Click to donate today!
The glory of the gospel ministry (2 Corinthians 4:1-6), which sustains the hearts of Christ's ministers among all weaknesses and trials (2 Corinthians 4:7-15), especially by the faith in things unseen (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
2 Corinthians 4:1
Therefore. Because of the freedom and open vision of the gospel. As we have received mercy. Gratitude for a mercy so undeserved (1 Timothy 1:13) makes us fearless and vigorous in a ministry so glorious (Acts 20:23, Acts 20:24). We faint not. The word implies the maintenance of a holy courage (1 Corinthians 16:13) and perseverance (2 Thessalonians 3:13). It occurs again in 2 Corinthians 4:16, and in Luke 18:1; Galatians 6:9; Ephesians 3:13.
2 Corinthians 4:2
But have renounced; rather, but we renounced. We renounced them once and forever at our baptism. The hidden things of dishonesty; literally, of shame; meaning, of course, of all that causes shame. Disgraceful as may be calunmies of my Jewish opponents, I have said farewell forever to everything for which a good man would blush. "Honest" was originally like the Greek word καλὸς, a general expression for moral excellence, as in Pope's line—
"An honest man's the noblest work of God."
"Man is his own star, and the soul that can
Be honest is the only perfect man."
In craftiness. The word implies all subtle, cunning, underhand dealing (2 Corinthians 11:3), and it is clear from 2 Corinthians 12:16 that St. Paul had been charged with such conduct. The word is both used and illustrated in Luke 20:23. Handling the word of God deceitfully. He has already repudiated this charge by implication in 2 Corinthians 2:17, and he was always anxious to maintain an attitude of transparent sincerity (2 Corinthians 1:12) by uttering the truth and the whole truth (2 Corinthians 2:17; Acts 20:27), and not adulterating it. He had to meet such insinuations even in his first extant letter (1 Thessalonians 2:3). By manifestation of the truth. The constant recurrence to this thought shows the apostle's anxiety to remove the suspicion, created by the attacks of his opponents, that he had an esoteric teaching for some (2 Corinthians 1:13), kept some of his doctrines "The truth" cannot be preached by the aid of lies. The prominence of the word "manifest" in this Epistle is remarkable. St. Paul seems to be haunted by it (2 Corinthians 2:16; 2Co 3:3; 2 Corinthians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10, 2Co 5:11; 2 Corinthians 7:12; 2 Corinthians 11:6). Commending ourselves. This is the only form of self-commendation or of "commendatory letter" for which I care. There is evidently a reference to the same verb used in 2 Corinthians 3:1. Before God (see 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 7:12; Galatians 1:20). These solemn appeals are meant to show that it would be morally impossible for him to act as he was charged with acting. If he can assert his own integrity he will do so only as consciously in the presence of God.
2 Corinthians 4:3
But if our gospel be hid. This is added to avoid the semblance of a contradiction. He has spoken of "manifestation of the truth," and yet has spoken of all Jews as unable to see it because they will not remove from their hearts the veil which hides it from them. How can "a veiled gospel" be a "manifested truth"? The answer is that the gospel is bright, but the eyes that should gaze on it are wilfully closed. Similarly in 2 Corinthians 2:16, he has compared the gospel to a fragrance of life, yet to the doomed captives—"to the perishing"—it comes "like a waft from the charnel house." A better rendering would be, But even if our gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1; Romans 2:16) is a veiled one. it is veiled only among the perishing. Be hid; rather, has been veiled. To them that are lost; rather, to the perishing (see note on 2 Corinthians 2:15).
2 Corinthians 4:4
The god of this world; rather, the god of this age. It is, as Bengel says, "a great and horrible description of the devil." He is not, however, here called a god of the kosmos, but only of the olam hazzeh, the present dispensation of things as it exists among those who refuse to enter that kingdom in which the power of Satan is brought to nought. The melancholy attempt to get rid of Manichean arguments by rendering the verse "in whom God blinded the thoughts of the unbelievers of this world" is set aside by the fact that the terrible description of Satan as "another god" (El acheer) was common among the rabbis. They knew that his power was indeed a derivative power, trot still that it was permitted to be great (Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12). In John 12:31 (John 14:30) our Lord speaks of him as "the ruler of the kosmos." Hath blinded; rather, blinded. The verb here has no other meaning than "to blind," and is quite different from the verb "to harden," rendered by "to blind" in 2 Corinthians 3:14 with the same substantive. They are blind from lack of faith, and so being "unbelieving'' they are" perishing" (Ephesians 5:6), seeing that they "walk in darkness" (John 8:12) and are in Satan's power (Acts 26:18). Blindness of heart," says St. Augustine, "is both a sin and a punishment of sin and a cause of sin." The light of the glorious gospel of Christ; rather, the illumination of the gospel of the glory of the Christ. The word photismos in later ecclesiastical Greek was used for "baptism." Who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Should shine unto them; or, as in the Revised Version, should dawn upon them. The other rendering, "that they should not see the illumination," gives to the verb augazo, a rarer sense, only found in poetry, and not known to the LXX.
2 Corinthians 4:5
For we preach not ourselves. There is no glory or illumination on our faces, and we have no personal ends to gain, nor are we "lords" over your faith. This is, perhaps, meant as an answer to some charge of egotism. The Lord; rather, as Lord (Philippians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Your servants; literally, your slaves (1 Corinthians 9:19). For Jesus' sake. So Christ had himself desired (Matthew 20:27).
2 Corinthians 4:6
Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness. The argument of the verse is that God, who created the material light (Genesis 1:3) and who is the Father of lights (James 1:1) and sent his Son to be the Light of the world (John 8:12), did not shine in our hearts for our sakes only, or that we might hide the light under a bushel for ourselves, but that we might transmit and reflect it. There is an implied comparison between the creation of light and the dawn of the gospel light, and each of these was meant for the good of all the world. The verse should be rendered, if we follow the best manuscripts, "Because it is God, who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shone in our hearts for the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God." In the face of Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:7). Probably, however, there is a reference to the glory of God, not as reflected from the face of Christ, but as concentrated in and beaming from it (Hebrews 1:2).
2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Glory of the ministry in the midst of its weakness and suffering.
2 Corinthians 4:7
In earthen vessels. The glorious light which we have to show to the world is, like Gideon's torches, carried in earthen pitchers. The word skenos, vessel, is used in Mark 11:16, and "vessels of earthenware" in Revelation 2:27. St. Paul, in Acts 9:15, is called "a vessel of election," whence Dante calls him lo vas d' elezione. Man can never be more than an earthen vessel, being frail and humble, and the metaphor specially suits an apostle of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:20). But when he takes the Word of life from the earthen pitcher and waves it in the air, it illuminates all on whom the light shines. No commentator seems to have seen the probable allusion to Gideon's pitchers. It is the "light," of which he has been speaking exclusively in the last verses, which constitutes the "treasure." Those who suppose that the "treasure" is gold or silver or something else of value, refer to Jeremiah 32:14, and Herod., 3:103; Pers., 'Sat.,' Jeremiah 2:10. The excellency; literally, the excess or abundance. Of God, and not of us; rather, of God, and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:8
Troubled; afflicted, as in 2 Corinthians 1:4. On every side; in everything. Distressed; rather, driven to straits. Perplexed, but not in despair. In the original is a beautiful paronomasia, which might, perhaps, be represented in English by "pressed, but not oppressed." Literally the words mean, being at a loss, but not utterly at a loss. In the special anguish of trial of which he spoke in 2 Corinthians 1:8, he was indeed for a time "utterly at a loss," reduced to utter despair; but in the normal conditions which he here describes he always, as it were, saw some outlet out of his worst perplexities.
2 Corinthians 4:9
Not forsaken. St. Paul, like the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, knew by blessed experience the truth of the promise, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5, Hebrews 13:6). Cast down. Flung to the ground, as in some lost battle; yet not doomed, not "perishing." "Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand" (Psalms 37:24).
2 Corinthians 4:10
The dying of the Lord Jesus; literally, the putting to death (Vulgate, mortificatio). This is even stronger than 2 Corinthians 1:5. It is not only "the sufferings," but even "the dying," of Christ of which his true followers partake (Romans 8:36, "For thy sake are we killed all the day long"). St. Paul, who was "in deaths oft" (2 Corinthians 11:23), was thus being made conformable unto Christ's death (Philippians 3:10). Philo, too, compares life to "the daily carrying about of a corpse," and the Cure d'Ars used to speak of his body as "ce cadavre." That the life also of Jesus, etc. The thought is exactly the same as in 2 Timothy 2:11, "If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him."
2 Corinthians 4:11
For Jesus' sake. St. Paul, as Bengel says, constantly thus repeats the name of Jesus, as one who felt its sweetness. The verse contains a reassertion and amplification of what he has just said. In our mortal flesh. This is added almost by way of climax. The life of Jesus is manifested, not only "in our body," but even by way of triumph in its lowest and poorest element. God manifests life in our dying, and death in our living (Alford).
2 Corinthians 4:12
So then. In accordance with what he has just said. Death worketh in us, but life in you. The life of us apostles is a constant death (Romans 8:36); but of this daily dying you reap the benefits; our dying is your living; our afflictions become to you a source of consolation and joy (2 Corinthians 1:6; Philippians 2:17).
2 Corinthians 4:13
We; rather, But we. The same spirit of faith. The spirit manifested by the psalmist in the quotation which follows. It is from Psalms 116:10, a psalm which corresponded with St. Paul's mood because it was written in trouble sustained by faith. And this faith inspires him with the conviction that, after "the body of this death," and after this death in life, there should begin for him also the life in death. St. Paul says nothing as to the authorship of the psalm, which probably belongs to a period far later than that of David. The words are from the LXX., and seem fairly to represent the disputed sense of the original.
2 Corinthians 4:14
Which raised up the Lord Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 6:14). Shall raise up us also. The thought is again expressed in Romans 8:11. As he is here alluding mainly to the resurrection from the dead, it is clear that he contemplated the possibility of dying before Christ's second coming. By Jesus. The reading supported by nearly all the best manuscripts is "with Jesus" (א, B, C, D, E, F, G), which perhaps appeared unsuitable to the copyists. But Christians are "risen with Christ" here (Colossians 2:12; Colossians 3:1); and in another sense also we rise with him, because the Church is "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:23). Shall present us with you. So St. Jude speaks of "God our Saviour" as able "to present us" before the presence of his glory (Jud Jude 1:24, Jude 1:25).
2 Corinthians 4:15
All things are for your sakes. St. Paul has already implied that his life is not his own, and he recurs to the same thought in Colossians 1:24, and repeats once again towards the close of his life: "I endure all things for the elect's sakes" (2 Timothy 2:10). Might .. redound. The verb perisseuo may mean either "I abound" or "I make to abound" as in 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Ephesians 1:8. Here there is a similar thought to that expressed in 2 Corinthians 1:11, and the best rendering is, In order that the Divine favour, being multiplied through the greater number (of those who share in it), may make the thanksgiving (which it excites) abound to the honour of God.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
The Christian minister is upheld by hope.
2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore. Knowing that our daily death is the pathway to eternal life (2 Corinthians 4:14). We faint not (see 2 Corinthians 4:1). Though; rather, even if. Our outward man. Our life in its human and corporeal conditions. The inward man. Namely, our moral and spiritual being, that "new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:10). Is renewed; literally, is being renewed; i.e. by faith and hope. Day by day. The Greek phrase is not classical, but is a reminiscence of the Hebrew.
2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment; literally, for the immediate lightness of our affliction. Worketh for us. Is bringing about for us, with all the immeasurable force of a natural and progressive law. A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; literally, in excess unto excess. For the phrase, "to excess—characteristic, like other emotional expressions, of this group of Epistles—see 2 Corinthians 1:8; Galatians 1:13. The word "eternal" is in antithesis to the "for a moment." The "weight" is suggested by the "lightness," and possibly also by the fact that in Hebrew the word for "glory" also means "weight." The general contrast is found also in Mat 5:12; 1 Peter 5:10; Hebrews 12:10; Romans 8:18. The frequent resemblances between this Epistle and that to the Romans are natural when we remember that they were written within a few months of each other.
2 Corinthians 4:18
While we look not at the things which are seen. The Greek suggests more of a reason, "Since we are not gazing at things visible" (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). Things which are not seen. The negative is the subjective negative. It expresses not only the fact that now these things are not seen, but that it is their nature to be unseen by the bodily eyes. Temporal. That is, temporary, transitory, phantasmal, a passing world; for which reason we do not fix our gaze or our aim upon it. But the things which are not seen are eternal The clause is important, as showing that eternity is not a mere extension of time, but a condition qualitatively different from time. The "things eternal" exist as much now as they will ever do. We are as much living in eternity now as we ever shall be. The only difference will be that we shall then see him who is now unseen, and realize the things which now are only visible to the eye of faith. This is one of the passages of St. Paul which finds a close parallel in Seneca ('Ep.,' 59). "Invisibilia non decipiunt" was, as Bishop Wordsworth tells us, the inscription put at the end of his garden arcade by Dr. Young, the poet.
2 Corinthians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 4:2 - The character and work of a true minister of Christ.
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry," etc. These words present to us a true minister of Christ as he is in himself and in his labours, that is, his character and work.
I. HIS CHARACTER. It is here suggested that his character is marked by three things.
1. Its strength. "Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not." Having in mercy such a gospel as this to preach, we are not disheartened. "We faint not;" on the contrary, we are courageous. The character of every minister of Christ should be marked by strength—strength of conviction, strength of principle.
2. Its purity. "But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty," or rather, of "shame." Every element and form of sin is a thing of "shame," a thing which makes the conscience blush. Falsehood, inchastity, meanness, selfishness, dishonesty, are all things for shame and disgust. A true minister has renounced all these things, he is thoroughly cleansed of them.
