2 Corinthians 5.
Notes of an address by J. A. Trench, 1891.
In this passage the apostle carries us on from the ways of God with the poor earthen vessel, in which He has put this treasure, to the moment when we shall have done with the earthen vessel for ever : when there will be a vessel perfectly suited to the treasure. From chapter 4. we learn that He has put the treasure in the earthen vessel, that "the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:5, 7). Nothing but Christ could shine out of bodies of glory; but all the excellency of the power of God is put forth to make Him shine out of earthen vessels. In chapter 5, we come to the blessed moment when we shall have done with the earthen vessel altogether. "We know" — always the language of faith — is the divinely given certainty that characterizes the believer. The word here is really "tent," in contrast with what follows. A temporary kind of dwelling in contrast to "a building" where there is permanency, in other words, our glorified condition, that awaits us in His presence.
What is the effect upon our souls? We groan. Have we begun to know anything about that? Do we know what it is so to have our eye on the body of glory in His presence as to feel uncomfortable in these bodies? Have we thus the condition, for which God has wrought us, distinctly before our souls, so that we become less and less at home, so to speak, in these bodies? Is our eye so lit up with the vision of glory, "earnestly desiring" it? It is not the groan of suffering here; but "to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." Here is the blessed light that Christianity has cast upon this subject of death. The 3rd verse comes in on account of the profession at Corinth. We are not looking for dissolution, although it brings no fear with it. The normal Christian hope is "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven … and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Here it is not traced to the Lord Himself, but to the power of the life we already possess in Him, "that mortality might be swallowed up of life:" it only needs to be put forth at His coming. When the first arrow of conviction reached our souls, God had wrought us for nothing short of full conformity to His body of glory. Are you satisfied with this body of clay? "Present in the body" (N.T.) does not mean at home in it; a strange thing indeed to be at home in a body in which we are burdened. "Absent from the body … present with the Lord." That is the way dissolution comes in. It is one of the only four passages in the Epistles where the death of the believer is contemplated; and how sweet that is, no wonder that we can count upon death as one of our possessions
"We walk by faith not by sight" (verse 7). This is the effect of our present condition, we only enjoy these blessed heavenly things by faith, and that is so surpassingly sweet that we long to see them actually. "Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent we may be accepted of Him" (verse 9). This is the motive of all the life; but after death the judgment. All is changed for the believer, but it is a universal principle, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." Here it is applied in its Christian bearing more especially. Every single man, woman, and child will appear there. How do we get to be there? Not until the Lord has first come for us. How blessed that is; He does not send any intermediate beings; He comes to receive us to Himself. We only come to be made manifest at the judgment seat, but we are in bodies of glory like His own, we shall be perfectly like Him — no room for fear there, as, we know well, perfect love has cast out fear. We are made manifest there as the fruit of His perfect work on the cross in which Christ has so glorified God.
You may ask, why are we made manifest at the judgment seat of Christ? It is that there, for the first time, we may know His grace fully, as we cannot know it now. All our ways will come out before Him from the cradle to the glory, and more than that, all His ways with us, and then what a burst of praise, that will never die away, will come from our hearts. I cannot imagine the full joy of eternity without that. Apart from it how we should have wished, all through eternity, for a moment like that when we could go over all our past history in the light of His presence. We spoil it sometimes by bringing in others. The Lord is able to isolate us with Himself; it positively weakens it to bring in others. No, I shall be alone with Him to go over all my past life. It is needful that it should all come out there in order that His grace should have its full place in my heart at last.
Reward also comes in. Eternal glory carries no thought of reward for service, it is the fruit of the travail of His soul, that He should have us with Himself, in the eternal glory. But there is the kingdom, where there will be reward or the loss of it. Some will have all their works burnt up as rubbish, and how glad they will be that it should be so, but the solemn fact remains that they will have no reward in the kingdom; not that reward should ever be a motive for service, it would be rubbish then indeed. Christ must be the motive. The Apostle shows how this is meant to act on our souls down here, we anticipate that day, we can walk in the full light of it when divested of all fear. What a solemn incentive it becomes to holiness! The Lord give us to walk in view of that day.
From the remainder of the chapter we get the divine foundation upon which all this blessed confidence upon God depends. In verse 19 we find three things: — God was in Christ; not imputing trespasses; putting in us the word of reconciliation. All rests on these three things. There never can be anything beyond this first immutable principle in one way; how needed this was as the basis of reconciliation. Satan early stole man's heart, and instilled into his mind the dark doubt against God, and all man's thoughts of God ever since have been founded on the lie of the devil, instead of the truth of God. So He showed Himself in all His grace to arrest man by the irresistible power of that grace, so that we might know and bless God. How blessed this grace comes out in such a scene as Luke 15, or John 4. "Not imputing their trespasses unto them."He came to manifest Himself in all the goodness of His own heart here. "He … made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin." Not imputing trespasses was no ground of reconciliation. It would have been like Peter when he clung to the Lord's knees crying "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man O Lord." It would have only shown us how absolutely unfit for His presence we were.
Another effect of His presence here, in the full revelation of His goodness, was that it became a signal for the wild outbreak of all that man was against God. Thus all our state came fully out. Instead of reconciliation, His presence only drew out all the irreconcilableness of the natural heart. And "having made peace through the blood of His cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself" (Col. 1:20). Having begun with the centre of the enmity, reconciliation will go out to all creation, but He begins with man. Man only was opposed to God's heart and will. His full state comes out now with all the added light of the cross upon that condition.
"If one died for all, then were all dead" (verse 14). Up to the cross God had been dealing with man as alive in the flesh : then He sent His own Son into the world, the only result being the outbreak of all the enmity of man's heart. Now God looks upon man as dead in sins; how blessed to have bowed to it, that we are absolutely dead in sins by the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And now when we give ourselves up for what we are before God, reconciliation begins to shine out before us: not to do with sins, but with the state of enmity of man's heart. God has identified Himself with our condition, "He hath made Him to be sin for us" (verse 21). All our state having come fully out has been judged in the cross of Christ. That was the end, not merely of all that I have done, but of all that I am.
We know Christ no more after the flesh (verse 16). We know Him now as risen from the dead, a new creation, having entered that place as Man. It is a wholly new creation, where all things are of God. Thus we see a Man gone up in divine righteousness before God, and all that wonderful place into which He has gone opening up before us, as the home of our hearts. No disturbance can come there between your souls and God. The word reconciliation is a difficult one to explain. We find an illustration of it in Joseph and his brethren. After enjoying the fruit of his love for fifteen years, when their father died, they said, "Joseph will peradventure hate us" (Gen. 4:15). They were not reconciled. With how many is it thus now; often not known until a death-bed by one who has been enjoying the fruits of His work for years. There has been a lurking suspicion all the time, because they have never seen how God, has closed the history of the first man. What rest of heart when that is known.
There is another truth in verse 5 where we learn that we have "the earnest of the Spirit." What divine immutable foundations are these for our souls to rest upon. God come down in Christ; man reconciled, judged as to all that he was, in Christ; a Man gone up into the glory in divine righteousness, and now the earnest of the glory, the Holy Ghost, dwelling in us. In connection with this, there comes out the blessed spring of all this, "The love of Christ constraineth us." Not your love, as some think, but His. What love! And then we have the new object, that we should live no more to ourselves, but to Him. That blessed One that shines before our souls in all His excellency, all the glory of God shining in His face. We can gaze upon it with more confidence than upon the face of our nearest or dearest friend. We have the standard of what suits Him, and use diligence that "we may be accepted of Him." God grant that thus it may be with each one of us; that He, Himself, should be so before our hearts, that our life may be just seeking to please Him.