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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 5 - Verse 21

Note: The notes on this verse are too large for a single file, they are continued on 2 Co 6:1

Verse 21. For he hath made him to be sin for us. The Greek here is, "For him who knew no sin, he hath made sin, or a sin-offering for us." The design of this very important verse is to urge the strongest possible reason for being reconciled to God. This is implied in the word (gar) for. Paul might have urged other arguments, and presented other strong considerations; but he chooses to present this fact, that Christ has been made sin for us, as embodying and concentrating all. It is the most affecting of all arguments; it is the one that is likely to prove most effectual. It is not indeed improper to urge on men every other consideration to induce them to be reconciled to God. It is not improper to appeal to them by the conviction of duty; to appeal to their reason and conscience; to remind them of the claims, the power, the goodness, and the fear of the Creator; to remind them of the awful consequences of a continued hostility to God; to persuade them by the hope of heaven, and by the fear of hell, (2 Co 5:11) to become his friends; but, after all, the strongest argument, and that which is most adapted to melt the soul, is, the fact that the Son of God has become incarnate for our sins, and has suffered and died in our stead. When all other appeals fail, this is effectual; and this is in fact the strong argument by which the mass of those who become Christians are induced to abandon their opposition, and to become reconciled to God.

To be sin. The words "to be" are not in the original. Literally it is, "he has made him sin, or a sin-offering," (amartian epoihsen.) But what is meant by this? What is the exact idea which the apostle intended to convey? I answer—It cannot be

(1.) that he was literally sin in the abstract, or sin as such. No one can pretend this. The expression must be therefore, in some sense, figurative. Nor

(2.) can it mean that he was a sinner, for it is said in immediate connexion that he "knew no sin," and it is everywhere said that he was holy, harmless, undefiled. Nor

(3.) can it mean that lie was, in any proper sense of the word, guilty, for no one is truly guilty who is not personally a transgressor of the law; and if he was, in any proper sense, guilty, then he deserved to die, and his death could have no more merit than that of any other guilty being; and if he was properly guilty, it would make no difference in this respect whether it was by his own fault or by imputation: a guilty being deserves to be punished; and where there is desert of punishment there can be no merit in sufferings. But all such views as go to make the holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are abhorrent to the whole strain of the Scriptures. In no form, in no sense possible, is it to be maintained that the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner-stone of the whole system of religion, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of the Divine approbation. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is prima facie a false view, and should be at once abandoned. But

(4.) if the declaration that he was made "sin" (amartian) does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering—an offering or a sacrifice for sin; and this is the interpretation which is now generally adopted by expositors; or it must be taken as an abstract for the concrete, and mean that God treated him as if he were a sinner. The former interpretation, that it means that God made him a sin-offering, is adopted by Whitby, Doddridge, Macknight, Rosenmuller, and others; the latter, that it means that God treated him as a sinner, is adopted by Vorstius, Schoettgen, Robinson, (Lex.,) Bishop Bull, and others. There are many passages in the Old Testament where the word "sin" (amartian) is used in the sense of sin-offering, or a sacrifice for sin. Thus, Hos 4:8. "They eat up the sin of, my people;" i.e., the sin-offerings. See Eze 43:22,25; 44:29; 45:22,23,25.

See Whitby's Notes on this verse. But whichever meaning is adopted, whether it means that he was a sacrifice for sin, or that God treated him as if he were a sinner, i.e., subjected him to sufferings which, if he had been personally a sinner, would have been a proper expression of his hatred of transgression, and a proper punishment for sin, in either case it means that he made an atonement; that he died for sin; that his death was not merely that of a martyr; but that it was designed by substituted sufferings to make reconciliation between man and God. Locke renders this, probably expressing the. true sense, "For God hath made him subject to suffering and death, the punishment and consequence of sin, as if he had been a sinner, though he were guilty of no sin." To me it seems probable that the sense is, that God treated him as if he had been a sinner; that he subjected him to such pains and woes as would have been a proper punishment if he had been guilty; that while he was, in fact, in all senses perfectly innocent, and while God knew this, yet that in consequence of the voluntary assumption of the place of man which the Lord Jesus took, it pleased the Father to lay on him the deep sorrows which would be the proper expression of his sense of the evil of sin; that he endured so much suffering, as would answer the same great ends in maintaining the truth, and honour, and justice of God, as if the guilty had themselves endured the penalty of the law. This, I suppose, is what is usually meant when it is said "our sins were imputed to him;" and though this language is not used in the Bible, and though it is liable to great misapprehension and perversion, yet if this is its meaning, there can be no objection to it.