3. Its straightforwardness. "Not walking in craftiness." No attribute of character is more common, at the same time more morally ignoble and anti-Christian, than artfulness or stratagem. Ministers of religion are frequently charged with this "craftiness," and the charge is, alas! too often true. The craft of priests is notorious. Now, a true minister is free from this; he is a man of frankness, candour, transparent honesty.
II. HIS WORK. How does he fulfil his mission? The answer is given here:
1. Negatively. "Not handling the Word of God deceitfully." It is thus handled when it is used to support a system, to advance a sect, to exhibit self, to gain a living and to win popularity. He is not a true minister who does this.
2. Positively. "By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
(1) He appeals to the conscience of humanity. "Every man's conscience." Elsewhere Paul calls conscience the "inner man;" it is in truth the man of the man, his moral self. It is thus he addresses himself, not merely to the passion, or to the imagination, or to the intellect, but to that which underlies and permeates every spiritual faculty of man.
(2) He appeals to the conscience of humanity through the truth. "By manifestation of the truth." What is the "truth"? "The Word of God." And that word, not as literature, but as life, the life of Christ. He is "the Truth." It is "truth as it is in Jesus," not in creeds or Churches that he addresses to the conscience.
(3) He appeals to the consciences of humanity, through the troth under the felt inspection of Almighty God. "In the sight of God." The man who preaches the truth under a consciousness of the Divine eye wilt be free from
(b) affectation, and from
2 Corinthians 4:3, 2 Corinthians 4:4
The condition of unregenerated men.
"But if our gospel be hid," etc. These words give an appalling view of ungodly men.
I. They are BLIND TO THE GOSPEL. "If our gospel be hid [or, 'veiled']." Men have different organs of vision. There is the bodily eye: the gospel is not "hid" from that—they can see the volume that contains it, they can see the print, and perhaps read its chapters. There is the intellectual eye to discover its sense and discern its meaning. There is the spiritual eye, the conscience which discerns the moral significance of things; this is the eye which alone can see the gospel, its real essence. And this is the veiled eye, the eye of conscience is closed, so that the gospel is no more discerned than the bright heavens are observed by the man who is horn blind.
II. They are PERISHING IN SIN. "It is hid to them that are lost," or veiled from them that are perishing. Soul ruin is a gradual process. Souls are neither ruined nor saved at once. The wicked are "going into everlasting punishment;" they are not hurled there at once; step by step they proceed. With every sin their sensibility of conscience is perishing, their power of will is perishing, all the better tendencies of their nature are perishing. It matters not how strong in body, how prosperous in wealth, how elevated in society, they are perishing. Startlingly solemn this!
III. They are VICTIMIZED BY SATAN. "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." Observe:
1. Satan is not a principle, but a personality.
2. Satan has immense dominions. "The god of this world." Satan is a personality that has access to human souls. He enters men, acts on their springs of thought and fountains of feeling.
3. Satan is a personality whose action on the soul is essentially pernicious. "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." He closes the moral eye of the soul, "lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God, should shine unto them."
2 Corinthians 4:5 - Preaching.
"For we preach not ourselves," etc. Here is—
I. A SAD POSSIBILITY in preaching. What is that? To "preach ourselves." To preach ourselves is to propound our own notions, to exhibit our own talents, genius, and learning, to parade our own productions. It is to put self, not Christ, in the front. In these days the egotism of the pulpit has become all but intolerable.
II. A GLORIOUS THEME for preaching. "Christ Jesus the Lord."
1. Preach him as the Mediator between God and man. He whose grand mission it is to reconcile man to his Maker.
2. Preach him as the great Example for man's imitation. He who embodies the ideal of human perfection and blessedness.
III. The RIGHT SERVICE in preaching. "Ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." The true preacher is:
1. The servant of souls.
2. The servant of souls inspired by love for Christ. "Servants for Jesus' sake."
2 Corinthians 4:6 - True soul light.
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." There are two lights in the soul. There is the light of nature. This light consists of those moral intuitions which Heaven implanted within us at first. These intuitions are good enough for angels, did for Adam before he fell; but now, through sin, they are so blunt and dim that the soul is in moral darkness: "The light that is in thee is darkness." The other light is that of the light of the gospel. This comes because the light of nature is all but gone out, and comes as essential to our spiritual well being. This is the light to which the passage refers, the new soul light. The words call attention to three facts concerning it.
I. IT EMANATES FROM THE HIGHEST SOURCE. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." The reference is here to the creation (Genesis 1:3). It reminds us:
1. Of antecedent darkness. The state of the soul before this light enters it is analogous to the state of the earth before God kindled the lights of the firmament. It was cold, chaotic, dead. In what a sad condition is the unregenerate soul!
2. Of almighty sovereignty. "Let there be light"—"Let light be, and light was." The luminaries of the firmament were kindled by the free, uncontrolled, almighty power of God. So it is with real spiritual light. It comes because God wills it. Everywhere he "worketh according to the counsel of his own will."
II. IT REVEALS THE GRANDEST SUBJECT. Light is a revealer. All the hues and forms, beauties and sublimities of the earth would be hid from us without the light. What does this soul light reveal? "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God." Gospel light entering the soul makes God visible as the eternal Reality, the Fountain of being, and the Source of all blessedness. Where this gospel light is not, the soul either ignores or denies him; or, at most, speculates about him, and at best has now and then flitting visions. But under the radiance of the gospel, God is the Reality of all realities, the Fountain of all existences, the Root of all the sciences. In this light they see God, and through him they see and interpret his universe.
III. IT STREAMS THROUGH THE SUBLIMEST MEDIUM. "In the face of Jesus Christ." There is undoubted allusion here to what is said of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:13) when the Divine glory was reflected on his face, and produced such a splendour and magnificence that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look upon it. The sense here is that, in the face or the person of Jesus Christ, the glory of God shone clearly, and the Divinity appeared without a veil. This light coming through Christ, "who is the image of the invisible God," is:
1. True light. He is the Truth.
2. Softened light. The soul could not stand the light coming directly from the infinite Source; it is too dazzling. Through the medium of Christ it comes so softened as to suit our weakness.
3. Quickening light. It falls on the soul like the sunbeam on the seed quickening into life.
2 Corinthians 4:7 - The true gospel ministry.
"But we have this treasure," etc. The words lead us to consider the true gospel ministry in various aspects.
I. AS CONTAINING AN INESTIMABLE TREASURE. The gospel is a system of incalculable worth. The most valuable things in nature are employed to represent it—water, light, life, etc. There are four criteria that determine the worth of a thing—rarity, utility, duration, the appreciation of the highest authorities. All these applied to the gospel demonstrate its surpassing value.
II. AS THE SERVICE OF FRAGILE MEN. "In earthen vessels." To whom have the inestimable truths of the gospel been entrusted for exposition, enforcement, and distribution? Not to angels, but to frail and dying men.
1. They have frail bodies. They are subject to infirmity, exhaustion, decay, etc.
2. They have frail minds. The most vigorous in intellect is weak, the most lofty in genius is feeble, the most enlightened is ignorant.
III. AS DEVELOPING A DIVINE PURPOSE. "That the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." The grand reason why frail men are employed to preach the gospel is that the glorious renovating and soul-saving effects may evidently appear as the work of God, and not of man. When sermons prove effective in converting souls, it is not because of the originality of their thought, the force of their logic, the splendour of their rhetoric, or the majesty of their eloquence, but because of the Divine power that accompanies them. "Not by might, nor by power," etc.
2 Corinthians 4:8-12 - Trials in the cause of Christ.
"We are troubled on every side," etc. Three remarks are suggested.
I. That THE TRIALS ENCOUNTERED IS THE CAUSE OF CHRIST ARE SOMETIMES VERY GREAT. Hear what Paul says about his trials: "We are troubled on every side." He speaks of himself as hemmed in by enemies, pursued by enemies, stricken down by enemies, and dragging about with him, as it were, a living corpse. It may be laid down as a principle, that the man who is earnestly engaged in any righteous cause in this world will have to encounter trials. The old prophets bad their trials, some of them were insulted, some incarcerated, some martyred. So with John the Baptist, and so with the apostles, so with the confessors, reformers, and genuine revivalists.
II. That, HOWEVER GREAT THE TRIALS ENCOUNTERED, THEY ARE NOT BEYOND BEARING. The apostle says that although "troubled on every side, yet not distressed," or straitened; though "perplexed," or bewildered, yet not benighted; though "persecuted," or pursued, yet not "forsaken," or abandoned; though "cast down," or stricken down with a blow, yet not perishing. The idea is that he had support under his trials; they did not entirely crush him. The true labourer in the cause of Christ, however great his trials, is always supported:
1. By the approbation of his own conscience.
2. By the encouraging results of his own labours.
3. By the sustaining strength of God. "As thy days, so thy strength shall be."
III. THAT THE RIGHT BEARING OF THESE TRIALS SUBSERVES THE GOOD OF SOULS.
1. In the right bearing of these sufferings the sufferer reveals the life of Christ to others. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." Rightly endured sufferings bring the sufferer so near to the sufferings of Christ that he is in a sense a sharer of those sufferings, and hence in them the life of Jesus is made manifest. Who that has witnessed the true Christian languishing on the bed of suffering and death has not seen the spirit of the life of Christ revealed?
2. In the right hearing of these sufferings the sufferer promotes in himself and others the Christian life. "For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you." "God," says Dean Alford, "exhibits death in the living, that he may also exhibit life in the dying."
2 Corinthians 4:13 - The speech of true faith.
"We having the same spirit of faith," etc. The world is full of speech. Human words load the atmosphere. All the speeches may be divided into three classes.
1. Speech without faith. Vapid and volatile talk.
2. Speech with wrong faith. Wrong faith is of two descriptions.
(1) Faith in wrong subjects. Men believe errors.
(2) Improper faith in right subjects. Weak wavering, etc.
3. Speech with true faith. Take the true faith as faith in Christ. In him, not in propositions concerning him, propositions either including doctrines or facts. I offer three remarks concerning the speech of this faith.
I. IT IS INEVITABLE. The man who truly believes in Christ feels that "necessity is laid upon him," that he "cannot but speak the things seen and heard." Such is the influence of faith on man's social sympathies that his emotions become irrepressible.
II. IT IS RATIONAL. How much speech there is in connection even with the religion of Christ that clashes with the dictates of human reason, and is an insult to common sense! But he who really has faith in Christ can give reasons for his convictions in language clear as the day. It is the lack of true faith that makes our sermons hazy.
III. IT IS STRONG. True faith in Christ is the strongest of all convictions, and a strong conviction will always have a strong utterance. The words will be free and full.
2 Corinthians 4:14, 2 Corinthians 4:15 - Soul-inspiring facts.
"Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus," etc. There are four glorious facts here.
I. THAT CHRIST WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD. "Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus." "No fact in history," says Dr. Arnold, "is more firmly established by argument than this."
II. THAT THE GENUINE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST WILL ALSO BE RAISED. "Shall raise up us also by [with] Jesus, and shall present us with you." Raised as he was raised, and all be presented together.
III. THAT ALL THINGS ARE FOR GOOD TO THE GOOD. "All things are for your sakes." "We know that all things shall work together for good," etc. "All things are yours."
IV. THAT ALL THINGS IN LIFE SHOULD RESULT IN THE TRUE WORSHIP OF GOD. "That the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God." It is only in Worship that the soul can find the free and harmonious development of all its spiritual powers. Worship is heaven. It is not the means to an end; it is the sublimest end of being.
2 Corinthians 4:16 - Soul-growth.
"For which cause we faint not," etc. Observe at the outset:
1. Man has a duality of nature—the outward and the inward; the latter the man of the man.
2. The decayableness of one of the natures. "Our outward man perisheth." This is constantly going on.
3. The constant growth of the tuner nature. "The reward man is renewed day by day. "Soul growth implies three things.
I. SOUL LIFE. Dead plants and dead animals can no more grow than stones. The inner man uurenewed is morally dead; its life consists in supreme sympathy with the supremely good.
II. SOUL NOURISHMENT. No life can live upon itself. The appropriation of outward elements is essential to sustentation and growth. Moral and spiritual truths are the nutriment of souls.
III. SOUL EXERCISE. All life seems to require exercise. Even the productions of the vegetable world cannot grow without it; though they cannot move themselves, they are moved by the breezes of heaven. Animal life requires it, and the soul must have it in order to grow. It must "exercise itself unto godliness." "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."
2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18 - The afflictions of Christly men.
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." These words suggest a few thoughts concerning the afflictions of Christly men.
I. They are COMPARATIVELEY "light" and "momentary." They are "light:"
1. Compared with what they deserve.
2. Compared with what others have endured.
3. Compared, with the blessedness that is to follow. They are momentary, "but for a moment. Momentary compared
(1) with the enjoyments of this life; compared
(2) with the interminable blessedness of the future.
II. That, though light and momentary, they WORK OUT GLORIOUS RESULTS. They issue in what? "A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." What is the affliction to the glory?
1. The one is "light;" the other is weighty. Put all the afflictions of the whole Church against the everlasting glory of one Christly soul, and how light!
2. The one is momentary; the other is eternal. "Eternal weight of glory." But the result is not only an eternal weight of glory, but "far more exceeding." No expression could be stronger than this. The apostle here seems to struggle after the strongest language to express his idea of the transcendent blessedness that awaits the Christly man.
III. That they work out these glorious results BY THE REALIZATION OF SPIRITUAL AND ETERNAL REALITIES. "While we look not at the things which are seen… for the things which are seen are temporal." Observe:
1. That there are things invisible to the bodily eye that can be seen by the soul. There are two classes of invisible things:
(1) those that are essentially invisible, such as thoughts, spirits, God; and
(2) those that are contingently invisible, such as those things that are visible in their nature, but, through minuteness, distance, or some other cause, are at present invisible. It is to the first of these that the apostle refers—things that are essentially invisible to the bodily eye. The soul can see thoughts, moral intelligences, and the great God.
2. That the things that can be seen only by the soul are not temporal, but eternal. We talk about the everlasting mountains, eternal sun, etc.; but there is nothing that is seen is lasting—all is passing away. Moral truths are imperishable; spiritual existences are immortal; God is eternal; these are things belonging to a kingdom that cannot be moved.
