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2 Corinthians 13:1. In the mouth of two or three witnesses— These words seem to be quoted from the law of our Saviour, Mat 18:16 and not from the law of Moses in Deuteronomy; not only because the words are the same with those in St. Matthew, but from the likeness of the case. In Deuteronomy the rule given concerns only judicial trials; in St. Matthew it is a rule given for the management of persuasion, and for the reclaiming of an offender by gentle means, before coming to the utmost extremity; which is the case of St. Paul here. In Deuteronomy the judge was to hear the witnesses, Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15. In St. Matthew the party was to hear the witnesses, Mat 18:17 which was also the case of St. Paul here; the witnesses which he made use of to persuade them being his two epistles. That by witnesses he means his two epistles, is plain, from his way of expressing himself here, where he carefully mentions his telling them twice, viz. before in his former epistle, ch. 1Co 4:19 and now a second time in his second epistle; and also by the words, as if I were present with you a second time. By our Saviour's rule the offended person was to go twice to the offender; and therefore St. Paul says, as if I were with you a second time, counting his letters as two personal applications to them, as our Saviour directed should be done, before coming to rougher means. Some take the witnesses to be the three messengers by whom his first Epistle is supposed to be sent: but this would not be according to the method prescribed by our Saviour, in the place from which St. Paul takes the words that he uses; for there were no witnesses to be made use of in the first application; neither, if those had been the witnesses meant, would there have been any need for St. Paul so expressly and carefully to have set down—as is present a second time; words which, in that case, would be superfluous. Besides, those three men are no where mentioned to have been sent by him to persuade them, nor the Corinthians required to hear them, or reproved for not having done it. And, lastly, they could not be better witnesses of St. Paul's endeavours twice to gain the Corinthians by fair means before he proceeded to severity, than the Epistles themselves were.
2 Corinthians 13:2. I will not spare:— It is certainly a great confirmation of the veracity of the Apostles, that, when factions were raised against them, they used none of the arts of flattery, however necessary they might seem, but depended on the force of a miraculous power to reduce offenders; the pretence to which would have been most absurd, if they had not really been conscious to themselves that it was engaged in their favour. See on 1 Corinthians 4:21.
2 Corinthians 13:4. Crucified through weakness,— With appearance of weakness, yet he liveth with the manifestation of the power of God. The meaning of the place is this: "Though Christ in his crucifixion appeared weak and despicable, yet he now lives to shew the power of God, in the miracles and mighty works which he does: so I, though by my sufferings and infirmities I may appear weak and contemptible, yet shall I live to shew the power of God, by punishing miraculously the offenders among yo
2 Corinthians 13:5. Examine yourselves, &c.— "Instead therefore of your sitting in judgment, and passing unrighteous censures upon us, as though there were no proof of Christ's speaking in me, (2 Corinthians 13:3.) or in my dear associates, look into your own hearts and ways, and bring them to the touchstone of the word of God; and, in carefully comparing them withthat infallible standard, make close inquiry whether ye yourselves have believed to the saving of your souls, and have a real and evident interest in Christ, through faith in him: pursue the diligent search, by divine assistance, till you have brought this important point to an issue, and have the clearest proof in yourselves, whether you be sincere believers, and whether faith be the governing principle in your own hearts, or not: What! are ye strangers to the transactions that have passed between God and your own souls, and to your own state and condition, way and walk before him, as some of you seem to be, by your contentions and disorders, and various provocations, and by your unworthy treatment of me, and of the gospel of Christ, as delivered in my ministry? It is a sin and a shame for you to be ignorant how things are with you: and, as you are professors of Christianity, do not you know that Jesus Christ, the only Saviour, dwells in your hearts by faith, with powerful influence and dominion there? You surely, in the light of the Spirit, may arrive at some satisfaction about this; unless, after all your high pretences, and flourishing gifts, there be something very disallowable (ει μη τι αδοκιμοι εστε ) and much amiss in you; or you be really disapproved of God, as hypocrites." Prove your own selves, (εαυτους δοκιμαζετε ) is a metaphor taken from the trying of metals by the touchstone, or some other way, to prove whether they be good and pure, or not; and so signifies such a trial of persons and things as may shew, or prove, whether they be genuine or spurious, in order to their being allowed of or rejected: and, with a beautiful correspondence hereunto, the Apostle speaks in this, and the two next verses, of persons being (δοκιμοι or αδοκιμοι) approved, or not approved, (which is harshly rendered reprobate) as found to be so upon examination or trial. See the introduction to this chapter, where another view of the passage is given, consonant to the sentiment of some of the best critics.
