The Second Epistle to the Corinthians

Scope and Divisions of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians

The second epistle to the Corinthians, as already said, is an appendix to the first, and as such has for its subject, ministry. We have already seen that the very idea of the body of Christ supposes ministry. The various qualifications and functions of the members make each of them in his place a minister to all the rest. There are some, no doubt, who are more conspicuous than others in this, and in the epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle is himself the example of ministry in its highest character, and as manifested in a public way. We must not let this divert us from the larger thought of ministry as connected with the whole body of Christ and which in the very first chapter here the apostle puts so distinctly before us. Paul was the pattern Christian, as we have seen in the epistle to the Philippians. He is the pattern in his conversion, as he shows us in his epistle to Timothy. He was a pattern even in his previous condition, at once chief of legalists and chief of sinners. He is here pattern for us in the ministry of Christ; but we must not let his pre-eminence in this crowd out the larger thought, as in most commentaries upon the epistle it practically does. We might as well allow the individuality of Paul as a Christian to prevent the application self-evidently to be made to all other Christians. Ministry has its various characters, of course, and in some forms is not only not public, but may be of a very unobtrusive and unofficial kind; but the things which seem to be more feeble are necessary, as the same apostle has reminded us; and we are not to allow it to make us think of ministry as if it were the exclusive prerogative or duty of a certain class. The epistle thus widens from a mere defence of himself by Paul to the Corinthians, — or at most a mere ministry of his to local needs in that assembly, — it widens, I say, from this to that which is of the most general interest to us all; the principles at least become of universal application. We find this, as already stated, at the very beginning of the epistle.

The first division shows us the unity of the assembly in the mind of God, who controls all happenings to the individual members for profit to the whole.

The second division shows us, in fact, the ministry of the whole Church looked at as the epistle of Christ, to be read and known of all men. This cannot surely be apostolic simply. It takes the whole Church to be the one epistle. This is carried on further in the chapters following, in which we see how the life comes in with its witness-bearing, as well as the word held forth by believers. We have then the testing and trial which is clearly true as to all Christians; then service in the form of the communication to those who have need, on the part of those who can supply that need. Then we find the overcoming of the difficulties of the way, (the opposition of Satan always seeking to destroy the testimony of Christ,) and the power to overcome. And we close finally with that which is the perfecting of the ministry; in which we see, on the one hand, the nearness to God in which those who seek earnestly to serve His people are found, and along with this the discipline they nevertheless need, and in which they learn that the power of Christ resting upon us enables us to glory in the very infirmities which call in that power. This gives us the divisions of the epistle, which are in general, with only one exception, two chapters to a division, the exception being that of the third chapter, in which we have the ministry of the new covenant put in glorious contrast with the ministration of the old. The divisions are therefore:
1. (2 Cor. 1, 2.): The unity of the body as recognized of God in the control of all that relates to every part for the good of the whole.
2. (2 Cor. 3.): Gives us ministry in its necessarily new covenant character in contrast with all that could be called such in the old.
3. (2 Cor. 4, 5.): Shows us the radiancy of the glory of Christ in the earthen vessels, which, by their very weakness and nothingness, only make the source of it more manifest.
4. (2 Cor. 6, 7.): Shows us the testing and trial in the world through which we pass.
5. (2 Cor. 8, 9.): The communication for the need of the needy on the part of those who have ability to supply the need.
6. (2 Cor. 10, 11.): Gives us the overcoming of the difficulties and of the power of the enemy, which would hinder the work; while
7. (2 Cor. 12, 13.) gives us the perfecting of the ministry by the ministry of God on His side to those who minister, and the discipline of the way which stamps them only with that weakness which makes them glory in His strength.

Notes.

Division 1. (2 Cor. 1, 2.)
The unity of the body as recognized of God in the control of all that relates to every part for the good of the whole.

The importance of the first division is plainly seen here. It is an introduction to that which follows, and puts us upon the right track for the interpretation of all that follows. It is very striking, therefore, to find here insisted on, the unity of the assembly as recognized of God in the trial of all that happens with regard to any of the members of the body, making them thus more fruitful in their service to the rest. It is immensely important that we should get the idea of ministry which thus results. The tendency has been — while no Christian surely would deny that service in some sort belongs to all the people of God — yet to make what is commonly called ministry too much the service of a class, and official. We need, all of us, to wake up fully to the fact that ministry is nothing else than that service of Christ in all our life, to which we are pledged by the very fact that we are Christians. It is not by any choice of ours that we have been baptized by the Spirit into the one body of Christ. Our place and necessary duty in relation to all other members is thus clear. We may indeed have to ask ourselves what is our own distinct function in this way, — a question which we shall not answer by looking simply at ourselves and seeking to define it by such an examination. Love, as the apostle has already taught us, is the spirit of ministry. It is that which makes us servants as a matter of course to the needs of others, and here there is no restrictive band thrown around us to hinder the free motion of love. It is as we are led out to help in whatever way we may find ourselves able to help, that that ability on our part becomes more and more known to ourselves, and we fall more intelligently into the place which God has given us. Officialism has always been a restraint upon this mutual service. A large number have thus been systematically deprived of even the very opportunity of knowing what their gifts might be; and the blessing which God would thus have given us has been limited, and, as far as we could do it, forfeited by us. The heart is that which will teach us here better than the head, and love is not the blind thing which men have painted it, but, on the contrary, that which is the very key to wisdom. "He that winneth souls is wise." The desire to do this will make us to seek out ways of doing it which will soon justify themselves, or find needed correction in the field of service itself.

1. The apostle associates himself in his address to the Corinthians now, in his constant, gracious way, with the brother Timotheus; while he has to maintain, in the state of things which we know was at Corinth, his own distinct apostleship by the will of God. He writes, therefore, with authority, not simply by way of advice; and we see, in fact, all the way through the epistle, how he claims this authority, while desiring to use it with all the gentleness of grace. He writes to the assembly at Corinth, but with a larger reference also to all the saints who were in all Achaia, wishing them in the first place, as that which would qualify for all that he will urge upon them here, "grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace is, as we know, our fundamental need, as well as that in which we stand with God, and peace is that which may well be our possession as we realize the grace in which we stand; but there is also a peace which flows from communion with the Father and with the Son, and which is essential, therefore, to all Christian walk.

The apostle writes as full of the comfort with which the news which he has just got from Corinth inspires him. He blesses the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as "the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement," and immediately gives us in this way a key-note of the epistle: "For God encourageth us," he says, "in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation through the encouragement wherewith we ourselves are encouraged of God." How beautiful is the fruitfulness of sorrow thus for us, as that which only makes us more deeply to realize God as a living God and the way in which He cares and ministers to us all! God is, after all, the great Minister. We are only imitators of God in this way, feeble as we are. It is ministry upon which every one of us depends, a ministry in which He may use and does use his people, and in which also the very circumstances of the way, however adverse they may seem, are nevertheless made all to work together for good to them that love God. How conscious we must be, if we have any right Christian experience at all, of the effect of trouble thus upon us, of how, when we draw near to God by means of it, He becomes truly more the living God, to be counted upon for all our need! The trouble of which he speaks is that which has resulted to him from the place which was his in the world as devoted to Christ. The sufferings of Christ abounded to one to whom to live was Christ and nothing else. It is not disciplinary suffering that he is speaking of, therefore; although it is true that, perhaps, in all suffering even where the highest privilege is found, nevertheless we are such that discipline may be in it, perhaps is commonly in it, and is part of its blessing. But that is not what is spoken of here. If the suffering of Christ abounded to him, so in proportion did his encouragement through Christ abound also. Both things, the trouble and the encouragement, were not simply for himself, but for all Christians also. Their encouragement would be found in endurance of the same sufferings, and their salvation or deliverance out of them was the crown of his suffering. From it in due time the deliverance came.

It is here that is found the ability for helping one another upon the basis of such common suffering and such experiences of the goodness and power of God. He had a stedfast hope with regard to them, an assurance that all this trial would work but blessing in regard to them, and now his own present encouragement by them would have its reflex influence upon them, for their own encouragement and as working out their deliverance also. If they were partakers of the sufferings on the one hand, they would be also of the encouragement on the other. Thus God has united His people together.

2. The apostle goes on to speak more of the trouble in which he had lately been, and of the effect upon himself, an effect which God would always produce in us from trial of this sort. He had been pressed exceedingly, beyond his own power to sustain it. Life itself he had given up as hopeless; but when God brought him down to this, and when the sentence of death, as it were, was written upon him, it was only that God might manifest Himself as the God of resurrection, a God acting in power beyond all thoughts of man, whatever the circumstances may be. The apostle had found deliverance. Assurance had been confirmed with him that God would always deliver him. He trusted Him for this, therefore, while recognizing the value of the prayers of the saints on his behalf, prayers which were already thus a manifest form of ministry to him; and the result with God would consequently be, in the grace bestowed upon him, thanksgiving on the part of many in his behalf. In seeing this, he is comforted by the assurance, the testimony of his own conscience, that in holiness and sincerity before God he had behaved himself in the world and even especially towards them. They were already recognizing this; and he wrote nothing else than he was sure they would recognize, and that he was their glorying, as they too were his in the coming day of the Lord Jesus.

3. He goes on now to speak of what might seem to have been a failure upon his part. He had been minded to come to them before this, to pass by them into Macedonia, and again to come from Macedonia to them, that they might set him afterward on his way to Judea; but in fact he had not done this. Had that been mere fickleness on his part, so that what he purposed today he would set aside to morrow? Was there, in this way, a kind of yea and nay with him, as earnest a nay as the yea before might seem to be earnest? He desires to rid them of any thought of this kind; and it is beautiful to see how he insists that his life took character from his preaching, even in such details as he is speaking of. The Son of God who had been preached among them by himself and Silas and Timotheus was He preached as One in whom there was yea and nay, the author of a mere conditional and uncertain blessing? Assuredly not. All in Him was certainty; all the promises of God were in Him yea, in affirmation; and in Him too amen, in the answer of faith and experience to His assurance; that God might have His due glory as alone He could in this way. As to the position of the Christian, God had established them all together in Christ, with whom there could be no  failure. Salvation was in His hands and in no other. He had complete control of all circumstances, and grace to meet all possible necessities. Then, too, the power answering to this, the power of the Spirit, had been manifest. They were anointed thus and sealed. The power communicated had marked them out in the fullest way as those who belonged to God, and thus secured His coming in on behalf of those who were His representatives upon the earth. The Spirit Himself was thus the pledge and earnest of the future in their hearts. Here all was certainty. Nothing was merely contingent. Nothing depended upon man, whatever shape God's grace might have to take in view of human frailty and uncertainty.

