibb, who smote slavery in Jamaica; Williams, who bore the gospel to the Coral Islands; Moffatt, the apostle of Africa, were the children of the sons of toil. Who was John Pounds, the originator of Ragged Schools? He earned his miserable pittance as one of the humblest cobblers in Portsmouth. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. “As having nothing.” Learn--
1. That the truly great are not essentially the visibly rich. We live in an age so material that this needs to be proclaimed with trumpet blast.
2. That it becomes us to make greater self-denials. How seldom do our poverties arise from self-sacrifices!
3. That God does not reward His servants with material pay. If any man had a claim for such reward, it was Paul. But why is this?.
(1) God does not attach the false importance to material, possessions that, we do.
(2) He will let us do and dare for Him without a bribe.
4. That God’s poor are the best off. For see the heritage to which they know that they are begotten!
II. “And yet possessing all things.” A good man owns all things.
1. By holding a true relation to things--
(1) He is instructed by them. Because a man has a lot of works of art in his gallery, and books in his library, it does not follow that he is their truest owner.
(2) He gets enjoyment from them. And what more can any owner do? There are men that sit in their lordly mansions that might as well be immured in a dungeon for aught of joy they gut.
(3) He gets growth in the midst of them. If a man’s nature is ripened, enriched by things, what can make him in such a great sense their owner?
2. By holding a true relation to Christ he becomes possessor of all things (Romans 8:17; Revelation 3:21). (H. Martyn.)
2 Corinthians 6:11-13
O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.
A Christian minister’s appeal
I. The appeal of a revived minister,
1. It consists of a full exhibition to you of all the truths which the gospel teaches for your salvation.
2. It comprises an affectionate desire for your enjoyment of all the blessings which the gospel offers. This enjoyment--
(1) Comes from God.
(2) Is maintained by devout meditation and prayer.
(3) Is encouraged by examples.
(4) Expresses itself by earnestness of spirit in self-denying labours.
II. The response of a revived church.
1. Take a firm and steady hold of the simple gospel, as divinely suited to the ends for which it has been given.
2. Meet the ministers of the gospel in the spirit in which they come to you.
3. Extend your own views, plans, and hopes in connection with the enlargement of the Church.
(1) What can you do?
(2) What is the wisest way of doing it?
(3) What are your encouragements and hopes?
1. Those who have no disposition to respond to this appeal--why not?
2. Such as have.
3. Those confirmed by the meetings.
4. Those who are awakened. (W. H. Stowell, D. D.)
The apostle’s love and its desired recompense
I. The apostle’s affection overflows in an exuberant apostrophe (2 Corinthians 6:11). His love was deep, and this flow of eloquence arose out of the expansion of his heart.
1. “Our heart is enlarged.” This remark is wonderful considering the provocations Paul had received. The Corinthians had denied the truthfulness of his ministry, charged him with interested motives, sneered at his manner, etc. In the face of this his heart expands!--partly with compassion. Their insults only impressed him with a sense of their need. How worthy a successor of his Master’s spirit! And this is the true test of gracious charity. Does the heart expand or narrow as life goes on? If it narrows, ii misconception or opposition wither love, be sure that that love had no root. “If ye love them that love you, what reward have ye?, And this love is given to all, partly from looking on all as immortal souls in Christ. The everlasting principle within makes all the difference. Hold fast to love. If men wound your heart, let them not sour or embitter it; let them not shut up or narrow it; let them only expand it more and more, and be always able to say with Paul, “My heart is enlarged.”
2. “Our mouth is open unto you.” He might have shut his lips, and in dignified pride refused to plead his own cause. But instead he speaks his thoughts aloud, and, like Luther, lays his whole heart open to view. Paul had no afterthought, no reservation--he was a genuine man.
II. The recompense desired.
1. The enlargement of their heart towards him.
2. To be shown in their separation from the world and from all uncleanness. It was not simply affection towards himself that he desired, but devotion to God.
3. This is the only true recompense of ministerial work. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. The nature of heart expansion.
1. It is not mere mental expansion. History supplies too many examples of intellectual greatness associated with moral degradation.
2. It is not mere liberality of sentiment.
3. It consists in enlarged views of men as the subject of moral government, and enlarged desires for promoting their well-being. It is Christianity only that inspires those views and those feelings. It gives to man enlarged expectations, and teaches him the way to realise them.
II. The means of heart expansion.
1. Examine the present state of the heart.
2. Meditate upon the great evangelical facts. “God so loved the world,” etc.
3. Commune with men of enlarged souls. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, he that walketh with good souls may participate in their goodness.
4. Hold fellowship with the Son of God. Be much with Him, drink in His sentiments, imbibe His spirit.
III. The need of heart expansion. Why should we seek it?
1. The heart is capable of it. How the gospel makes little souls great!
2. We are representatives of Christ. How great in soul should Christians be who have to stand between the loving Son of God and the fallen world!
3. Enlargement of heart is essential to our usefulness. It is only the heart expanding with love that can turn time, talent, property, acquirements, to spiritual use.
4. We are responsible for the condition of the heart whether contracted or enlarged. (Caleb Morris.)
Tendency of the gospel to enlarge the heart
The gospel had enlarged the heart of the apostle, and he supposed it had a tendency to enlarge the hearts of the Corinthians. His views and feelings were once confined to himself, and to objects connected with his personal interests. But after he had understood and loved the gospel his heart expanded, and he felt interested in everything comprised in the great and benevolent scheme of man’s redemption.
I. What we are to understand by the heart’s being enlarged.
1. The heart is something different from the faculties of the mind, and consists in free voluntary exercises, emotions, or affections.
2. Every moral agent has some supreme object in view. Self is the object in the unsanctified heart, but the renewed heart has a regard to the interest of others.
3. The heart is large or small in proportion to the largeness or smallness of the objects upon which ii terminates.
4. Men’s hearts enlarge as their capacities, relations, connections, and spheres of action increase. When David was a shepherd his mind and heart were as small as his flock; when he became a general they were as large as his army; when he ascended the throne they were enlarged in proportion to the interests of the nation.
