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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ 2-corinthians-8.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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2 Corinthians 1:1-24. It is impossible to read the two epistles to the Corinthians with the smallest care without perceiving the strong contrast between the wounded tone of the first epistle (the heart aggrieved so much the more because it loved the saints), and now, in the second, that same heart filled with consolation about them from God. This is exceedingly assuring, and it is as evidently divine, the effectual working of God's own grace.
In human things nothing really shuts out decay. The utmost wise men essay is to put a drag on the progress of corruption, and to stave off as long as may be the too rapid inroads of death. Thanks be to God, it h not so in divine things. There is nothing which so brings out the resources of God as His supremacy over evil in grace, nothing that so manifests His tender mercy and His goodness wherever there is real faith. And spite of the painful disorders of the Corinthians, reality was there. So the apostle, though heart-broken because of their state, would confidently look up to God about them, even in his first so strongly reproving epistle; for it was the Lord Himself who had told him He had much people in that city. There was small appearance of it when he wrote the earlier letter to them; but the Lord was right, as He always is, and the apostle confided in the Lord spite of appearances. He now tastes the joyful fruit of his faith in the recovering grace of the Lord. Hence in this epistle we have not so much as in the former the evidence of their outward disorders. The apostle is not occupied as there with the regulation of the state of the church as such, but we see souls restored. There is indeed the result of that salutary dealing in the very different state of individuals, and also of the assembly; but very emphatically, whatever might be the effect on the many, to a large extent there is a blessed unfolding of life in Christ in its power and effects.
Thus our epistle reminds us to a certain extent of the epistle to the Philippians, resembling it, though not of course the same, nor by any means of so lofty a character; but nevertheless a state appears wholly different from the downward path which the first epistle had reproved. For this change God had prepared His servant; for He takes in everything in His matchless wisdom and ways. He considers not only those written to, but the one He was employing to write. Assuredly He had dealt with them, but He had also dealt with His servant Paul. It was another sort of dealing, not without humbling to them, in him withering to nature, without the shame that necessarily befell the saints at Corinth, but so much the more fitting him to go out in love toward them. As he knew what God's grace had wrought in their hearts, he could the more freely express the sympathy he felt, and, encouraged by all that had been wrought, take up what remained to be accomplished in them. But the unfailing grace of God, that works in the midst of weakness and in the face of death, and had so wrought mightily in him, made the Corinthians very dear to him, and enabled him to bring to bear on their circumstances and their state the most suited comfort that it was ever the mission of that blessed man to minister to the hearts of those that were broken down.
This he now pours forth abundantly, "Blessed be God;" for his heart, surcharged with grief when the first epistle was written, could open, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble," no matter what, were it through grave faults, were it to their own deep shame and to his grief as once. But now the comfort far overcomes the sorrow, and we are enabled to "comfort them that are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." Here with a true heart he at once brings in the sufferings of Christ: "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation."
The difference in this from Philippians, to which I have referred, is remarkable. The point in hand there is, that they were working out their own salvation, the apostle being, in a certain sense, completely shut out from them. Unable from circumstances, he there lets them know that he does not mingle himself with them in the same way. Their state did not need it. Undoubtedly this is a difference; but it is only that which is owing to their manhood in grace. Here they wanted more. It was the unfolding of grace in both; but the difference was largely to the credit of His name in the Philippians. It was the proof of their excellent condition that the apostle had such perfect confidence in them, even while he was absolutely precluded from being near them. He was at a distance from them, and had but small prospect of meeting with them shortly.
To the Corinthians he could speak otherwise. He was comparatively near, and was hoping the third time, as he tells us in the latter part of the epistle, to come to them. Nevertheless he interweaves his own experience with theirs in a way which is wonderfully gracious to those who had a heart. "And whether we be afflicted," he says, "it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation." Was it not the reckoning of grace? Whatever came on them, it was for their comfort. If affliction, the Lord would turn it to their blessing; if joy and consolation, no less to their blessing. At the same time he lets them know what trouble had come upon himself, and in the most delightful manner turns it to account. Whatever was the might of God that had sustained him when there was nothing on their part to give him comfort, but rather to add to the anguish of his spirit, now that grace was operating in their hearts, he shows how dependant he felt on their prayers. Truly beautiful is grace, and far different from the manner of man.
How blessed to have the working of God not only in Him that is absolute perfection, but in one who feels like ourselves, who had the same nature in the same state that has wrought such continual mischief towards God! At the same time, it is proved by such a one as this servant of God to be only the means of furnishing additional proof in another form that the might of God's Spirit is without limit, and can work the greatest moral wonders even in a poor human heart. Undoubtedly we should lose much if we had it not in its full perfection in Christ; but how much we should lose if we had not also the working of grace, not where human nature was itself lovely, not a spot without nor a taint of sin within, but where everything natural was evil, and nothing else; where nevertheless the power of the Holy Ghost wrought in the new man, lifting the believer completely above the flesh. This was the case with the apostle.
At the same time there was the answer of grace in their hearts, though it might be developed comparatively but little. Evidently there was a great deal that required to be set right in them; but they were on the right road. This was a joy to his heart, and so at once he encourages them, and gives them to know how little his heart had turned away from them, how he loved to link himself with them instead of standing aloof from them. "Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity," etc. He had been charged with the contrary. Being a man of remarkable wisdom and power of discernment, he paid the penalty that this must always entail in this world. That is, they imputed it to his ability and natural penetration; and the real power of the Spirit of God was thus merely accredited to flesh.