4. He goes on to explain the real reason for this apparent failure. It was to spare them that he had not come to Corinth. Their state was such that he was afraid of having to exercise apostolic authority in a manner that might seem to make him lord rather than servant. His absence from them was the fruit of his love toward them. It was to call into exercise the faith in which they stood. They were to act in the responsibility which was their own, and he left them free to act thus. Nor was it his mind to come to them again in grief. They were the very people who in their prosperity made him glad. Why should he be anxious to grieve them? And the object of his writing now was also that he might not have grief from those in whom he ought to rejoice. He had confidence also on his own part now, that his joy was really the joy of all of them. His previous epistle, with all the touch of severity that might be in it, was only the witness of the love which he had more abundantly towards them, and which was working for their blessing in this way.

5. The apostle now takes up the case of discipline to which he had to exhort them in the previous epistle. The sorrow which had been in his heart was really theirs as well as his, and he did not want them now to press his part in it in such a way as to hinder the manifestation of their love, which should be when this sorrow of theirs had taken effect in the breaking down of the offender. They had need now to show grace and encourage, for fear the one in question should be swallowed up with the excessive grief which he seemed to be manifesting. It is quite possible for us to go from the extreme of laxity to the extreme of rigidity, these things both springing really out of a lack of true love, which can neither, on the one hand, make light of the evil, nor on the other, lose sight of its object, which is to win the sinner from his sin. He could, therefore, now exhort them to assure this person of their love; and here he desired that they would be as obedient to the word from him as they had been obedient before in the active discipline itself. If they forgave anything, he too forgave. He was with them in it and as the representative of Christ also in his apostolic character, forgiveness indeed being the very triumph of grace over sin and the triumph over Satan too, in whose hands the offender had been put, but who would seek now to drive him to despair, and so to get an advantage over the flock of Christ Himself. Such were his devices, of which Christians should not be ignorant.

6. He goes back now to speak of his own personal exercises in relation to them. He had come to Troas for the gospel of Christ, and a door had been there opened to him by the Lord; yet his anxiety with regard to Corinth would not permit him to remain there. He did not find Titus as he expected, who had been sent to them, and his anxiety was such that he left even this open door and departed into Macedonia to find news of them. He does not pronounce upon this whether, after all, it had been the Lord's mind that he should depart; but there could be no question how, with such an one as the apostle, it manifested his anxiety on their behalf; but God had come in. Everywhere he found it so. God was always leading in triumph in Christ. He does not say, "maketh us to triumph," exactly. The triumph was that of God Himself, God who had unfailing interest in all that belonged to Christ, and who manifested it thus in those who were identified with Him upon earth. Through them He was making Manifest the savor of His knowledge in every place; and this, too, where the gospel might seem not to be a success, as where it was manifestly such: in those that were being saved and in those that were perishing. Those who preached it were still a sweet savor of Christ to God; and He delighted in the publication of His power and grace in Him; Christ always a sweet savor to Him, even though it might be in result to those who rejected Christ only a savor of death, the anticipation of worse death, — on the other hand, a savor of life unto life to those who accepted it. Who then was sufficient for such things as these? Their sufficiency had manifestly to be of God Himself, who was the great preacher of Christ in the power of His Spirit, who had come to glorify Him at all times. Yet the human instrumentality was not set aside by this, but confirmed rather; and it required, on the part of those whom God was thus using, that earnest sincerity which was of God; who did not make, therefore, a trade of the word of God, converting it into a means of following out their own self-interest, but who, in the presence of God, where Christ was, spoke in His Name.

Division 2. (2 Cor. 3.)

The ministry of the new covenant in contrast with the old.

The second division now dwells upon the characters of this ministry of Christ, which was, therefore, the ministry of the new covenant, in contrast with all that could be called ministry in connection with the old. Ministry of such sort, as we see it in the apostle, there was not in Israel, — a ministry, that is, which went out to the world with the offer of God's grace to it. In Israel itself God was shut up. The way into the holiest was not yet made manifest; the light had not yet shone out through a rent veil. As a consequence, there was in one sense no God to proclaim. Law was in this sense enmity, as the apostle has said to the Ephesians. It was something which stood between God and man, a hindrance, as one may say, on both sides. Man could not go in to God. God could not come out, as it was in His heart to come out, to man. One may ask why then this should be, if it was in God's heart to show Himself? The apostle has answered already, in the Epistle to the Romans, that there had to be a "due time" in which, when man was found still "without strength," Christ should die "for the ungodly." The discovery of the need had to precede the ministry to it; and alas, man resists the discovery of this need. It is not sufficient for God even to declare it. Man must make the experiment for himself. He will be satisfied with nothing short of personal experience; and thus God, after the testimony of His grace, — which, in fact, had begun in Abraham, — had to allow the law to come in, in order to exhibit sin in its true character, and the hopelessness of man's condition apart from grace.

Thus it was the special priesthood which characterized Israel, a priesthood which was not national, as God had conditionally offered it should be in the wilderness. They were not a "kingdom of priests"; but the nation, put into the distance by their own departure from God and from the terms of their covenant with Him, had need of those who could approach God for them in a way they could not for themselves. Even so, the priests who approached were, after all, of the same nature and character as the people for whom they stood. They were thus an officially typical priesthood, but not the reality of it according to God. They were the shadow, and not the substance. Thus, they themselves could not go into the innermost holy place. They were shut out, as others, by the veil. The one exception of the high-priest's entrance on one day of the year only, with the blood to put upon the mercy seat, was a mere glimpse, — full of encouragement, doubtless, of that which was to come, — a finger pointing on, as always throughout the law, to that which was beyond the law itself. But thus there was a priesthood, but no ministry; that is, no ministry which now we should call such, a ministry in which the heart of God could come out as He desired. Thus the testimony was shut up in Israel, although indeed, as has often been said, it was placed upon the public highway of the world, so as to be accessible to man if he desired it; but it did not yet show God seeking as He really sought, because as yet it was not plain that they whom He sought were lost ones. For the ungodly and yet without strength, — when that was proved, — Christ in due time died. Now there is a ministry, a way of access to God opened by His own hand, a way out for God in His love to manifest Himself to all His creatures, — a world-wide testimony, therefore. The character of Christian ministry is thus in many respects in complete contrast with anything before it. It is plain also, by what we find here, that this ministry is not merely one of word, — a gospel, however sweet and wonderful, — but it is a testimony in life as well as in speech, as we are to see directly, an "epistle of Christ to be read and known of all men," written no more like the old, upon the tables of stone, but upon fleshy tables of human hearts. Here then, as is plain, we pass beyond the bounds of any mere official ministry and find one which belongs to the whole Church of God, and which the Church of God as a whole is alone competent. for. Individuals are not the epistles of Christ, but the whole Church of God is that which forms the epistle. We may each have our part in this testimony; but the testimony of the whole is the only sufficient one; so far, at least, as man's failure allows us to speak of sufficiency anywhere.

1. The doctrine is introduced incidentally, as so commonly in the epistles, with the most important truths. He appeals to them amid all this questioning which has been going on amongst them, — Did they really need epistles of commendation to them, or did he need epistles of commendation from them to others? As to this latter, they were his letter of commendation, (a beautiful and tender appeal to them, this,) "an epistle written," he says, "in our hearts, known and read of all men." It would touch them indeed to ask themselves, with all the love in which he had come amongst them, how far they were truly a letter commendatory of him. But he goes on to speak of what was not local, but the general character of the Church of Christ, and that they were the epistle of Christ in contrast with the legal message to men, written on tables of stone; a letter of commendation of Christ Himself, written by the Spirit of the living God. We see, I doubt not, in the end of the chapter, how this letter has been written; but it is plainly the responsibility which the whole Church has as representing Christ in the world. By their confession of Him they were identified with Him, and would give Him character in the eyes of men around them. How solemn a position is this! We cannot, as Christians, escape from the place of testimony. The only question will be, is the testimony for or against? Could it be possible that they would permit the confession of One to whom they owed their all to be to His discredit instead of to His praise? But he is not looking at this side of things now. He speaks of that which was essentially true with them as those in whom the Spirit of God had wrought. He is speaking encouragingly, not to blame; and, as a fact, this testimony could not be a local one merely. As we have said, he does not speak of individuals being epistles of Christ. No individuals could be sufficient for this. The brightest saint would have very much lacking in him. The records that we have of the saints of old have all, we may say, exhibited some conspicuous defect, while yet the general character of a saint might be evident. Here the testimony of one supplements the testimony of another; and thus, through that of the whole, Christ is borne witness to in a way in measure competent.

It is plain that this witness must be a true ministry. The formal preaching of the Word, while it has its necessary place, and even the prominent place, — yet, after all, unless in connection with its effects in the life, would come sadly short. This thought of ministry we shall find accompanies us through some chapters following. Those who hold forth the Word of life, as the apostle has told us in Philippians, must be "the sons of God, blameless and harmless, without rebuke, and in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation shining as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15, 16). Such lights he is indeed thinking of here, those who reflect the light from a heavenly source, from One who shines there brighter than the sun.

But thus, God was no more addressing men with a message carved upon inanimate tables, but by living messengers, His own wonderful workmanship. Such confidence with regard to them the apostle had through Christ. He knew that, alas, the flesh was in believers, and even prominent in them, and that his confidence as to them must be confidence through the Lord. But this is, therefore, an unfailing ground of confidence, and of this, — satisfied that they were after all truly the divine workmanship, — he could speak as he does here. It was not to make much of himself, of his competency in the ministry which God had given him. All competency was derived from God Himself, who in fact works in all this for the glory of Christ, and will not suffer Christ to be without His testimony amongst men. Thus had he with others been made the competent ministers of a new covenant, a covenant not of letter, as the old covenant of the law, but a covenant which was of spirit. In fact, the new covenant is, as we know, entirely the declaration of God's "I will"s: not a demand upon man, but an assurance of that which He works for and in men. It is of grace, therefore, necessarily. The covenant of law, the letter, killed; but the power of the Spirit which effected that of which the new covenant speaks, gives life.

