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Conclusion of his appeal (2 Corinthians 7:1). The apostle's feelings towards them (2 Corinthians 7:2-4). Explanation of the objects of his last letter, and expression of his joy at the good results it had brought about (2 Corinthians 7:2-16).
2 Corinthians 7:1
Having then these promises. The promises of God's indwelling and fatherly love (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). Dearly beloved. Perhaps the word is added to soften the sternness of the preceding admonition. Let us cleanse ourselves. Every Christian, even the best, has need of daily cleansing from his daily assoilment (John 13:10), and this cleansing depends on the purifying activity of moral effort maintained by the help of God's grace. Similarly St. John (1 John 3:1-3), after speaking of God's fatherhood and the hopes which it inspires, adds, "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure" (comp. James 4:8). From all filthiness; rather, from all defilement. Sin leaves on the soul the moral stain of guilt, which was typified by the ceremonial defilements of the Levitical Law (comp. Ezekiel 36:25, Ezekiel 36:26). The word used for "filth" in 1 Peter 3:21 is different. Of the flesh and spirit. From everything which outwardly pollutes the body and inwardly the soul; the two being closely connected together, so that what defiles the flesh inevitably also defiles the soul, and what defiles the spirit degrades also the body. Uncleanness, for instance, a sin of the flesh, is almost invariably connected with pride and hate and cruelty, which degrade the soul. Perfecting holiness. This is the goal and aim of the Christian, though in this life it cannot be finally attained (Philippians 3:12). In the fear of God. There is, indeed, one kind of fear, a base and servile fear, which is cast out by perfect love; but the fear of reverential awe always remains in the true and wisely instructed Christian, who will never be guilty of the profane familiarity adopted by some ignorant sectarians, or speak of God "as though he were some one in the next street" (Hebrews 12:28; 1 Peter 3:15).
2 Corinthians 7:2
Receive us; rather, open your hearts to us; make room for us. It is an appeal to them to get rid of the narrowness of heart, the constricted affections, of which he has complained in 2 Corinthians 6:12. We have wronged… corrupted… defrauded no man. The "no man" in the original is placed first, and this emphatic position, together with its triple repetition, marks St. Paul's insistence on the fact that, whatever his enemies might insinuate, there was no single member of their Church who could complain of injury, moral harm, or unfair treatment from him. Clearly he is again thinking of definite slanders against himself. His sternness to the offender may have been denounced as a wrong; his generous sanction of broad views about clean and unclean meats, idol-offerings, etc., may have been represented as corrupting others by false teaching (2 Corinthians 2:17) or bad example (2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:6); his urgency about the collection for the saints (2 Corinthians 12:16; Acts 20:33), or his assertion of legitimate authority, may have been specified as greed for power. The verb pleonektein is often used in connection with other verbs, implying sensuality. It is difficult for us even to imagine that St. Paul had ever been charged with gross immorality; but it may have been so, for in a corrupt atmosphere everything is corrupt. Men like Nero and Heliogabalus, being themselves the vilest of men, openly declared their belief that no man was pure, and many in the heathen world may have been inclined to similar suspicions. Of Whitefield, the poet says—
"His sins were such as Sodom never knew,
And calumny stood up to swear all true."
We know too that the Christians were universally charged with Thyestean banquets and promiscuous licentiousness. It is, however, more natural to take pleonektein in its general sense, in which it means "to overreach," "to claim or seize more than one's just rights" (see 2 Corinthians 2:11) In 1 Corinthians 9:1-6 he is defending himself against similar charges, as also in this Epistle (1 Corinthians 5:12; 1Co 6:3; 1 Corinthians 10:7-11; 1 Corinthians 11:1-34.; 12., passim). For similar strains of defence, see those of Moses and of Samuel.
2 Corinthians 7:3
I speak not this to condemn you. "Not by way of condemnation am I speaking." My object is to maintain the old love between us; what I say, therefore, is merely to defend myself, not to complain of you. I have said before. He has not said it in so many words, but has implied it in 2 Corinthians 3:2, 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 6:11-14. Ye are in our hearts. So he says to his beloved Philippians, "I have you in my heart" (Philippians 1:7). To die and live with you. Similarly he tells the Thessalonians that he was ready to give them even his own life (1 Thessalonians 2:8). This is no mere conventional expression of deep affection, like Horace's, "Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam libens;" nor is it the description of some compact for life and death like that of the Theban Band. It has the deeper meaning which was involved by the words "life" and "death" on the lips of a Christian (2 Corinthians 4:11.; 2 Corinthians 6:9). And one whose life was, for Christ's sake, a daily death, naturally mentions death first.
2 Corinthians 7:4
Boldness of speech. St. Paul feels that he may address them with perfect frankness and openness (2 Corinthians 3:12). My glorying of you. "My boasting on your account". I am filled with comfort. "I have been filled with the consolation." "Consolation" is the word which occurs so frequently in 2 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:4. I am exceeding joyful. "I superabound in my joy" (2 Corinthians 2:2-14). In all our tribulation. The clause belongs to both the preceding clauses. Joy in the very midst of affliction was an essentially Christian blessing (Philippians 2:17).
"Thou shalt have joy in sadness soon;
The pure calm hope be thine
Which brightens the Eastern moon,
When day's wild lights decline."
(See 2 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:22; Romans 14:17; John 15:11.)
2 Corinthians 7:5
For, when we were come into Macedonia. "For even when we came." The word "affliction" reminds St. Paul to resume the thread of the narrative which makes this letter almost like an itinerary. He has spoken of his trials in Ephesus (2 Corinthians 1:8) and in the Troad (2 Corinthians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 2:13), and now he tells them that even in Macedonia he was no less troubled and agitated. Our flesh had no rest. External troubles assailed him as well as inward anxiety. "Had" seems here to be the best reading (B, F, G, K); not "has had," which may be borrowed from 2 Corinthians 2:13. Rest; rather, remission, respite. But we were troubled on every side; literally, but in everything being afflicted. The style, in its picturesque irregularity, almost seems as though it were broken by sobs. Without were fightings, within were fears. "From without battles, from within fears." No light is thrown on these "battles." The Acts of the Apostles has no details to give us of this brief stay in Macedonia. The "fears" were doubtless still connected with anxiety as to the reception of Titus, and of his First Epistle (1 Corinthians 12:20).
2 Corinthians 7:6
Who comforteth those that are cast down. "The Comforter of the humble comforted us, even God." The word "humble" has in classical Greek the sense of "mean," "abject." Pride, not humility, was the virtue even of Stoic morality. Christ was the first to reveal the beatitude of lowliness (Matthew 11:29; Luke 1:52). Doubtless the word still retained some of its old associations, and had been used of St. Paul in a disparaging sense (2 Corinthians 10:1). But he whom his opponents accused of so much egotism, ambition, and arrogance, meekly accepts the term and applies it to himself. God (2 Corinthians 1:4). "The God… of consolation" (Romans 15:5). By the coming of Titus. This was the cause of that outburst of joy in 2Co 2:13, 2 Corinthians 2:14, which passage here finds its explanation. The absence of Titus from the Acts is another proof of the fragmentariness of that book. It is evident that he was an ardent, able, active fellow worker, and most beloved friend of the apostle (Galatians 2:1, Galatians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 1:4; Titus 3:12). We learn most about him from this Epistle.
2 Corinthians 7:7
And not by his coming only. The mere fact of Titus's arrival cheered St. Paul, because Titus seems to have been of a strong and cheery temperament. St. Paul, partly because of his infirmities, was peculiarly dependent on the support of human sympathy (1 Thessalonians 3:1-8; Php 2:20; 2 Timothy 4:4; Acts 17:15; Acts 28:15). It was not, however, the mere arrival of Titus which cheered him, but still more the good news which he brought, and which partially lightened his anxieties. In all probability this letter was written almost immediately after the arrival of Titus, and while the joy caused by his presence was still glowing in the apostle's heart. It is characteristic of the seclusion of an austere life that St. Jerome supposes the cause of the apostle's distress to have been that Titus was his interpreter, and that in his absence he could not preach! Your earnest desire. Your yearning to see me once more. Mourning; rather, lamentation (see 2 Corinthians 2:12). They were aroused to lament their past "inflation" (1 Corinthians 5:2) and remissness. Your fervent mind toward me. This rendering well expresses the kindling affection implied by the word zelos. So that I rejoiced the more. More than he had even anticipated could be possible; or, as the next verse may imply, all the more because of his past anguish (2 Corinthians 2:4).
2 Corinthians 7:8
With a letter; rather, with my Epistle. Probably the First Epistle, though some suppose that the allusion is to a lost intermediate letter. I do not repent, though I did repent; better, I do not regret it. Every one has experienced the anxiety which has followed the despatch of some painful letter. If it does good, well; but perhaps it may do harm. The severity was called for; it seemed a duty to write severely. But how will the rebuke be received? Might we not have done better if we had used language less uncompromisingly stern? As St. Paul thought with intense anxiety that perhaps in his zeal for truth he may have irrevocably alienated the feelings of the Corinthians, whom, with all their grave faults, he loved, a moment came when he actually regretted what he had written. He himself assures us that he had this feeling. Those who try all kinds of fantastic hypotheses and tortuous exegesis to explain away this phrase as though it were inconsistent with St. Paul's inspiration, go to Scripture to find there their own a priori dogmas, not to seek what Scripture really says. The doctrine of inspiration is not the fetish into which it has been degraded by formal systems of scholastic theology. Inspiration was not a mechanical dictation of words, but the influence of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of men who retained all their own natural emotions. For I perceive, etc. There are various ways of taking this clause. Nothing, however, is simpler than to regard it as a parenthetic remark (for I see that that Epistle, though it were but for a time, saddened you). Though it were but for a season. (For the phrase, see Philemon 1:15; Galatians 2:5.) He means to say that their grief will at any rate cease when they receive this letter, and he can bear the thought of having pained them when he remembers the brevity of their grief and the good effects which resulted from it.
2 Corinthians 7:9
Not that ye were made sorry. They might have drawn this mistaken conclusion from his remark that he "rejoiced" when he heard of their "lamentation" (2 Corinthians 7:7). After a godly sort; literally, according to God; i.e. in a way which he would approve (Romans 8:27). In nothing. Not even when we rebuked you, and caused you pain.
2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly sorrow, etc. "For the sorrow Which is according to God worketh out a repentance unto salvation which bringeth no regret." Sin causes regret, remorse, that sort of repentance (metomeleia) which is merely an unavailing rebellion against the inevitable consequences of misdoing; but the sorrow of self-reproach which follows true repentance (metanoia, change of mind) is never followed by regret. Some take "not to be regretted" with "salvation," but it is a very unsuitable adjective to that substantive. The sorrow of the world. Here sorrow for the loss, or disappointment, or shame, or ruin, or sickness caused by sin; such as the false repentance of Cain, Saul, Ahithophel, Judas, etc. Death. Moral and spiritual death always, and sometimes physical death, and always—unless it is followed by true repentance—eternal death, which is the opposite of salvation (Romans 5:21).