There was also an imputation of vacillation if not dishonesty. His purpose of visiting Corinth had been set aside. First of all the apostle takes this up in a spirit of self-renunciation, bent on Christ's glory. Supposing their imputation to be true, supposing Paul had been as fickle-minded a man as his enemies insinuated, if he had said he would come and did not come after all, what then? At any rate his preaching was not thus. The word that Paul preached was not "yea and nay." In Christ it was "Yea," where there is no "nay." There is no refusal nor failure. There is everything to win, and comfort, and establish the soul in Christ. There is no negation of grace, still less of uncertainty in Christ Jesus the Lord. There is everything that can comfort the sad, attract the hard, and embolden the distrustful. Let it be the very vilest, what is there lacking that can lead on and into the highest place of blessing and enjoyment of God, not only in hope, but even now by the Spirit of God in the face of all adversaries? This was the Christ that he loved to preach. By Him came grace and truth. He at least is absolutely what He speaks. Who or what was so worthy of trust? And this is put in a most forcible way. "For," says he, "all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen." It is not a bare literal accomplishment of the promises. This is not the, statement any more than the state of things which is come in now; but as to all the promises of God, it matters not what they may be, in Him is the yea, and in Him the Amen, to the glory of God by us. They have found their every verification in Christ.
Was eternal life promised? In Him was eternal life in its highest form. For what will be eternal life in the millennial day compared with that which was and now is in Jesus? It will be a most real introduction and outshining of eternal life in that day; but still in Christ the believer has it now, and in its absolute perfection. Take, again, remission of sins. Will that display of divine mercy, so needed by and precious to the guilty sinner, be known in the millennium at all comparably with what God has brought in and sends out now in Christ? Take what you please, say heavenly glory; and is not Christ in it in all perfection? It does not matter, therefore, what may be looked at, "whatever be the promises of God, in him is the yea, and in him the Amen." It is not said in us. Evidently there are many promises not yet accomplished as regards us. Satan has not lost but acquired, in the dominion of the world, a higher place by the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ; but faith can see in that very act by which he acquired it his eternal downfall. Now is the judgment of the world. The prince of the world is judged, but the sentence is not executed yet. Instead of being dethroned by the cross, he has thereby gained in the world that remarkable place and title. But for all that, whatever the apparent success of the devil, and whatever the delay as to "the promises of God, in Him is the yea, and in Him the Amen, unto the glory of God by us."
But further, the apostle is not content with this alone. He would have them know, having thus described the word which he preached, that which was infinitely dearer to him than his own character. Now he tells them that it was to spare them he had not come to Corinth. This ought to have been a reproof; and it is given in the most delicate manner. It was the sweet result of divine love in his heart. He preferred to tarry or turn aside, rather than to visit the Corinthians in their then condition. Had he come at all, he must have come with a rod, and this he could not endure. He wished to come with nothing but kindness, to blame nobody, to speak of nothing painful and humiliating to them (albeit, in truth, more humiliating to him, for he loved them). And as a parent would be ashamed in his child's shame far more than the child is capable of feeling, so precisely the apostle had this feeling about those he had begotten in the gospel. He loved the Corinthians dearly, spite of all their faults, and he would rather bear their unworthy suggestions of a fickle mind because he did not visit them at once, than come to censure them in their evil and proud state. He wished to give them time, that he might come with joy.
In 2 Corinthians 2:1-17 this is entered into a little more, and the deep anxiety of his heart is shown about them. We may easily gather what an open door for evangelizing is to one who was a great preacher of the gospel, as well as an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles. Although such an opportunity now offered itself, and was, no doubt, a strong impelling cause to work there, still he had no rest for his spirit. His heart was disturbed about the state of Corinth, and the case that tried him most in their midst. It seemed as if he felt nothing else, as if there was no sufficient call to occupy him in other quarters. He could turn from that most animating and immediate reward to any labourer in this world. Whatever might be the preciousness of presenting Christ to those who knew Him not, to see the manifestation of the glory of Christ in those that did know Him, to see it restored where it was obscured was something even nearer to his heart. The one would be, no doubt, great joy to wretched souls, and the spread of the glory of the Lord in the regions beyond; but here the glory of the Lord had been tarnished in those that bore His name before men; and how could Paul feel this lightly? What pressed so urgently on him? Hence it was that no attraction of gospel service, no promise of work, however fair, that called him elsewhere, could detain him. He felt the deepest affliction about the saints, as he says here, and had no rest in his spirit, because he found not Titus his brother, who had been to see them.
Then, again, among the particular instances which most pressed on him was, his exceeding trouble about the man he had ordered them to put away. For this he had authority from God, and the responsibility of heeding it abides, I need not say, in its entirety for us. We are just as much under that authority as they were. But now that God had wrought in the man who was the chief and grossest evidence of the power of Satan in the assembly, what a comfort to his heart! This sin, unknown even among the Gentiles, and the more shameful as being where the name of the Lord Jesus had been confessed and the Spirit dwelt, became the occasion of the most salutary instruction for all their souls, for they had learnt what becomes God's assembly under such humiliating circumstances. And they had responded to the solemn call pressed on them in the name of the Lord, and had purged out the evil leaven from the midst of their paschal feast. Only now they were in danger on the judicial side. They were disposed to be as over-severe as they had been previously unexercised and lax. Paul would infuse the same spirit of grace towards the penitent offender that filled himself. They had realised at length the shame that had been done to the Lord's glory, and were indignant with themselves as parties to identifying His name, not to speak of themselves, with such scandals. Thus they were slow to forgive the man that had wrought such a wrong, and Satan sought in an opposite way to separate them in heart from the blessed apostle, who had roused them to just feelings after their too long slumber. Just as Paul was horrified at their indifference to sin at first, so now it was impossible but that he must be concerned, lest there should be a failure in grace as a little before in righteousness. But there is nothing like a manifestation of grace to call out grace; and he lets them know what was his own feeling, not merely about the wrong-doer, but about themselves. "To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also; for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; lest Satan should gain an advantage over us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." This is his spirit. It is no longer a command, but a trust reposed in the saints; and when we think of that which is afterwards to appear in this epistle, what was still at work among them as well as what had been, it is certainly a most blessed and beautiful proof of the reality of grace, and of the effects which can be, as they have been, produced by it in the heart of a saint here below. What do we not owe to Jesus?