We are carefully to observe that he is speaking here not of the letter of Scripture, as some would have it, but of the letter of the old covenant, which was the law. It is not true that the letter of Scripture kills. Even the letter of law, apart from its covenant character, is not against us, clearly, but the safe lesson of an old schoolmaster under whom indeed we may not be, but whose lessons still do us good. But the covenant of law kills, and only that. If law is to be the condition under which we live, we shall soon find that it is a ministration of death and not of life.

2. Now then comes the contrast, briefly yet fully told out, — the law with the ministration of death indeed. We have seen in Romans how really it had that character. When the commandment came to the apostle, when he realized the power of it, sin revived, he says, and he died. Death also was the public sentence written upon man at large, of which the law availed itself in order to work conviction in the souls of those to whom it was addressed. The death of which it spoke was just what we ordinarily call such. Upon every child of man it stamped the character of a convicted criminal, one sentenced as such to be removed from the sphere into which creation had brought him, and no one, however comparatively well he might appear in contrast with those around him, could escape this sentence. "Death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Grace indeed has brought in a greater blessing, but it leaves this testimony unaffected. It is a blessing of grace, not a reward of works. We are debtors simply to the compassion of God, and in order to realize the blessing we have to accept in that sense the sentence of death in ourselves. Then indeed the glory of the new covenant appears to us, and God's wonderful and sweet "I will"s are the joy and satisfaction of the soul.

Yet this ministration of death, which was therefore a true ministration, a thing meant of God in its results to be mercy to man, whatever the gravity of the sentence which it carried, yet this ministration of death written and engraven on stones came in with glory. It is plain that he is not speaking of the first giving of the law at all, but of the second, for he immediately refers this glory to that which was upon the face of Moses when he came down from the Mount after he had been there the second time, a glory which they could not look upon, though it were merely the reflection of the divine. Thus he had to cover himself with a veil when he stood amongst the people; and that characterized all the glory of the law, which was essentially a veiled glory. The second giving of the law had, in fact, unveiled in a certain sense the glory of God as the first had not. It was not the divine Face indeed revealed, but, as He says to Moses, the glory of the "back parts." His face could not be seen. A solemn word, this therefore, for those who are the disciples of Moses, the assurance that according to law God could, even when He was showing real mercy, have His face turned away, and in mere pity His hack turned upon men! They were not competent to see Him face to face. No man could see Him and live. No one could stand before Him upon those terms, try it as often as they might.

This opportunity of protracted trial was what the second giving of the law provided for. It was that which made the law, as it were, a pool of Bethesda, a pool into which man might get, just as if he were not "impotent." For an impotent man, it had no help. God, therefore, says to the wicked, that if he turn from his wickedness which he hath committed and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive; but nevertheless, He is One who can by no means clear the guilty, when the final account is to be made. Thus He can give another opportunity, He can forgive iniquity, transgression and sin in the meantime; but at last one must be able to show a righteousness such as He requires, and this we cannot. Thus the opportunity so given only shows the more convincingly the desperate condition of man. It is just this gracious revelation of God manifesting all the grace of which law was capable, before which the people cannot stand, and which is a ministration of death, a writing of hopeless condemnation upon all.

This glory must, therefore, pass away. The glory on the face of Moses must give way to the glory in another Face, and the ministration of death to the ministration of the Spirit, who reveals Christ. Here the glory remains, for it is glory which the sinner, hopeless in himself; may see with gladness and satisfaction. There is gospel in it, as we shall learn directly, the gospel of the glory of Christ. So then the ministration of condemnation yet had glory, but how then does the ministration of righteousness abound in glory! Claim of righteousness the law made, but the ministration of righteousness was impossible by it. Righteousness is now ministered to us, not worked out by us, and thus indeed the glory of God is revealed as nothing else could reveal it. His inmost heart is told out in righteousness, but love in righteousness, and love how marvelous as shown in the gift of Christ for men! So that which was made glorious in the time past had in itself no glory compared with this surpassing glory. It would be sufficient to show this to realize that the one i the glory of that which is passed away, while the other glory remains and shall remain.

3. The ministers, then, of this new covenant can use great boldness; boldness indeed to pronounce the justification of the ungodly and to make sinners in Christ the righteousness of God! This is the boldness which grace has given us, and now there is to be nothing hidden, but the plainest speech and the fullest display of that which, while it glorifies God, is the complete blessing of man. In the dispensation of law, the children of Israel could not fix their eyes on the end of that which is now annulled. They could not see, alas, as disciples of law and going no further, the end of the law itself. The sweet grace of God, which indeed underlies everywhere its types and parables, was to them incapable of being realized. Their thoughts were darkened, and so, says the apostle, at this very day they are darkened. That veil remains unremoved from Moses, face, while yet in Christ it is done away. God has on His part done with it. They on their part have chosen it. It lies upon their heart, a heart which, taken up with its own self-righteousness, is turned away from the Lord. They must turn to the Lord to have the veil removed. This too shall be, in a time to which yet we look forward. The apostle now goes on to say that this Spirit, who in the new covenant works out God's blessed will in men, is in fact the Lord. It is the energy of the Second Man, who, as the apostle says, "is a quickening Spirit." The Lord and the Spirit of the Lord are in this sense identified as the apostle identifies them here. "The Lord," he says, "is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." Freedom has come in place of bondage, the joy of sonship instead of the old slavery. There is liberty of access to God so manifested, and it is in the revelation of His unveiled face that now we find the power which works in us, which makes us, in fact, that epistle of Christ of which the apostle has been so lately speaking. Here are the fingers of light that write God's new testimony upon souls. Looking now upon the glory of the Lord, a glory now unveiled, not hidden, we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory. How clear is the power of faith in this, how blessed the simplicity of it! We have only, as it were, to sit in the sun, to be bathed in its brightness. The power to enjoy Him is the power to reflect Him. The reflection is no effort, but the necessary effect of the enjoyment. While this goes on from one degree of glory to another, the least measure of it is glory, and, as more and more we know of Christ, glory super-added to glory. This is what is "by the Lord the Spirit." It is the life-giving Spirit of Christ, working in His energy in the souls of men, not only for individual blessing, but for that display also in the world of sinners which is true gospel witness.

Division 3. (2 Cor. 4, 5.)

The radiancy of the glory in earthen vessels, making manifest its source.

We carry these thoughts with us through the next division. We have here the radiancy of this glory, as the apostle has spoken of it, contrasted with the vessels of earth in which it is displayed. The earthen vessel may seem (in some sense may be) a hindrance, but in result God makes it only by this means manifest that the glory is not human glory, but divine. It is in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.

1. Here then is the ministry, in its character, which characterizes the new covenant. Those who have obtained mercy become of necessity the witnesses of that mercy. There are those, of course, who are specially called of God to bear public witness of it before men, but the testimony is of the same character in the humblest witness. The character of such a ministry lifts up and energizes the soul of one who is conscious of being entrusted with it. Walking in this light, the hidden things become "things of shame." The heart is without guile. There need be no self-deception, and no perversion of the word of God, no hiding its plainest statements, no seeking escape from its condemnation of men as such. The gospel is that of the glory of Christ. This is the true force of that which our common version has so much dimmed as making it simply "the glorious gospel." It is the glory of Christ now in heaven, His work achieved; and there, therefore, as the representative of His people. If upon the cross He was their representative and bore the sin which lay upon them, that is removed, the burden of it is gone forever; all the wonder of the grace and power which have come in for us shines out in His face who is gone to God. Thus His glory is indeed gospel. This glorious Christ is He in whom the image of God, invisible otherwise, shines fully out. It is its own witness to those who realize their need and who find it thus met and abounded over. If it is veiled, it is veiled simply by the power of the god of this age in the minds of the unbelieving. It is not simply that Satan obscures it to them, but that it is their own unbelief which brings them under the power of Satan, and so hinders the radiance of the gospel shining forth to them. God never permits Satan to have this power apart from man's consent that it should be so. If men turn away from God, they turn to Satan. The very light of God only darkens, as one may say, the shadow which they themselves cast upon their path.

Solemn word it is that with the full consciousness of Christianity come, and its power for working in the souls of men, the apostle should call Satan not simply, as elsewhere, the prince of this world, but "the god of this age." Christianity has not introduced, in this respect, a new age. It gathers men out of the world. It will never affect the world itself so as to bring in a new age for men. This, of course, lies in no inherent incapacity of the gospel itself, but in the strange mystery of man's free will, by which he chooses darkness rather than light, and bondage to Satan rather than the freedom which God proclaims to him. But the age, one ought distinctly to understand, is not as yet an age of light, and the world will never be converted by the gospel, so that this shall be. Christ must come to effect this. The sun which has gone down upon the world in Christ's banishment out of it through man's unbelief, must rise again, as it will rise, and then indeed there will be a kingdom of Christ in which righteousness shall reign, and peace and blessing be the result of righteousness.

In this blessed light, then, drinking it in, it would be impossible for those in character as the preachers of it, to proclaim themselves. In the knowledge of the new man "Christ is all and in all." Christ is Lord, and the ministers of the gospel are but the servants of men for Jesus, sake. It is a glad and willing subjection in love to the need which is everywhere, and this power cannot be lacking for ministry to that need. The story of the old creation is repeated more wonderfully in the new. The God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine has shone in our hearts, in order that this knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ may shine forth to others. This is the radiancy of the glory in the face of Jesus Christ reflected from the hearts into which it has shone.