2 Corinthians 7:11
For behold, etc. The effects produced by their repentance showed that it was "according to God;" for it brought forth in them "the fruits of good living to the honour and glory of God." Carefulness; rather, earnestness, active endeavour. Yea what. There is an untranslatable energy about the original Greek. The same use of ἀλλὰ (Latin, immo vero) in a climax is found in 1 Corinthians 6:11. Clearing of yourselves; literally, apology, self-defence, addressed to me through Titus. Indignation. Against themselves for their neglect. Fear. Of the measures which I might take, if I came to you "with a rod" (1 Corinthians 4:21). Vehement desire. Longing that I should return to you (see verse 7). Zeal. To make up for past remissness. Revenge. Judicial punishment of the incestuous offender. The "apology" and "indignation" referred to themselves; the "fear" and "yearning" to the apostle; the "zeal" and "judicial retribution" to the offender. In all things. His summing up is, "In every respect ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter." Whatever may have been your previous carelessness and connivance, the steps you took on receiving my letter vindicated your character. In this matter; rather, in the matter. It is quite in accordance with St. Paul's usual manner that "he speaks indefinitely of what was odious" (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
2 Corinthians 7:12
Wherefore, though I wrote unto you. "So then, even if I did write you," namely, about that matter. For his cause that had done the wrong, etc. My object in writing was not to mix myself up with the personal quarrel. I had in view neither the wronger nor the wronged, directly and primarily, but wrote for the sake of the whole Church (1Co 5:1, 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 6:7). Nor for his cause that suffered wrong. Apparently the father of the offender (1 Corinthians 5:1). Our care for you, etc. Among the diversity of readings in this clause, which seem to be still further confused by mere mistakes of copyists, the best supported reading is "your care for us" (B, C, E, K, L, and various versions, etc.). The Sinaitic manuscript has "your care for yourselves." The variations have partly risen from the apparent strangeness of the remark that his letter had been written in order that their care for him might be manifested to themselves; in other words, that they might learn from their own conduct the reality of their earnest feelings for him. He has already spoken of this "earnest care" of theirs (2 Corinthians 7:11), but not in quite the same sense. Certainly, however, the reading followed by our Authorized Version, even if it be a correction, furnishes a more natural meaning, and the other may have arisen from a clerical error.
2 Corinthians 7:13
Therefore we were comforted, etc. Since my Epistle secured the result of manifesting your true feelings towards me, "we have been comforted." The Revised Version and many editions put the stop here, and continue (reading δὲ after ἐπὶ), and in addition to our consolation, abundantly the more did we rejoice at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. Exceedingly the more. In the Greek this is expressed by double comparatives. Was refreshed; rather, has been (and is) refreshed. The same verb is used in 1 Corinthians 16:18; Philemon 1:7, Philemon 1:20.
2 Corinthians 7:14
I am not ashamed. The due rendering of the tenses brings out the sense much more accurately. "Because if I have boasted anything to him on your behalf, I was not put to the blush;" in other words, "One reason of my exceeding gladness was that you fully justified that very favorable picture of you which I had drawn for Titus when I was urging him to be the bearer of my letter." Is found a truth; literally, proved itself to be a truth. Here again there is a most delicate reference to the charge of levity and unveracity which had been brought against him (2 Corinthians 1:17). I always spoke the truth to you; but I might well have feared that, in speaking of you to Titus, my affection for you had led me to overstep the limits of perfect accuracy. But you yourselves, by proving yourselves worthy of all I said of you, have established my perfect truthfulness, even in the only point where I might have thought it doubtful. Nothing could exceed the tact and refinement, the subtle delicacy and beauty, of this gentle remark.
2 Corinthians 7:15
His inward affection. The same word which is so needlessly rendered "bowels" in 2 Corinthians 6:12. More abundant. His love for you has been increased by his recent visit. With fear and trembling. On this Pauline phrase, see 1 Corinthians 2:3.
2 Corinthians 7:16
I rejoice therefore. The "therefore" concludes the whole paragraph, but is omitted in many manuscripts. I have confidence in you; literally, I am bold in you; i.e. I feel courage about you. The phrase in 2 Thessalonians 3:4 expresses a calmer and less hazardous trust.
2 Corinthians 7:1-4 - A minister's address to his people.
"Having therefore these promises," etc. In these verses the apostle exhorts the Corinthians to two things.
I. TO THE PURSUIT OF SPIRITUAL PURITY. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." He seems to regard the attainment of spiritual purity as consisting in two things.
1. Getting rid of the wrong. "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." Perhaps the reference to "filthiness" here referred especially to the idolatry and unchastity which was so prevalent in the Corinthian Church. All sin is "filthiness," and cleansable; it is not nature, it is a stain on nature; it is not something inwrought into the very texture of our being, otherwise it could not be cleansed away. It is no more ourselves than the soil on the white robe is the robe. It can, it should, it must, be washed out, that we may appear "without spot or wrinkle."
2. Attaining the right. "Perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Holiness implies the consecration of our entire nature, flesh and spirit, body and soul, to the Divine will, and this requires habitual, solemn effort in "the fear of God." Now, the grand end of Christ's mission to the world is to produce this purity in man. "Having therefore these promises" (viz. the promises in the last verse of the preceding chapter, which are in substance the promises of the gospel), this spiritual purity should be struggled for. "The grace of God hath appeared to all men, teaching them that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts," etc. The supreme desire of every true minister of the gospel is that his people shall become pure.
II. TO REGARD HIM WITH AFFECTION. "Receive us [open your hearts to us]," etc. He grounds his claim on their affection:
1. On the fact that he had done harm to none. "We have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man." This is said, no doubt, in answer to some of the charges which his enemies had brought against him—said in self-vindication. He had "wronged no man," done injustice to none; he had "corrupted no man" in doctrines or morals; he had "defrauded no man," he had availed himself of no circumstance in order to extort from them money or power. A grand thing this for a minister to be able to say to his people without any fear of contradiction, and in the sight of God.
2. On the fact that he loved them. "I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to live and to die with you." Although I might "condemn" you, I still love you; you are so strong in my affections that I will not only visit you, but would live and die with you, if my mission would allow.
3. On the fact that he rejoiced in the good that was in them. "Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort," etc. Thus he commends himself to their affection. It is self-commendation, it is true; but who else could commend him? There were none greater than he living. There is no egotism in his self-commendation.
2 Corinthians 7:5-7 - The good tried and comforted.
"For when we were come into Macedonia," etc. Here we have—
I. A GOOD MAN GREATLY TRIED. "For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears." In 2 Corinthians 2:13 he refers to one circumstance that troubled him on his way to Macedonia. "I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother." He had come from Troas full of excitement and agitation, fully expecting to meet with Titus, who would convey to him some information concerning the Church at Corinth, which would allay his intense anxieties. But he was disappointed. What the other particular troubles were that he refers to here, the "fightings without" and "fears within," we know not; but well we know that everywhere in the prosecution of his apostolic mission he met with trials—great, varied, and most distressing. The best of men in this life are frequently "cast down." There are many things that "cast down" the spirits of good men.
1. The prosperity of the wicked. Asaph felt this. "My feet had almost gone, my steps were well nigh slipped," etc.
2. The triumphs of wrong. Fraud in trade, corruption in politics, errors in science, moral filth in popular literature, blasphemies, sectarianism and cant in religion. What noble souls are depressed here in England with these things!
3. The non-success of Christly labour. How many preachers of spiritual thought, disinterested love, inflexible loyalty to truth, are subject to depressing moods on account of the little success apparently resulting from their arduous and self-denying toils! Often, like Elijah, they feel inclined to retire into the caves of solitude; like Jeremiah, who resolved "to speak no more" in his Name, and like One greater than either or all, who wailed out the words, "I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought."
II. A GOOD MAN DIVINELY COMFORTED. "Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus." God is a Comforter. No one requires higher qualifications than a true comforter. He must have a thorough knowledge of the sufferer, know his constitution, and the causes of the complaint; his diagnosis must be perfect. He must possess the necessary remedial elements; he must have the antidote at command. He must also have the tenderest sympathy; an unsympathetic nature can never administer comfort, whatever the extent of his knowledge or the suitableness of his means. God has all these qualifications in an infinite degree. Hence he is the Comforter. God comforted Paul by sending him Titus.
1. The appearance of Titus was comforting. The advent of his young friend was as the rising of the morning sun in the dark heavens of his spirit. God comforts man by man. Moses was comforted in the wilderness by the unexpected visit of his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 18:7). Hannah was cheered in spirit by the talk of old Eli (1 Samuel 1:18). David, dejected in the wood, had his heart strengthened by Jonathan (1 Samuel 23:16).
2. The communication of Titus was comforting. "And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more."
1. That Christianity in its highest form does not exempt from the trials of life. A more Christly man than Paul perhaps never lived. Yet how great his trials!
2. That the vicarious sufferings of love are amongst the most depressing. The more love a man has in him in this world of affliction and sorrow, the more, by the law of sympathy, will he endure. Paul now suffered for the Corinthians.
3. A genuine disciple of Christ carries comfort into the house of his distressed friend. Young Titus carried comfort into the saddened home of the Apostle Paul.
"He who hath most of heart
Knows most of sorrow; nor a thing he said
Nor did but was to him at times a woe,
At times indifferent, at times a joy.
Folly and sin and memory make a curse
Wherewith the future fires may vie in vain,
The sorrows of the soul are graver still."
2 Corinthians 7:8-11 - Godly sorrow.
"For though I made you sorry," etc. Three remarks here concerning the godly sorrow that was wrought on the minds of the members of the Corinthian Church.
I. IT WAS PRODUCED BY A FAITHFUL REPROOF OF WRONG. There were, as we have seen, certain evils more or less prevalent in the Church at Corinth, such as schism, idolatry, unchastity, and abuse of the Lord's Supper. These so affected the mind of the apostle that his letter abounded with strong reproof. Concerning the reproofs he administered to them, two facts are noteworthy.
1. They caused him much pain. "For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent." Men, more or less malign in their nature, take pleasure in dealing out reproaches and reproofs, but to those whose natures are of the genial and the generous type, few things are more painful than the administration of reproofs. Paul no doubt felt it so; still it had to be done. Loyalty to his conscience and his mission demanded it. A loving nature recoils at the idea of giving pain to any one.
2. They were administered with the tenderest affection. In almost every reproving sentence contained in his letter there beats the pulse of affection, and it is evermore this love that invests reproof with a heart penetrating and melting power. With the tenderest love ministers should always reprove, admonish, and exhort.
II. IT WAS ESSENTIALLY DIFFERENT TO THE SORROW OF THE WORLD, "Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance," etc. Great is the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.
1. The one is selfish, the other is generous. In the former the man regrets having done the wrong thing simply on account of inconvenience to himself; in the latter the anguish is in the wrong itself.
2. The one results in future regret, the other in future joy. All the sorrow that an ungodly man has felt will lead to some deeper, darker, more terrible distress.
3. The one leads to ruin, the other to salvation. See the results of worldly sorrow in Cain (Genesis 4:12); in Saul (1 Samuel 31:3-6); in Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23); in Judas (Mat 28:3 -25). See godly sorrow in the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-32.); in Peter (Matthew 26:1-75.); in the converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:44-47).
III. IT WROUGHT GREAT RESULTS IN THE SOUL. It wrought:
1. Solicitude. "What carefulness it wrought in you!" Careful to resist the wrong and pursue the right.
2. Deprecation. "What clearing of yourselves!" How anxious to show your disapproval of the evil of which you have been guilty!
3. Anger. "What indignation!" Indignation, not against the sinner, but against the sin. This is a holy anger.
4. Dread. "What fear!" Dread, not of suffering, but of sin; not of God, but of the devil. This fear is, indeed, the highest courage. He who shrinks from the morally wrong is the truest hero.
5. Longing. "What vehement desire!" What longing after a better life! All these expressions mean intense earnestness, and earnestness, not about temporal matters, which is common and worthless, but about spiritual matters, which is rare and praiseworthy. Genuine repentance is antagonistic to indifference; it generates earnestness in the soul, it leads to the most strenuous efforts, to the most vehement cries to Heaven. "Sorrow in itself," says F.W. Robertson, "is a thing neither good nor bad; its value depends on the spirit of the person on whom it falls. Fire will inflame straw, soften iron, or harden clay; its effects are determined by the object with which it comes in contact. Warmth develops the energies of life or helps the progress of decay. It is a great power in the hothouse, a great power also in the coffin: it expands the leaf, matures the fruit, adds precocious vigour to vegetable life; and warmth, too, develops with tenfold rapidity the weltering process of dissolution. So, too, with sorrow. There are spirits in which it develops the seminal principle of life; there are others in which it prematurely hastens the consummation of irreparable decay."
