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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
2 Corinthians 9

 

 

Verses 1-15

CRITICAL NOTES

2Co —Connected, in word [ περί, in both cases] and in fact, with 1Co 15:1, which belongs to the initiation of this "collection," this "ministration" for the poor "saints" of the Church at Jerusalem, as this does to the conclusion of the financial effort. Superfluous.—Yet he had been dealing with it, in chap, 8, and here urges motives to liberality (2Co 9:6 sqq.). Was there no need to speak of it? Was this Christian simplicity of truth? Yes (see Homiletic Analysis). Connect 2Co 8:24; 2Co 9:1; 2Co 9:6. "Show ye them.… I have no need to speak to you.… Yet I will remind you that," etc. Cf. 1Th 4:9; 1Th 5:1.

2Co . Forwardness of mind.—This clears the "readiness" of from doubt. Not their preparedness of arrangement to make up and send their contribution (2Co 8:19). Provoked.—As the occasion of the journey of Epaphroditus to Rome once stirred up these same Macedonians, always liberal-hearted, and proving it by repeated gifts to himself, and called forth their generosity to him in his prison in Rome, so that the winter-dormant stem of their liberality was touched as with the breath of spring, and "flourished again," i.e. broke out into blossom and practical fruit (Php 4:10 sqq., A.V.). Your behalf (R.V.).—Of course not implying any desire or request of theirs that he would.

2Co . The brethren.—Viz. mentioned in 2Co 8:16 sqq. In this behalf.—In this particular detail, on this point, viz. your having all in readiness.

2Co . Covetousness.—Which would hold back even the devoted, promised, collected money to the last moment; not releasing, or paying over, one moment earlier than was necessary.

2Co . Bountifully.—See margin, and notice how this verse takes up the word for "bounty "in 2Co 9:5. Really, literally, "blessing" (2Co 9:5) "with blessings" (2Co 9:8). Thence, makes "blessing," full of associations of God's gifts in measure and manner of bestowment, lead on to the style and spirit of giving in 2Co 9:7.

2Co . Grudgingly.—Out of (a heart filled with) sorrow at having to part with the gift. Pro 22:8 is quoted from LXX., not the Hebrew.

2Co . All.—Good instance of Paul's (instinctive, not formal) rhetoric. Always tends to amplificative, cumulative phraseology. Piles up prepositions only slightly differentiated, or phrases nearly synonymous (e.g. Rom 10:12), or vaguely large (as here, "all"). "All might" (Col 1:11), "all prayer" (Eph 6:18), "all knowledge" (1Co 13:2), "all acceptation" (1Ti 1:15), etc.; q.d. "Whatever the meaning in which you need to conceive of it, whatever the form in which it needs to shape itself in manifestation—I mean all that!" Grace.—Here in a special, narrowed sense; nearly equivalent to "the means wherewith you may be able to give." Connection: "Do not hesitate to give; do what is right; God will see to it that your own need is supplied." Cf. the same principle illustrated in Mal 3:10, and—less closely parallel—in Php 4:19 : "You have supplied all my need; my God will supply all your need." [Compare also the four-faced cherubim of the Chariot, Eze 1:15-17; and the really connected "foursquare" of the Heavenly City, Eze 21:16. Everything of God is foursquare in its completeness; His City approachable, and giving entrance on all sides, from all quarters, to redeemed man. Similarly, "all grace" in its widest meaning stands in the midst of man's needs, foursquare, exactly meeting our need and our request, from whatever side we approach it.]

2Co .—Psa 112:9, quoted from LXX. (111). Abideth.—Q.d. "is never to be exhausted" (Stanley). Too narrow.

2Co . Supplieth.—The usage lying at the root of this word in Greek may furnish the preacher with vivid illustration of (say) Php 1:19. A wealthy Greek citizen had to assume, as a public duty, the whole expense of the training and maintenance of the Chorus for a new play. "God will provide all the needed expense." Seed … food.—Clear reminiscence of Isa 55:10. (See homiletic development.) Righteousness.—In the narrow sense of the Psalm quoted, primarily.

2Co .—Difficult to choose between "bountifulness" and "simplicity," as in Rom 12:8; 2Co 8:2, and 2Co 9:13. The direct, and simply open, mind runs close with the simply opened hand; no after-thought, or reserve, or regret in either. Everything … all.—A cumulative phrase again.

2Co . Administration.—Same word, in slightly varied aspect, as "ministering" in 2Co 9:1. Service.—The word (classically) used of a public burden assumed and discharged as in 2Co 9:10. But must not be pressed here. Aboundeth.—Note how this word recurs, 2Co 9:1 (Greek), 2Co 9:8.

2Co .—Sense made clear in "Professed" means "openly avowed and confessed"; not, of course, "pretended subjection." Distribution.—"Your contribution," Literally, your "fellowship," or "communion." Word is polar; at the action end it is "communicating," at the feeling end it is "community" of heart. Includes both, for the Corinthian contribution was an emphatic expression of the new community between Jew and Gentile.

