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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
2 Corinthians 4

 

 


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Verse 2

2 Corinthians 4:2

The Self-Evidencing Nature of Divine Truth.

I. (1) By the statement that the truths of revelation commend themselves to the conscience or consciousness of man, it is not implied that man, by the unaided exercise of his consciousness, could have discovered them. The power to recognise truth, when presented to us, does not by any means imply the power to find out or originate the same truth. (2) Again, in averring that the truths of revelation commend themselves to the conscience or consciousness of man, not only do we not ascribe to the consciousness a power to discover those truths, but we do not even imply that the consciousness in its unrenewed and imperfect state is qualified fully to recognise and verify them when discovered to it. Divine truth exerts on the mind a restorative and self-manifesting power. It creates in the mind the capacity by which it is discerned. As light opens the close-shut flower-bud to receive light, or as the sunbeam, playing on a sleeper's eyes, by its gentle irritation opens them to see its own brightness, so the truth of God, shining on the soul, quickens and stirs into activity the faculty by which the very truth is perceived.

II. In what way may we conceive of Divine truth as commending itself to the consciousness of man? It does so (1) by revealing to man the lost ideal of his nature; (2) by discovering to him the mode of regaining it. The great obstacles to the soul's recovery of its lost ideal are obviously these two—the sense of guilt and the consciousness of moral weakness—and the two great needs, therefore, of every awakened mind are the need of Forgiveness and the need of Moral Strength. And it is in meeting and supplying these wants that the truth as it is in Jesus commends itself most profoundly to the consciousness of man.

J. Caird, Sermons, p. 1.


Conscience a Witness to the Truth.

I. Both the promises and threatenings of the Bible may be handled deceitfully. It should be in the hope and with the design of obtaining a willing hearing for the gracious proffers of forgiveness and reconciliation, that the preacher portrays the fearful things of vengeance, and shows the hosts of the disobedient overtaken and overwhelmed by the just anger of God. If we use the law as a schoolmaster, it should be specifically with the purpose of bringing men to Christ; and the preacher who should leave his hearers appalled by his representations of a coming day of vengeance, and not strive to take advantage of their fears in order to induce them to seek a place of refuge, would be acting in forgetfulness of the first duty of the Christian preacher, and deserve all that could be said as to the handling God's word deceitfully: deceitfully, just as though the word were given to furnish figures which might move awfully and mysteriously to and fro on a darkened stage, in place of the display of a cross, on which He who hangs gives utterance to the cheering words, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."

II. There is a manifestation of truth to the conscience, when perhaps it is not acted on, nor even encouraged. There is something very expressive in the words "in the sight of God." St. Paul was satisfied that the doctrines which he preached and the motives by which he was actuated, were equally such as approved themselves to God. He had no hesitation as to this, that whatever the opposition and misrepresentation which he met with from men, he could appeal to Him who searcheth the heart, secure of being accounted a faithful minister of Christ.

It was a noble thing thus to be able to speak of commending himself to the conscience of his hearers in the sight of God. This assurance of the approval of his Master in heaven must have been more to the Apostle than the applause of the world, and might well compensate for its frown and its scorn.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1674.

References: 2 Corinthians 4:2.—Homilist, vol. iv., p. 225; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 91; Archbishop Magee, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 249; G. T. Perks, Catholic Sermons, vol. ii., p. 121; C. G. Finney, Gospel Themes, p. 231. 2 Corinthians 4:3.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 339.


Verse 3-4

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

The Gospel the Manifestation of God.

I. St. Paul speaks of the gospel or good news being hid from those to whom it was proclaimed. St. Paul is not declaring what may be the consequences of rejecting the gospel, but what was the cause of its rejection. He is explaining a fact that was happening continually before his eyes. When he found the Gentiles given up to sensuality, he called them lost. Their minds, he said, were darkened; they were alienated from the mind of God in consequence of the ignorance that was in them, in consequence of the hardening of the heart. When St. Paul found the Jews shut up in self-righteousness and self-glorification, exulting in the law, exulting in their difference from all other men, he called them lost. There was the same blindness, the same hardness of heart, as in the other case. He knew that there was, for he had felt it; he had been lost.

