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That is, seeing we have such a glorious ministry far more excelling than that of Moses, mentioned in the conclusion of the foregoing chapter, as we have received mercy or special favours from God in committing it to us, so we faint not under the difficulties and pressures to which it doth expose us. Having received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty; (all fornication and uncleanness, all ambition and covetousness, which the false apostles allowed themselves in:) not walking in guile or craftiness; nor handling the word of God deceitfully, as they do; but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience, as persons acting in the sight of God.
Learn hence, 1. That the ministry of the gospel is a very glorious ministry, far excelling the Mosaic dispensation.
2. That it is a special favour from God to be judged faithful, and put into this ministry.
3. That no troubles, or trials, no difficulties, dangers, or distresses, should cause any of the faithful servants of God to faint, who have received mercy or favour from God to be put into the ministry: Seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.
Observe next, How the apostle, having vindicated and extolled his ministry, does in the second verse declare and assert his fidelity in the discharge of his ministry: Not handling the word of God deceitfully, but commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Hence learn, That the apostles delivered the gospel, in all things necessary to be known, believed, and practised, with great plainness and sufficient perspicuity; otherwise they could not be said to manifest the truth to every man's conscience.
As if he had said, We preach the gospel plainly; but if men do not understand and believe it, will not embrace and obey it, it is not an argument of the gospel's obscurity, but of our hearers' incredulity. The gospel is not hid from men for want of clearness, but only by means of their own voluntary and willful blindness: If our gospel be hid.
Here note, 1. St. Paul's claim and interest in the gospel which he preached, he calls it his gospel: not as if he was the author of it, but because of his instrumentality in the promulgation and establishing of it; it was a divine treasure committed to his care and trust: it was not his gospel by way of original revelation, but by way of ministerial dispensation.
Note, 2. The Corinthians' non-proficiency under the gospel specified, or at least supposed. If our gospel be hid: that is, if the word which we preach with the greatest plainness, in the greatest simplicity and sincerity; if it be hidden from the minds and understandings of men, so as to miss of its convincing power and converting efficacy, the fault is not in the gospel, but in them that sit under it.
Note, 3. The heavy doom and judgment which the apostle passes upon all such persons as sit under the external dispenstion of the gospel, and yet are no ways enlightened nor improved by it, but remain blind and ignornant, obstinate and unreformed. It is a sad symptom and foreboding sign of a lost people.
Learn hence, 1. That there are many, very many, who sit under the external dispensation of the gospel, unto whom the gospel is an hidden gospel.
Learn, 2. That the gospel's being hid from a people who have long enjoyed the light and benefit of it, is a sad symptom, yea, a certain sign, of a lost people. Such blindness, under the clearest light, is like the covering of the face, or tying the handkerchief over the eyes, in order to the turning off the obstinate sinner into eternal hell.
Observe here, 1. The title given to Satan: he is styled the god of this world; not properly, but because the honour and homage of a god is challenged by him, and by a multitude of sinners given to him. He is called by our Saviour, the prince of this world; and by the apostle the ruler of the darkness of this world; because he ruleth over a great part of the world, and they are his subjects, or rather his slaves.
Observe, 2. The way and course which Satan takes to secure his subject's obedience to himself: he blinds their eyes: that they may never know a better prince, see a better way, or understand a better state, than he hath drawn them into. Satan blinds the understandings of men by the efficacy of divers lusts, which are bred and nourished in their hearts. Now the streamings of sensusal lusts from a corrupt heart do blind the understanding, and beset the judgment; that the sinner can neither see nor know the excellency of spiritual objects.
O bloody and barbarous prince, that puts out the eyes of all his subjects, darkens the mind and understanding, takes away the thinking, considering, and reasoning power of the soul, that they neither see nor consider spiritual things, nor have any distinct and effectual apprehensions of them!
Observe, 3. The character of the persons whom Satan, the god of this world, hath blinded: Such as believe not; that is, both such as want the means of faith, and such as enjoy the means, but want the grace of faith; the former is the case of the pagan, the latter of the Christian world.
Lord! how many live under the light of the gospel, that never had heart to receive it, or will to obey it! How great a part of the Christianized world do reject Christ; though called by his name, yet will not own his authority, or submit to his government!
