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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
2 Corinthians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 4:1. We faint not; This is to the same purpose with we use great plainness of speech, in the 12th verse of the foregoing chapter, and signifies in both places the clear, plain, direct, and disinterested preaching of the Gospel; which is what the Apostle in a great measure means by his figurative way of speaking in the former chapter, and which he more plainly expresses in the five or fix first verses of this; the chief business of the former part of this Epistle being, as we have already observed, to justify to the Corinthians his behaviour in his ministry; and to convince them, that in his preaching the Gospel he had been open and candid, without any hidden design, or the least mixture of any secular interest.


Verse 2

2 Corinthians 4:2. Have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, All dishonest artifices of false teachers. It would perhaps be better to translate the word απειπαμεθα, which we render renounced, by set at defiance; which seems more literally to express the original. Some read the latter part of the verse, But commending ourselves by manifesting the truth to every man's conscience, &c.


Verse 3

2 Corinthians 4:3. If our Gospel be hid, &c.— If our Gospel be under a veil too, it is veiled to those that are lost—who wilfully reject it, and perish thereby. This has an evident reference to what was said above, concerning the veil on the faces of the Jews; and the text may justly be urged as a proof of the perspicuity of the Apostle's writings in all matters of importance to our salvation.


Verse 4

2 Corinthians 4:4. The god of this world That is, the Devil; so called, because the men of this world worshipped or obeyed him as their god. It would be a good illustration of the present passage, if it could be proved, as it has been asserted by many, that this malignant spirit was so early called by the Jews, סמאל, Semal, "the god who blinds." Blinded their minds here answers to their minds were blinded, ch. 2 Corinthians 3:14 and the 2nd and 3rd verse of this explains 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 of that chapter. Of the glorious Gospel of Christ might be rendered, of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. Glory here, as in the former chapter, may be put for shining and brightness; so that the Gospel of the glory of Christ denotes the brightness or clearness of the doctrine wherein Christ is manifested in the Gospel. Christ is not only the eternal Son, but he is the image of the invisible God in all his perfections and glories.


Verse 5

2 Corinthians 4:5. For we preach not ourselves, "We aim not at exalting our own authority, extending our reputation, or securing to ourselves any secular advantage; but, renouncing all such views, claims, and desires, we preach Christ Jesus as the supreme Lord of his church: and instead of setting up ourselves for your masters, we declare ourselves to be your servants, for the sake of Jesus; and are willing, out of regard for you, and, above all, out of duty to him, to stoop to the humblest offices of love, by which we may be serviceable to you in your most important interests."


Verse 6

2 Corinthians 4:6. For God, who commanded the light "God, who by his powerful word, in the first creation of this world,commanded the light instantaneously to shine out of that darkness which covered the whole face of the deep, (Genesis 1:3.) hath also shined in our once prejudiced and benighted hearts, to impart the lustre of the knowledge of God's glory, discovered, as we before observed, in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ; and thence reflected upon us, and from us to you, for the important purposes of your sanctification and salvation." This is a continuation still of the allegory of Moses, and the shining of his face, &c. so much insisted on in the foregoing chapter; for the fuller explication whereof, we will add a word or two more to what has been already said upon it. Moses, by approaching to God in the mount, had a communication of glory or light, which irradiated from his face when he descended from the mount. Moses put a veil over his face, to hide this light or glory; for St. Paul uses both these names for the same thing: but the glory or light of the knowledge of God more fully and clearly communicated by Jesus Christ, is said here to shine in his face; and in that respect it is that Christ, in the foregoing verse, is called by St. Paul the image of God; and the Apostles are said, in the last verse of the preceding chapter, to be transformed into the same image from glory to glory; that is, by their large and clear communications of the knowledge of God in the Gospel,they are said to be transformed into the same image; to represent, as mirrors, the glory of the Lord, and to be as it were the images of Christ, as Christ is the image of God.


Verse 7

2 Corinthians 4:7. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, Vessels of clay which have been baked, and are brittle. The word rendered earthen,— οστρακινοις,— sometimes signifies shells, which are often made use of to preserve things of value in the cabinets of the curious; and these beinglikewise brittle, convey the same idea as the former,—that of the frailty of the human body, and the value of the treasure deposited in them.


