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2 Corinthians 5:18-21

18. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

18. Pro omnia ex Deo, qui nos reconciliavit sibi Iesum Christum: et dedit nobis ministerium reconciliationis.

19. To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

19. Quoniam erat Deus in Christo mundum reconcilians sibi, non imputando illis sua ipsorum peccata: et deposuit in nobis sermonem reconciliationis.

20. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

20. Itaque pro Christo legatione fungimur, tanquam Deo exhortante per nos: rogamus pro Christo, reconciliemini Deo.

21. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

21. Eum qui peccatum non noverat, pro nobis peccatum fecit, ut nos efficeremur iustitia Dei in ipso.

 

18. All things are of God. He means, all things that belong to Christ’s kingdom. “If we would be Christ’s, we must be regenerated by God. Now that is no ordinary gift.” He does not, therefore, speak here of creation generally; but of the grace of regeneration, which God confers peculiarly upon his elect, and he affirms that it is of God — not on the ground of his being the Creator and Artificer of heaven and earth, but inasmuch as he is the new Creator of the Church, by fashioning his people anew, according to his own image. Thus all flesh is abased, and believers are admonished that they must now live to God, inasmuch as they are a new creature. (2 Corinthians 5:17.) This they cannot do, unless they forget the world, as they are also no longer of the world, (John 17:16,) because they are of God

Who hath reconciled us Here there are two leading points — the one relating to the reconciliation of men with God; and the other, to the way in which we may enjoy the benefit of this reconciliation. Now these things correspond admirably with what goes before, for as the Apostle had given the preference to a good conscience above every kind of distinction, (2 Corinthians 5:11,) he now shows that the whole of the gospel tends to this. He shows, however, at the same time, the dignity of the Apostolical office, that the Corinthians may be instructed as to what they ought to seek in him, whereas they could not distinguish between true and false ministers, for this reason, that nothing but show delighted them. Accordingly, by making mention of this, he stirs them up to make greater proficiency in the doctrine of the gospel. For an absurd admiration of profane persons, who serve their own ambition rather than Christ, originates in our not knowing, what the office of the preaching of the gospel includes, or imports.

I now return to those two leading points that are here touched upon. The first is — that God hath reconciled us to himself by Christ This is immediately followed by the declaration — Because God was in Christ, and has in his person accomplished reconciliation. The manner is subjoined — By not imputing unto men their trespasses Again, there is annexed a second declaration — Because Christ having been made a sin-offering for our sins, has procured righteousness for us. The second part of the statement is — that the grace of reconciliation is applied to us by the gospel, that we may become partakers of it. Here we have a remarkable passage, if there be any such in any part of Paul’s writings. Hence it is proper, that we should carefully examine the words one by one.

The ministry of reconciliation Here we have an illustrious designation of the gospel, as being an embassy for reconciling men to God. It is also a singular dignity of ministers — that they are sent to us by God with this commission, so as to be messengers, and in a manner sureties. 553553     “Et comme pleges de sa bonne volonte enuers nous;” — “And as it were pledges of his good will toward us.” This, however, is not said so much for the purpose of commending ministers, as with a view to the consolation of the pious, that as often as they hear the gospel, they may know that God treats with them, and, as it were, stipulates with them as to a return to his grace. Than this blessing what could be more desirable? Let us therefore bear in mind, that this is the main design of the gospel — that whereas we are by nature children of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3,) we may, by the breaking up of the quarrel between God and us, be received by him into favor. Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God’s fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, might also be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel, that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.

19. God was in Christ. Some take this as meaning simply — God reconciled the world to himself in Christ; but the meaning is fuller and more comprehensivefirst, that God was in Christ; and, secondly, that he reconciled the world to himself by his intercession. It is also of the Father that this is affirmed; for it were an improper expression, were you to understand it as meaning, that the divine nature of Christ was in him. 554554     “Car ce seroit improprement, de dire que la nature Diuine de Christ estoit en Christ;” — “For it were to speak improperly, to say that the Divine nature of Christ was in Christ.” The Father, therefore, was in the Son, in accordance with that statement —

I am in the Father, and the Father in me. (John 10:38.)

