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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 17
Verse 17.For we are not as many. This refers doubtless to the false teachers at Corinth; and to all who mingled human philosophy or tradition with the pure word of truth. Paul's design in the statement in this verse seems to be to affirm that he had such a deep sense of the responsibility of the ministerial office, and of its necessary influence on the eternal destiny of man, that it led him to preach the simple gospel, the pure word of God. He did not dare to dilute it with any human mixture, he did not dare to preach philosophy or human wisdom. He did not dare to mingle with it the crude conceptions of man. He sought to exhibit the simple truth as it was in Jesus; and so deep was his sense of the responsibility of the office, and so great was his desire on the subject, that he had been enabled to do it, and to triumph always in Christ. So that, although he was conscious that he was in himself unfit for these things, yet by the grace of God he had been able always to exhibit the simple truth, and his labours had been crowned with constant and signal success.
Which corrupt the word of God. Margin, "deal deceitfully with." The word here used (kaphleuontev) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and does not occur in the Septuagint. The word is derived from kaphlov, which signifies, properly, a huckster, or a retailer of wine; a petty chapman; who buys up articles for the purpose of selling them again. it also means sometimes a vintner, or an innkeeper. The proper idea is that of a small dealer, and especially in wine. Such persons were notorious, as they, are now, for diluting their wines with water, (comp. Sept. in Isa. i. 22;) and for compounding wines of other substances than the juice of the grape, for purposes of gain. Wine, of all substances in trade, perhaps, affords the greatest facilities for such dishonest tricks; and accordingly the dealers in that article have generally been most distinguished for fraudulent practices and corrupt and diluted mixtures, hence the word comes to denote to adulterate, to corrupt, etc. It is here applied to those who adulterated or corrupted the pure word of God in any way, and for any purpose. It probably has particular reference to those who did it either by Judaizing opinions, or by the mixtures of a false and deceitful philosophy. The latter mode would be likely to prevail among the subtle and philosophizing Greeks. It is in such ways that the gospel has been usually corrupted.
(1.) It is done by attempting to attach a philosophical explanation to the facts of revelation, and making the theory as important as the fact.
(2.) By attempting to explain away the offensive, points of revelation by the aid of philosophy.
(3.) By attempting to make the facts of Scripture accord with the prevalent notions of philosophy, and by applying a mode of interpretation to the Bible which would fritter away its meaning, and make it mean anything or nothing at pleasure. In these, and in various other ways, men have corrupted the word of God; and of all the evils which Christianity has ever sustained in this world, the worst have been those which it has received from philosophy, and from those teachers who have corrupted the word of God. The fires of persecution it could meet, and still be pure; the utmost efforts of princes, and monarchs, and of Satan to destroy it, it has outlived, and has shone purely, and brightly amidst all these efforts; but, when corrupted by philosophy, and by "science falsely so called," it has been dimmed in its lustre, paralyzed in its aims, and shorn of its power, and has ceased to be mighty in pulling down the strongholds of Satan's kingdom. Accordingly, the enemy of God has ceased to excite persecution, and now aims in various ways to corrupt the gospel by the admixture of philosophy, and of human opinions. Tindal renders this passage, "For we are not as many are which choppe and chaunge with the word of God"—an idea which is important and beautiful—but this is one of the few instances in which he mistook the sense of the original text. In general, the accuracy of his translation, and his acquaintance with the true sense of the Greek text, are very remarkable.
In the sight of God. As if we felt that his eye was always on us. Nothing is better fitted to make a man sincere and honest than this.
Speak we in Christ. In the name, and in the service of Christ, We deliver our message with a deep consciousness that the eye of the all-seeing God is on us; that we can conceal nothing from him; and that we must soon give up our account to him.
REMARKS on 2nd Corinthians Chapter 2.
(1.) In this chapter, and in the management of the whole case to which Paul here refers, we have an instance of his tenderness in administering discipline. This tenderness was manifested in many ways.
1st. He did nothing to wound the feelings of the offending party.
2nd. He did nothing in the way of punishment which a stern sense of duty did not demand.
3rd. He did it all with many tears. He wept at the necessity of administering discipline at all. He wept over the remissness of the church. He wept over the fall of the offending brother.
