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144

XI

THE GOSPEL DEFINED

"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we faint not: but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But and if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."—2 Cor. iv. 1-6 (R.V.).

In this paragraph Paul resumes for the last time the line of thought on which he had set out at chap. iii. 4, and again at chap. iii. 12. Twice he has allowed himself to be carried away into digressions, not less interesting than his argument; but now he proceeds without further interruption. His subject is the New Testament ministry, and his own conduct as a minister.

"Seeing we have this ministry," he writes, "even as we obtained mercy, we faint not." The whole tone of the passage is to be triumphant; above the common joy of the New Testament it rises, at the close (ver. 16 ff.), into a kind of solemn rapture; and it is characteristic of the Apostle that before he abandons himself to the145 swelling tide of exultation, he guards it all with the words, "even as we obtained mercy." There was nothing so deep down in Paul's soul, nothing so constantly present to his thoughts, as this great experience. No flood of emotion, no pressure of trial, no necessity of conflict, ever drove him from his moorings here. The mercy of God underlay his whole being; it kept him humble even when he boasted; even when engaged in defending his character against false accusations—a peculiarly trying situation—it kept him truly Christian in spirit.

The words may be connected equally well, so far as either meaning or grammar is concerned, with what precedes, or with what follows. It was a signal proof of God's mercy that He had entrusted Paul with the ministry of the Gospel; and it was only what we should expect, when one who had obtained such mercy turned out a good soldier of Jesus Christ, able to endure hardship and not faint. Those to whom little is forgiven, Jesus Himself tells us, love little; it is not in them for Jesus' sake to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. They faint easily, and are overborne by petty trials, because they have not in them that fountain of brave patience—a deep abiding sense of what they owe to Christ, and can never, by any length or ardour of service, repay. It accuses us, not so much of human weakness, as of ingratitude, and insensibility to the mercy of God, when we faint in the exercise of our ministry.

"We faint not," says Paul: "we show no weakness. On the contrary, we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully." The contrast marked by ἀλλὰ is very instructive: it shows, in the things which146 Paul had renounced, whither weakness leads. It betrays men. It compels them to have recourse to arts which shame bids them conceal; they become diplomatists and strategists, rather than heralds; they manipulate their message; they adapt it to the spirit of the time, or the prejudices of their auditors; they make liberal use of the principle of accommodation. When these arts are looked at closely, they come to this: the minister has contrived to put something of his own between his hearers and the Gospel; the message has really not been declared. His intention, of course, with all this artifice, is to recommend himself to men; but the method is radically vicious. The Apostle shows us a more excellent way. "We have renounced," he says, "all these weak ingenuities; and by manifestation of the truth commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."3737   Expositors seem to be agreed that in this passage there is a reference, more or less definite and particular, to the Judaising opponents of St. Paul at Corinth. This may be admitted, but is not to be forced. It is forced, e.g., by Schmiedel, who habitually reads St. Paul as if (1) he had been expressly accused of everything which he says he does not do, and (2) as if he deliberately retorted on his opponents every charge he denied. Press this as he does, and whole passages of the Epistles become a series of covert insinuations—a kind of calumnious conundrums—instead of frank and bona fide statements of Christian principle. The result condemns the process.

This is probably the simplest and most complete directory for the preaching of the Gospel. The preacher is to make the truth manifest. It is implied in what has just been said, that one great hindrance to its manifestation may easily be its treatment by the preacher himself. If he wishes to do anything else at the same time, the manifestation will not take effect. If he wishes, in the very act of preaching, to conciliate147 a class, or an interest; to create an opinion in favour of his own learning, ability, or eloquence; to enlist sympathy for a cause or an institution which is only accidentally connected with the Gospel,—the truth will not be seen, and it will not tell. The truth, we are further taught here, makes its appeal to the conscience; it is there that God's witness in its favour resides. Now, the conscience is the moral nature of man, or the moral element in his nature; it is this, therefore, which the preacher has to address. Does not this involve a certain directness and simplicity of method, a certain plainness and urgency also, which it is far easier to miss than to find? Conscience is not the abstract logical faculty in man, and the preacher's business is therefore not to prove, but to proclaim, the Gospel. All he has to do is to let it be seen, and the more nakedly visible it is the better. His object is not to frame an irrefragable argument, but to produce an irresistible impression. There is no such thing as an argument to which it is impossible for a wilful man to make objections; at least there is no such thing in the sphere of Christian truth. Even if there were, men would object to it on that very ground. They would say that, in matters of this description, when logic went too far, it amounted to moral intimidation, and that in the interests of liberty they were entitled to protest against it. Practically, this is what Voltaire said of Pascal.3838   "Il voulut se servir de la supériorité de ce génie, comme les rois de leur puissance; il crut tout soumettre, et tout abaisser par la force." But there is such a thing as an irresistible impression,—an impression made upon the moral nature against which it is vain to attempt any protest; an impression, which subdues and holds the soul for ever. When the truth is manifested, and148 men see it, this is the effect to be looked for; this, consequently, is the preacher's aim. In the sight of God—that is, acting with absolute sincerity—Paul trusted to this simple method to recommend himself to men. He brought no letters of introduction from others; he had no artifices of his own; he held up the truth in its unadorned integrity till it told upon the conscience of his hearers; and after that, he needed no other witness. The same conversions which accredited the power of the message accredited the character of him who bore it.