2. Here, then, is a treasure which God has designedly placed in earthen vessels for the definite purpose that the exceeding greatness of the power may be seen to be of God and not of man. The earthen vessel might seem to be an obstruction to the light which the treasure is. In some sense also it may assuredly be this. The vessel itself may need to be broken in order that the light may shine. There seems indeed an evident reference to Gideon's men and the breaking of the vessels on their part that the lights they carried might be displayed. It is evident that God has chosen men for His messengers to men, and not angels. Angelic ministry might seem in some sense to be more fit, that it would have more power in it as evidently from heaven, and would not be liable to be corrupted by the tendency to failure, inseparable from man, even renewed man. But God is wiser than we, and the grace in which He makes men His ministers and messengers to men cannot be doubted. There is also a character of testimony to which the apostle refers here, which even angelic ministry could not afford. That would be a testimony in power, but not in weakness, and not manifesting that peculiar power which weakness itself alone can manifest, a power which is not its own, but of the grace which comes ever to lift up, animate and nerve to endurance in all our weakness. It is to this that the apostle goes on here. "We are every way afflicted," he says, "but not straitened." There is the effect of grace in the midst of the affliction. "We are perplexed, but not unto despair." Exercise is allowed, nay, given full room for, but the soul sustained in its confidence in God so that despair is impossible. "Persecuted, but not forsaken, smitten down, yet not destroyed." How the dying Stephen seems to be in the apostle's mind, with the light in his face, while the body was dropping into the martyr's grave! "Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus," not exactly His death, but His dying, Himself also a Martyr, the great Martyr, — and that is the point here. Bearing it about in the body is suffering at the hands of men to some extent as He suffered, but with the effect, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in the body. God, he insists, has designed this, — has delivered the living up to death for Jesus, sake, but that the life of Jesus may thus be manifested even in mortal flesh. The final result, therefore, is "death worketh in us, but life in you." The badge of the cross is to be borne by the disciples of it. That is God's way of working, and it is the cross in this sense also which is to win men to God.

3. He dwells now more upon the power which sustains us under these circumstances. It is the power of faith, — a faith which, because it is such, must utter itself. We believe, and therefore speak. It is what the history of all time assures us of, and therefore he goes back here for a quotation, to the Old Testament; but we have that which Old Testament believers had not. We know God as the God of resurrection, in a sense in which yet they could not know Him. He has raised up the Lord Jesus. and we are so identified with Him that this perfectly assures us of what is before us also, that "He shall raise up us also with Jesus, and present us with you." The resurrection of Christ insures, as the apostle has told us before, the resurrection of His people. If we do not rise, then it must be that He has not risen. If He has risen, He has risen as the first-fruits of those that slept. In all this the same principle which he has spoken of at the beginning of the epistle still obtains. The grace that works in some, works for the sake of all. The power manifested in some is to give energy to all, and "all things," he says, "are for your sakes, that the grace abounding through the many may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." God is still taking up Jacobs for His Israel, and out of weakness manifesting His strength; and if it be this, it is unfailing strength, so that the weakness can be no discouragement. What a testimony to the power of God when, whatever be the trial, His people faint not, but "if" indeed "the outward man be consumed, yet the inward is renewed day by day." It needs to be renewed. We are conscious of the wear and tear of things as we go through them. God makes us sensible of our dependence, sensible thus of the arms that carry us. We are learning lessons here which in eternity shall display all their fruit for us; but the present result is that the affliction is but a light one, an affliction for the moment, and "which worketh for us a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The apostle labors, as it were, for expressions here. The words "weight" and "glory" would be in Hebrew the same word; a glory, as the thought is, which to us as we look at it now is almost oppressive by its intensity. It would overwhelm us in our present condition, although as we carry it presently there will be no weight, but a lifting up forever. Faith here is continually a need. Hope must be not upon the things that are seen, but upon the things that are unseen. The things that are seen, with all the power that we realize they may have for us, are for a time only. The things that are not seen are the realities. They are eternal.

4. He goes on to show us how entirely for faith the things that are against us have been made our own, and the consequences of sin for man at large have been removed for us. Death is abolished. Judgment is behind us in the cross, though there remains, it is true, the giving account before the judgment-seat of Christ, — an immense blessing for us, and in which the power of God's grace will have its complete triumph.

First, as to death. "We know," says the apostle, "that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building or God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." He is speaking of the body, of course, as the "house of this tabernacle." It is that which is to be dissolved, and there remains for us, for eternity, a building of God, a house not made with bands. He is thinking, of course, not of the Father's house, but of what contrasts with and replaces the present habitation. "In this we groan," not for the mere infirmities surely from which we suffer here, but more with the sense of the impediment to the spirit which the body in its present form implies. "We long to be clothed with our habitation which is of heaven," that is, which belongs to heaven; not which is formed of heavenly material, so to speak, or which comes down from it, but which has its character derived from it. It is heavenly as suited to heaven, and to the perfect condition which will be ours then. In the present tabernacle we groan as burdened, not indeed to be unclothed, not as seeking death, but rather that which will swallow up death itself, — to be "clothed upon, that all that is mortal might be swallowed up of life." The apostle is evidently thinking here of the living when the Lord comes. It is not that that which is corruptible, but that which is mortal, may be swallowed up of life. The mortal condition is the present one, and what he would desire is not death for its own sake, but the joy of the full perfection which remains for us.

He interjects here a word which seems to be a warning for the conscience amongst a people of some of whom he stood in doubt. "If so be," he says, "that being clothed upon we shall not be found naked." That is, of course, what awaits every Christian. To lose the place in resurrection, the glorious and incorruptible body which will thus be ours, is impossible for any real Christian. It would be real nakedness, although the wicked will rise, as well as the righteous; but it will be no covering, the body with which they rise. There is a glance back, evidently, at man's condition after the fall when he fled among the trees of the garden from the penetrating Eyes from which, after all, there was no escape. In eternity there will be no escape. Those who are found naked then, will be in all the terror that belongs to such a condition under the eye of God. Think of the exposure! But it is plainly that which no Christian can suffer from. The resurrection is the accomplishment of that for which God laid hold upon us, and of which He has given us the pledge already, the earnest of the Spirit. "God will quicken our mortal bodies," the apostle has told us in Romans, "because of His Spirit which He has given us." It is in the body that the Spirit dwells at the present time, and He certainly will never give up that which in this way has become the temple of God. This gives, then, continual confidence. We are at home in the body, true. It is the only state with which we are familiar now, but faith realizes that the Lord is absent, and that we are absent, therefore, from Him. It is by faith we walk, and not by sight. But thus to be absent from the body is for us as Christians to be at home with the Lord. Thus is death, then, abolished for us.

5. But there is another thing that lies upon man as man, and which is the terror of death to him. "After death," says the apostle, "the judgment." But the Lord has Himself told us that he that liveth and believeth on Him shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life. If He has broken the power of death for us now, so that he that liveth and believeth in Him shall in that sense never die, so has He, and indeed in order to this, taken away the terror of judgment, which for the believer personally Christ has endured and removed. The confusion which is in the minds of Christians so much has nothing to justify it in Scripture, and is largely due, as is plain, to the forgetfulness of the coming of Christ for His own, which removes them in one company, distinct from the world, before judgment falls upon the world. They are not picked out by judgment from the world. They are separated by the coming of the Lord to gather His own to Himself. No one of those caught up can possibly doubt whose he is or what is before him. He is raised in glory or changed into it. He is in the very likeness of Him he goes to meet, and although he is to be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, there can be no possible terror for him in such a thought, when at last every touch of evil has disappeared. He is in the perfect likeness of the Lord Himself.

But we are to be "manifested." That is the force of the word, not merely "we shall appear," but "we shall be manifested." That is the blessing of it. Our ways and works will perfectly show what we are and what we have been, and to the glory of Him who has, spite of all our failure, accomplished at last the blessed purpose of grace towards us, so that we can be with Him, and, as it were, judge with Him our whole condition. What a lack there would be if there were not this great clearing up of things before we have passed fully into eternity, — if the wisdom and grace and holiness of God were not perfectly displayed thus in all His ways with us, if we had not the lessons of time impressed upon us for the wisdom of eternity! There will be no failure of memory then, but the keenest possible appreciation of everything. Would we forget what we have been, so as to forget along with it the grace which has been with us? Would we lose materials for the song of praise which will be ours forever? Many seem to forget the value of all this to us as the day will declare it and the glory of God which will be manifested, — the perfect fulfilment of the Lord's words as to His people: "I am glorified in them." The principle is plain, as the Old Testament expresses it, that "God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." Nothing else would be worthy of Him. He has nothing to hide, and no act of His has really been in vain, however much in our folly, as we look at things now, we might imagine so. He is to be found justified in this last judgment of all, and we too, for we are to receive also "the things done in the body, according to what we have done, whether it be good or worthless." Everything is to be appraised and estimated at its right value, but this, as it is said elsewhere, that every one may have his praise from God."

God is seeking good and not evil. He is still, as He does ever, taking the precious from the vile, because He loves the precious. It may be needful in this way that the vile should be looked at also, but it will only enhance the preciousness of the precious. That which is worthless will of course be judged as worthless. It will not be gain. But even here the estimation of it as such will have its gain. The continuity of the future with the present existence is strangely often lost sight of. People often look at it as if the entrance into eternity were to he the entire break with the past; whereas this cannot be without proclaiming at the same time the want of eternal meaning in things here.

The principle, of course, applies also to the judgment of the wicked, and this the apostle turns to now as necessarily being brought before him with all the terror of it, when he turns to persuade men. For himself there can be no terror, but there is most solemn apprehension of what such a searching out as there will be in the day of judgment will be for men. It will still be for the things done in the body that they will give account, — a merciful limitation of it. There is no hint of what people have so strangely added to it, of sin going on even after death, and in hell itself increasing for eternity the weight of condemnation. The time of responsibility is the present time. Eternity for the wicked will be the time for receiving the things done in the body, and thus God's mercy will limit retribution, while God's holiness will not suffer the continuance of sin, as people imagine; apart surely, from one sentence in Scripture to justify it. Hell is the prison-house of the condemned, not a place of manifested rebellion against God any more, or of the evil works for which the condemned are shut up there. It is mercy itself that limits all this.

It is not indeed that judgment will make any essential change in men. It will not turn the sinner into a righteous person. It will not change the heart; but nevertheless it will subdue entirely men to God. God has ordained that to Christ "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord," and that of "beings infernal" as of all the rest. This enforced subjection is, in fact, the only mercy of which they are capable; but the lake of fire itself will have no odor of corruption in it. God will be God everywhere, in hell as in heaven, however differently He will be manifested in each place.