4th. He did not mention even the name of the offender. He did not blazon his faults abroad; nor has he left any clue by which it can be known; nor did he take any measures which were fitted to pain, unnecessarily, the feelings of his friends. If all discipline in the church were conducted in this manner, it would probably always be effectual and successful, 2 Co 2:1-10.
(2.) We ought cordially to receive and forgive an offending brother, as soon as he gives evidence of repentance. We should harbour no malice against him; and if, by repentance, he has put away his sins, we should hasten to forgive him. This we should do as individuals, and as churches. God cheerfully forgives us, and receives us into favour on our repentance; and we should hail the privilege of treating all our offending brethren in the same manner, 2 Co 2:7,8.
(3.) Churches should be careful that Satan should not get an advantage over them, 2 Co 2:11. In every way possible he will attempt it; and perhaps in few modes is it more often done than in administering discipline. In such a case, Satan gains an advantage over a church in the following ways:
1st. In inducing it to neglect discipline. This occurs often because an offender is rich, or talented, or is connected with influential families; because there is a fear of driving off such families from the church; because the individual is of elevated rank, and the church suffers him to remain in her bosom. The laws of the church, like other laws, are often like cobwebs: great flies break through, and the smaller ones are caught. The consequence is, that Satan gains an immense advantage. Rich and influential offenders remain in the church; discipline is relaxed; the cause of Christ is scandalized; and the church at large feels the influence, and the work of God declines.
2nd. Satan gains an advantage in discipline, sometimes, by too great severity of discipline. If he cannot induce a church to relax altogether, and to suffer offenders to remain, then he excites them to improper and needless severity. He drives them on to harsh discipline for small offences. He excites a spirit of persecution. He enkindles a false zeal on account of the shibboleth of doctrine. He excites a spirit of party, and causes the church to mistake it for zeal for truth. He excites a spirit of persecution against some of the best men in the church, on account of pretended errors in doctrine, and kindles the flames of intestine war; and breaks the church up into parties and fragments. Or he urges on thee church, even in cases where discipline is proper, to needless and inappropriate severity; drives the offender from its bosom; breaks his spirit; and prevents ever onward his usefulness, his return, and his happiness. One of the chief arts of Satan has been to cause the church, in cases of discipline, to use severity instead of kindness; to excite a spirit of persecution instead of love. Almost all the evils which grow out of attempts at discipline might have been prevented by a spirit of LOVE.
3rd. Satan gains an advantage in cases of discipline, when the church is unwilling to re-admit to fellowship an offending but a penitent member. His spirit is broken; his usefulness is destroyed. The world usually takes sides with him against the church, and the cause of religion bleeds.
(4.) Individual Christians, as well as churches, should be careful that Satan does not get an advantage over them, 2 Co 2:11. Among the ways in which he does this are the following:
1st. By inducing them to conform to the world. This is done under the plea that religion is not gloomy, and morose, and ascetic. Thence he often leads professors into all the gaieties, and amusements, and follies of which the world partake. Satan gains an immense advantage to his cause when this is done for all the influence of the professed Christian is with him.
2nd. By producing laxness of opinion in regard to doctrine. Christ intends that his cause shall advance by the influence of truth; and that his church shall be the witness of the truth. The cause of Satan advances by error and falsehood; and when professed Christians embrace falsehood, or are indifferent to truth, their whole influence is on the side of Satan, and his advantage is immense when they become the advocates of error.
3rd. By producing among Christians despondency, melancholy, and despair. Some of the best men are often thus afflicted and thrown into darkness, as Job was, Job 23:8,9. Indeed, it is commonly the best members of a church that have doubts in this manner, and that fall into temptation, and that are left to the buffetings of Satan. Your gay, and worldly, and fashionable Christians have usually no such troubles—except when they lie on a bed of death. They are not in the way of Satan. They do not oppose him, and he will not trouble them. It is your humble, praying, self-denying Christians that he dreads and hates; and it is these that he is suffered to tempt, and to make sad, and to fill with gloom and doubt. And when this is done, it is an immense advantage to his cause. It produces the impression that religion is nothing but gloom and melancholy, and the people of the world are easily led to hate and avoid it. Christians, therefore, should be cheerful, and benevolent, and happy—as they may be —lest Satan should get an advantage over them.