Verse 8

2 Corinthians 4:8. We are troubled on every side, This and the following verses contain a beautiful and pathetic detail of the sufferings of the Apostles; and the contrast which runs through them gives an air of sublimity to the whole, at the same time that it conveys a noble ideaof the intrepidity of the first Christians. This passage may at first seem a digression, but nothing could be more pertinent to the Apostle's grand purpose. He aimed at recovering the affections of these Corinthians, which were much alienated from him: to this end he freely opens his heart towards them, and tenderly represents the many and grievous pressures and hardships to which love to souls, and love to theirs among the rest, exposed him. This seems to be the true key to this beautiful and pathetic passage. Instead of not distressed, Dr. Heylin reads, not crushed; and Dr. Doddridge, not utterly over-pressed. Στενοχωρουμενοι properly signifies crushed in a strait passage.


Verse 10

2 Corinthians 4:10. Always bearing about in the body, &c.— "So that the cruelties which were exercised in putting Christ to death, seem to be acted over again upon us by the rage of the enemy. Yet all this is, in effect, not that an immediate period should be put to our life and ministry, as they desire, but that the life also of Jesus, now triumphant above all hostile power, may be more evidently manifested in the preservation of this our feeble body, which enemies, so many and so mighty, are continually endeavouring to destroy."


Verse 12

2 Corinthians 4:12. So then death worketh in us, Or, is wrought in us. "So that the preaching of the Gospel procures sufferings and danger of death to me, but to you it procures life; that is, the energy of the Spirit of Christ, whereby he lives in and gives life to, those who believe in him."


Verse 13

2 Corinthians 4:13. We having the same Spirit, &c.— Dr. Heylin reads this, We having the same spirit of faith [which David had] when he said I believed, and therefore have I spoken;—we also believe, &c. And he observes, that by the spirit of faith is meant the disposition which faith produces. So spirit of meekness, &c. Preachers who speak in this spirit of faith, that is to say, having in themselves a full conviction of the truths which they deliver, will through grace transfer somewhat of that conviction into the breasts of their hearers. Such consider, that they and their audience must appear together before Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:14 and are careful to deliver nothing, but what they may avow in the day of judgment. See on Psalms 116:10.


Verse 15-16

2 Corinthians 4:15-16. For all things are for your sakes, "For I do and suffer all things for your sakes, that the exuberant favour of God may abound by the thanksgiving of a greater number to the glory of God." That is, "I endeavour by my sufferings and preaching to make as many converts as I can; that so the more partaking of the mercy and favour of God, of which there isa plentiful and inexhaustible store, the more may give thanks unto him; it being more for the glory of God, that a greater number should give thanks, and pray to and love him. For which cause I faint not."—Concerning the word saint see on 2 Corinthians 4:1. Here St. Paul gives another proof of his sincerity in his ministry; viz. the sufferings and the danger of death which he daily incurs by his preaching the Gospel. And the reason why those sufferings and danger deter him not, nor make him faint at all, he tells them is, the assurance he has that God through Christ will raise him again, and reward himwith immortality in glory. See 2 Corinthians 4:17 and ch. 2 Corinthians 5:9, &c.


Verse 17

2 Corinthians 4:17. For our light affliction, This is one of the most emphatical passages in St. Paul's writings; in which he speaks as much like an orator as an Apostle. The lightness of the trial is expressed by Το ελαφρον της θλιψεως, the lightness of our affliction; as if he had said, "It is even levity itself, in such a comparison." On the other hand, the Καθ' υπερβολην εις υπερβολην, which we render, far more exceeding, is infinitely emphatical, and cannot be fully expressed by any translation. It signifies that all hyperboles fall short of describing that weighty, eternal glory, so solid and lasting, that you may pass from one hyperbole to another, and yet when you have gained the last, it is infinitelybelow it. It is every where visible what an influence St. Paul's Hebrew had upon his Greek: כבד kebed, signifies to be heavy, and to be glorious; St. Paul in his Greek unites these significations, and says, weight of glory. See Blackwall's Sacred Classics, vol. 1: p. 332. Doddridge and Locke.


Verse 18

2 Corinthians 4:18. While we look not at, &c.— Or, while we aim not at. This is the exact signification of the Greek word σκοπουντων ; and our English word "scope," or "mark aimed at," is derived from the same Greek word.

