"Fellowship" and the "common faith" are essentially one, and inseparable, moving together in a plane unknown to time or will of man. True to their original, they remain unaffected by accident, untroubled by offence, but at this time I rather think of characters furnished by occasions as they arise, and expressive of the reciprocities of the gospel. These of themselves may be said to be the theme, almost the staple too, of the particular scripture I have now before my mind - the second epistle to the Corinthians. They flow from the blessed fact, that, whilst as yet the veil is upon the heart of Israel, the privilege of us all is to look with open face upon the glory of the Lord, and the effect to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Lord the Spirit, for the radiancy of the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, whilst rejecting all that is contrary to itself, supposes a community of interest ever displaying itself through hand, or heart, or word.
Read chapter 1:1-7 as an exquisite example of this; the sufferings, and equally the comforts of the apostle, being made to pass over to his beloved children in the measure known to himself. They were indeed his epistle written in his heart, which in its throbbings yielded that which made them "of one mind" with himself. And I would ask, Who can with intelligence read to its end the section immediately succeeding (chap. 1:8 to 2:13) if the heart be not in full consent and bowed in sympathy with the sympathies found there? (Mark 3:1-4.) Who would not have his own part therein, and share with that blessed servant through the Spirit of the living God, that consciousness which assures him of like recompense on their part, and inspires him with the confidence (trust) which Christ alone can give? Again in chapter 4:6, see him in the hand of the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and hath now shined in his heart, only that through him mediately and implicitly might pass to others the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Observe in verse 5 those three words "for Jesus' sake," and note their application to his subject. The gospel of the glory must not be veiled by will, or way, of man, and he that has seen it in the face of the Man Christ Jesus is bondsman to all others for His sake. Creation-glory is surely past to him who, looking on eternal things, sees Jesus only, and he is thenceforward only an instrument to make Him known. Verse 7 marks a transition to another form of truth connected with that Name, and here again it is all "for Jesus' sake," and to this end, that His pathway down here might be understood, being reflected in the sufferings of the servant who endures all things for His people's sake, still bearing about in his body the dying of Jesus, still delivered to death (morally a copy and continuation of Himself).
Thus these three pregnant words point at once to the seat of glory above, to the scene of suffering below, and to the ministry which would worthily portray either, and find its reward in answering affections and a common hope.
In chapter 5 this intercommunion reaches its highest point, the saints themselves finding occasion to glory on the apostle's behalf, and the apostle (now beside himself, now sober) yields, in either case, to the constraining love of Christ according to the judgment bound upon him by the present truth of new creation.
In chapter 6 we have a ministry conformable to the accepted time and day of salvation of verse 2, and in full and distinct detail; and Paul the minister would have his Corinthian children to throw off the weights of earth and hell, being enlarged to the refusal of all unequal yokes even as he, and to the simple consciousness that they were the temple of the living God - sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.
Chap. 7 but rehearses and sums up the foregoing six - historically the ground, morally the complement and declaration of their teachings. What exercises of heart! What exchanges of thought and loving desire are found here! What tender reciprocities and recollections are those which inspire the "confidence" in which he glories!
Chap. 8 and 9 are but the practical expression of it all, where with mutual obligation as a standard, and with "equality" as a rule, exhortation, example, service, prayer, and thanksgiving, are seen to mingle, and to make a well of general refreshment.
In the chapters which follow, though marked by striking contrasts with those that had gone before, the reciprocal relations remain undisturbed by circumstances, only manifesting themselves in a suited way.
An enemy had been at work perverting the gospel, and in behalf of the truth, and of the interests of the saints, the servant that holds the true commission will use the power entrusted to him to the end of edification, though it be in "sharpness." The weapons of his warfare were spiritual, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, prepared to revenge all further disobedience. He will not spare, if he come, them that are his own children. And why? Because, if they would question his place and authority, they have but to examine themselves as to whether Christ, whom he had preached, was in them, except they be reprobates, but they shall know that he is no reprobate and their relative positions no myth. Those whose minds were in danger of being corrupted from simplicity as to Christ, he had espoused to Him, and his jealousy over them expresses itself in moods, and manners, and forms of speech wholly peculiar to the moment; for God only knew how he loved them.
The misguided minority in the assembly are hereby made to see in its elements, and applications, what is the ministry from which they would turn away - to what depths it can descend, to what heights it can rise. See him who is not a whit behind the very chiefest of Christ's apostles, laying down together all the insignia of his office cognisable to sense, his labours, stripes, etc., deeming. himself a fool in speaking of them, even by compulsion of those who should rather have commended him, though for their sakes he thereby takes away all ground of attack, and occasion of boasting, from others. Then in the record which succeeds again and beyond all this, we have a scene and an action in vivid correspondence with, and in fuller assertion of, the character we have seen him wear, and the place he has assigned himself. Powerless in contact with power as in the hands of men, he celebrates his deliverance at Damascus, there, as in every place led of God "in triumph in the Christ," an instrument to set forth the odour of His knowledge, as being unto Him a sweet odour of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish. One step further and we have, in all its volume and intensity, the ministry which lies at the source of the varied manifestations we have witnessed, and those tides of sympathy of which we are speaking.
In chap. 12 we have the man in Christ, caught up he knows not how, where things are said not allowed to man to utter. Well might he boast of such an one, yet boast he will not for the sake of others; for now at length he lies low enough to let the grace of the Lord suffice for him, and to take pleasure in the weakness which Christ clothes with His own power. Full of the abounding visions and revelations, suddenly arrested as in the heart of Paradise itself, and transpierced by Satan's messenger, the thorn for the flesh of which he speaks, he cries aloud therein for easement, but is only heard according to that answer which, leaving the infirmity untouched, supplies a countervailing force of quality and range commensurate with the message he is to bear, and the work appointed him. It is now indeed Christ in the man, and the man superior to all accidents of time, for through the excruciating pressure, and the lesson entailed upon it, he comes forth to us that competent minister of the New Testament whose sufficiency is of God, who faints not before corruption, nor quails before suffering and death. His doctrine and his course accordingly are one, necessarily telling upon all around, whatever the phases of circumstance, as we have seen throughout this epistle.
First of all then, as one that is dead to all fleshly aims and ends, motives and methods, he has nothing.
Secondly - passive in the midst of agitations - the wrath of foes, the solicitude of friends, he does nothing.
Thirdly - now positive through heavenly schooling, and the decision of a supreme moment, he is nothing.
Thus perfected, he simply asks of us that we "receive" him, and pass with him through the light and shade of daily life, and every field of Christian duty, in calm possession of that revenue of spiritual health and wealth he conveys to us, exercised in all true and seasonable affections, knowing joy and sorrow in their varied measures of height and depth for ourselves, and skilled in application of such knowledge to others, touching the sorrow with light hand that haply it be not overmuch and Satan get the advantage, and leaving the joy to abound to its own issues in goodness even of exceeding grace. May these things have their own weight and thereby their own influence. For -
"E'en of that fellowship unbroken
The same whereof at first I've spoken,
The Supper and the Rapture make the token." H. W. H.