After having disposed of this matter for the present (for he recurs to it afterwards), he turns to speak of the way in which he was led of God through trial, no matter of what character. let the question be of the man who had wandered so far astray, but was now restored really to the Lord, and to whom he desired that his brethren should publicly confirm their love; or let it be that he is turned aside from gospel work because of his anxiety on their account, he now tells them of the triumph which the Lord gave him to prove everywhere.
This leads in2 Corinthians 3:1-18; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 to an unfolding of righteousness in Christ, but in a style considerably different from what we found in the Epistle to the Romans. There the broad and deep, foundations were exposed to view, as well as the Spirit's power and liberty consequent on the soul's submission to Christ's work. The proposition was God just and the justifier, not by blood only, but in that resurrection power in which Christ rose from among the dead. According to no less a work of such a Saviour we are justified.
But in this chapter the Spirit goes higher still. He connects righteousness with heavenly glory, while at the same time this righteousness and glory are shown to be perfectly in grace as regards us. It is not in the slightest degree glory without love (as sometimes people might think of glory as a cold thing); and if it withers up man from before it, the fleshly nature no doubt, it is only with a view to the enjoyment of greater vigour, through the power of Christ resting on us in our detected and felt weakness.
The chapter opens with an allusion to the habit so familiar to God's church of sending and requiring a letter of commendation. "Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?" Not at all. And what then is his letter of commendation? Themselves. What confidence he must have had in the gracious power of God, that his letter of commendation could be the Corinthian saints! He does not look around to choose the most striking instances of those converted by him. He takes what was perhaps the most humiliating scene that he had ever experienced, and he points even to these saints as a letter of commendation. And why so? Because he knew the power of life in Christ. He was reassured. In the darkest day he had looked up to God with confidence about it, when any other heart had failed utterly; but now that light was beginning to dawn upon them, yet still but dawned so to speak afresh, he could boldly say that they were not merely his, but Christ's, letter. Bolder and bolder evidently he becomes as he thinks of the name of the Lord and of that enjoyment which he had found, and found afresh, in the midst of all his troubles. Hence he says, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." There were not wanting there those that endeavoured to impose legal principles on the Corinthians. Not that here it was the strongest or subtlest effort of the enemy. There was more of Sadduceeism at work among them than of Pharisaism; but still not infrequently Satan finds room for both, or a link between both. His ministry was emphatically not that which could find its type in any form of the law, or in what was written upon stone, but on the fleshy table of the heart by the Spirit of the living God. Accordingly this gives rise to a most striking contrast of the letter that kills and of the spirit that gives life. As is said here, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new covenant." Then lest any should conceive that this was the accomplishment of the Old Testament, he lets us know it is no more than the spirit of that covenant, not the letter. The covenant itself in its express terms awaits both houses of Israel in a day not yet arrived; but meanwhile Christ in glory anticipates for us that day, and this is, of course, "not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
Next, we find a long parenthesis; for the true connection of the end of verse 6 is with verse 17, and all between properly forms a digression. I shall read the words outside the parenthesis, in order to make this manifest. He had said that "the spirit giveth life." Now the Lord (he adds) "is that spirit;" which last word ought to be printed with a small "s," not a capital. Some Bibles have this, I dare say, correctly; but others, like the one in my hand, incorrectly. "That spirit" does not mean the Holy Ghost, though it is He alone that could enable a soul to seize the spirit under the letter. But the apostle, I believe, means that the Lord Jesus is the spirit of the different forms that are found in the law. Thus he turns aside in a remarkable but characteristic manner; and as he intimates in what sense he was the minister of the new covenant (i.e. not in a mere literal fashion but in the spirit of it), so he connects this spirit with the forms of the law all through. There is a distinct divine purpose or idea couched under the legal forms, as their inner spirit, and this, he lets us know, is really Christ the Lord "Now the Lord is that spirit." This it is that ran through the whole legal system in its different types and shadows.
Then he brings in the Holy Ghost, "and where" (not simply "that spirit," but) "the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." There is a notable difference between the two expressions. "The Spirit of the Lord" is the Holy Spirit that characterizes Christianity; but underneath the letter of the Jewish system, faith seized "the spirit" that referred to Christ. There was the outward ritual and commandment with which flesh made itself content; but faith always looked to the Lord, and saw Him, however dimly, beyond the letter in which God marked indelibly, and now makes known by ever accumulating proofs, that He from the first pointed to the One that was coming. A greater than anything then manifested was there; underneath the Moseses and the Aarons, the Davids and the Solomons, underneath what was said and done, signs and tokens converged on One that was promised, even Christ.
And now "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." This was unknown under the Levitical order of things. There was a veiled form of truth, and now it is manifest. The Holy Ghost brings us into the power and enjoyment of this as a present thing. Where He is, there is liberty.