2Co .—At first sight unsuggested, irrelevant. So much so, that Speaker's Commentary, in loc., pronounces the application to Christ "too wide a deviation from the immediate context" to be admissible. (But see Homily under 1Co 16:22.)

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—Whole Chapter

We have:—

A. Christian courtesy exemplified (2Co ).

B. Christian giving described (2Co ).

C. God's giving and gift the model and motive (2Co ).

A.

I. Consistent with thorough, transparent simplicity of truth.—

1. The Christian is to be courteous (1Pe , not to be quoted). Yet is to "speak the truth" (and "do the truth" also), though "in love" (Eph 4:15). Often a real, practical difficulty to discover the exact line, between the nicely balanced conditions and the closely pressing, subtle perils, of unfaithful kindness, on the one side, and of harsh and repellent fidelity on the other. Truth at all costs, and with all risks, of course; but, wherever possible, loving, or at least courteously spoken, truth; and this both for the sake of the person concerned, and for the success of rebuke administered, or the improvement desired. A friend may in kindness wound; an enemy may in malice kiss (Pro 27:6). If the friend can do his work with a kiss, so much the better.

2. Paul himself shows how possible it is to pay a well-turned, serviceable compliment with the most perfect truth. Act (to Felix), Act 26:2-3 (to Agrippa), were quite true and appropriate things to say; Act 24:2-3 (Tertullus to Felix) was notoriously untrue. [Very courteously—accepting the correction (though not too courteously made), and acknowledging a measure of fault in himself—did he recover himself, after his outburst of not unjustifiable indignation before the High Priest (Act 23:5). On Paul's courtesy, see Howson, Hulsean Lectures, Character of St. Paul, ii.] Jowett, Stanley, and others call Paul "a gentleman," who, in 1Co 13:4-7, draws "The Portrait of a Gentleman."

3. Here Paul, dealing with these suspicious, proud, touchy Corinthians, some of them not too well affected towards himself, displays Tact and Truth.

(1) "I, not to say you" (2Co ), delicately shifts the heavier pressure of possible "shame" to the shoulders which ought not to have it to bear.

(2) Quite true that both would certainly have to share the burden, if by their unreadiness they make its incidence necessary at all; his Christian love offers, as it were, to assume the heavier share, whilst, suggestively leaving the way open to their own love, to save "shame" both to him and them.

(3) Also it was quite true that, as matter of absolute necessity, it was "superfluous" for him to say even as much as he had said in chap. 8 The Corinthian contribution to the Relief Fund was evidently substantially ready, and had been "ready a year ago." At most, what was wanted was the closing up of the accounts. What he adds here is to quicken the finishing up of the business; there never had been any need to suggest to, or press upon, their "forward mind" the making of a collection. His courtesy is perfectly truthful. So also 2Co , "I want you to have what you really deserve, the credit of seeming, not covetous but, liberal."

II. Gives full recognition of excellence.—And this both to themselves and to other Churches. [Rising to a higher example: The Head of the Churches (Rev , passim), even in the case of the most unfaithful Church, gladly acknowledges every point which can be praised, even though He must (like Paul here) complain of half-finished work (2Co 3:2, R.V.). See how He (to Ephesus, 2Co 2:6, after 2Co 9:4-5) returns to praise a point of excellence, so to speak forgotten in 2Co 9:2-3.] No need for a Christian to stint or grudge deserved praise. To many temperaments a very needful factor in their improvement. May, as here, be consecrated to the subserving of the interests of the work of God.

III. Is prudent and business-like.—

1. He has used Corinthian "forwardness" as his lever, to move the not illiberal or tardy, Macedonian Churches. He now lays his plans, and takes his measures, to ensure that there shall be no miscarriage, after so much has actually been done towards the desired result. His repeated and confident laudation of them must not have a not very creditable conclusion and comment, in an only almost ready collection. "Beforehand, beforehand, beforehand" is, and has been, his watchword (2Co , Stanley); a true "business principle." [Nelson said he beat the French fleets by always being a quarter of an hour before time.] No need for a Christian man to be worse than a man of the world, "wise in (and for the purposes of) his generation," in such points of practical sagacity. Friction would be saved within the Church, and often scandal from without, if business prudence and good sense were always consecrated to the management of its finances. Business as well as Courtesy may be sanctified to the highest ends.

2. Is there any suggestion of prudence in "handling" even his friend Titus, in the fact that, in regard to this business, he always speaks of "exhorting" Titus, rather than enjoining or directing? (2Co ; 2Co 8:17; 2Co 12:18; 1Co 16:12; but so also Timothy, 1Ti 1:3).

3. The need of such courtesy of character, and good sense and business aptitude, in the management of men and affairs in the Church, is a strong appeal and claim for their consecration to Christ by those who are endowed with them. [Cf. Num : "Thou (Hobab) mayest be to us instead of eyes;" i.e. his experience and training in desert life were wanted, though the host had Jehovah and the Pillar in their midst.]

