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186

XIV

THE MEASURE OF CHRIST'S LOVE

"Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manliest also in your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves unto you, but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf, that ye may have wherewith to answer them that glory in appearance and not in heart. For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that One died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again."—2 Cor. v. 11-15 (R.V.).

The Christian hope of immortality is elevated and solemnised by the thought of the judgment-seat of Christ. This is no strange thought to St. Paul; many a time he has set himself in imagination in that great presence, and let the awe of it descend upon his heart. This is what he means when he writes, "Knowing the fear of the Lord." Like the pastors addressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, he exercises his office as one who must render an account. In this spirit, he says, he persuades men. A motive so high, and so stern in its purifying power, no minister of Christ can afford to dispense with. We need something to suppress self-seeking, to keep conscience vigorous, to preserve the message of reconciliation itself from degenerating into good-natured indifference, to prohibit187 immoral compromises and superficial healing of the soul's hurts. Let us familiarise our minds, by meditation, with the fear due to Christ the judge, and a new element of power will enter into our service, making it at once more urgent and more wholesome than it could otherwise be.

The meaning of the words "we persuade men" is not at once clear. Interpreters generally find in them a combination of two ideas—we try to win men for the Gospel, and we try to convince them of our own purity of motive in our evangelistic work. The word is suitable enough to express either idea; and though it is straining it to make it carry both, the first is suggested by the general tenor of the passage, and the second seems to be demanded by what follows. "We try to convince men of our disinterestedness, but we do not need to try to convince God; we have been manifested to Him already;4545   The φανερωθῆναι of the last judgment, ver. 10, has as good as taken place—for God. and we trust also that we have been manifested in your consciences." Paul was well aware of the hostility with which he was regarded by some of the Corinthians, but he is confident that, when his appeal is tried in the proper court, decision must be given in his favour, and he hopes that this has really been done at Corinth. Often we do not give people in his position the benefit of a fair trial. It is not in our consciences they are arraigned—i.e., in God's sight, and according to God's law—but at the bar of our prejudices, our likes and dislikes, sometimes even our whims and caprices. It is not their character which is taken into account, but something quite irrelevant to character. Paul did not care for such estimates as these. It was nothing to him188 whether his appearance made a favourable impression on those who heard him—whether they liked his voice, his gestures, his manners, or even his message. What he did care for was to be able to appeal to their consciences, as he could appeal to God, to whom all things were naked and opened, that in the discharge of his functions as an evangelist he had been absolutely simple and sincere. In speaking thus, he has no intention of again recommending himself. Rather, as he says with a touch of irony, it is for their convenience he writes; he is giving them occasion to boast on his behalf, that when they encounter people who boast in face and not in heart they may not be speechless, but may have something to say for themselves—and for him. It is easy to read between the lines here. The Corinthians had persons among them—Jewish and Judaising teachers evidently—who boasted "in face"; in other words, who prided themselves on outward and visible distinctions, though as Paul asserts, they had nothing within to be proud of. There are suggestions of these distinctions elsewhere, and we can imagine the claims men made, the airs they gave themselves, or at least the recognition they consented to accept, on the ground of them. Their eloquence, their knowledge of the Scriptures, their Jewish descent, their acquaintance with the Twelve, above all acquaintance with Jesus Himself—these were their credentials, and of these their followers made much. Perhaps even on their own ground Paul could have met and routed most of them, but meanwhile he leaves them in undisturbed possession of their advantages, such as they are. He only sums up these advantages in the disparaging word "face," or "appearance"; they are all on the outside; they amount to "a fair show in the flesh," but no more. He189 would not like if his disciples could make no better boast of their master, and all the high things he has written, from chap. ii. 14 on to chap. v. 10, especially his vindication of the absolute purity of his motives, furnish them, if they choose to take it so, with grounds of counter-boasting, far deeper and more spiritual than those of his adversaries. For he boasts, not "in appearance, but in heart." The ironical tone in this is unmistakable, yet it is not merely ironical. From the beginning of Christianity to this day, Churches have gathered round men, and made their boast in them. Too often it has been a boast "in face," and not "in heart"—in gifts, accomplishments, and distinctions, which may have given an outward splendour to the individual, but which were entirely irrelevant to the possession of the Christian spirit. Often even the imperfections of the natural man have been gloried in, simply because they were his; and the Lutheran and Calvinistic Churches, for example, owe some of their most distinctive features to an exaggerated appreciation of those very characteristics of Luther and Calvin which had no Christian value. The same thing is seen every day, on a smaller scale, in congregations. People are proud of their minister, not for what he is in heart, but because he is more learned, more eloquent, more naturally capable, than other preachers in the same town. It is a pity when ministers themselves, like the Judaists in Corinth, are content to have it so. The true evangelist or pastor will choose rather, with St. Paul, to be taken for what he is as a Christian, and for nothing else; and if he must be spoken about, he will be spoken of in this character, and in no other. Nay, if it really comes to glorying "in face," he will glory in his weaknesses and incapacities; he will magnify the very190 earthenness of the earthen vessel, the very coarseness of the clay, as a foil to the power and life of Christ which dwell in it.