But looking back for a moment at the parenthesis, we see that the direct effect of the law (no matter what may be the mercy of God that sustained, spite of its curse) is in itself a ministration of death. Law can only condemn; it can but enforce death as on God's part. It never was in any sense the intention of God by the law to introduce either righteousness or life. Nor these only, but the Spirit He now brings in through Christ. "If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away," it was not at all an abiding thing, but merely temporary in its own nature, "how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be, rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation" (another point after the ministration of death; if it then) "be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." It is not simply the mercy of God, you observe, but the ministration of righteousness. When the Lord was here below, what was the character of His ministration? It was grace; not yet a ministration of righteousness. Of course, He was emphatically righteous, and everything He did was perfectly consistent with the character of the Righteous. Never was there the smallest deflection from righteousness in aught He ever did or said. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. But when He went up to heaven on the footing of redemption through His blood, He had put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself: the ministration was not of grace merely, but of righteousness. In short, righteousness without redemption must destroy, not save; grace before redemption could not deliver, but at most forbear to judge; but righteousness founded on redemption provides the stablest possible basis for the believer.
Whatever the mercy displayed to us now, it is perfectly righteous in God to show it. He is vindicated in everything. Salvation is no stretch of His prerogative. Its language is not, "The person is guilty; but I will let him off; I will not execute the sentence against him." The Christian is now admitted to a place before God according to the acceptance of Christ Himself. Being altogether by Christ, it brings nothing but glory to God, because Christ who died was God's own Son, given of His own love for this very purpose, and there in the midst of all wrongs, of everything out of course here below, while the evil still remains unremoved, and death ravages still, and Satan has acquired all possible power of place as god and prince of this world, this deepest manifestation of God's own glory is given, bringing souls which were once the guiltiest and the vilest out of it, not only before God, but in their own souls, and in the knowledge and enjoyment of it, and all righteously through Christ's redemption. This is what the apostle triumphs in here. So he calls it not the ministration of life indeed; for there was always the new birth or nature through the mercy of God; but now he brings in a far fuller name of blessing, that of the Spirit, because the ministration of the Spirit is over and above life. It supposes life, but moreover also the gift and presence of the Holy Ghost. The great mistake now is when saints cling to the old things, lingering among, the ruins of death when God has given them a title flowing from grace, but abundant in righteousness, and a ministration not merely of life, but of the Spirit.
So he goes on farther, and says that "that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." This again is another quality that he speaks of. We come to what abides to what never can be shaken, as he puts it to the Hebrews later. To this permanence of blessing we are come in Christ, no matter what else may come. Death may come for us; judgment certainly will for the world for man at least. The complete passing away of this creation is at hand. But we are already arrived at that which remains, and no destruction of earth can possibly affect its security; no removal to heaven will have any other effect than to bring out its lustre and abidingness. So he says, "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face."
This characterized the dealings of the law, that there never was the bringing God and man, so to speak, face to face. Such a meeting could not yet be. But now it is. Not only has God come down to man face to face, but man is brought to look in where God is in His own glory, and without a veil between. It is not the condescension of the Word made flesh coming down to where man is, but the triumph of accomplished righteousness and glory, because the Spirit comes down from Christ in heaven. It is the ministration of the Spirit, who comes down from the exalted man in glory, and has given us the assurance that this is our portion, now to look into it, soon to be with Him. Hence he says it is "not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ." This is as in Christ when known to us. So "even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away." But then we do not wait here for their turning to the Lord, which will be their portion by-and-by. Meanwhile the Lord has turned to us, turning us to Himself, in His great grace, and brought us into righteousness, peace, as well as glory in hope yea, in present communion, through redemption. The consequence is, all evil is gone for us, and all blessedness secured, and known to be so, in Christ; and, as he says here, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Then, he adds further, "We all, with open [unveiled] face, beholding ["as in a glass" is uncalled for] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Thus the effect of the triumph of our Lord Jesus, and of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, is to put us into present association with the glory of the Lord as the object before our souls; and this is what transforms us according to its own heavenly character.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 the apostle takes into account the vessel that contains the heavenly treasure. He shows that as "we have this ministry, and "have received mercy" therefore to the uttermost, "we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is bid to them that are lost." Such is the solemn conclusion: "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
This is the gospel of the glory of Christ. It is not merely that we have the heavenly title, as we are taught in 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. The utmost on this subject brought before us there was, that we are designated "heavenly," and are destined to bear the image of the heavenly One by-and-by. The second epistle comes between the two points of title and destiny, with the transforming effect of occupation with Christ in His glory on high. Thus space is left for practice and experience between our calling and our glorification. But then this course between is by no means sparing to nature; for, as he shows here, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." God makes us feel this, and helps on the practical transformation; and by what means? By bringing us into every kind of trouble and sorrow, so as to make nothing of flesh. For it is the allowed liveliness of nature that hinders the manifestation of the treasure; whereas its judgment leaves room for the light to shine out. This, then, is what God carries on. It explained much in the apostle's path which they had not been in a state to comprehend; and it contributed, where received and applied in the Spirit, to advance God's objects as regards them. "Death worketh in us, but life in you." What grace, and how blessed the truth! But see the way in which the process is carried on, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death." He speaks of the actualisation: all helps the great object, even such circumstances as seemed the most disastrous possible. God exposed His servant to death. This was only carrying out more effectually the breaking down that was always going on. "So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes." And thus then, if there was the endurance of affliction, he would encourage their hearts, calling, as he felt it, "light affliction." He knew well what trial was. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
This introduces the Christian's estimate of both death and judgment as measured by Christ. He looks now steadily at all that can possibly appal the natural heart. Death the Christian may pass through. Judgment will never be for the Christian. Nevertheless his sense of judgment, as it really will come, although not for himself, is most influential and for others too. There may be a mighty effect on the soul, and a deep spring of worship, and a powerful lever in service, through that which does not concern us at all. The sense of what it is may be all the more felt because we are delivered from its weight; and we can thus more thoroughly, because more calmly, contemplate it in the light of God, seeing its inevitable approach and overwhelming power for those that have not Christ. Accordingly he says, "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven."
