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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Corinthians 4

 

 

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Verses 1-6

Chapter 11

THE GOSPEL DEFINED.

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (R.V)

IN these verses Paul resumes for the last time the line of thought on which he had set out at 2 Corinthians 3:4, and again at 2 Corinthians 3:12. Twice he has allowed himself to be carried away into digressions, not less interesting than his argument; but now he proceeds without further interruption. His subject is the New Testament ministry, and his own conduct as a minister.

"Seeing we have this ministry," he writes, "even as we obtained mercy, we faint not." The whole tone of the passage is to be triumphant; above the common joy of the New Testament it rises, at the close (2 Corinthians 4:16 ff.), into a kind of solemn rapture; and it is characteristic of the Apostle that before he abandons himself to the swelling tide of exultation, he guards it all with the words, "even as we, obtained mercy." There was nothing so deep down in Paul’s soul, nothing so constantly present to his thoughts, as this great experience. No flood of emotion, no pressure of trial, no necessity of conflict, ever drove him from his moorings here. The mercy of God underlay his whole being; it kept him humble even when he boasted; even when engaged in defending his character against false accusations-a peculiarly trying situation-it kept him truly Christian in spirit.

The words may be connected equally well, so far as either meaning or grammar is concerned, with what precedes, or with what follows. It was a signal proof of God’s mercy that He had entrusted Paul with the ministry of the Gospel; and it was only what we should expect, when one who had obtained such mercy turned out a good soldier of Jesus Christ, able to endure hardship and not faint. Those to whom little is forgiven, Jesus Himself tells us, love little; it is not in them for Jesus’ sake to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. They faint easily, and are overborne by petty trials, because they have not in them that fountain of brave patience a deep abiding sense of what they owe to Christ, and can never, by any length or ardor of service, repay. It accuses us, not so much of human weakness, as of ingratitude, and insensibility to the mercy of God, when we faint in the exercise of our ministry.

"We faint not," says Paul; "we show no weakness. On the contrary, we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully." The contrast marked by αλλα is very instructive: it shows, in the things which Paul had renounced, whither weakness leads. It betrays men. It compels them to have recourse to arts which shame bids them conceal; they become diplomatists and strategists, rather than heralds; they manipulate their message; they adapt it to the spirit of the time, or the prejudices of their auditors; they make liberal use of the principle of accommodation. When these arts are looked at closely, they come to this: the minister has contrived to put something of his own between his hearers and the Gospel; the message has really not been declared. His intention, of course, with all this artifice, is to recommend himself to men; but the method is radically vicious. The Apostle shows us a more excellent way. "We have renounced," he says, "all these weak ingenuities; and by manifestation of the truth commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God."

This is probably the simplest and most complete directory for the preaching of the Gospel. The preacher is to’ make the truth manifest. It is implied in what has just been said, that one great hindrance to its manifestation may easily be its treatment by the preacher himself. If he wishes to do anything else at the same time, the manifestation will not take effect. If he wishes, in the very act of preaching, to conciliate a class, or an interest; to create an opinion in favor of his own learning, ability, or eloquence; to enlist sympathy for a cause or an institution which is only accidentally connected with the Gospel, -the truth will not be seen, and it will not tell. The truth, we are further taught here, makes its appeal to the conscience; it is there that God’s witness in its favor resides. Now, the conscience is the moral nature of man, or the moral element in his nature; it is this, therefore, which the preacher has to address. Does not this involve a certain directness and simplicity of method, a certain plainness and urgency also, which it is far easier to miss than to find? Conscience is not the abstract logical faculty in man, and the preacher’s business is therefore not to prove, but to proclaim, the Gospel. All he has to do is to let it be seen, and the more nakedly visible it is the better. His object is not to frame an irrefragable argument, but to produce an irresistible impression. There is no such thing as an argument to which it is impossible for a willful man to make objections; at least there is no such thing in the sphere of Christian truth. Even if there were, men would object to it on that very ground. They would say that, in matters of this description, when logic went too far, it amounted to moral intimidation, and that in the interests of liberty they were entitled to protest against it. Practically, this is what Voltaire said of Pascal. But there is such a thing as an irresistible impression, -an impression made upon the moral nature against which it is vain to attempt any protest; an impression which subdues and holds the soul for ever. When the truth is manifested, and men see it, this is the effect to be looked for; this, consequently, is the preacher’s aim. In the sight of God-that is, acting with absolute sincerity

Paul trusted to this simple method to recommend himself to men. He brought no letters of introduction from others; he had no artifices of his own; he held up the truth in its unadorned integrity till it told upon the conscience of his hearers; and after that, he needed no other witness. The same conversions which accredited the power of the message accredited the character of him who bore it.