B. Christian giving is described.—

1. It is literally "blessing" (= "bounty"), in this section of the New Testament, and here only. [So LXX., Gen ; cf. the beautiful Hebrew of Pro 11:25, "a soul of blessing."] As in the similar use of "grace" for this Corinthian gift, the Divine word is borrowed for the expression of human love between brethren and brethren, Church and Church. [So in the Psalm quoted (2Co 9:9), "his righteousness (with special application to this almsgiving) endureth for ever," is the repetition as to man of the same phrase in the preceding Psalm (Psa 111:3) used of God, "His righteousness endureth for ever." (May we venture to give this a similar speciality of application, and say, "His almsgiving to a needy world endureth unwearied and inexhaustible"?) No doubt "righteousness" means more than this, in both instances.] The Christian giver is God's almoner and representative, if his gift is the outcome of a love in his heart for man caught from God's philanthropy (Tit 3:4). His gift mirrors God's gift on a smaller scale; his giving should, in his purpose and manner, be like God's "blessing."

2.

(1) It is "sowing"; a disposing of one's wealth which brings back again itself with interest, itself multiplied manifold. The old epitaph has truth in it:—

"Here lies a man, men thought him mad;

The more he gave the more he had."

The giver is not the poorer by so much, when he has parted with his gift; he is the richer by so much, in that he has that and all it is to bring by God's blessing.

(2) Does the farmer return from his field saying "grudgingly," and with a sorrowful heart (2Co ), "There! All that good seed thrown away and lost"? Yet some Christian givers "go forth weeping bearing this precious seed," forgetting that they may complete (in this borrowed sense) the sentence of the Psalm.

(3) The wise sower does not even sow "of necessity," only going out to his fields in the Spring because, if he do not, he will starve in Winter; and, still less, because of what his neighbour farmers are doing, and what they will think and say of him, if he too do not scatter some seed!

(4) The giver who understands that he is a sower goes forth to his giving "cheerful"; a holy hilarity may rightly pervade every heart, when a Church is assembled to make some great financial effort for the cause of God.

(5) Like sowing, too, in this: Sowing and Harvest are connected in two ways. In Gal Paul reminds the Galatians [who, as Caesar testifies of the Western Gauls, their kindred, were inclined to be money-loving] that, in kind, what a man sows he reaps. Here he says that, in measure, as a man sows so he reaps; whether "sparingly," or, as God Himself sows when He gives, "with blessings" (R.V. margin), i.e. with a heart in his sowing, his giving, which would gladly make all he gives, in intention and effect a blessing. Stint your field of seed, you stint your barn of sheaves. You may choose the measure of your reaping.

3. Such almsgiving is a "service" (2Co ), a "liturgy" in the classical sense, a burden which is obligatory upon those citizens of the kingdom of God whom God has made able, and has officially and formally appointed by making them able, to sustain it for the good of others, their less able fellow-citizens. And yet,

4. It is a "ministration," a "diaconate." The wealthy man, or Church, must not remember too vividly his superiority in ability, even whilst he serves and discharges his liturgy (= "administers this service," 2Co ), lest he become the Lord Bountiful to his poorer fellow-citizens in the kingdom of God, instead of the almoner of the true Bountiful Lord. He is the servant on Christ's behalf, of his brethren, fulfilling the office which was first, and most gloriously, held by his Master (Mat 20:28, same root word). Again,

5. Here are the motives which should encourage and regulate giving.

(1) "As he purposeth in his heart" (2Co ), admirably expository of the meaning "simplicity" (2Co 9:11); no by-motives, no consideration of any reflex effect, such as winning the commendation of his fellows; his giving should be the simple, direct, unaffected, unmodified expression of himself (for "as the man thinketh in his heart so is he," Pro 23:7).

(2) If the stress be laid upon "purposeth," there come into view some further considerations. There is giving which is almost without purpose; it is done upon the spur of the moment, the mere offspring of the passing impulse, aroused, and dying, with the momentary, accidental occasion which appealed to it. There is no thought of the gift before the moment of its bestowal, hardly any a moment after. There is no principle of benevolence appealed to or trained; and such giving easily becomes the refined selfishness which cannot bear to see or hear of what is painful, and merely buys off the unwelcome, momentary contact with it. There is none of the loving, careful thought about the gift or the assistance, which often gives to even a small kindness its chief value to the recipient, and is always one of its most valuable features to the giver, in its effect upon his own heart and character. Such giving is not rooted in character at all; it is the merest, hasty, perishable, fungoid growth upon the surface of impulse. It does not belong to a plan and habit of benevolence, carefully and considerately formed as in the sight of God, and as an expression of gratitude to Him and a recognition of our stewardship. [Such purposeless giving does some good, and has sometimes a beauty. But it is only the fitful, wild, chance music called forth from the strings of an olian harp by the variable force of the breath of impulse or occasional appeal. A settled, steady, purposeful, provided-for benevolence, which chooses its objects, and "considereth (say) the poor," is the more beautiful, ordered, coherent melody and harmony of a trained player upon a well-tuned heart.] "Purposeth" speaks, then, of the judgment, as well as of the will, brought into consecrated service.