2 Corinthians 13:7. Approved,— Discerning.
2 Corinthians 13:9. When we are weak, &c.— "When we seem weak, by not exerting any miraculous power to the punishment of offenders; and ye are strong in gifts and graces, in faith and good works." The word καταρτισιν, rendered perfection, alludes to a building, wherein all the parts are so compacted together, as to form one compleat edifice. The Apostle's meaning in this last clause of the verse is, "Yea, I heartily wish that all things were brought into good order among you; that ye were entirely knit together in faith and love, like a compleat and well-compacted building; and that every grace were perfected in you all, and there were no remainder of sin in any of you."
2 Corinthians 13:10. Therefore I write, &c.— Dr. Heylin translates this passage very well from 2 Corinthians 13:5. Try yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; bring yourselves to the proof. Are you so little acquainted with yourselves, as not to know whether Jesus Christ be in you? Unless indeed you have no proofs of it, 2 Corinthians 13:6. But I trust that you shall be convinced that we are not without such proof, 2 Corinthians 13:7. Now I pray God that I may not inflict any evil [punishment] upon you, and so my proofs may not be produced, [and this we ask of God for your sakes,] that ye may do what is right, although we thereby shall appear as not having the proofs [we threaten you with], 2 Corinthians 13:8. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth, 2 Corinthians 13:9. And therefore it is matter of joy to us, when we are thus disarmed by the strength of your integrity. And this is what I pray for, even your perfection, 2 Corinthians 13:10. These things therefore I write to you, being absent, that when I come, I may not use severity, according to the power which the Lord hath given me, for edification, and not for destruction.
2 Corinthians 13:11. Be perfect,— See on 2Co 13:9 the original word being derived from the same root as the word translated perfection in the former instance. See also the Reflections. Το αυτο φρονειτε, be of one mind, should rather be rendered, attend to the same thing: "Pursue with the greatest unanimity of heart, and intenseness of affection, that which ought to be the great end of all our schemes and designs,—the glorifying of God, and adorning the Gospel," See 1 Cor.
2 Corinthians 13:14. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,— The word 2 Corinthians 1:10. Χαρισ should rather be rendered here by favour: for if grace be taken for sanctifying influences communicated from Christ,—which doubtless makes a great part of the idea,—it may be less easy to distinguish it from the communion of the Spirit. This text has always been produced with great force in proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is with great reason that this comprehensive and instructive benediction is pronounced just before our assemblies for public worship are dismissed; and it is certainly very indecent (to usethe mildest term) to see many quitting those assemblies, or getting themselves into postures of removal, before this short sentence can be ended. See Numbers 6:26-27.*
* See Locke, Doddridge, Beza, Whitby, Grotius, Homberg, Cradock, Heylin, Wetstein, Tillotson, Mill, Wall, Mintert, Bos, Hallet, Piscator, Bengelius, Elsner, Pearson, Scott, Hammond, Calmet, Clarke, Boyse, Hare, Raphelius, Taylor, Peters, Wolfius, Gordon, Estius, Junius, Osterman, Witsius, Rymer, Fenelon, Stockius, Lowth, Lyttleton, and Bull.
Inferences drawn from 2 Corinthians 13:14.—In this passage we find, first, grace, as coming from God the Son, love as from God the Father, and communion as being of the Holy Ghost. What these three things mean, will be shewn when I speak of their distinct offices; for I design, first, to consider the nature, distinction, union, and offices of the three divine Persons; and secondly, to intimate the use and importance of these great articles of our Christian faith.
I. 1. In the first place, it is proper to say something of the nature of each Person, that we may the better conceive what kind of Persons they are. The first and most general distinction of all things is into two kinds, created and uncreated. The nature of a creature is, that it comes into being by the order and will of another, and may cease to be whenever the Creator pleases. Of this kind are the sun, moon, stars, men, and angels; they are all of a frail and changeable nature; they might cease to be, and sink into nothing, as from nothing they came, were they not supported by a superior hand. Only the three divine Persons,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, from absolute necessity never can fail or cease. They always were, and always will be: their property is, always to exist, from everlasting to everlasting, without the help or support of any thing else whatsoever, being indeed the stay and support of the whole creation.