But let us not forget that he takes care (for his heart was not relieved as to every individual in Corinth) to add solemnly, "If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked." He was not quite sure but that some there might be found exposed, because devoid of a Saviour. There are those who give this a very different turn, and make it to be a verse of consolation instead of warning; but such a view deprives us of the true scope of the clause. The common version and natural interpretation appears to me quite correct. It does not mean "since being clothed we shall not be found naked," which has no worthy lesson to convey to any soul. The readings differ, but that which answers to the common version I believe to be correct. The apostle would warn every soul that, although every one will be clothed in the day that is coming (namely, at the resurrection of the body, when souls are no longer found without the body but clothed), nevertheless some, even in spite of that clothing, shall be found naked. The wicked are then to be clothed no less than the saints, who will have been already raised or changed; their bodies shall be raised from the dead just as truly as those of the righteous; but when the unrighteous stand in resurrection before the great white throne, how, bare will they appear? What will it be in that day to have no Christ to clothe us?
After so salutary a caution to such as made too much of knowledge in the neglect of conscience, the apostle turns to that fulness of comfort which he was communicating to the saints. "We," he says, "that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." He has no wish to deny the sorrow and weakness. He knew what it is to suffer and be sorrowful far better than any of them. "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed." Thus there is no mere wish to get away from the present scene with its sadness and trial. It is never allowed one to be impatient. To desire to be with Christ is right; but to be restive under that which connects us with shame and pain is not of Christ. "Not for," then, "that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon." This was his ardent wish, to be "clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." It is not that he might die, but the very reverse, that the mortality already working in him might be swallowed up by Him who is eternal life, and our life.
He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God." It is not here wrought something for us, but "wrought us." This is a remarkable expression of the grace of God in associating with His unfailing purpose in Christ. "He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit;" given us, therefore, even now a taste of the blessedness and glory that are in store for us. "Therefore we are always confident." Think of such language! Think of it as the apostle's words describing, our portion, and in full view of both death and judgment! "We are always confident." We can easily understand one whose eye was simply on Christ and His love, saying, "We are confident," though turning to look at that which might well tax the stoutest heart. Certainly it were madness not to be overwhelmed by it, unless there were such a ministration of the Spirit as the apostle was then enjoying in its fruits in his soul. But he did enjoy it profoundly; and, what is more, he puts it as the common enjoyment of all Christians. It is not alone a question of his own individual feelings, but of that which God gave him to share now with the saints of God as such. "Therefore," says he, "we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: for we walk by faith, not by sight: we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
This, again, is a very important truth indeed in its own place, and the effect is most striking; namely, deep anxiety about the lost, and the consciousness of our own manifestation to God now. Not that I mean by this that we shall not be manifested by-and-by; for we shall be perfectly. But if we are manifest in conscience before God now, it is evident that there is nothing that can cause the slightest uneasiness in our being manifested before Christ's tribunal. The truth is, so far is the manifestation before our Lord a source of alarm to the saint (though it should surely solemnise the heart), that I am persuaded the soul would lose a positive and substantial blessing, if it could by any possibility escape being manifested there. Nor does it matter what the degree of manifestation may now be in conscience. Still, it can never be perfect till then; and our God would give us perfection in this as in all else. It is now hindered by various causes, as far as we are concerned. There is the working of self-love in the hearts of the saints; there is that which has cast a film over the eye which dulls our souls. Alas! we know it too well.
The effect of our manifestation before the tribunal of Christ is, that we shall know as we are known. That is, it will be carrying out in absolute perfection what we now know in the measure of our spirituality. Now, what is the effect of one's arriving at a better knowledge of himself, and a deeper consciousness of the Christian's place in Christ? Always a real blessing, and a means of greater enjoyment of Christ. Is it not much to have a lowlier feeling about ourselves? to esteem others better than ourselves? and thus to deepen daily in the grace of the Lord Jesus? And are not these things the result? And will the perfect knowledge of ourselves be a loss, and not a gain?
At the same time, it is solemn assuredly for every secret to be spread out between the Lord and ourselves. It is solemn for all to be set in the light in which we may have been misled now, and which may have caused trouble and grief to others, casting reproach on the name of the Lord, in itself an affecting and afflicting thing. Never should we be deceived by Satan. He may accuse the saints, but they ought in no case to be deceived by him. He deceives the world, and accuses the brethren. Alas! we know, in point of fact, that we are liable through unwatchfulness to his wiles; but this does not make it less a humiliation for us, and a temporary advantage for Satan when we fall into his trap. We are not ignorant of his devices; but this will not always, nor in itself in any case, preserve us. There are defeats. The judgment-seat of Christ will disclose all; where each hidden thing will be clear; where nothing but the fruit of the Spirit shall stand for ever.
Nevertheless the sight of that judgment-seat brings at once before his eye, not the saints, but the perishing world; and so complete is the peace of his own spirit, so rich and sure the deliverance Christ has accomplished for all the saints, that the expressed effect is to kindle his heart about those that are braving everlasting destruction those on whom the judgment-seat can bring nothing but hopeless exclusion from God and His glory.