(3) The "covetous" man (2Co ) does as he purposeth in his heart, indeed. Covetousness may betray itself, as Paul suggests, not only by entirely refusing to part with anything, but by slowness to give, or to redeem one's promise to give; by not making up the last amounts of the total, until the latest moment when shame or necessity makes it possible to keep the gift in one's own power. The antidote to this incipient covetousness is the heart of "blessing" (2Co 9:6).

(4) To encourage giving, the fulness of resource and supply we have in God is suggested. (See Separate Homily.) Little faith, much fear, in regard to their own future and its supply, rather than little love or benevolence, may narrow the liberality of a man or a Church. "Can't afford to part with so much." Paul's words (2Co ) extend far beyond the immediate occasion; they are a great principle opening out, leading us out, in many directions; in the direction of every conceivable need; but in this place they mean: "Do what is right, what His work or the needs of the poorer brethren call for. Trust Him that, however much you spend, you shall not be spent out. He is able to supply you with all needed ‘grace,' that you may supply them your gift and ‘grace.' No matter what demand may be made upon you, you may cast back your demand upon Him; He will respond, and see to it that, for this requirement, as for ‘all' others, you shall ‘always' have ‘all sufficiency.' Nay, it shall be no mere question of sufficiency, whether of His giving or your ability. He will give, and ‘abound,' that you also may ‘abound' for and in view of ‘every good work' which may present its claim upon you. He will not simply make you a full reservoir, from which others may be supplied. He will fill you to the overflow, and will make you a living well, which is itself always full, and is also ever flowing over, to supply needy ones around. Your ‘righteousness' [cf. the variant reading in Mat 6:1] shall be an inexhaustible fountain for others. Let His ability and full supply embolden you to large doing and to large ventures in benevolence. I called it ‘sowing,' and, even so, all you ‘sow' shall not only keep you in necessary ‘food'; it shall provide more ‘seed' for more sowing of the same sort (2Co 9:10)." [Observe "may abound unto every good work"; "enriched unto all bountifulness." It is an end in itself, worthy that God should provide you against it, that you should be able to exercise benevolence. Giving is no ad libitum, dispensable accompaniment of a Christian life. The Christian should work (Eph 4:28), plan, gain, that he may have something to give. Also observe—a large general principle also—that God's gifts, of all kinds, are not given only for our own sake; our temporal good, our gifts of character, of religious knowledge and experience, are all to be the means of bounty to others; they were given for that.] Lastly,

6. We have the happy issue and effect of such Christian benevolence. The need of the poor saints is supplied—that is much; but it is more that God's altar is loaded with the offering of their thanks. God Himself is "glorified" by this abundant praise, for it is His grace in you which prompts the charity; you are manifestly a triumph of the power of the Gospel, and not least does it glorify Him that, Jewish Christians though they are, their heart goes out in grateful, admiring, yearning affection to you Gentile Christians. Your gift draws closer the bounds of living, loving unity in the Church of your common Lord.

C. God's giving and gift the model and motive (2Co ).—

1. God's Christ is also, like theirs, a "grace" and a "blessing." How it has "enriched us"; and how He Himself was first "enriched unto all bountifulness"! Rich beyond our expression or conception, but not for Himself only; to Himself it was an end in itself that He might "sow" in our needy world "bountifully" "with blessings." He, too, had "all self-sufficiency" [see the Greek word, 2Co ] "in all things" which His nature and happiness required. In Himself there was (to speak in children's stammerings) another Self, the "Son of His love" (Col 1:13), Who could receive and give love, as love must in its very nature desire. Yet He created, and so provided Himself with new objects upon which His heart might pour out its "bounty." He must be giving; must be going out of Himself to make others happy. Further,

2.

(1) His gift is the expression of His "character." It "sits well" upon him, this habit of giving. He is clothed with bounty in all His manifestation of Himself, and the robing fits perfectly; it is the expression of Himself. He has put Himself into His unspeakable Gift, and into the manner of His giving. As the Corinthians should do. [Note also that the consummate expression of God's character, His greatest mercy, is a Gift. His children speak as if He loved to take away, rather than to let them keep, anything dear to them. They are afraid to make full surrender of their Isaacs, lest they should really have to "slay their sons"; though God does not want the Isaac, unless it has become an idol; He wants them, their will, their whole heart, and whole self. They half-look out for some trial or bereavement, after a great blessing. Yet the one great Precedent He has set for all His dealing with us, the one conclusive Index to His real mind and heart toward us, is a Gift—an unspeakable gift. He had rather give, or let us keep, than take from us, if it be safe for our welfare. He had rather say "Yes" than "No" to our prayers. He does not value or enjoin upon us sacrifice, self-denial, for their own sakes; they are only means to an end. He will accomplish His training of His children with the minimum of pain and surrender and loss. His love is donative rather than privative. God is by His very nature a Giving God.] [Note also,

1. A Gift, not a Loan. We shall need, and may keep, the Christ He gives us, to all eternity. Neither in caprice, nor in change of plan, will He ever revoke, or take back, His bounty. We may cast it away; He has no purpose to take it away.