Who knew no sin. He was not guilty. He was perfectly holy and pure. This idea is thus expressed by Peter, (1 Pe 2:22;) "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth;" and in Heb 7:26, it is said, he was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." In all respects, and in all conceivable senses, the Lord Jesus was pure and holy. If he had not been, he would not have been qualified to make an atonement. Hence the sacred writers are everywhere at great pains to keep this idea prominent, for on this depends the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation. The phrase "knew no sin" is an expression of great beauty and dignity. It indicates his entire and perfect purity. He was altogether unacquainted with sin; he was a stranger to transgression; he was conscious of no sin; he committed none. He had a mind and heart perfectly free from pollution, and his whole life was perfectly pure and holy in the sight of God.

That we might be made the righteousness of God. This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as divinely righteous. It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin—we are made righteousness; that is, he was treated as if he were a sinner, though he was perfectly holy and pure—we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is, that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured in our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the law of God, and had never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase" righteousness of God" there is a reference to the fact that this is his plan of making men righteous, or of justifying them. They who thus become righteous, or are justified, are justified on his plan, and by a scheme which he has devised. Locke renders this, "that we, in and by him, might be made righteous, by a righteousness imputed to us by God." The idea is, that all our righteousness in the sight of God we receive in and through a Redeemer. All is to be traced to him. This verse contains a beautiful epitome of the whole plan of salvation, and the peculiarity of the Christian scheme. On the one hand, one who was perfectly innocent, by a voluntary substitution, is treated AS IF he were guilty; that is, is subjected to pains and sorrows which, if he were guilty, would be a proper punishment for sin: and on the other, they who are guilty, and who deserve to be punished, are treated, through his vicarious sufferings, as if they were perfectly innocent; that is, in a manner which would be a proper expression of God's approbation if they had not sinned. The whole plan, therefore, is one of substitution; and without such substitution there can be no salvation. Innocence voluntarily suffers for guilt, and the guilty are thus made pure and holy, and are saved. The greatness of the Divine compassion and love is thus shown for the guilty; and on the ground of this it is right and proper for God to call on men to be reconciled to him. It is the strongest argument that can be used. When God has given his only Son to the bitter suffering of death on the cross in order that we may be reconciled, it is the highest possible argument which can be used why we should cease our opposition to him, and become his friends.

{c} "he hath made" Isa 53:6,9,12; Ga 3:13; 1 Pe 2:22,24

{d} "the righteousness of God" Ro 5:19

 

REMARKS on 2nd Corinthians Chapter 5

(1.) It is possible for Christians to have the assurance that they shall enter into heaven, 2 Co 5:1. Paul said that he knew this; John knew this, (See Barnes "2 Co 5:1";) and there is no reason why others should not know it. If a man hates sin, he may know that as well as anything else; if he loves God, why should he not know that as well as to know that he loves an earthly friend? If he desires to be holy, to enter heaven, to be eternally pure, why should he have any doubt about that? If he loves to pray, to read the Bible, to converse of heaven—if his heart is truly in these things, he may know it, as well as know anything else about his own character or feelings.

(2.) If a Christian may know it, he should know it. No other knowledge is so desirable as this. Nothing will produce so much comfort as this. Nothing will contribute so much to make him firm, decided, and consistent in his Christian walk as this. No other knowledge will give him so much support in temptation; so much comfort in trial; so much peace in death. And if a man is a Christian, he should give himself no rest till he obtains assurance on this subject; if he is not a Christian, he cannot know that too soon, or take too early measures to flee from the wrath to come.