II. Then follows an explanation, drawn from his own experience, of the darkening of the heart which he has been describing in these two apparently different cases. "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not." Could he have uttered a more pregnant truth? A god of this world lay beneath all the superstitions of the nations; ready to develop himself whenever the belief in some higher and better Being, which lived on amidst all confusions in their consciences, should be utterly crushed under the moral corruptions against which it protested.

III. If we understand who it was that was blinding the minds of those who did not believe, we shall understand better what it was that St. Paul wished them to believe—what the purpose of his gospel was, what the effect was upon those whose blindness it overcame. This is expressed in the last clause, "Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." Here was the subject of the good tidings: they were tidings concerning God. They set forth the true God, the living God, in opposition to the false god, the dead god, the god of this world, who was blinding the minds of Jews as well as of Gentiles. But this true God, this living God, could not be declared to one or to the other in any words of St. Paul or of any man. He could only be presented in a person; there must be a living image of Him; He could only be seen in the life and death of a man. What St. Paul had to do was to proclaim that God had shown forth such an image of Himself in the world, that it would confound all images which men had made of Him out of nature or out of themselves. Therefore the Apostle was to say, "This good news is none of mine. I have no power to make you entertain it or accept it. My rhetoric, my vehemence, cannot effect a passage for it into your souls. If it could, what would it profit you? The message is concerning a Person: you are called to submit to a living Ruler; you are called to embrace a living Friend. How can a whole heap of words, suppose you took them in ever so readily and liked them ever so much, work in you this obedience, bestow on you this fellowship? God is doing that, not we. He is manifesting His Son in you. His light is shining about you, and seeking to enter into those hearts which must just as much take it in as the eyes the light of the sun. Another god—the god of this world—is using all arts to intercept this light, to draw a veil between you and it, to put out the organ which should transmit it to you. What I would have you believe is that Christ's light is stronger than the darkness and can break through it all."

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i., p. 117.


References: 2 Corinthians 4:3, 2 Corinthians 4:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1663; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 549. 2 Corinthians 4:4.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 97; vol. iii., p. 27; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 2.


Verse 5

2 Corinthians 4:5

I. The Church is the union of believers, outwardly manifested by the sacraments, but having its essence in the personal union of each believer's soul with Christ. I see the gates of the New Testament open outward. That life which had been taking shape within the little world which the New Testament enclosed, goes forth so quietly, so simply, to meet the larger life of the world. It is Peter coming down from the housetop to go to Cornelius at Caesarea. It is Paul crossing over from Troas into Macedonia. I see the history that has come since. And all bears testimony to the naturalness of the New Testament process by the way in which it has possessed the world. This Jesus must be a true Lord of men.

II. The Church exists before the ministry. There are disciples first, and their discipleship lies behind their apostleship to the end. There is only one place for the ministry to hold. If it is not the master, it must be the servant of the Church. If it is not set to rule, it must rejoice to obey; to know the Church to be greater than it, and not its creature; to accept it as its highest duty to help the Church to realise itself, and to grow into the full power of the Divine Life of which it, through the relation between Christ and the souls of its individual members, is perpetually the recipient. Ruler or servant, which shall it be? Strange how from the first the very name by which the successors of the apostles have been called has seemed to answer the question for itself. They have been ministers, and ministers mean servants. Strange that, with words like those of the text written in the very forefront of its shining history, the Church should have so loved the other notion of the rulership of the clergy, the dominion of the priest; and monarchies, splendid with pomp, or subtle with intrigue, but always bad with tyranny, should have so filled the story of the Christian ages.

III. There are three possible calls to every minister,—the call of God, the call of his own nature, and the call of needy men. May not one almost say that no man has a right to think himself a minister who does not hear all three vocations blending into one and marking out his path to walk in past all doubt? And these three come in perfect union in the soul of him who hears the Father call one of His children to serve the rest in those great necessities which belong to them all. The Church of the millennial days shall be nothing less, nothing else than a regenerated and complete humanity. There all shall be ministers, for all shall be servants; all shall be people, for all shall be served. In these imperfect days, let us watch and wait for those days of perfectness. Let us do all we can to help their coming. Let us count no condition final till they come. Let us live in, and live for, and never despair of, the ever-advancing, ever-enlarging Church of Christ.