2. A Gift, for which nothing has to be paid by us. Nothing, of course, could buy it; but we may have Christ, and all that goes along with and is contained in Him (2Co , R.V.), for the asking and the taking.]

(2) He gives "as He purposeth." His "purpose" (Romans 8, passim, etc.) is of course an anthropomorphism. To Him Who sees at once perfectly, in all its completeness, first and last, His whole design, any such word as implies consideration, possible modification of first thoughts, laborious comparison of ends with means, patient, persistent maturing of a plan, is quite inapplicable. Yet we see Him act as men do when they "purpose," and in this Gift of His we see an end carefully considered, proposed to Himself, secured by admirably chosen means, "in the fulness of time," after being prepared for through many centuries, each of which, in its whole character and conditions, contributed something to the perfection of the execution of God's purposed bounty to fallen man. His was no impulsive Giving, the act of a moment without consideration or after-care.

(3) "In His heart." Human language again. But there is human giving which is admirable and very effective in its well-judged, well-timed assistance, but which is hard, stern, and apt to become mechanical. On the other hand, there is giving which has all these elements, contributed by a perfect judgment, but which has them all made warm and tender with a pervasive love. The heart infuses itself into the judgment. God's mercy is tender mercy.

(4) His bounty also "aboundeth, by many thanks givings, unto God." Indeed, when human bounty calls them forth, it is awakening part of that great chorus of praise, whose increasing volume will fill heaven to eternity.

3. His Gift is the motive of all acceptable, all real, Christian feeling. Other motives may be consistent, and may co-exist with his; some motives are entirely incompatible with this, and will either expel or be expelled by this; e.g. ostentation, mere love of praise, the deliberate laying oneself out to win a reputation for bountifulness [as did Ananias and Sapphira, desiring to have the praise which everybody was giving to Barnabas, but to have it at the cheapest possible rate]; the more sordid aim to make a profit out of such a reputation. But even the sympathy, pity, love, etc., which are consistent with it, lose their last touch of perfectness and of acceptableness with God, if they are not accompanied by, and indeed are not born of, the grateful love which springs from a sense of our indebtedness for the Unspeakable Gift. To awaken real, active, Christian benevolence let men betake themselves to Calvary, and stand beneath the cross; considering what, in all directions, it means that He should hang there. (See this followed out in Separate Homily.)

SEPARATE HOMILIES

2Co , first clause. A general truth, which may be pressed, beyond the particular, immediate application of it by Paul. Widen also "Grace."

"God is able … all grace abound."—This rebukes,

I. Narrow Giving.—

1. "God loveth a cheerful giver;" He has amongst His children many fearful ones. They restrict their gifts to religious and charitable purposes, not because they are niggard, but because timid. [Old, sadly true witticism applies to many: "Some men give, according to their means; some according to their meanness." Not so here, but] they are apprehensive about the possibilities of the future. It is not one umbrella, but a stock of them, which can alone give them any approach to rest and security against the "rainy days" which, to them, loom many and dark in the future. Addison has acutely noted in the Spectator how the fear of seeming poor makes some men prodigal beyond their means, whilst the fear of being poor makes some save beyond their need. It makes some Christians narrow in their givings. They do not feel comfortable without a fair, growing reserve behind them. If they are "close-handed," it is not primarily from want of love, but from want of faith.

2. Text bids them remember that they have behind them a Reserve,—God; and then let them launch out into all suitable, all needful, liberality to poverty or the cause of religion. Let Him, His fulness of supply, His ability to provide in any possible emergency, become real to them, and their fearful heart will readily yield to its truer, its native instinct, and open their hand more widely. [The possibility of being stripped of all, except God, is however often met with the same instinct of heart, as prompted the lady-passenger's reply to the captain of a steamer in great peril at sea; said he, "We must now trust in God, Madam." Said she, "Captain, has it come to that?"]

It rebukes,

II. Narrow Living, in a spiritual sense.

1. All Churches are weakened, their work is often crippled, by the meagre, narrow, ineffective life of their members. Very much of the effort of the pastorate has to be expended in keeping them not below what is the minimum of requirement and experience, if there is to be a definitely, distinctively, Christian life at all.

2. Such members lament their own failures, and "shortcomings" (calling by this too-indulgent name some plain faults and sins). Yet they have no idea of being, or doing, better. They have no hope of any "higher life," whether in the half-technical sense or in any other. At most that "is a beautiful ideal, but quite unattainable by ordinary people, under the ordinary conditions of life." They admire a higher, larger, fuller, more satisfying, victorious life in a far-off way, but without making effort or extending hope towards it. With the best type of them it is not spiritual indolence, though it may degenerate into it. The confession of failure may by often repetition lose its original contrition or compunction, and even become to them a virtuous humility. "They do not pretend to the great things, the great doings, of some people! God forbid such spiritual blindness or pride!"