3. That the things that are seen only by the soul are the things that, if realized, will make this mortal life issue in transcendent good.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 - Glory of the apostolic ministry; how its duties were discharged.
It is still "this ministry." The question, "Who is sufficient for these things?" has been answered in part by a statement of his "sincerity" and "plainness of speech," and he now proceeds to Speak of his courage and steady zeal. "We faint not," allowing no difficulties or dangers to dishearten us. But what was the nature or spirit of this resolute energy? Energetic men, brave men, who are bent on their purpose, are not always choice or chary of the means employed to gain their ends. "Hidden things of dishonesty," plots, schemes concocted in secret, were renounced, nor did he in any way adulterate the gospel. Not only did he preach the Word, but he delivered it as received from the Lord Jesus. The mirror was kept clean and bright, so as to reflect the image. Of course, he contrasted himself with his opponents, who used intrigues to acquire influence. If certain men handled the Word of God deceitfully, he was not one of that number, for his single aim was; "by manifestation of the truth," to commend himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Divine truth, such as the gospel contained, was a manifestation, a showing of its real and intrinsic character, to the only faculty competent to receive it as a self-evidencing system; and that faculty was the conscience. Reason lies back of all our reasoning, and is greater and truer than our formal logic. Instinct antedates experience, and is the condition precedent to experience. And these instincts with their intuitions constitute their own evidence and form the basis of all knowledge. St. Paul argued that the spiritual doctrines of the gospel, if faithfully presented to the conscience, would be recognized and accepted by conscience as the truth of God. History is history; testimony is testimony; judgment is judgment; conscience is conscience; and he will not disparage any one of these to exalt another, but will keep each in its place according to the constitution of our nature. Yet the human mind, made in God's image, must be master of its impressions, sovereign over its motives, lord of itself when most obedient to God; and, accordingly, it must have a conscience to witness "magisterially," as Bishop Butler puts it, for the authority of God. It was not to worldly taste and selfish intellect St. Paul appealed in preaching the gospel, nor to low and mercenary feelings of any kind, but to the conscience as the supreme sense of right in man. And was this all? Nay; they commended themselves, their persons, their private and public lives, their experience and conduct, to the consciences of others. Witness what we are, what we do, how we live, as well as what we preach, was St. Paul's argument. No man enjoyed true appreciation and love more than he; but, most of all, he sought the testimony of their conscience that he was their servant for Christ's sake, and was in no respect crafty and dishonest in his relations to the brethren. Private character and public character are, alas! too often disjoined, and not seldom are opposites; but St. Paul thought that gifts and graces should go together. What he professed as an apostle be would practise as a man, and in each respect he would commend himself to conscience. On no account would he have the confidence and regard of the Church except so far as he impressed this purest and safest kind of human judgment. And he did this most solemnly, "in the sight of God." Observe, then, it was not to their consciousness but conscience, to which his ministry, character, and life appealed. Nor was this limited to the Church. It was exhibited before all, believers and unbelievers, a savour of life, a savour of death. The manifestation of the truth would commend itself to every man's conscience; and yet the general verdict of conscience would be accepted and acted on by some, while it would be opposed and disobeyed by many. But who were the rejecters? "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (who are now perishing), not finally lost, but at present unsaved, their day of grace not over, salvation yet possible. The state spoken of is one of mental blindness, which includes the want of spiritual perceptions and the darkness of the understanding. Conscience is instructed, but the intellect overpowers conscience. Conscience is on the side of truth; intellect on the side of the senses. Conscience entreats, warns, condemns, in the name of God; intellect is sophistical and imperious in behalf of the carnal man. And the intellect is thus alienated from its rational subordination to a ruling conscience by a usurper who is Satan, "the god of this world." Men have allowed him to assert sovereignty over them, have made him "a god," and have yielded to his wicked agency what belongs to the one God. They hays robbed God to give him power over their bodies and souls. Without this clear and vivid recognition of the personality, the activity, the prodigious energy of Satan, the theology of St. Paul would have no consistency, no logical coherence, no adaptiveness to the convicting and renewing work with which he associates it. With him, human depravity is not an abstract thing, an isolated thing, but part and parcel of a vast system of evil, an immense empire of untruth, deception, fraud, cruelty, of which Satan is head and front. Is unbelief powerful? Satan is behind it. Are the lusts and appetites of the flesh tyrannic? Satan is the tyrant. Are men blinded to their interest and well being? By him, "god of this world," are they blinded. One who estimates human depravity solely by what it is in itself will have a very different view of its actual character in experience and outworking from one who looks at it as an instrumentality in such hands as Satan's. In the former case it is the man indulging in depravity for his own gratification—he personally and individually and directly is its motive, impulse, and end; in the latter there is a kingdom and a despotic ruler, whose objects are furthered by widening his dominion and enhancing his sway. St. Paul is explicit. Satan is the blinder, and he is the blinder as "the god of this world." And he blinds the minds of men, "lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God, should shine unto them." Turn to the close of the previous chapter and read of the "open face," of the reflected "glory of the Lord," of the assimilating power of the "image," of its transforming wonder in changing "from glory to glory." And now take this awful contrast—a fallen angel, a dethroned principality and power the "god" among his hierarchies, the "god" of a world where men are on probation for an immortality of good or evil, and thin "god" of darkness busy everywhere to hide the only light that reveals Christ as the Image of God. Here is this light in the history of Christ's life, death, resurrection, exaltation. It is glorious. It is preached as a "glorious gospel;" it is preached by men. who have "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty," and who themselves, by their candour, integrity, purity, commend themselves to every man's conscience under the eye of God, But Satan exerts all his skill and influence, controls myriad agencies, works continually and works so successfully that the minds of many are blinded by unbelief. Destroy belief and you destroy the soul. And this is the Satanic might of evil, the climax of all his influence, that the blindness with which he shrouds the soul is the blindness of unbelief. Can he think of "the glorious gospel of Christ" and not be humbled? "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." And now the idea which has occupied so much of his attention—the veiled face of Moses, the open vision of Christ, the image of the Father in him, the glory that excelleth, the ministry as a manifestation of glory, Christian growth as an expansion from one degree of resplendency to another till it reaches "the perfect day," and the contrasted blindness of unbelievers who are under Satan's power,—this idea, so suggestive, attains its final expression in the sixth verse. God had once said, "Let there be light, and there was light." It was the opening grandeur of creation; but was this all? This was to be the permanent symbol of God, the source and centre of more associations and suggestions than any other object in the material universe, a creative force to the imagination of metaphor, image, and illustration that cannot be measured. And, as such, St. Paul uses it when he says that "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." What fuller embodiment could the thought take than "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"? "Light," "knowledge," "glory of God," "face of Jesus Christ,"—what a collocation of sublime ideas!—L.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 - Ministers in their weakness and strength; present affliction and future issues.
There is the ever-recurring contrast. It is now the ministry as a "treasure," and this treasure is "in earthen vessels." We understand the apostle to refer to the body when speaking of the "clay vessel," the contrasted elements being the glory of the ministry as a Divine illumination and the fragile human form in which it was contained. It was thus that "the excellency of the power" was seen to be "of God, and not of us." Not only was it the power of God, but of "exceeding greatness" (Kling), and while the "surpassing might" demonstrated itself in the gracious and widespread effects of the ministry, it was also obvious in the physical support given in the midst of such unprecedented labours and trials. To illustrate this "surpassing might" (Conybeare and Howson), St. Paul adduces his own experience. As it respects the "earthen vessel:"
1. Troubled on every side.
4. Cast down.
5. Always dying; bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.
As it respects the "excellency of the power:"
1. Not stressed.
2. Not in despair.
3. Not forsaken.
4. Not destroyed.
5. Life of Jesus made manifest in our mortal body.
These ideas of suffering are taken from the body.
1. Pressed or hemmed in on every side.
2. Benighted on our path.
3. Pursued in a conflict.
4. Thrown down and expecting to be killed.
5. The dying of the Lord Jesus never absent as a bodily impression.
This is the second of those vivid pictures St. Paul has given of his personal life, the first being found in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. There is a marked difference between the two representations, the former referring to the contrast between himself and the self-sufficient Corinthians, while the latter sets forth the contrast between "the glorious gospel" and the weakness of its ministration by means of men. Here the prominence is given to the similarity of his own life to that of Christ," that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." Had he spoken in the previous Epistle of self-denials and voluntary sufferings over and above "other apostles," going on a warfare "at his own charges," planting a vineyard and eating not "of the fruit thereof," a shepherd who "eateth not of the milk of the flock"? No such allusions (except in the reference made in the twelfth verse) are found in this chapter. Before him, in full view, is the career of Jesus of Nazareth, his resignation of the comforts of earth, the homelessness and other privations he endured, and he, the apostle of the Gentiles, is conformed in outward or physical aspects to the sufferings of Christ. Still more, the life of Christ's resurrection and exalted glory appears in him, and this life, so manifested in "our mortal flesh" and the more signally exhibited because of infirmities and afflictions, is for their benefit. "Death worketh in us, but life in you." But is death a shadow, a discouragement, a paralyzing terror? Nay; the life imparted to the Corinthians through him returned from them to his own soul. He believed and spoke; they heard and believed. Furthermore, he had another consolation, the hope of a resurrection, when he and they should be presented by Christ to the Father for final acceptance. Yes; the fellowship would be immortal as well as glorious. "All things are for your sakes," whatever had befallen him, and this "abundant grace," extended to an ever-enlarging number, would swell the volume of thanksgiving to God. In his mind "the glory of God" is never associated with narrow bounds, never with a few, always with the "many"—"through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God." This is his manhood; largeness in everything; breadth of thought and sentiment for this world and the future! a manhood that could breathe in nothing smaller than a universe. How much he is worth to us in this particular! On this account "we faint not." Nothing had power to dishearten his spirit or depress his efforts. The burden rallied the strength; the heavier the weight the more energetic the resistance. Another contrast—outward man, inward man: man in each. St. Paul, who is the theologian of the Bible on the subject of the body no less than of the soul, is here in one of his favourite moods, and, as usual, his philosophy (if we choose so to regard his discernment) is as profound as his piety. "Though our outward man perish." It cannot but perish. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return." The body exists for no independent purpose, it is for the soul, and the ideal of the soul determines the ideal of the body's history. It eats, sleeps, works, for the soul. It decays for the sake of the soul. Now, this decay which the apostle is considering, we may look at in the light of modern physiology. St. Paul is no teacher of physiology or of science in any form, but he mentions facts, which we can interpret by aid of recent science. What, then, do we know of decay as a bodily law? We know it is a law coexistent and cooperative with our physical life. It sets in early, goes on continuously, and ends only when the body dies. It is a succession of decays. Viewed in this light, decay is a function of activity or a sequel to activity, and, accordingly, a condition of renewal. Exercise the arm like a blacksmith, and it rapidly wastes matter. Exercise the brain as a student, and certain constituents are constantly thrown off and expelled from the system. Yet, in all this, there is reproduction and even growth. The decay has an order; it proceeds from the less serviceable to the more useful functions. Early in life, animal sensations are in excess. The outer world floods the young senses, and no image is painted on the brain that is not a copy of something external. But this abates. It lessens by providential law. The spirits decline in boisterousness; perceptions are not so vivid; reflectiveness increases; and the pulse is more of a pulse of thought, will, emotion. What we can spare best is the first to decay. Long before eye and ear show signs of failing other organs begin to advertise their decline. And hence the decay proceeds as to time and method in such a form as to answer the ends of the body in its relation to the soul. Seldom are there violent changes, No great revolutions occur. Little by little the alterations go on, so that the mind is insensibly accommodated to them. Agreeably to this law, decay contributes till late in life to the development of the mind. Not until decay has accomplished higher ends does it tend towards dissolution. Gently, indeed, the hand of the Father touches the frail tenement, here a nerve and there a muscle, so as to make it less a body for the earth and more a body for the soul. Physiologically, therefore, there is a basis for St. Paul's theology of the body. Now, physiologists may say, as some of them have said, that their science has nothing to do with religion, and, forsooth, this in one sense may be true. But it is certain that Christianity has a good deal to do with their science. Nor, indeed, have we to look further than the text for proof of the fact that, while St. Paul was doing nothing more than unfolding the glory of the gospel, one or more of the rays of that splendour shone on facts which science is only just now beginning to understand. But the inner man, what of him? "Renewed day by day." We have seen that Providence uses decay for restoration and even enhancement of power, and moreover, not until physical development has attained its maximum in respect to mind, does it happen that decay operates towards dissolution. Outward and inward—both the man, as we have said—and yet the differencing adjectives are very expressive. Look at the outside of a tree, the rough bark adapted to the hard usages of wind and weather, and fitted to enclose and protect the fibre and circulating sap. So of the body. It is a sheath to the soul, preserving its freedom from being overpowered by the outward world and guaranteeing self-direction to its activity. More than this, body is a developing instrumentality of mind, and, in this respect, fulfils the special purpose of Providence. Nevertheless, the soul has its own prerogatives. It is God's image, and, as such, witnesses to its own nature as infinitely different from matter. We call it soul because it is perfectly unlike body. We call it spirit because "God is a Spirit." Such words as body, soul, spirit, stand alone and contain the truth of all truths. Now, the apostle urges this contrast; body decays and dies, spirit under the influence of the Holy Ghost is renewed daily. Spirit has a capacity for interminable growth. Day by day, a clearer knowledge of itself, a keener penetration of consciousness, a deeper sense of sinfulness in its nature, and, anomalously enough, while gaining a victory more and more over particular sins, having an acuter conviction of inbred sin. Day by day, the world falling away from its senses, and yet, amid the decay of sensuousness, a continual ascension of delight and gladness as the spirit loses its hold on merely aesthetic beauty and enters more fully into moral beauty, so that, while the body becomes more and more the "temple of the Holy Ghost," the earth grows into a sanctuary of God, where the hours fail not to observe their ritual of worship and the air is never so hushed as not to breathe praise to God. Day by day? Ah! are there not idle days, apparently useless days, even days when prayer and holy service seem a burden? Doubtless; but we must not conclude that these seasons are altogether unprofitable. If we are learning nothing else, we are learning how weak and impotent we are, and how unreliable are our constitution and habits except we have daily renewing grace. God leaves us to ourselves sometimes, that we may find out what company we keep when he is absent. Day by day, the most precious of all is a growing nearness to the Lord Jesus Christ. We can recall the time when he was mainly to our young souls a traditional Christ. We knew him by the hearing of the ear and by the sight of the eye. Voices there were that spoke of him and commanded our listening. Faces there were that shone with unearthly light and touched our eyes to a reverent gaze. They are gone now. Sorrow has done its work, and, if that be done, all other work is made effective for spiritual progress. How real he becomes when we suffer as Christians! In the loneliness that comes with all profound grief, what a personal Christ is he to our hearts! Hearts, we say, for the revelations of sorrow, the fullest and grandest ever made to the soul, are all revelations of the blessed Jesus to the affections. Once we could not have thought it possible, but, in later years, the secret of the Lord is with us, and we commune with him as friend with friend. The wonder now is, how we could ever live an hour without this sense of sonship possessing the soul. "Out of the depths" we have learned to say, "Abba, Father," and then we can rejoice with "joy unspeakable and full of glory." The outward man perishing, the inward man renewed day by day, how would such a man as St. Paul look upon trial and adversity? We know more of the nature, variety, and depth of his sufferings than of any one among the saints of the New Testament, and yet he calls his affliction light. It is also "but for a moment? Why he spoke in this way is made clear at once, for the light and momentary affliction is working for his benefit, fulfilling a purpose, executing a design, and this is a "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." These words are best left to private meditation. "Glory" in contrast with "affliction," "weight" with "light," "eternal" with "moment," and then the "exceeding," the "more exceeding,'' the "far more exceeding;" we honour the sublimity most by thoughtful silence. And this winking, which is now going on by means of Christ's presence in affliction and derives no merit from him, is so far realized by the apostle that he cannot look upon the things about him other than as transient. It is not the mere decay of the outward man nor the evanescence of the world's glory that produces in him this exalted state of mind. The point of view is altogether different. From the height of spiritual life as essentially eternal life, he glances at the panorama of the world as it passes by, but his look—the fixed eye, the earnest gaze—is on the things which are eternal. For him this eternity has already begun; and while every new grief and every repetition of an old sorrow "worketh" a deeper feeling of the spiritual and eternal life within, he is equally well assured that each one adds something to the accumulated glory of the heaven awaiting him as an apostle of the Lord Jesus.—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