Therefore he that hath the Son, hath the Father also. For Paul has made use of this expression with this view — that we may learn to be satisfied with Christ alone, because in him we find also God the Father, as he truly communicates himself to us by him. Hence the expression is equivalent to this — “Whereas God had withdrawn to a distance from us, he has drawn near to us in Christ, and thus Christ has become to us the true Emmanuel, and his coming is God’s drawing near to men.”

The second part of the statement points out the office of Christ — his being our propitiation, (1 John 2:2,) because out of Him, God is displeased with us all, inasmuch as we have revolted from righteousness. 555555     “De iustice et obeissance;” — “From righteousness and obedience.” For what purpose, then, has God appeared to men in Christ? For the purpose of reconciliation — that, hostilities being removed, those who were aliens, might be adopted as sons. Now, although Christ’s coming as our Redeemer originated in the fountain of Divine love towards us, yet until men perceive that God has been propitiated by the Mediator, there must of necessity be a variance remaining, with respect to them, which shuts them out from access to God. On this point we shall speak more fully ere long.

Not imputing to them. Mark, in what way men return into favor with God — when they are regarded as righteous, by obtaining the remission of their sins. For so long as God imputes to us our sins, He must of necessity regard us with abhorrence; for he cannot be friendly or propitious to sinners. But this statement may seem to be at variance with what is said elsewhere — that, we were loved by Him before the creation of the world, (Ephesians 1:4,) and still more with what he says, (John 3:16,) that the love, which he exercised towards us was the reason, why He expiated our sins by Christ, for the cause always goes before its effect. I answer, that we were loved before the creation of the world, but it was only in Christ In the mean time, however, I confess, that the love of God was first in point of time, and of order, too, as to God, but with respect to us, the commencement of his love has its foundation in the sacrifice of Christ. For when we contemplate God without a Mediator, we cannot conceive of Him otherwise than as angry with us: a Mediator interposed between us, makes us feel, that He is pacified towards us. As, however, this also is necessary to be known by us — that Christ came forth to us from the fountain of God’s free mercy, the Scripture explicitly teaches both — that the anger of the Father has been appeased by the sacrifice of the Son, and that the Son has been offered up for the expiation of the sins of men on this ground — because God, exercising compassion towards them, receives them, on the ground of such a pledge, into favor. 556556     “C’est d’ autant que Dieu ayant compassion d’eux, a voulu que ceste mort fust le gage et le moyen par lequel il les receuroit en grace;” — “It is, because God, having compassion upon them, determined that this death should be the pledge and means, by which he would receive them into favor.”

The whole may be summed up thus: “Where sin is, there the anger of God is, and therefore God is not propitious to us without, or before, his blotting out our sins, by not imputing them. As our consciences cannot apprehend this benefit, 557557     “Et en estre participantes;” — “And be partakers of it.” otherwise than through the intervention of Christ’s sacrifice, it is not without good reason, that Paul makes that the commencement and cause of reconciliation, with regard to us.

And hath committed to us. Again he repeats, that a commission has been given to the ministers of the gospel to communicate to us this grace. For it might be objected, “Where is Christ now, the peacemaker between God and us? At what a distance he resides from us!” He says, therefore, that as he has once suffered, 558558     “Comme il a souffert la mort vne fois;” — “As he has suffered death once.” (1 Peter 3:18,) so he daily presents to us the fruit of his suffering through means of the Gospel, which he designed, should be in the world, 559559     “Lequel il a voulu estre gardé et publié au monde;” — “Which he designed, should be maintained and published in the world.” as a sure and authentic register of the reconciliation, that has once been effected. It is the part of ministers, therefore, to apply to us, so to speak, the fruit of Christ’s death.

Lest, however, any one should dream of a magical application, such as Papists contrive, 560560     See Calvin on John, vol. 2, p. 272. — Ed we must carefully observe what he immediately subjoins — that it consists wholly in the preaching of the Gospel. For the Pope, along with his priests, makes use of this pretext for giving a color of warrant for the whole of that wicked and execrable system of merchandise, which they carry on, in connection with the salvation of souls. “The Lord,” say they, “has furnished us with a commission and authority to forgive sins.” This I acknowledge, provided they discharge that embassy, of which Paul here makes mention. The absolution, however, which they make use of in the Papacy, is entirely magical; and besides, they inclose pardon of sins in lead and parchment, or they connect it with fictitious and frivolous superstitions. What resemblance do all these things bear to the appointment of Christ? Hence the ministers of the Gospel restore us to the favor of God in a right and orderly manner, when they bear testimony to us by means of the Gospel as to the favor of God having been procured for us. Let this testimony be removed, and nothing remains but mere imposture. Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the Gospel.