To this line of argument there is a very obvious reply. What, it may be asked, of those on whom "the manifestation of the truth" produces no effect? What of those who in spite of all this plain appeal to conscience neither see nor feel anything? It is sadly obvious that this is no mere supposition; the Gospel remains a secret, an impotent ineffective secret, to many who hear it again and again. Paul faces the difficulty without flinching, though the answer is appalling. "If our Gospel is veiled [and the melancholy fact cannot be denied], it is veiled in the case of the perishing." The fact that it remains hidden from some men is their condemnation; it marks them out as persons on the way to destruction. The Apostle proceeds to explain himself further. As far as the rationale can be given of what is finally irrational, he interprets the moral situation for us. The perishing people in question are unbelievers, whose thoughts, or minds, the god of this world has blinded. The intention of this blinding is conveyed in the last words of 2 Corinthians 4:4 : "that the illumination which proceeds from the Gospel, the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, may not dawn upon them."

Let these solemn words appeal to our hearts and consciences, before we attempt to criticize them. Let us have a due impression of the stupendous facts to which they refer, before we raise difficulties about them, or say rashly that the expression is disproportioned to the truth. To St. Paul the Gospel was a very great thing. A light issued from it so dazzling, so overwhelming, in its splendor and illuminative power, that it might well appear incredible that men should not see it. The powers counteracting it, "the world-rulers of this darkness," must surely, to judge by their success, have an immense influence: Even more than an immense influence, they must have an immense malignity. For what a blessedness it meant for men, that that light should dawn upon them! What a deprivation and loss, that its brightness should be obscured! Paul’s whole sense of the might and malignity of the powers of darkness is condensed in the title which he here gives to their head-"the god of this world." It is literally of this age, the period of time which extends to Christ’s coming again. The dominion of evil is not unlimited in duration; but while it lasts it is awful in its intensity and range. It does not seem an extravagance to the Apostle to describe Satan as the god of the present aeon; and if it seems extravagant to us, we may remind ourselves that our Savior also twice speaks of him as "the prince of this world." Who but Christ Himself, or a soul like St. Paul in complete sympathy with the mind and work of Christ, is capable of seeing and feeling the incalculable mass of the forces which are at work in the world to defeat the Gospel? What sleepy conscience, what moral mediocrity, itself purblind, only dimly conscious of the height of the Christian calling, and vexed by no aspirations toward it, has any right to say that it is too much to call Satan "the god of this world?" Such sleepy consciences have no idea of the omnipresence, the steady persistent pressure, the sleepless malignity, of the evil forces which beset man’s life. They have no idea of the extent to which these forces frustrate the love of God in the Gospel, and rob men of their inheritance in Christ. To ask why men should be exposed to such forces is another, and here an irrelevant, question. What St. Paul saw, and what becomes apparent to every one in proportion as his interest in evangelizing becomes intense, is that evil has a power and dominion in the world, which are betrayed, by their counteracting of the Gospel, to be purely malignant-in other words, Satanic-and the dimensions of which no description can exaggerate. Call such powers Satan, or what you please, but do not imagine that they are inconsiderable. During this age they reign; they have virtually taken what should be God’s place in the world.

It is the necessary complement of this assertion of the malign dominion of evil, when St. Paul tells us that it is exercised in the case of unbelievers. It is their minds which the god of this world has blinded. We need not try to investigate more narrowly the relations of these two aspects of the facts. We need not say that the dominion of evil produces unbelief, though this is John 3:18-19; or that unbelief gives Satan his opportunity; or even that unbelief and the blindness here referred to are reciprocally cause and effect of each other. The moral interests involved are protected by the fact that blindness is only predicated in the case in which the Gospel has been rejected by individual unbelief; and the mere individualism, which is the source of so many heresies, doctrinal and practical, is excluded by the recognition of spiritual forces as operative among men which are far more wide-reaching than any individual knows. Nor ought we to overlook the suggestion of pity, and even of hope, for the perishing, in the contrast between their darkness and the illumination which the Gospel of the glory of Christ lights up. The perishing are not the lost; the unbelievers may yet believe-"in our deepest darkness, we know the direction of the light" (Beet). Final unbelief would mean final ruin; but we are not entitled to make sense the measure of spiritual things, and to argue that because we see men blind and unbelieving now they are bound forever to remain so. In preaching the Gospel we must preach with hope that the light is stronger than the darkness, and able, even at the deepest, to drive it away. Only, when we see, as we sometimes will, how dense and impenetrable the darkness is, we cannot but cry with the Apostle, "Who is sufficient for these things."