2 Corinthians 7:12-16 - Church discipline.
"Wherefore, though I wrote unto you," etc. The subject of these words may be regarded as that of Church discipline, and two general remarks are suggested.
I. CHURCH DISCIPLINE SHOULD BE EXERCISED FOR THE GOOD OF THE WHOLE CHURCH. "Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you." The particular individual referred to here, on whom Paul calls discipline to be exercised, was the incestuous person (1 Corinthians 5:1). The apostle here states that this was done, not merely for the offender's sake, nor indeed for the sake of the person whom the offender had injured (viz. his father, whose wife he had taken as his own). His object in writing was, not merely to chastise the one and to obtain justice and redress for the other, but that "our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you," He had a larger aim; it was to prove to them how much he cared for their spiritual purity and reputation. Punishment should not only be for the reformation of the wrong doer, but as an example to others. The unhealthy branch should be cut off for the sake of the tree's health and growth. All true chastisement for wrong aims, not only at the good of the offender, but at the good of the community at large.
II. WHEN THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH IS MANIFESTED THEREBY IT IS A JUST MATTER FOR REJOICING. "Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all." The Church was improved by Paul's disciplinary letter. Of this Titus had assured him, for they had "refreshed" his "spirit" during his visit among them. Their improvement, too, justified the high testimony which he had given Titus concerning them. "For if I have boasted anything to him of you, I am not ashamed," etc. The love of Titus for them was increased by the discovery of it. "His inward affection is more abundant toward you." Thus the godly sorrow which they manifested on account of that which was wrong amongst them, was in every way satisfactory to him; it gave him comfort, it greatly refreshed the spirit of Titus, increased his affection for them, and inspired the apostle himself with confidence and with joy.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
2 Corinthians 7:1 - An exhortation to perfection.
"Having therefore these promises," which the apostle had just mentioned (2 Corinthians 6:16-18), what were the Corinthians expected to be? "Sons and daughters" of the Father, God in Christ. But the condition was, "Be ye separate, touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you." There was a character involved ("sons and daughters"); there was something to be done; then "I will receive you." St. Paul is specific in his appeal: "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness [defilement] of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The enlarged heart, of which he had been speaking and would soon speak again, has a tender voice, addressing them as "dearly beloved." Nothing magisterial appears; he is one of them—"Let us cleanse ourselves;" nor has he any doubt of their ability to do this thing. Separation from old associations, changes in customs and habits, call for firm resolution and self-denial; but he is well assured that God makes no promise without giving ample strength for the accepting party to comply with the terms offered. If the promises embraced every good connected with their relation to God as a Father, then they must be like God in Christ; they were to entertain no views of God, except as God in Christ, but were to reverence, love, serve him in this one single and complete relationship. The ground, motive, impulse of action, were to spring from this consideration—God in Christ as a Father. If so, the righteousness of Christ was not only to be the reason of their justification before the law of rectitude, but they were also to have that righteousness as a property of personal character. By nature they were far gone from righteousness; they were defiled, born in sin; grace had already been communicated to renew their evil character; he had written to them as "washed, sanctified, justified," in the "name" of Christ, and by "the Spirit of our God." As yet the work was only begun. Much was to be done. Sinful tendencies were in them which had never come under the eye of consciousness. Enemies lurked within and without, of whom they were unaware. Imperfect as they and he were, they must go on to perfection. Strength consisted in putting forth strength, to be stronger. First of all, this perfection was to be sought by purifying themselves from evil. What an amount of corruption still remained was seen in the fact of the filthiness in the flesh and spirit. Each part of our complex nature was vitiated, and each combined with the other in opposing the progress necessary to attain holiness. There were vices of the animal man. There were vices of the moral man. And there were vices resulting from the union of the two, so that a thorough and complete cleansing was required. "All filthiness;" no matter of what class or kind, hereditary or acquired, local as respected the wickedness of Corinth, or general as belonging to the human family, the wrong doing among you from the Judaizers, from the free thinkers, from all your ambitious partisanships,—"cleanse" yourselves from "all filthiness," whether of the "flesh" or the "spirit." This was the negative side of a great and imperative duty, not all, but much, and very much, since, until this were done, they could take no direct steps towards perfection. Observe now that gross bodily sins were not the only lusts. Tempers and dispositions were just as urgent as passions and appetites in seeking unlawful enjoyments. Reflect on this point. "The spirit in us lusteth to envy." Inordinate affections led to transgression. Nay, they often excited the body to wicked indulgences. Physical organs are frequently torpid; they are aroused by images in the intellect, and stimulated by an impure imagination; and, furthermore, after these organs, because of age or over gratification, have little or no originating force, and are well nigh worn out, the recollections of past pleasures kindle the expiring embers into a flame. Thus, indeed, depravity assumes its most licentious forms. For it is not the animal man that is the chief or the most dangerous factor in this sort of iniquity. The intellectual and moral man descends into corporeal abuses, and then it is these temptations are strongest. In many of these sins there is an element of sentiment supplied by an unholy imagination, which makes them far more tyrannical and debauching than they would be otherwise. And hence it is not the beastly possibility in man that is the greatest danger, but the Satanic agency brought to bear on the body by means of the spirit. It is the devil of the spirit that is the devil of the body. A terrible conjunction this, and yet it is not a common spectacle. Ordinarily the incipient stage of vice is a bodily evil merely. It is a matter of blood and nerves. Not such does it remain long. Satan knows his citadel, and hastens to its occupancy. While it does continue, a man may be reasoned with; he is open to shame, conscience may be reached, and concurrent motives made operative on his feelings, but when physical vice allies itself with spirit, men "glory in their shame," and are "taken captive by Satan at his will." In the final outcome there is but one will, and it is Satan's will. Much more than this cleansing from the "filthiness of the flesh and spirit" is necessary, if "these promises" are to be fully realized. Therefore he adds, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Here we have the positive side of that experience which is demanded of those who are the "sons and daughters" of God in Christ. It is inward holiness. Under the Law, beasts were clean and unclean; things, vessels, places, were externally holy; emblems and symbols of purity abounded; manners, customs, domestic and national usages, were so ordered as to impress on the senses the difference between good and evil. Under the gospel, spiritual holiness is demanded. The circumcision is of the heart, not of the flesh; the sanitary idea of the human body, so frequently set forth in the Old Testament, is changed into that of the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost; and hence, no sooner does the Lord Jesus begin to unfold the constitution of the new kingdom in the sermon on the mount, than he speaks directly to the heart. Righteousness must exceed the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees. Impure thoughts are forbidden. Passions that have no outward voice utter their sinfulness in the ear of God; and feelings that escape not into visible acts are realities in the light of eternity. Inasmuch as the cleansing was a purification of body and spirit, St. Paul argues that the sanctification, begun in regeneration, was to continue, body and spirit sharing together the Spirit's influence. Neither the one nor the other was to be lost sight of; neither part of the work was to be carried on in a way detrimental to perfect unity; neither was to be exaggerated at the expense of the other. But as body and spirit had been redeemed by Christ's blood, so were both to be hallowed by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Throughout St. Paul's Epistles there run these two leading ideas—the sanctification of body and of spirit and if, at times, the idea of the former is prominent, and then, at other times, the idea of the latter, we must recollect that this variation was necessary to the full presentation of his subject. Great truths are not to be vividly seen except in great moods, and great moods are not habitual, but occasional. Now, this mode of displaying his subject by a rotation of. its aspects exposes the apostle to misconception. The ascetic takes him in one mood of thought, dominant at the moment, because of the nature of his argument. The mystic takes him in another. And they both do him injustice, the ascetic by laying an undue stress on bodily mortifications, the mystic by extravagance in spiritual abstractions. St. Paul is always true to his theology. He never loses his balance, never exalts spirit at the expense of body, never forgets that body is mated with spirit under an economy of permanent neutrality. Hence the argument for inward holiness, that cleansing of spirit and flesh which proceeds from the Holy Ghost in the conscience and heart, and works from the centre and seat of vitality through all the organs of life. It is growing holiness. Growth is the law of existence. The body grows until it attains its physical development, say from twenty-one to twenty-five years of age in men, and then another and much higher growth sets in, that of intellectual and moral adaptiveness to the mind, whereby the nerves, the ganglia, the brains, are brought into closer union with thought, volition, sensibility, But it is in religious life that growth is most perceptible—a growth in the fear of God, a filial and tender fear, that is jealous of its sense of sonship, and ever watchful lest it grieve the witnessing Spirit. There is an increasing delight in the discharge of duty, in taking up the daily cross, in practising self-denial, and especially in a clearer view of the ground and reason of self-denial. How the Scriptures grow upon us, the exercises of the closet, the Holy Communion, the fellowship of Christians! And, as we advance, we feel more and more the evil of sin as it is in itself. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." This psalm, the roost profoundly heart searching and personal of the psalms, is nevertheless most representative of that sense of sin which forgets all else in the thought of an offended God. In that bitterest hour of David's life, his home, other homes, a nation's homes, involved in his terrible transgression, there is the one overwhelming reflection, "Against thee!" The growing Christian sees the innate quality of sin, its deep-seated hold, its presence in the life blood of his old nature, and learns from thence to perfect holiness, by realizing, as far as may be, the holiness of God. "By studying the character of Christ and imitating his example, this Divine holiness defines itself to his mind and engages his affections. "Looking unto Jesus" is the secret of his growth. He looks to him as the "Author" of his faith; how long ago it was! How feeble then! What gracious forbearance! The bruised reed not broken, the smoking flax not quenched! And the "Author" is the "Finisher;" for he is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Law changes into love, and love advances from one degree of strength and beauty to another, from one relation of life to another, from one victory to a victory still greater, the holy ideal rising before him and assuming new glory, and yet, as it retreats to a loftier height, drawing him towards itself with a stronger charm. "Blessed are the pure in heart." It is far on in the Beatitudes; but it is there, thanks to God, it is there as an attainment. The pathway to it is very clearly marked out, the successive steps, the preparatory agencies, the gradual advances, the blessedness of poverty of spirit, of mourning, of meekness, of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, of mercifulness. One may know what progress he is making towards it, and this is the great thing to be known. Milestones along the road record the onward tread and assure the pilgrim of the certain goal. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."—L.