But what a joy to the apostle the present manifestation to God, to which this brings him! We are already made manifest to God. We are living and walking in the presence of Him who is light, and can rejoice to be searched out by Him who loves us and has given Christ for us. The power of this upon his life the apostle hopes with confidence will bear witness to the consciences of those whom he addresses. He does not need to commend himself to them, but they have the opportunity, if they would, to glory with regard to such, in opposition to those who were showing themselves among the Corinthians, and glorying indeed in appearance, aiming to be somewhat, while the heart lacked.

6. He is plainly now thinking, for the moment, of the opposers in Corinth who could readily find occasion to criticise the ways of one so different from themselves. On the one hand he declares that it was to God he lived; on the other hand, for the sake, therefore, of men whom God loved, and to whom He had sent the message of love by him. To smile he might seem indeed beside himself, just for the glow of wondrous happiness when occupied directly with God Himself, but there was plenty amongst those with whom he had to do to make him sober enough with a sobriety which had reference to them, the token of the earnestness of his heart towards them for their blessing. In all, it was the love of Christ constraining him. This was the one constraint in which there was perfect freedom. He turns to that work of the cross, to him so necessary, and which had for him the perfect revelation of the need of man, as well as the perfect provision on God's part which had been made for it. He had died for all. That was grace, but it was the perfect manifestation also of man's need. Where has sin been judged as in the cross? Where has the condition of man been manifested as it has in that fact that the love that would save men must go down to the awful depths of judgment to do so? "If one died for all, then all have died." It is not exactly, as in the common version, "all were dead." The death that Christ died was not the death in which He found men; but it is the effect of the cross of which he is speaking; it is the perfect condemnation of man, of all men, and on the part of a Saviour, not of a mere judge, — of One who desired for them eternal blessing, but who, if He accomplished this, must meet that death which was upon all. Thus, if He died for all, all died as it were, for the soul that estimated it rightly, in that cross itself. It was the end of all hope for men, apart from Christ. Nothing could be looked for from them merely, and the words are evidently to be taken in their double relation, to the cross as condemnation and to the cross as salvation.

He died indeed for all, in the desire of God, for the salvation of all. It does not and could not say that He made atonement for all, except so far as that He made life possible for all, and thus the word of the gospel could go out to all. There was no lack on God's part for any who should seek His grace; and for those actually saved by it the cross has wrought in another way by its complete deliverance from the guilt and judgment of sin. It has wrought deliverance from the power of sin itself, so that those who now live by virtue of it live a new spiritual life in the sense of the grace that has visited them, living "no more unto themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again." This is the only complete enfranchisement and deliverance from all necessity for living to one's self any more, even religiously, — divine grace securing all our interests in the most perfect way, that now His interests may be our interests, that we may live to Him.

There is another change. The cross has ended for the Christian the whole history of man in the flesh, and thus removed him, as it were, out of sight. "Nay," he even says, "if we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more." This does not of course mean, cannot mean by any possibility, that the record of His blessed life on earth has not its full meaning for us. On the contrary, it is from the Christ w ho lived before our eyes and the Christ who died for us, that we know now the living Christ. We could not follow Him. as it were, into heaven, except as those who have known Him upon earth. That will constitute for all eternity a source of knowledge which can never be dried up. Nevertheless, Christ has passed out of it all. He is in another condition, and the living Christ we know is One who belongs to a new creation, to which also, through grace, and through His work, His people belong.

We know Him in the place to which He has ascended, and there is no other Christ to be known than this, and this affects all our apprehension of the condition of men here, and all our ways with them. How can we ever forget what the cross has manifested as to men in nature, and where alone true blessing is to be found for them? That is what marked the apostle in the entire earnestness that belonged to him. He did not look at men as men with their social and political distinctions, and what not. What were all these in the presence of the cross and the glory?

7. So that now, "If any one be in Christ, it is a new creation. The old things have passed. Behold, all things are become new." How simple and evident the result! We are the fruit of a new work of the Creator, which has brought us into new relationships, into a place which is eternal, a scene into which sin can no more enter, a paradise never to be blighted as the old one was. The apostle is not speaking here of our own condition as we know it by experience. He does not mean that there is no sin remaining in us, that we have got into any perfected condition which can set us beyond the need of self-judgment, beyond the need of discipline and correction. He is speaking entirely of what we are in Christ, something which faith knows and realizes, which we judge not by experience, but by the revelation of the Word itself. Alas, Christians as we are, it is not impossible that the full reality of this may decline for us in its power over our souls. All the same it remains true that there is no one in Christ who is not a subject of this new creation, who does not belong to the scene where all things are new, and where all things are of God.

Thus has He reconciled us to Himself, through Christ. He has brought us out of all the estrangement natural to us. There is no distance; there is nearness. There is no separation of our things from His. They are, so to speak, identical; and thus not the apostle alone could say, nor any class among Christians merely, that "He hath given us the ministry of reconciliation." By the very fact that He has brought us to Himself and made Himself known to us, He has given its the power also of making known to others that with which our own souls are filled and of bringing others to Him. We have received the reconciliation; and what we have received, we have received not for ourselves alone, but to minister with it. It is the work which Christ Himself began upon earth when God in Him assumed the attitude of perfect grace, not imputing men's trespasses to them, reconciling, therefore, the world to Himself. It is not a question of how far this might be effectual, of how far men, in fact, responded to it. It was His attitude. It was on God's part complete, and now, with that work accomplished which he speaks of directly as the basis of it all, and which always must have been the basis of it, a work foreseen by God before it was accomplished, but which is now accomplished, He is still reconciling men, but through others, who stand instead of Christ here, His authenticated ambassadors, by whom God beseeches men still. "We pray," says the apostle, "in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." That is, Christ is not here Himself to do this, but He has multiplied the hands which are to minister it. He has on every side the witnesses that are to speak for Him. The apostle and those with him, sent in the first place direct from Christ, fulfilled this character, of course, in the most complete and authoritative way, but we must not on that account overlook our own part in it, — a part which every Christian has. It is not, indeed, a mere question of something entrusted to us, but of hearts that know God's grace and know men's need of it, which must necessarily, therefore, speak of what they know. As we have already seen, he who believes speaks. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."

And here is the basis of this reconciliation still: — "Him who knew no sin, He has made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Wonderful words are these, deeper no doubt than we can altogether fathom! It may be that "sin for us" should be thought of as "sin-offering." The word in both Greek and Hebrew is identical, but this does not really alter the truth of what is here. The fact is that the sin-offering was presented to God of old as the "sin" of the one who presented it. He who presented it to God at this time was One who had none of His own, who emphatically knew no sin. He could not otherwise have presented it; for it was an offering of Himself, and that must be a spotless offering to be accepted. But He stood, therefore, before God as identified with the sin of others which He had taken upon Himself, endured the judgment of that, and thus the message of reconciliation can go out to all.

But there is more than this here. Those who receive it become the righteousness of God, as before God in Him who has stood for them. It is not simply that God's righteousness now can act in grace in their behalf. That is of course the doctrine of Romans, which we have had before us. This is the effect of it, however. If the righteousness of God justifies us as those identified with Christ, and in the value, therefore, of His work for them, we in receiving the value of that work become the exhibition of that righteousness which has in this way acted. We become identified with it. He could appeal to the righteous Father when He quitted the world, on His own behalf, as One who had known Him, and puts along with Himself those who have known that God sent Him. The Spirit come down into the world is thus the witness of righteousness in which God has acted in His behalf in taking Him to Himself. He is the witness, as in us also, of the perfection which is ours in Him, and of the display of righteousness on God's part towards Him in the fruit of His work. Thus we become and shall ever be the righteousness of God in Christ. How far beyond the thought of mere forgiveness is this! How blessed to realize the claim that we have thus upon Him who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and thus our God and Father! Here is indeed the basis of a reconciliation which we can now beseech men to accept, and which is in itself the fullest, brightest display of God that can ever be. Can there be another revelation of God which can exceed the glory with which He has been glorified in His beloved Son?

Division 4. (2 Cor. 6 — 7.)

Testing and trial in the world through which we pass.

We have now, as always in these fourth divisions, the testing by the way; in which, if on the one hand our weakness is proved, the power of God for us is no less manifested, and the grace of God also in its support all through and in the development of the fruits of righteousness. The suffering and trial, it is manifest, give just the opportunity for this. If there were no difficulties there would be nothing to triumph over. If there were no testing, there would be no manifestation of the reality of God's work in His people. There would be no accomplishment either of that which is wrought by the necessary discipline in it all. The things that seem against us are thus really for us, according to the abiding assurance that God maketh all things to work together for good to them that love Him.

1. We have still, as all through here, the apostle himself the witness of the trial and in the trial. It is really that he is an example, by way of eminence, of that which still applies to all the people of God. Otherwise, the example would be no example. There would be nothing for us, at least, except a mere ability given to admire in another what would have no meaning for one's self. The life of the apostle, indeed, in all its suffering, may seem very little suited as an example for us in the days that we are fallen upon, days which are none the better indeed for this, and which give the trial in many respects another character. Still the principles remain all the way through, and God's way is to give us principles, the application of which appeals to us for the needed faithfulness to carry out. Joining his fellow workers with himself, the apostle beseeches that the grace of God exhibited in his message may not be received in vain; for indeed now was the time accepted of which God before had spoken, for He had said: "I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in a day of salvation I have succored thee." Now is the time characterized pre-eminently in this way. Its character as a whole, not exceptionally or occasionally, is that of a well accepted time, a day of salvation.

Beseeching them thus, he can appeal to that which was manifestly a character of his own testimony, giving no manner of offence in anything, causing none to stumble and the ministry so to be blamed, "but in everything commending ourselves as the ministers of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in labors, in watchings, in fastings." These were the circumstances suited for the development of such a character as he goes on to speak of: "In pureness, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God." It is evidently a world just suited to display these things in, as darkness is suited for the stars to shine in it. With reference to the opposition also: "By the armor of righteousness on the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report"; "as deceivers" in the evil report, and "true" in reality; "as unknown," on the one side, and "well known" on the other; "as dying" in the life here, with regard to all the things that in men's thoughts constitute life, "yet living" in the life which alone is true and eternal; then "as chastened and not put to death; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and possessing all things." What contradictions and anomalies here are nevertheless made all to work harmoniously for the manifestation of Christ and His people! And this was so evident as to the apostle that there was no need indeed to enlarge upon such things. They knew that the staple of his life was found in them. He could therefore appeal confidently in the fulness of the love which he had to them, and in which now through grace he could count upon them. His mouth was open to them, his heart enlarged. Indeed, it had never been in himself that they were straitened, but in those affections really in which, speaking in love as unto his children, he could ask them by way of recompense now to be enlarged.