2 Corinthians 4:2 - Truth and conscience.
In these comprehensive words of the apostle is revealed the true power of the Christian minister. This is represented as consisting of three several elements.
I. THE INSTRUMENT WHICH IS ENTRUSTED TO THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER TO WIELD.
1. In itself it is the truth. All truth is precious and powerful. But the truth, as it is in Jesus, is supreme in moral, spiritual power. The truth of God's righteousness and love, as they are united and harmonious in the gospel of Christ, is the greatest moral force which has entered and wrought in our humanity. It has rower to convince the judgment, to convert the heart, to control the will, to constrain the life.
2. This truth exercises its power by simple manifestation. It does not need our apologies or defence, our ornaments or recommendations. It does its work best when it is simply allowed to shine by its own light, to take its own course.
II. THE MATERIAL UPON WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER HAS TO WORK; i.e. "every man's conscience." Some religious teachers appeal to men's interests, others to their fears, some to their superstition, others to their vanity. But the true appeal is to the conscience. "Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" "I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say." Other principles of action address themselves to inferior parts of human nature, and produce proportionate results. But Christian truth aims high, calls forth into action the noblest faculties of the soul. Literally translated, the phrase is, "to every conscience of men," which seems to suggest that, whether the conscience be enlightened or crude, sluggish or active, it is evermore, when aroused, a witness to God's Word, The truth and the conscience are alike of Divine origin, and they are adapted the one to the other. What the truth utters the conscience echoes. The preacher of righteousness may be assured that to his words there is always a response in human hearts.
III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER USES THE DIVINELY FASHIONED IMPLEMENT WHICH OPERATES UPON THE DIVINELY FASHIONED NATURE. It is "in the sight of God." He who works thus will work honestly, faithfully, earnestly. And his work will be profitable to men and acceptable to God.—T.
2 Corinthians 4:3, 2 Corinthians 4:4 - The gospel veiled.
Those things which are intended for man's welfare are often so perverted by sin that they become the occasion of the greatest evils. So that it is proverbial that the best things, when abused, prove to be the worst. The gospel of Jesus Christ, when it is received aright, is a power to enlighten, bless, and save. But to those who reject and despise it the gospel becomes the occasion of condemnation and destruction.
I. THE INVISIBLE AND SPIRITUAL POWER THAT VEILS THE GOSPEL FROM THE EYES OF MEN. The expression used by the apostle is very strong; he attributes this mischievous act to "the god of this world," apparently a personal principle of evil working in human society and in human hearts. Elsewhere we are reminded of the might of the evil one, who is designated "the ruler of this world," "the prince of the power of the air."
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE EYES OF MEN ARE VEILED, These are many, and are craftily adapted to the varying characters and habits of men.
1. Sensuality often incapacitates for spiritual vision; for the more it makes a man sensitive to the attractions of carnal pleasure the mere it hinders his spiritual apprehensions and dulls his spiritual vision.
2. Worldliness fills the whole horizon of vision with the things of earth and time, and thus shuts out the shining of the true light which is from heaven.
3. The pride of human reason, which fancies itself to be independent and all-powerful, obscures in the case of many the rays of Divine truth which often reach the lowliest and the least esteemed among men.
III. THE EFFECTS WHICH THIS BLINDNESS PRODUCES IN THE MINDS OF MEN.
1. The glad tidings are regarded with indifference.
2. Christ himself, the very "Image of God," is contemplated with aversion and repugnance. There is no spiritual sympathy to draw the soul to the holy and the gracious One; his very lectures are regarded through a distorted medium.
3. All spiritual execllences lose their charm, fail to awaken to admiration and emulation.
4. The true condition in which they lie is altogether ignored and denied by the spiritually blind.
5. For lack of light they perish; the spiritually and wilfully blind doom themselves to death.—T.
2 Corinthians 4:5 - The theme of preaching.
Christianity was first diffused by the proclamation of the living voice, and the same method has always held the most prominent position in the history of the Church and especially of its missions. Yet the success of this method has been in proportion to the prominence which preachers give to their theme in comparison with their own individuality.
I. THE THEME THE APOSTLE DISCLAIMS. "We preach not ourselves."
1. I.e. not about ourselves, as is the way with many. Not our own speculations, our own theories, our own fancies. Not even our own experiences in the religious life.
2. For it was felt by the modest and the wise that such preaching could only be to offer, in many cases, weakness, folly, and ignorance; in all cases human imperfection, and infirmity, to men who know quite enough of all this, and who stand in need of what is superhuman and Divine.
II. THE THEME IN WHICH THE APOSTLE GLORIES.
1. Christ as an historical Person. It was and still is necessary, in the first place, to inform the hearers of the gospel of the actual facts of our Lord's earthly manifestation—his incarnation, his ministry, his humiliation and obedience, his sufferings and death, his resurrection and exaltation. All good, sound doctrine is based upon fact.
2. Christ as a Divine Person; i.e. the Lord. He is to be preached as being what he declared himself to be—one with the Father, the King of angels and of men. It is such an all-sufficient Friend and Helper that mac needs.
"If thou wert less than One Divine,
My soul would be dismayed;
But through thy human lips God says,
"Tis I; be not afraid!'"
3. Christ as a Mediator, complete in all the qualifications needed to discharge the duties of all the orifices he sustains.
4. Christ as a living Person—One who has not ceased to interest himself in men because he is no longer among them in bodily form; but One who, as represented in the Apocalypse, is living with and for those whom he died to save.
APPLICATION. There is danger lest those who accept this view of the apostle should be content with the mere reiteration of Christ's name. Be it remembered that Christ should be preached as to the intelligence and to the heart of men.—T.
2 Corinthians 4:6 - The light of spiritual knowledge.
Nature is a parable by means of which the Creator and Lord of all is ever teaching us concerning himself and his will. All the vast forces and sublime objects of nature have their spiritual analogues. So is it, as appears from this passage, with light, which typifies the truth, the gospel of God. We learn—
I. WHENCE THE LIGHT COMES. Physical light comes from the sun, and the sun was kindled by the Creator. He said, "Let there be light, and there was light." So all intellectual and moral light is from the Father of lights. He is light, and in him is no darkness. "He clotheth himself with light as with a garment." Our souls find their full enlightenment and satisfaction in the revelation of his mind, which is as the rising of the sun upon our benighted nature.
II. WHAT THE LIGHT IS. In the apostle's view this is "the knowledge of the glory of God." If this be so, God is not the Unknown, the Unknowable. The glory of the Eternal is not so much in his power and wisdom as in his moral attributes, his holiness, and love. The revelation of the Divine character is as light to his intelligent creation. It is welcome, cheering, illuminating, reviving.
III. WHERE THE LIGHT SHINES. "In the face of Jesus Christ." In our Lord's resurrection this light shone visibly from his face, as it had done on the occasion of his transfiguration. But really and spiritually it is always streaming forth; for Christ is himself the "Emanation of his Father's glory." Behold his face when teaching: the light of Divine knowledge is upon it. When pitying and healing the sufferer, the light of Divine compassion and love is there. When patiently enduring insult, upon it rests the lustre of majestic sweetness. When dying on the cross, the light of sacrificial victory is kindled on the features. When uttering his royal commands from heaven's throne, "his countenance is as the sun shineth in his strength."
IV. WHITHER THE LIGHT PENETRATES. "Into your hearts," says the apostle. As the sunbeams only awaken the sensation of light when they fall upon a receptive and sensitive eye, so the revelation of God's character implies a receptive and responsive heart. Though light ever shines from Christ, multitudes have no benefit or enjoyment from it. When the heart turns like the sunflower to the light, then the day dawns within, and the whole spiritual nature comes to bask in the light of God.
V. WHY THE LIGHT SHINES. In answer to this may be summed up the whole spiritual purpose and significance of the Christian revelation.
1. That we may perceive it. It is, alas! possible to hide from the light at noonday. But those who welcome the heavenly light rejoice in it, are guided by it, and know its power to inspire hope eternal.
2. That we may walk in it. "Walk ye in the light of the Lord;" "Walk in the light while ye have the light." For God's truth is profitable to all men, having the faculty of directing those who will be led by it into paths of wisdom, peace, and life.
3. That we may reflect it. The light of God is not absorbed by the soul that receives it. It is shed upon those who are around. Christians are "the light of the world"—are "light bearers," through whose agency the earth is to be filled with the radiance of spiritual and immortal noon.—T.
2 Corinthians 4:7 - Spiritual treasure.
In this Epistle Paul speaks more frankly and warmly than in any other of his compositions of the ministry which was the work of his life. It is observable, however, that, in treating of this ministry, whilst he uses the most honourable terms in characterizing the office, he displays the utmost humility in what he says of himself.
I. PRICELESS TREASURE.
1. What it is. It is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." It is the truth which Paul declared, the gospel which he preached, the mystery which he unfolded. The promise of free pardon for sin, of a new law and power for life, was what the apostles were privileged to convey to mankind. This is still, as it was then, the true wealth of the world, which enriches the mind and heart of man.
2. Upon whose authority this "treasure" is so described. This is the highest authority, that of the Divine Christ, who designates his gospel the "true riches," "the treasure hid in the field," "the pearl of great price;" who reminds us of "treasure in heaven;" who tells us that "where our treasure is, there will our heart be also;" who counsels to buy of him "gold tried in the furnace."
3. What makes this treasure so valuable? It is unvaryingly satisfying: it is inexhaustible; it is enduring, and not like the "riches that take to themselves wings;" it is accessible to all, so that the poor in this world, having it, are "rich in faith."
II. EARTHEN VESSEL.
1. Explain the figure. As Eastern kings stored their gold, silver, and jewels in earthen jars, so a plain casket may hold a costly jewel, a miry soil may yield an abundant crop, a battered ship may carry a precious freight, a lamp of clay may give a brilliant light, a mean book as to appearance may contain noble thoughts. So it is no objection against the gospel that those who preach it are in many respects unworthy of an office so dignified.
2. Exhibit its application. Christ was apparently a peasant, a carpenter's son; yet he was the Son of God most high. The apostles were fishermen, toll takers, tent makers; yet they were the heralds of salvation to mankind. The upper rooms where the early disciples met were not comparable to heathen temples, but they were scenes of Divine communion. Among those who frequented the assemblies where Christian ordinances were observed were not many noble or great, but there were inheritors of the kingdom of God. The apostle was deeply conscious of defects and weakness, was often distressed by humiliations and persecutions and contempt. His frail body, his fallible judgment, his imperfect character, his lowly and harassed condition, all contrasted with the preciousness of the gospel which was deposited in his heart and ministered by his labours. If it was so in the case of St. Paul, how much more manifestly was it so in the case of those tar less gifted and far more burdened with infirmity!
III. DIVINE GREATNESS. To what purpose was this arrangement which the apostle here describes? He himself gives the true reason.
1. That all Christian labourers may feel their littleness and their weakness.
2. That they may recognize the exceeding greatness of the spiritual power of God.
3. That they may give Heaven the glory, alike for what they receive and for what they impart.—T.
2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18 - Divine discipline.
In this pathetic and sublime passage Paul reveals to us his own spiritual experience. And the great lesson which he conveys for the fortifying of Christian faith and endurance, and for the inspiration of Christian hope, comes home to the heart with tenfold power, because it is so manifestly a lesson which he himself is learning, through the stress of earthly sorrow and the lapse of laborious years.