This passage is one of those in which the subject of the Gospel is distinctly enunciated: it is the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. The glory of Christ, or, which is the same thing, Christ in His glory, is the sum and substance of it, that which gives it both its contents and its character. Paul’s conception of the Gospel is inspired and controlled from beginning to end by the appearance of the Lord which resulted in his conversion. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, [1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23] and in the Epistle to the Galatians, [Galatians 6:14] he seems to find what is essential and distinguishing in the Cross rather than the Throne; but this is probably due to the fact that the significance of the Cross had been virtually denied by those for whom His words are meant. The Christ whom he preached had died, and died, as the next chapter will make very prominent, to reconcile the world to God; but Paul preached Him as he had seen Him on that ever-memorable day; with all the virtue of His atoning death in it, the Gospel was yet the Gospel of His glory. It is in the combination of these two that the supreme power of the Gospel lies. In the distaste for the supernatural which has prevailed so widely, many have tried to ignore this, and to get out of the Cross alone an inspiration which it cannot yield if severed from the Throne. Had the story of Jesus ended with the words "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried," it is very certain that these words would never have formed part of a Creed-there would never have been such a thing as the Christian religion. But when these words are combined with what follows-"He rose again from the dead on the third day, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father"-we have the basis which religion requires; we have a living Lord, in whom all the redemptive virtue of a sinless life and death is treasured up, and who is able to save to the uttermost all that trust Him. It is not the emotions excited by the spectacle of the Passion, any more than the admiration evoked by the contemplation of Christ’s life, that save; it is the Lord of glory, who lived that life of love, and in love endured that agony, and who is now enthroned at God’s right hand. The life and death in one sense form part of His glory, in another they are a foil to it; He could not have been our Savior but for them; He would not be our Savior unless He had triumphed over them, and entered into a glory beyond.

When the Apostle speaks of Christ as the image of God, we must not let extraneous associations with this title deflect us from the true line of his thought. It is still the Exalted One of whom he is speaking: there is no other Christ for him. In that face which flashed upon him by Damascus twenty years before, he had seen, and always saw, all that man could see of the invisible God. It represented for him, and for all to whom he preached, the Sovereignty and the Redeeming Love of God, as completely as man could understand them. It evoked those ascriptions of praise which a Jew was accustomed to offer to God alone. It inspired doxologies. When it passed before the inward eye of the Apostle, he worshipped: "to Him," he said, "be the glory and the dominion forever and ever." Whether the pre-incarnate Son was also the image of God, and whether the same title is applicable to Jesus of Nazareth, are separate questions. If they are raised, they must be answered in the affirmative, with the necessary qualifications; but they are quite irrelevant here. Much misunderstanding of the Pauline Gospel would have been prevented if men could have remembered that what was only of secondary importance to them, and even of doubtful certainty-namely, the exaltation of Christ-was itself the foundation of the Apostle’s Christianity, the one indubitable fact from which his whole knowledge of Christ, and his whole conception of the Gospel, set forth. Christ on the throne was, if one may say so, a more immediate certainty to Paul, than Jesus on the banks of the lake, or even Jesus on the cross. It may not be natural or easy for us to start thus; but if we do not make the effort, we shall involuntarily dislocate and distort the whole system of his thoughts.

In the fourth verse the stress is logically, if not grammatically, on Christ. "The Gospel of the glory of Christ," I say. "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake." Perhaps ambition had been laid to Paul’s charge; "the necessity of being first" is one of the last infirmities of noble minds. But the Gospel is too magnificent to have any room for thoughts of self. A proud man may make a nation, or even a Church, the instrument or the arena of his pride; he may find in it the field of his ambition, and make it subservient to his own exaltation. But the defense which Paul has offered of his truthfulness in 2 Corinthians 1:1-24. is as capable of application here. No one whom Christ has seized, subdued, and made wholly His own for ever, can practice the arts of self-advancement in Christ’s service. The two are mutually ex-elusive. Paul preaches Christ Jesus as Lord-the absolute character in which he knows Him; as for himself, he is every man’s servant for Jesus’ sake. He obtained mercy, that he might be found faithful in service: the very name of Jesus kills pride in his heart, and makes him ready to minister even to the unthankful and evil.

