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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 15

Verse 15. For we are unto God. We who are his ministers, and who thus triumph. It is implied here that Paul felt that ministers were labouring for God, and felt assured that their labours would be acceptable to him. The object of Paul in the statement, in this and in the following verses, is undoubtedly to meet the charges of his detractors and enemies, he says, therefore, that whatever was the result of his labours in regard to the future salvation of men, yet that his well-meant endeavours, and labours, and self-denials in preaching the gospel, were acceptable to God. The measure of God's approbation in the case was not his success, but his fidelity, his zeal, his self-denial, whatever might be the reception of the gospel among those who heard it.

A sweet savour. Like the smell, of pleasant incense, or of grateful aromatics, such as were burned in the triumphal processions of returning conquerors. The meaning is, that their labours were acceptable to God; he was pleased with them, and would bestow on them the smiles and proofs of his approbation. The word here rendered "sweet savour" (euwdia occurs only in this place, and in Eph 5:2; Php 4:18; and is applied to persons or things well-pleasing to God. It properly means good odour, or fragrance; and in the Septuagint it is frequently applied to the incense that was burnt in the public worship of God, and to sacrifices in general, Ge 8:21; Ex 29:18,25,41; Le 1:9,13,17; 2:2,9,12; 3:5,16; 4:31, etc. Here it means that the services of Paul and the other ministers of religion were as grateful to God as sweet incense, or acceptable sacrifices.

Of Christ. That is, we are Christ's sweet savour to God; we are that which he has appointed, and which he has devoted and consecrated to God; we are the offering, so to speak, which he is continually making to God.

In them that are saved. In regard to them who believe the gospel through our ministry, and who are saved. Our labour in carrying the gospel to them, and in bringing them to the knowledge of the truth, is acceptable to God. Their salvation is an object of his highest desire, and he is gratified with our fidelity, and with our success. This reason why their work was acceptable to God is more fully stated in the following verse, where it is said that in reference to them they were the "savour of life unto life." The word "saved" here refers to all who become Christians, and who enter heaven; and as the salvation of men is an object of such desire to God, it cannot but be that all who bear the gospel to men are engaged in an acceptable serried, and that all their efforts will be pleasing to him, and approved in his sight. In regard to this part of Paul's statement there can be no difficulty.

And in them that perish. In reference to them who reject the gospel, and who are finally lost. It is implied here,

(1.) that some would reject the gospel and perish, with whatever fidelity and self-denial the ministers of religion might labour.

(2.) That though this would be the result, yet the labours of the ministers of religion would be acceptable to God. This is a fearful and awful declaration, and has been thought by many to be attended with difficulty. A few remarks may present the true sense of the passage, and remove the difficulty from it.

(1.) It is not affirmed or implied here that the destruction of those who would reject the gospel, and who would perish, was desired by God, or would be pleasing to him. This is nowhere affirmed or implied in the Bible.

(2.) It is affirmed only that the labours of the ministers of religion in endeavouring to save them would be acceptable and pleasing to God. Their labours would be in order to save them, not to destroy them. Their desire was to bring all to heaven—and this was acceptable to God. Whatever might be the result, whether successful or not, yet God would be pleased with self-denial, and toil, and prayer that was honestly and zealously put forth to save others from death. They would be approved by God in proportion to the amount of labour, zeal, and fidelity which they evinced.

(3.) It would be by no fault of faithful ministers that men would perish. Their efforts would be to save them, and those efforts would be pleasing to God.

(4.) It would be by no fault of the gospel that men would perish. The regular and proper tendency of the gospel is to save, not to destroy men; as the tendency of medicine is to heal them, of food to support the body, of air to give vitality, of light to give pleasure to the eye, etc. It is provided for all, and is adapted to all. There is a sufficiency in the gospel for all men, and in its nature it is as really fitted to save one as another. Whatever may be the manner in which it is received, it is always in itself the same pure and glorious system; full of benevolence and mercy. The bitterest enemy of the gospel can, not point to one of its provisions that is adapted or designed to make men miserable, and to destroy them. All its provisions are adapted to salvation; all its arrangements are those of benevolence; all the powers and influences which it originates, are those which are fitted to save, not to destroy men. The gospel is what it is in itself pure, holy, and benevolent system, and is answerable only for effects which a pure, holy, and benevolent system is fitted to produce. To use the beautiful language of Theodoret, as quoted by Bloomfield,

"We indeed bear the sweet odour of Christ's gospel to all;

but all who participate in it do not experience its

salutiferous effects. Thus to diseased eyes even the light

of heaven is noxious; yet the sun does not bring the injury.

And to those in a fever, honey is bitter; yet it is sweet,

nevertheless. Vultures too, it is said, fly from sweet

odours of myrrh; yet myrrh is myrrh, though the vultures

avoid it. Thus, if some be saved, though others perish, the

gospel retains its own virtue, and we the preachers of it

remain just as we are; and the gospel retains its odorous

and salutiferous properties, though some may disbelieve

and abuse it, and perish."

Yet

(5.) it is implied that the gospel would be the occasion of heavier condemnation to some, and that they would sink into deeper ruin in consequence of its being preached to them. This is implied in the expression in 2 Co 2:16, "to the one we are a savour of death unto death." In the explanation of this we may observe,

(a.) that those who perish would have perished at any rate. All were under condemnation whether the gospel had come to them or not. None will perish in consequence of the gospel's having been sent to them who would not have perished had it been unknown. Men do not perish because the gospel is sent to them, but for their own sins.

(b.) It is in fact by their own fault that men reject the gospel, and that they are lost. They are voluntary in this; and, whatever is their final destiny, they are not under compulsion. The gospel compels no one against his will either to go to heaven or to hell.

(c.) Men under the gospel sin against greater light than they do without it. They have more to answer for. It increases their responsibility. If, therefore, they reject it, and go down to eternal death, they go from higher privileges; and they go, of course, to meet a more aggravated condemnation. For condemnation will always be in exact proportion to guilt; and guilt is in proportion to abused light and privileges.

(d.) The preaching of the gospel, and the offers of life, are often the occasion of the deeper guilt of the sinner. Often he becomes enraged. He gives vent to the deep malignity of his soul. He opposes the gospel with malice and infuriated anger, his eye kindles with indignation, and his lip curls with pride and scorn. He is profane and blasphemous; and the offering of the gospel to him is the occasion of exciting deep and malignant passions against God, against the Saviour, against the ministers of religion. Against the gospel men often manifest the same malignity and scorn which they did against the Saviour himself. Yet this is not the fault of the gospel, nor of the ministers of religion. It is the fault of sinners themselves; and while there can be no doubt that such a rejection of the gospel will produce their deeper condemnation, and that it is a savour of death unto death unto them, still the gospel is good and benevolent, and still God will be pleased with those who faithfully offer its provisions, and who urge it on the attention of men.

{b} "them that are save" 1 Co 1:18

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