The nobles of the world think themselves dishonoured by submitting their necks to Christ's yoke; the sensualists of the world will not lay down a lust for him, that laid down his life for them; the worldlings of the earth prefer their dirt and dunghill before the pearl of great price. O, how few amongst them that profess Christianity, do love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity!
Observe, 4. The great end and design of the devil's agency, in blinding the minds of men with ignorance and error, with passion and prejudice; Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine into their hearts, to the ruin of him and his kingdom. As the sun casts its beams upon blind men, but they receive not the light of it; so, though the light of Christ's glorious gospel shines before the eyes of them whom the god of this world has blinded with the hopes and desires, with the possessions and enjoyments, of this world, yet they receive it not.
Observe, 5. The glorious title here given to Christ. The image of God; that is,
1. His substantial and essential image, being God of God, very God of very God. Christ, considered with respect to his divine nature, is the express image of his Father's person.
2. Christ is his image as Mediator, and with reference to the gospel, in which he has given us glorious demonstrations of the power and wisdom, of the grace and holiness, of the mercy and goodness, of God towards us; all which, as in a glass, are represented to us, and presented before us. In both these respects Christ is called The image of God.
In these words our apostle further manifests his fidelity and integrity in preaching the gospel, by showing that he sought to advance Christ, and not himself, in preaching of it.
Here note, 1. The duty practised by St. Paul: We preach. How mean and ignoble soever this office of preaching is esteemed by some men, who value not their own nor other men's souls, and therefore no wonder that they undervalue the means of making them happy; yet will the faithful ministers of Christ magnify this part of their office, not by pomp and state, not by scorn and superciliousness, as thinking it beneath them to preach, but by an humble and painful attendance upon the ministry which they have received of the Lord; and will dipsense the word with evidence and perspicuity, with faithfulness and sincerity, with power and authority, with courage and boldness, and with exemplariness of conversation; not preaching angelical sermons, and leading diabolical lives.
Observe, 2. The subject matter of the apostle's preaching: Not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.
But when may persons be said to preach themselves?
Ans. When they make themselves the authors of their own ministry, running before they are sent, and are self-created preachers: when they make themselves the matter of their preaching, venting their own passions, and prejudices and private opinions instead of the doctrine of Christ; and when they make themselves the end of their preaching, aiming rather at pleasing others, and profiting themselves, than at the glory of God, and the good of men's souls.
But what is it to preach Christ? We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.
Ans. When he is the author of our ministry, and we receive our mission from him; when we make him the object of our preaching; when the subject-matter and substance of it is Jesus Christ, either explicity or reductively; and when we make him the end of our preaching, designing to promote the honour and interest of Christ by our ministry, that his people may be gathered, his body edified, his saints perfected, his enemies subdued, his gospel propagated, and he finally admired in all them that believe.
Observe, 3. In what capacity the apostle looked upon himself in the church of Christ; not as a lord, but as a servant: Ourselves your servants. There is an honour belonging to Christ's ministers; but verily that honour consists in service which we owe to the church of Christ: servants we are to the souls of men, but not to the humours of men; at the same time that we are servants to them, we are to rule over them, and they are to obey, and submit unto us as those who watch for their souls. Therefore it is added, servants for Jesus' sake; that is, servants in order to the promoting of his honour, and his church's interest: We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.
Observe here, The faithful and humble acknowledgment which the apostle makes, how himself and his fellow-apostles came to preach Jesus Christ so convincingly to others; namely, That Almighty God, who at first, by his omnipotent word, produced light out of darkness, by no less efficacy and power brought him, a lost sinner, out of the darkness of pharisaism and sin, and shined into his and their hearts with a glorious light, to the intent that he and they should communicate and impart this divine light of the knowledge of God, which shineth in the face of CHrist, unto others.
Learn hence, That ministers must know Christ themselves, before they can make him known to others: Christ must be revealed in them, before he can be revealed by them: he must shine into their hearts by his Holy Spirit, and give them an experimental acquaintance, in their own souls, with what they deliver and make known to others. Every truth ought to be the transcript of our own experience, and be preached first to our hearts, and then to our hearers. Who can savingly enlighten others, that is in the darkness of ignorance or sin himself?
In the foregoing verses we find the apostle magnifying his office, extolling his ministry, and vindicating his fidelity in the discharge of his duty.