4th. By fanaticism. For when Satan finds that he can get no advantage over Christians by inducing them to do nothing, or to do anything positively wrong or immoral, he drives them on with over-heated and ill-timed zeal; he makes them unreasonably strenuous for some single opinion or measure; he disposes them to oppose and persecute all who do not fall into their views, and feel as they feel.
5th. By contentions and strifes. Satan often gets an advantage in that way. No matter what the cause may be, whether it be for doctrines, or for any other cause, yet the very fact that there are contentions among the professed followers of "the Prince of peace" does injury, and gives Satan an advantage. No small part of his efforts, therefore, have been to excite contentions among Christians—an effort in which he has been, and is still, eminently successful.
(5.) Satan gets an advantage over sinners, and they should be on their guard. He does it,
1st, by producing a sense of security in their present condition; and by leading them to indifference in regard to their eternal condition. In this he is eminently successful; and when this is gained, all is gained that his cause demands. It is impossible to conceive of greater success in anything than Satan has in producing a state of indifference to the subject of religion among men.
2nd. By inducing them to defer attention to religion to some future time. This is an advantage, because
(a.) it accomplishes all he wishes at present;
(b.) because it is usually successful altogether. It is usually the same thing as resolving not to attend to religion at all.
3rd. By producing false views of religion. He represents it at one time as gloomy, sad, and melancholy; at another, as so easy that it may be obtained whenever they please; at another, by persuading them that their sins are so great that they cannot be forgiven. One great object of Satan is to blind the minds of sinners to the true nature of religion; and in this he is usually successful.
4th. He deludes the aged by telling them it is too late; and the young by telling them that now is the time for mirth and pleasure, and that religion may be attended to at some future period of life.
5th. He gains an advantage by plunging the sinner deeper and deeper in sin; inducing him to listen to the voice of temptation; by making him the companion of the wicked; and by deluding him with the promises of pleasure, honour, and gain in this world until it is too late, and he dies.
(6.) Ministers of the gospel may have occasion to triumph in the success of their work. Paul always met with success of some kind; always had some cause of triumph. In all his trials, he had occasion of rejoicing, and always was assured that he was pursuing that course which would lead him ultimately to triumph, 2 Co 2:14.
(7.) The gospel may be so preached as to be successful, 2 Co 2:14. In the hands of Paul it was successful. So it was with the other apostles. So it was with Luther, Knox, Calvin. So it was with Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, and Payson. If ministers are successful, it is not the fault of the gospel. It is adapted to do good, and to save men; and it may be so preached as to accomplish those great ends. If all ministers were as self-denying, and laborious, and prayerful as were these men, the gospel would be as successful now as it has ever been.
(8.) Much of the work of the ministry is pleasant and delightful. It is the savour of life unto life, 2 Co 2:15,16. There is no joy on earth of a higher and purer character than that which the ministers of the gospel have in the success of their work. There is no work more pleasant than that of imparting the consolations of religion to the sick and the afflicted—than that of directing inquiring sinners to the Lamb of God; no joy on earth so pure and elevated as that which a pastor has in a revival of religion. In the evidence that God accepts his labours, and that to many his message is a savour of life unto life, there is a joy which no other pursuit can furnish a joy, even on earth, which is more than a compensation for all the toils, self-denials, and trials of the ministry.
9. In view of the happy and saving results of the work of the ministry, we see the importance of the work. Those results are to be seen in heaven. They are to enter into the eternal destiny of the righteous. They are to be seen in the felicity and holiness of those who shall be redeemed from death. The very happiness of heaven, therefore, is dependent on the fidelity and success of the ministry. This work stretches beyond the grave. It reaches into eternity. It is to be seen in heaven. Other plans and labours of men terminate at death. But the work of the ministry reaches in its results into the skies; and is to be seen ever onward in eternity. Well might the apostle ask, "Who is sufficient for these things ?"
10.) The ministers of the gospel will be accepted of God if faithful, whatever may be the result of their labours; whether seen in the salvation, or the augmented condemnation of those who hear them, 2 Co 2:15. They are a sweet savour to God. Their acceptance with him depends not on the measure of their success, but on their fidelity. If men reject the gospel, and make it the occasion of their greater condemnation, the fault is not that of ministers, but is their own. If men are faithful, God accepts their efforts; and even if many reject the message and perish, still a-faithful ministry will not be to blame. That such results should follow from their ministry, indeed, increases their responsibility, and makes their office more awful, but it will not render them less acceptable in their labours in the sight of God.