This is the force of the "for" with which the sixth verse begins. It is as if he had written, "With our experience, no other course is possible to us; for it is God, who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." But the connection here is of little importance in comparison with the grandeur of the contents. In this verse we have the first glimpse of the Pauline doctrine, explicitly stated in the next chapter-"that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The Apostle finds the only adequate parallel to his own conversion in that grand creative act in which God brought light, by a word, out of the darkness of chaos. It is not forcing the figure unduly, nor losing its poetic virtue, to think of gloom and disorder as the condition of the soul on which the Sun of Righteousness has not risen. Neither is it putting any strain upon it to make it suggest that only the creative word of God can dispel the darkness, and give the beauty of life and order to what was waste and void. There is one point, indeed, in which the miracle of grace is more wonderful than that of creation. God only commanded the light to shine out of darkness when time began; but He shone Himself in the Apostle’s heart: Ipse lux nostra (Bengel). He shone "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." In that light which God flashed into his heart, he saw the face of Jesus Christ, and knew that the glory which shone there was the glory of God. What these words mean has already been explained. In the face of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, Paul saw God’s Redeeming Love upon the throne of the universe; it had descended deeper than sin and death; it was exalted now above all heavens; it filled all things. That sight he carried with him everywhere; it was his salvation and his Gospel, the inspiration of his inmost life, and the motive of all his labors. One who owed all this to Christ was not likely to make Christ’s service the theatre of his own ambitions; he could not do anything but take the servant’s place, and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.

There is a difficulty in the last half of 2 Corinthians 4:6 : it is not clear what precisely is meant by πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ κ. τ. λ. By some the passage is rendered: God shined in our hearts, "that He might bring into the light (for us to see it) the knowledge of His glory," etc. This is certainly legitimate, and strikes me as the most natural interpretation. It would answer then to what Paul says in Galatians 1:15, f., referring to the same events: "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me." But others think all this is covered by the words "God shined in our hearts," and they take προς φωτισμον κ. τ. λ., as a description of the apostolic vocation: God shined in our hearts, "that we might bring into the light (for others to see) the knowledge of His glory," etc. The words would then answer to what follows in Galatians 1:16 : God revealed His Son in me, "that I might preach Him among the heathen." This construction is possible, but I think forced. In Paul’s experience his conversion and vocation were indissolubly connected; but ρος φωτισμον κ. τ. λ can only mean one, and the conversion is the likelier.


Verses 7-18

Chapter 12

THE VICTORY OF FAITH.

2 Corinthians 4:7-18 (R.V)

IN the opening verses of this chapter Paul has magnified his office, and his equipment for it. He has risen to a great height, poetic and spiritual, in speaking of the Lord of glory, and of the light which shines from His face for the illumining and redemption of men. The disproportion between his own nature and powers, and the high calling to which he has been called, flashes across his mind. It is quite possible that this disproportion, viewed with a malignant eye, had been made matter of reproach by his adversaries. "Who," they may have said, "is this man, who soars to such heights, and makes such extraordinary claims? The part does not suit him; he is quite unequal to it; his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." It is possible, further, though I hardly think it probable, that the very sufferings Paul endured in his apostolic work were cast in his teeth by Jewish teachers at Corinth; they were read by these spiteful interpreters as signs of God’s wrath, the judgment of the Almighty on a wanton subverter of His law. But surely it is not too much to suppose that Paul could sometimes think unchallenged. A soul as great and as sensitive as his might well be struck by the contrast which pervades this passage without requiring to have it suggested by the malice of his foes. The interpretation which he puts upon the contrast is not merely a happy artifice (so Calvin), and still less a tour de force; it is a profound truth, a favorite, if one may say so, in the New Testament, and of universal application.