3. But there is no virtue in being poor in attainments when God would have them rich, and has made provision for their enrichment. Or in being hampered by evil habits, enshackled and embarrassed and made ineffective, when God can give, and desires to give, liberty and victory (1Jn ; 1Jn 5:18, etc.). There is no modesty, or humility, if the son of a wealthy father lives in narrow circumstances, half-starving, in rags, when he may draw upon his father's wealth. "What cannot your Father do? Is such a life His probable ideal and purpose for His children? Will it even enable them to answer His design in having a Church? Is it any glory to Him that such should be the best lives the world sees in His family?" [This may be enlarged upon.]

4. Call things by their right names. Some things grace does not pretend to remedy—these are infirmities; some things it is meant to remedy—these are sins, if allowed. "Shortcomings" may mean that Christians are human, or that they are low down in grace; these latter grace is meant perfectly to remedy. "God is able." There is no humility in repeatedly yielding to, even though confessing and bewailing, temptations or habits, which God has made provision for overcoming. Connect with Christ's words: "That they might have [life] more abundantly." (Same root word as here.) Words-worth wrote to Lady Beaumont, in May 1807, of the purpose of his poetry: "To add sunshine to daylight, by making the happy happier." In higher fashion, that is God's desire for us Therefore:

It rebukes, III. Narrow prayer and faith.—

1. Ask and expect large supplies of mercy, peace, strength, providential guidance,—everything.

(1) "According to His riches in glory" (Php ). As the boys at a public school are provided with clothes, pocket-money, etc., more or less liberally as their fathers can afford to do it; each providing for his son "according to his riches," greater or less. So God "according to His riches."

(2) "According to your faith," "according to Thy word"; couple these. See man and God looking into each other's heart. Man sees the willingness; God sees the want. Utter need here; all supply there. "Help me; fill me!" "Let Me help; let Me fill." Is all that infinite, ready, pledged fulness, to be constrained, constricted, hindered, measured by, the gauge of man's faith? An ocean can only pour into the vessel plunged into it what the vessel can hold, or the neck will admit. God promises; God is able to give, abundantly to give; how large is, not the need, but the basket of faith? He is honoured by expecting more from Him. Elizabeth said laughingly to importunate Raleigh, "When will you have done asking?" "When your Majesty has done giving!" God loves that kind of "shamelessness" (Greek of Luk ). Meer Jaffier, Nabob of Bengal, took Clive into his treasury at Moorshedabad, set open before him door after door of treasure-chambers full of gold, silver, gems, and bade him ask for his own present. Clive, when charged in after-years with wrongful enrichment at the expense of native princes, replied, as to this particular instance, "By—, I am astonished at my own moderation. I asked twenty lacs of rupees, when a word would have made it forty." Paul's words lead us into God's treasury of "all grace," and invite us to ask and receive, that our need may be filled. God is not honoured by any "moderation" in our prayers or faith. There are limits to the literal, crudely conceived "answer" to prayer. God is not merely the obedient worker-out of every erroneous, selfish, or whimsical wish of His people [like the familiar of some mediæval Faust]. But, in the larger view of the purpose and scope of His promise, and provision of "all Grace," within the wide, all-including, lines of the life of grace, there is nothing needful we may not ask, and should not ask.

May add, IV. "Not as the world giveth give I" true of the Father as of the Son. World gives such gifts as it has, up to a certain point; sufficient for some surface needs of our nature, and going a certain way; but not "all grace," nor going all the way, "to the uttermost." [In the summer days we may do with an empty grate, or gilded shavings; but when the winter time for age and heart come upon men, the world cannot give the real fire which alone can serve the soul's necessity.]

2Co . The Unspeakable Gift.—

1. "Unspeakable" a wonderful word. The root is also in "exegesis." The two-fold prefix to this root is graphic in the idea it suggests. "A gift of whose whole meaning there can be no adequate exegesis," we might say; or, more exactly, whose whole contents no guide can explore and open up, and exhibit to his fellow-explorers. They may strike paths across the whole extent of thought covered by it; may strike them out in many, intersecting directions. They will discover much; on either side of any path so marked out and followed, will be a wealth of beautiful and helpful truth. But they are never at an end of all discovery. They never will be. Even the study and scrutiny of heaven, with its wider knowledge and appreciation of, not only the facts and the mercy in any individual redeemed life, but of the bearings of the Gift upon the history of our whole Race, and, perhaps, of unknown and unnamed races in other worlds, and that study pursued with new helps, and new powers, and with Himself perpetually before their eyes, will only bring mind and heart back again and again to the same conclusion,—"Unspeakable."

2.