I. THE REVEALED PURPOSE OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE. Though oftentimes men fail to recognize the truth, there is in reality a purpose in human life, a purpose wise, beneficent, Divine.
1. The means: affliction. By this is intended here what is endured in Christ's service; as, for example, by missionaries and evangelists. Yet in the case of the true Christian affliction of every kind partakes of this character. The apostle says of affliction that it is "light" in quality, and that it is "momentary" in the time of its incidence. This is evidently a matter of comparison; for it is only when compared with the "weight" and the "eternity" of glory that earthly affliction can be denominated light and transitory.
2. The end: glory. This is future; for the present state is not characterized by this quality, save as a stormy day may be diversified by rays of light which break through the riven clouds. It is Christ's glory, such as that into which he entered when he had accomplished his vicarious sufferings. And, being such, it is weighty and eternal.
II. THE CONDITIONS UPON WHICH THE CHRISTIAN PROFITS BY DIVINE DISCIPLINE. In this passage God's part and ours are interwoven together. We can only receive the advantage by submitting to and falling in with the intentions of God. It is not a matter of course that the afflicted should be the better for their painful experience.
1. What is seen, what is known by sense, must be regarded and dealt with as of inferior importance, as soon to pass away. Men are prone to exaggerate the events of this perishing life; but Christians must see them as they appear to God.
2. The regards must be steadily fixed upon the unseen; i.e. upon the Christ who has gone before us, and who is apprehended in the exercise of faith; upon the heaven which is to be rest to the weary, joy to the sad, relief to the burdened; upon the God who, though invisible, is "near unto all who call upon him," and is the true Life of all holy souls. It must be remembered that these realities, in which Christians are deeply, supremely interested, are eternal. Over them decay, time, and death have no power; of them the glorious things of earth can give but the promise and the earnest.
3. Thus shall strength be experienced to endure what is appointed for us to bear on earth; and thus shall an aspiring hope anticipate the glory which shall hereafter be revealed.—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 - How men should preach.
I. WITH FAITH. Many preach with despair and prepare the way for failure. We should reflect that the preaching of the gospel is the divinely appointed way for saving men. We are likely to have success if we lay hold of God when we seek to lay hold of men. Our own salvation furnishes abundant evidence of the Divine power to save. "God shined in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 4:6); "We obtained mercy" (2 Corinthians 4:1). What God has done for us he can do for others. And we have the Divine promise that the Word shall not return unto God void. "Light shall shine out of darkness" (2 Corinthians 4:6). We must seek a faith which will prevent us from fainting even when the outlook is darkest (2 Corinthians 4:1). If we have not faith, how can we expect our hearers to have it?
II. WITH COURAGE. We must not faint because of foes. Many an assault upon strongholds has failed because of half-heartedness and cowardice. Preachers should be very bold and very brave. We have nothing to be ashamed of in our message. Shall the devil's work be done more bravely than Christ's? Shall the highest service on earth be marked by vacillation and timidity? "But that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20). The Church would be more aggressive if she were more courageous. Preachers should have stout hearts as well as tender ones.
III. WITH PERSEVERANCE. We must not faint because of difficulties. Discouragements are many, but persistency will bury them all. The preacher's motto must be, "On! on! on!" He must spend and be spent in the service. After the manner ascribed to British soldiers, Christ's soldiers must never know when they are worsted. "Line upon line, precept upon precept." Many things come to the preacher who can wait and work.
IV. WITH GREAT HONESTY AND SINCERITY, "Not walking in craftiness" (2 Corinthians 4:2). The preacher who wants his hearers to walk in holy ways must not walk in devious ways himself. He must not be a trickster. Some seem willing to do anything to please; but the object of the ministry is not to please. Meat cut with a dirty knife is likely to become unsavoury, and the gospel administered with knavish arts will lose its beauty and power.
V. WITH PURE DOCTRINE. "Not handling the Word of God deceitfully" (2 Corinthians 4:2). "Manifestation of the truth" (2 Corinthians 4:2). Christ gives us pure doctrine to preach, find woe unto us if we adulterate it! We must not season it to the tastes of the carnal, or keep back portions likely to offend influential sinners.
1. We preach in the sight of God. How, then, dare we tamper with his troth!
2. We are to commend ourselves to every man's conscience. Nothing but preaching the truth will do this. We may commend ourselves to men's fancies by preaching our own, and to their predilections by trimming doctrines according to their demands; but only by preaching pure doctrine shall we reach the consciences of men. Theological juggling may please men not a little; gospel doctrine will convict them. To our own Master we stand or fall. 'Tis a poor thing to please men if we displease him. Let Luther's caustic saying, "Counterfeits of money are burned, but falsifiers of God's Word are canonized," be never so true, the preacher must adhere to the doctrine delivered to him, though he lose all earthly things by doing so. In a heterodox world nothing is so likely to be so popular as heterodoxy.
VI. WITH PURITY OF LIFE. "We have renounced the hidden things of shame" (2 Corinthians 4:2). If we preach we should practise, Christianity is often weak because Christians are inconsistent. Men want to see the gospel as well as hear it. A preacher must live as well as talk. A man cannot preach without himself. There is always more in the pulpit than the sermon—there is the man. We inevitably wonder what the gospel has done for the gospel preacher when he so earnestly recommends it to us. And life has a strange power of revealing itself in preaching. It peeps out. If the preacher has a Judas-life it will betray him sooner or later. But when the man speaks as well as his sermon, a mighty influence is exerted. The light must shine in our own hearts and lives (2 Corinthians 4:6).
VII. WITH DISCERNMENT AS TO CAUSES OF NON-SUCCESS. The apostle teaches that those who reject the gospel when faithfully proclaimed are those whose minds are blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). They have yielded themselves so utterly to evil influences that the gracious message of God through Christ fails to interest or arouse them. They are "perishing." Their rejection of the gospel says nought against the gospel or against the manner of its promulgation. The fault is not in it or in the preacher, but in themselves. It is well for a preacher to realize the possibility of such cases, so that undue discouragement may be avoided when they are met with.
VIII. WITH HUMILITY AND SELF-SUBORDINATION.
1. Preachers are not to preach themselves (2 Corinthians 4:5). A man may very easily preach himself even when he takes his text out of the Bible. There is not a little temptation sometimes to ministers to preach themselves. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
2. Preachers are to be servants for Jesus' sake (2 Corinthians 4:5); servants of those to whom they preach. Not only servants of Christ, but servants of men—"your servants"—for Christ's sake. The preacher who would win souls must sacrifice self. For acoustics it is well for the pulpit to be above the people, but not otherwise. He who would catch fish must not be seen.
IX. WITH LOYALTY TO CHRIST. (2 Corinthians 4:5.) Preachers must be true in all things to him from whom they have received their commission. They must believe in him, love him, follow him, preach him, live him, obey him, and in all things seek to glorify him.—H.
2 Corinthians 4:7 - "Earthen vessels."
I. GOD HAS CHOSEN AS MINISTERS OF HIS GOSPEL "EARTHEN VESSELS,"
1. Not angels or other celestial beings. Not heavenly vessels, but earthly.
II. THESE EARTHEN VESSELS ARE HELD IN THE DIVINE HAND.
1. They are thus preserved. "He had in his right hand seven stars" (Revelation 1:16). Often they seem in peril. "Pressed on every side… perplexed… pursued… smitten down" (2 Corinthians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 4:9); but the vessel is not allowed to be broken until it has done its work.
2. They are thus useful.
(1) They are in the Divine hand to be filled.
(2) They are in the Divine hand to be poured forth from.
(3) They are in the Divine hand sometimes to be shaken, and the shaking of the vessel often makes the contents more efficacious.
III. A GREAT TREASURE IS COMMITTED TO THE EARTHEN VESSELS. The treasure is the truth as it is in Jesus—the great gospel message. Christ's ministers are vessels to hold this treasure and to dispense it to those to whom they minister.
1. Ministers have not to originate what they convey. It is given to them by their Master. The vessel is filled by a Divine hand from a Divine source.
2. Ministers have not to convey themselves to their people. The people do not want the vessel, but its contents. "We preach not ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:5). An earthen vessel is poor food for folks to live upon, and poor medicine for a sin-sick soul to be cured with. The "vessel" must be "the servant" (2 Corinthians 4:5). Even an alabaster box may well be broken that the precious ointment may be poured forth.
3. The contents are apt to taste of the vessel. This must be avoided as much as possible. The less of ourselves and the more of Christ that we convey to men the better. The contents must change the vessel, not the vessel the contents. The preacher must be Christ's as well as his message. "We also believe, and therefore speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13).
IV. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE EARTHEN VESSELS AND THEIR CONTENTS. A treasure; and what a treasure! For it how long the world has been waiting! What marvels it has to work! What wonders it has wrought! And committed to "earthen vessels"! No royal vessels for this royal gift. What honour to the vessels chosen! A minister of Jesus Christ!—how poor all other titles are compared with this!
V. THE OBJECT OF THE DIVINE CHOICE.
1. The uninterrupted working of the Divine power. An "earthen vessel" can do nothing but receive and pour forth. What egregious folly for a minister of Christ to seek to enter into partnership with his Lord for the production of a theology! The earthen vessel cannot do anything, and should not attempt to.
2. The glory of the Divine Being. No glory can attach to the mere earthen vessel. God is "all in all." This should be the desire of every servant of God. Many, it is to be feared, are robbers of God in this matter. They snatch at the glory to which they have not the smallest claim.
VI. THE FUTURE OF THE EARTHEN VESSELS. They will be raised up (2 Corinthians 4:14).
1. Made glorious. "This mortal must put on immortality." "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Corinthians 15:49). The "vile body" will be exchanged for a "glorious body." We shall be made like Christ. The earthen vessels will be transformed into the likeness of him who filled them. The change is taking place whilst the earthen vessels are in the earthly service. "Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). But when we see him as he is we shall be like him.
2. Fitted for higher service. Heavenly activities. We know not how closely associated the earthly service is with the heavenly, how much the one may depend upon the other, how much the one will influence and shape the other. Let us make the earthly service as true and perfect as we may.—H.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 - Heavy affliction made light.
Paul's troubles were exceedingly heavy. So the troubles of many believers have been and are. The sufferings of saints often seem severer than those of sinners. For them the furnace is made seven times hotter. But Paul with his heavy sorrows speaks of them as light, and speaks of them as they really seemed to him to be under the conditions to which he refers. No affliction could well be heavier than his, and yet it was light. So is the believer's—
I. WHEN HE CONSIDERS DURING HOW SMALL A PORTION OF HIS LIFE IT HAS TO BE BORNE. It is but "for a moment." Not so long as a second contrasted with a thousand years. Eternity makes time short. Our troubles are like Pharaoh's horsemen—they cannot pass the Red Sea of death. In this flash of our existence we may weep, but in the ever-continuing life of heaven we shall rejoice.
"There shall I bathe my weary soul
In seas of heavenly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll
Across my peaceful breast."
Our cross is borne but for a moment, our crown forever.
II. WHEN HE CONTRASTS THE PRESENT BRIEF TROUBLE WITH THE ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY. True thoughts of heaven prevent exaggerated views of earthly, sorrows. When the future is shut out we can easily sit down and lament, but when faith sees the "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 1:4), our present griefs dwindle into insignificance. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed" (Romans 8:18). Why should we be disquieted so much by these things when those are so near? Shadows hang heavily over us until the sunshine of the coming glory breaks through the clouds, and then the shadows flee away. Why should we concentrate thought upon the short present when the long future is so fair? If we think much of the home, the journey homewards will seem short, and the troubles of the way of little account. Every hour of sorrow brings us an hour nearer the land that is sorrowless. And what shall we possess there? The apostle strives in vain to find language sufficiently strong to describe even what he on earth could perceive of heaven—"more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
III. WHEN THE MEANING OF PRESENT TROUBLE IS REALIZED. To the true child of God:
1. It may mean the destruction of the outward man, but it assuredly means the renewal and development of the inward. It is not even present injury—it is present good. It is medicine, not poison.
2. It prepares us for the coming glory. The fire consumes the dross, the knife cuts away the diseased part, the chisel strikes off that which would impair the beauty of the statue. The apprenticeship of sorrow fits us for the long service of glory. Through much tribulation we enter the kingdom and are prepared top its duties. The joys of heaven are dependent on the sorrows of earth; without the latter we should not be ready for the former. "Tribulation worketh patience," etc. (Romans 5:3).
3. Whilst suffering cannot in any way merit salvation, affliction rightly endured shall not be without reward. If we fight the fight of faith, and endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we shall receive a crown of righteousness which fadeth not away. "If we suffer we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12).
1. Faint not. Many faint because they see no reason why they should not faint. Yet all reasons point the Christian to patient endurance. If we lose heart we lose strength. To despair is to charge our Master with unfaithfulness. Seek to be a good swimmer in the sea of trouble, and if the waves go over you, still faint not, for soon you will rise to the surface again, and see that the shore is nearer.
2. Be not much concerned about the things of this life. (2 Corinthians 4:18.) These are perishing. The imperishable are our better portion. Look not at the things which are seen; they are not worth looking at. "Set your affection on things above" (Colossians 3:2.)
3. Look at things unseen by the carnal sense, but clear to faith's vision. (2 Corinthians 4:18.) God, Christ, holiness, usefulness, spiritual joys, the new Paradise,—these are "eternal."—H.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
2 Corinthians 4:5 - Not self, but the Lord.
Two imputations had been cast on St. Paul during his absence from Corinth, and to each of these this verse contains a reply. It had been said that he sought commendation; and he answered that he set forth, not himself, but his Lord. It had been said that he tried to domineer over the Churches; and he answered that he was a servant of the Church for Jesus' sake.