5. It is true, indeed, the heart does not always keep pace with the progress of capacity and knowledge. If a man’s supreme object be mean or unimportant it will contract his mind and feelings. The man who makes property his supreme object sees nothing in the universe superior to property, and esteems nothing important but what tends to property. So with amusements, etc. As a man’s heart is always where his treasure is, so his heart is as large and no larger than his supposed treasure.
II. The gospel has a direct tendency to enlarge the hearts of those who embrace it. The gospel comprises the highest good of the universe, and those who embrace it cordially approve of this design. They love the good that God loves, and desire to have it promoted in the way proposed in the gospel. As soon, therefore, as any become cordially united to Christ, the discovery of this great good immediately expands their hearts. The gospel tends to enlarge men’s hearts--
1. Towards God. It gives the fullest and brightest display of His glory.
2. Towards Christ. The great and glorious Saviour is nowhere revealed but here. Nature discovers none such. As men’s knowledge of the gospel therefore increases, their love, gratitude, and whole hearts are enlarged towards Christ.
3. Towards the Church of Christ.
4. Towards all mankind.
5. Towards all created beings, whether holy or unholy, and towards every living creature, from the highest angel to the smallest insect. These all belong to God, and are a part of tits interest.
6. To take an interest in all events. They all stand inseparably connected with the extensive design of the gospel, which assures believers that all things are theirs, whether past, present, or to come, and shall eventually work together for their good.
If the gospel tends to enlarge the views and hearts of those who embrace it, then--
1. Unbelievers have no just ground to object to it as enfeebling the minds and contracting the hearts of men.
2. We see why the Scripture represents believers as far more amiable and excellent than unbelievers.
3. They sincerely desire that the gospel may be universally known and embraced.
4. They know by experience that they cannot serve God and mammon.
5. They ardently desire to know more and more about it.
6. It enables them to perform all the duties which it requires with great pleasure and delight. “I will run the way of Thy commandments when Thou shalt enlarge my heart.” (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Be ye also enlarged.--
Consider the text--
I. As it may be applied to the sinner. Be enlarged--
1. In understanding and wisdom.
2. In the affections of the heart.
3. In the blessedness of the future. “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”
II. As it applies to believers.
1. Be ye also enlarged in the knowledge and love of Christ.
2. In prayer and holy effort.
III. As it reminds of heaven. Heaven will be an eternal enlargement, for--
1. There will be perfect comprehension. Nothing to perplex, nothing to obscure.
2. The soul will be released from its earthly prison-house.
3. The bliss of the redeemed will be ever increasing. (Congregational Pulpit.)
The enlargement of Christian benevolence
I. In what the enlargement of the text consists.
(1) Not in expansion of intellect, for there are many in whose character moral deficiencies form a striking contrast to brilliancy of intellect.
(2) Others flatter themselves that they possess superior enlargement because they entertain an equal indifference to all the varieties of human opinion in religious subjects, and feel no regard for any sect or creed. This would, no doubt, be a very cheap and easy doctrine to embrace; by those who are indifferent concessions are easily made to almost any extent, and there can be no great liberality in sacrificing truth where no real attachment to truth is felt.
2. Positively it consists in a real benevolence to the whole Church of Christ, as opposed to any selfish views of our own salvation, or of our own Church, as exclusively concerned. There are some who live solely to themselves, others limit their benevolence to the circle of their own family or of their acquaintance, and others extend their benevolent interest to every case of distress that falls within their view. And this is the utmost extent of human benevolence, apart from the religion of Christ. The proud Roman confined all his benevolence to Rome. That all nations were of one blood never entered into the views of the most enlightened men in the pagan world. But suppose us enabled to open our eyes to a comprehensive view of mankind as one vast family; suppose God to have clearly discovered Himself as the universal Father, from whom all have alike departed by sin; suppose Him to have shown us that one great method of recovery has been provided for all, what should be the effect of such a revelation but first to attach us to God as our common centre, and then to the whole family of man as called to form the Church of God?
II. Its motives and reasons.
1. It is perfectly reasonable and in harmony with nature. We are so circumstanced that we are perpetually and inevitably led out of ourselves. There are natural emotions that are purely benevolent; pity, e.g., identifies us with others. In all our social affections, supposing them genuine, we act on the ground of a disinterested benevolence; it is their happiness, not our own, that we primarily seek.
2. It agrees with the genius of Christianity, the grand display of the Divine benevolence, “Herein is love,” etc. Hence the apostle declares, “The love of Christ constrains us.” Such an example of compassionate benevolence--of enlargement of heart--once perceived and felt absorbs the soul.
3. It is conducive to our own happiness. The more we identify ourselves with the interest of others the more we consult our own happiness. In the pursuit of any merely solitary schemes we shall reap only disappointment. When the barriers of selfishness are broken down, and the current of benevolence is suffered to flow generously abroad, and circulate far and near around, then we are in a capacity of the greatest and best enjoyment.
4. It tends to promote all public good.
III. The modes of attaining it.
1. Acquaintance with God. First draw near to the Father in that new and living way, for “whoso loveth Him that begot will also love all those that are begotten.” Once taste for yourself that the Lord is gracious, and then you will find that you “cannot but speak of what you have seen and heard.”
2. Prayer for the Holy Spirit’s influence; by this alone can our hearts be truly enlarged in love to man.
3. Connection with great objects of beneficence. The mind takes a tincture from the objects it pursues. If you engage your attention in the concerns of Christian philanthropy your mind will be dilated in proportion to your ardour. (R. Hall, M. A.)
The influence of religion to enlarge the mind
Of this enlargedness of mind the apostle was an eminent example. All his worldly prospects he cheerfully relinquished for the service of Christ.
I. Its nature and operations. The enlarged Christian--
1. Entertains comprehensive and connected ideas of the religion of the gospel, and regards the several parts of it according to their comparative usefulness and importance.
(1) There are some who confine their zeal to certain favourite sentiments and usages, and these not the most important, like those primitive believers whose attachment to the rites and ceremonies almost excluded charity to their more liberal brethren.
(2) The enlarged Christian imbibes his religious sentiments fresh and pure from the deep fountain of Divine truth, not from the shallow, variable stream of human opinion. Contemplating the perfect character of God, he concludes that all religion must consist in rectitude of heart and holiness of life; that love to Him and benevolence to men must be its leading principles.