To this line of argument there is a very obvious reply. What, it may be asked, of those on whom "the manifestation of the truth" produces no effect? What of those who in spite of all this plain appeal to conscience neither see nor feel anything? It is sadly obvious that this is no mere supposition; the Gospel remains a secret, an impotent ineffective secret, to many who hear it again and again. Paul faces the difficulty without flinching, though the answer is appalling. "If our Gospel is veiled (and the melancholy fact cannot be denied), it is veiled in the case of the perishing." The fact that it remains hidden from some men is their condemnation; it marks them out as persons on the way to destruction. The Apostle proceeds to explain himself further. As far as the rationale can be given of what is finally irrational, he interprets the moral situation for us. The perishing people in question are unbelievers, whose thoughts, or minds, the god of this world has blinded.3939   Grammarians differ much as to the relation of τῶν ἀπίστων ("which believe not") to ἐν οἶς ("in whom"). I have no doubt they are the same. The natural way for the Apostle to express himself would have been: "it is veiled in them that are perishing, whose minds the god of this world blinded." But he wished to include the moral aspect of the case, the side of the personal responsibility of the perishing, as of equal significance with the agency of Satan; and this is what he does by adding τῶν ἀπίστων. Hence, though the expression is capable of being grammatically tortured into something different (the perishing becoming only a part of the unbelieving—so Meyer), it is, by its sheer grammatical awkwardness, exempted from liability to such rigorous treatment, and brought under the rules, not of grammar, but of common sense. The149 intention of this blinding is conveyed in the last words of ver. 4: "that the illumination which proceeds from the Gospel, the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, may not dawn upon them."

Let these solemn words appeal to our hearts and consciences, before we attempt to criticise them. Let us have a due impression of the stupendous facts to which they refer, before we raise difficulties about them, or say rashly that the expression is disproportioned to the truth. To St. Paul the Gospel was a very great thing. A light issued from it so dazzling, so overwhelming, in its splendour and illuminative power, that it might well appear incredible that men should not see it. The powers counteracting it, "the world-rulers of this darkness," must surely, to judge by their success, have an immense influence. Even more than an immense influence, they must have an immense malignity. For what a blessedness it meant for men, that that light should dawn upon them! What a deprivation and loss, that its brightness should be obscured! Paul's whole sense of the might and malignity of the powers of darkness is condensed in the title which he here gives to their head—"the god of this world." It is literally "of this age," the period of time which extends to Christ's coming again. The dominion of evil is not unlimited, in duration; but while it lasts it is awful150 in its intensity and range. It does not seem an extravagance to the Apostle to describe Satan as the god of the present æon; and if it seems extravagant to us, we may remind ourselves that our Saviour also twice speaks of him as "the prince of this world." Who but Christ Himself, or a soul like St. Paul in complete sympathy with the mind and work of Christ, is capable of seeing and feeling the incalculable mass of the forces which are at work in the world to defeat the Gospel? What sleepy conscience, what moral mediocrity, itself purblind, only dimly conscious of the height of the Christian calling, and vexed by no aspirations toward it, has any right to say that it is too much to call Satan "the god of this world"? Such sleepy consciences have no idea of the omnipresence, the steady persistent pressure, the sleepless malignity, of the evil forces which beset man's life. They have no idea of the extent to which these forces frustrate the love of God in the Gospel, and rob men of their inheritance in Christ. To ask why men should be exposed to such forces is another, and here an irrelevant, question. What St. Paul saw, and what becomes apparent to every one in proportion as his interest in evangelising becomes intense, is that evil has a power and dominion in the world, which are betrayed, by their counteracting of the Gospel, to be purely malignant—in other words, Satanic—and the dimensions of which no description can exaggerate. Call such powers Satan, or what you please, but do not imagine that they are inconsiderable. During this age they reign; they have virtually taken what should be God's place in the world.