Our thoughts are quite lost, as often as we think of any person's existing before all beginning; yet we are very certain that so it must be, or else nothing would ever begin to be at all. Whether one only, or more Persons, might or do exist in this most perfect and incomprehensible manner, we could never know by our own reason alone, unassisted by divine revelation. But sacred writ sufficiently assures us, that three such Persons there are; who have been from all eternity; who cannot but be to all eternity; and who are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And this is, and has been all along, the faith of Christ's church, founded upon scripture.
To conceive then rightly of these three divine Persons, we should consider them as being just the reverse of what creatures are; not frail, mutable, or depending upon any one's pleasure; not as beginning to be, or capable of ever ceasing to be; but as being perfect, unchangeable, and all-sufficient; without beginning, and without possibility of ever coming to an end: and for that reason they are all properly divine.
2. With respect to their distinction, they are constantly represented in scripture as distinct from each other. The Father is not the Son, nor is the Holy Ghost either of the other two. They are described, as any other distinct persons are, by different characters and offices; and that so very frequently in the New Testament, that it were needless to instance in particulars. The Father is said to send, the Son to be sent, and the Holy Ghost to proceed, or go forth. The Father is represented as one witness, the Son as another witness;—the Son as one comforter, the Holy Ghost as another comforter, not both as one. The Father is introduced as speaking to the Son; the Son as speaking to the Father; and the Holy Ghost as delivering commands from both. These, and a multitude of other particulars, plainly prove their distinction one from another; which being analogous to, and nearly resembling the distinction of persons among rational creatures, we therefore presume to call it a personal distinction, and to call the sacred Three, Three Persons.
3. There is also an union, a very close and inexpressible union, among the divine Three; and though Scripture every where represents these three Persons as divine, and every one, singly, God and Lord; yet the same Scriptures do as constantly teach that there is but one God and one Lord: whence it evidently follows, that these Three are but one God and one Lord.—And if such an imperfect union as that of man and wife be reason sufficient to make them twain to be one flesh; and if the union of a holy man to Christ shall suffice to make them, in a certain sense, one Spirit, (1 Corinthians 6:17.) how much more shall the incomparably closer, and infinitely higher union of the three divine Persons with each other, be sufficient to denominate them one God, and one Lord? There is no other union like it, or second to it;—an union of will, presence, power, glory, and all perfections;—an union so inseparable and unalterable, that no one of the Persons ever was, or ever could be, without the other two; it being as necessary for the three to be, and to act together, as to be at all; which is the perfection of unity, and the strongest conjunction possible.
This important doctrine is rendered certain, not only from John 10:30. Revelation 21:22. Rev. xxii 1. 1Co 2:11 and 1Jn 5:7 but from many other places of Scripture. So that the unity of three Persons in one Godhead is sufficiently revealed, as well as their distinction: neither is there any difficulty in admitting that three things may be three and one in different respects; distinct enough to be three, and yet united enough to be one; distinct without division, united without confusion. These, therefore, together, are the one Lord God of the Christians, whom we worship, and into whom we have been baptized.
4. Having thus considered what the divine Persons are in themselves, let us next observe, what are their offices relative to us. The peculiar offices of the three divine Persons are to create, redeem, and sanctify: the Father is God the Creator; the Son is God the Redeemer; the Holy Ghost is God the Sanctifier. Which is not to be so understood, as if neither the Son nor Holy Ghost was concerned in creating; nor as if neither Father nor Holy Ghost was concerned in redeeming; nor as if neither Father nor Son was concerned in sanctifying. All the three Persons concur in every work; all the three together create, redeem, and sanctify: but each Person is represented in scripture as having his more peculiar province; on account of which peculiarity, over and above what is common to all, one is more emphatically Creator, another Redeemer, and a third Sanctifier. So much as is common to all, serves to intimate their union one with the other; and so much as is peculiar to any one, in like manner serves to keep up the notion of their distinction.
We may observe something of this nature in the words immediately under consideration: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: grace is the common gift of the whole Trinity; but yet, here it is peculiarly attributed to Christ, as his gift and blessing, and denoting the special grace of redemption. The next words are,—the love of God; that is to say, of God the Father. Now we read of the love of Christ, and of the love of the Spirit; and love is common to the whole Trinity; for God is Love: but here one particular kind of love is intended;—the love of the Father, in sending his Son to redeem us, and the Holy Ghost to sanctify our souls.