The connexion of ver. 13 with what precedes is very obscure. Perhaps as fair a paraphrase as any would run thus: "And well may you boast of our complete sincerity; for whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you; that is, in no case is self-interest the motive or rule of our conduct." Connexion apart, there is a further difficulty about εἴτε ἐξέστημεν. The Revised Version renders it "whether we are beside ourselves," but in the margin gives "were" for "are." It makes a very great difference which tense we accept. If the proper meaning is given by "are," the application must be to some constant characteristic of the Apostle s ministry. His enthusiasm, his absolute superiority to common selfish considerations such as are ordinarily supreme in human life, his resolute assertion of truths lying beyond the reach of sense, the unearthly flame which burned unceasingly in his bosom, and never more brightly than when he wrote the fourth and fifth chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians—all these constitute the temper which is described as being "beside oneself," a kind of sacred madness. It was in this sense that the accusation of being beside himself was brought on a memorable occasion against Jesus (Mark iii. 21, ἐξέστη). The disciple and the Master alike seemed to those who did not understand them to be in an overstrained, too highly wrought condition of spirit; in the ardour of their devotion they allowed themselves to be carried beyond all natural limits, and it was not improper to speak of applying some kindly restraint. At first sight this interpretation seems191 very appropriate, and I do not think that the tense of ἐξέστημεν is decisive against it.4646   According to Winer ἐξέστη in Mark iii. 21 has the present sense = insanity; and so it might be with ἐξέστημεν here. The verb occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, and except in these two passages has always the sense of being amazed or astonished beyond measure. Those who think it is point to the change to the present tense in the next clause, εἴτε σωφρονοῦμεν, and allege that this would have no motive unless ἐξέστημεν were a true past. But this may be doubted. On the one hand, ἐξέστη in Mark iii. 21 can hardly mean anything but "He is beside Himself"—i.e., it is virtually a present; on the other, the grammatical present ἐξιστάμεθα would not unambiguously convey the idea of madness, and would therefore be inappropriate here. But assuming that the change of tense has the effect of making ἐξέστημεν a real past, and that the proper rendering is "whether we were beside ourselves," what is the application then? We must suppose that some definite occasion is before the Apostle and his readers, on which he had been in an ecstasy (cf. ἐν ἐκστάσει, Acts xi. 5; ἐγένετο ἐπ' αὐτὸν ἔκστασις, Acts x. 10), and that his opponents availed themselves of this experience, in which he had passed, for a time, out of his own control, to whisper the malicious accusation that he had once not been quite right in his mind, and that this explained much. The Apostle, we should have to assume, admits the fact alleged, but protests against the inference drawn from it, and the use made of the inference. "I was beside myself," he says; "but it was an experience which had nothing to do with my ministry; it was between God and my solitary self; and to drag it into my relations with you is a mere impertinence." That the "ecstasis" in question was his vision of Jesus on the way to Damascus, and that192 his adversaries sought to discredit that, and the apostleship of Paul as grounded on that, is one of the extravagances of an irresponsible criticism. Of all experiences that ever befell him, his conversion is the very one which was not solely his own affair and God's, but the affair of the whole Church; and whereas he speaks of his ecstasies and visions with evident reluctance and embarrassment, as in chap. xii. 1 ff., or refuses to speak of them at all, as here (assuming this interpretation to be the true one), he makes his conversion and the appearance of the Lord the very foundation of his preaching, and treats of both with the utmost frankness. It must be something quite different from this—something analogous perhaps to me speaking with tongues, in which "the understanding was unfruitful," but for which Paul was distinguished (1 Cor. xiv. 14-18)—that is intended here. Such rapt conditions are certainly open to misinterpretation; and as their spiritual value is merely personal, Paul declines to discuss any allusion to them, as if it affected his relation to the Corinthians.

The strongest point in favour of this interpretation seems to me not the tense of ἐξέστημεν, but the use of Θεῷ: "it is unto God." If the meaning were the one first suggested, and the madness were the holy enthusiasm of the Evangelist, that would be distinctly a thing which did concern the Corinthians, and it would not be natural to withdraw it from their censure as God's affair. Nevertheless, one can conceive Paul saying that he was answerable for his extravagances, not to them, but to his Master; and that his sober-mindedness, at all events, had their interests in view. On a survey of the whole case, and especially with Mark iii. 21, and the New Testament use of the verb ἐξίσταμαι before193 us, I incline to think that the text of the Revised Version is to be preferred to the margin. The "being beside himself" with which Paul was charged will not, then, be an isolated incident in his career—an incident which Jewish teachers, remembering the ecstasies of Peter and John, could hardly object to—but the spiritual tension in which he habitually lived and wrought. The language, so far as I can judge, admits of this interpretation, and it brings the Apostle's experience into line, not only with that of his Master, but with that of many who have succeeded him. But how great and rare is the self-conquest of the man who can say that in his enthusiasm and his sobriety alike—when he is beside himself, and when his spirit is wholly subject to him—the one thing which never intrudes, or troubles his singleness of mind, is the thought of his own private ends.