In this verse observe, 1. He compares the gospel he preached to a treasure: We have this treasure; a treasure for the enriching and edifying of the church. The gospel is a treasure, for its worth and dignity, for its abundance and variety, for its closeness and secrecy. This treasure Christ keeps under lock and key, only intrusting those with it whom he calls to it, and furnishes for it. They are no better than thieves and sacrilegious robbers, who, without a mediate call or warrant from Christ, do assume this trust, and break open this treasure.
Observe, 2. The repository in which this treasure is laid up, in earthen vessels; so the apostles and ministers of the gospel are called.
Where note, The word of description, they are vessels; and the word of diminution, they are earthen vessels.
1. The preachers of the gospel are represented by a word of description; they are vessels: thus vessels are not natural, but artificial instruments. No man is born a Christian, much less a minister, but made such. Vessels are not of equal capacity; some are less, others greater: thus the ministers of the gospel have gifts and graces of different degrees and excellences.
Again, vessels are not for reception only, but for effusion also; as they receive and retain, so they let out what is put into them. The ministers of Christ are not only to receive and lay up, but to lay out this heavenly treasure, which is not impaired by imparting.
Finally, Vessels are not the originals of what they have; but all they contain is poured into them, and received by them. A mine has treasure in its own bowels; but it is put into the chest. Thus the preachers of the gospel are not the authors, but the receivers only, of those truths that they publish: I have received of the Lord what I also delivered unto you. 1 Corinthians 11:23
Note farther, the word of diminution; they are earthen vessels. The preachers of the gospel are divine in regard of the sublimity of their doctrine, but human and earthen in regard of the frailty of their condition. Their being called earthen vessels, may denote the meanness of their condition, which for the most part is little and low in the world: as the poor receive the gospel, so are they very often poor and low that publish the gospel, necessitous and indigent, earthen vessels.
Again, it may denote the frailty of their persons, and the contemptibleness of them. Earthen vessels are little set by, stand in open places, used by every hand, and at every turn; while plate, gold and silver vessels, are laid and locked up with great carefulness. Thus it is often with the preachers of the gospel; they are objects base and vile, contemptible and despised, in the eyes of the world, vessels wherein there is no pleasure; yea, with some, not only our persons are despicable, but our very office and function is contemptible.
In a word, as our mean condition and base estimation, so our bodily constituiton proclaims us earthen: our bodies are earthen, because formed of the dust of the earth, because subject to flaws and cracks, and to be broken in pieces; we that preach eternal life to others, are dying men ourselves; and whilst the word of life is in our mouths, many times death is in our faces.
Observe lastly, The reason assigned why this treasure of the gospel is committed to earthen vessels, men; not to heavenly vessels, angels; namely, That the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of us from the weakness of man the instrument, there redounds great honour to God the agent. This precious treasure of the gospel is lodged in such weak and worthless vessels, that as the power is from God, namely, the awakening, convincing, quickening, heart-changing power of the word, is from him; so the glory, the entire glory, and complete praise, may be attributed and ascribed to him: We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of us.
The false apostles and some weak Christians having taken offence at the manifold and great sufferings which St. Paul, with his fellow-apostles, had met with in the course of their ministry: in these verses St. Paul shows the church at Corinth, that there was no reason at all why any should be offended at his sufferings, or any cause why the false apostles should object, that if he had preached the gospel sincerely, Almighty God would never have suffered him to be persecuted and afflicted so severely; namely, because all his afflictions were so graciously moderated, and himself so powerfully upheld by God, that he sunk not under the weight and burden of them. We are troubled, says he, on every side, but not overwhelmed with our troubles; we are often perplexed, but not so as to despair of God's help and succour; we are persecuted by men, but not forsaken of God; cast down indeed, but not killed by the fall. So that there is in our sufferings a resemblance and representation of the death and sufferings of Jesus Christ. We bear in our bodies a memorative conformity to our dying Lord, that it may appear how mightily we are supported by the quickening power of the Spirit of Christ, under all our afflictions.
As if the apostle had said, "Behold and admire in us the almighty power of Christ exerted towards us in upholding these earthen vessels, (our frail bodies,) notwithstanding the many thousand knocks they have met with in carrying about that heavenly treasure, the holy gospel with which God has intrusted us."
Observe next, He rejoices in the cause of his sufferings: We are delivered unto death for Jesus's sake; for our owning, preaching, and practising the doctrine of Jesus.