It is the necessary complement of this assertion of the malign dominion of evil, when St. Paul tells us that151 it is exercised in the case of unbelievers. It is their minds which the god of this world has blinded. We need not try to investigate more narrowly the relations of these two aspects of the facts. We need not say that the dominion of evil produces unbelief, though this is true (John iii. 18, 19); or that unbelief gives Satan his opportunity; or even that unbelief and the blindness here referred to are reciprocally cause and effect of each other. The moral interests involved are protected by the fact that blindness is only predicated in the case in which the Gospel has been rejected by individual unbelief; and the mere individualism, which is the source of so many heresies, doctrinal and practical, is excluded by the recognition of spiritual forces as operative among men which are far more wide-reaching than any individual knows. Nor ought we to overlook the suggestion of pity, and even of hope, for the perishing, in the contrast between their darkness and the illumination which the Gospel of the glory of Christ lights up. The perishing are not the lost; the unbelievers may yet believe: "in our deepest darkness, we know the direction of the light" (Beet). Final unbelief would mean final ruin; but we are not entitled to make sense the measure of spiritual things, and to argue that because we see men blind and unbelieving now they are bound for ever to remain so. In preaching the Gospel we must preach with hope that the light is stronger than the darkness, and able, even at the deepest, to drive it away. Only, when we see, as we sometimes will, how dense and impenetrable the darkness is, we cannot but cry with the Apostle, "Who is sufficient for these things?"

This passage is one of those in which the subject of the Gospel is distinctly enunciated: it is the Gospel152 of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. The glory of Christ, or, which is the same thing, Christ in His glory, is the sum and substance of it, that which gives it both its contents and its character. Paul's conception of the Gospel is inspired and controlled from beginning to end by the appearance of the Lord which resulted in his conversion. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians (i. 18, 23), and in the Epistle to the Galatians (vi. 14), he seems to find what is essential and distinguishing in the Cross rather than the Throne; but this is probably due to the fact that the significance of the Cross had been virtually denied by those for whom His words are meant. The Christ whom he preached had died, and died, as the next chapter will make very prominent, to reconcile the world to God; but Paul preached Him as he had seen Him on that ever-memorable day; with all the virtue of His atoning death in it, the Gospel was yet the Gospel of His glory. It is in the combination of these two that the supreme power of the Gospel lies. In the distaste for the supernatural which has prevailed so widely, many have tried to ignore this, and to get out of the Cross alone an inspiration which it cannot yield if severed from the Throne. Had the story of Jesus ended with the words "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried," it is very certain that these words would never have formed part of a Creed—there would never have been such a thing as the Christian religion. But when these words are combined with what follows—"He rose again from the dead on the third day, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father"—we have the basis which religion requires; we have a living Lord, in whom all the redemptive virtue of a sinless life and death is treasured153 up, and who is able to save to the uttermost all that trust Him. It is not the emotions excited by the spectacle of the Passion, any more than the admiration evoked by the contemplation of Christ's life, that save; it is the Lord of glory, who lived that life of love, and in love endured that agony, and who is now enthroned at God's right hand. The life and death in one sense form part of His glory, in another they are a foil to it; He could not have been our Saviour but for them; He would not be our Saviour unless He had triumphed over them, and entered into a glory beyond.