2. Judges freely and independently in matters of religion. He will not receive doctrines as the commandments of men, nor, on the other hand, will he cavil and object against them to show his superiority to the opinions of men.
3. Yields an unreserved submission to the Divine government. To a contracted mind the ways of God are subjects of daily complaint, but the man of an enlarged heart contemplates the ways of God on a more extensive scale. He therefore acquiesces in all the allotments of providence, and rejoices that his interests are in better hands than his own.
4. Is of a humble mind. The man of a narrow heart thinks highly of his own worth, is tenacious of his own opinions, and devoted to his own interest; but the man of liberal sentiments thinks soberly, speaks modestly, and walks humbly. Influenced by this spirit, the Christian reveres the word of revelation, and receives its instructions with submission.
5. Has a benevolent heart. He whose feelings are contracted within himself views with indifference the misfortunes of a neighbour, or takes advantage from them. But the enlarged Christian considers all men as his brethren. He can sacrifice his own interest to the superior happiness of his fellow-men, like Paul, who sought not his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved.
II. The proper means of obtaining and improving it.
1. An intimate acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures. It is not any and every kind of knowledge that will enlarge the mind, but only-that which is great in its object and useful in its tendency.
2. Sub, mission to the power of the gospel. Knowledge is highly useful, but this alone will rather swell than enlarge the mind. It is charity which edifies.
3. Social intercourse, especially social worship.
4. Prayer. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
This peculiar word has a cognate form in the law which forbids the breeding of hybrid animals (Leviticus 19:19). God has established a good physical order in the world, and it is not to be confounded and disfigured by the mixing of the species. It is that law, or perhaps another form of it, which forbids the yoking together of an ox and an ass (Deuteronomy 22:10), that is applied in an ethical sense in this passage. There is a wholesome moral order in the world also, and it is not to be confused by the association of its different kinds. The common application of this text to the marriage of Christians with non-Christians is legitimate but too narrow. The text prohibits every kind of union in which the separate character and interest of the Christian lose anything of their distinctiveness and integrity. This is brought out more strongly in the free quotation from Isaiah 52:11 in verse 17. These words were originally addressed to the priests, who, on the redemption of Israel from Babylon, were to carry the sacred temple vessels back to Jerusalem. But we must remember that though they are Old Testament words they are quoted by a New Testament writer, who inevitably puts his own meaning into them. “The unclean thing” which no Christian is to touch covers, and doubtless was intended to cover, all that it suggests to the simple Christian mind now. We are to have no compromising connection with anything in the world which is alien to God. Let us be as loving and conciliatory as we please, but as long as the world is what it is the Christian life can only maintain itself in it in an attitude of unbroken protest. There always will be things and people to whom the Christian has to say No! But the moral demand is put in a more positive form in 2 Corinthians 7:1. (J. Denney, B. D.)
I. There is an essential spiritual difference between those who are converted and those who are not. The line of demarcation is broad and conspicuous. It is between--
1. “Righteousness and unrighteousness.”
2. “Light and darkness.”
3. Christ and Satan.
4. Faith and infidelity.
5. The “temple of God” and the “temple of idols.”
II. Notwithstanding this difference the converted are in danger of being associated with the unconverted. Alas, we find such association in almost every department of life.
III. From such an association it is the duty of the converted to extricate themselves.
1. The nature of the separation. “Come out from among them.” It must be--
(1) Voluntary. Not to be driven out, but you must break away from all ties that bind you.
(2) Entire. “Touch not the unclean thing.” Sin is an unclean thing, unclean in its essence, its phases and its influences.
2. The encouragement to the separation. “I will receive you,” etc. As a Father, what does God do for His children?
(1) He loves them.
(2) He educates them. He educates the whole soul, not for temporal purposes, but for ends spiritual and everlasting.
(3) He guards them.
(4) He provides for them. “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Amusements and companies of the world
I. There seem to be two capital reasons why Christians should not by choice associate with those of a worldly or idolatrous spirit.
1. There is really no congeniality between the two spirits. As there is the want of a common taste, so there is the want of common topics. For a man to delight in the conversation of an irreligious party, bears on it the evidence of his own irreligion. And, if it be the symptom of having passed from death unto life that we love the brethren and their society, then may the love of another society, at utter antipodes, administer the suspicion of a still unregenerated heart, of a still unsubdued worldliness.
2. So to consort with the ungodly not only proves the existence of a kindred leaven in our spirit, but tends to ferment it--not only argues the ungodliness which yet is in the constitution, but tends to strengthen it the more. And who can doubt of the blight and the barrenness that are brought upon the spirit by its converse with the world?
II. Both these considerations are directly applicable touchstones by which to try, we will not say the lawfulness, but at least the expediency, of--
1. The theatre and all public entertainments. Think of the degree of congeniality which there is between the temperament of sacredness and the temperament of any of these assemblages. The matter next to be determined is, will the dance, the music, the merriment, the representation, and the whole tumult of that vanity attune the consent of the spirit to the feelings and exercises of sacredness? If there be risk of being exposed to the language of profaneness or impurity, this were reason enough why a Christian should maintain himself at the most determined distance from them both. There may be a difficulty in replying to the interrogation--What is the crime of music? yet would you feel yourself entitled to rebuke the scholar whose love for music dissipated his mind away from all the preparations indispensable to his professional excellence.
2. And, as it is with this world’s amusements, so may it be with this world’s companies. There may be none of the excesses of intemperance, of the execrations of profanity, of the sneers of infidelity. All may have been pure and dignified and intellectual, affectionate and kind. And then the question is put--where is the mighty and mysterious harm of all this? The answer is that, with all the attractive qualities which each member of the company referred to may personally realise, it is quite a possible thing that there be not one trait of godliness on the character of any one of them. They may all be living without God in the world, and by a tacit but faithful compact during the whole process of this conviviality, all thought and talk of the ever-present Deity may for the season be abandoned. And thus is it a very possible thing that, in simply prosecuting your round of invitations among this world’s amiable friends and hospitable families, you may be cradling the soul into utter insensibility against the portentous realities of another world--a spiritual lethargy may grow and gather every year till it settles down into the irrevocable sleep of death. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
When travelling in America, as we neared Montreal the Ottawa river joined that of the St. Lawrence, upon which we were sailing. The former is remarkable for its muddiness, the latter for its cleanness. For a while they flowed side by side, so that they could easily be distinguished the one from the other. Eventually, however, they coalesced, and the one stream was dirty, not clean. So is it too often, alas! I thought, with those who wed unbelievers. For a time they run together smoothly, but at last one is changed by the other, and it is generally the unbeliever that gains the day. Not without abundant cause was the apostolic injunction given, “Be not unequally yoked.”