Blessed be God, we suffer not as evil-doers, but for well-doing; we suffer for the sake of the best person, and in the best cause, that ever the world was acquainted with. He adds, We are delivered unto death, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh; that is, the infinitely wise God suffers us to be thus afflicted, that in and by the sufferings which our mortal flesh does sustain and undergo, he might make it evidently manifest that Christ is risen from the dead, and, as a living head, conveys the the necessary influences of strength, support, and comfort, as to all members, so more particularly to his ministers; by which we are enabled, without fainting, to suffer the hardest things with patience, courage and constancy.
Observe lastly, He declares to them the great advantages which they reaped by his afflictions: Death worketh in us, but life in you; that is, the preaching of the gospel exposes us to death; but unto you it brings eternal life. Our death is your life, our sufferings are your advantage; we having the same faithful Spirit which was in the saints under the Old Testament, and particularly in holy David, Psalms 116:10 who says, I believed, and therefore speak; I was sore afflicted. Now as he believed and trusted in God for deliverance out of his many and great troubles, so in like manner do we believe and trust.
From the whole note, 1. That a perplexed and persecuted, an afflicted and distressed condition was the lot and portion of the members, but especially of the ministers of Christ, in the first and purest ages of the church. Christ espoused his church to himself upon the bed of his cross, his head begirt with a pillow of thorns, his body drenched in a bath of his own blood: and if the head was crowned with thorns, it is unsuitable that the feet should tread on roses.
Note, 2. Though all Christ's followers have drunk of the same cup with himself, yet the dregs of the cup have usually been put into the hand of the ministers of the word: We that live are always delivered unto death. Most of the apostles were, by the rage of tyrants, put to cruel deaths, and offered up a bloody sacrifice. The calling of ministers is honourable, but their outward condition is deplorable: their embassy is glorious, but their usage is often grievous: God sends them forth with renown, the world entertains them with reproach.
Note, 3. God doth not bring his people into a suffering condition, and there leave them; when they suffer for him, they are not forsaken by him. The voice of despair is not heard in the dark night of their calamity; but God has either the castle of providence, or the ark of promise; the all-sufficiency of his power, or the abundance of his grace: these, every of these, and all these, are for his people's retirement in the greatest storms and tempests: We are troubled, yet not distressed; persecuted, but not forsaken.
A double reason is here assigned why the apostle bare his sufferings with such invincible courage and Christian patience. The first is drawn from the advantage which would redound to the church by his sufferings: All things are for your sakes: that is, all the straits we are put to, turn to your advantage; if we die, it is to confirm you by our sufferings; if we be delivered, it is for God's glory, and your good, that the abundant grace might, by the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God. Whatever we meet with tends to the confirming of your faith, and the increasing of your thankfulness.
A second reason is drawn from the joyful issue of his sufferings: he and his fellow-apostles steadfastly believed, that Almighty God, who raised up Christ from the dead, would in like manner raise them from the grave of their sufferings, yea, from the grave of death; and both soul and body shall be presented with them to be eternally glorified together.
Learn hence, That how different soever the lot and portion of God's children and servants be in this life, some more, others less afflicted; yet having all, at the same time, faith in God for a joyful deliverance out of their afflictions, they shall all meet in the morning of the resurrection, and be by Christ presented unto God as persons redeemed by him, and shall eternally be glorified with him: He which raised up Jesus, shall raise us up also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
The original word for fainting signifies to shrink back, as cowards in war, or to sink down as porter under the pressure of some heavy burden: For this cause we faint not. For what cause? namely, this, that though their bodies were weakened by affliction, and they were daily decaying, as to the strength and vigour of the outward man; yet, as to their inward man, the strength and vigour of their minds and spirits were day by day renewed.
O happy apostle! the cold blasts of persectuion beating upon thy outward man, did by a spiritual antiperistasis increase the heat of grace within; thy soul is made fat with blows upon thy body, and battens with pricking and beating; every stone thrown at thee knocked thee nearer to Christ, the chief corner-stone: under all the storms and billows of affliction, thou, like Noah's ark, wert lifted up nearer to heaven; and after every encounter, thy salvation is nearer than before. Well therefore mightest thou declare and say, For this cause we faint not.
Still our apostle proceeds in assigning reasons why all the afflictions which himself and others met with, were not only tolerable, but joyous; namely, because,
1. His afflictions were light:
2. Because they were short.
They were light; but how? Not considered in themselves; so they were hard and heavy: thrice he was beaten with rods, five times he received forty stripes save one: but light, compared with the glory expected.