I. THE PROMINENCE GIVEN TO THE LORD. "We preach not ourselves." By this disclaimer is not meant that the apostle excluded all reference to his own faith or experience, and maintained an altogether impersonal tone while delivering Christian testimony and instruction to the Churches. Extant specimens of his preaching and writing indicate the contrary. St. Paul freely spoke of his own experience of the mercy of God and sustaining grace of Christ, of his faith and hope, his sorrow and joy. So have all wise and successful ministers of the Word of life shown their own hearts to the people as holding the gospel precious. They have said, "What we preach to you we ourselves know and believe; what we commend to your acceptance we have ourselves accepted and proved; so we come before you, not merely as messengers by whom tidings are sent, but also as witnesses who can testify that those tidings are true." The apostle spoke and wrote freely of himself, but did not preach himself, i.e. did not set himself before the people as the leader or the Saviour. It was the fault of those factious teachers at Corinth, who tried to disparage the authority of St. Paul, that they commended themselves, taught their own speculations, eyed their own advancement, and drew away disciples after them. This was what the apostle disclaimed and abhorred, and what all preachers of the gospel must scrupulously, and even jealously, avoid. It is positively fatal to spiritual success to project one's self before the people instead of setting forth the all-sufficiency of Christ Jesus, the living Essence of the gospel. Some one complained to the excellent William Romaine of his constantly preaching Christ; and he answered, "We have nothing else to preach;" i.e. we preach nothing separate from him or disconnected with him. All sound doctrine converges towards, and all acceptable obedience issues from, the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. "Preach the Law," the Jews demanded of Paul; and he preached Christ, the end of the Law to every believer. "Preach wisdom," cried the Greeks; and he preached Christ as the Wisdom of God. "Preach practical virtues and good conduct," cry many modern critics and monitors; and we must preach Christ in order to make hearts new, and so make lives pure and upright from the roots. It is not enough to teach the existence of God, his attributes of being and character, his all-controlling providence, or even his universal fatherhood. We preach Jesus, the Teacher, the Healer, the Saviour, the Son of God. We preach him as Christ, the Messiah announced in ancient prophecy, who should suffer many things and so enter into his glow. And we preach Jesus Christ as Lord. He is Lord of all. He is Lord both of the dead and of the living. He is Lord "to the glory of God the Father." Do any think this impracticable? Do they point to the ignorance that has to be removed, vice to be restrained, selfishness to be corrected, and count it a mere waste of time to speak so much of a Personage who lived, and the things which he said and did in Judaea ever so long ago? Do they ask, "What good can this do?" We are bold to answer—If this will not do good, nothing will. Moral directions and monitions cannot lift men out of themselves or raise them above low levels of thought and conduct. There must be some new and near relation to God, some help from heaven; and this is gained only through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. In no other way have been produced powerful and permanent transmutations of human character. In no other way are men rescued from evil habits and made good, and kind, and just, and pure. Therefore we will persist in preaching what Paul preached.
II. THE PLACE TAKES BY THE APOSTOLIC PREACHER. We do not wish to lord it over the Church. "We are your servants for Jesus' sake." The factious teachers at Corinth sought their own advancement, and, judging St. Paul by themselves, alleged that he assumed more authority than he was entitled to, and wished to play dictator to the Churches. The sensitive and generous heart of the apostle acutely felt the imputation. He was, indeed, bound to assert his apostolate, but, absorbed as he was with the thought of his Saviour's authority as Lord, he abhorred the idea of claiming lordship over God's Church, and was careful to describe himself as a servant, and to associate with himself by name such fellow servants as Silas and Timothy. Much more are modern ministers of the Word, while maintaining the reality and dignity of their ministry, to beware of anything that savours of lordly assumption. They are servants of the saints for Jesus' sake. Not for the sake of men, or for any inducement or remuneration which men can offer. They are not employes of the people, engaged by them to do their religious work, and responsible to them for their conduct, in fact, they are servants of the people, and yet the people are not their masters. One is their Master, even Christ; and they serve the Church under his orders and for his sake. So Jesus Christ himself became the Servant of all because he was God's elect Servant. Among his followers it is always better and nobler to serve than to be served. What an example Paul showed as a servant for Jesus' sake!—wearing out his frame in severe and dangerous travels and voyages, caring for all the Churches, praying for them, writing to them, visiting and revisiting them, running all risks, enduring all things—even that which was hardest of all, the ingratitude and fickleness of those to whom he had ministered—that he might fulfil the service which had been assigned to him by the Lord Jesus. Others might spare themselves, but he never did. "I will most gladly spend and be Slant for your souls." It is a high standard; but we do well to keep lofty models before us, and try to rise to them according to the necessity and opportunity of our own time, and the ability which is given to us of God.—F.
2 Corinthians 4:6 - Light of the knowledge of Divine glory.
The Christianity of St. Paul was not a formulated religion, but the revelation or unveiling of God in his Son our Savior.
I. THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST. In that face, turned so graciously on the sons of men, is not merely the glow of human sympathy and pity, but the ineffable glory of the most high God. There is no thought here of the comparison sometimes made between the Divine glory in creation and that glory in redemption. The contrast still in the apostle's mind is between the Law and the gospel. He recalls the glory of God that once shone on the face of Moses as he descended from the holy mount; and he sets above it the glory in the face of Jesus Christ. The lustre on the prophet's countenance was transient, and its effect on the people was only to agitate them and make them desirous to have it softened by a veil. But Christ is the permanent and gracious Image of God; and he reveals it, not to drive men away in terror, but to save them and change them into the same image.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST. Without this the salvation in the gospel profits us not. We can determine nothing about the benefit which may be derived from or through Christ by those who have had no opportunity to hear of him or know him. That will be as God sees meet. But to us who have the gospel, the blessing must come through spiritual knowledge. It knowledge of law and ordinances could save, Paul would have been saved while he was a Pharisee; but he entered not on a state of salvation till he gave up all for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. Taught by his own experience, he commended this knowledge to others. It was his daily care and effort to spread abroad that knowledge. And its propagation in the early ages of Christianity seemed like a fulfilment of the ancient prophecy that "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."
III. THE LIGHT OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST. God was light. The nations, estranged from him, sat in darkness. In Judaea there was a lamp for his Name, but it was dim. Pharisaic pride and Sadducean scepticism threatened to put it out. Then the true Light came into the world. And now, as Christ becomes known in the Spirit to this man or that, he lights up both mind and heart. There is to every believer a revelation of the Lord. It is a light above all other lights—calm, pure, searching, gladdening. And the shedding abroad of the light of Christ and the love of God is always by the operation of the Holy Ghost. Thus "the excellency of the knowledge" of God in Christ is imparted by "the excellency of the power" of the Spirit.—F.
2 Corinthians 4:7 - The lamp in the pitcher.
This verse is often quoted to express human insufficiency for the ministry of the gospel. It deserves to be quoted, for, if St. Paul felt so deeply his powerlessness without God, how much more should this feeling influence ordinary ministers of the Word of life!
I. THE TREASURE. Paul, working in the factory making tents, or passing through the street undistinguished by dress or retinue, may have been taken for a poor artisan. But he was conscious of possessing a treasure by the use and distribution of which he, while poor, made many rich. It was no store of silver or gold. It was not even the treasure of intellectual eminence, the wealth of a large and lofty mind; for, though he had this, he could not impart it to others. It was the ministry of righteousness and liberty whereby he communicated to his fellow men "the unsearchable riches of Christ." There is no need to draw a distinction here between the ministry which is the topic of the whole context and the light of knowledge which is the immediately preceding subject. In the apostle's thought these are intimately and necessarily combined and together constitute the treasure. It was as an illuminated man that he showed the light to others. And so at this day, only a man in whom the true light shines can be a minister of Christ. But who has the light may spread the knowledge of the glory of God, and has a treasure better than silver and more to be desired than fine gold.
II. THE EARTHEN VESSELS. It was and is the custom of Orientals to keep valuables and money in jars which might be hid, and, in case of danger, might be buried underground. A mere earthen jar might thus contain an enormous treasure. Alluding to this, St. Paul pointed to his own body, hard pressed by labours and afflictions. His bodily presence was weak. He had no external advantages for making an impression on either Jews or Greeks. Yet in such an earthen vessel was contained a treasure beyond all computation, and not needing to have its worth enhanced by adventitious surroundings. If we think of the treasure as one of light—the light of the knowledge of God's glory—there is a story in the Old Testament which may illustrate the phrase. The followers of Gideon had their lamps in pitchers, or earthen vessels, when they stole a march on the invaders from Midian, and, with sound of trumpet and loud war shouts, fell upon their camp. So, by the light in earthen vessels, with the trumpet notes of their testimony, did the apostles and other early preachers assail and defeat those opposing powers of the world that would have laughed at their weakness. It is still the same. Gospel victories are gained, not by a great array of human might, but by the treasure of light in earthen vessels, and by the shout of faith that makes appeal to Heaven.
III. THE POWER. "That the excellency," etc. This corresponds to the previous expression, "excellency of the knowledge," and both illustrate an Hebraic form of the superlative. The excellency of the power was that surpassing energy which, in St. Paul's time, attended the ministry of the gospel, and bore down the most formidable opposition. The contrast between the power of the ministry and the weakness of the ministers struck the apostle in thinking of his own early labours at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). It is a remarkable, and in some respects a mortifying, fact that the modem Christian ministry, with all its advantages of special training, public respect, and perfect protection by law, shows less of conscience convincing and heart compelling power than the primitive ministry did when it was surrounded by difficulty and threatened with death. When it seemed weak, it was strong; and now that it seems strong, it is weak. As some explanation of this, it is only fair to admit that the modern ministry in Christendom has no longer the charm which lies in novelty. It has to be exercised where the terms and facts of our religion are already known, and the Holy Bible is the most widely circulated book. And when it goes to fresh fields, as India, China, or Japan, it has this disadvantage as compared with the apostolic ministry, that in those countries there is no such preparation for the gospel as there was in the countries and cities which were visited by St. Paul. The settlements of Jews, and the very considerable number of proselytes who knew the Old Testament in the Greek Version, and looked for a Messiah, gave an important facility to the Christian preacher, who formed out of them an intelligent nucleus round which to gather his converts from among the heathen; whereas now preachers must go to heathen communities that know not their language, and are wedded to religious conceptions quite different from those in which the missionaries have been trained, and, if there be Christians living among the heathen, holding office or in pursuit of commerce, too often they impede rather than promote the success of the gospel. All this may be recognized, and still it is true that the ministry might and should exert much more spiritual power everywhere than it does. Let prayer be made for this, since the power belongs to God, and only he can enable the ministers of his Word to overcome the dulness of religious routine as well as the hardness of anti-religious prejudice, to sober the frivolous; to abase the proud; to arrest minds that engross themselves with trifles, and recover those that have debased themselves with fleshly vice or avaricious deceit; to wound and to heal; to warn and to win; to kill and to make alive. Oh for power to prevail, to search the breasts of men, to make conscience start and hearts quiver, to reprove sin, to shatter vain excuses, to kindle new resolves and hopes! We cannot do it; but he who supplied all sufficiency to St. Paul can supply it to us, "Our sufficiency is of God."—F.
2 Corinthians 4:9 - "Cast down, but not destroyed."
In ministering the Word, we need to play, if we may so speak, on various instruments of music. We take the silver trumpet when we would utter "the joyful sound." We take the harp when we show forth God's praise. What shall we take for encouragement and comfort to the weary? As a great poetess has it—
"Experience, like a pale musician, holds
A dulcimer of patience in his hand."
Let us play on the dulcimer. A good man struggling with adversity has been the subject of many moral reflections. We want to go further than the moralist, and show how the man of God is preserved in time of trouble. What heroism in the immortal Jew of Tarsus! All the sharp ordeal through which he passed—his personal disadvantages, the disparagement by false apostles jealous of his influence, the coldness of former friends when he was in bonds at Rome, the hardship and misconstruction under which his great work had been done,—all served only to bring out more fully the singleness of his aim and fortitude of his spirit—
"And give the world assurance of a man."
"Struck down, but not destroyed." Trouble threw him down, as one wrestler might throw another in the arena; but the cast was not mortal. He revived, for Christ lived in him. Nay; his sufferings increased his usefulness, No follower of Christ ever made such an impression on mankind, or did so much for the gospel, as this troubled, persecuted, perplexed, cast down Paul of Tarsus. Times have changed. Religious liberty prevails. Gross forms of persecution for confessing Christ are prevented by law and condemned by public sentiment. But it does not follow that the course of a faithful Christian is made easy. It is often beset with difficulty, broken, and uneven. Good men are "cast down;" and it is painful to have the skin grazed, even when the bones are not broken. Under such disappointing experiences feeble souls are apt to become more timid and more querulous, while bolder natures grow selfish and cynical. These last, if they have been struck down when grappling with something to them impracticable or forbidden, resolve to knock others down, and, if need be for their own interest, trample on them. But natures that are sweet and sound learn wisdom, consideration for others, and knowledge of themselves through hard experience. And hearts that trust in God have this joy in the worst defeat, that they are not, they cannot be, destroyed. Life is not wrecked by every trouble or by a score of troubles. A mistake may be the very making of a man, if he knows how to correct it. If the way is blocked in one direction, other paths are open. And if helpers fail and friends forsake, God still lives. We do not, indeed, conceal from ourselves that some overthrows cannot be quite remedied in this world; some losses are irreparable on earth, just as some diseases are incurable. But no Christian needs to be inconsolable. If he be stripped of ever so much that he valued, his best treasure remains, and is above the reach of worldly vicissitude. There is a good part which shall not be taken away. Thus life is always worth living. For a brave man it cannot be utterly wrecked by misfortune. For a devout man it cannot be shattered, though once and again struck down to the ground. The good Shepherd restores the soul. But many are the uses of adversity. Remember your faults and correct them; your mistakes, and avoid them; but do not waste time in vain regrets or temper in weak complaints. What purpose does it serve to brood over disappointment and "feed with sighs the passing wind"? How much better to gird up your purpose and make the best of what is left to you of time, strength, and opportunity! You may yet stand all the more firmly because of that casting down. The ill you have suffered may lead to higher good. "Though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day." God knows how to give—
"Secret refreshings that repair your strength,
And fainting spirits uphold."