2. This, then, was the picture of a life so different from that which the Corinthians plainly had been seeking for themselves, in which alliance with the world had been substituted for persecution by the world, and the beginning is manifest of that which the centuries since have developed in so terrible a way. He urges them, therefore, here that they "be not united in a foreign yoke with unbelievers." For those who believed in a crucified Christ, for whom the measure of things was seen in the cross, how was it possible that there should be now the ability to go on together in common effort for a common end? What participation could there be between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship had light with darkness? Or what concord between Christ and Belial? What portion could there be for a believer to enjoy with an unbeliever; and that temple of God which he had before reminded them that they were, how could it go on in association with idolatry? Christians are the temple of the living God, the fulfilment of those words: "I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people." Where God dwells, He must be God. Where God walks, those who walk must be in harmony with Him. Association with the world is thus the ruin of Christianity. Christ and the world are fundamental opposites, and we cannot, as the Lord said long before, serve two masters after this manner. The apostle appeals to them, therefore, to come out from them and be separate, (not he alone had said this, but the Lord,) and not to touch the unclean thing; and only upon such conditions could He practically be to them that which in grace He had declared Himself. He was their Father, but they forfeited, in the meanwhile, their claim to the enjoyment of such a relationship, unless they were in a condition in which He could display His love without compromise of His holiness. Thus alone could the Lord, the Almighty, have them with Him as sons and daughters.

How the accumulation of these divine titles here is witness of the terrible loss which they could put up with so easily! Do not the same principles obtain for us today? Are not the same conditions imperative, conditions which depend upon the nature of God Himself, impossible to change? Are not our associations, therefore, a matter of first consequence for us to consider? How little, however, is such association regarded now! Christians go with those most unchristian, whenever, as they think, they have common ends and purposes; which, in fact, they never can have without giving up that which is the whole matter before God — the heart exhibited in these. Communion without separation is here declared to us to he an impossible thing and how clearly is manifested here the drift of things, even among Christians, in a day like this, when large liberality is supposed to he what is pre-eminently Christian, and the love that thinketh no evil is confounded with the blindness which sees none where it manifestly exists. God's word abides for us today, and the world abides also still in its essential character the same, the busy, self-seeking world that knows not the cross; save, perhaps, as an ornament on the outside. Here then are the promises which are made by God Himself, and which are certain of fulfilment, and as certain in the necessity of the conditions which they imply. "Let us cleanse ourselves, therefore, from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."

3. The apostle pours out to them now once more all his heart towards them. He could appeal to them in the consciousness of his blamelessness, in which they would bear him witness. He had injured none. He had corrupted no one. He had made personal gain of none. It was not to condemn them that he spoke thus, for they were in his heart to die and live with them. It is remarkable and noteworthy that he puts the dying first, before the living; but he had now, not only great boldness towards them, but even great glorying with regard to them. He is as ready, and much more ready, to speak to their praise, than in rebuke; however necessary at times this might be. Now he was as full of the joy as he had been of the sorrow; a joy which the tribulation through which he had passed in no wise weakened. He had been in exceeding distress he repeats, as if he could not too earnestly insist upon it. In Macedonia his flesh had had no rest, — fightings without and fears within, but God, who encourageth those who are brought low, had encouraged him by the coming of Titus; and not by his mere coming, but by the encouragement which he had himself received amongst them. So that if he had grieved them by the letter formerly written, he could not now regret it, though for the moment he had regretted, — a remarkable instance of how little the inspiration of the inspired writer was always that of which in himself he was conscious! Here was a letter which we all recognize as an inspired letter, and yet in a moment of weakness he had regretted writing it. It shows how our affections may indeed for a time overpower our reason, and even our spiritual judgment! That grief on the part of the Corinthians, — though but for a season, and which now so evidently had worked blessing for them, — how strange, yet in some sense comforting, these exercises of the apostle as to it! But now it was abundantly manifest how God had been in it, and worked by it for blessing. They had been indeed grieved to repentance and made sorry after a godly manner, only so that in nothing there might be injury from his course with regard to them. This godly sorrow worked repentance to salvation never to be regretted. He is speaking, of course, of the salvation which, as we see in Philippians, we have to work out for ourselves, although God works in it in His grace towards us. He is speaking of deliverance from the difficulties of the way, and this, mere sorrow of the world never did work out, but rather death. He bids them look at the effects. If they had sorrowed after a godly sort, what diligence it had wrought in them; what earnest desire to clear themselves of all that could be charged; "what indignation" in view of sin; "what fear" as they realized the weakness that had been so manifest; what "earnest desire" now for a better testimony, and "what zeal" for God, yea, even "what vengeance" upon all that opposed itself to Him! Thus they had approved themselves every way to be clear as to this matter. And what he had written to them was not for the sake of individuals merely, but that they might realize the diligent zeal which was in his heart for them in the sight of God. He was now comforted by the refreshment which Titus had received from them, and the confirmation of what he had boasted about them to him. It was now evident that spite of what had come in, yet he had spoken, in fact, the truth with regard to them. They had sustained the character which he had given them in the obedience now manifested to the word by him, and in the fear and trembling with which they had received his messenger. Confidence as to the mass of them was fully restored.

Division 5. (2 Cor. 8, 9.)

The communication to the need of others on the part of those who have ability to supply the need,

We have now come to a form of ministry which it is evident the apostle makes much of, and which, perhaps, is in little danger of being thought little of at any time. As we see in the body of Christ itself, the fitting together of the whole by that which every part supplieth, — the need of one being met by the ability that is in another, — so in the world itself, not in its evil shape, but as God has ordained things amongst men, we see the same fitting together, the dependence of one upon another, the need intended, as is evident, to draw out the heart in men towards one another, and to make conscious the weakness which is after all a weakness manifest in all in different ways and measures. Here is, I suppose, what makes the suitability also of this subject forming a fifth division of the epistle, the number 5 speaking, as has often been said, of the weak with the strong, primarily of the creature with God, but which may thus have, and surely has, its application in a lower sphere. The ministry of power of whatever kind to weakness, is essentially that all through here; and, as we have seen already in the sermon on the mount, the Lord makes even alms-giving an example of what is simply righteousness on the part of those who realize their own need of the ministry which thus goes out to others.

1. All this is a matter in which, alas, the heart is so often separated from the hand, and the easy liberality of the rich may so assume an appearance of goodness beyond that which can really be sustained before God, that we have need of care in handling it. The Lord has shown us how the largeness of the gift is in no wise the test of what is good in God's sight, and how the two mites of a poor widow, making one farthing, can be more to Him than all the treasures piled up by the wealthy. In fact, those of whom the apostle speaks here were manifesting in their deep poverty the riches of their free-hearted liberality. This is what makes liberality noteworthy. It is not so much what is given as what remains to the giver. What the apostle valued, as there is no possibility of questioning, was not the largeness of the gift, but the heart displayed in it. The collection of which he is speaking here was for the poor Jews at Jerusalem, a witness of the appreciation on the part of the Gentiles of the blessing which God had ministered to them through the Jews. It was righteousness on their part to own this; and the spiritual blessing which they had received was far beyond anything that could be compensated pecuniarily, however much it might be acknowledged. It was the manner of the giving here which rejoiced the heart of the apostle. The saints did not give to release themselves, as it were, from a certain obligation to the Lord, but they had given themselves first to Him, and this made it a simple matter to give all the rest. Thus the material ministry became spiritual; and this is why the apostle rejoiced in it. It was an evidence of love and devotedness, and thus he could exhort the Corinthians to follow the example which the assemblies of Macedonia had set them; and, as they were abounding now in all Christian grace, they would surely abound in this grace too, among the rest.

2. He sets before them the transcendent example of One who was rich, and yet for our sakes became poor to enrich us through His poverty. What an example to keep all other giving in its place, to make it seem as little as it really is, and yet at the same time to make it more acceptable to God by the consciousness of its littleness! The Corinthians had, in fact, manifested their readiness for that of which he was speaking a year before. He had only to urge them, therefore, to carry out what had been in their thoughts so long already, remembering that, as to individual giving, God did not expect from a man what he had not, and He did not mean to ease some by putting burdens upon others. The beautiful example of the manna is that which he sets before them here, where — in a ministry which was from heaven itself and in which men had only to gather that which God had bestowed, — yet "he who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack." That was God's thought and desire for them all, but using human instrumentality to accomplish it, and thus binding the hearts of His people to each other, and drawing forth the love, of which the gift, if it were anything, was but the manifestation.

3. The apostle goes on to speak of his care that in the ministration of the "carnal things," as he calls them (which prove themselves so much a temptation to the flesh, and as to which the jealous eyes of enemies would so surely be upon him) there should not be the slightest opportunity given for even a question as to his conduct. It was not enough for him here that God would know all, so that he might leave it to Him to justify him in His own time and way. Where there were means that could be taken to prevent even suspicion he would take them, which even his not taking might be in itself a cause of suspicion. It is a principle of importance that we are called to recognize in a man whose faith in God was so pre-eminent, that he would not act simply upon this, in a matter of this kind. He would not say here, as in another relation he does say, that with him it was a very small matter to be judged of any. He does not build upon his apostleship, or the undoubted blessing that God had given to his labor, in such a way as to think himself beyond the need of justifying himself by the use of such precautions as would be thought needful in the case of another man. It would rather seem as if the sense of the place he filled in this way only made more imperative the necessity to "provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." He did not, as many lesser men might do, and have done, stand upon the dignity of his office and disdain the thought of any account to be rendered to those before whom his life had so evidently spoken, tested as he had been by innumerable trials. No, he "magnified his office" in a wholly different way. Thus for this cause also he could be glad of the zeal of others which could lead them to accept readily association with him in this matter of ministry of even "carnal things." And he thinks it right that not only should these be men of the highest character, but also the choice of the assemblies themselves. Of these he can speak in terms of fullest assurance. "They are the messengers of the assemblies," he says, "and the glory of Christ." He would not allow it to be thought that he had covered any defects in the administration either with the cloak of his apostleship or of his personal faith.