What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?--
I. Its grounds.
1. Immorality. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” Let a man amass enormous wealth, and he will find at his board the noblest in the land. It matters not that he became rich in some questionable way--no one asks about that. Again, talent breaks down the rigid line of demarcation. The accomplished man or woman who, though notoriously profligate, is tolerated--nay, courted--even in the Christian drawing-room. Now I do not say that the breaking down of conventional barriers is undesirable. If goodness did it--if a man, low in birth, were admired for his virtues--it would be well for this land of ours! But where wealth and talent, irrespective of goodness, alone possess the key to unlock our English exclusiveness, there plainly the apostolic injunction holds, because the reason of it holds: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?”
2. Irreligion. “What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” There is much danger, however, in applying this law. It is perilous work when men begin to decide who are believers and who are not, if they decide by party badges. Nevertheless, there is an irreligion which “he who runs may read.” For the atheist is not merely he who professes unbelief, but, strictly speaking, every one who lives without God in the world. And the heretic is not merely he who has mistaken some Christian doctrine, but rather he who causes divisions among the brethren. And the idolater is not merely he who worships images, but he who gives his heart to something which is less than God. Now there are innumerable doubtful cases where charity is bound to hope the best; but there is also an abundance of plain eases: for where a man’s god is money, or position in society, or rank, there the rule holds, “Come ye apart.”
II. The mode of this separation. It is not to be attained by the affectation of outward separateness. Beneath the Quaker’s sober, unworldly garb, there may be the canker of the love of gain; and beneath the guise of peace there may be the combative spirit, which is worse than war. Nor can you get rid of worldliness by placing a ban on particular places of entertainment and particular societies. The world is a spirit rather than a form; and just as it is true that wherever two or three are met together in His name, God is in the midst of them, so, if your heart be at one with His Spirit, you may, in the midst of worldly amusements--yet not without great danger, for you will have multiplied temptations--keep yourself unspotted from the world. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?--
The nature, sources, and results of infidelity
I. Its nature. An infidel is one who does not believe, and who avowedly rejects the testimony of Divine revelation.
1. Infidelity has existed in all ages. It was displayed when our first parents listened to the tempter in paradise. It appeared in the unhallowed building of Babel. It rancoured in the heart of the Jew who rejected and crucified the Messiah. It directed the judgment of the Greek who pronounced the gospel foolishness, and laughed at the resurrection from the dead.
2. In more modern times, how numerous and varied have been its different systems! We may, however, arrange them in two classes.
(1) The Deists who believe in the Divine existence and a future state of being, but who refuse the authority of the Bible.
(2) The atheists, who deny the Divine existence; who proclaim that the world was formed by chance, or that it is eternal; who assign to man nothing but a refined material organisation, and who pronounce that death is the end of all being.
II. Its sources. The great source is the depravity.of the human heart. No doubt some have embraced infidel opinions after inquiry into the evidences of the Christian revelation; but have they carried an unbiassed judgment to such inquiries? I hold that the evidences of the Christian religion are so full, so plain, and so powerful, that they cannot be weighed with a proper judgment without at once receiving the homage of the heart. There are two dispositions, however, in the heart of man, to which infidelity may be more particularly assigned.
1. Pride. This is the principle which prominently prevailed in the first act of infidelity. And so it was when the lawgiver was denied and the Redeemer was rejected. “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” If you will examine the doctrines and principles of Christianity, you will see much that is humiliating.
2. Sensuality. The whole system of the gospel is intended to put down the sensuality of depraved human nature. On the other hand, infidelity never yet promulgated one principle which could present a barrier against the gratification of lust. If it spoke of moral principle, of what force could that moral principle be when it suggested no motive for promoting it, no sanction for its exercise? Did not the Epicureans recognise that the chief good was pleasure? Did not Herbert teach that the indulgence of lust and anger were as innocent as the gratification of hunger and thirst? Did not Bolingbroke teach that lust was lawful if it could be indulged with safety? Did not Hume teach that adultery was only a crime when it was known? Did not Voltaire admit that the sensual appetites were to have a full and unrestrained gratification? When you consider the sentiments of its chief advocates, do you not perceive that it opens wide the flood-gates of licentiousness that it may rush upon the world?
III. Its results.
1. On the life that now is.
(1) As they affect individuals. The true dignity of man is destroyed by the dogmas which infidelity embraces. And where is comfort to be found in connection with infidelity? The infidel has gone away from his Father’s house, and what can he expect but to be fed on the husks which the swine do eat? He is gone away from the haven of peace, and what can he expect but to be tossed by the storm? He may join in the festive dance, but it is the emblem of raving madness; when he sinks in sickness, he is oppressed with the weight of sorrow; and when he falls in death, he is precipitated to the regions of despair.
(2) As they affect communities. Infidel opinions are hostile to that which constitutes a nation’s prosperity and grandeur. The withering effects of infidelity have been exemplified in France. Her efforts for freedom might have been brilliant and successful; she might have led the way of the empires of the earth in the march of true emancipation; but her impious dethronement of God and her nameless abominations have taught the lesson that if infidelity dwell in the bosom of the empire, it can only be as the most malignant destroyer.
2. On the life that is to come. While men continue in the avowed rejection of Christianity, it is impossible for them to be saved. (J. Parsons.)