(1) Stand at the Cross and think backward along the line of His one continuous existence, in glory which He had with His Father before the world was, in the bosom of the Father, before all things began to be through Himself; think forward, as again He leaves the world and goes to the Father, and He assumes the throne of the majesty on high; forward again through, and past, the mysterious moment when He delivers up the kingdom to God, even the Father, only to receive and exercise the more glorious authority of a yet greater, an eternal, kingdom. At the Cross remember that the three-and-thirty years on earth are an episode, a subsection of the whole unbroken life of The Son, stretching backward and forward with the absolute eternity of God. Remember that He is at that point touching His lowest of voluntary kenosis; that that humiliation is the mid-point of the history of the Son of God, obedient, even to this degree, that He should die on a cross, a malefactor, and forsaken even of God. Remember Who He is; why He is there, thus; what it means of self-surrender on His part, and of devoting love (Rom ) on the Father's part;—"Unspeakable!"

(2) Consider—as He had done—the case of fallen, lost manhood, in its sin; and that sin the source of an outflowing stream of consequent misery, shame, fear, suffering, here; consider how it must have flowed on through eternal ages, broadening, deepening, darkening, and must still flow on, except so far as modified by His grace and its blessed effects. Consider what, in even one redeemed life, here and hereafter; and what in the totality of all redeemed humanity; are the happy effects of that Gift, another stream, broadening, deepening, more and more gloriously bright, through eternal ages. "Unspeakable!" Endeavour to conceive the revolutionising change which would come over, and pervade, everything in human life and in the world's condition, if now the grace of this Gift, and its whole effect upon Life, History, Providence, Morals, were withdrawn. What a cataclysmic deterioration and ruin of all! The gift which gives so much, and holds back so much,—"Unspeakable!"

(3) Eph widens the view almost beyond our grasping. What if the thirty-three years of His earthly life, and if, especially, the Friday afternoon of Calvary, be the central point, around which turns and pivots the history of "the principalities and powers in the heavenly places," and indeed of the whole creaturely Universe? "Unthinkable," not to say "Unspeakable!"

3. Yet where is the wonder, when remembered that it is "God's unspeakable gift"? If He has expressed Himself in it, how can the contents of the gift be put into human thought and language? And, with a more homely turn to the thought, "Such a gift is just like Him," as said an old believer, of some smaller and yet heart-astonishing mercy. The principle of his words is true of this crowning, consummate gift. Only it is not "like all else He does"; "All else He does is like this." What shall we not expect after this! (Rom again). "All grace, abounding," indeed! What shall we not do, and give, having such an Example, and debtors for such a mercy!

2Co . (Alternative suggestion for a Homily.)—We may take the last subsidiary thought suggested by this verse, and follow on this line: "This first, greatest, unspeakable, Gift is a measure of all God's after-gifts to us. What, how much, may we not expect?"

I. God has thus set a precedent.—The principle lies in Psa , when the whole verse is quoted. Thus: The deliverance from Egypt was the birthday, and in a sense the greatest day of the nation's life. It receded farther and farther into the past, but never sank out of sight below the horizon of the national view. The remotest distance of long antiquity never became a dim distance in the case of this event. It stood out, vast, clearly definite. That beginning of all God's dealings with the covenant nation, as such, fixed the style and the scale of all His dealings with them. The prophets, e.g., who cheered the hopes of the Babylonian exiles, appealed to this. It was a Godlike beginning of their history; every after-step might be expected to be Godlike too. So Calvary and the Lamb of God are in thought, though not in time, the starting-point of God's redemption for, not one nation, but the race. That was the World's Passover and Exodus. It had been seen, dimly, from the gate of Eden. It grew clearer as the race, in its four thousand years' pilgrimage, approached it. We have passed it to-day. Time is leaving it behind. But it, too, does not grow dim in the distance. And we may measure every hope of redemption, every petition for mercy, every request for even temporal deliverance, by that Precedent, The Unspeakable Gift. He began with that! He will not fall below that level!

II. God then began what He designed and desires to finish.—Jesus never more Godlike than when He bowed His head and cried, "It is finished!" Finished work is the characteristic of God's work. Just as the deliverance from Egypt (Psalm quoted above) was not intended to stand alone, but was the beginning of a great redeeming work whose crowning particular was to be a Settlement in Canaan; so that unspeakable gift and the finished work of Calvary, with its imitative sequel in the new birth in our own heart, was not intended to stand alone. A perfected moral renewal, a life in perfectly renewed surroundings, and fitted for a perfected, eternal service—Holiness in Heaven—was the intended, the implied, sequel of the Gift. "Into Canaan" was the corollary of "out of Egypt." "Into Holiness, up to Heaven," is the corollary of the Gift on Calvary. We are only asking, then, for what is in effect provided and assured, when we ask for "all grace abounding," "all sufficiency," etc.,—all needful to bring us into all the Holy Consequences, our whole Heritage of blessing. God laid such a glorious Foundation; will He not finish the building?

III. [Is it too human to say it?] God sunk so much—invested so much—in the gift of His Son to our race, that He will not lose all, for lack of following it up. We may "receive the grace of God in vain," certainly (2Co ). But we may, at all events, count upon Him. It cost that much to bring a believer up to his present point. God will not willingly let go all that the God of the Unspeakable Gift!