4. He goes on to express his anxiety as to them also, that the zeal which they had shown in regard to these things a year before might not be found to have waned, as is so common a case with regard to mere human impulse. Nor would he have it appear, as any unreadiness on their part now might make it, as if their boasted zeal, which had stirred so many to action, was after all only the effect of pressure put upon them — of the "covetousness" of the apostle, whether for them or for others.

5. Yet the decline which had been manifest among them in other ways might indeed have easily affected them in this manner also. It would not be therefore in vain for them to remember the sure principles of divine government. Even in nature, he who spared the seed of harvest must expect to find the result in harvest; only, as the harvest here was spiritual, it would not be as if a certain sum paid in would secure a certain amount of interest. There must be heart in it, not a gift grudgingly bestowed, for which God cared not. The apostle longed as to them for such a spiritual state as that the Giver of all good should freely pour out upon them His blessing, and that for this, as well as the fruit of their ministration itself, thanksgivings might every way ascend to God, and the hearts of the saints might in this way also be drawn to one another. These are the perfect ways of God who, whether He gives or whether He withholds, is serving us in giving or withholding. It is grace all through, reminding us ever of how He made us by the consciousness of our primal need to know Himself in the reception of His love's first offer. "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift!"

Division 6. (2 Cor. 10, 11.)

The overcoming of the difficulties, and of the power of the enemy, which would hinder the work.

1. The apostle goes on now to meet the difficulties which were manifesting themselves from the spirit of rivalry among those who professedly, at least, were ministers of Christ themselves. He entreats them by that meekness and gentleness of Christ which, with all the positive and supreme claim which He had over His people, and which He never hesitated to enforce, yet nevertheless manifested itself in all His ways towards them. So also will the apostle be lowly among the people of God and assuming nothing, while able to be bold, nevertheless, with the confidence of what God was working by him. He besought them, however, that he might not have to manifest the boldness which he expected to show against some who were putting him down as walking upon their own level, which was according to the flesh. He walked indeed in flesh, a man like other men, but he maintained no fleshly conflict. The weapons of his warfare were not fleshly, and yet mighty through God to the overthrowing of Satan's power and the strongholds of human pride and reasoning, exalting themselves against the knowledge of God. His aim was not to establish a principle of obedience to himself, but of obedience to Christ, and there he desired to lead captive every thought. All else that would not yield to this in the way of gracious ministry he would be ready to avenge when the spirit of obedience, on the other hand, had been manifested, and those in whom it was were thus separated from the rest.

2. He reasons with them all now, however, as having amongst them those who thus questioned the authority which God had given him. Were they judging by outward appearance, mistaking the lowliness of grace for the consciousness of incapacity? If any one trusted in himself that he was of Christ, let him think this too, that whatever he might be, this the apostle could surely claim nay, if he were to boast more abundantly of the authority the Lord had given him, he would not be ashamed; but it was for edification, not for destruction, and thus he did not want to seem as if he were frightening them by letters. His adversaries took occasion to assert that while the letters truly were weighty and strong, when the man himself was seen there was not what was corresponding to this. He maintains that just what he was in his letters, so would he manifest himself to be when he was present with them. The deed would make good the word. The profession would not be found, as in the case of others it might be, to be beyond the reality.

3. For he did not dare to make himself one of those who were continually commending themselves, people who measured themselves among themselves, and not in the presence of God, or by the results of ministry which God had made apparent. For his own part, he would not imitate this folly, but would go no further than the measure of that which God had apportioned to him; a measure which the Corinthians knew reached even to them, for they themselves were the fruit of what God had done by him. He was not boasting of other men's labors, and he hoped that, with the enlargement of their own faith, the character of his labors would be enlarged also, and indeed that they would thus prepare his way for an announcement of the gospel in the parts beyond themselves, a kind of enlargement which would be indeed according to his desire. In himself he did not desire to glory, but in the Lord; for self-commendation could not approve the one who used it, but the Lord's commendation was the whole matter.

4. Provoked himself to a little of what might be considered this sort of folly, he could trust that they would bear with him. After all, in it was really the jealousy which he had with regard to them as those whom he had espoused to one husband, that he might present them, as it were, a chaste virgin to Christ. He feared lest, as man had been seduced from God at the beginning, so now their minds were being corrupted from simplicity as to the Christ. But was there another Jesus than the One he preached, or was there a different Spirit from Him they had received, or was there a different gospel which was truly that? If so, indeed they might well bear with this; but he reckoned that in nothing was he behind, in this respect, those who were pre-eminent as apostles, and if he discarded the excellency or the ornaments of speech, he was not deficient in knowledge, but in every way had made himself manifest in all things to them.

5. Searching around for cause, then, for offence he might have given them, he can only find it possible in his having preached freely to them the gospel of God, taking nothing from them. He had, in fact, at the same time received front other assemblies, as if as he puts it, he had been hired by others to minister to them; all that was deficient being supplied by those from Macedonia, and his own labor being, as we know, for the most part his own support. Thus he had not been a burden upon them as he might reasonably have been; nor was he going now to be such. There was a special reason for this exceptional conduct, and he was glad at Corinth to be able to boast himself in this respect; but why? For want of love to them? No, but to cut off occasion from those who desired occasion, deceitful workers, who had come in with really apostolic pretensions, — but baseless, and inspired of Satan himself; who could readily transform himself into an angel of light, which once he was, but is not. As the accuser of the brethren, Satan's great plea indeed is righteousness. We see that in his accusation of Job; and his followers were likely enough on his ground to be as false accusers of others as he is. Their end would declare it, but he does not hesitate to speak plainly of what indeed must have been a terrible thing with him, to find those who were the fruit of his own labors thus carried off away from him. A very great length, it is evident, had things gone in Corinth; and even as yet there was not the thorough deliverance which he counted on for them.

6. He turns unwillingly once more to speak of himself. Fool as they thought him, even as a fool, they who were so wise might listen a little. Foolish indeed boasting was, yet it was a folly to which one might be compelled, — a sorrowful thing that they, of all people, should be compelling him to this. But in what, then, in comparison with others, did he fail? If they were Hebrews, so was he. If they were the seed of Abraham, so was he. Were they ministers of Christ? How thoroughly had he been proved as that! The abundance of his labors spoke for him, the sufferings that these ever brought him into, — stripes and imprisonments, death facing him in every form. The record follows here, a record which far exceeds such history as we have in the Acts, which was indeed but an example of much else. Perils he had met in every form, from enemies, from false brethren, from fellow-countrymen, from strangers, amid the concourse of men, in wilderness desolations, in perils from what men call accidents, amid labor and toil, in watchings, in fastings, in cold and nakedness. Amid all this there was that which, for such as he was, was a pressure beyond it all, the burden of all the assemblies. Who was there with whose weakness he did not sympathize? Who was there whose stumbling did not make him burn? But if he gloried, he would glory rather in that which showed him to be the helpless creature that he was, cared for of God as such, but still left to the realization of this helplessness. He mentions but one point here, the ignominious way in which he had to take flight from Damascus, the city being shut up with a garrison to apprehend him, he himself let down from a window in the wall, in a basket, to escape his persecutors, — no miracle intervening for him, as we see, no dignity imparted by such a manner of escape as this; yet how much comfort may we sometimes find in these glimpses of the condition in which might be found so great an apostle as was Paul!

Division 7. (2 Cor. 12, 13.)

The perfecting of ministry.

We are thus introduced to what is no doubt the perfecting of ministry, the way in which, on the one hand and on the other, God is found by the soul thus pledged to His service; on the one hand the heights of blessedness to which the Lord is ready to lead His own, the wondrous comfort yielded to those who have need of comfort; while, on the other hand, we see the need of discipline also found in close connection with the comfort itself, and in such an one as Paul the apostle; and if needed by such an one, who is there that shall claim exemption from it? The effect is that to which the last chapter has in measure already brought us, the abasement of the earthen vessel, only that the excellency of the power may be realized to be of God and not of man, His strength perfected in weakness, so that the weakness itself may be gloried in, and in the consciousness of such weakness one may find strength.

1. The apostle comes now to what it is evident he said little of to others, and which was given for the joy and comfort of his own soul alone. The visions and revelations of the Lord of which he speaks were not intended to be communicated, went beyond even the possibility of communication. They were not, therefore, for others, they were for himself; and yet they are intimated here surely for the blessing of others, and that we may realize what in the same condition one may count upon from the same Lord. Paul was in this pre-eminent, as he always is. We may lose, by insisting too much upon this, all the blessing for ourselves. It is plain that the apostle does not speak of himself here as an apostle. That is not how he puts it. As an apostle, the revelations would, in fact, have been for others. They were not that, but for himself; and he speaks of himself, (for clearly it is of himself that he is speaking,) yet in such terms as would make any Christian his fellow. "I know a man in Christ," he says; but who is there among Christians who is not a man in Christ? We must be careful to note the way in which Scripture presents things to us, or we shall lose very much of the blessing of them. It is "a man in Christ," — so simply put that if it were not for what is afterwards said, we might even question whether it were the apostle at all. It is clear that he does not want us to realize these things as simply apostolic. The "man in Christ" is, indeed, in some sense much more than the apostle. A "man in Christ" is one who is before God in the value and power of what Christ is for God. The apostle knew this indeed as no one else, one may say, has known it; but that which he knew so well, nevertheless, belongs in its blessedness to every Christian, and is open for every Christian to enjoy it. Let us impute to ourselves what differences there may be, and not escape from the comfort or from the exhortation that there is in it, by making "a man in Christ" really an exception among such men. That cannot be why it is so presented here. If ministry be, as we have seen it is, something which, in one form or another, every member of the body of Christ as such is to exercise; if every member of Christ is needed to fill out that epistle of Christ which the Church is, "read and known of all men," then assuredly we have our part in all that this epistle of ministry can give us, allowing fully for the pre-eminence of the apostle and for all that was really exceptional in him, but which implied, more than anything else, exceptional devotedness.