For we say here by the way, that we must be all manifested, whether saints or sinners. There is a peculiarity in the phrase which is, to my thinking, quite decisive as to its not meaning saints only. As to the objection to this founded on the word "we," there is no force in it at all. "We" is no doubt commonly used in the apostolic epistles for saints, but not for them exclusively. Context decides. Be assured that all such rules are quite fallacious. What intelligent Christian ever understood from scripture all the canons of criticism in the world? They are not to be trusted for a moment. Why have confidence in anything of the sort? Mere traditional formulas or human technicalities will not do for the ascertainment of God's word. The moment men rest on general laws by which to interpret scripture, I confess they seem to me on the brink of error, or doomed to wander in a desert of ignorance. We must be disciplined if we would learn indeed; and we need to read and hear things as God writes them; but we do well and wisely to eschew all human byways and short-cuts for deciding the sense of what God has revealed. It is not only the students of medieval divinity, or of modem speculation, who are in danger. None of us is beyond the need of jealousy over self, and of simple-hearted looking to the lord.
Here, indeed, the apostle's reasoning, and the nicety of language, furnish demonstrative evidence in the passage (that is, both in the spirit and in the letter), that we must all, whether saints or sinners, be manifested before Christ; not at the same time nor for the same end, but all before His judgment-seat at some time. Had the language been, "we must all be judged," the "we" must have been there limited to the unconverted. While they only come into judgment, believer and unbeliever must alike be manifested. The effect of manifestation for the believer will be the fulness of rest and delight in the ways of God. The effect of the manifestation for the unbeliever will be the total withering up of every excuse or pretence that had deceived him here below. No flesh shall glory in His presence, and man must stand self-convicted before the Judge of all. Thus the choice of language is, as usual in scripture, absolutely perfect, and to my mind quite decisive that the manifestation here is universal. This acts on the servant of Christ, who knows what the terror of the Lord is, and calls him out to "persuade men." What is meant by this? It is really to preach the gospel to men at large.
At the same time the apostle adds, "We commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf." For he had expressed his trust of being made manifest to their consciences, as well as stated how absolutely we are manifested to God. "For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause." Then he brings in the constraining power of the love of Christ, and why? Because, as he looked round him, he saw nothing but death written on man, and all that pertains to him here below. The whole scene was one vast grave. Of course, he was not thinking of the saints of God, but, contrariwise, in the midst of this universal death, as far as man is concerned, he rejoices to see some alive. I understand, therefore, that when he says, "If one die for all, then were all dead," he means those who had really died by sin, and because of the contrast it seems to me plain "He died for all, that they which live" (these are the saints, the objects of God's favour) "should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." What was the effect of this? That having thus before his soul, not the universal death of all only, but some who by grace were alive, through the death and resurrection of Christ, he now brings out, not the contrast of the new creation with all that went before yea, the contrast of the Messianic hopes as such with that higher glory which he was now asserting. Even a living Messiah could not satisfy what his soul had learnt to be in accordance with the glory of God. Not, of course, that he did not delight in the hope of his nation. It is one thing to value what God will do for the earth by-and-by, it is quite another to fail in appreciating that which God has now created and revealed in a risen Christ above, once rejected and dying for us. Accordingly it is one glory that will display the promises and ways of God triumphing over man and Satan; it is another and far surpassing glory which He who is the Messiah, but much more, and now the heavenly man, reveals. His death is the judgment of our sins in God's grace, and an end of the whole scene for us, and hence perfect deliverance from man and from present things yea, even from the best hopes for the earth.
What can be better than a Messiah come to bless man in this world? But the Christian is not occupied with this at all. According to the Old Testament he looked at it, but now that the Messiah is seen dead and risen, now that He is passed into heavenly glory through death, this is the glory for the Christian. "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh:" this puts the saints in a common position of knowledge. "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh." As for a living Messiah, and all the expectations that were bound up with Him and His coming here below, all this is passed away for the Christian. It is not that the Messiah will not return as such; but as for the sphere and character of our own relations, they are founded on death and resurrection, and seen on high. Such is the way the apostle treats it. He looks at Christ in His relationship with us as One that has passed out of this earth and the lower creation into heavenly places. It is there and thus we know Him. By knowing Him he means the special form of the truth with which we are concerned, the manner in which we are put into positive, living association with Him. That which we know as our centre of union, as the object of our souls, is Christ risen and glorified. In any other point of view, however bright and glorious, "now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ," etc.
It is not merely if any man look to Christ: the Old Testament saints rejoiced to see His day; but this is a very different thing from being in Christ. There are many who take the scriptures in so crude and vague a manner that to their eyes it is all the same; but I hope such is not the case with any here. No doubt, to be in Christ as we are now is through looking, to Him. But it was not always so. Take the disciples in the days of Christ's pathway here below: were they in Christ then? Certainly not. There was the working of divine faith in them. They were unquestionably "born again;" but is this the same thing as being "in Christ"? Being in Christ means that, redemption having come in, the Holy Ghost can and does give us a conscious standing in Christ in His now risen character. To be "in Christ" describes the believer, not in Old Testament times, but now.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." Thus there is a blessed and suited ministry. The law directed a people at a distance from God. It Supposed such a condition and dealt accordingly. Even if a poor brute touched the mountain, it was to be stoned. At length God came down to meet man in grace as he is; and man rejected God manifest in flesh. Redemption was thereby effected; man is brought without sin to God. Christ is the person who made both good. He brought God down to man, and He brought man in Himself up to God. Such is the position in which we stand. It is not any longer merely God coming down to man in Christ. This is neither the manner nor the measure in which He reveals Himself now. The Lord Jesus Christ is gone up to heaven; and this not as a sole individual, but as the head of a family. He would not take the place of headship until all the evil was completely gone. He would give us His own acceptance before God. He took His stand on retrieving God's moral glory by bearing our sins; yet as He came down, so He went up to God, holy and spotless. He had by His own blood blotted out the sins of others who believe in Him. It was not merely a born Messiah, the chief of Israel, but "God was in Christ."