"We have this treasure," he writes-the treasure of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, including the apostolic vocation to diffuse that knowledge-"we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power [which it exercises, and which is exhibited in sustaining us in our function] may be seen to be God’s, and not from us." Earthen vessels are fragile, and what the word immediately suggests is no doubt bodily weakness, and especially mortality; but the nature of some of the trials referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 ( απορουμενοι, αλλ ουκ εξαπορουμενοι) shows that it would be a mistake to confine the meaning to the body. The earthen vessel which holds the priceless treasure of the knowledge of God-the lamp of frail ware in which the light of Christ’s glory shines for the illumination of the world-is human nature as it is; man’s body in its weakness, and liability to death; his mind with its limitations and confusions; his moral nature with its distortions and misconceptions, and its insight not yet half restored. It was not merely in his physique that Paul felt the disparity between himself and his calling to preach the Gospel of the glory of Christ; it was in his whole being. But instead of finding in this disparity reason to doubt his vocation, he saw in it an illustration of a great law of God. It served to protect the truth that salvation is of the Lord. No one who saw the exceeding greatness of the power which the Gospel exercised-not only in sustaining its preachers under persecution, but in transforming human nature, and making bad men good-no one who saw this, and looked at a preacher like Paul, could dream that the explanation lay in him. Not in an ugly little Jew, without presence, without eloquence, without the means to bribe or to compel, could the source of such courage, the cause of such transformations, be found; it must be sought, not in him, but in God. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things which are." And the end of it all is that he which glorieth should glory in the Lord.

This verse is never without its application; and though the contempt of the world did not suggest it to St. Paul, it may naturally enough recall it to us. One would sometimes think, from the tone of current literature, that no person with gifts above contempt is any longer identified with the Gospel. Clever men, we are told, do not become preachers now-still less do they go to church. They find it impossible to have real or sincere intellectual intercourse with Christian ministers. Perhaps this is not so alarming as the clever people think. There always have been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them; they could never do His work, because they were so lost in admiration of their own. But God’s work never depended on them, and it does not depend on them now. It depends on those who, when they see Jesus Christ, become unconscious, once and for ever, of all that they have been used to call their wisdom and their strength-on those who are but earthen vessels in which another’s jewel is kept, lamps of clay in which another’s light shines. The kingdom of God has not changed its administration since the first century; its supreme law is still the glory of God, and not the glory of the clever men; and we may be quite sure it will not change. God will always have his work done by instruments who are willing to have it clear that the exceeding greatness of the power is His, and not theirs.

The eighth and ninth verses [2 Corinthians 4:8-9] illustrate the contrast between Paul’s weakness and God’s power. In the series of participles which the Apostle uses, the earthen vessel is represented by the first in each pair, the divine power by the second. "We are pressed on every side, but not straitened"-i.e., not brought into a narrow place from which there is no escape. "We are perplexed, but not unto despair," or, preserving the relation, between the words of the, original "put to it, but not utterly put out." This distinctly suggests inward rather than merely bodily trials, or at least the inward aspect of these: constantly at a loss, the Apostle nevertheless constantly finds the solution of his problems. "Pursued, but not abandoned"-i.e., not left in the enemy’s hands. "Smitten down, but not destroyed": even when trouble has done its worst, when the persecuted man has been overtaken and struck to the ground, the blow is not fatal, and he rises again. All these partial contrasts of human weakness and Divine power are condensed and concentrated in the tenth verse in one great contrast, the two sides of which are presented in their divinely intended relation to each other: "always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body." And this again, with its mystical poetic aspect, especially in the first clause, is reaffirmed and rendered into prose in 2 Corinthians 4:11 : "For we, alive as we are, are ever being delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh."