(3.) The body will soon be dissolved in death, 2 Co 5:1. It is a frail, crumbling, decaying dwelling, that must soon be taken down. It has none of the properties of a permanent abode. It can be held together but a little time. It is like a hut or cottage that is shaken by every gust of wind; like a tent when the pins are loose, and the cords unstranded, or rotten, and when the wind will soon sweep it away. And since this is the fact, we may as well know it, and not attempt to conceal it from the mind. All truth may be looked at calmly, and should be; and a man who is residing in a frail and shattered dwelling should be looking out far one that is more permanent and substantial. Death should be looked at. The fact that this tabernacle shall be taken down should be looked at; and every man should be asking with deep interest the question, whether there is not a more permanent dwelling for him in a better world.

(4.) This life is burdened, and is full of cares, 2 Co 5:2,4. It is such as is fitted to make us desire a better state. We groan here under sin, amidst temptation, encompassed by the cares and toils of life. We are burdened with duties, and we are oppressed by trials; and under all we are sinking to the grave. Soon, under the accumulated burdens, the body will be crushed, and sink back to the dust. Man cannot endure the burden long, and he must soon die. These accumulated trials and cares are such as are adapted to make him desire a better inheritance, and to look forward to a better world. God designs that this shall be a world of care and anxiety, in order that we may be led to seek a better portion beyond the grave.

(5.) The Christian has a permanent home in heaven, 2 Co 5:1,2,4.

There is a house not made with hands; an eternal home; a world where mortality is unknown. There is his home; that is his eternal dwelling. Here he is a stranger, among strangers, in a strange world. In heaven is his home. The body here may be sick, feeble, dying; there it shall be vigorous, strong, immortal. He may have no comfortable dwelling here; he may be poor and afflicted; there he shall have an undecaying dwelling, an unchanging home. Who in a world like this should not desire to be a Christian? What other condition of life is so desirable as that of the man who is sure that after a few more days he shall be admitted to an eternal home in heaven, where the body never dies, and where sin and sorrow are known no more ?

(6.) The Christian should be willing to bear all the pain and sorrow which God shall appoint, 2 Co 5:1-4. Why should he not? He knows not only that God is good in all this; but he knows that it is but for a moment; that he is advancing toward heaven, and that he will soon be at home. Compared with that eternal rest, what trifles are all the sufferings' of this mortal life!

(7.) We should not desire to die merely to get rid of pain, or to be absent from the body, 2 Co 5:4. It is not merely in order that we may be "unclothed," or that we may get away from a suffering body, that we should be willing to die. Many a sinner suffers so much here that he is willing to plunge into an awful eternity, as he supposes, to get rid of pain, when, alas ! he plunges only into deeper and eternal woe. We should be willing to bear as much pain, and to bear it as long as God shall be pleased to appoint. We should submit to all without a murmur. We should submit to all without a murmur. We should be anxious to be relieved only when God shall judge it best for us to be away from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

(8.) In a mere readiness to die there is no evidence that we are prepared for heaven. Comp. 2 Co 5:4. Many a man supposes that because he is ready to die, that therefore he is prepared. Many a one takes comfort because a dying friend was ready and willing to die. But in a mere willingness to die there is no evidence of a preparation for death, because a hundred causes may conspire to produce this besides piety. And let us not be deceived by supposing that because we have no alarm about death, and are willing to go to another world, that therefore we are prepared. It may be either stupidity, or insensibility; it may be a mere desire to get rid of suffering; it may be because we are cherishing a hope of heaven which is altogether vain and illusive.

(9.) The Christian should and may desire to depart, and to be in heaven, 2 Co 5:2. Heaven is his home; and it is his privilege to desire to be there. Here he is in a world of trial and of sin. There he shall be in a world of joy and of holiness. Here he dwells in a frail, suffering, decaying body. There he shall be clothed with immortality. It is his privilege, therefore, to desire, as soon as it shall be the will of God, to depart, and to enter on his eternal inheritance in heaven. He should have a strong, fixed, firm desire for that world; and should be ready at the shortest notice to go and to be for ever with the Lord.