2 Corinthians 7:2-7 - Appeal for affectionate relations between himself and the Corinthians; sorrow and consolation.
The rendering of 2 Corinthians 7:2, Revised Version, is full of vigour, "Open your hearts to us: we wronged no man, we corrupted no man, we took advantage of no man." Room in their hearts for whom? Room for him who had violated no rights, led no one astray, acted fraudulently in nothing towards any person, so that, he challenges their confidence to the full. But had he not done this before, and that very earnestly? Had he not done it again and again? Yes; but his enemies had their headquarters at Corinth; they were untiring, ever inventing new scandals, ever increasing in zealotry, for his overthrow. Now, it is a matter of interest to understand St. Paul's motive in this frequent and vehement defence of himself. From the outset his position had been singular. Not one of the original twelve who had "companied" with the Lord Jesus, a converted persecutor and blasphemer, an apostle called to an exceptional apostleship, and placed in the forefront of that battle which was to liberate Christianity from Jewish thraldom, and preserve it from Gentile corruptions. It was inevitable that the man and the apostle should be subjected to a most critical and severe inquisition. Yet how wonderfully was this overruled! Only think of the spiritual biography that has grown out of this painful necessity of his attitude before the Church. Somewhat of this kind of writing we have in the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Job, in the Psalms, and in Ecclesiastes, but nothing as to depth, variety, profundity, compass of experience, such as we have in St. Paul's Epistles. In the latter we see the Christian consciousness in its early realizations, and that too in all its important aspects. For what is there in the struggles of the "new creature" with the "old Adam"? What is there in outward conflict we have not here in exactness of detail? No finer illustration of this could be given than the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Was he simply giving his spiritual history? Nay, indeed, but writing a typical biography of the human heart under the training of the Holy Ghost. This is its distinctive merit—the portraiture of the human soul forming and shaping in the image of Christ for eternal glory. Such a mirror was needed. Of what avail a standard of doctrine without a standard of experience? Of what utility a knowledge of duties, and yet entire ignorance of the legitimate results of precepts carried into practice? From his pen we have Christianity as a system of truths; from the same pen, Christianity in personal consciousness; and the two are so wrought together and interblended, that we are no more at a loss to understand what Christianity is as an inspiration of life than a revelation of Divine wisdom. Follow the man in this chapter. Do you admire manly boldness? There it is in that second verse. Are you, touched by delicacy and tenderness? You have them in the third verse: "I say it not to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die together and live together." Is this commonplace sentiment? Is this the language, the air, the spirit of a persecuted hero of the world? Match it if you can. "To die together and live together"—this would be poetry, if it were not that rarer thing, the most impassioned and exalted prose. "In our hearts;" there they abide to die and live together. If he had written to them, it was not to condemn, but to save them, Inclined to find fault and harshly criminate? Far from him a censorious temper, "Great is my boldness of speech towards you;" and why bold? "Great is my glorying on your behalf;" and why glory? The glad spirit, free once more from its oppressive burden, cannot repress its exultation. "My boldness," "my glorying;" just before "we" and "us" and "our," the personal intensity bursting forth. "I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in all our affliction." Such a heart authenticates itself instantly to our confidence and love. To doubt its truthfulness would be treachery to our own instincts. We all love a fervent lover. However cold and constrained our temperament, there is something divinely contagious in a spirit like St. Paul's; and, for the sake of humanity, "great" is our "glorying" on his "behalf." If, there, we find him in the next verses (5-7) referring to his individual solicitudes, we may be sure that this has its place in the development of Christian doctrine, going on in the history of the Church. Instead of being an insight into the private heart of the apostle only, it is likewise a most trustworthy record of religious experience, to which we may come for instruction and help when burdened by cares and anxieties. Unable to remain in Troas, because of his deep concern to hear from Corinth, he passed into Macedonia; but there was no relief from the pressure. "We were troubled on every side," His whole nature shared the suffering of the mind, his "flesh had no rest," and the sorrow reached such an extent that he sums it up in the condensed expressions, "without were fightings, within were fears." Things had put on their darkest look. Yet in that very hour consolation was near by. Titus came with good tidings from Corinth, and, in his opportune arrival, St. Paul sees the good hand of God. The statement is given in an emphatic form. At first it is he "who comforteth the lowly;" and then even God "comforteth us by the coming of Titus;" and how happy Titus himself was! The visit to the Corinthians had been a blessing to his young friend, and this added much to his joy, for he participated in "the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you." Grace to others is often grace, and the richest grace, to our own souls. And in this instance we can easily understand how a man with St. Paul's quick sympathies entered into the experience of Titus. A delicate task had been assigned to his youthful companion, and it had been managed with success. Added to his intense pleasure growing out of the favourable change at Corinth was the gratification from the skill and efficiency of Titus's mission. One pictures the scene of the meeting, the narration, the questions asked and answered, the frequent interruptions of the story by the sudden outbreaks of the listener's emotion, the happy exclamations, and the surprise increasing as the detail of incidents progressed to the completion of the history. Had not St. Paul a valuable helper now? Was not God giving him a coworker precious to his heart? Could he not see the future Titus, the same who was afterwards to be associated so closely with him, and to whom he would write a pastoral letter? Those were gracious hours, and he might well say, "I rejoiced the more," since he was not only greatly cheered by the "earnest desire," the "mourning," the "fervent mind" of the Corinthian brethren towards him, but was confirmed in the impression that Titus was to be a valuable auxiliary in the work now enlarging on his hands, and daily getting to be more complicated.—L.
2 Corinthians 7:8-16 - True repentance and its effects; ministry of Titus.
There are reactions from our highest moods. There are reactions from our wisest deeds. Nor can it be otherwise under the present constitution of our nature. That St. Paul should have had these reactions was perfectly natural, the more so as his temperament made him liable, in an unusual degree, to their occurrence. If they did not appear in his writings we should be surprised, nor could their absence be explained but on the supposition that he was an exception in this respect to the ordinary laws of mind, and particularly to those laws as seen in men of his class. Some persons think it very strange that he should say, "Though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent." What was his inspiration, they ask, if he could "repent" of writing his former Epistle to the Corinthians? Whatever he meant by "repent," he did not mean moral self-reproach, nor indeed any permanent state of mind, but simply a transient emotional condition, due probably to excess of nervous sensibility. His inspiration from the Holy Ghost was the inspiration of a man. It did not set aside his temperament. It was in perfect harmony with the characteristics of his intellect, and quite likely intensified those characteristics as related to his physical peculiarities. Who has not had these seasons of experience in which things that were very clear a few days before have been suddenly darkened? Judgments were then formed, committals made, promises given, that now seem unwise or even rash; and bow gladly would we undo what was done!—and that too in matters which were entered on after long and earnest deliberation, and which proved in the sequel to be eminently fortunate. Are the arguments that led us to certain conclusions less valid now than then? No; the arguments are the same, but nerves and brain are not in the same state, not in the same vigorous tension, and, consequently, we do not see the truth and the grounds of the truth as we did when we were in fuller possession of ourselves. The logic of nerves and brain is a very wayward and fitful thing, and a very different thing from the logic of the intellect. Pascal says, in the 'Pensees,' "To have a series of proofs incessantly before the mind is beyond our power." Now, in the instance under review, St. Paul would have been more or less than man not to have undergone precisely this temporary reaction. Ill health, an unusual combination of exciting circumstances, dangers of an extraordinary sort threatening the Church, a new and most promising sphere of labour and by far the greatest that had opened in his ministry overcast with sudden gloom, Titus still absent, suspense wearing upon a fortitude taxed already to the uttermost; what a lack of the human and of the genuine manliness of the human, if he had felt no uneasiness, no misgivings, no rebound! It was not weakness, but weakness struggling into strength, that led him to say, "I did repent." Let us take comfort from the apostle's human nature and the grace manifested in its infirmities. Companionship in weakness aspiring to get the victory is very precious to honest souls. Men are never wanting to teach us the ideals of life. What is needed far more is to have traced in a distinct manner the progress of the soul towards perfection. Who in this respect can compare with the Apostle Paul? Who has delineated the Christian consciousness in all its various moods, in all its alternations, in its baffled endeavours, in its victorious strength, and done it in such a natural way that the lowliest heart feels at home in his fellowship and finds no language of its own so much its own as the words in which he tells how he sorrowed and how he rejoiced? Lest they should misunderstand his joy by supposing that he had any pleasure in their pain, he explains (verse 9) why he was happy. They had "sorrowed to repentance." Instructed by the doctrinal truths he had unfolded in the First Epistle, moved by his entreaties, made conscious of their delinquencies, made ashamed of their gross inattention to discipline, they had repented of their backslidings and reformed their evil doings. A "godly sorrow" had they shown, and could anything "godly" be deplored? Least of all, could a "godly sorrow" over envy and jealousy, over strife and schismatic partisanships, over vices tolerated in the bosom of the Church—could such a sorrow be regretted? It was "godly," indeed, for it had wrought out its true nature and was known by its fruits. Of course he gave it a doctrinal form, and, for all time, thus reads one of the most vital and solemn of all Christian verities: "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." Well might he claim that they had received "damage in nothing." It was all gain, infinite gain. Notice the development of the thought. A true repentance is from God. Christ said that the Holy Spirit should come to rebuke "the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." It is not our idea of sin, but God's idea, that enables us to realize what sin is, and this proceeds from the Spirit. Think of it as we may, study its consequences, feel its enormity as far as we can, look at the paradise it blighted, read its records on the earth, picture the hell it has created; this is not that sense of the guilt of sin which leads to repentance. Not what sin is in our sight, but what it is in God's sight, determines the estimate of the penitent. And just in the degree that this initial process is from the illumination and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in that same degree is the work genuine and profound. Large allowance must be made for individuality of character. Modes of thinking, habits of feeling, education and circumstances, must be taken into consideration, since men are very thoroughly personal when God comes to dear with their souls. Nevertheless, the truth cannot be stated too strongly, that repentance is a "godly sorrow" only so far as the Holy Ghost is concerned in the work. And, further, it is salutary. It works no "damage." Now, at this point, the apostle confesses that he had been anxious, and certainly there was ground for anxiety. To rebuke men for their sins is the most difficult and the most hazardous of all the functions devolved on a minister of the gospel. Happy the minister who can say that he has not done "damage," some time in his career, in this particular. But in the present case all had turned out well. The censure, the exhortation, the personal lovingness, he had put into his letter, had blended in one gracious influence, so that conscience had witnessed to conscience, heart to heart, energy on their part to decision and resoluteness on his part, and a result most blessed to him, to Titus, to the Church, had been effected. It was not the sorrow of the world that "worketh death." Instead of that, it had wrought life, a renewed and most hopeful life, a change so glorious that it would never be repented of. But he would particularize. If the repentance had been "godly," and therefore without "damage," he would show them the full meaning of these worsts. "Behold this selfsame thing." He would arouse their attention and concentrate thought on this manifestation of God's mercy. To see it they must look within. What a transformation! Lately so careless, so insensible, so puffed up, even the Holy Communion shockingly abused; what save a "godly sorrow" could bring about a radical change? It was a sorrow to humble them, not to "damage" them. It was not the sorrow of the world, mortifying to pride and vanity, intensifying to selfishness, driving to desperation, and arming the soul in deadlier hostility to goodness. The proof of all this was at hand. Carefulness; activity and diligence in ferreting out evils and extirpating them. Clearing of themselves; anxiety to get rid of the stain on their Church character, and stand fair with the apostle. Indignation; not only against the incestuous man, but that feeling of self-vexation which arises when we see the folly and evil of our conduct. Fear; lest a heavier punishment should come from God than that already experienced. Longing; fervent desire to do better. Zeal; industrious effort in discharging their duties, and especially such duties as concerned Church discipline. Avenging the wrong done by punishment so as to evince their sincerity of amendment. Yea; repeated in every item, specified that each element of the sentence might maintain its proper degree of force. Finally, his hearty commendation; in every respect, approving themselves to be right minded in this matter. A word of justification for himself follows. Not for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for his sake who had suffered the wrong, had he written, but that their earnest care in his behalf might be manifested And his apostleship honoured. In the name of God he had called them to repentance, and they had promptly hearkened to the Divine message. Once more the power of the gospel had been vindicated, and "therefore we have been comforted." Throughout the affair he had been intensely personal, but had he been actuated by selfishness, or had any element of selfishness mixed with his motives, this personal intensity could not have assumed the form presented in his conduct. Yet in that hour of gladness there was an uppermost joy. A beautiful touch of nature it is when he says that he "joyed the more exceedingly" on account of his young associate Titus, "because his spirit was refreshed by you all." The long-continued trouble seems over now. The unrest, the fightings without and the fears within, Ephesus and Troas and Macedonia, pass out of presence, and the only spectacle left in the horizon of vision is Paul the apostle standing firmly on the historic soil he has won for Christ, with Titus at his side, in whose blooming spring time his eye reads the harvest not far off. "O ye Corinthians, our heart is enlarged." Can he express his gratification too often, too freely? Once again, "I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things."—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
2 Corinthians 7:1 - Holiness.
It is too customary for religions of human origin and authority to lay stress upon merely external and ceremonial purity. Many such religions pay not the slightest attention to the higher claims of morality. Now, Judaism used all its ceremonial cleansings as means for developing the idea of true morality. And Christianity is emphatically a religion of holiness. This appears from considering the unique and sinless character of Christ, the spirituality of his teaching; and further, from the atonement he has made for sin, and the provision for true purity made in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit.