Paul does not say that he bears about in his body and death of Jesus ( θανατος) but his dying ( νεκρωσις, mortificatio), the process which produces death. The sufferings which come upon him daily in his work for Jesus are gradually killing him; the pains, the perils, the spiritual pressure, the excitement of danger and the excitement of deliverance, are wearing out his strength, and soon he must die. In the very same way, Jesus Himself had spent His strength and died, and in that life of weakness and suffering which was always bringing him nearer the grave, Paul felt himself in intimate sympathetic communion with his Master: it was "the dying of Jesus" that he carried about in his body. But that was not all. In spite of the dying, he was not dead. Perpetually in peril, he had a perpetual series of escapes; perpetually at his wits’ end, his way perpetually opened before him. What was the explanation of that? It was the life of Jesus manifesting itself in his body. The life of Jesus can only mean the life which Jesus lives now at God’s right hand; and these repeated escapes of the Apostle, these restorations of his courage, are manifestations of that life; they are, so to speak, a series of resurrections. Paul’s communion with Jesus is not only in His dying, but in His rising again; he has the evidence of the Resurrection, because he has its power, present with him, in these constant deliverances and renewals. Nay, the very purpose of his sufferings and perils is to provide occasion for the manifestation of this resurrection life. Unless he were exposed to death, God could not deliver him from it; unless he were pressed in the spirit, God could not give him relief; there could be no setting off of the exceeding greatness of His power in contrast with the exceeding frailty of the earthen vessel. The use of "body" and of "mortal flesh" in these verses has been appealed to in support of an interpretation which would limit the meaning to what is merely physical: "I am in daily danger of death, God daily delivers me from it, and thus the life of Jesus is manifested in me." This is of course included in the interpretation given above; but I cannot suppose it is all the Apostle meant. The truth is, there is no such thing in the passage, or indeed in human life, as a merely physical experience. To be delivered to death for Jesus’ sake is an experience which is at once and indissolubly physical and spiritual; it could not be, unless the soul had its part, and that the chief part in it. To be delivered from such death is also an experience as much spiritual as physical. And in both aspects, and not least in the first, is the life of Jesus manifested. Nor can I see that it is in the least degree unnatural for one who feels this to speak of that life as being manifested in his "body," or in his "mortal flesh": it is a way which all men understand of describing the human nature, which is the scene of the manifestation, as a frail and powerless thing.

The moral of the passage is similar to that of 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. Suffering, for the Christian, is not an accident; it is a divine appointment and a divine opportunity. To wear life out in the service of Jesus is to open it to the entrance of Jesus’ life; it is to receive, in all its alleviations, in all its renewals, in all its deliverances, a witness to His resurrection. Perhaps it is only by accepting this service, with the daily dying it demands, that that witness can be given to us; and "the life of Jesus" on His throne may become inapprehensible and unreal in proportion as we decline to bear about in our bodies His dying. All who have commented on this passage have noticed the iteration of the name of Jesus. Singulariter sensit Paulus dulcedinem ejus. Schmiedel explains the repetition as partly accidental, and partly indicative of the fact that Christ’s death is here regarded as a purely human occurrence, and not as a redemptive deed of the Messiah. This points in the right direction, though it may fairly be doubted whether Paul would have drawn this distinction, or could have even been made to understand it. The analytic tendency of the modern mind often disintegrates what depends for its virtue on being kept whole and entire, and this seems to me a case in point. The use of the name Jesus rather indicates that, in recalling the actual events of his own career, Paul saw them run continually parallel to events in the career of Another; they were one in kind with that painful series of incidents which ended in the death of the historical Savior. People have often sought in the Epistles of Paul for traces of a knowledge of Christ like that which is conserved in the first three Gospels; in this expression , την νεκρωσιν του ιησου, and in the repetition of the historical proper name, there is an indirect but quite convincing proof that the general character of Christ’s life was known to the Apostle. And though he does not dwell on Christ’s sympathy with the fullness and power of the writer to the Hebrews, it is evident from this passage that he was in sympathetic fellowship with One who had suffered as he suffered, and that even to name His human name was consolation.

In 2 Corinthians 4:12 an abrupt conclusion is drawn from all that precedes: "So then death worketh in us, but life in you." Ironice dictum, is Calvin’s comment, and the words are at least intelligible if so taken. The stinging passage beginning at 2 Corinthians 4:8 of the First Epistle is ironical in precisely this sense-"We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye have glory, but we have dishonor": this is, as it were, a variation on the theme "death worketh in us, but life in you." Still, the irony does not seem in place here: Paul writes in all seriousness that the sufferings which he endures as a preacher of the Gospel, and which eventually bring death to him-which are the approaches of death, or death itself at work-are the means by which life, in the most unqualified sense, comes to be at work in the Corinthians. If the death and life which are in view wherever the Gospel appears are to be distributed among them, the death is his, and the life theirs; the dying of Jesus is borne about by the Evangelist, while those who accept the message he brings at this cost are made partakers in Jesus’ life.