What communion hath light with darkness?--
Communion with God
We need not refer to the special cases which may have been contemplated by St. Paul when giving utterance to these emphatic questions. They may be taken in the most general sense, as indicating the impossibility of there being any agreement or fellowship between God and man unless a great moral change pass over the latter. We need not tell you, that in regard of the associations of life, there must be something of a similarity of disposition and desire. Unless there be congeniality of character, there may indeed be outward alliance; but there cannot be that intimate communion that the alliance itself is supposed to imply. And further than this--a sameness of tendency or pursuit appears evidently to form an immediate link between parties who would otherwise have very little in common. You observe, for instance, how men c,f science seem attracted to each other, though strangers by birth, and even by country. But this is not communion or fellowship in the sense or to the extent intended by St. Paul. This is only agreement on one particular ground. Take the parties away from that ground, and they will probably be inclined to move in quite opposite directions. We shall first glance at what is mentioned--fellowship or communion with God; and we shall then be in a position to press home the energetic questions of the apostle--“What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” Now, you can require no proof that God and the wicked man cannot be said to have fellowship or communion, though God be about that wicked man’s path, and about his bed, and spieth out all his ways. There is no proposing of the same object or end, for God proposes His own glory, whereas the wicked man proposes the gratification of his own sinful propensities. You see at once the contradiction between the assertions that a man is in fellowship with God and yet loves the present world. In short, it must be clear to you that the phraseology of our text implies a state of concord, or friendship--a state, in fact, on man’s part, of what we commonly understand by religion--the human will having become harmonious with the Divine, and the creature proposing the same object as the Creator. And therefore we conclude that the questions before us imply that there can be nothing of religious communication between man and his Maker unless there have been some process of reconciliation. You are to remember that man is by nature in a state of enmity to God, born in sin, shapen in corruption, and far gone from original righteousness. Take away the work of the Mediator Christ, that work through which alone the alienation of our nature, its unrighteousness, its darkness, can be corrected, and the Creator and the creature can never meet in friendship. Now you will readily understand that up to this point we have confined ourselves to the urging the necessity for a great change on man’s part from unrighteousness to righteousness, from darkness to light, in order to his having fellowship with God. We would examine how God and man may be at peace, now that reconciliation has been made. You are to remember that whatever the provisions made by Christ for our pardon and acceptance, we retain whilst yet sojourning on earth a deprived nature, fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, sinful propensities which may indeed be arrested but not eradicated. And can a being such as this have communion with that God who is a consuming fire against every form and degree of iniquity? Is this fellowship possible even though certain causes of separation have been removed--because the debt has been paid, or because punishment has been vicariously endured? You are to take heed that you do not narrow the results of Christ’s work of mediation. There was a vast deal more effected by this work than the mere removal of certain impediments to the outgoing of the Divine love towards man. The process of agreement, as undertaken and completed by Christ, had a respect to continuance as well as to commencement. God and man are brought into fellowship if man accept Christ as his Surety, for then the death and obedience of Christ are placed to his account, and accordingly he appears as one on whom justice has no claim, and on whom love may therefore smile. But how are they to continue in fellowship, seeing that man as a fallen creature is sure to do much that will be offensive to God, and that God in virtue of His holiness is pledged to hostility with evil? Indeed the communion could not last if it were not that the Mediator ever lives as an Intercessor. It could not last if it were not that the work of the Son procured for us the influence of the Spirit. But combine these two facts and you may see that Christ made not only provision for uniting God and man, but for keeping them united. The question as to what fellowship, what communion there can be between things in their own nature directly opposed, is of course to be considered as only a forcible mode of expressing an impossibility. There cannot be fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness, there cannot be communion between darkness and light. Now we wish you to consider this impossibility with reference to a future state: we cannot conceal from ourselves that there is a great deal of vague hope of heaven which takes little or no account of what must necessarily be the character of the inhabitants of heaven. But the great thing to be here impressed upon men, who in spite of their musings on heaven give evident tokens of being still worldly-minded--it is, that they are altogether mistaken as to the worth, the attractiveness of heaven. They are not indeed mistaken as to heaven being a scene of overwhelming splendour and unimagined blessedness, but they are utterly mistaken in supposing that it would be so to themselves. They forget that in order to anything of happiness there must be a correspondence between the dispositions of the inhabitants of a world and the enjoyments of that world; otherwise in vain will the Creator have hung a scene with majesty and scattered over its surface the indications of His goodness. It is nothing, then, that we have a relish for descriptions of heaven. The question is whether we have any conformity to the inhabitants of heaven. Eternally to be in communion with God, eternally to have fellowship with God--why this suggests the most terrible of thoughts--thoughts of being for ever out of my element, unless God and myself are to be of one mind--if I am to remain unrighteous while He is righteous, if I am to be darkness while He is light. We have no right to think that this friendship between God and man is effected unless at least commenced on this side of the grave. Go not away with the thought that you may indeed have nothing here of the character which is necessary to the happiness of heaven, but that such character will be imparted to you hereafter. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
2 Corinthians 6:16
Ye are the temple of the living God.
The soul temple
From this analogy between the Christian’s soul and the old Jewish temple we learn concerning Christians that--
I. They are the objects of special Divine regard. At the beginning of the promises which God made concerning the old temple, He said, “Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually,” I will gild its glories with My smile, scathe its defilers with My frown, “Mine heart” too, shall be there, as a proprietor with his most treasured possession, a king with his most valued province, a father with the home of his family. So with good men. “With that man will I dwell,” etc. “Lo, I am with you always,” etc.
II. They are the scene of special divine manifestation. It was not the magnificence of the building, nor the fragrance of the incense, nor the solemn order of the services, that revealed God’s presence. It was the Shekinah. And so with men. It is not the gold or intellect that tells us God is with men, but it is Christ’s Spirit in the heart.
III. They are the subjects of entire Divine consecration. Solomon’s prayer shows to what perfect devotedness to God the temple was dedicated, and Christ’s expulsion of the traders from its sacred precincts, at the beginning and at the close of His ministry, proves how thoroughly He recognised that consecration, and suggests, moreover, how it was the grand purpose of His incarnation to purify and hallow the living temple of men’s souls, of which that temple was but a type. In our hearts, then--
1. There must be no worldly merchandise, lest we make it “a den of thieves” instead of a “house of prayer.”
2. There must be no idol; it is the temple of the living God.
3. There must be an altar. And yet, how many of us are there in whose hearts an altar for self-sacrifice is a strange thing! Conclusion: Let us beware lest the doom of the old temple should be ours. Our souls through sin must incur a still more terrible ruin. (U. R. Thomas.)