I. THE NEGATIVE VIEW OF HOLINESS. The text assumes that man's state is naturally impure, that his heart is defiled and polluted by sin, that his life is stained and dyed with its moral blackness. Hence the admonition to cleanse:
1. From all filthiness of the flesh. There was a special reason why this should be made prominent in addressing the Corinthians, inasmuch as not only was their city celebrated for its licentiousness, but the Church itself had tolerated a flagrant case of immorality. The sins of the flesh are indeed the especial fault of those who have lately been rescued from the corruptions of paganism; yet we shall mislead ourselves if we suppose that, in any state of civilization or Christian privilege, men are free from temptations to offences of this kind.
2. From all filthiness of the spirit. Our Lord himself has been careful and faithful to warn against these; the heart may sin as well as the body. In fact, it is the heart that needs to be the first and chief seat of purification.
II. THE POSITIVE VIEW OF HOLINESS. The expression is noticeable, "perfecting holiness." Such language implies:
1. That there are degrees of moral purity, and that it is expected of the Christian that he should go forward, from one stage to another, conquering sin, achieving new degrees of virtue, and leaving infirmities behind.
2. It is implied also that this is to be the result of effort. No sanction can be found here for that quietism which represents holiness as acquired without effort, struggle, and conquest.
3. Yet it is to be understood that in this process we stand in need of the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, whose distinctive work is a work of sanctification.
III. THE CHRISTIAN MOTIVES TO HOLINESS. They are represented here as two.
1. The fear of God, by which we understand a reverence for his holy character, respect for his holy Law, and a proper dread lest we should by disobedience incur his displeasure and indignation.
2. The promises of God. The promises here adduced are indeed sufficient to animate us to the most ardent efforts. The favour and indwelling of the Eternal, his most tender representations of his fatherhood, and his assured consideration and treatment of us as his beloved children,—these surely are promises which should and will exercise a mighty influence over the heart and urge to a cheerful and consecrated obedience.—T.
2 Corinthians 7:3. - In our hearts.
The strong personal feeling which breathes throughout this Epistle is at its strongest here. Paul claims to occupy a very close and tender relation to these Corinthians; however they may feel towards him—and he acknowledges that they have shown respect to his authority and have caused him joy—he holds them very dear. "Not merely are you," he seems to say, "on our lips, not merely are your names upon our pen, not merely do we keep you in memory; 'ye are in our hearts to die together and live together.'"
I. HOW TO ACCOUNT FOR THIS AFFECTIONATE INTEREST. The feeling here described is appropriate in the case of all Christian ministers in relation to those placed in their spiritual charge.
1. The general reason: Christ's friendship towards his people is the model and the motive of the friendship which obtains among them mutually. There is something distinctively Christian in sentiments and relations of this kind. Not kindred, not interest, but fellowship in Christ, constitutes the bond of union.
2. The special reason: labour and suffering deepen interest and strengthen and hallow love. The apostle had toiled for these Corinthians, had exposed himself to danger on their behalf, had suffered anguish of spirit through their unspirituality and folly. Hence the tender interest, resembling maternal affection, which he cherished towards them.
3. The personal reason. Many of the members of this congregation had come to love their evangelist, to regard him as the minister of God to their souls; and he had found in their devotion a rich reward for all he had done for their good. Those who would benefit their fellow men spiritually and lastingly must have them "in their hearts." This will give a zest, a vigour, to all efforts for their good.
II. IN WHAT RESPECT TO TRACE THE RESULTS OF THIS AFFECTIONATE INTEREST. If the heart be the very spring of action, the true explanation of conduct, it may be expected that the minister who has his people in his heart will be by that fact powerfully affected in his ministerial life.
1. Such a minister will leave no labour unaccomplished which may tend to the good of his people. Much occurs to deject the zealous servant of God; and, as a mere matter of duty, it will often be hard for him to persevere in his endeavours. But, prompted by love, he will not grow weary or hopeless, but will persevere in his faithful efforts and sacrifices.
2. Such a spiritual labourer will be either distressed or cheered by the treatment with which he may meet from those to whom he ministers. We may be indifferent as to the conduct of some of our acquaintances; but those who are in our hearts must needs give us either satisfaction and comfort or anxiety and grief. Let all hearers of the gospel, all members of the Church, consider how deeply their action must affect the hearts of God's servants.
3. The true minister hopes to enjoy the society of his people in the heavenly state. So closely are pastor and flock united, that in heart, in feeling, they may be said to "die together" as well as to "live together." The saved are to those who have been helpful in their salvation their joy and crown of rejoicing in the world of glory.—T.
2 Corinthians 7:5 - Fighting and fears.
The course of the apostle was one remarkably varied sometimes prosperous, sometimes adverse. At the time when he wrote this Epistle he looked back upon a period of trouble, contention, and opposition, and upon experiences of suffering and disappointment. His nature was not one to pass through life unmoved; he was sensitive to all influences. And at Ephesus, at Troas, and in that Macedonia from which he was now writing, Paul had endured much which was fitted to harass and depress his mind. Never was affliction more comprehensively summed up than in the language he here employs—"without, fightings; within, fears."
I. THE TROUBLES WHICH ASSAIL THE CHRISTIAN WORKER FROM WITHOUT.
1. Opposition to his doctrine. This Paul experienced, and this every servant of Christ must expect, both from open enemies of Christianity and from false brethren who corrupt the truth.
2. Persecution. That the apostle was exposed to this, the record of his life abundantly proves; and, in the first age, as at many subsequent periods, such experience was common. Thus the Master suffered, and thus his servants must expect to suffer like him.
II. THE TROUBLES WHICH ASSAIL THE CHRISTIAN WORKER FROM WITHIN. What were the "fears" to which St. Paul refers? We can but conjecture.
1. Fear lest there had been a want of wisdom, or devotion, in the services undertaken.
2. Fear lest the work of the Lord should have suffered through any insufficiency on the part of the worker.
3. Fear lest at last the labourer should fail of acceptance and approval.
III. THE SUPPORT AND CONSOLATION PROVIDED FOR THE CHRISTIAN WORKER TO SUSTAIN HIM UNDER THESE TROUBLES.
1. The testimony of a good conscience, that, however imperfectly and inadequately the service has been rendered, it has yet been rendered in sincerity.
2. The assurance that an overruling Providence has remarked and has permitted all that has taken place, even to the temporary discouragement of the toiler for Christ.
3. The conviction that in such trouble the servant has had fellowship with his Lord.
4. The hope and expectation that light affliction will work out an exceeding and eternal weight of glory.—T.
2 Corinthians 7:6 - The Comforter of the lowly.
We are accustomed to think of the apostle as the soldier of the cross, the hero of the spiritual war. And this is just. Nevertheless, we should not forget that he had a human heart, with human susceptibilities and cravings; that he knew what it was to be weary, disappointed, and sorrowful, and what it was to be consoled, encouraged and elated. This Epistle represents him as bitterly distressed by the conduct of the Corinthian Christians, and yet as truly comforted by the tidings brought by Titus and by the brotherly fellowship and sympathy of his youthful colleague.
I. THE NEED OF COMFORT. This is owing to the fact that Christian people and Christian workers are sometimes among the downcast, the lowly, the depressed. It is a permitted experience of human life, and there are reasons, some of them obvious enough, why the faithful and zealous servant of Christ should not be exempt from such feelings. It may be necessary, in order to keep him humble, to preserve him from self-confidence, to cherish within him a spirit of dependence upon Divine assistance.
II. THE AUTHOR OF COMPORT. This view which the apostle here takes of God may to some seem derogatory to his dignity. But it should rather be regarded as setting God's character in an admirable and attractive light. If God has made the human heart such as it is, if he has appointed its varied experiences, it cannot be beneath him to minister to that nature which is his own handiwork, to overrule to highest ends those circumstances which his wisdom has created. He has delighted to reveal himself to his people as a God of consolation, especially when their hearts have been most sore and their cry most piercing.
III. THE MEANS OF DIVINE COMFORT. These means accord with the nature with which the Creator has endowed us, and are none the less honouring to his wisdom because they are often of the simplest kind. The case of Paul illustrates this.
1. The presence and brotherly kindness of a friend is consolatory to the afflicted; e.g. the coming of Titus.
2. The good tidings that reach the downcast cheer the soul; e.g. good news concerning the Corinthian Church.
3. The assurance of affection and sympathy on the part of those whose welfare is sought (vide verses 7-9).—T.
2 Corinthians 7:10 - Sorrow and repentance.
here is only one way to avoid sorrow, and that is to avoid sin. Even then sympathy will awaken sorrow on account of the sin of others. But so long as there is evil in this world, so long will it be a world of anguish and of tears It is not the sorrow which is to be regretted, but the sin which is its cause. "They that lack time to mourn lack time to mend."
I. THE SORROW OF THE WORLD. The ungodly may sorrow because they have sinned. But observe:
1. What are the characteristics of this sorrow. When the irreligious are rebuked and chastened for their wrong doing, their vanity is wounded, their anger is excited, their resentment is aroused, they are vexed because they lose the favour of their neighbours or suffer in reputation.
2. The issue of this sorrow is death; instead of being profitable, it is deleterious, drawing the thoughts away from the moral heinousness of sin, and confirming the sinner in courses whose only end is spiritual death.
II. THE SORROW WHICH IS GODLY.
1. This is occasioned by the recognition of the sin as an offence against the Divine Law. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
2. And by the feeling that sin is a grief to the Divine heart. As a tender child grieves to hurt his father's spirit, so a truly sensitive nature is pained in the very pain of Christ.
3. And by the knowledge that human sin brought the holy Saviour to the cross.
4. And is heightened by the knowledge that privileges have been abused and grace defied.
III. THE REPENTANCE TO WHICH GODLY SORROW LEADS. It is a change of mind and purpose; a turning away from the error, the folly, the unbelief of the past, a turning away from temptation and from the society of the sinful, a turning to God as he has revealed in Christ his infinite mercy and loving-kindness. Especially is this repentance that "which bringeth no regret." He who comes out of bondage into liberty can never rue his choice.
IV. THE ULTIMATE ISSUE OF TRUE REPENTANCE. This is salvation, which contrasts with that death to which worldly sorrow leads. Such is the appointment of Infinite Wisdom. And be who studies this process must acknowledge that, to a true and eternal salvation, there can be no other path than the path of repentance and of faith.—T.
2 Corinthians 7:13 - Refreshment of spirit.
The very decidedly personal character of this Epistle is the occasion of its bringing before the reader some topics to which otherwise his attention might not be directed. The writer, his friends and colleagues, Timothy and Titus, the several persons in the Corinthian Church alluded to, the community which was called upon to take action,—all seem to live before us. Human feelings appear in the light of Christian truth, privilege, and duty. The experiences of the heart are represented as hallowed and elevated by the principles of spiritual religion. Titus is depicted as visiting Corinth, as received with respect, and as obeyed with alacrity, and consequently as cherishing a deepened affection for the Corinthian Christians, as rejoicing because of their attitude of spirit and their united action, and, in fact, as refreshed in spirit by his visit to them.
I. THE SPIRIT'S NEED OF REFRESHMENT. This may arise from:
1. Weariness in labour. One may become weary in the work when not weary of it.
2. Disappointment in efforts made for the good of others. When energy and self-denial have done their best, and no results have followed, or at all events none have become apparent, the spirit is sometimes saddened and dejected.
3. Opposition, whether from the world without or from professed brethren, produces a most disheartening effect upon the sensitive nature.
III. THE POWER OF TRUE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP TO REFRESH THE SPIRIT. It does this in many ways.
1. It brings home the conviction that the Christian labourer is not alone. He may be disposed to lament, as Elijah did, that he is left alone in the world; but it is not so, and there are occasions upon which he realizes this.