Phillips Brooks, The Light of the World, p. 199.


I. The subject-matter of the Apostle's ministry was Christ Jesus the Lord. Wherever he went he preached nothing else but Christ. It was always one and the same gospel. He (1) preached Jesus as the Messiah whom the Jews were taught to expect; and also as the desire of all nations. He showed how His atonement was a sacrifice for sin. (2) He preached Him as the Prophet, Priest, and King of the Church. (3) He preached Him in the dignity of His person, not only as man, but God. (4) He preached Him in the grandeur of His miracles. (5) He preached Him in His wondrous atonement. (6) He preached Christ Jesus in all the purity and power of His righteousness. (7) He preached Him as the Lord of the conscience. We preach Him then as Lord in every sense of the term, in the highest sense, in the most extreme sense—the Lord over the body as well as the soul; the Lord over our conscience, over our property, of our hopes, of our love and desire the Lord of our future, and the Lord of our confidence here; our Lord in times of prosperity and in times of trial, in times of joy, in the dying moment, at the day of judgment, and in the endless ages of eternity; our Lord for ever and ever. We preach Jesus Christ the Lord.

II. The manner or mode of the preaching of Paul. It was one of the most remarkable features of the apostolical ministry that the Apostles really exercised self-denial. They thought not of themselves but of their Master. Paul preached himself as the servant of the Church. The minister of religion should give to the Church, first of all, the entire use of his time. There are a variety of ways in which a man may preach himself. He may preach to show his learning, or for pecuniary advantage, or to exercise authority over men, to head a party. A minister should give to his church all his ability, and also be with his people in times of trial and especially in times of affliction, and his great motive of action must be love to Christ, and "for Jesus' sake."

H. Allon, Penny Pulpit, No. 3252.

Christ as Lord.

What is the substance of the message which a Christian preacher has to bring? "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord."

I. First of all, we preach the Divine personality in Christ. Man's great need, after all, is to see God. Life can yield only limited pleasures, and we wait for a sight of the great continent of eternity. All biblical history is a series of pathways leading through the tangled perplexities of man's ignorance back to God. Christ may remain unknown as God to many, but that does not alter His Divinity. Still He is Divine. When the sons of Jacob first went to Egypt they received corn and kindness at the hand of Joseph, but they did not know Joseph to be the son of Jacob, their father. So our systems of thought and our best activities are filled with Christ's spirit today as the sacks were filled with corn, and men do not know how Divine is the hand that gives them all things. But then comes a day of revelation. Just as Joseph was made known to his brethren, so Jesus is made known to His Church. Love is the great revealer: Jesus is known to His people; God is manifest in the flesh.

II. We preach the Divine propitiation through Christ. "Mercy" is a very humbling word, a very crushing word to our proud minds and hearts. Yet, when conscience is awake and conviction has been brought home to us that we are guilty, it is the one word out of God's rich vocabulary that we most of all need. We preach Christ Jesus as Lord.

III. We preach the Divine sovereignty in Christ. Christ is Saviour in order that He may be King. He saves us first, because it is the only effective way of ruling over us. It is love that rules and love that changes. When St. Peter's was built at Rome, its soaring vastness and overtowering greatness and grandeur seemed man's homage to Christ's greatness; and on the granite obelisk opposite St. Peter's was written in Latin: "Christ conquers; Christ rules; Christ is Emperor; Christ delivers His people from every evil." It was a worthy sentence, but that it may be realised and fulfilled it must be approved by every heart and must be written in the history of every sanctuary.

S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 360.


References: 2 Corinthians 4:5.—Homilist, vol. v., p. 73; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 376; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 32; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 321; Harris, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 13. 2 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 4:6.—S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 94.


Verse 6

2 Corinthians 4:6

I suppose each one has his own ideal Christ. As you think of Him He appears with the face your imagination loves to give Him. If we do not know much about the actual outline of His face, there are many things that we do know concerning it, and I want to turn a few lights of Scripture on the lovely face of Jesus Christ. Let us see what is said about His countenance.