Observe, not that God is in Christ, but that He was. It is a description of what was manifested when the Lord was here below. But if it be a mistake to read God is, it is a still greater error too common in books, old and new alike, that God has reconciled the world. This is not the meaning of the statement. The English version is perfectly right; the criticism that pretends to correct it is thoroughly wrong It is never said that the world is reconciled to God. Christ was a blessed and adequate image of God; and God was in Him manifesting Himself in the supremacy of His own grace here below. No doubt His law had its suited place; but God in grace is necessarily above the law. As man, at least as of Israel, Jesus was born under the law; but this was in not the slightest degree an abandonment of God's rights, and still less of His grace. God came near to men in love in the most attractive form, going in and out among them, taking up little children, entering into houses when asked, conversing by the way, going about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. It was not merely in quest of the lost sheep of Israel. How could such grace be restrained only to Jews? God had larger thoughts and feelings than this. Therefore let a Gentile centurion come, or a Samaritan woman, or any body else: who was not welcome? For "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
Full of grace and truth, He would not even raise the question of this trespass or that. There was no doubt of man's guilt; but this was not the divine way of Christ. Other and more efficacious aims were in the hand of the God of all grace. He would save, but at the same time exercise the conscience more than ever. For great would be the loss for a sinner awakened, if it were possible for him not to take God's part against himself. This is the real course and effect of repentance in the soul. But God was in Christ reconciling the world for all that, yea in order to it. It was not a question of dealing with them for their trespasses. And what now that He is gone away? "He hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." He is gone, but not the errand of mercy for which He came. The Messiah as such disappears for the time; there remains the fruit of the blessed manifestation of God in Christ in an evil world. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us: we pray in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God." But how can this be? On what basis can we essay such a task! Not because the Spirit of God is in us, however true it may be, but because of the atonement. Redemption by Christ's blood is the reason. "For God hath made him. to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Then, following up this in the next chapter (2 Corinthians 6:1-18), the, true moral traits of the Christian ministry are shown, and what a price it had in his eyes. What should not be done and endured for the sake of worthily carrying out this ministration of Christ here below! What should be the practical witness to a righteousness not acquired by us, but freely given of God! Such is the character of it, according to the work of Christ before God and of His redemption; so we should "give no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments." In every thing crushing to nature did the apostle fulfil his mission. Is the reproach of Christ to be an apostolic perquisite? Are not His servants to share it still? Is it not true from first to last?
Again, in serving the Lord, there are two special ways in which we are apt to go astray. Some err by an undue narrowness, others by as injurious laxity. In fact, it is never right to be narrow, and always wrong to be lax. In Christ there is no license or excuse for either. But the Corinthians, like others, were in danger on both sides; for each provokes the other. Hence the appeal, "O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels." There was the caution against a narrow heart; but now against a lax path he warns, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" Thus is embraced individual responsibility as well as corporate. "For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them."
Thus, as in the exercise of ministry according to Christ, there was nothing that should not be endured; there was no scorn or trial, no pain or shame, but what he himself counted as nothing that Christ only should be served, and the witness of His name kept up in this world according to His grace; so now he presses on the saints what is incumbent on them as the epistle of Christ, to make good a true witness for Him in this world, steering clear of all that is hard and narrow, which is altogether alien from the grace of God, and of that laxity which is still more offensive to His nature. In the first verse of 2 Corinthians 7:1-16 the whole matter is wound up, "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." The second verse evidently belongs to the subject succeeding. In the rest of the seventh chapter he renews (and has, I think, connected both with these words about the ministry and the responsibility of the saints) what he had alluded to already among them. He touches, with that delicate tact so characteristic of him, on their repentance. He would encourage their hearts in every way, but now ventures to go somewhat farther in the grace of Christ.
Accordingly his own feelings are told out, how exceedingly cast down he had been, and oppressed on every side, so that he had no rest. "Without were fightings, within were fears." Indeed, the fear had gone so far, that he had actually been tried as to the inspired epistle he had written. The apostle had a question raised in his mind about his own inspired epistle! Yet what writing was more certainly of God? "For though I made you sorry with the letter, I do not regret, though I did regret." How clearly we learn, whatever the working of God in man, that after all the inspiration of a vessel is far above his own will, and the fruit of the action of the Holy Ghost! As we find an unholy man might be inspired of God to bring out a new communication for example, a Balaam or a Caiaphas, so holy men of God still more. But the remarkable thing to note is the way in which a question was raised even about an epistle which God has preserved in His own book, and, without a doubt, divinely inspired. But he also mentions how glad he was now that, having sent off that letter, he had made them sorry. "For I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance; for ye were made sorry according to God, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing." How great is the grace! "For sorrow according to God worketh repentance to salvation not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed according to God, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter." What a comfort to the heart that had been so profoundly touched by their state!
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-24, and 2 Corinthians 9:1-15, the subject of contributing for saints is resumed, though a great deal more fully than in 1 Corinthians 16:1-24, and with a fresh spring of joy communicated to his spirit. What an evidence is given of the exercises of his heart in this thing too! It appears he had spoken confidently about the Corinthian saints. There had been afterwards much to wound and weaken that confidence; but he now returns to the matter, and reckons with certainty that the God who had wrought in the painful matter, not of the guilty man only, but in them all about it, that His grace would also give him cause for joy in rousing their hearts into largeness of love for those that were depressed elsewhere. He had boasted of the liberality of the Corinthians, which had kindled zeal in others. On the one hand, he would have his hope of them verified, on the other he desired none to be burdened, but certainly fruit Godward both in the givers and in the receivers. How rich and enriching in His grace! Blessed be God for His unspeakable gift!