In the verses which follow, Paul lets us into the secret of this unselfishness, this freedom from by-ends and ambition: "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that One died for all, therefore all [of them] died." "Constraineth" is one of the most expressive words in the New Testament; the love of Christ has hold of the Apostle on both sides, as it were, and urges him on in a course which he cannot avoid. It has him in its grasp, and he has no choice, under its irresistible constraint, but to be what he is, and to do what he does, whether men think him in his mind or out of his mind. That the love of Christ means Christ's love to us, and not our love to Him, is shown by the fact that Paul goes on at once to describe in what it consists. "It constrains us," he says, "because we have come to this mind about it: One died for all; so then all died." Here, we may say, is the content of Christ's194 love, the essence of it, that which gives it its soul-subduing and constraining power: He loved us, and gave Himself for us; He died for all, and in that death of His all died.

It may seem a hazardous thing to give a definition of love, and especially to shut up within the boundaries of a human conception that love of Christ which passes knowledge. But the intelligence must get hold somehow even of things inconceivably great, and the New Testament writers, with all their diversity of spiritual gifts, are at one as to what is essential here. They all find Christ's love concentrated and focussed in His death. They all find it there inasmuch as that death was a death for us. Perhaps St. Paul and St. John penetrated further, intellectually, than any of the others into the mystery of this "for"; but if we cannot give it a natural interpretation, and an interpretation in which an absolutely irresistible constraint is hidden for heart and will, we do not know what the Apostles meant when they spoke of Christ's love. There has been much discussion about the "for" in this place. It is ὑπέρ, not ἀντί, and many render it simply "on our behalf," or "for our advantage." That Christ did die for our advantage is not to be questioned. Neither is it to be questioned that this is a fair rendering of ὑπέρ. But what does raise question is whether this interpretation of the "for" supplies sufficient ground for the immediate inference of the Apostle "so then all died." Is it logical to say, "One died for the benefit of all: hence all died"? From that premiss is not the only legitimate conclusion "hence all remained alive"? Plainly, if Paul's conclusion is to be drawn, the "for" must reach deeper than this mere suggestion of our advantage: if we all died, in that Christ died for us,195 there must be a sense in which that death of His is ours; He must be identified with us in it: there, on the cross, while we stand and gaze at Him, He is not simply a person doing us a service; He is a person doing us a service by filling our place and dying our death. It is out of this deeper relation that all services, benefits, and advantages flow; and that deeper sense of "for," to which Christ in His death is at once the representative and the substitute of man, is essential to do justice to the Apostle's thought. Without the ideas involved in these words we cannot conceive, as he conceived it, the love of Christ. We cannot understand how that force, which exercised such absolute authority over his whole life, appealed to his intelligence. We do not mean what he meant even when we use his words; we gain currency, under cover of them, for ideas utterly inadequate to the spiritual depth of his.

If this were an exposition of St. Paul's theology, and not of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, I should be bound to consider the connexion between that outward death of Christ in which the death of all is involved, and the appropriation of that death to themselves by individual men. But the Apostle does not directly raise this question here; he only adds in the fifteenth verse a statement of the purpose for which Christ died, and in doing so suggests that the connecting link is to be sought, in part at least, in the feeling of gratitude. "He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again." In dying our death Christ has done something for us so immense in love that we ought to be His, and only His, for ever. To make us His is the very object of His death. Before we know Him we are naturally selfish; we are196 an end to ourselves, in the bad sense; we are our own. Even the sacrifices which men make for their families, their country, or their order, are but qualifications of selfishness; it is not eradicated and exterminated till we see and feel what is meant by this—that Christ died our death. The life we have after we have apprehended this can never be our own; nay, we ourselves are not our own; we are bought with a price; life has been given a ransom for us, and our life is due to him "who died for us and rose again." I believe the Authorised Version is right in this rendering, and that it is a mistake to say, "who for our sakes died and rose again." The Resurrection has certainly significance in the work of Christ, but not in precisely the same way as His death; and Paul mentions it here, not to define its significance, but simply because he could not think of living except for One who was Himself alive.

One point deserves especial emphasis here—the universality of the expressions. Paul has been speaking of himself, and of the constraint which the love of Christ, as he apprehends it, exercises upon him. But he no sooner begins to define his thought of Christ's love than he passes over from the first person to the third. The love of Christ was not to be limited; what it is to the Apostle it is to the world: He died for all, and so all died. Whatever blessing Christ's death contained, it contains for all. Whatever doom it exhausts and removes, it exhausts and removes for all. Whatever power it breaks, it breaks for all. Whatever ideal it creates, whatever obligation it imposes, it creates and imposes for all. There is not a soul in the world which is excluded from an interest in that knowledge-surpassing love which made our death its own. There197 is not one which ought not to feel that omnipotent constraint which enchained and swayed the strong, proud spirit of Paul. There is not one which ought not to be pouring out its life for Him who died in its place, and rose to receive its service.


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