I do not, indeed, deny, that the grace of Christ is applied to us in the sacraments, and that our reconciliation with God is then confirmed in our consciences; but, as the testimony of the Gospel is engraven upon the sacraments, they are not to be judged of separately by themselves, but must be taken in connection with the Gospel, of which they are appendages. In fine, the ministers of the Church are ambassadors, for testifying and proclaiming the benefit of reconciliation, only on this condition — that they speak from the Gospel, as from an authentic register.

20. As if God did beseech you This is of no small importance for giving authority to the embassy: nay more, it is absolutely necessary, for who would rest upon the testimony of men, in reference to his eternal salvation? It is a matter of too much importance, to allow of our resting contented with the promise of men, without feeling assured that they are ordained by God, and that God speaks to us by them. This is the design of those commendations, with which Christ himself signalizes his Apostles:

He that heareth you, heareth me, etc. (Luke 10:16.)

Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven, (Matthew 18:18,)

and the like.

We entreat you, in Christ’s stead. Hence we infer, with what propriety Isaiah exclaims,

How blessed are the feet of them that preach the Gospel!
(Isaiah 52:7.)

For that one thing, that is of itself sufficient for completing our felicity, and without which we are most miserable, is conferred upon us, only through means of the Gospel. If, however, this duty is enjoined upon all the ministers of the Church, in such a way, that he who does not discharge this embassy is not to be regarded either as an Apostle, or as a Pastor, we may very readily judge from this, as to the nature of the Pope’s entire hierarchy. They are desirous, indeed, to be looked upon as Apostles and Pastors; but as they are dumb idols, how will their boasting 561561     “Leur vanterie orgueilleuse;” — “Their haughty boasting.” correspond with this passage of Paul’s writings. The word entreat is expressive of an unparalleled 562562     “Vne singuliere et inestimable louange;” — “A singular and inestimable commendation.” commendation of the grace of Christ, inasmuch as He stoops so low, that he does not disdain to entreat us. So much the less excusable is our depravity, if we do not, on meeting with such kindness, show ourselves teachable and compliant.

Be reconciled. It is to be observed, that Paul is here addressing himself to believers. He declares, that he brings to them every day this embassy. Christ therefore, did not suffer, merely that he might once expiate our sins, nor was the gospel appointed merely with a view to the pardon of those sins which we committed previously to baptism, but that, as we daily sin, so we might, also, by a daily remission, be received by God into his favor. For this is a continued embassy, 563563     “Vne ambassade et commission perpetuelle;” — “A perpetual embassy and commission.” which must be assiduously sounded forth in the Church, till the end of the world; and the gospel cannot be preached, unless remission of sins is promised.

We have here an express and suitable declaration for refuting the impious tenet of Papists, which calls upon us to seek the remission of sins after Baptism from some other source, than from the expiation that was effected through the death of Christ. Now this doctrine is commonly held in all the schools of Popery — that, after baptism, we merit the remission of sins by penitence, through means of the aid of the keys, 564564     The reader will find this tenet of Popery adverted to by Calvin at considerable length in the Institutes, volume 3 — Ed. (Matthew 16:19,) — as if baptism itself could confer this 565565     “La remission de nos pechez;” — “The remission of our sins.” upon us without penitence. By the term penitence, however, they mean satisfactions. But what does Paul say here? He calls us to go, not less after baptism, than before it, to the one expiation made by Christ, that we may know that we always obtain it gratuitously. Farther, all their prating as to the administration of the keys is to no purpose, inasmuch as they conceive of keys apart from the Gospel, while they are nothing else than that testimony of a gratuitous reconciliation, which is made to us in the Gospel.