I. I observe, first, that the face of Jesus was a sad face. Think of the sorrow, care, grief, fastings, watchings, anxieties, which this Man of Nazareth had. Do you think that any man could be, as He was, a man of sorrows and griefs acquaintance, and not bear some marks of it upon his face? His countenance became so careworn and haggard that He looked twenty years older than He was; for when but thirty, the Jews, guessing His age, said, "Thou art not yet fifty years old." Look into those sad eyes of His, and when you have had a little communion with the Man of sorrows and grief's acquaintance, I believe you will drink in an inspiration to bear your trials which you never had before.

II. The face of Jesus Christ was a face full of purpose and indicative of force of character. "He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem." Go and see Christ just before that baptism of His into sorrow and suffering, and go forward to bear your cares and sorrows aright; and when you look into that face so steadfastly set to go towards Jerusalem, ask God to give you also an unswerving spirit in treading the path of Divine direction.

III. The face of Jesus Christ was an outraged face.

IV. It was a face shrouded in death.

V. It was a glorified face. It shineth like the sun now.

VI. It is the terror of the ungodly.

VII. It is a face that may be sought. "When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face, my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek."

A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 828.

The Light of the Heart.

I. The first and simplest truth involved in the text is the universality of the grace of God in Christ—at least, its capability of application to all mankind. This is implied in the unlimited range of influence attributed to the Divine light, as shining not on a chosen few, e.g., on the Apostles themselves, but on all whom St. Paul addressed, uniting his brethren with himself in a community of participation of the same grace, the same light shining on our hearts; and also in the imagery employed, the light of the day being a universal gift, shed without limit for the common benefit of all creatures. Thus the light of Christ hath shined without respect of persons on our common humanity.

II. Moreover the text touches upon the momentous difference permitted between the elect of the past and those of the present dispensation of God; the marked distinction in the relation in which Israel stood towards Him and that which we occupy. In the Epistles there is expressed no such cry as that which continually rose out of the heart of old Israel. On the contrary, the most restful spirit, though in the midst of sorest trials, marks the language of the Apostles, and their ground of rest lies in the inherent consciousness of God.

III. The light shining in our hearts is not merely the manifestation of the truth or the possession of an idea. It is the light of the glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ which has shined in our hearts.

IV. It requires to be carefully noted that there is a momentous difference between the inward shining of God in the heart and the heart's own embracing of this perfect light. We may be all alike in regard to the one, but infinitely differing in regard to the other.

V. Again, we see here the basis on which a true human fellowship is formed. Our feelings towards our fellow-creatures are true, if we view them in the light which the Incarnation has shed on our redeemed nature. Natural love, when combined with this new bond of union with God, becomes the deepest rest and satisfaction of the heart's language towards God; and spiritual ties may become as close, as tender, as full of sympathy, of rest and trustful communion, as the fondest ties of nature, through the unction of the Holy One uniting heart with heart in the circle of Divine love which is shed abroad upon the creature in his transformation in Christ.

T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 359.


The Gospel of the Face.

Consider if there is not a gospel of the face, an all-transcending fact-form, life-form gospel made out for us, which it behoves us always to live in, and have always living in us; for the most living form of the doctrine is that, of course, which as our human nature works will have the most immediate and divinest power.

I. Let us look into the New Testament, and distinguish, if we can, what is called preaching there. And we find our Apostle testifying, "Whom we preach—that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." He does not say about whom, or the just account and formula of whom, but whom: the fact-form Man, the life and life-history and feeling and sorrow and death and resurrection of the Man. The souls to be gained are to be presented perfect in Christ Jesus; that is, in the new possibilities and powers of grace embodied for them in the face and person, or personal life, of their incarnate Redeemer.

II. What importance there is in a revelation or presentation of God, which enters Him into the world as He can be entered in no form of abstraction. The very purpose of incarnation is to get by or away from abstractions, and give the world a concrete personation. Thus in Christ's living person, we are to have God, who is above all history, entered into history, and by such human ways of life as history takes note of, becoming incorporate with it.

III. If there is to be any remedy for the precise disability and woe of sin, it must be such as may, in some way, restore God to His place in the soul. Re-inspiration is our first want, for not even the Holy Spirit re-inspires, save as He shows the things of Christ objectively without. God is to look Himself in again from the face of Jesus; but what is nowise different, Jesus dying into our dead sympathies, is to enter back the Divine and quicken us to life.