(11.) We are to anticipate that the ministry will be the means of the deeper condemnation of many who hear the gospel, 2 Co 2:16. The gospel is to them a savour of death unto death. We are to expect that many will reject and despise the message, and sink into deeper sin, and condemnation, and woe. We are not to be disappointed, therefore, when we see such effects follow, and when the sinner sinks into a deeper hell from under the ministry of the gospel. It always has been the case, and we have reason to suppose it always will be and painful as is the fact, yet ministers must make up their minds to witness this deeply painful result of their work.
(12.) The ministry is a deeply and awfully responsible work, 2 Co 2:16. It is connected with the everlasting happiness, or the deep and eternal condemnation, of all those who hear the gospel. Every sermon that is preached is making an impression that will never be obliterated, and producing an effect that will never terminate. Its effects will never all be seen until the day of judgment, and in the awful solemnities of the eternal world. Well might Paul ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?
(13.) It is a solemn thing to hear the gospel. If it is solemn for a minister to dispense it, it is not less solemn to hear it. It is connected with the eternal welfare of those who hear. And thoughtless as are multitudes who hear it, yet it is deeply to affect them hereafter. If they ever embrace it, they will owe their eternal salvation to it; if they continue to neglect it, it will sink them deep and for ever in the world of woe. Every individual, therefore, who hears the gospel dispensed, no matter by whom, should remember that he is listening to God's solemn message to men; and that it will and must exert a deep influence on his eternal doom.
(14.) A people should pray much for a minister. Paul often entreated the churches to which he wrote to pray for him. If Paul needed the prayers of Christians, assuredly Christians now do. Prayer for a minister is demanded because,
1st, he has the same infirmities, conflicts, and temptations which other Christians have.
2nd. He has those which are peculiar, and which grow out of the very nature of his office; for the warfare of Satan is carried on mainly with the leaders of the army of God.
3rd. He is engaged in a great and most responsible work—the greatest work ever committed to mortal man.
4th. His success will be generally in proportion as a people pray for him. The welfare of a people, therefore, is identified with their praying for their minister. He will preach better, and they will hear better, just in proportion as they pray for him. His preaching will be dull, dry, heavy—will be without unction, spirituality, and life—unless they pray for him; and their hearing will be dull, lifeless, and uninterested, unless they pray for him. No people will hear the gospel to much advantage who do not feel anxiety enough about it to pray for their minister.
(15.) The interview between a minister and his people in the day of judgment will be a very solemn one. Then the effect of his ministry will be seen. Then it will be known to whom it was a savour of life unto life, and to whom it was a savour of death unto death. Then the eternal destiny of all will be settled. Then the faithful minister will be attended to heaven by all to whom his ministry has been a savour of life unto life; and then he will part for ever with all whom he so often warned and entreated in vain. In distant worlds—worlds for ever separated—shall be experienced the result of his labours. Oh, how solemn must be the scene when he must give up his account for the manner in which he has preached, and they for the manner in which they attended on his ministry!
(16.) Let all ministers, then, be careful that they do not corrupt. the word of God, 2 Co 2:17. Let them preach it in simplicity and in truth. Let them not preach philosophy, or metaphysics, or their own fancy, or the tradition of men, or the teaching of the schools; but the simple truth as it is in Jesus. Let them preach as sent by God; as in the sight of God; as commissioned by Christ to deliver a simple, plain, pure message to mankind, whether they will hear or forbear. Their success will be in proportion to the simplicity and purity of the gospel which they present; their peace and joy in death and in heaven will be just as they shall have evidence then that in simplicity and sincerity they have endeavoured to present everywhere, and to all, the pure and simple gospel of Jesus Christ. As ministers, therefore, desire acceptance with God and success in the work, let them preach the pure gospel; not adulterating it with foreign admixtures; not endeavouring to change it so as to be palatable to the carnal mind; not substituting philosophy for the gospel, and not withholding anything in the gospel because men do not love it; and let the people of God everywhere sustain the ministry by their prayers, and aid them in their work by daily commending them to the God of grace. So shall they be able to perform the solemn functions of their office to Divine acceptance; and so shall ministers and people find the gospel to be "a savour of life unto life."
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