The last words are,—And the communion of the Holy Ghost: now, there is a communion both of the Father and the Son with every holy man, John 14:23. Every holy man is the temple of the whole Trinity, which has communion with him, and abides in him; as is plain from innumerable texts of scripture; but in this text before us, one peculiar kind of communion, appertaining especially to the Holy Ghost, is signified. And upon the whole we may observe, that though St. Paul might have indifferently applied grace, or love, or communion to either the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost, or to all together; yet he rather chose to make the characters several and distinct, to keep up a more lively sense of the distinction of persons and offices.
II. 1. The importance and use of these weighty truths may be judged of, first, from the nature of the thing itself: for, if there be really such three divine Persons, as above described, (and none can doubt of it, that read the scriptures without prejudice,) it must be highly expedient and useful to let mankind into some knowledge of them all; for there is no having a right apprehension of any one, without knowing what relation he stands under to the other two: and without this knowledge we cannot honour God perfectly, or in full measure and proportion. Add to this, that if man is to be trained up to a knowledge of God here, in order to be admitted to see him as he is in the life hereafter, it seems highly expedient that he should know at least how many, and what Persons stand in that character; that by his acquaintance with them now, in such a measure as is proper to his present state, he may attract such love and esteem for them here, as may prepare him for the fuller vision and fruition of the same hereafter.
2. This reasoning is abundantly confirmed from the concern which God has shewn to imprint and inculcate upon us this so important a belief, and so saving when received with divine power. There is no need to cite here the various texts of scripture bearing testimony to the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and engaging us to place our hope, trust, and confidence in, and to pay our worship to them all: it will be sufficient for this purpose to single out two or three considerations, which appear of great force in the argument.
It is observable, that as soon as ever our Lord had given his disciples commission to form a church, he instructs them to baptize in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Matthew 28:19. Whence we may justly infer, that faith in these three Persons as divine, in opposition to all the gods of the Gentiles, was to be a fundamental article of Christianity, and its distinguishing character.
There is another thing remarkable, not so obvious perhaps as the former, but no less worthy of notice; namely, how purposely the whole scheme of the divine dispensations seems calculated, to introduce men gradually into the knowledge of these three Persons. This appears all the way down, from the fall of Adam, to the completion of all by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. One might justly wonder why man, created after God's image, should be so soon suffered to fall; and why, after his fall, such a vast preparation, and so long a train, should be laid for his recovery; that there should be no way for it, but by means of a Redeemer to mediate and to intercede, to do and to suffer for him, to raise and restore him, and at length to judge him. Why might not the thing have been done in a much shorter and easier way? Why might not God the Father,—so graciously disposed towards all his creatures, have singly had the honour of pardoning, restoring, raising, and judging mankind? Or, supposing both the Father and the Son joined in the work, why should it be left as it were unfinished, and incomplete, though in the hands of both, without the concurrence of the Holy Ghost?”Can any doubt be made, whether God the Father singly was able or willing to do all that the Holy Ghost has done for us; to work miracles, to shed gifts, to sanctify man's nature, and to qualify him for the enjoyment of Deity:—These things must appear, at first sight, strange and unaccountable; full of darkness and impenetrable mystery.
But our wonder ceases, as soon as we consider that mankind were to be gradually let into the knowledge of three divine Persons, and not one only: that we were to be equally obliged to every one of them, that so we might be trained up to place our love, our fear, our trust in all, and pay acknowledgments suitable to their high quality and perfections. This is the grand reason of that long train, and vast preparation in man's redemption: and with this view there appears so many characters of consummate wisdom all the way, that nothing can furnish us with a more charming and august idea of the divine dispensations, from first to last. Let us consider but a little our Lord's conduct, when he was going to take leave of his disciples, and what he said to them upon the occasion, respecting the sending to them a Comforter; (John 16:7; John 14:16.) and then ask what is the meaning of all this?—Could the disciples want any other Comforter, when he had told them in the same chapter, that he himself and the Father should come and make their abode with them, Joh 14:23 and when he had determined himself to be with them alway even to the end of the world, Mat 28:20? What occasion could they have for any other Comforter?—Or what Comforter could do more or greater things than the Father or Son could do, by their constant presence with them?—But the reason of the whole procedure is very plain and manifest. The Holy Ghost, the third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, was to be introduced with advantage, to do as great and signal things for mankind as either Father or Son had done; that so He likewise might partake of the same divine honours, and share with them in glory; and thus Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be acknowledged as one God blessed for ever.