IV. It is a consideration having great weight, that no other kind of doctrine but that which adheres to the concrete, matter-of-fact gospel makes a true, or any but a false point for faith. Salvation, we say, is by faith, and what is faith? The faith that brings salvation is the act of a being towards a being, sinner to Saviour, man to God. "He that believeth in Me" says Christ—not he that believeth some things or many things about Me. It is the act of an undone, lost man, giving himself over in trust to Jesus Christ, person to person; a total consenting to Christ, to be of Him and with Him and for Him, to let Him heal and renovate and govern, and be made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—in one word, everything.

V. It is a fact to be carefully noted, that all the best saints and most impressive teachers of Christ are those who have found how to present Him best in the dramatic forms of His personal history. Such were Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Tauler, Wesley. These great souls could not be shut up under the opinional way of doctrine, or even under their own opinions. Their gospel was not dry and thin and small in quantity. They had a wonderful outspreading of life and volume, because they breathed so freely the supernatural inspiration of Christ, and let their inspiration forth in such grand liberties of utterance.

H. Bushnell, Sermons on Living Subjects, p. 73.


I. God commanded the light to shine out of darkness. To this, after all, we must come. When we have discovered the properties of any natural agent, and pass from inquiring what it is to inquire why it is, we have no answer left but the will of the Almighty Creator. He willed it, and so it was, or as His word expresses it in condescension to our human ways, He spake it, and it was. Such is the Divine character. God is not the author of confusion, not the abettor of obscurity and concealment, not the enemy of life and progress; but the God of order and peace, the God of revelation and of knowledge, the Friend of all that was made and of its highest advance to life and happiness. In the text a spiritual act of God is spoken of analogous to the creation of light in the outward world. That He who is light and the Father of light, who is the author of that which reveals and cheers the physical world, should also create the light of the intellectual and spiritual world, appears to follow as a matter of course from any consistent idea of His power and of His providence.

II. The beginning of the work of grace is the first lighting of the candle of the Lord in the heart. It is totally unlike any mere inference of the reason, or anything which can be gained by information from without. It is gentle, gradual, but none the less a certainty. The spiritual day is as real as the natural day. There are those who are blind to the daylight of this earth. But the day is none the less real for their ignorance of it. The wide world lives in its beams and walks in its light. And there are those who are blind to the light of which we treat; who never saw its rays, and though they speak of it as others do, are wholly unconscious of the reality. But it is none the less real for them. The great multitude which no man can number, the Church and people of God, live by its beams and walk in its light.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 84.


References: 2 Corinthians 4:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1493; Homilist, vol. vii., p. 351; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 95; E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 101. 2 Corinthians 4:7.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 287; J. C. Harrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 219; H. Moore, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 283. 2 Corinthians 4:8.—C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, pp. 475, 490.


Verse 8-9

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

The Broken Life.

The mystery of evil has many aspects. There is one which is contained in that sad word, waste. How much that was born with each one of us must pass unused and undeveloped into the grave! Who is there that has begun to think, and has passed the entrance on actual life, what man of thirty, what woman of five-and-twenty, has not already learned to relinquish what had once seemed possible.

I. The vision of life in early youth, for those who think and feel, has a unity and completeness, as of the body of heaven in his clearness. Whether the aim of aspiration be the triumph of a single power, or the varied exercise of many, there is a flawless completeness in it, a rounded perfection, which those who have travelled further cannot but envy, if they retain enough of sympathy to perceive it. But we all find out at some point in our course that feeling and energy must be adapted to circumstances; that while desires and aims may be boundless, opportunity and time and human power are limited; that after all false starts and mistaken efforts, we have still a work to do, a place to fill, a line of action which experience points out to us as our duty.