2. It sometimes takes the form of appreciation of services rendered on behalf of the brotherhood. The pastor finds that his visits have been valued; the preacher that his word has been a living seed in hearts of which he had thought there was but little that was good; the admonition awakens confessions, acknowledgments, resolutions, which were but little expected.
3. United exercises of praise and prayer react upon the weary soul; listlessness, discouragement, disappear; the whole nature is braced by Heaven-born energy for new and happier service.—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
2 Corinthians 7:1 - The promises of God an incentive to holy living
I. CONSIDER THE DIVINE PROMISES.
1. How numerous they are. Some are specified in preceding verses. Divine promise is, however, found in all parts of the Scripture. The crown of revelation is thickly studded with the pearls of promise. God encourages his people by multiplying promises to them.
2. How varied. There are promises suited to every condition—for joy, sorrow, sickness, health, penury, prosperity, weakness, strength. We change greatly in experience, but in every new condition we find a promise appropriate to it. The manna of promise covers the path of pilgrimage.
3. How needful to us. For our support, guidance, comfort, encouragement, happiness, advance. God's promises are our rods and staffs. Were it not for such upholdings, we should soon sink in the mire.
4. How precious. What promises are like unto these? How can we compute the value of that which is invaluable? Divine promises are things by themselves. Nothing could compensate for their loss. Of such value are they that only a God is rich enough to bestow them.
5. How faithful. What reliance may be placed upon them! They are all "yea" and "amen" in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Promises, indeed, are easily obtained from men, but what men fail in is fulfilment. But the word of Jehovah cannot be broken. His promises are precious, but they are not more precious than sure.
6. Divine promise culminates in such special promises as those given in preceding verses (2 Corinthians 6:16-18): God's engagement to dwell within us; God's continuous adoption of us, whereby we are ever his sons and daughters. If these things be ours, then all things are ours.
II. CONSIDER THE LIFE TO WHICH THESE PROMISES SHOULD LEAD.
1. Sins of the flesh should be discarded. If we are God's, our body is the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16). Such a temple must be kept pure. Such sins as intemperance, gluttony, lust, etc., must be renounced by the child of God. We are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). Many forget how truly they may do so. Sins of the flesh are defilements of the flesh. If we defile the temple of God, God will not bless us, but curse us (1 Corinthians 3:17). It is not enough to be pure within, we must be pure without also. Our whole being must be consecrated to God and ruled by his laws.
2. Sins of the spirit must be renounced. Such sins as pride, malice, wrath, envying, falsehood, idolatry, impure conceptions, etc. Many cleanse the exterior only; they whiten the sepulchre, but trouble not about the dead bones within. Many are quite satisfied with external piety; God is not. Note: Sins of the spirit lead to sins of the flesh, and vice versa.
3. We are to seek complete holiness. We are to cleanse ourselves from "all" defilement. We are to "perfect holiness." We are not to be easily satisfied with ourselves. 'Tis not enough to do a little and then rest. The statue must be finished; it is begun that it may be completed. The ideal set before us is a high one. Like the painter, the poet, the orator, we must strive to realize this ideal. We are not to rest until all things have become new.
4. All should be done in the fear of God. Our duty to God must influence us more than our own happiness or the welfare of others. True life is a life which is full of God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and the fear of the Lord runs throughout the truly wise life. Much righteousness is society-satisfying righteousness; social sanction takes the place of Divine; our fellows become our god. In our righteousness we must seek to please and satisfy God. Fear of God's disapprobation will spur us to sterner efforts.
5. Earnest effort on our part is necessary, The apostle says, "Let us cleanse ourselves." Many wait for God when God is waiting for them. Our salvation is ascribed to God; nevertheless, we are enjoined to work it out; and our efforts to work out our salvation are the evidence that God is working in us. All cleansing of our life is voluntary on our side; and there is no high spiritual life without striving.
III. CONSIDER WHY GOD'S PROMISES SHOULD LEAD TO SUCH A LIFE.
1. Gratitude. This is a life well pleasing to God. He in his promises has done how much for us I What is our" reasonable service"?
2. The fulfilment of the Divine promises is conditional upon our seeking to live the new life. Newness of living is the evidence of newness of condition. God's promises are made to God's people, or to those who sincerely desire to be his people; but if we do not walk in righteousness we have evidently believed in vain. We are then only of the nominal, not the real, Israel; and the promises are for the latter, not the former. The nominal Jews lost their privileges because they possessed only nominal piety. All God's promises are conditional. If we are not fruit-bearing trees, we must expect not to be cared for, but to be cut down. The promises of God are not for any save those who walk in his fear and love.—H.
2 Corinthians 7:2-4 - Christian affection.
I. HINDERS WRONG DOING. Paul had many reasons for not in any way injuring the Corinthians, but his love for them was certainly one. He loved them too well to wilfully do them any evil. As true love to God leads to obedience to Divine commands and abstention from injuring the Divine kingdom, so love to men leads us to consult their interests. We should love men too well to harm them. This check of love is very beautiful as well as very powerful. It is love, after all, that rules the world; only, alas! it is largely love of self and love of sin.
II. LEADS TO FAITHFUL UTTERANCE. The apostle was very outspoken to the Corinthians because of his great love for them. His love rendered silence impossible. If we love our brother much we shall not suffer sin upon him. Blindness and dumbness towards the sins of our brethren are cruelty, not kindness. If we find it practically impossible to admonish the erring, it is not because we love them so much, but because we love them so little. Ministers and teachers should have great boldness of speech. A house dog is no good unless he barks. A surgeon who never uses the knife deserves few patients. Faithful speech is a true child of the chief of the graces.
III. SHOULD BE VERY INTENSE TOWARDS BELIEVERS, ESPECIALLY TOWARDS OUR SPIRITUAL CHILDREN. The only manacles of the children of God are golden ones. Believers can be truly knit together by love alone. The cement joining together the living stones of God's house is love. Churches without love are scandalous spectacles to the world, dens of misery in themselves, and hateful in the sight of God. But love can make a happy family out of otherwise incongruous elements, and a holy family out of elements still marked by imperfections. A particular affection should be cherished towards those whom we have led to Christ. Paul's affection for his spiritual children was remarkable; yet not greater than ours ought to be. If we love such greatly, we can do much for them; our love to them and special relation will give us power over them. They will need guidance, counsel, possibly admonition. A great love for them will prompt to great efforts on their behalf. Paul's love made him cleave to his converts; they were in his heart "to die together and live together" (2 Corinthians 7:3).
IV. SHOULD BE STRONG ENOUGH TO BEAR A GREAT STRAIN. It is very likely to be subjected to this. So easy is it to love when we are loved, deferred to, obeyed, courteously treated; so difficult otherwise. But apostolic love could bear this test (see 2 Corinthians 12:15). We are apt to love ideal persons, or to suppose that the real persons of our affection have ideal excellences. Love is tested when we discover the many imperfections in the objects of our affection; but love ought to bear the test. Profitably may we remember that, if we see faults in others, they probably see not a few in us.
V. WILL OFTEN TRIUMPH OVER OPPOSITION. If you want to conquer men, love them. Persist in loving the unlovely. Some hearts may not yield even to love, but nothing is likely to bring them so near to yielding. There is mighty power in love. But it must be real, solid, test-bearing, abiding. Paul's great power was love power.
VI. BRINGS MUCH JOY TO THOSE EXERCISING IT. It has its pains, but these are chastened. It is the unloving heart which is the unrejoicing heart. Especially is the joy great when this love is reciprocated or begins to triumph. Paul's cup ran over when the Corinthians yielded to his love. He could say, "I overflow with joy in all our affliction" (2 Corinthians 7:4). God is love, and God lives in unsullied bliss. If we were more like God in love we should be more like God in joy. The atmosphere of heaven is love; if we breathe this atmosphere on earth we experience heavenly delight.
VII. FITS US FOR USEFULNESS. A less loving apostle than Paul could never have done Paul's work. The greatest teacher the world has ever seen was the One who had most love. Love drives us to usefulness and qualifies us for it at the same time. If we would be more educated for Christian service, let us labour to take a higher degree in the university of love. The world wants Christian workers whose hearts are full of apostolic, yea, of Christ-like, love.—H.
2 Corinthians 7:5-7 - Ministerial sorrows and their alleviation.
I. MUCH SORROW IS OFTEN THE PORTION OF MINISTERS OF CHRIST. Arising from various causes, such as:
1. Bodily weakness. Some seem to forget that ministers have bodies at all. Certainly many expect them at all times to be ready for their duties. Ministerial work is very trying to bodily strength. And ministerial work is exceedingly painful in bodily sickness and infirmity. Here many ministers bring ranch sorrow upon themselves by carelessness as to the body. In some Churches it might be a good thing to appoint a deacon whose special function should be to see that the pastor took sufficient open air exercise.
2. Mental weariness. The mind soon tires. The Lord's servant has often to do his wink with a flagging brain. Great sorrow is felt when the need of work is seen and the capacity not possessed through exhaustion.
3. Mental depression. "Fears within." Sometimes experienced in the very midst of success, When under adverse circumstances, it becomes indeed a Marah of bitterness.
4. Church troubles. A Church, carefully planted with prayers and tears and toil, threatened with ruin or with severe injury. Factious opposition—"fightings without." Misrepresentation; ingratitude; division.
5. The inconsistencies of believers. The true pastor deeply loves his spiritual children, and can say, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (3 John 1:4). But when they go astray, when they dishonour the cause to which they belong, his anxiety becomes intense and his grief profound; when they grow careless, idle, worldly; when the prayer meetings and more spiritual gatherings are neglected; when no spirit of zeal burns in their hearts or is manifested in their lives.
6. The callousness of the impenitent. When the wave of his own earnestness beats upon the rock of carnality, and is dashed back, leaving the rock as hard and cold as ever. When the very heart of a man is nearly preached out of him, and yet no sigh follows.
7. The opposition of men of the world. The sneer of the sceptic, and his insidious efforts, The open or covert endeavour of ungodly men to hinder the progress of the truth.
8. Personal difficulties, doubts, and temptations. The minister has his own spiritual life to care for, and whilst it might easily be concluded that his special work is pre-eminently favourable to that life, the fact is that ministerial labours involve very special temptations, and that much grace is needed to preserve a spiritual tone. The minister, too, is the favourite target of Satan and of the followers of Satan. These troubles are cumulative. Many, and sometimes all, press at the same time; and yet the all-responsible work of the ministry has to be carried on under such conditions. Well may one cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
II. NOTE SOME ALLEVIATIONS OF MINISTERIAL SORROW.
1. Conviction of the Divine approval. The faithful minister often has this Joy, and may always have it if he will. This is enough to make any man brave in peril, and to cheer any man in heaviest sorrow. This was one of Paul's sheet anchors.
2. A good conscience. If conscience does not condemn, we may pluck up our courage. Still, a man must not conclude too easily that he is faultless. There are some over-contented, non-successful ministers who are a bane to the Church.
3. Realization of the grandeur of the work. The soul sinks when this is lost sight of or obscured. The soul rises when the service of Christ is seen in a clear, true light.
4. Evidences that labour is not in vain. God sends some Titus with good news. Conversions, causing joy in the presence of the angels of God, cause joy also in the pastor's heart of hearts. Here is infinite compensation for all toil, anxiety, and suffering.
5. Suitable response of those under charge when appealed to. Paul's joy was largely caused by the Corinthian response to the First Epistle. When the inconsistent give up much of their inconsistency under pastoral admonition; when the worldly become more spiritual; when the indifferent become earnest;—then the under shepherd is made glad indeed.
6. The anticipation of the Master's commendation at last. Paul ever had regard to "the crown of righteousness." If we can but please our Master, everything else must be a matter of comparative indifference.
Applies to some extent to all Christian workers. All such are "ministers," and in their degree share in ministerial joys and sorrows.—H.