In this faith was the church of Christ originally founded: in this faith have the renowned martyrs and confessors of old lived and died; and in the same faith are all the churches of the Christian world instructed and edified at this day. Be it therefore our especial care and concern to continue in this faith firm and steadfast; never to be moved from it by the disputers of this world, who are permitted for a while to gainsay and oppose it for a trial and exercise to others, and that they who are approved may be made manifest. May we persevere in paying all honour, worship, and praise, to the three blessed Persons of the Godhead; knowing how great and how divine they are, and how securely they may be confided in! And let the intimate union which they have one with another, put us in mind of that brotherly love and union which ought to prevail among Christians; that so we may become as it were one heart, and one soul, knit in the striving together for the faith of the Gospel, in the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace. So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with us all now and for evermore. Amen.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Having once and again warned the Corinthians, by his epistles, to amend their disorders, seconded by Sosthenes and Timothy who joined in his admonitions, the Apostle is now, the third time, ready to appear in person. Therefore,
1. He assures them, that if any continued yet refractory and disorderly, notwithstanding these repeated rebukes, he would not spare, but inflict condign punishment on such obstinate offenders. Note; There is an approaching end, when wrath to the uttermost will overtake the ungodly.
2. Since they demanded a proof of his apostleship, they should receive it; since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, as if I threatened what I had no power, or authority to execute; when you have had such demonstration before of that gospel which I preach, and of that authority with which I am invested, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you, who have experienced the efficacy of my preaching, and begun to smart under the chastening rod, (1 Corinthians 11:30.) For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God, and hath all power committed into his hands: for we also are weak in him, and because of our present sufferings treated by many of you as despicable, and possessed of no authority from him: but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you; and as surely as he lives, shall we prove ourselves cloathed with his power to punish offenders: and this would soon be experienced by them, if they did not instantly amend their ways.
3. He urges them to judge themselves, that they might not be judged of the Lord, or his ministers. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; bring your hearts to the touchstone of God's revealed will: prove your own selves, by this divine rule: know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, formed in your hearts by his Spirit, except ye be reprobates, and when brought to the test, like false metal, rejected as refuse, and found hypocrites. But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates, but approved and allowed of our divine Master, and acknowledged by him as faithful in all things.*
* In these reflections we have, as usual, considered this passage in its commonly received sense: but for its primary meaning see the introduction to this chapter, and the annotations.
2nd, The Apostle adds his fervent prayer for them, Now I pray to God that ye do no evil, nor incur censure from us, or wrath from God: not that we should appear approved, and by the punishment we inflict give a demonstration of our apostolic power; but that ye should do that which is honest, and praise-worthy; though we be as reprobates, and having no need to exert our power, should be thought of as insignificant persons, who really had it not. For we can do nothing against the truth, nor dare lift up the rod against such as walk according to the Gospel; but our power is to be exercised for the truth, to defend it against heretical teachers, and to recover backsliders, by the needful connection. For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong; and when your exemplary practice renders censure unnecessary, and we appear as if we had no authority to inflict it. And this also we wish, even your perfection; that every offence were removed, the church knit together in perfect harmony and union, and every member of it perfect in love, yea, grown up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest, being present, I should use sharpness according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction; desirous rather that all evils among you should be amended, and our reproofs effectual for your reformation, than that we should be constrained to give a proof of our power in executing deserved punishment on the impenitent.
3rdly, The Apostle, 1. Takes his leave of them with affectionate exhortations. Finally, my brethren, farewell: be perfect, giving up your hearts entirely to God without the least reserve, reforming every disorder, and united to each other in pure and disinterested love: be of good comfort, rejoice alway in the Lord: be of one mind, let every dispute be silenced, and the spirit of party subside: live in peace and love, and the God of love and peace shall be with you, and dwell in the midst of you with his especial presence and blessing. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you, wishing you all prosperity in your souls and bodies, in time and in eternity. Note; (1.) Union in affection and sentiment is the sure mark of the prosperity of the church. (2.) The God of love and peace commands us to be like himself, and that is to be happy.
2. He concludes with his apostolical benediction. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all; may the grace of a dying Redeemer, which includes all-spiritual and eternal blessings, be your portion! May a sense of the Father's love, the spring and source of your redemption, be warm upon your hearts! And may the richest communications from the Holy Ghost revive, quicken, strengthen, comfort, and establish you ever more and more; till by the mighty operation of this tri-une God your salvation be completed in glory everlasting, and your happy service be his never-ending praise. Such is my prayer for you: cease not to join my supplications for these inestimable benefits; and let every soul among you with faith and fervency say, Amen!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30