II. And it is here that the difference becomes apparent between the true and false resolution of enthusiasm, which has attempted the impossible. The possible remains. But does there remain in us the strength and will to do it? While there is life there is the power of will, and that is the power of working, if need be of suffering. Disappointment will have a weakening effect for a while, but it will only be for a while if we have any strength in us. If there be the fixed determination to do what the hand findeth to do, even though it may seem poor and mean, we need not fear that any experience, any separation, any love, any effort of our past lives will be utterly lost to us. To act in the present is not necessarily to break with the past. Let us gather up the fragments that remain. Though sometimes we may be cast down, let us know that we are not destroyed; though we have sometimes fallen, let us trust that we shall not be cast away, for the Lord upholdeth us with His hand.

L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 88.


References: 2 Corinthians 4:10.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 59. 2 Corinthians 4:11.—T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 139. 2 Corinthians 4:12,—A. Parry, Phases of Truth, p. 5; W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 11.


Verse 13

2 Corinthians 4:13

Faith, the Ear of the Soul.

Every Christian has heard what is worthy of repetition.

I. Jesus Christ is Himself a word. Jesus spake—not His lips, but Himself. His nature, His presence, His character, His deeds were voice—not echo. He was the living word of the living God.

II. But the lips of Jesus Christ spake also.

III. And the Christian has heard. The Apostles first heard, and they believed and spake. Other faithful men heard, believed, and spake. Through this means the voice of God is made yet to linger upon earth, and the Christians of this day have heard and do hear Christ's voice. To them Christ speaks from heaven. He who hath an ear for godlike grace and eternal truth will hear Divine love and wisdom in Christ the voice and in the voice of Christ.

S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit, 3rd series, p. 145.


References: 2 Corinthians 4:13.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 494; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 347; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 199; G. Harris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 328; J. Sherman, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 151. 2 Corinthians 4:14-18.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 264; vol. viii., p. 89; vol. ix., p. 149; vol. xxiv., p. 313; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 158.


Verse 15

2 Corinthians 4:15

I. The text teaches this glorious fact, that "all things are yours" or "for your sakes." Every process of godly advancement is all to our advantage. Christ is heir of all things. Then if Christ is yours all things are yours. Let us understand and do justice to that expression ''all things are yours" as to this, not only the present wealth and possession, but the power we have in connection with that wealth for present enjoyment and usefulness. It is in proportion as I feel "all things are mine" that I feel joy unspeakable and full of glory. Exactly in proportion as we have faith to grasp these mighty truths do they carry us through all our difficulties. Lay hold of these truths now; they will give you a joy, strength, and power no tongue can tell.

II. The text turns our attention off from self to others. "All things are yours." There is the value of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Whether we see what He is doing or not, whether we can understand its bearing or not, whether we can realise its benefit or not, the fundamental truth in regard to practical and experimental Christianity is "The Lord reigneth." With His Son He has promised, pledged, and secured to me eternal happiness and glory. Then what follows? Everything that occurs to me must be subordinate to that. All things must of moral necessity work together for my good. Trials serve to bring me nearer to God, to make me more meet for the everlasting inheritance, and finally to be the means which will bring me before my God perfect as He is perfect, holy as He is holy. The text goes on to say "that the abundant grace may through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God "; that is, that God's people may be increased in number, and that those who are so, in their increased grace, devotedness, usefulness, and all else which results from a higher order of spiritual experience, may in the whole of their character and conversation redound to the glory of God.

C. Molyneux, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 365.

References: 2 Corinthians 4:15.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 331. 2 Corinthians 4:16.—Homilist, vol. v., p. 55; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 362; J. Leckie, Sermons at Ibrox, p. 161. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.—J. H. Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, p. 389; F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 309; J. Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, p. 261. 2 Corinthians 4:17.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 54. 2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18.—R. W. Church, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 344; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 88; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 62.


Verse 18

2 Corinthians 4:18

Things Temporal and Things Eternal.

I. There is a truth which we all know equally well—whether we are learned or ignorant, old or young; we are all equally well assured of the truth—that the things which we see are temporal—only for a time and fast passing away. And yet, though we know it so well, our heavenly Father seems to take great pains to remind us of it constantly, as if it were of very great consequence that we should be continually thinking of it, and as if we were very likely, practically, to forget it. All the changes in us and about us are the voice of God; and when He speaks, infinitely important is it that we should listen to His voice; but there is another way in which He speaks to us more distinctly than this, i.e., the Bible. We that are alive live more among the dead than among the living. When we read a book and think of the person who wrote it as a friend, and ask for him, it is very likely we shall find that he is now among the dead and not among the living. When we talk of acquaintances and others, how often do we find, as it were accidentally, that they are now among the dead and not among the living. And indeed, with all persons who have lived any time in the world, and who are at all given to reflection, their affections and their thoughts are more among the dead than the living.