2 Corinthians 4:16 - Inward renewal and outward decay.
The contrast here is not that which the apostle draws elsewhere between the flesh and the spirit, or the old man and the new. That is a moral distinction. But this is between the physical and the spiritual in man, the outward and palpable on the one hand, the inward and impalpable on the other. These are intimately connected. They have a constant sympathy. An aching body jades the mind; an aching mind jades the body. A healthy body invigorates the mind; a cheerful mind sustains the body. Each affects and is affected by the other. Yet there is sometimes witnessed a glorious mastery over outward disadvantages by the force of the inward man. The heroic mind is firm, even when the physical frame is shattered. And nothing is so productive of this heroism as faith. They who have "the same spirit of faith" as was in Paul "faint not."
I. OF INWARD RENEWAL. The case in view is that of a regenerate man. It is assumed that spiritual life has been received. And now it is shown that "the washing of regeneration" is followed by "the renewing of the Holy Ghost." Good men are liable to fits of inward fainting, languor, and emotional deadness, when they are in great danger of being overcome by temptation. Therefore they need to pray often for a stronger life. "Renew a right spirit within me."
1. Wherein is the inner man renewed? In righteousness and holiness of truth" (Ephesians 4:24). And so in all spiritual strength—the power of resistance to sin, of self-denial, of patience, and of generous charitable action.
2. Whereby is the inner man renewed? By the power of God; by the energy of the Holy Ghost. It is he who, with the Word of truth, makes vivid demonstration of righteousness to the conscience, strengthens holy purpose in the will, and gives fervour to devout affections in the breast,
3. How often is the inner man renewed? "Day by day." Not that all days are alike. As a nation has its special dates in history, days by which its future has been moulded, on which its decisive battles were fought or its independence was won, so may a Christian man have his dates more or less clearly marked, outstanding and precious days by which his spiritual history has been determined, on which his fight of faith was well fought, and his liberty in Christ became established and sure. But while we recognize special days or eras of spiritual progress, we are disposed to say that in grace, as in nature, the ordinary is, after all, more expressive of Divine goodness than the extraordinary, and more essential to our welfare. The daily revival and maintenance of spiritual life is a better and greater thing than any occasional and exceptional blessing. "He holdeth our souls in life." The strength, moral as well as physical, which is daily expended is also daily restored. John Bunyan makes the Christian pilgrim see a man secretly feeding with oil a fire on which another cast water, and the fire burned "hotter and hotter." The Interpreter explained it of Christ's secret and constant renewal of the sacred fire in "the souls of his people."
II. OF THE RELATION WHICH INWARD RENEWAL MAY BEAR TO OUTWARD DECAY. St. Paul was conscious of two changes—an outward descent to feebleness and earth, and an inward ascent to firmer strength and higher vitality.
1. The inward defies the outward. "Though our outward," etc. The constancy of the believing heart is all the more triumphant because of the feeble or decaying frame. What might of spirit has shown itself in tender women under acute suffering! What force of character and splendour of patience in men who scarcely had a day without bodily pain!
2. The inward renewal is often helped forward by the outward decay. It pleases God to further the spiritual life of his children in ways that are hard to flesh and blood. Indeed, we seldom see a keen relish for the things of the Spirit of God, a weaned spirit, a holy fervour—while the outward man is quite at ease and commands every gratification. There is need of trouble in the outer sphere to exercise and quicken the inner life. Bengel, near the end of his course, said to a friend, "Illnesses serve to quicken and enlarge us in spirit after we have been dwindling. When our spiritual lamp burns dimly, it is often because its wick needs retrenching; and retrenchments are made from time to time upon the outward man by sickness and affliction." Thus it is not merely "though," but also sometimes "because," our outward man perishes that our inward man is renewed. What a sad case is theirs whose outward man decays while there is no spiritual life in them! Time passes, health fails, life ebbs away, and there is nothing to put against it. The outward man perishes and the inward man perishes too. But why will ye die? The Lord wishes not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.—F.
2 Corinthians 4:18 - Seeing the unseen.
I. THE HABIT OF MIND HERE DESCRIBED. The apostle speaks, not of an act or effort, but of a steady mental habit which he had formed—an intentness of regard in a particular direction. He describes it in a form that sounds paradoxical, but the thing meant is well known to all experimental Christians. The things seen and not seen in this passage are not the visible and invisible by mortal eyes, as in Romans 1:20. The things not seen in the verse before us are so, not because they cannot be seen, but because the time has not yet come for their manifestation. The things seen, from which St. Paul turned away his eyes, were the toils and afflictions endured by him as a servant of Christ. The things not seen were the rewards of faithful service at the coming of the Lord—the "weight of glory." And the habit here indicated is that of looking off from labours and sufferings to the glorious appearing of the Lord, and the bright "recompense of reward." It is the highest form of looking on the cheerful side of things. As this is a habit, it must be formed by degrees and by reiterated efforts. By bending the mind as much as we can towards the future with Christ, we must train it to habitual expectation and desire.
II. THE REASON ASSIGNED FOR FORMING THIS HABIT. "For the things which are seen are," etc. St. Paul reflected that "the sufferings of the present time" were, after all, of short continuance. The affliction he endured was only for a moment as compared with the eternity before him. So he felt that he would outlive and triumph over all his trials. They were temporal, and so could not reach into the life beyond or mar the hope laid up for him in heaven. Was not this the way with the Divine Master himself? For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame. And so should all who are his bear the cross and endure patiently, because the time will not be long and the things not seen are eternal.
III. THE BENEFITS WHICH ACCOMPANY OR FLOW FROM THIS HABIT WHEN FORMED.
1. Elevation of the tone of life. Life is as its motives are; and the motives come from the convictions, fears, and hopes that are strongest in the mind. A superficial religion has not power enough to cleanse the heart or ennoble the principles of conduct. But a formed habit of regarding the things eternal as those to which we hasten must raise and refine the character. "Every one who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure." And this is no selfish hope, no egotistical ambition. It is the hope of being crowned along with all who love his appearing, and of being rewarded along with all the faithful servants of the King.
2. Consolation in hardship and adversity. Even when a lamp is not near enough to cast a clear light on our path, it is cheering to see it in a murky night; and so are we comforted as we look for the glory with Christ. We move towards it over ever so rugged a path. We steer towards it over ever so restless a sea. If we look at the things which are seen, the waves and the threatening rocks, we lose strength and courage; but with the eye fixed on the light of that blessed hope, we make straight for the harbour.
3. Preparation for departure hence. It is appointed to men to die. To take no thought about this appointment, and to occupy the mind with only the things that are seen, forgetting their transience, is to play the part of a fool. The wise man is he who, while fulfilling the duties of the passing time, looks much and steadily into the future, and so, when he departs, goes, not into regions unknown, but to the Saviour, whom he has loved and served, to wait with him and with all the saints for the resurrection and the glory.—F.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
2 Corinthians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 4:2 - Full confidence in the power of the truth.
"By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." The great work of the Christian ministry is to set forth before men the truth. But we are not to understand by that term all truth or any truth. Reference is precisely to that truth about God, and his relations with men, which had been partially revealed before, and was fully disclosed in Jesus Christ the Saviour. That special truth had been committed to the trust of the apostles. They were to proclaim it freely to men, as they had or could make opportunity. And they were to be sure that God would make that truth his power unto men's salvation. Referring to the work of the modern ministry, it has been well said that we have not so much "to tell the truth as to make the truth tell." The apostle, in these verses, reminds us of some things that are necessary if we would efficiently set forth the gospel truth.
I. PERSEVERANCE. "We faint not." There must be no shrinking back in face of difficulties, no losing heart because things will not go smoothly, no wearying in our well doing. St. Paul himself gave the noble example of what he enjoined. He did not count his life dear to him so that he might finish his course with joy. Succeed or fail, in strength or in weakness, he was "instant in season and out of season."
II. SIMPLICITY. The faithful minister will absolutely refuse all merely sensational aids to his work. He will wholly separate himself from worldly and guileful schemes for accomplishing his ends. He will refuse in any way to "do evil that good may come." It had been made an accusation against the apostle that he had shown craftiness and guile in his dealings with the Churches. This charge he most vigorously rebutted, and was led to urge that guilelessness is essential to the faithful minister, whose conduct and motives may be searched through and through. Illustration may be taken from the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He resorted to no arts, or schemes, or tricks, either of speech or of conduct. His work was simple. It was the living of a life, the delivery of a message, a genuine effort to bless and save men.
III. FAITH. In the witness which the truth ever makes, and the response to it which is always given by men's consciences. We may preach with this confidence—conscience will surely acknowledge the claim of God, and the guilt of sin, and the need of redemption. Men may indeed silence conscience and put away the truth, but we always have this assurance—the best and deepest in every man responds, to our message.
IV. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF BEING UNDER GOD'S EYE. "In the sight of God." That Divine presence the minister realizes as the fulfilment of Christ's words, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." There is a hardness and coldness about the idea that we should work "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye." There is warmth, tender sympathy, and inspiration in the assurance that the spiritual "Man, Christ Jesus," is with us everywhere.
In conclusion, such points as these need careful treatment,
1. Is this confidence in the power of the truth justified by experience?
2. Does Christ's truth ever really stand in peril?
3. If so, from what sources or in what directions does the peril come? Agencies and organizations and human moulds imperil it, and in every age men are raised up who can set Christ's truth free from our human limitations and bondages. The true revival is the freeing of the truth to win its own good way. We can have no ground for glorying comparable to this—"the Word of God is not bound."—R.T.
2 Corinthians 4:4 - Christ as the Image of God.
"The glorious gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God." From 1 Corinthians 11:7 we learn that there is a sense in which man is the "image and glory of God." In Colossians 1:15 the Son of God is spoken of as the "Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature." The word used in our text is exactly equivalent to our word "likeness." "An image, or likeness, is a visible representation of an object. So Christ, in his humanity, is a visible representation of the unseen God life revelation of the wisdom and power of God that man has received can compare with that made in the life, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Son." The point to which we ask attention is this—the gospel sets forth the glory of Christ. But, when it is rightly viewed, this is found to be the setting forth of the glory of God. For God can only be known in image and symbol; and this is the perfect and wholly satisfactory image, precisely adapted to our human faculties and necessities. Jesus Christ is the "Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of his person." His sonship is the earthly presentation of the Divine fatherhood. The Son is the very image of the Father. Philips Brooks well says, "This is the sum of the work of the Incarnation. A hundred other statements regarding it, regarding him who was incarnate, are true; but all statements concerning him hold their truth within this truth—that Jesus came to restore the fact of God's fatherhood to man's knowledge, and to its central place of power over man's life. Jesus is mysteriously the Word of God made flesh. He is the Worker of amazing miracles upon the bodies and the souls of men. He is the Convincer of sin. He is the Saviour by suffering. But, behind all these, as the purpose for which be is all these, he is the Redeemer of man into the fatherhood of God." Christ brings the light of God's fatherly love to shine on prodigal and sinful sons; that light wakens the old son spirit in their hearts, and wins them home, in penitence and faith, to their heavenly Father. And just this is the mission of Christ and his gospel—to shine God's light into men's souls.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 4:6 - Light from God and light on God.
The new Revised Version makes an important alteration in this verse, reading it thus: "Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light [or, 'illumination'] of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
I. LIGHT FROM GOD IN CREATION, (Genesis 1:3.) The following points may be illustrated.
1. All material light, as a warming, life-giving, beautifying agent, is from God.
2. All moral light, as the intimation of what is good and right in the relationships of men, is from God.
3. All revelational light, as the unfolding of the mysteries belonging to God and his claim and mercy, must come directly from himself. On spiritual things man can have no knowledge, save as God is pleased freely to give it; and, on these higher themes, all light must be tempered to the capacity of those on whom it shines.
II. LIGHT ON GOD IN CHRIST. Calvin says of this verse, "A notable place, whence we learn that God is not to be investigated in his unsearchable height, for he inhabits the light unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16), but to be known as far as he reveals himself in Christ It is more useful for us to behold God as he appears in his only begotten Son than to investigate his secret essence." The face of Christ is said to reveal the glory of God, as the shining of Moses' face told of the splendour about the mount where he had been with God. But the glory of God is his redemption work. That showed
(4) holy purpose;
and all these we find in the face of Jesus Christ. Illustrate the power of expression, and the power of revealing thought and heart, that are in the human face, and then show how the face of the Lord Jesus reveals to us the "heart of God." Before Christ came God was a half known, if not an unknown, God. And the incomplete conceptions of him involved, too often, imperfect and unworthy conceptions. We now know the "true God and eternal life" in the face of Jesus, his manifested Son—or rather, his manifested Self.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 4:7 - Heavenly treasure in earthen vessels.
"It was the practice of Eastern kings, who stored up their treasures of gold and silver, to fill jars of earthenware with coin or bullion" (see Jeremiah 32:14). To this custom allusion is made. St. Paul says that in these frail bodies of ours, with their limited faculties and powers, in these "earthen vessels" we have that priceless treasure, the knowledge of the glory of God as a Redeemer. Cecil says, "The meanness of the earthen vessel which conveys to others the gospel treasure takes nothing from the value of the treasure. A dying hand may sign a deed of incalculable value; a shepherd's boy may point out the way to a philosopher; a beggar may be the bearer of a valuable present." Three points claim attention.
I. THE TREASURE. This may be regarded as
(1) a revelation,
(2) as a gospel,
(3) as a life.
In either respect, the personal Christ being the very Centre and Essence of it, he is properly the Treasure. Christ himself is our most sacred Trust. We have the one Saviour for men committed to our care. Then how jealously we should guard the treasure! and how wisely we should put it to use!