2 Corinthians 7:8-15 - Marks of true penitence.
I. TRUE REPENTANCE IS IN CONTRAST WITH THE SORROW or THE WORLD. It is the fruit of "godly sorrow" (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is sorrow "after a godly sort" (2 Corinthians 7:9), or "according to God." It makes us see sin as against God. It is coming to the mind of God as to sin. It leads to salvation—to eternal life. It is never the subject of regret, but of thankfulness. The sorrow of the world is not because of sin, but because of its penal consequences. It issues in death because it still holds to the sin. It is a regret that sin in any stage should be so painful. It would reform hell by banishing its pains, not its wickedness.
II. IT INVOLVES DEEP SOLICITUDE. (2 Corinthians 7:11.) Opposed to prior indifference. The Corinthians had regarded their sin as of little importance, but now they feel far otherwise towards it. So unrepentant men boast that they have sinned so little. Job said, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." When true penitence is begotten in the heart, the time for carelessness in respect of sin has gone, and the time of carefulness has come. Sin is no longer a light matter, but one most momentous and urgent.
III. RENUNCIATION OF THE EVIL. Thus the Corinthians sought to clear themselves (verse 11). Before, they had connived; now, they repudiated. True repentance involves a desire to be separate from the sin. The evil thing is renounced. To hold to the evil, whilst we profess to repent of it, is to demonstrate that we do not repent at all.
IV. DETESTATION OF THE EVIL. (Verse 11) We may renounce what we still love, but in true penitence the mind is enlightened, the true nature of sin is perceived, and the soul ceases to love and begins to loathe it. Sin is detested, and self is detested because self has sinned. The soul is roused against sin; there is "indignation."
V. FEAR. (Verse 11.)
1. Of the Divine wrath.
2. Of again sinning.
VI. DESIRE FOR RESTORATION. (Verse 11.)
1. To the approval of righteous men.
2. To peace with conscience.
3. Above all, to the favour of God.
VII. ZEAL. (Verse 11.)
1. In immediately taking a right course.
2. In seeking to remedy the effects of sin.
3. For God's honour.
VIII. CONVICTION THAT SIN DESERVES PUNISHMENT. (Verse 11.) A sense of justice is aroused. It does not seem wrong for the sinner to be punished then, but right. Hearts unstirred by true penitence carp at and question sin-penalties. But "godly sorrow" gives to sin a tongue crying loudly for wrath. When sin is rightly apprehended it becomes an evil for sin not to be punished. This applies to ourselves; we condemn ourselves. This applies to others; we feel that they ought to be condemned. "Yea, what avenging!"
IX. A HUMBLE, TEACHABLE SPIRIT. (Verse 15.) Godly sorrow breaks down pride. The Corinthians before had found fault with the teaching of Paul himself. Now they are willing to be taught by one of his disciples.—H.
2 Corinthians 7:9-11 - Two kinds of sorrow.
Reproof works well when it induces sorrow toward God and issues in repentance. But of sorrow there are two kinds.
I. THE SORROW OF THE WORLD.
1. Its nature. It is regret for worldly loss, or, if for faults and sins, it is for them as bringing worldly discredit. It is vexation, not for wrong done, so much as for damage incurred, credit spoilt, advantage missed, pride wounded.
2. Its issues. It works death. It wears the mind, sours the temper, fills the breast with discontent, takes away all zest of exertion, chokes the heart with resentment and chagrin. It actually kills; a rankling annoyance or shame tends both to embitter and to shorten life. There are more than is commonly believed dying of vexation; as Spenser has it—
"Dying each day with inward wounds of Dolour's dart."
II. SORROW ACCORDING TO GOD.
1. Its nature. It springs from a sense of sin in the light of God, and in relation to his Name, Law, and glory. It is the grief of a mind that has learnt to honour, observe, and follow the Lord, and therefore mourns for sin as committed against heaven and in his sight. See the sorrow of the world in King Saul, who, when he was reproved by the prophet, admitted, "I have sinned;" but immediately added this request to Samuel, "Yet honour me now." See the sorrow according to God in King David, who, when he was reproved by a prophet, said. "I have sinned against Jehovah," and then prayed the fifty-first psalm, saying, "Hide thy face from my sins."
2. Its result. It works "repentance to salvation," otherwise described as "repentance toward God" and "repentance unto life." The sorrow does not exhaust itself in emotion, but induces a change of mind, a turning from sin to God, and so from death to life. And such repentance will never be regretted. St. Paul had regretted his first letter, but now did not regret it, since he learned the good effect it had produced. A minister of Christ may have to speak sharply to men about their sins. He may have to regret that he evaded such duty or spoke smooth things, but not that he brought trouble to the consciences of sinners or godly sorrow to their hearts. And many a hearer of the Word may have to grieve that he was deaf to reproof, but none that he listened to it and mourned for his sin. No one will ever regret that he repented toward God.
3. Its further issues and evidences. The moral earnestness which was connected with sorrow according to and repentance toward God showed itself thus at Corinth. "What carefulness it wrought in you!" What diligence! Blessed is the reproof, healthy is the sorrow, which puts a stop to trifling, and makes us face the reality and feel the seriousness of living in God's sight. We must not then excuse our faults or count them unavoidable, but set about the correction of them with all diligence. "Yea, what a clearing of yourselves!" What solicitude to be right with God! "Yea, what indignation!" What lively abhorrence of evil! "Yea, what fear! yea, what longing desire!" What anxiety to satisfy the apostle, or any servant of God who has brought our sins home to our conscience, that we are and mean to be what he would approve! Thus the effect of godly sorrow is to make the heart tender and affectionate as well as pure. "Yea, what zeal" in reformation! "Yea, what revenge!" What holy severity against sin! When a sinner, charged with his offences against God, stands on his defence, he is fertile in excuses. The sin was a little one; or the motive was not bad; or the provocation or temptation was great; or the circumstances almost compelled him; or he did it without thought; or he did as others do. But when he is convinced of the Holy Ghost and moved with godly sorrow, he has no plea, and does not wish to have any excuse pleaded for him. He wants rather to have revenge upon his sin, and abhors himself on account of it, repenting in dust and ashes. There is no peace for his conscience but in the sin-purging blood of Jesus Christ. When the believer (and this rather than the other is the case which this text suggests) is reproved for grave inconsistency, moral earnestness is roused within him. Not that he is bound to accept the strictures and rebukes of ill-natured and censorious persons who call it Faithfulness to find fault freely with their neighbours. But let a righteous man smite him, and he takes it as an excellent oil. As his fault is shown to his conscience, he scorns to excuse it. He breaks off the sin by righteousness, and that with a sort of sacred indignation, not against the reprover, but against the thing reproved. Indeed, a sorrow God-ward for one fault works a repentance for all sin. As Gurnal says, One spot occasions the whole garment to be washed. A careful man, when he findeth it rain in at one place, sends forth the workmen to look over all the roof. So should the discovery of one fault lead to a general renewal of self-examination and repentance; and sorrow for one sin should rend the heart for all sins."—F.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
2 Corinthians 7:1 - The practical power of the promises.
The Apostle John gives a very similar counsel. In 1 John 3:3 he says, "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." Our hope is based upon the promises; and the promises which the apostle has been recalling to mind are
(1) the indwelling of God;
(2) his free reception of us; and
(3) his fatherhood and our sonship, with all the love and care and keeping which these involve (2 Corinthians 6:16-18).
St. Paul argues in this way—Because you are saved, because you have entered into such a state of privilege, because you are covered by such "exceeding great and precious promises," therefore be in earnest to cleanse yourselves from all evil, watch over all the various forms of conduct, and seek to tone and purify every expression of the life. The expression, "filthiness of the flesh and spirit," needs explanation. St. Paul evidently had in mind the immoralities which are associated with idolatry, and which the Corinthian Church had treated too lightly when brought into their midst by the incestuous member. Writing of the apostle's association with Corinth, Archdeacon Farrar says, "There was one characteristic of heathen life which would come home to him with overwhelming force, and fill his pure soul with infinite pain. It was the gross immorality of a city conspicuous for its depravity even amid the depraved cities of a dying heathenism. Its very name had become a synonym for reckless debauchery ... So far from acting as a check upon this headlong immorality, religion had there taken under its immediate protection the very pollutions which it was its highest function to suppress. It was to the converts of this city that he addressed most frequently, and with most solemn warning and burning indignation, his stern prohibition of sensual crime. It was to converts drawn frown the reeking haunts of its slaves and artisans that he writes that they too had once been sunk in the lowest depths of sin and shame. It is of this city that we hear the sorrowful admission that in the world of heathendom a pure life and an honest life was a thing well nigh unknown." Distinguishing between the flesh and the spirit, though these are so subtly related, we may say, "The outward defilement is caused by sins of the flesh, or bodily part of man; the inward by those of the spirit, such as pride, unbelief, or the like." Dealing comprehensively with the topic suggested by the passage, we may show—
I. THE VARIETY OF THE PROMISES. They are found scattered throughout the sacred Word, and taking every variety of form. They are sometimes:
1. Involved in the Divine dealings with individuals.
2. At other times they are embodied in doctrinal truths, and found as soon as we try to give those truths practicable applications.
3. And at other times they are words which come to us with the seal of the experience of good men through all the ages. In all God's gracious dealings, as well as in all God's gracious words, lie hid precious and inspiring promises for all who can read aright.
II. THE ADAPTATION OF THE PROMISES. As life advances it comes to us with a great and blessed surprise, that we never pass into circumstances and conditions for which precise promises have not been provided. They are manifestly suited just for us, and for just the conditions in which we, at any given time, are placed. It seems as if they were fashioned and sent for us and to us.
III. THE ESSENCE OF ALL THE PROMISES. This is given in the promises which St. Paul has been impressing on the Corinthians. It is God's fatherliness. All promises are the assurance of our acceptance with God, our sonship with God, and the expression of the love and the faithfulness with which he fulfils his fatherhood. At the heart of every promise lies this declaration, "I will be a Father unto you."
IV. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF THE PROMISES. They set us upon seeking to be what God would have us be. Assuring strength they set us upon endeavour. Or, to put the matter in relation to the previous division of the subject, realizing the fatherliness of our God, we are set upon seeking to be true and faithful "sons and daughters"—pure sons of the holy Father, obedient sons of the King-Father, loving sons of the loving Father, very sensitive to the things that are unworthy of him, and very earnest in the endeavour to put them wholly away from us.
V. THE COMFORTING POWER OF THE PROMISES. This may be added to complete the treatment of the subject, though it is not the point set forth prominently by the apostle, and is a familiar topic. The true comforting, however, of God's promises only can come to those who carry out the Christian duties, walk worthily of the Lord, and need grace and upholding and cheer in their Christian conflict.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 7:1 - Our great life work.
"Perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The former clause of the verse indicates one side of Christian duty—the putting away of sin; this presents the other side—the putting on of holiness. We must "put off the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts." We must "put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." Melvill says, "At present the believer is like the marble in the hands of the sculptor; but though day by day he may give fresh touches and work the marble into greater emulation of the original, the resemblance will be far from complete until death. Each fresh degree of likeness is a fresh advance toward perfection. It must then be that when every feature is moulded into similitude, when all traces of feebleness and depravity are swept away forever, the statue breathes, and the picture burns with Deity,—it must be that then we 'shall be filled.' We shall look on the descending Mediator, and as though the ardent gaze drew down celestial fire, we shall seem instantly to pass through the refiner's furnace, and, leaving behind all the dishonour of the grave, and all the dross of corruptible humanity, spring upwards an ethereal, rapid, glowing thing—Christ's image, extracted by Christ's lustre? The apostle had been speaking of the temple, and of Christians as Divine temples, and so his idea of" holiness" was chiefly "consecration," "separation unto God," "entire devotement to God." Treating the perfecting of holiness as a continuous work, to which the whole of the Christian life and effort must be given, we consider—
I. THE INITIAL STAGE. The winning of holiness. There is some danger of confusing justification with sanctification. The distinction between the two may be simply expressed if we say that a man must be set right before he can go right. Regeneration is the setting of our will right with God. Justification is the setting us in the right standing with God. These stand at the very threshold of the holy life, and there is no entrance to it by any other way. Regarded from another point of view, the act of solemn personal decision for God and consecration to his service is the winning of holiness, the beginning of the godly life.
