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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 4 - Verse 7

Verse 7. But we have this treasure. The treasure of the gospel; the rich and invaluable truths which they were called to preach to others. The word "treasure" is applied to those truths on account of their inestimable worth. Paul in the previous verses had spoken of the gospel, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as full of glory, and infinitely precious. This rich blessing had been committed to him and his fellow.labourers, to dispense it to others, and to diffuse it abroad. His purpose in this and the following verses is to show that it had been so intrusted to them as to secure all the glory of its propagation to God, and so also as to show its unspeakable value. For this purpose, he not only affirms that it is a treasure, but says that it had been so intrusted to them as to show the power of God in its propagation; that it had showed its value in sustaining them in their many trials; and they had showed their sense of its worth by being willing to endure all kinds of trial in order to make it everywhere known, 2 Co 4:8-11. The expression here is similar to that which the Saviour uses when he calls the gospel "the pearl of great price," Mt 13:46.

In earthen vessels. This refers to the apostles and ministers of religion, as weak and feeble; as having bodies decaying and dying; as fragile, and liable to various accidents, and as being altogether unworthy to hold a treasure so invaluable; as if valuable diamonds and gold were placed in vessels of earth of coarse composition, easily broken, and liable to decay. The word vessel (skeuov) means, properly, any utensil or instrument; and is applied usually to utensils of household furniture, or, hollow vessels for containing things, Lu 8:16; Joh 19:29. It is applied to the human body, as made of clay, and therefore frail and feeble, with reference to its containing anything, as, e.g., treasure. Comp. See Barnes "Ro 9:22".

The word rendered earthen, (ostrakinoiv,) means that which is made of shells, (from ostrakon;) and then burnt clay, probably because vessels were at first made of burnt shells. It is fitted well to represent the human body-frail, fragile, and easily reduced again to dust. The purpose of Paul here is to show that it was by no excellency of his nature that the gospel was originated; it was in virtue of no rigour and strength which he possessed that it was propagated; but that it had been, of design, committed by God to weak, decaying, and crumbling instruments, in order that it might be seen that it was by the power of God that such instruments were sustained in the trials to which they were exposed, and in order that it might be manifest to all that it was not originated and diffused by the power of those to whom it was intrusted. The idea is, that they were altogether insufficient of their own strength to accomplish what was accomplished by the gospel. Paul uses a metaphor similar to this in 2 Ti 2:20.

That the excellency of the power. An elegant expression, denoting the exceeding great power. The great power referred to here was that which was manifested in connexion with the labours of the apostles—the power of healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out devils; the power of bearing persecution and trial; and the power of carrying the gospel over Sea and land, in the midst of danger, and in spite of all the opposition which men could make, whether as individuals or as combined; and especially the power of converting the hearts of sinners, of humbling the proud, and leading the guilty to the knowledge of God anal the hope of heaven. The idea is, that all this was manifestly beyond human strength; and that God had of design chosen weak and feeble instruments in order that it might be everywhere seen that it was done not by human power, but by his own. The instrumentality employed was altogether disproportionate in its nature to the effect produced.

May be of God. May evidently appear to be of God; that it may be manifest to all that it is God's power, and not ours. It was one great purpose of God that this should be kept clearly in view. And it is still done. God takes care that this shall be apparent. For

(1.) it is always true, whoever is employed, and however great may be the talents, learning, or zeal of those who preach, -that it is by the power of God that men are converted. Such a work cannot be accomplished by man. It is not by might or by strength; and between the conversion of a proud, haughty, and abandoned sinner, and the power of him who is made the instrument, there is such a manifest disproportion, that it is evident it is the work of God. The conversion of the human heart is not to be accomplished by man.

(2.) Ministers are frail, imperfect, and sinful, as they were in the time of Paul. When the imperfections of ministers are considered; when their frequent errors, and their not unfrequent moral obliquities are contemplated; when it is remembered how far many of them live from what they ought to, and how few of them live in any considerable degree as becometh the followers of the Redeemer, it is wonderful that God blesses their labours as he does; and the matter of amazement is not that no more are converted under their ministry, but it is that so many are converted, or that any are converted; and it is manifest that it is the mere power of God.

(3.) He often makes use of the most feeble, and unlearned, and weak of his servants, to accomplish the greatest effects. It is not splendid talents, or profound learning, or distinguished eloquence that is always or even commonly most successful. Often the ministry of such is entirely barren; while some humble and obscure man shall have constant success, and revivals shall attend him wherever he goes. It is the man of faith, and prayer, and self-denial that is blessed; and the purpose of God in the ministry, as in everything else, is to "stain the pride of all human glory," and to show that He is all in all.

{a} "excellency of the power" 1 Co 2:5

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