Temples of God
1. If we be the temples of God, let us be holy: for “holiness, O Lord, becometh Thy house for ever.”
2. The temple is the house of prayer. Wouldst thou pray in God’s temple? Pray in thyself.
3. The sound of the high praises of God must be heard in these temples. Even in the midst of ourselves, in our own hearts, let us think upon His mercies, there echo forth His praises.
4. The inhabitant disposeth all the rooms of his house: if God dwell in us, let Him rule us. Submit thy will to His Word, thy affections to His Spirit. It is fit that every man should bear rule in his own house.
5. Let us be glad when He is in us, and give Him no disturbance. Let not the foulness of any room make Him dislike His habitation. Cleanse all the corners of sin, and perfume the whole house.
6. If we be the Lord’s houses, then nobody’s else. The material temples are not to be diverted to common offices; much more should the spiritual be used only for God’s service. Let us not alienate His rights: thus He will say, “This is My house, here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein.” Oh, may we so adorn these temples with graces, that God may take delight to dwell in us! (T. Adams.)
I will be their God, and they shall be My people.--
The covenant relationship between God and His people
I. Let us consider the relation alluded to in our text, in so far as man is concerned. “They shall be My people.” That to man, the inferior party, such a connection is honourable, is self-evident. Is it a good ground of honest pride to be connected with the illustrious? How honourable, then, must it be to stand in any relation to Him, whose fingers formed the heavens and the earth, and who in wisdom made them all? Is it a ground of honest pride to be connected with the mighty, who, while they are reverenced for their power, are admired for their goodness? But if we would have any adequate idea of the extent to which the believer is honoured in his relation to God, we must penetrate more deeply into the nature of the connection, and consider its mysterious intimacy. Between the Head of the universe and the inhabitants of the earth many relationships subsist, and not a few of these extend to all created intelligences. All are related to Him as the great Creator, as a preserving God. All are indebted to Him as a general benefactor. All are related to Him as a resistless Governor. In a word, all, without exception, are related to Him as a Judge. But mark the honourable relation in which the Christian stands to a Being so great, so powerful, so glorious. In the best, the most extensive sense of the appropriation, he can humbly add, “God is my friend. His consolations are mine in the hour of sickness--His approval is mine as I sojourn toward heaven--His guidance is mine in every perplexity--His blessing shall be mine for ever.” They know that however much their God may afflict them, He is their God, and afflicts them for their good. But while the relation referred to in our text is thus honourable to the inferior party, it is just as evident that it is highly advantageous. When we consider what God can do for those in whom He is interested, when we consider how much He has already done for them, the advantage of the favoured man in whom He is thus interested admits of no controversy.
II. That it is also glorious to God. And hero we cannot fail to remark that it throws a halo, exquisitely brilliant, on the beauty of the Divine grace and condescension. We have only to contemplate the majesty of the Most High and the meanness of the human family, in order to adore the condescension of our covenanted God. Does the master condescend who admits his servant to his confidence, his friendship and esteem? Had Adam and all his sons continued to reflect the heavenly image, it would have been less an object of wonder that God should have said to the holy men, I am your God, and ye are My people. Had rebellion never entered into this province of the universe, a fatherly relation to us had been less magnificently manifested. But here, perhaps, it may be urged that although the relation with Himself into which the Deity introduces His people, may be glorious to His condescension, it cannot be equally so to all the rest of His perfections. How, it may be asked, can it consist with the holiness of Him who is immaculate, that He should give to the polluted the adoption of sons? The gospel affords us a luminous reply to these disputing questions. It tells us that the Most High in becoming His people’s God, and in constituting them His children, fulfils a purpose, as glorious to His justice as it is to His compassion, as illustrative of tits majesty as it is of His condescension, as honourable to His holiness as it is to His love.
III. That it is maintained and endeared by much mutual fellowship between the parties in this world, while it is destined to issue in close and uninterrupted communion in the next. The believer enjoys it and he rejoices in it, while engaged in humble prayer. But more particularly, we remark that the Word of God is one of the means by which the intimacies of relationship are maintained between Him and His people in this world. We might refer you to the ordinances of the gospel, and the dealings of God with man at large, for a fuller illustration of the topic now under review. But we have said that while the relationship that subsists between God and His people is closened by much endearing fellowship on earth, it is moreover destined eventually to issue in uninterrupted communion in heaven; and so assuredly shall it be. (W. Craig.)
2 Corinthians 6:17-18
Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate.
Separation from the world
When a person conversant with the vegetable productions of the earth, observes in the forest a plant whose properties he is desirous of improving, he removes it from its native wild into his garden. There, rooted in luxuriant soil, sheltered from inclement blasts, secured against immoderate humidity, duly watered in seasons of drought, defended from the encroachment of worthless herbs which even in that cultivated spot are continually springing on every side; it testifies by a conspicuous transformation the fostering care of its protector. Its growth enlarges; its juices are meliorated; its tints are heightened; its fragrance is exalted; its fruits are multiplied. It is no longer a barren weed; but the delight of him who has appropriated it to himself. In correspondence with the general outlines of this similitude, the God of mercy purifies unto Himself a peculiar people. Between the objects of favour, however, in the two cases, there exists a very important difference. The plant is unconscious, senseless, passive. Choice has no concern in its improvement. Not so the human being addressed by the gospel. Him God has created a moral agent. From him God requires active concurrence; co-operation of the will manifested by exertions of obedience. He does not hurry the man by arbitrary force from amidst the thorns and thistles of iniquity. Come out from among them, He cries, and be separate. Bestowing on the helpless individual adequate powers by the influence of His Spirit, He commands him to exert them and come forth. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)
Separation from the world, Christian service
I. Is a distinct act.
1. It is a change of masters.
2. It is a change of companion. Worldly men are not suitable, healthy, or possible companions for Christians.
3. It is a change of views, and habits, and ways.
II. Is a distinct existence. It involves a separateness. The Church is separate.
1. As an institution.
2. As a community.
3. As a moral influence.
III. Is a holy condition. “Touch not the unclean thing.” Although this at the first applied only to idolatry, we may take it as applying to every unclean thing.
1. Evil is offensive to God.
2. Evil hinders all good in the soul. It is as the thorns which destroy and choke the wheat.
3. Evil is incompatible with good. Fire and water cannot coexist.
IV. Brings the acceptance and reward of God. Acceptance involves--
2. Restoration to privileges.
3. Complete forgiveness, peace, and happiness. (J. J. S. Bird, M. A.)
Renouncing the world
I. We must renounce its corrupt maxims and doctrines.
II. We must forsake the unhallowed pleasures and amusements of the world.
III. We must be separated from the world in its general spirit and character. (J. Richards.)
Separation and adoption
I. The precept. In order to a Christian position there must be a special act which determines on which side of one fixed line the rest of our actions shall stand.
1. This act is the same deep necessity now that it was in Corinth. The human heart is the same, and the same temptations, with only slight variations in their form, still beset men. Every age brings its new brood of vices and adds to the funded stock, but very few that have once got a foothold die out. History hardly tells of one extinct species in the flora of guilt. If civilisation multiplies the refinements of culture, so does it the refinements of iniquity. Nay, men are just as eager to climb up some other way, instead of entering by the lowly door of repentance and faith. And therefore the responsibility of choice is just as pressing. It is impossible to evade it and slip into any third way. On one side we must be--Christ’s or Belial’s. We do assort with the unbelievers, or come out from among them and be separate, and the Judge knows which we do.
2. The Church has sometimes made a mistaken use of this truth. It has done so whenever it has stood, a Pharisee, aloof from the throng of humanity, saying scornfully, “I am holier than thou.” It has done so whenever it has made dress, badge, ritual, feeling, professions the line of distinction rather than a principle ruling the life. The right way for the Church to distinguish itself from the world is as its Head distinguished Himself--by a purer holiness and a warmer zeal to help and save the world. Christian men should be known by every nobler disposition, lovelier trait, and holier deed.
3. Nevertheless, it will be true that there is a distinction or a “coming out,” that mankind are of two armies under two leaders, that outward decency cannot be taken for inward renewal, self-cultivation for the upward-looking faith which works by love and through Christ receives the Spirit.
4. Till each individual soul has chosen to clear itself of all entangling alliances with the one of these two opposing forces and pledged itself to the other, how can it imagine it is safe?
5. A beginning and a continuing, a revolution and a habit, a new principle and a new life is this great decisive act. A “coming out” from irreligious associations is one part. It implies energy of purpose kindled by faith. Being “separate” implies the maintenance of the ground thus taken against all opponents, whether they frown or laugh, sneer or slight, reason or threaten. “Touch not” the renounced pollution, is an adjuration to the sanctified conscience. And these are the three daily heroisms in the discipline of the soldier of Jesus Christ.
II. To the sternness of the law is added the tenderness of grace.
1. If man will do his part, God does His. God “worketh within us to will and to do,” prompting holy desires and stirring the stagnant fountain. “No man can come to Me except the Father who hath sent Me draw him.” When that dinner of husks is fairly ended and the prodigal’s penitence has directed his feet towards home, the first form his lifted eyes see is his father’s, meeting him “while yet a great way off.” An infinite benediction falls on the returning child; you feel the power of the promise, “I will receive you,” etc. Sons and daughters! Not “children” merely, losing individual consolation in the generality of the family! God uses names that come nearer to personal affection and meet a personal want. He calleth His own by name. And whereas it was the Lord that said, “Come,” it is the Lord “Almighty,” with His onmipotence the guarantee of His promise, that says, “Ye shall be My sons and My daughters.”
2. The practical results upon character.
(1) Confirming, and chiefly by fostering in the heart a keener abhorrence of sin. Under the witnessing of that Divine Guest impurity, selfishness, uncharitableness grow insupportably hateful.
(2) Supporting: by supplying heavenly arms under the agitations of sorrow.
(3) Quickening: by fresh spiritual communications out of His own fulness, giving to your growing holiness an increasing power of life. (Bp. Huntington.)
Soul salvation consists in
I. World renunciation. “Come out from among them.” The renunciation must be--
2. Entire. “Touch not the unclean thing”--i.e., sin, in all its forms and phases.
II. Divine adoption. “I will receive you,” etc. As a father, what does He do for His children?
1. He loves them.
2. He educates them.
3. He guards them.
4. He provides for them. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The greatest revolution
The text demands a change in human life, of all changes the most urgent and glorious-the change without which all other changes are not only worthless, but disastrous. It involves--
I. An urgent separation. “Come out from among them.” “Them”--the carnal, idolatrous, corrupt men of the world.
1. How? Not by personally withdrawing from all communication with them. This, if possible, would neither be right, generous, nor useful. It means “come out from them” in spirit. Let your intercourse with them be like that of angels, who had no sooner discharged their errand than they flew back with rapid wing to the pure heavens again.
2. The Divine command implies--
(1) Urgency. So long as you mingle in sympathy with the ungodly you are degrading your nature, imperilling your interests, incurring the displeasure of your God.
(2) Strenuous effort. Heaven will not drag you out against your will; you must marshal your own energies and struggle away from the magic dominion of evil. He who would be free, himself must strike the blow. “Come out” from this moral Egypt; flee from this Sodom; forsake this Babylon!
II. A glorious identification. “I will receive you,” etc. Here is--
1. A Divine reception. Here is a compensation for all the sacrifices you may be required to make. What matters it that you leave old fellowships, even father, mother, children?
2. Divine affiliation. (Homilist.)
And will be a Father unto you.--
The Fatherhood of God
I. The promise.
1. “I will be a Father unto you.” Some may inquire, “How is it that God here promises to be what He is?” The text is an assurance that God will act the part of a Father. There is, alas! many a parent who does not act the part of a father to his children. “But can God, the Father of spirits, act in an unpaternal way toward any of His children?”
(1) No. He treats none with unkindness or injustice. His offers of mercy are to all; for all Christ died.
(2) Yes. In so far as His children refuse to allow Him to act a parental part. Consider the Prodigal Son. The father is still the father, but he does not act the part of a father, just because that child has chosen to betake himself to the far country. So soon as he penitently returns, the parent in loving welcome shows himself to be what he really is--a father. So God remains under all circumstances the Father of our spirits; and the question is, whether we will permit Him to be a father to us. It is one thing to have the conviction that God made us, and another to be assured that He loves us with as much individual tenderness as if no other created being existed. Do any ask, “How can this be?” How can it not be? If a man has seven children, does he love each only one-seventh as much us he would do if he had but one? Nay, if there be any difference, he will love each the more, because of the expansive influence on his heart of the love of the many. The infinite God does not love me less because I am one of millions. Let me place myself where I may rejoice in its manifestation.