Inferences.—How great is their mercy, who are put into the gospel ministry, qualified for it, and faithful in it; and who, notwithstanding all opposition and reproach, hold on their way without fainting, and seek to be approved of God, and recommended to the consciences of their hearers, by an open publication of the truth, without sinister views, and without craft or guile! They do not preach themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord in all his characters, and take pleasure in serving the spiritual and eternal interests of the church, for his sake. And O how excellent is the evangelical treasure, which is put into such weak, despicable, and mortal creatures, for the enriching of others, as well as of their own souls, that all the good found in them, and done by them, may the better appear to be entirely of God, and not at all of themselves! If any, that enjoy a clear ministration of the Gospel, continue to be ignorant of its important truths, and unimpressed by them; it is because they are wilfully wandering in the lost state of nature, under the power of the prince of darkness, whose great business and design is to keep them stupid and blind, lest he should lose his vassals, through the illumination of their minds, by the glorious gospel of Christ, who is both the essential and representative image of God the Father: but O with what convincing evidence, power, and advantage, does this blessed Gospel appear, when God by his Spirit unveils its glory and sheds its illustrious, amiable, and penetrating light, in the hearts of his faithful servants and people! They may indeed be in deep distress, but they shall not be utterly overwhelmed: they may resemble their great Lord and Master in sufferings for his sake; but, by their holy fellowship with him in his death, they shall be supported under them, and carried through them; and the powerful life of Christ shall be manifested in their preservation, till at length, like their exalted Head and Saviour, they shall be raised up, in high favour and acceptance with God, to a blessed immortality, together with the whole multitude of persevering believers, that glory may redound to his name, through their united praises. They that are fully persuaded of these things by the faith of the operation of his Spirit, which, for substance, is the same in ministers and private Christians, and in Old and New Testament-saints, will neither be ashamed to speak of them, nor faint under any difficulties or discouragements that surround themselves. O how invaluable are the spiritual improvements and final issues of all our present tribulations, when, as the outward man perishes, the inward man is daily renewed, and grace is ripening apace for glory! And how light and momentary are all the afflictions of this life, compared with that superabounding and eternal weight of glory, which lies beyond them; and for the highest enjoyment of which God, in the riches of his free favour and love, through Jesus Christ, prepares the faithful by means of what they endure in the body! Experience will help our faith, with respect to these real and vast importances, whilst our governing views and rewards are, not to the transitory things of this visible world, but to the infinite, though unseen felicities of the heavenly state, which abide the same, without diminution or allay, for ever.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. The Apostle, having shewn the excellence of the Gospel above the law, passes on to give an account of the diligence and sincerity with which he and his companions discharged their ministry.

1. They laboured with perseverance and fidelity. Therefore seeing we have this ministry from the Lord, as we have received mercy, and support under all our infirmities, we faint not, amidst our greatest trials cheerfully holding on unwearied in our glorious course; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, abhorring every thing scandalous or reproachful; using no cover or concealment, not walking in craftiness, to beguile unstable souls by any mean arts; nor handling the word of God deceitfully, corrupting the pure truth by any base alloy of our own, or attempting to accommodate it to the taste of our hearers; but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God, in all plainness of speech applying the Gospel to men's hearts, under a deep sense of the solemn account we must shortly give of our ministry. Note; (1.) The business of ministers is not to adapt their words to men's humours, but to strike at their hearts. (2.) They who lay their hands to the gospel plough, must never faint, or look back, whatever trials they may meet with in the discharge of their office.

2. He obviates an objection, How, if he spoke so plainly, the truth was yet received by so few comparatively. But if our Gospel, after all the pains we take, be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, who wilfully persist in their impenitence and unbelief, and wilfully reject the counsel of God against their own souls; in whom the god of this world, the devil, hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, increasing and confirming, by his malignant influence, the native hardness and darkness their hearts, by his allurements or discouragements keeping them safe under his dominion, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, should shine unto them, enlighten their darkness, and convince and convert their souls—and they wilfully submit to all this! Note; (1.) The devil has the general sway in this world; and is, though men in general perceive it not, the real object of their worship. (2.) The way in which Satan's kingdom is maintained in the world is by the prejudices that he raises against the glorious gospel of Christ.