In 2 Corinthians 10:1-18, and 2 Corinthians 11:1-33 he comes to another subject his own ministry on which a few words must suffice. Enough had been cleared away to open his heart on it: he could enlarge here. It was his confidence in them that made him write. When his spirit was bound, because of there being so much to cause shame and pain, he could not be free; but now he is. Hence we have here a most blessed opening of what this servant of God felt in what was necessarily a sore distress to his spirit. For what could be more humbling than that the Corinthian saints, the fruit of his own ministry, had admitted into their hearts insinuations against him, doubts of the reality of his apostolate, all that lowering which, in other forms but not substantially unlike, we may have too often observed, and just in proportion to the importance and spiritual value of the trust reposed of God in any on the earth? The apostle knew sorrow as no other ever knew it. Not even the twelve tasted its bitterness as he did, from spirituality and from circumstances; and the manner in which he deals with it, the dignity, and at the same time the lowliness, the faith that looked right to the Lord, but at the same time the warmth of affection, grief of heart mingling with joy, furnish such a tableau as is unique even in the word of God. No such analysis appears anywhere else of the heart of one serving the saints in the midst of the greatest outrages to his love, as we recognise in this epistle. He bows to the charge of rudeness in speech; but they had used the admitted power of his letters against himself. Yet he warns lest what he is absent they may learn in him present. Others might exalt themselves through his labours; he hoped when their faith was increased to preach the gospel in the regions beyond. (2 Corinthians 10:1-18) They had exalted the other apostles in disparagement of him. They had even imputed to him selfishness. It might be true, thought they, that he had reaped no material benefit himself from them; but what about others, his friends? How much there was calculated to wound that generous heart, and, what he felt yet more, to damage his ministry! But in the midst of such sorrow and the rather as flowing from such sources, God watched over all with observant eye. Wonderfully hedged in was His servant, though to speak of himself he calls his folly. (2 Corinthians 11:1-33) But no human power or wit can protect a man of God from malice; nothing can shut out the shafts of evil speaking. In vain to look to flesh and blood for protection: were it possible, how much we should have missed in this epistle! Had his detractors been brethren of the circumcision from Jerusalem, neither the trial nor the blessing would have been anything like what it is for depth; but the fact that it came to Paul from his own children in Achaia was enough to pain him to the quick, and did prove him thoroughly.
But God sometimes lifts us up to look into the glory, as He comes down into the midst of our sorrows in pitiful mercy. This, with his own heart about it, the apostle brings before us lovingly, though it is impossible, within my limits, so much as to touch on all. He spreads before us his sorrows, dangers, and persecutions. This was the ministry of which he had boasted. He had been often whipped and stoned, had been weary, thirsty, hungry, by sea and land: these were the prizes he had received, and these the honours which the world gave him. How it all ought to have gone to their hearts, if they had any feeling at all, as indeed they had! It was good for them to feel it, for they had been taking their ease. He closes the list by telling them at last how he had been let down from the wall of a city in a basket, not a very dignified position for an apostle. It was anything but heroism thus to escape one's enemies.
But the same man who was thus let down immediately after speaks of being caught up to heaven. Now, it is this combination of the truest and most proper dignity that ever a man had in this world, for how few of the sons of man, speaking of course of Christians, that approached Paul in this respect; so on the other hand, how few since have known the dignity of being content to suffer and be nothing, of having every thought and feeling of nature thoroughly crushed, like Paul, within as well as without! So much the more as he was one who felt all most keenly, for he had a heart and mind equally capacious. Such was he who had to be thus tried as Christ's bondman. But when he comes to special wonders, he does not speak about himself; when about the basket he is open. Thus here he talks ambiguously. "I know a man" is his method of introducing the new portion. It is not I, Paul, but "a man in Christ" is taken up, who had seen such things as could not be expressed in human words, nor suited to man's present state. It is therefore left completely vague. The apostle himself says he does not know whether it was in the body, or out of the body; so completely was all removed from the ordinary experience and ken of man. But he adds what is much to be observed, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh." Thus a deeper humiliation befell him than he had ever known, "a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan," the allowed counterbalance to such extraordinary experiences. It was Paul. The secret could not be hid. But Christ is here, as ever, the theme of the apostle from first to last. This was the treasure in the earthen vessel; and in order to bring about corresponding profit, God works by external means as well as by inward grace, so as to carry forward His work of enhancing always and increasingly what is in Christ, and making less and less of man.
The close of the chapter sketches, with painful truth but a loving hand, the outbreakings of that nature, crushed in him, pampered in them. For he dreaded lest God should humble him among them because of their evil ways. What love such a word bespeaks!
The final chapter (2 Corinthians 13:1-14) answers a challenge which he kept for the last place, as indeed it ill became the Corinthians above all men. What a distress to him to speak of it at all! They had actually dared to ask a proof that Christ had spoken to them by him. Had they forgotten that they owed their life and salvation in Christ to his preaching? As he put in the foreground patience as a sign of apostleship, which in him assuredly was taxed beyond measure, so now he fixes on this as the great seal of his apostleship at least, to them. What can be more touching? It is not what Jesus had said by him in books, or in what power the Spirit had wrought by him. "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you . . . . . examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." They were the living proof to themselves that he was an apostle of Christ to them. There is no allowance of a doubt in this appeal: rather the very reverse was assumed on their part, which the apostle admirably turns to the confusion of their indecorous and baseless doubts about himself. "Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction." Brief and pregnant salutations follow, with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.