II. Nature does not declare to us that the things which are not seen are eternal, but when God has made everything to preach aloud to us such warnings about everything here slipping away from under our feet, we might conclude that there was something coming on, something of great consequence. What it will be to wake from the grave and to find ourselves in one of these states, for good or evil, this must be a thought of which we can have no adequate conception. But we may form some faint idea of it from things temporal. For a sailor to find after a very dangerous voyage that he is indeed safe upon shore—or for a soldier to find that the battle is over and that he is safe—for persons to find after a state of very great danger that they are saved, we may tell what their feelings are; and this may give us some idea of what it will be to wake in eternity and to find that we are safe, that we shall never again be separated from Jesus Christ.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. ii., p. 1.


The Seen and the Unseen.

I. The things which are not seen: what are they? Doubtless they are in part those moral and spiritual truths and virtues which are obscured or crowded out of view in the present life of most of us, but which are nevertheless beautiful and enduring realities: they are justice, charity, truth, sanctity. We see an approximation to these things in the lives of God's servants on earth, but we do not see the perfect and abstract qualities themselves: they lie beyond the sphere of sense; they are perfectly seen, and seen only, as attributes of the Most Holy and the Self-Existent. The things which are not seen: we do not see (1) God, (2) the angels, (3) the souls of the departed. That which meets the eye of sense is here only for a season; it will pass away. That which meets the eye of the soul illuminated by faith is known to belong to another order of existence. It will last for ever. It is this quality of eternity, of enduring, of unlimited existence, which makes the Christian look so intently on the things which are not seen.

II. This truth as to the relative importance of the seen and the unseen, if it be really held, will affect our lives in not a few ways. It will, for instance, govern the disposal of our income. If we look only at the things which are seen, we shall spend it mainly upon ourselves, reserving, perhaps, some portion for objects of a public character, what is creditable or popular to support. If we look mainly at the things which are not seen, we shall spend at least one-tenth, probably more, upon some agencies that will bring the eternal world, and all that prepares people for it, home to our fellow-creatures. In days of prosperity a Christian's prayer should constantly be: "Oh turn away mine eyes, lest they behold vanity, and quicken me in Thy way."

H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 387.


If the things which are seen are temporal,—

I. The good things seen are not enough for us.

II. The grievous things seen should not make the Christian faint.

III. In nothing seen ought a man to find either his hell or his heaven.

Two duties spring from this truth. (1) The duty of moderation in our use and enjoyment of all things seen. (2) The duty of seeking a heritage and portion in that which is unseen and eternal.

S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 1st series, p. 83.


For and by things temporal are given things eternal. There is a great deal said about looking away from the things of time to the things of eternity; and Paul is credited with this idea on the score of the language of the text. Whether he would accept the credit is more doubtful. It certainly is no conception of his, that we are to ignore the temporal and go clear of it, in order to being fixed in the eternal. Indeed this kind of prescription, so constantly reiterated and soaked in, as it were, by a long dull-minded usage, is really about the most noxious drug that Christian living has ever had put in its way. How can we think in real earnest that such a world as this was made just to be looked away from? And if we try to do it, tearing our mind away from the visible and the temporal, and requiring it to see only the invisible and eternal, how certainly do we find the air too thin to support our flighty endeavour, and drop away shortly on the ground, held down to it, after all, by temporal weights and visibilities we cannot escape. And just here I imagine is the reason, in great part, of that inability to realise or give a sound existence to spiritual things of which so many complain: they misconceive the problem. It is not to literally look away from temporal things in order to see the eternal, but it is to see the temporal in the eternal, or through it and by means of it. By not looking at the temporal things, Paul means simply not fastening our mind to them or upon them as the end of our pursuit.