He speaks then of this man in Christ, — a heavenly man, because Christ is heavenly, — taken up into his own sphere, in heaven, in a marvelous way, of which he can give no account. Whether it was in the body, he knows not. Whether it was out of the body, he knows not. He says this twice, for a purpose doubtless. He would have us not think upon the circumstances so much, upon the exact part that miracle had to do with it; for from the miraculous we naturally seek to withdraw ourselves, (we do not expect miracles,) but he leaves it open. He was caught away to the third heaven, whether in body or in spirit he cannot really tell. He thought, perhaps, but little of himself, drawn out of himself as he was by the power of what was communicated to him. It was a joy indeed beyond expression, the Paradise of God, which was somehow opened to him, something which had value and power for his soul, which he could not even utter to others.

Here is the man to glory in, he says; and he separates this man, as it were, from himself, the man in the flesh, who can glory only in his infirmities. How plainly it seems that he would have us separate what he was himself from this wondrous vision given to him! It seems as if he would designedly have us separate all that was exceptional in him from this which is yet in itself so exceptional to all experiences. But would he not open the door thus to us, as far as he could open it? Would he not say, I a man in Christ, as such, was caught up to the third heaven? "Such an one." How many of us could except ourselves from this, and say we are not such? We are not Christians at all if that be not true of us. Such an one as this was caught up to the third heaven. Would not God draw our hearts after such unspeakable blessedness, and would He not satisfy hearts that He had thus taught to long after it? "He satisfieth the longing soul and filleth the hungry soul with goodness." How good if only we longed with an irrepressible longing for that which God must needs come in to satisfy!

But indeed we must not separate the man that Paul was in another sense from the vision which he enjoyed. We may separate the apostle, but we must not separate the man devoted to Christ; the man who, having received Christ Jesus the Lord, walked so really in Him; the man for whom earth was marked by the cross, and to whom therefore, heaven was open. Let us lay all possible emphasis upon such things as this. There is no royal way into the enjoyment of such things by a mere desire to have visions. The way is only by the way Paul really entered. We are right in believing that there was something exceptional about him. We are wrong in believing that it was a mere official distinction, as one may say; something, therefore, which separates us in kind from the man who enjoyed these things. It was the man who himself, in the joy of what he was in Christ, sought with his whole heart to present every man perfect in that same Christ whom he enjoyed. It was this man whom God caught somehow away into Paradise, and made him hear unspeakable things, the joy of which remained, however too deep for utterance. But we are immediately reminded now, that after all here was a man, upon another side, very like ourselves; a man who, if he looked at himself, could glory only in those infirmities which left him the weak creature that he was, in the hands of a God almighty for him. He does not now want to glorify himself with these revelations. He desires none to think of him above that which he sees him really to be, or hears about him.

2. He discloses to us the other Paul of whom he would not glory. He lets us know, in fact, that it was himself who had received the revelation, only in the same sentence in which he makes known to us a thorn in the flesh which the very revelation itself obtained for him. How absolute a rebuke to everything that men dream of practical perfection in the Christian, to find that one who could be caught up where perhaps no one of us has ever been, unconscious of himself while thus occupied with unutterable things, yet had need when he came out of the vision to have a messenger of Satan himself made a help to him, because of the tendency to pride of heart which the very vision might engender! Let us notice carefully that it is not said that he had been exalted by it. It was for no actual sin of his own that the messenger of Satan had to buffet him. It was simply because of that which was yet in him, whether exhibited or not, — of tendencies which might be checked, but which needed checking. Thus the thorn in the flesh followed the vision. It is evident, also, that this implied some bodily weakness, or deformity, which might make him little in the eyes of men, thus lowering him in the very character of a minister of Christ which the vision might be implied to nerve him for the more. It is in this way that he goes to the Lord, that is, to Christ, the Lord of the servant, to seek Him about it. Thrice he beseeches Him that this might depart from him. He is answered, and yet he is not answered. He is answered, not as he expects, but he is answered in a fuller way than he expects. The thorn is not removed, but the sufficiency of divine grace is what is assured him, and that, after all, the power of God requires but this human weakness, and is displayed the more as the weakness itself is displayed. This is, as we know, but the good of that earthen vessel in which he has already told us the divine treasure is. Here was the light of heaven itself in a vessel manifestly of earth. He must accept this position. He should find it no loss. Nay, is it not gain when a man can glory in the very infirmities that he would just now have had taken away, as realizing that they do but cause a power greater than his own to rest upon him? Who would exchange the power of Christ for the power of plausible human appearance, an eloquence of human words, or anything, in short, which would be so simply human as these are? Think of the power of Christ making itself manifest in the simplest words, perhaps, that human lips could utter! Think of divine power manifesting itself in one who to man's eyes was weak almost to contempt!

Of course, the infirmities here that he can glory in imply no moral imperfection. In such a thing as this he could not glory. He goes on to tell us directly what it is that he takes pleasure in, "in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits for Christ's sake," — whatever made him, in fact, manifestly but an earthen vessel, wrote death upon the man Paul, in order that the life of Jesus might exhibit itself in its full divine character. It is a hard lesson to learn, but the very hardness of learning it only shows the more how necessary a lesson it is to learn. Why is it so hard a thing for us to learn it, except just for this tendency to pride of heart in us, to which, as we see, even the great apostle here was not a stranger? How thankful should we be for the discipline, in this way, which makes so little of us, but only to exalt and glorify God through us! The apostle, at any rate, accepted this thoroughly. To suppose, as people have supposed, that the thorn was taken away finally by the importunity of his request is to do away with the lesson we are meant to learn by it. To take away the thorn would have been to take away the glorying in it. How wonderful to be the one in whom divine glory had thus chosen to manifest itself! and such was not only Paul, but such clearly is every man in Christ. There is no exception in all this, except, alas, the exception made by our own dullness and slowness to receive the blessing which the man in Christ will find from God, just in proportion as he is really out and out that which is implied in it.

3. The apostle returns, for a moment, to exhibit, as it were, once more that folly of his which became something else in the end for which he used it, but for which he was compelled to use it, as he says here. He could not give way, in the presence of those who sought designedly to lower him that they might exalt themselves. He owns that he is nothing yet, as we see, that could not hinder the signs of an apostle being wrought among them through him. They belonged well to one who came amongst the Corinthians with fear and trembling because of the burden of the message that he carried, because of the testimony to Christ His. Saviour which was in it. With such an one the signs of an apostle were in perfect harmony, wrought among them, as he says, first of all in all patience, giving the moral quality first, but in signs also, wondrous and mighty works. There was nothing, then, in which they had been inferior to other assemblies, except in that independence of them which he might seem to have manifested. If that were a wrong, they must forgive it to him. For him it was the independence only of a parent who sought the welfare of his children, rather than to be ministered to by them. "For the children," he says, tenderly, "ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children," and he, how gladly would he spend and be spent for the souls of those he loved, even though the love that he poured out upon them might but deprive him in measure of the love they gave him.

4. The attacks made upon him went further, even, than this. Some were saying, it is evident, that even in thus not burdening them there was an element of deception, — he did not himself burden them, nevertheless it was only in the craft of one who knew how to catch them with guile. It is strange that any can plead such a sentence as being an argument for guile being rightly employed by a Christian. It is the thing that he is charged with that he is speaking of here, and the thing which he immediately repels by the questions following. Had he shown his guile, then, by making a gain of them by means of others sent, that gain which personally he would not make? Titus had been sent by him and a brother in his company. Had Titus then made a gain of them? Had they not walked in the same spirit and in the same steps also? They were even thinking, some among them, that all this defence of himself was merely excuse made by a conscience that was not at ease. "We speak," he says, "before God in Christ; and all things, beloved, for your edifying." But the condition of things even yet made him fear sometimes as to those that he would find in such a condition as would humble him with regard to them and make them suffer from the rod he brought. He feared the presence of "strifes, emulations, wrath, contentions, evil speakings, whisperings," and that he might have to bewail many who had already sinned, and who had not, as others had, repented with regard to the immorality, the open outbreaks of the flesh which had been manifested amongst them.

5. Now, at last, at any rate, he was coming to them. Everything would be looked at, and in the mouth of two or three witnesses everything be established. Love itself, while it has no limit, yet can be forced to act in a way contrary to its desire. If he came again he would not spare. They were questioning his apostleship, and questioning whether Christ had been speaking in him. Why did they not look at themselves if they wanted proof of that? Were they not sufficient proof? Had they not indeed evidence of the power of God in that which had been wrought, not merely amongst them, but in them? For they came behind in no gift. Whatever weakness might have been exhibited, it was a Christ crucified he preached, crucified through weakness, yet He lived now by the power of God. So too His ministers might be weak after His pattern, yet the power of God manifested in them through Him by whom they lived before God. But if they wanted a proof, then, of the apostle's workmanship, they were his workmanship. Let them examine themselves if they were in the faith. Let them prove themselves instead of him.

The want of understanding the long parenthesis here, which is, after all, in the apostle's manner, has made people think that Paul intended them really to examine themselves if they were in the faith. On the contrary, his argument is based upon the very fact that they need not and could not do it. He turns immediately to them with the question: "Do ye not recognize yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you, except indeed ye be reprobates?" If everything was gone, their profession and all that was implied in it, then indeed his work was gone, and the proof of his apostleship, as far as they were concerned, would be truly wanting. But he himself, at any rate, and those who had labored amongst them, were not reprobates; and they only prayed that His people might do no evil, not that they themselves might appear approved, but that they might do right, even though they might be reprobating their teachers.

After all, nothing could be really done against the truth — nothing could prevail against that — but for the truth. We must be on the other side of things, with God, in order to realize how truly this is so; but it is so, and the apostle in his devoted love towards them could rejoice if they were strong indeed, however weak he might be manifested. What he sought and prayed for was their perfecting, and his object now in writing was that he might not have to come amongst them to use a severity which indeed could be justified in the authority which the Lord had given him; an authority, nevertheless, meant for building up and not for pulling down. In all this we see the heart of true ministry, as is manifest, — the self-forgetfulness of a love that poured itself out because it was love; not for any gain, except indeed what love could count gain.

Through all, let them rejoice. Joy is what becomes us, whatever the circumstances may be, and even in the very consciousness of failure itself; but the true Christian joy is in the Lord, and that should not fail or vary. Let them rejoice, then, and with that seek in all things perfection. Let them be of good comfort, of one mind, which could only therefore be the mind of Christ, if it were to be the mind of Christians. Let them be at peace; and He who was the God of love and peace would be with them. He bids them salute one another, and sends the salutation of the saints, praying that the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit might be with them all.