2Co . A subordinate thought may be developed into a Christmas sermon—God's Unspeakable Gift. The benevolence of Church to Church recalled to Paul's mind the benevolence of God to a needy, lost world; the root and source of all human benevolence, and especially of all Christian bounty. (Develop as in previous homiletics.) The bounty of the Christmas season necessarily recalls it to us. Christmas is pre-eminently the children's festival. The overflow of affection to the children at this season is closely connected with the fact that when God blessed the world with His Unspeakable Gift, that Gift was a Child, and not at once a full-grown man. Why? The reason is in its fulness unspeakable, no doubt; past human exegesis. Yet we may see some reasons:—

I. He was thus "grafted into," "welded to," the race upon which we spring.—He thus sprang from it also. Cf. the angels. They are so many independent creations of God's will; men spring generation out of generation. Angels are, probably, from the first all contemporaries in age. We are successive. They are many; we are One. A full-grown Christ sent into the world, would have been one more individual added to the millions of the race; a man with men. But He is born of the race, Man with men. Perhaps He could not really have been our Redeemer had He not thus been of us.

II. His life thus better parallels our spiritual life.—He shares temptation with us; we share the cross with Him. In a Christian life as well as in Christ's life there are a Crucifixion, a Resurrection, an Ascension into the heavenly places (Eph , etc.). Our life is hid in God, along with Christ. And to make the parallel—the more than a mere parallel—complete from the first, there is a Birth for Him, as there is a new birth for us. It is only in John's Gospel that we find the words, "Ye must be born again." But in the Synoptics Christ put the truth into visible form. "Took a little child and set him in the midst, and said, ‘Except … as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom." The man enters into the kingdom as a child; he must be born again. The lesson is thus symbolised to the very eye, when we see the King entering the kingdom by the gate of birth. God's Gift was born into the world.

III. He has thus ennobled humility.—His religion has had to ennoble the word itself. The world scorned the thing and depreciated the word. Christianity brought Humility forth from obscurity, robed her in honourable garments, and made her a queen amongst the virtues, the flower and perfecting of holiness. Socially, Jesus chose to begin at the lowest round of the ladder. The child of a country carpenter's wife is the Redeemer of the race. Pride cannot live where that fact tells. Pride is subtle; may be strongest in the very class from which Christ sprung. "No pride like poor folks' pride." But whether high-class or poor-class pride, it must die in the presence of the fact that God's Unspeakable Gift made His appearance amongst us, a peasant's swaddled infant lying helpless in a mere make-shift cradle, a manger in an Eastern khan.

IV. He has thus learned, by living it, a perfect sympathy with our human life, and that from the beginning of it.—Has "skipped" no stage of it, up to manhood's prime. When man has passed his prime, the forces which make for disintegration and death begin to turn the scale against those which make for recuperation, nutrition, growth, life. The man begins to die from the earliest moment when the balance turns against life. Jesus never passed the point of prime, but in the prime of manhood met Death in its prime of strength and conquered it. From birth to manhood life is victorious; it is the best of our life. And all that best He knew, knew from its beginning. There is no stage of our life—its infancy, its childhood, youth, early years of gathering strength, first years of toil, manhood of breadwinning and responsibility and struggle—which He has not learned to understand, as having lived through it. When we pray for help, He has the sympathy of experience with all stages, even the earliest.

V. Above all, the Gift thus became the children's Christ.—If Christian children have so happy a Christmas Day, they owe it to Christ. At the very best, no father or mother in heathen lands, of old time or now, quite think of children and deal with them as true Christian parents do. No classical poet ever drew poetry from childhood. Infanticide cannot live in lands where a Christ is known, Who was God's Unspeakable Gift, and yet was a baby. A baby is a holy thing for His sake. Childhood is a happy time and holy, because of His childhood. Every boy may feel that Christ understands him. And every girl too; for just as no woman ever feels that, because He is a man, Christ does not understand her, so no girl need fear that, because He was a boy, Jesus does not understand her. In His perfect manhood there was perfect childhood, boyhood and girlhood all in Him. Say to the child: "Jesus was once exactly of your age, to a minute; He was exactly your height once, to a hair's breadth. If you had gone, A.D. 5 or 6, into Nazareth to seek God's Unspeakable Gift, you would have found a lad of eight or nine at school, wearing a little close-fitting cap, and a loose garment tied round with a sash, sitting on the ground, spelling His letters from a passage copied out of the Hebrew Bible, or writing upon a piece of board with chalk. He understands about going to school, and holidays, and play. He understands children's troubles, and what children's sins are, though He never did any. Gentle and obedient, patient and diligent and truthful, we may depend He was; the model of all that is right for boys and girls, as well as for men and women." God gave His Unspeakable Gift to children.

V. The wonder of it! The central figure of History is Jesus of Nazareth, God's Christ. When the time was come to bring His Only Begotten into the world, God "took a little Child and set Him in the midst."

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/2-corinthians-9.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.


Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 18th, 2018
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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