3. He declares their integrity. For we preach not ourselves, not our own inventions, nor seek to promote our own honour or interests, but Christ Jesus the Lord, making him the grand subject of all our discourses, his person, offices, and grace; and acknowledging ourselves to be more than your servants for Jesus' sake, whose glory we seek to advance in the salvation of your souls. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, by his almighty word at the beginning, hath shined in our hearts, dispelling the thick clouds of spiritual darkness, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as it appears in that glorious gospel of which he is the sum and substance, and wherein all the divine perfections are exalted to the highest. But we have this treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels, committed to frail, poor, and perishing worms, such as we are, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. When such weak instruments are enabled to bear up under all persecutions, and are made so amazingly successful in their labours, it must with the strongest demonstrations be evident, that the work is more than human, even of divine operation. Note; (1.) None can illumine the darkness of a fallen soul, but he that at first said, Let there be light, and there was light; but he is willing to do this for every sinner that will but yield to his grace. (2.) The weaker the instruments are, the more is the power and grace of God magnified, who worketh by them, and makes their ministry effectual to the salvation of penitent sinners.

2nd, Many were the dangers to which, for the Gospel's sake, the ministers of Christ were exposed; yet none of these things moved them.

1. Their trials were great. We are troubled on every side, with manifold afflictions in every place, yet not distressed with anxiety, or discomposed as if we had no way to escape; we are perplexed, and in doubt what step to take, but not in despair of the Lord's help and interposition; persecuted by wicked men with unrelenting malice, but not forsaken of God, so as to be given up for a prey to their teeth; cast down through the infirmity of our flesh, but not destroyed; on the contrary, comforted and supported, and triumphant over the power of evil: always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, carrying the marks of our sufferings, which shew that we belong to our crucified Master, who sympathizes with us and counts our griefs his own; that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body, he, as the living principle within, sustaining us under all our conflicts. For we which live spiritually by his grace, and amidst our continual persecutions are still preserved, are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, each day in jeopardy, and ready to be cut off for the testimony which we bear, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh, it being evidently seen, by the protection which he vouchsafes to us, that he is risen and at the right hand of God, and that his Spirit has quickened us to newness of life; while with unshaken courage, patience, and perseverance, in the midst of our sufferings, we desire to finish our course after his example. So then death worketh in us, and we, who are Christ's ministering servants, are exposed to the greatest dangers; but life in you, who enjoy its comforts in peace: and even our sufferings, as they are a confirmation of the Gospel which we preach, are, through grace, the means of advancing your spiritual life.

2. If their trials were great, their supports were greater. (1.) They stood by faith. We having the same spirit of faith with the saints of old, which animated the divine Redeemer, and is wrought by the Holy Ghost in us and you; according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken,—we also believe, and therefore speak, fully persuaded of the heavenly doctrines which we preach, and confident that the Lord will support us in our testimony to his gospel. (2.) They were upheld by the hope of a joyful resurrection, knowing, with humble assurance, that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, in virtue of our union with him, and shall present us with you, even with all his faithful saints among you, (for the professors at Corinth were not all saints) and with all his persevering people every where, faultless before the throne of his glory; and the expectation of this raises us above all the fears of death. (3.) The consciousness that God would be glorified by the salvation of many, who would humbly accept of the offers of his grace, supported and quickened them. For all things are for your sakes; all our labours and sufferings are intended to promote your present and eternal happiness; that the abundant grace held forth in our ministrations, might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God, who, embracing the gospel, and made partakers of its inestimable blessings, cannot but with ceaseless praises adore and magnify that gracious God, who hath called them to his kingdom and glory, and, if they be faithful unto death, will assuredly confer it upon them. For which cause we faint not; but for your sakes, and God's glory, patiently and cheerfully persevere. (4.) Their own souls were profited by their afflictions, which was another reason why they should bear up under them. But though our outward man perish through our hardships, labours, and sufferings, yet the inward man is renewed day by day, with fresh supplies of grace, strength, and consolation, growing more meet for the eternal world to which we are going; and we may well be content with every outward cross that tends to bring us thus nearer to our crown. (5.) The near and assured prospect of glory was their grand support and comfort. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment,—so faith teaches us to judge,—our afflictions are light, compared with the weight of glory which we expect, and momentary, however long continued through life, if viewed against the eternity which succeeds to the faithful saints:—and what is more,—it worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The words are amazingly emphatical, ( Καθ' υπερβολην εις υπερβολην, αιωνιον βαρος δυξης,) and such as no translation can fully render. Steadily, therefore, we persevere, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, the glorious objects above, which faith realizes to the soul; for the things which are seen are temporal, transitory, and momentary; but the things which are not seen are eternal, glorious beyond conception, and to be enjoyed by the faithful without measure and without end.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/2-corinthians-4.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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