21. Him who knew no sin. Do you observe, that, according to Paul, there is no return to favor with God, except what is founded on the sacrifice of Christ alone? Let us learn, therefore, to turn our views in that direction, whenever we desire to be absolved from guilt. He now teaches more clearly, what we adverted to above — that God is propitious to us, when he acknowledges us as righteous. For these two things are equivalent — that we are acceptable to God, and that we are regarded by him as righteous.

To know no sin is to be free from sin. He says, then, that Christ, while he was entirely exempt from sin, was made sin for us. It is commonly remarked, that sin here denotes an expiatory sacrifice for sin, and in the same way the Latin’s term it, piaculum 566566     The Latin term piaculum is sometimes employed to denote a crime requiring expiation, and at other times, an expiatory victim. — Ed Paul, too, has in this, and other passages, borrowed this phrase from the Hebrews, among whom אשם (asham) denotes an expiatory sacrifice, as well as an offense or crime. 567567     Thus in Leviticus 5:6, אשם, (asham,) denotes a trespass-offering; and in the verse immediately following, it means an offense or trespass. See Calvin’s Institutes, volume 2. — Ed. But the signification of this word, as well as the entire statement, will be better understood from a comparison of both parts of the antithesis. Sin is here contrasted with righteousness, when Paul teaches us, that we were made the righteousness of God, on the ground of Christ’s having been made sin. Righteousness, here, is not taken to denote a quality or habit, but by way of imputation, on the ground of Christ’s righteousness being reckoned to have been received by us. What, on the other hand, is denoted by sin? It is the guilt, on account of which we are arraigned at the bar of God. As, however, the curse of the individual was of old cast upon the victim, so Christ’s condemnation was our absolution, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5.)

The righteousness of God in him In the first place, the righteousness of God is taken here to denote — not that which is given us by God, but that which is approved of by him, as in John 12:43, the glory of God means — that which is in estimation with him — the glory of men denotes the vain applause of the world. Farther, in Romans 3:23, when he says, that we have come short of the glory of God, he means, that there is nothing that we can glory in before God, for it is no very difficult matter to appear righteous before men, but it is a mere delusive appearance of righteousness, which becomes at last the ground of perdition. Hence, that is the only true righteousness, which is acceptable to God.

Let us now return to the contrast between righteousness and sin How are we righteous in the sight of God? It is assuredly in the same respect in which Christ was a sinner. For he assumed in a manner our place, that he might be a criminal in our room, and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offenses, but for those of others, inasmuch as he was pure and exempt from every fault, and might endure the punishment that was due to us — not to himself. It is in the same manner, assuredly, that we are now righteous in him — not in respect of our rendering satisfaction to the justice of God by our own works, but because we are judged of in connection with Christ’s righteousness, which we have put on by faith, that it might become ours. On this account I have preferred to retain the particle ἐν, (in,) rather than substitute in its place per, (through,) for that signification corresponds better with Paul’s intention. 568568     The force of the preposition ἐν (in,) as made use of by the Apostle in this passage, is more fully brought out by Beza in the following terms: “Justi apud Deum, et quidem justitia non nobis inh’rente, sed qu’, quum in Christo sit, nobis per fidem a Deo imputatur. Ideo enim additurn est: ἐν αὐτῷ Sic ergo sumus justitia Dei in ipso, ut ille est peccatum in nobis, nempe ex imputatione. Libet autem hic ex Augustino locum insignem exscribere, velut istius commentarium plenissimum. Sic igitur ille Serm. 5. de verbis Apostoli: Deus Pater eum, qui non noverat peccatum (nempe Iesum Christum) peccatum effecit, ut nos simus justitia Dei (non nostra) in ipso (non in nobis.) His adde Philippians 3:9;” — “Righteous before God, and that by a righteousness which is not inherent in us, but which, being in Christ, is imputed to us by God through faith. For it is on this account that it is added: ἐν αὐτῷ (in him.) We are, therefore, the righteousness of God in him in the same way as he is sin in us — by imputation. I may here quote a remarkable passage from Augustine, as a most complete commentary upon it. In Serm. 5 on the words of the Apostle he expresses himself thus: God the Father made him sin who had not known sin, (Jesus Christ,) that we might be the righteousness of God (not our own) in him (not in ourselves.) To these add Philippians 3:9.” — Ed.


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