2. “And ye shall be My sons,” etc. Is not this a needless tautology? No, God may be a father to us; but except we act as His children we cannot be happy. The love that a mother lavishes upon her wayward children avails not for his joy, but rather acts as a painful rebuke so long as he returns it not and leads an unfilial life. So with regard to God and man. How gracious, then, this twofold promise! He will not only show us parental affection, but give us a filial heart.
II. Its condition. Some ignore this, and then complain that in their experience the promise is not fulfilled.
1. Separation unto God is demanded (2 Corinthians 6:17). This does not imply a monkish seclusion. If the Church be so withdrawn from the world, how shall it leaven it with a holy influence? “Touch not the unclean thing.” Contagion is the idea conveyed. In time of plague it were cruel indeed if all were to flee, but it would be equally their duty to avoid, if possible, contracting the malady, for then their ability to help would be gone. The physician should attend the sufferers, but it would not be well for him to sleep in the infected apartment. “But exactly from what amusements, societies, and occupations are we to separate ourselves?” Each must be guided by conscience and Scripture. From all that is condemned by God’s Word, that is injurious to our spiritual welfare, that which, though not unlawful, is not needful for us, and may set a bad example, and that about the lawfulness of which we are in doubt we must withdraw ourselves. If the mother is uncertain as to whether some berry for which her child cries is poisonous or not, she will assuredly withhold it; and if we are undecided as to whether some occupation or amusement for which inclination clamours will prove harmful to our soul, let us give God, not our hearts, the benefit of the doubt.
2. “Wherefore,” thus referring to what he has already said--
(1) “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” None, and the believer removing not therefrom is involved in contention which belies his Christianity.
(2) “What communion hath light with darkness?” None. If there be, it is to the detriment of the light. How has the brightness of many a Christian life been dimmed by intimacy with the ungodly!
(3) “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” None. So is there none betwixt those who are Christ’s disciples and Satan’s servants. The withdrawal is not to be comprised in a single act, but must be the habit of the life. Pliable found it easy to run from the City of Destruction, hard to continue his journey. (Homilist.)
Sons of God
1. We have here one of the many instances in which the apostle quotes from the O.T. and applies it to Gentile Christians. “Now having these promises”--we, you, “having” them! The apostle identified the Jewish and Christian churches, and considered the Scriptures of the first, the inheritance of the second, and that promises addressed to the Jews, and having relation to local and temporary circumstances, have yet an eternal principle in them which makes them applicable to the church in all time.
2. Every thoughtful person is conscious, immediately the idea is suggested of men being the children of God, of the feeling that this relationship is common to all men. Paul himself adopts the saying of the Greek poet, “And we His offspring are.” Simply considered in their human character men are the children of God, but some men are the sons of God in a sense different from others.
I. The origin and source of this peculiar relationship, Christianity is a supernatural intervention of God, and it teaches that men become the sons of God in a sense which cannot be predicated of them in their previous natural condition (John 1:12-13). They are not born “of blood,” of one particular race; it is not because of being either Jew or Gentile, of the family of Seth or of Shem, which makes men sons of God. “Nor of the will of the flesh.” This privilege is not an inherent element in humanity which only requires development. “Nor by the will of man”--i.e., in respect to external acts, rites, or sacraments, which a man has power to dispense or to keep back; neither of caste, induction, or ritualism, but of God--you are born of Him. There is through Christ, and in connection with the truth of Christ, a direct influence and operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul of a believing man, infusing a new spiritual life into the conscience, and that spiritual living man is a son of God, and shelters himself under the Divine Fatherhood in a sense altogether unique.
II. Its privileges.
1. Honour, nobility. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!”
2. The conscious utterance of sentiments and feelings appropriate to this relationship. “Because ye are sons God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
3. The indwelling of the Spirit--the Spirit which regenerates and sanctifies, not only enters, but makes the heart His home, filling it with light and peace.
4. A life of filial confidence; the belief that they shall have from their Father what is necessary, both for temporal and spiritual life. Why take you thought for raiment, etc.?
5. Heirship. “If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.”
III. Its duties.
1. A perpetual, calm, grateful joy. I think it a great thing to be born into this world--to be a man. To be possessed of these senses and faculties, to have God’s universe spread before us with all the intellectual and moral force that we have within us, even life, with its warfare, its work, and its vicissitudes--about all these things there is joy. Aye, but to be born again, to have the spiritual eye opened to those things which are only realised by faith, to be born into this new and spiritual world, to awake up to a consciousness that through Christ we are the sons and daughters of God--how we ought to rejoice in that!
2. A ready acknowledgment of the relationship. Men are not ashamed to own a relationship with illustrious ancestors. And there is something wrong when Christians are ashamed of their relationship to God, of that highest nobility that God can confer.
(1) The obedience of children. A little child does not ask reasons, or if it does it is told to wait. Christians should apply this to themselves, and remember that part of the duty of sons to their Divine and loving Father is prompt obedience.
(2) But added to that there must be the obedience of men--I mean that with enlightened reason, and with high and glowing purpose, you shall determine that, God helping you, you will live and act worthy of your parentage.
4. Contentedness with our lot, and a using of our spiritual privileges--delight in the intercourse with our Father, acquiescence in chastisement, and an exercise of filial faith in what is to be the end proposed by Him.
5. A gradual preparation for that great day when the Son shall appear in the presence of the Father, and when there shall be a blessed realisation of the hope which has sustained the child from the beginning.
IV. Its ultimate consummation.
1. The glorification of your entire nature. You look for your Saviour to sanctify your souls, and you took for Him to change your body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body. This is to be the beginning of the consummation, and will lead to the period when there will be the whole family in heaven.
2. Positive and conscious association with the elder sons of creation, who “kept their first estate,” and who “rejoice over one sinner that repenteth.” Their joy will be full when the two races--the fallen and the unfallen … shall be brought together in visible companionship before the throne of God. (T. Binney.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25