II. THE CONTINUOUS STAGE. The beginning is a frail and feeble thing. Good so far as it goes, and full of hopefulness; but needing growth, culture, perfecting. In New Testament Scriptures the word "perfect" stands for "whole," "entire," in opposition to "one-sided," to imperfect developments of parts, to monstrosities; and. so it is suggestive of the many-sided forms in which the perfecting of holiness must be carried on. The Christian has to win holiness in thought, expression of thought in word, in conduct, in relations. He is even to keep before him this unattainable ideal, "Be ye holy, even as I am holy," saith the Lord. And the perfect holiness is no merely cleaned surface, whitened free of all old stains of sin and self; it is that whitened surface painted all over with the infinite grace and purity and goodness of the Lord Christ. It is being free of the old image, but it is also being changed into his image. Whether the "perfect holiness" has ever been attained by any man while he dwelt among the shadows of the earthly can never be known, for the best of men will say to their dying days as did David, "My goodness extendeth not to thee, only to the saints that are in the earth." Enough for us to know that it is a lifelong pursuit, the cry of the soul as long as the soul can cry, the endeavour of the life so long as the life endures. Only when passed through shall We know that we are holy; and then "he that is holy may be holy still."
III. THE INSPIRATION OF THE ENDEAVOUR AFTER HOLINESS. "In the fear of God." With the ever-present thought of him who is revealed as the "consuming fire." The fear of offending God, and the desire to please God, are necessary elements in the process of sanctification. F.W. Robertson says, "We cannot do without awe; there is no depth of character without it. Tender motives are not enough to restrain from sin."—R.T.
2 Corinthians 7:4 - A minister's joy in tribulation.
The intensity of the apostle's language is explained by the intensity of his feelings in relation to the Corinthians. He loved them greatly, and was ready to make any sacrifices for them. And he was proportionately grieved when the news came, through Titus, of the way in which evil men were trying to destroy his character and his influence. The tribulation he here refers to is chiefly this mental distress and the bodily suffering which it involved. His great relief in circumstances of so much distress was that the Corinthian Church, as a whole, had received his first letter in a right spirit. He could be joyful in this, even amidst his tribulation. Two points may receive illustration.
I. THE TRIBULATION COMES FROM ANXIETY CONCERNING SPIRITUAL WELL BEING. Precisely this is the minister's sphere. His interest is in the moral and spiritual condition of those who are set in his charge. But this is the most serious and overwhelming of all burdens that can be laid upon a man's heart and effort. If we estimate what the due maintenance and culture of our own spiritual life involves, we may understand how great is the anxiety of Christian ministers who watch over souls as well as watch for souls. Illustrate by Samuel Rutherford's intense expression of feeling, "God is my witness that your salvation would be two salvations to me, and your heaven two heavens to me." Show what a strain upon nervous constitutions the pressure of the ministry becomes in these our days.
II. THE JOY COMES FROM DUE RESPONSE MADE TO EFFORTS FOR SPIRITUAL WELL BEING. Compare other expressions by apostles: e.g. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth;" "What is our joy or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy." The minister has, in the culture of spiritual life, to use truth, warnings, threatenings, as well as comfortings and inspirings; and his joy is ever this—his people are open-hearted to receive, are humble enough to regard what he may say, and. earnest enough to obey. No earthly joy is like that which they know who help their brethren to truth and purity and God.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 7:9, 2 Corinthians 7:10 - Godly sorrow; or, the sorrow that is after the will of God.
Reference is to the distress which the more spiritual members of the Corinthian Church felt on the receipt of St. Paul's first letter. He had written severely, and, after sending his letter, almost regretted that he had expressed himself so strongly; but he now felt thankful to hoar that they had so well responded to his appeals, and sorrowed unto repentance and putting away of the evil in a manner that would be so certainly approved by God. "The series of emotional words in 2 Corinthians 7:11 represent the apostle's estimate of what he had heard from Titus. There was
(1) earnestness where there had been indifference to evil, and even approval of it (1 Corinthians 5:2); and this was shown
(2) in the vindication of their conduct which they had sent through Titus; and
(3) in their stern 'indignation' against the offender;
(4) in their fear, partly of the supernatural chastisement which St. Paul had threatened, partly of the judgment of God which was against such things;
(5) in the longing to have him once more among them, which mingled with their fear;
(6) in their new zeal for the law of purity;
(7) in their actual vengeance, i.e. their sentence of condemnation passed upon the offender." "The apostle rejoiced, not that the Corinthians sorrowed, but that they sorrowed unto repentance. Sorrow has two results—it may end in spiritual life or in spiritual death; and in themselves one of these is as natural as the other. Sorrow may produce two kinds of reformation: a transient or a permanent one; an alteration in habits, which, originating in emotion, will last so long as that emotion continues, and then, after a few fruitless efforts, be given up; a repentance which will be repented of; or again, a permanent change which will be reversed by no after thought—a repentance not to be repented of." Beza says, "The 'sorrow of the world' is the certain way to desperation, unless God prevent it, as appears from the horrid examples of Cain, Saul, Ahithophel, and Judas; but the written tears of David give the clearest example of the other kind of sorrow."
I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN REMORSE AND REPENTANCE. The word "remorse" has in it the figure of "biting back," and it means going over our sins in thought, with a keen gnawing regret at having done them, but without any softened feelings such as belong to the penitent. Remorse is exactly that "sorrow of the world" which worketh death. Repentance is that humble, regretful spirit which sets a man ready to receive and to value the Divine forgiveness.
II. THE TESTS OF GENUINE REPENTANCE IN THE INDIVIDUAL. They are:
1. Mental distress.
2. Humility and self-abasement.
3. Confession without attempt at excuses.
4. Earnest seeking of Divine forgiveness.
5. Resolute putting away of the evil.
6. Keen watchfulness over the circumstances that involve temptation to the sin.
7. And an attitude of simple and unquestioning obedience to the will of God, and submission to whatever judgments on the sin it may please him to appoint. "Sorrow has done its work when it deters from evil. In the sorrow of the world the obliquity of the heart towards evil is not cured; it seems as if nothing cured it; heartache and trials come in vain; the history of life at last is what it was at first. Sorrow avails only when the past is converted into experience, and from failure lessons are learned which never are to be forgotten."
III. THE TESTS OF GENUINE REPENTANCE IN A CHURCH. These more especially are dealt with in the passage before us. Bengel says that the six results mentioned by the apostle fall into pairs. The first two relate to their feelings towards themselves, the next to their feelings towards the apostle, the last to their feelings towards the offender and his offence. The tests we notice are
(1) clearings, earnest efforts to put away the wrong, and to show that they had no complicity in it, and would make no excuses for it;
(2) anxiety for each other, that the membership may be quite purified, and no brother cherish even a secret sympathy with the wrong;
(3) discipline on the wrong doer, by at least a temporary removal of him from the Church fellowship. The penitence of a Church will also find expression in united acts of confession and humiliation, and in prayer for Divine forgiveness and restoration. Perhaps much too little is made in these days of the united acts of the corporate Church life. There is a befitting Church penitence, a proper godly sorrow of a community, when, by any evil of its members, such a community has become defiled.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 7:12 - Apostolic cares.
"Our care of you in the sight of God might appear unto you." The apostle always used the persuasion of his affection, whenever it was possible, rather than the force of his apostolic authority. Elsewhere he pleads thus: "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy." And he speaks of "that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the Churches." We may compare the care of a wise and faithful mother for the well being of her children, and the burden of thought and interest which they are to her every day. The apostle's care concerned three things.
I. PURITY. Of this he was supremely zealous. Christians must be seen to differ essentially from pagan idolaters. Immorality and uncleanness were directly associated with heathenism, and were even consecrated by idolatrous religions; but there must be no possibility of questioning that the Christian Church was "called unto holiness." "Every member must know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor." There must be no "touching of the unclean thing."
II. EDIFICATION. Security for the Christian lies in continuous growth. This, indeed, is the law of all life. When a thing ceases to grow it begins to die. The growth or upbuilding of the plant is St. Paul's supreme anxiety; and he evidently feared that the Corinthians must have been neglecting their spiritual culture, seeing they could suffer such evils to come in amongst them. Fungus growths only attack trees in which the vitality is lowered.
III. WITNESS. St. Paul expects the Churches to make positive and active testimony to all around them. That witness can only be a fitting one and a powerful one as the Church is kept pure. So St. Paul is moved with so much anxiety for the clearing of the Corinthians. He wants the light that shines from them on all the heathen world around to be a pure light, clear, white, in no way dimmed, and therefore he can rejoice that they have so fully responded to his supreme care on their behalf.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 7:16 - Apostolic confidence;
or the fulness of the restoration man may make to follow on his forgiveness of his fellow men. "I rejoice, therefore, that I have confidence in you in all things." F.W. Robertson says, "We learn from this the value of explanations. Had St. Paul left the matter unsettled, or only half settled, there never could have been a hearty understanding between him and the Corinthians. Whenever there is a misunderstanding between man and man, the true remedy is a direct and open request for explanation." This sentence closes the apostle's reference to a very painful subject; he wishes it now to be put quite away, out of thought, and so he assures the Corinthians that no relic of suspicion or fear is left in his mind; he restores them fully to his affection and esteem; he has "confidence in them in all things." Now, in this complete restoration of the Corinthians to favour we see that man may be the shadow of God, and his forgiveness and full reconciliation may help his fellow men to realize the fulness of the restoration which God gives to the penitent. He puts our sins behind his back. He casts them into the depths of the sea. He separates them from us as far as the east is from the west. He remembers them no more against us forever. He blots out our transgressions as a cloud, and our iniquities as a thick cloud. The figure of our God is the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who brings the penitent and forgiven son into the old place at the family table, dresses him in the son's robes, and gives him such a welcome as will show the sad past to be all forgiven and forgotten. It should be a serious thought to us that men may take their ideas of God's dealing with them from the manner of our dealing with them. If they find that we cannot forgive and forget, and wholly restore confidence, it will be very hard for them to believe that God can. Three points of man's dealing with man, especially of the Christian man's dealing with his fellow Christian, may be taken as representing God's dealings with us. In these we may be ourselves examples of God.
I. MAN WITHDRAWING CONFIDENCE BECAUSE OF CHERISHED SIN. God never passes by sin, and we must not. Every Church member should be quickly sensitive to the inconsistencies and sins of his fellow members. If the sin is kept and cherished there ought to be withdrawal of confidence, for whenever his people cherish sin there is a cloud passes before God and hides his face from them.
II. MAN ENDEAVOURING TO INFLUENCE FOR THE PUTTING AWAY OF SIN. Falling into transgression ought to set our brothers upon our Christian love and effort. Erring brothers must not be left to go in their evil ways. Illustrate from St. Paul's efforts to bring the incestuous man to repentance. Too often Churches are more eager to exercise discipline than to attempt recovery, and labour to secure repentance. "Ye that are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness."
III. MAN RESTORING TO CONFIDENCE WHEN THE SIN IS PUT AWAY. This we have illustrated in the hearty words of the apostle. Speaking of Newman's sentence, "A true penitent never forgives himself," F.W. Robertson says, "A false estimate of the gospel of Christ and of the heart of man! A proud remorse does not forgive itself the forfeiture of its own dignity; but it is the very beauty of the penitence which is according to God that at last the sinner, realizing God's forgiveness, does learn to forgive himself." And help to this "self-forgiving" we can render if we show to the sincere penitent the heartiness of our forgiveness and restoration.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30