(10.) The hopes and joys of Christians, and all their peace and calmness in the prospect of death, are to be traced to God, 2 Co 5:5. It is not that they are not naturally as timid and fearful of dying as others; it is not that they have any native courage or strength; but it is to be traced entirely to the mercy of God, and the influence of his Spirit, that they are enabled to look calmly at death, at the grave, at eternity. With the assured prospect of heaven, they have nothing to fear in dying; and if we have the "earnest of the Spirit"— the pledge that heaven is ours—we have nothing to fear in the departure from this world.

(11.) The Christian should be, and may be, always cheerful, 2 Co 5:6. Paul said that he was always confident, or cheerful. Afflictions did not depress him; trials did not cast him down. He was not disheartened by opposition; he did not lose his courage by being reviled and persecuted. In all this he was cheerful and bold. There is nothing in religion to make us melancholy and sad. The assurance of the favour of God, and the hope of heaven, should have, and will have, just the opposite effect. A sense of the presence of God, a conviction that we are sinners, a deep impression of the truth that we are to die, and of the infinite interest of the soul at stake, will indeed make us serious and solemn, and should do so. But this is not inconsistent with cheerfulness, but is rather fitted to produce it. It is favourable to a state of mind where all irritability is suppressed, and where the mind is made calm and settled; and this is favourable to cheerfulness. Besides, there is much, very much in religion to prevent sadness, and to remove gloom from the soul. The hope of heaven, and the prospect of dwelling with God and with holy beings for ever, is the best means of expelling the gloom which is caused by the disappointments and cares of the world. And much as many persons suppose that religion creates gloom, it is certain that nothing in this world has done so much to lighten care, to break the force of misfortune and disappointment, to support in times of trial, and to save from despair, as the religion of the Redeemer. And it is moreover certain, that there are no persons so habitually calm in their feelings, and cheerful in their tempers, as consistent and devoted Christians. If there are some Christians, like David Brainerd, who are melancholy and sad, as there are undoubtedly, it should be said,

1st: that they are few in number;

2nd: that their gloom is to be traced to constitutional propensity, and not to religion;

3rd: that they have, even with all their gloom, joys which the world never experiences, and which can never be found in sin; and,

4th: that their gloom is not produced by religion, but by the want of more of it.

(12.) It is noble to act with reference to things unseen and eternal, 2 Co 5:7. It elevates the soul; lifts it above the earth; purifies the heart; and gives to man a new dignity. It prevents all the grovelling effect of acting from a view of present objects, and with reference to the things which are just around us. "Whatever withdraws us," says Dr. Johnson, "from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings."— Tour to the Hebrides, p. 322, ed. Phil. 1810. Whatever directs the eye and the heart to heaven; whatever may make man feel and believe that there is a God, a Saviour, a heaven, a world of glory, elevates him with the consciousness of his immortality, and raises him above the grovelling objects that wither and debase the soul. Man should act with reference to eternity. He should be conscious of immortality. He should be deeply impressed with that high honour that awaits him of standing before God. He should feel that he may partake in the glories of the resurrection; that he may inherit an eternal heaven. Feeling thus, what trifles are the things of the earth! How little should he be moved by its trials! How little should he be influenced by its wealth, its pleasures, and its honours!

(13.) The Christian, when he leaves the body, is at once with the Lord Jesus, 2 Co 5:8. He rushes, as it were instinctively, to his presence, and casts himself at his feet. He has no other home than where the Saviour is; he thinks of no future joy or glory but that which is to be enjoyed with him. Why, then, should we fear death! Lay out of view, as we may, the momentary pang, the chilliness, and the darkness of the grave, and think of that which will be the moment after death—the view of the Redeemer, the sight of the splendours of the heavenly world, the angels, the spirits of the just made perfect, the river of the paradise of God, and the harps of praise—and what has man to fear in the prospect of dying!

Why should I shrink at pain or woe,

Or feel at death dismay?

I've Canaan's goodly land in view,

And realms of endless day.

 

Apostles, martyrs, prophets there,

Around my Saviour stand;

And soon my friends in Christ below

Will join the glorious band.

 

Jerusalem, my happy home!

My soul still pants for thee;

When shall my labours have an end

In joy, and peace, and thee!

C. Wesley

 

The notes on this verse are continued on 2 Co 6:1

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