Not indeed that the contrast can be thus absolute: the thirteenth verse corrects this hasty inference. If death alone were at work in St. Paul, it would frustrate his vocation; he would not be able to preach at all. But he is able to preach. In spite of all the discouragement which his sufferings might beget, his faith remains vigorous; he is conscious of possessing that same confidence toward God which animated the ancient Psalmist to sing, "I believed, therefore I spoke." "We also," he says, "believe, and therefore also we speak." What he believes, and what prompts his utterance, we read in the thirteenth verse: "We speak, knowing that He who raised Jesus shall raise us also like Jesus, and shall present us with you. With you, I say: for the whole thing is for your sakes, that the grace, having become abundant, may by means of many cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God."

What an interesting illustration this is of the communion of the saints! Paul recognizes a spiritual kinsman in the writer of the Psalm; faith in God, the power which faith confers, the obligations which faith imposes, are the same in all ages. He recognizes spiritual kinsmen in the Corinthians also. All his sufferings have their interests in view, and it is part of his joy, as he looks on to the future, that when God raises him from the dead, as He raised His own Son, He will present him along with them. Their unity will not be dissolved by death. The word here rendered "present" has often a technical sense in Paul’s Epistles; it is almost appropriated to the presenting of men before the judgment-seat of Christ. Good scholars insist on that meaning here; but even with the proviso that acceptance in the judgment is taken for granted, I cannot feel that it is quite congruous. There is such a thing as presentation to a sovereign as well as to a judge-the presenting of the bride to the bridegroom on the wedding day as well as of the criminal to the justice-and it is the great and glad occasion which answers to the feeling in the Apostle’s mind. The communion of the saints, in virtue of which his sufferings bring blessing to the Corinthians, has its issue in the joyful union of all before the throne. As Paul thinks of that, he sees an end in the Gospel lying beyond the blessing it brings to men. That end is God’s glory. The more he toils and suffers, the more God’s grace is made known and received; and the more it is received, the more does it cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

Two practical reflections present themselves here, nearly related to each other. The first is that faith naturally speaks; the second, that grace merits thanksgiving. Put the two into one, and we may say that grace received by faith merits articulate thanksgiving. Much modern faith is inarticulate, and it is far too soothing to be true if we say, Better so. Of course the utterance of faith is not prescribed to it; to be of any value it must be spontaneous. Not all the believing are to be teachers and preachers, but all are to be confessors. Every one who has faith has a witness to bear to God. Every one who has accepted God’s grace by faith has a thankful acknowledgment of it to make, and at some time or other to make in words. It is not the faculty of speech that is wanting where this is not done; it is courage and gratitude; it is the same Spirit of faith which prompted the Psalmist and St. Paul. It is true that hypocrites sometimes speak, and that testimonies and thanksgivings are apt to be discredited on their account; but bad money would never be put in circulation unless good money was indisputably valuable. It is not the dumb, but the confessing Christian, not the taciturn, but the outspokenly thankful, who glorifies God, and helps on the Gospel. Calvin is properly severe on our "pseudo-Nicodemi," who make a merit of their silence, and boast that they have never by a syllable betrayed their faith. Faith is betrayed in another and more serious sense when it is kept secret.

But to return to the Apostle, who himself, at 2 Corinthians 4:16, returns to the beginning of the chapter, and resumes the ουκ εγκακουμεν of 2 Corinthians 4:1 : "Wherefore we faint not." "Wherefore" means "With all that has been said in view"; not only the glorious future in which Paul and his disciples are to be raised and presented together to Christ, but his daily experience of the life of Jesus manifested in his mortal flesh. This kept him brave and strong. "We faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day." The outward man covers the same area as "our body," or "our mortal flesh." It is human nature as it is constituted in this world-a weak, fragile, perishable thing. Paul could not mistake, and did not hide from himself, the effect which his apostolic work had upon him. He saw it was killing him. He was old long before the time. He was a sorely broken man at an age when many are in the fullness of their strength. The earthen vessel was visibly crumbling. Still, that was not the whole of his experience. "The inward man is renewed day by day." The meaning of these words must be fixed mainly by the opposition in which they stand to ουκ εγκακουμεν ("we faint not"). The same word ( ανακαινουσθαι) is used of the renewal of the soul in the Creator’s image [Colossians 3:10] -i.e., of the work of sanctification; but the opposition in question proves that this is not contemplated here. We must rather think of the daily supply of spiritual power for apostolic service of the new strength and joy which were given to St. Paul every morning, in spite of the toils and sufferings which every day exhausted him. Of course we can say of all people, bad as well as good, "The outward man is decaying." Time tires the stoutest runner, crumbles the compactest wall. But we cannot say of all, "The inward man is renewed day by day." That is not the compensation of every one; it is the compensation of those whose outward man has decayed in Jesus’ service, who have been worn out in labors for His sake. It is they, and they only, who have a life within which is independent of outward conditions, which sufferings and deaths cannot crush, and which never grows old. The decay of the outward man in the godless is a melancholy spectacle, for it is the decay of everything; in the Christian it does not touch that life which is hid with Christ in God, and which is in the soul itself a well of water springing up to life eternal.