Again, they were short; but for a moment, compared with eternity. Mark the gradation for affliction there is glory: for light affliciton, a weight of glory; and for light affliction, which is but for a moment, an eternal weight of glory.
Observe farther, The apostle doth not barely say, that glory will be the consequent of affliction, but that affliction will be the cause of glory; it worketh for us.
Not as a meritorious cause: for alas! how can our afflictions deserve this happiness! What proportion can there be betwixt light and momentary afflictions, and an eternal weight of glory?
But they work for us, as they are sanctified by God to us. His infinite mercy and goodness, his covenant truth and faithfulness, make his saints' afflictions a whipping-post to their corruptions; they purge our iniquity, and take away our sin, if we belong to God as his covenant children. But for wicked and obdurate sinners, alas! it is much otherwise: instead of being refined from their dross, and purged from their filth, by being in the furnace of affliction, it boils their scum and impurity more into them; and like flints in the fire, they fly in the very face of God their refiner.
The last reason is assigned here why the apostle was kept from fainting in and under the pressure of the most heavy afflictions: he looked not at present, but future things; not at things seen, but unseen; not at things temporal, but eternal.
Observe here, 1. What it was that the apostle, when on earth, made his main scope, his chief aim, grand design, and grand end. This is signified to us in the original word, skhopdnton, which signifies to look as the archer doth at the mark he shoots at. - There were some things which he, his fellow-apostles, and all serious Christians with them, looked at.
This is specified first negatively, We look not at things seen; at the things of this life, at sensible objects, be they bitter or sweet, be they comforts or crosses. Temporal things are temporary things; and we mind them not as the men of the world do, who make them their chief and principal aim and scope; no, we leave the world to the men of the world: We look not at things which are seen;
But secondly, This is specified affirmatively, We look at the things which are not seen; the things of another life, things which are objects of faith, and not visible to fleshly eyes: we look at these, we make these our aim and scope: and the reason is subjoined why they made these things the matter of their choice, the objects of their desire and endeavour. This is intimated in the word for; For the things which are seen are temporal; that is, all the visible things of this life, whether comforts or crosses, whether prosperous or adverse, be it health or sickness, liberty or restraint, poverty or riches, honour or disgrace, life or death, they are all prosxampa, for a while, only for a short season, as the word signifies; therefore we do not much eye them, we trouble not our heads much about them; they are things of a higher nature we look at, such as neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard; and these are the durable things; For the things which are not seen are eternal.
Learn hence, 1. That temporal things, or things that are seen, do take up the heads and hearts, the minds and thoughts, of the men of the world, and are the sum of their desires, and the substance of their endeavours: We look not at the things which are seen, but there are those that do: we make not them our aim and scope, but others look at them, wholly at them, can see nothing beyond them, and desire nothing besides them.
Learn, 2. That things unseen, the things of eternity, and the invisible encouragements of another world, are the mark and scope which every real Christian is aiming at, and contending for: We look at the things which are not seen, and make them our aim and scope.
Learn, 3. That the things not seen, or the things of another life and world, are eternal things; that is, such things as admit of no changes and alterations, of no gradations or successions, of no decay or consumption, of no future hopes and expectations, of no mixture or moderation, of no recovery or revocation, of no period or conclusion.
O eternity! eternity! that vast, that boundless ocean of eternity! how does it swallow up our thoughts with wonder and amazement! God help us daily to consider of it, duly to prepare for it, and not to prefer the trifles of time before it; but make the wisest provision for the longest duration.
Learn, 4. That which puts the weight upon things not seen, and renders them the proper objects of a Christian's aim and choice, is this, because they are eternal: that which chiefly casts the scale, and maketh things not seen to preponderate, is, because they are eternal things. It is eternity which transcendeth all expression, all conception, much more all our comprehension; that puts an infinite weight upon unseen things: The things which are not seen are eternal. This mediation, well digested, would work in us an holy indifferency towards all temporal things; it would moderte our esteem of them, our desires after them, our delight in them, and our grief for the want and loss of them; and sweeten all those troubles and trials, all those sufferings and afflictions, which we meet with in our passage through time unto eternity.
Lord, take off, and turn away, our eyes from things which are seen, and help us to look at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30