I. There is a fixed relation between the temporal and the eternal, such that we shall best realise the eternal by rightly using the temporal. We shall best conceive the true point here by observing the manner of the Apostle himself, for it was one of the remarkable things about him as a Christian that he was so completely under the power, so sublimely invigorated by the magnitudes of the world to come; longing for it, wishing himself in it, and carrying the sense of it with him into the hearts of all who heard his preaching. Things temporal he saw, and a great deal more penetratingly than any mere worldly mind could; saw far enough into them to discover their unsolidity and their transitory and ephemeral consequence, and to apprehend just so much the more distinctly the solid and eternal verities represented by them. Things and worlds are passing—shadows all that pass away. The durable and strong, the real continent, the solid lasting place is beyond. But the present things are good for the passage, good for signs, good as shadows. So he tramps on through them, cheering his confidence by them, having them as reminders, and renewing day by day his outward man by what of the more solid and glorious future is so impressively represented and so solidly set forth in them. He does not refuse to see with his eyes what God puts before his eyes.

II. We have eternals garnered up in us all, in our very intelligence; immortal affinities which, if we forget or suppress, are still in us; great underlaid convictions also, ready to burst up in us and utter even ringing pronouncements; and besides there is an inevitable and sure summons always close at hand, as we know, and ready for its hour. Consent that you are dying and that time is falling away, and your soul will arrive at the conviction of God's eternity and of things beyond this life very soon. Nay, she will hear voices of eternity crying out in her own deep nature, and commanding her on to a future more solid and reliable than any mere temporalities can afford.

H. Bushnell, Sermons on Living Subjects, p. 268.


The Invisible World.

I. We are in a world of spirits, as well as in a world of sense, and we hold communion with it and take part in it, though we are not conscious of doing so. If this seems strange to any one, let him reflect that we are undeniably taking part in a third world, which we do indeed see, but about which we do not know more than about the angelic hosts—the world of brute animals. Can anything be more marvellous or startling, unless we were used to it, than that we should have a race of beings about us whom we do but see, and as little know their state, or can describe their interests or their destiny, as we can tell of the inhabitants of the sun and moon? It is indeed a very overpowering thought, when we get to fix our minds upon it, that we familiarly use—I may say, hold intercourse with—creatures who are as much strangers to us, as mysterious as if they were the fabulous, unearthly beings, more powerful than man and yet his slaves, which Eastern superstitions have invented. Is it not plain to our senses that there is a world inferior to us in the scale of beings, with which we are connected without understanding what it is? and is it difficult for faith to admit the word of Scripture concerning our connection with a world superior to us?

II. The world of spirits, then, though unseen, is present, not future, not distant. It is not above the sky; it is not beyond the grave: it is now and here; the kingdom of God is among us. Men think they are ends of this world, and may do as they will. They think this earth their property and its movements in their power, whereas it has other ends beside them, and is the scene of a higher conflict than they are capable of conceiving. It contains Christ's little ones whom they despise, and His angels whom they disbelieve; and these at length shall take possession of it and be manifested. We are looking for the coming of the day of God, when all this outward world, fair though it be, shall perish; when the heavens shall be burnt and the earth melt away. We can bear the loss, for we know it will be but the removing of a veil. We know that to remove the world which is seen, will be the manifestation of the world which is not seen. We know that what we see is as a screen hiding from us God and Christ and His saints and angels. And we earnestly desire and pray for the dissolution of all that we see, from our longing after that which we do not see.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv., p. 200.


References: 2 Corinthians 4:18.—J. Leckie, Sermons at Ibrox, p. 350; W. J. Knox-Little, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 351; T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons, p. 169; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1380; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 29; T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 357; H. P. Liddon, Advent Sermons, vol. ii., p. 225; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 387; Ibid., vol. xix., p. 204; Ibid., vol. xxiii., p. 266; W. G. Horder, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 115; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 50; F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 70; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. viii., p. 131; vol. ix., p. 213; J. R. Illingworth, Sermons, p. 32; Saturday Evening, pp. 95, 102. 2 Corinthians 5:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1719; C. Moore, Church of England Pulpit, vol. x., p. 411; J. B. Heard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 150; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 10th series, p. 135. 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 Corinthians 5:2.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 77. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4.—Preacher's Lantern, vol. i., p. 533. 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iii., p. 33.



 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/2-corinthians-4.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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