II. THE NEED FOR THE CONVEYANCE OF THIS TREASURE. For it is not to be stored up in hiding places, but somehow made the treasure of all men. It is a spiritual treasure, and needs some kind of material conveyance. Christ himself must be ministered to men by his disciples.
III. THE VESSELS FOUND FOR THE DUE CONVEYANCE OF THE TREASURE. Humbly spoken of as earthly, or as mere earthenware. Enlarging upon them beyond St. Paul's immediate thought in the use of the term, we may show
(1) their frailty;
(2) their fitness, especially in that they do not take away the honour that is due to the treasure by directing attention to themselves;
(3) their safety, since God, who guards the treasure, will guard the vessel that holds it;
(4) their usefulness, as the human agency commends the heavenly truth; and
(5) their reward, for God will surely commend those who, in such a trust, are found faithful.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 4:10 - Suffering showing forth character.
It has been said that "affliction" is the one predominant word in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. And perhaps no other Epistle is so charged with wounded personal feeling and reminiscences of varied suffering. This may be explained by the circumstances under which this letter was written. Perhaps we do not sufficiently realize how much personal suffering, from disease and bodily infirmity, the apostle had to endure; and yet this is evidently the key to many of his intense expressions. Either from constitutional weakness, or in consequence of his many exposures, he had upon him some painful and humiliating form of disease, which was incurable; and this his enemies made the occasion of scorn and insult, until they wounded him to the very quick, and drove him to the throne of grace, seeking, with threefold importunity, to have the "thorn in the flesh" removed. When we apprehend this, we begin to feel the meaning of our text; he was "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus:" pain, disease, suffering—like a daily dying—brought on him in the fulfilment of his ministry for the Lord Jesus. But St. Paul never dwelt long on the merely sad side of things, and so he goes on to say—Even if our life on earth be like the dying of the Lord Jesus, this also is true, through our very suffering and dying, the life of Jesus is made manifest in our mortal flesh and earthly spheres. "St. Paul felt that every true human soul must repeat Christ's existence. He could bear to look on his decay; it was but the passing of the human; and, meantime, there was ever going on within him the strengthening of the Divine. Pain was sacred, since Christ also had suffered. And life became grand when viewed as a repetition of the life of Christ."
I. ST. PAUL'S CONCEPTION OF OUR LORD'S LIFE. It had been a daily dying which nevertheless showed up himself, in the glory of his character and spirit. The dying manifested to men the life that was in him. St. Paul had, probably, never seen Christ in the flesh, but it was given to him, by his fellowship of suffering, to understand better than all the rest what a suffering Saviour Jesus was. It is St. Paul who writes so much about the cross of the Lord Jesus. He dwells oftener than any other early teacher upon our Lord's death, but when you apprehend his meaning, you find that he looked upon Christ's whole life as a dying. He saw that Jesus was every day dying to self, dying with shame, pain, exhaustion, conflict, and agony. And you do not read Christ's life aright unless you can see in it what St. Paul saw., even humiliation, limitation, suffering, burdening it every day, But that was not all St, Paul's conception of Christ. In that, standing alone, he could have found no rest, no inspiration. He saw also this, that our Lord's sufferings were just the dark background that threw out so perfectly, with such well-defined lines and graceful forms, his noble spirit, his Divine character, his sublime sonship, his blessed life. And so he could speak calmly, even triumphantly, of the suffering Saviour, and glory in the dying of the Lord Jesus, through which the life of Jesus found its highest and best manifestations. How much a picture depends upon its background! Fill the front with the most exquisite figures or landscape, still all the tone and character and impression of the figure will depend upon its background. You may so paint as to leave the forms and figures indistinct and uncertain. You may throw out into prominence the special thought or truth which you seek to embody in form; your picture may be calm morning, hot noonday, flushed evening, tender twilight, or gathering night, according to your background. St. Paul felt what shadows of suffering and woe lay all behind that life of his Lord; but they helped him to see the glory of Christ himself; they seemed to bring out so clearly the Divine and blessed life that was in him. Illustrate by the language of Isaiah 53:1-12. and Philippians 2:5-11. Also from the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect, to our view, through suffering.
II. ST. PAUL'S CONCEPTION OF HIS OWN LIFE. He could wish nothing better for himself than that what was true of Christ might be true of him, and that his sufferings, too, might show up his character and help to make him a blessing and a power for good. St. Paul never could glory in mere suffering. Suffering is grievance and loss. But if they could be like Christ's sufferings, not merely borne for him, and in the doing of his work, but actually like his, and ordained by God to be the same to him, and to others through him, as Jesus' sufferings did! The apostle felt he could glory in that. And this is the view of suffering that we also need to gain. Our troubles and sorrows are as the dying of the Lord Jesus. Once laying hold of this, we find that we have one thing to be supremely anxious about—it is that our dying shall show up Christ's life in us, shall make the Christly virtues and graces manifest in our mortal flesh. We have our sorrows. Does our character shine out clearly on the darkness of them? Do men see and feel our "whiteness" by the contrast of them? Are we beautiful with a Divine patience, and fragrant with a Divine sweetness, in the very darkness? On the background of our pain do men see our submission? In the hour of our disappointment do we show up to men our trust in God? When heart and flesh fail does the sanctifying Spirit of Christ make our very faces glow with the heavenly light? Is it true of us that the "life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal flesh"?—R.T.
2 Corinthians 4:16 - The outward and the inward man.
For the word "perish" in this verse, the Revised Version reads "is decaying." "Outward man" is the body, "inward man" is the soul, so far as the terms may be understood by anybody. "Outward man" is the whole sphere of the senses and the flesh; "inward man" is the whole sphere of the moral, the spiritual, the Divine, the eternal, so far as the terms may be apprehended by the quickened and regenerate of mankind. The "outward man" is man related to the "seen and temporal;" the "inward man" is man related to the "unseen and eternal." And what the apostle so plainly says in our text is this—the "outward man," the material framework of the body, and the whole circle of purely human and earthly relations, are yielding to a gradual process of decay, and soon they must all pass away. But the "inward man," the spiritual life, the very man himself, is day by day rising, through successive stages of renewal, to yet higher life. And the very decayings of the body and of the earthly surroundings bear directly upon the nourishment and growth of the soul's life, and so upon the soul's future. This is the thought which is set before us for our consideration, and we begin with that familiar truth on which the statement of the text rests.
I. BODY LIFE AND SOUL LIFE BOTH DEPEND ON NOURISHMENT, ON FOOD. This is the law of all created life. Angels live on angels' food. Souls live on appropriate souls' food. And bodies live by meat and drink and air. Science tells us that bodily life, health, fatness, and vigour directly depend on the character and quantity and appropriateness of the food supplied. Given vitality and freedom from active disease, and any bodily result that is desired can be obtained by giving flesh-forming, or bone-forming, or brain-making foods. And the health, the vigour, and the work of our soul's life just as directly depend upon the food with which it is nourished. Would you get more good work out of your souls? Then you must feed them better. Do you expose your souls to much peril? Then you must improve and increase their food. We may speak of the soul's life as being faith and love, and as having for its natural expression worship and work. Then the soul's food which we provide must bear, in the most direct and efficient way, on these four things. Here is a most practical problem for each one of us to solve in our daily life—What will nourish into the fullest health and strength my soul's faith and my soul's love? What will strengthen the soul's brain and heart for holy worship, for prayer and praise, and the soul's muscle and nerve for holy work? As life unfolds there come to us all times of special stress and strain. Business has its unusual anxieties. Home has its unusual cares. Decisions of grave importance have to be made, and we too easily forget at such times that we need better soul food; we must be oftener at the secret sources of spiritual nourishment; we must find out how strong they can become who eat of the tree of life, who partake of that Bread of life which satisfies, and that "flesh and blood" which are "meat indeed and drink indeed."
II. NOURISH THE BODY LIFE HOW WE MAY, IT IS WEARING DOWN TO DECAY AND DEATH. "The outward man perishes." "The fashion of this world passeth away." All the feeding, all the nourishing, all the fresh air, cannot keep the bodily powers working over long; for soon the sight grows dim, and the hearing fails, and the taste palls, and the hands tremble, and the breath goes hard, and the limbs totter, and then the golden bowl is broken at the fountain, and man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets. There is a fixed limit beyond which the body cannot go. None of us can with impunity exert ourselves beyond the limits of our physical strength, for gradually, as the years pass on, our vital force is lowered, our recuperative power fails, the body is really decaying and wasting down to helplessness and death. But why should we trouble because we cannot feed these bodies of ours into a strength that shall resist disease and old age, and make our years last through all the generations? They are not us. They are but the machinery, the agency, the sphere, of our sublime moral trial. They may last no longer than is needed for the perfecting of the trial. I shall not want this frail body, with its limited senses and relations, nor shall I want this "ower sin-burdened earth," when God sees that my moral trial is over; when he has found out, by this practical experiment, what I really am. I can see them both pass away, and enter God's spiritual and incorruptible body—the glorified counterpart of this body I now have—which is fashioned akin to the "new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
III. NOURISH THE SOUL LIFE, AND IT WILL GROW ON FOREVER. For there are no forces that can touch the regenerate soul to destroy it. "I give unto them eternal life," He said who brought life and immortality to light by His gospel, "and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." Law, Satan, sin, temptation, worldly atmospheres, death, and hell cannot hurt the soul whose vitality is well nourished and maintained. Take food for the body, and its service is soon spent. Take food for the soul, and its service never can be spent; it becomes a permanent element of good; it has gone to the making of character, which death has no power to touch. There are, indeed, varieties of religious experience, ups and downs of religious feeling. We may encrust our lives with worldliness, we may feed our souls with nothing but the luxuries of human pleasure, and if we do so we must suffer, and bitterly suffer. Great diseases and calamities may come to us as cleansing and correcting processes. But God will not let the soul growth be permanently hindered. If we will not make the soul thrive by the food of truth, and duty, and worship, and prayer, and fellowship, then he will make it thrive by the medicine of pain, and distress, and humiliation, and bereavement, and loss; but thrive and grow it shall. "The inward man [shall be] renewed day by day."
IV. THE VERY WEARING DOWN, SUFFERING, DECAYING, AND DYING OF THE BODY LIFE ARE MADE AGENTS IN NOURISHING THE SOUL'S LIFE. St. Paul goes on from our text to say, "For our light affliction… worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." How bright and hopeful that bruised, worn, suffering apostle always was! He even found it in his heart to glory in his infirmities, because, the weaker he was, the more of Christ's power must rest on him and work through him. The outward man perishes, but he is not going to be sad or to faint about it, since the inward man is renewed day by day. And Paul says that there is such an intimate relation between these two that, by the dying of the one, the life of the other is actually furthered. Our light afflictions and our testing death are even made food for our soul's growth. We may thrive upon our very woes. Trial, toil, struggle, weariness, frailty, pain, bereavement, all the body can know of sorrow and care, are the soul's food. It lives by them. It thrives on them. It steps up toward heaven with the help of them. "Out of the eater it brings forth meat; out of the strong it brings forth sweetness."—R.T.
2 Corinthians 4:17 - The Christian estimate of affliction.
There is a passionate intensity, a kind of extravagance, in these words, which we often notice in the utterances of the noble but impulsive apostle. High feeling, strained emotion, are often helpful in our religious experiences. They lift us, as on a great wave, over the bar of difficulty. They help us in the doing of duty, and they lighten the burden of our sorrow. Our hymns and sacred poems are often the expression of such high emotions as are only felt by the best of men in their best of times; but they are an inspiration and a joy to us, though they may be beyond our actual attainment. In this way we may get gracious help through our text. The context refers to ministerial troubles, but troubles are our common human lot, and if we had to choose what form they should take for us, we should make sad mistakes. Concerning the blessings wrought by affliction we have remarkable Scripture testimonies. Moses would rather "suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." David says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now will I keep thy word." Solomon tells us that it is "better to go into the house of mourning than into the house of feasting." And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Our text suggests what estimate the child of God may and ought to make of afflictions, and he may judge them as regards weight, time, and influence.
I. AS TO THEIR WEIGHT. He may call them "light afflictions." This is apparently untrue. Surely Job, and Jacob, and Naomi, and David, and Martha and Mary could never call theirs "light afflictions." It is truly said that "no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous." It seems impossible to call such a catalogue of woes as is given us in Job 11:1-23-27 "light afflictions." And yet this is the deeper truth, and we may see that it is if we weigh our troubles in fair balances:
(1) in the balances of our deservings;
(2) in the balances of comparison with the sufferings of others; and
(3) in the balances of consequences, for out of sorrow comes spiritual health.
Both knowledge and faith may help us to call our affliction "light."
II. AS TO THEIR TIME. "But for a moment." This also is apparently untrue. Joseph cannot call those weary prison years "but a moment." The captives in Babylon, worn out with hope deferred, hung their harps upon the willows because they could sing no longer. They could not call their captivity "but for a moment." And we can never call "short" those dreadful six hours of agony borne by our Lord upon the cross. And yet this also is the deepest truth. In comparison with life itself it is. Our times of suffering are few, of joy are many; they lie together in something of the proportion of streams and fields. Then, too, it is the actual tact that in our suffering times only brief moments bring unbearable pain. And it is found that the worst pain is the least remembered; it passes, and we cannot even recall it, so as to suffer it over again in imagination. And earthly suffering is truly but for a moment if it be compared with the eternity of joy into which it leads us.
III. AS TO THEIR INFLUENCE. "Working a... weight of glory." It is as important that we should be prepared for the glory as that the glory should be prepared for us. St. Paul's idea of glory is what is done by affliction in the Christian himself. And amongst the things wrought in the Christian character and life we may note these.
1. Patience—the power to be quiet and wait.
2. Trust—the full committal of our keeping to God.
3. Holiness—the deliverance from the enslaving power of evil.
4. The sanctifying of human relationships, which nothing makes so tender and so true as does our sharing in common sorrows.
5. And the renewal of Christian activity; for affliction is the time when we may seriously review the past, and make earnest resolves for the days to come.—R.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany