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XIX

REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE

"Open your hearts to us: we wronged no man, we corrupted no man, we took advantage of no man. I say it not to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die together and live together. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying on your behalf: I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in an our affliction.

"For even when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no relief, but we were afflicted on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless He that comforteth the lowly, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but also by the comfort wherewith he was comforted in you, while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced yet more. For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret it, though I did regret; for I see that that epistle made you sorry, though but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold, this selfsame thing, that ye were made sorry after a godly sort, what earnest care it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what longing, yea, what zeal, yea, what avenging! In everything ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter. So although I wrote unto you, I wrote not for his cause that did the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered the wrong, but that your earnest care for us might be made manifest unto you in the sight of God. Therefore we have been comforted: and in our comfort we joyed the more exceedingly for the joy of Titus, because his spirit hath been refreshed by you all. For if in anything I have gloried to him on your behalf, I was not put to shame; but as we spake all things to you in truth, so our glorying also, which I made before249 Titus, was found to be truth. And his inward affection is more abundantly toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. I rejoice that in everything I am of good courage concerning you."—2 Cor. vii. 2-16 (R.V.).

In this fine passage St. Paul completes, as far as it lay upon his side to do so, his reconciliation with the Corinthians. It concludes the first great division of his Second Epistle, and henceforth we hear no more of the sinner censured so severely in the First (chap. v.),6161   But see on chap. ii. 5-11. or of the troubles which arose in the Church over the disciplinary treatment of his sin. The end of a quarrel between friends is like the passing away of a storm; the elements are meant to be at peace with each other, and nature never looks so lovely as in the clear shining after rain. The effusion of feeling in this passage, so affectionate and unreserved; the sense that the storm-clouds have no more than left the sky, yet that fair weather has begun, make it conspicuously beautiful even in the writings of St. Paul.

He begins by resuming the appeal interrupted at chap. vi. 13. He has charged the Corinthians with being straitened in their own affections: distrust and calumny have narrowed their souls, nay, shut them against him altogether. "Receive us," he exclaims here—i.e., open your hearts to us. "You have no cause to be reserved: we wronged no man, ruined no man, took advantage of no man." Such charges had doubtless been made against him. The point of the last is clear from chap. xii. 16-18: he had been accused of making money out of his apostolic work among them. The other words are less precise, especially the one rendered "corrupted"250 (ἐφθείραμεν), which should perhaps be rather explained, as in 1 Cor. iii. 17, "destroyed." Paul has not wronged or ruined any one in Corinth. Of course, his Gospel made serious demands upon people: it insisted on readiness to make sacrifices, and on actual sacrifice besides; it proceeded with extreme severity against sinners like the incestuous man; it entailed obligations, as we shall presently hear, to help the poor even of distant lands; and then, as still, such claims might easily be resented as ruinous or unjust. St. Paul simply denies the charge. He does not retort it; it is not his object to condemn those whom he loves so utterly. He has told them already that they are in his heart to die together and to live together (vi. 11); and when this is so, there is no place for recrimination or bandying of reproaches. He is full of confidence in them;6262   This is, I think, the only possible meaning of πολλή μοι παῤῥησία πρὸς ὑμᾶς. he can freely make his boast of them. He has had affliction enough, but over it all he has been filled with consolation; even as he writes, his joy overflows (observe the present: ὑπερπερισσεύομαι).

That word—"ye are in our hearts to die together and to live together"—is the key to all that follows. It has suffered much at the hands of grammarians, for whom it has undeniable perplexities; but vehement emotion may be permitted to be in some degree inarticulate, and we can always feel, even if we cannot demonstrate, what it means. "Your image in my heart accompanies me in death and life,"6363   So Schmiedel. is as nearly as possible what the Apostle says; and if the order of the words is unusual—for "life" would naturally stand first—that may be due251 to the fact, so largely represented in chap. iv., that his life was a series of deadly perils, and of ever-renewed deliverances from them, a daily dying and a daily resurrection, through all the vicissitudes of which the Corinthians never lost their place in his heart. More artificial interpretations only obscure the intensity of that love which united the Apostle to his converts. It is levelled here, unconsciously no doubt, but all the more impressively, with the love which God in Christ Jesus our Lord bears to His redeemed. "I am persuaded," St. Paul writes to the Romans, "that neither death nor life can separate us from that." "You may be assured," he writes here to the Corinthians, "that neither death nor life can separate you from my love." The reference of death and life is of course different, but the strength of conviction and of emotion is the same in both cases. St. Paul's heart is pledged irrevocably and irreversibly to the Church. In the deep feeling that he is theirs, he has an assurance that they also are his. The love with which he loves them is bound to prevail; nay, it has prevailed, and he can hardly find words to express his joy. En qualiter affectos esse omnes Pastores conveniat (Calvin).

The next three verses carry us back to chap. ii. 12 ff., and resume the story which was interrupted there at ver. 14. The sudden thanksgiving of that passage—so eager and impetuous that it left the writer no time to tell what he was thankful for—is explained here. Titus, whom he had expected to see in Troas, arrived at length, probably at Philippi, and brought with him the most cheering news. Paul was sadly in need of it. His flesh had no rest: the use of the perfect (ἔσχηκεν) almost conveys the feeling that he began to write whenever he got the news, so that up to this252 moment the strain had continued. The fights without were probably assaults upon himself, or the Churches, of the nature of persecution; the fears within, his anxieties about the state of morals, or of Gospel truth, in the Christian communities. Outworn and depressed, burdened both in body and mind (cf. the expressions in ii. 13 and vii. 5), he was suddenly lifted on high by the arrival and the news of Titus. Here again, as in ii. 14, he ascribes all to God. It was He whose very nature it is to comfort the lowly who so graciously comforted him. Titus apparently had gone himself with a sad and apprehensive heart to Corinth; he had been away longer than he had anticipated, and in the interval St. Paul's anxiety had risen to anguish; but in Corinth his reception had been unexpectedly favourable, and when he returned he was able to console his master with a consolation which had already gladdened his own heart. Paul was not only comforted, his sorrow was turned into joy, as he listened to Titus telling of the longing of the Corinthians to see him, of their mourning over the pain they had given him by their tolerance for such irregularities as that of the incestuous man or the unknown insulter of the Apostle, and of their eagerness to satisfy him and maintain his authority. The word "your" (ὑμῶν) in ver. 7 has a certain emphasis which suggests a contrast. Before Titus went to Corinth, it was Paul who had been anxious to see them, who had mourned over their immoral laxity, who had been passionately interested in vindicating the character of the Church he had founded; now it is they who are full of longing to see him, of grief, and of moral earnestness; and it is this which explains his joy. The conflict between the powers of good in one great and passionate soul, and253 the powers of evil in a lax and fickle community, has ended in favour of the good; Paul's vehemence has prevailed against Corinthian indifference, and made it vehement also in all good affections, and he rejoices now in the joy of his Lord.

Then comes the most delicate part of this reconciliation (vv. 8-12). It is a good rule in making up disputes to let bygones be bygones, as far as possible; there may be a little spark hidden here and there under what seem dead ashes, and there is no gain in raking up the ashes, and giving the spark a chance to blaze again. But this is a good rule only because we are bad men, and because reconciliation is seldom allowed to have its perfect work. We feel, and say, after we have quarrelled with a person and been reconciled, that it can never be the same again. But this ought not to be so; and if we were perfect in love, or ardent in love at all, it would not be so. If we were in one another's hearts, to die together and to live together, we should retrace the past together in the very act of being reconciled; and all its misunderstandings and bitterness and badness, instead of lying hidden in us as matter of recrimination for some other day when we are tempted, would add to the sincerity, the tenderness, and the spirituality of our love. The Apostle sets us an example here, of the rarest and most difficult virtue, when he goes back upon the story of his relations with the Corinthians, and makes the bitter stock yield sweet and wholesome fruit.6464   It is difficult to fix either the text or the punctuation in ver. 8, and agreement among critics is quite hopeless. Practically they are at one in omitting the γὰρ of the Received Text after βλέπω: and Schmiedel agrees with Lachmann and Westcott and Hort that the original reading was probably βλέπων. The R.V. has the same punctuation as the A.V., which probably means that the Revisers could not get a sufficient majority to change it, not that it is quite satisfactory as it stands. It certainly seems better to connect εἰ καὶ μετεμελόμην with what follows (νῦν χαίρω) than with what precedes; but the sense is not affected.

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The whole result is in his mind when he writes, "Although I made you sorry with the letter, I do not regret it." The letter is, on the simplest hypothesis, the First Epistle; and though no one would willingly speak to his friends as Paul in some parts of that Epistle speaks to the Corinthians, he cannot pretend that he wishes it unwritten. "Although I did regret it," he goes on, "now I rejoice." He regretted it, we must understand, before Titus came back from Corinth. In that melancholy interval, all he saw was that the letter made them sorry; it was bound to do so, even if it should only be temporarily; but his heart smote him for making them sorry at all. It vexed him to vex them. No doubt this is the plain truth he is telling them, and it is hard to see why it should have been regarded as inconsistent with his apostolic inspiration. He did not cease to have a living soul because he was inspired; and if in his despondency it crossed his mind to say, "That letter will only grieve them," he must have said in the same instant, "I wish I had never written it." But both impulses were momentary only; he has heard now the whole effect of his letter, and rejoices that he wrote it. Not, of course, that they were made sorry—no one could rejoice for that—but that they were made sorry to repentance. "For ye were made sorry according to God, that in nothing ye might suffer loss on our part. For sorrow according to God worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance255 which bringeth no regret. But the sorrow of the world worketh death."

Most people define repentance as a kind of sorrow, but this is not exactly St. Paul's view here. There is a kind of sorrow, he intimates, which issues in repentance, but repentance itself is not so much an emotional as a spiritual change. The sorrow which ends in it is a blessed experience; the sorrow which does not end in it is the most tragical waste of which human nature is capable. The Corinthians, we are told, were made sorry, or grieved, according to God. Their sorrow had respect to Him: when the Apostle's letter pricked their hearts, they became conscious of that which they had forgotten—God's relation to them, and His judgment on their conduct. It is this element which makes any sorrow "godly," and without this, sorrow does not look towards repentance at all. All sins sooner or later bring the sense of loss with them; but the sense of loss is not repentance. It is not repentance when we discover that our sin has found us out, and has put the things we most coveted beyond our reach. It is not repentance when the man who has sown his wild oats is compelled in bitterness of soul to reap what he has sown. It is not a sorrow according to God when our sin is summed up for us in the pain it inflicts upon ourselves—in our own loss, our own defeat, our own humiliation, our own exposure, our own unavailing regret. These are not healing, but embittering. The sorrow according to God is that in which the sinner is conscious of his sin in relation to the Holy One, and feels that its inmost soul of pain and guilt is this, that he has fallen away from the grace and friendship of God. He has wounded a love to which he is dearer than he is to256 himself: to know this is really to grieve, and that not with a self-consuming, but with a healing, hopeful sorrow. It was such a sorrow to which Paul's letter gave rise at Corinth: it is such a sorrow which issues in repentance, that complete change of spiritual attitude which ends in salvation, and need never be regretted. Anything else—the sorrow, e.g., which is bounded by the selfish interests of the sinner, and is not due to his sinful act, but only to its painful consequences—is the sorrow of the world. It is such as men feel in that realm of life in which no account is taken of God; it is such as weakens and breaks the spirit, or embitters and hardens it, turning it now to defiance and now to despair, but never to God, and penitent hope in Him. It is in this way that it works death. If death is to be defined at all, it must be by contrast with salvation: the grief which has not God as its rule can only exhaust the soul, wither up its faculties, blight its hopes, extinguish and deaden all.

St. Paul can point to the experience of the Corinthians themselves as furnishing a demonstration of these truths. "Consider your own godly sorrow," he seems to say, "and what blessed fruits it bore. What earnest care it wrought in you! how eager became your interest in a situation to which you had once been sinfully indifferent!" But "earnest care" is not all. On the contrary (ἀλλὰ), Paul expands it into a whole series of acts or dispositions, all of which are inspired by that sorrow according to God. When they thought of the infamy which sin had brought upon the Church, they were eager to clear themselves of complicity in it (ἀπολογίαν), and angry with themselves that they had ever allowed such a thing to be257 (ἀγανάκτησιν); when they thought of the Apostle, they feared lest he should come to them with a rod (φόβον), and yet their hearts went out in longing desires to see him (ἐπιπόθησιν); when they thought of the man whose sin was at the bottom of all this trouble, they were full of moral earnestness, which made lax dealing with him impossible (ζῆλον), and compelled them to punish his offence (ἐκδίκησιν). In every way they made it evident that, in spite of early appearances, they were really pure in the matter. They were not, after all, making themselves partakers, by condoning it, of the bad man's offence.

A popular criticism disparages repentance, and especially the sorrow which leads to repentance, as a mere waste of moral force. We have nothing to throw away, the severely practical moralist tells us, in sighs and tears and feelings: let us be up and doing, to rectify the wrongs for which we are responsible; that is the only repentance which is worth the name. This passage, and the experience which it depicts, are the answer to such precipitate criticism. The descent into our own hearts, the painful self-scrutiny and self-condemnation, the sorrowing according to God, are not waste of moral force. Rather are they the only possible way to accumulate moral force; they apply to the soul the pressure under which it manifests those potent virtues which St. Paul here ascribes to the Corinthians. All sorrow, indeed, as he is careful to tell us, is not repentance; but he who has no sorrow for his sin has not the force in him to produce earnest care, fear, longing, zeal, avenging. The fruit, of course, is that for which the tree is cultivated; but who would magnify the fruit by disparaging the sap? That is what they do who decry "godly sorrow" to exalt practical amendment.

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With this reference to the effect of his letter upon them, the Apostle virtually completes his reconciliation to the Corinthians. He chooses to consider the effect of his letter as the purpose for which it was written, and this enables him to dismiss what had been a very painful subject with a turn as felicitous as it is affectionate. "So then, though I did write to you, it was not for his sake who did the wrong [the sinner of 1 Cor. v.], nor for his who had it done to him [his father]6565   But see on chap. ii. 5-11.; but that you yourselves might become conscious of your earnest care of our interests in the sight of God." Awkward as some of the situations had been, all that remained, so far as the Apostle and the Corinthians were concerned, was this: they knew better than before how deeply they were attached to him, and how much they would do for his sake. He chooses, as I have said, to regard this last result of his writing as the purpose for which he wrote; and when he ends the twelfth verse with the words, "For this cause, we have been comforted,"6666   This is the true text. Instead of ἐπὶ τῇ παρακλήσει in ver. 13 all critical editions read ἐπὶ δὲ τῇ π., and make these words begin a new paragraph. it is as if he said, "I have got what I wanted now, and am content."

But content is far too weak a word. Paul had heard all this good news from Titus, and the comfort which it gave him was exalted into abounding joy when he saw how the visit to Corinth had gladdened and refreshed the spirit of his friend. Evidently Titus had accepted Paul's commission with misgivings: possibly Timothy, who had been earlier enlisted for the same service (1 Cor. xvi. 10), had found his courage259 fail him, and withdrawn. At all events, Paul had spoken encouragingly to Titus of the Corinthians before he started; as he puts it in ver. 14, he had boasted somewhat to him on their account; and he is delighted that their reception of Titus has shown that his confidence was justified. He cannot refrain here from a passing allusion to the charges of prevarication discussed in the first chapter; he not only tells the truth about them (as Titus has seen), but he has always told the truth to them. These verses present the character of Paul in an admirable light: not only his sympathy with Titus, but his attitude to the Corinthians, is beautifully Christian. What in most cases of estrangement makes reconciliation hard is that the estranged have allowed themselves to speak of each other to outsiders in a way that cannot be forgotten or got over. But even when the tension between Paul and the Corinthians was at its height, he boasted of them to Titus. His love to them was so real that nothing could blind him to their good qualities. He could say severe things to them, but he would never disparage or malign them to other people; and if we wish friendships to last, and to stand the strains to which all human ties are occasionally subject, we must never forget this rule. "Boast somewhat," even of the man who has wronged you, if you possibly can. If you have ever loved him, you certainly can, and it makes reconciliation easy.

The last results of the painful friction between Paul and the Corinthians were peculiarly happy. The Apostle's confidence in them was completely restored, and they had completely won the heart of Titus. "His affections are more abundantly toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and260 trembling ye received him." "Fear and trembling" is an expression which St. Paul uses elsewhere, and which is liable to be misunderstood. It does not suggest panic, but an anxious scrupulous desire not to be wanting to one's duty, or to do less than one ought to do. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you," does not mean "Do it in a constant state of agitation or alarm," but "Work on with this resource behind you, in the same spirit with which a young man of character would work, who was starting in business on capital advanced by a friend." He would proceed, or ought to proceed, with fear and trembling, not of the sort which paralyse intelligence and energy, but of the sort which peremptorily preclude slackness or failure in duty. This is the meaning here also. The Corinthians were not frightened for Paul's deputy, but they welcomed him with an anxious conscientious desire to do the very utmost that duty and love could require. This, says Calvin, is the true way to receive ministers of Christ: and it is this only which will gladden a true minister's heart. Sometimes, with the most innocent intention, the whole situation is changed, and the minister, though received with the utmost courtesy and kindness, is not received with fear and trembling at all. Partly through his own fault, and partly through the fault of others, he ceases to be the representative of anything that inspires reverence, or excites to conscientious earnestness of conduct. If, under these circumstances, he continues to be kindly treated, he is apt to end in being, not the pastor, but the pet lamb of his flock. In apostolic times there was no danger of this, but modern ministers and modern congregations have sometimes thrown away all the possibilities of good in their261 mutual relations by disregarding it. The affection which they ought to have to each other is Christian, not merely natural; controlled by spiritual ideas and purposes, and not a matter of ordinary good feeling; and where this is forgotten, all is lost.


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