But who shall speak of the two great verses in which the Apostle, leaving controversy out of sight, solemnly weighs against each other time and eternity, the seen and the unseen, and claims his inheritance beyond? "Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." One can imagine that he was dictating quick and eagerly as he began the sentence; he "crowds and hurries and precipitates" the grand contrasts of which his mind is full. Affliction in any case is outweighed by glory, but the affliction in question is a light matter, the glory a great weight: the light affliction is but momentary-it ends with death at the latest, it may end in the coming of Jesus to anticipate death; the weight of glory is eternal; and as if this were not enough, the light affliction which is but for a moment works out for us the weight of glory which endures for ever, "in excess and to excess," in a way above conception, to a degree above conception: it works out for us the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor man’s heart conceived, "all that God has prepared for them that love Him." [1 Corinthians 2:9] If Paul spoke fast and with beating heart as he crowded all this into two brief lines, we can well believe that the pressure was relaxed, and that the pen moved more steadily and slowly over the contemplative words that follow: "while we look not to the things which are seen, but to the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." This sentence is sometimes translated conditionally: "provided we look," etc. This is legitimate, but unnecessary. The Apostle is speaking, in the first instance, of himself, and the looking is taken for granted. The look is not merely equivalent to vision: it means that the unseen is the goal of him who looks. The eye is to be directed to it, not as an indifferent object, but as a mark to aim at, an end to attain. This observation goes some way to limit the application of the whole passage. The contrast of things seen and things unseen is sometimes taken in a latitude which deprives it of much of its force: psychology and metaphysics are dragged in to define and to confuse the Apostle’s thought. But everything here is practical. The things seen are to all intents and purposes that tempest-tossed life of which St. Paul has been speaking, that daily dying, that pressure, perplexity, persecution, and down casting, which are for the present his lot. To these he does not look: in comparison with that to which he does look, these are a light and momentary affliction which is not worth a thought. Similarly, the things unseen are not everything, indefinitely, which is invisible; to all intents and purposes they are the glory of Christ. It is on this the Apostle’s eye is fixed, this which is his goal. The stormy life, even when most is made of its storms, passes; but Christ’s glory can never pass. It is infinite, inconceivable, eternal. There is an inheritance in it for all who keep their eyes upon it, and, sustained by a hope so high, bear the daily death of a life like Paul’s as a light and momentary affliction. The connection between the two is so close that the one is said to work for us the other. By Divine appointment they are united; fellowship with Jesus is fellowship all through - in the daily dying, which soon has done its worst, and then in the endless life. We may say, if we please, that the glory is the reward of the suffering; it would be truer to say that it was its compensation, truer still that it was its fruit. There is a vital connection between them, but no one can imagine he is reading Paul’s thought who should find here the idea that the trivial service of man can make God his debtor for so vast a sum. The excellency of the power which raises the earthen vessel to this height of faith, hope, and inspiration is itself God’s, and God’s alone.

Distrust of the supernatural, insistence on the present and the practical, and the pride of a self-styled common sense, have done much to rob modern Christianity of this vast horizon, to blind it to this heavenly vision. But wherever the life of Jesus is being manifested in mortal flesh-wherever in His service and for His sake men and women die daily, wearing out nature, but with spirit ceaselessly renewed-there the unseen becomes real again. Such people know that what they do is not for one dead, but for One who lives; they know that the daily inspirations they receive, the hopes, the deliverances, are wrought in them, not by themselves, but by One who has all power in heaven and on earth. The things that are unseen and eternal stand out as what they are in relation to lives like these; to other lives, they have no relation at all. A worldly and selfish career does not work out an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and therefore to the worldly and selfish man heaven is forever an unpractical, incredible thing. But it not only comes out in its brightness, it comes out as a mighty inspiration and support, to every one who bears about in his body the dying of Jesus; as he fastens his eye upon it, he takes heart anew, and in spite of daily dying "faints not."

 


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

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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