When the Apostle speaks of Christ as the image of God, we must not let extraneous associations with this title deflect us from the true line of his thought. It is still the Exalted One of whom he is speaking: there is no other Christ for him. In that face which flashed upon him by Damascus twenty years before, he had seen, and always saw, all that man could see of the invisible God. It represented for him, and for all to whom he preached, the Sovereignty and the Redeeming Love of God, as completely as man could understand them. It evoked those ascriptions of praise which a Jew was accustomed to offer to God alone. It inspired doxologies. When it passed before the inward eye of the Apostle, he worshipped: "to Him," he said, "be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever." Whether the pre-incarnate Son was also the image of God, and whether the same title is applicable to Jesus of Nazareth, are separate questions. If they are raised, they must be answered in the affirmative, with the necessary qualifications; but they are quite irrelevant here. Much misunderstanding of the Pauline Gospel would have been prevented if men could have remembered that what was only of secondary importance to154 them, and even of doubtful certainty—namely, the exaltation of Christ—was itself the foundation of the Apostle's Christianity, the one indubitable fact from which his whole knowledge of Christ, and his whole conception of the Gospel, set forth. Christ on the throne was, if one may say so, a more immediate certainty to Paul, than Jesus on the banks of the lake, or even Jesus on the cross. It may not be natural or easy for us to start thus; but if we do not make the effort, we shall involuntarily dislocate and distort the whole system of his thoughts.

In the fourth verse the stress is logically, if not grammatically, on Christ. "The Gospel of the glory of Christ," I say. "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." Perhaps ambition had been laid to Paul's charge; "the necessity of being first" is one of the last infirmities of noble minds. But the Gospel is too magnificent to have any room for thoughts of self. A proud man may make a nation, or even a Church, the instrument or the arena of his pride; he may find in it the field of his ambition, and make it subservient to his own exaltation. But the defence which Paul has offered of his truthfulness in chap. i. is as capable of application here. No one whom Christ has seized, subdued, and made wholly His own for ever, can practise the arts of self-advancement in Christ's service. The two are mutually exclusive. Paul preaches Christ Jesus as Lord—the absolute character in which he knows Him; as for himself, he is every man's servant for Jesus' sake. He obtained mercy, that he might be found faithful in service: the very name of Jesus kills pride in his heart, and makes him ready to minister even to the unthankful and evil.

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This is the force of the "for" with which the sixth verse begins. It is as if he had written, "With our experience, no other course is possible to us; for it is God, who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." But the connexion here is of little importance in comparison with the grandeur of the contents. In this verse we have the first glimpse of the Pauline doctrine, explicitly stated in the next chapter—"that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The Apostle finds the only adequate parallel to his own conversion in that grand creative act in which God brought light, by a word, out of the darkness of chaos. It is not forcing the figure unduly, nor losing its poetic virtue, to think of gloom and disorder as the condition of the soul on which the Sun of Righteousness has not risen. Neither is it putting any strain upon it to make it suggest that only the creative word of God can dispel the darkness, and give the beauty of life and order to what was waste and void. There is one point, indeed, in which the miracle of grace is more wonderful than that of creation. God only commanded the light to shine out of darkness when time began; but He shone Himself in the Apostle's heart: Ipse lux nostra (Bengel). He shone "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." In that light which God flashed into his heart, he saw the face of Jesus Christ, and knew that the glory which shone there was the glory of God. What these words mean has already been explained. In the face of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, Paul saw God's Redeeming Love upon the throne of the universe; it had descended deeper than sin and death; it was exalted now above156 all heavens; it filled all things. That sight he carried with him everywhere; it was his salvation and his Gospel, the inspiration of his inmost life, and the motive of all his labours. One who owed all this to Christ was not likely to make Christ's service the theatre of his own ambitions; he could not do anything but take the servant's place, and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.


There is a difficulty in the last half of ver. 6: it is not clear what precisely meant by πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως τῆς δόξης τοῦ Θεοῦ κ.τ.λ. By some the passage is rendered: God shined in our hearts, "that He might bring into the light (for us to see it) the knowledge of His glory," etc. This is certainly legitimate, and strikes me as the most natural interpretation. It would answer then to what Paul says in Gal. i. 15 f., referring to the same event: "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me." But others think all this is covered by the words "God shined in our hearts," and they take πρὸς φωτισμὸν κ.τ.λ., as a description of the apostolic vocation: God shined in our hearts, "that we might bring into the light (for others to see) the knowledge of His glory," etc. The words would then answer to what follows in Gal. i. 16: God revealed His Son in me, "that I might preach Him among the heathen." This construction is possible, but I think forced. In Paul's experience his conversion and vocation were indissolubly connected; but πρὸς φωτισμὸν κ.τ.λ., can only mean one, and the conversion is the likelier.


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