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289

XXII

WAR

"Now I Paul myself intreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage toward you: yea, I beseech you, that I may not when present show courage with the confidence wherewith I count to be bold against some, which count of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strong holds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be fulfilled."—2 Cor. x. 1-6 (R.V.).

The last four chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians stand as manifestly apart as the two about the collection. A great deal too much has been made of this undeniable fact. If a man has a long letter to write, in which he wishes to speak of a variety of subjects, we may expect variations of tone, and more or less looseness of connexion. If he has something on his mind which it is difficult to speak about, but which cannot be suppressed, we may expect him to keep it to the end, and to introduce it, perhaps, with awkward emphasis. The scholars who have argued, on the ground of the extreme difference of tone, and want of connexion, that chaps. x.-xiii. of this Epistle were originally a separate letter, either earlier (Weisse) or later (Semler) than the first seven chapters,290 seem to have overlooked these obvious considerations.8080   On Hausrath's view that this was a letter between our Ep. I. and Ep. II. see the Introduction. If Paul stopped dictating for the day at the end of chap. ix.—if he even stopped a few moments in doubt how to proceed to the critical subject he had still to handle—the want of connexion is sufficiently explained; the tone in which he writes, when we consider the subject, needs no justification. The mission of Titus had resulted very satisfactorily, so far as one special incident was concerned—the treatment of a guilty person by the Church; the tension of feeling over that case had passed by. But in the general situation of affairs at Corinth there was much to make the Apostle anxious and angry. There were Judaists at work, impugning his authority and corrupting his Gospel; there was at least a minority of the Church under their influence; there were large numbers living, apparently, in the grossest sins (chap. xii. 20 f.); there was something, we cannot but think, approaching spiritual anarchy. The one resource the Apostle has with which to encounter this situation—his one standing ground alike against the Church and those who were corrupting it—is his apostolic authority; and to the vindication of this he first addresses himself. This, I believe, explains the peculiar emphasis with which he begins: "Now I myself, I Paul intreat you." Αὐτὸς ἐγὼ Παῦλος is not only the grammatical subject of the sentence, but if one may say so, the subject under consideration; it is the very person whose authority is in dispute who puts himself forward deliberately in this authoritative way. The δὲ ("now") is merely transitional; the writer moves on, without indicating any connexion, to another matter.

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In the long sentence which makes up the first and second verses, everything comes out at once—the Apostle's indignation, in that extreme personal emphasis; his restraint of it, in the appeal to the meekness and gentleness of Christ; his resentment at the misconstruction of his conduct by enemies, who called him a coward at hand, and a brave man only at a safe distance; and his resolve, if the painful necessity is not spared him, to come with a rod and not spare. It is as if all this had been dammed up in his heart for long, and to say a single word was to say everything. The appeal to the meekness and gentleness of Christ is peculiarly affecting in such a connexion; it is intended to move the Corinthians, but what we feel is how it has moved Paul. It may be needful, on occasion, to assert oneself, or at least one's authority; but it is difficult to do it without sin. It is an exhilarating sensation to human nature to be in the right, and when we enjoy it we are apt to enlist our temper in the divine service, forgetting that the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. Paul felt this danger, and in the very sentence in which he puts himself and his dignity forward with uncompromising firmness, he recalls to his own and his readers' hearts the characteristic temper of the Lord. How far He was, under the most hateful provocation, from violence and passion! How far from that sinful self-assertion, which cannot consider the case and claims of others! It is when we are in the right that we must watch our temper, and, instead of letting anger carry us away, make our appeal for the right by the meekness and gentleness of Jesus. This, when right is won, makes it twice blessed. The words, "who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage292 toward you," are one of the sneers current in Corinth at Paul's expense. When he was there, his enemies said, face to face with them, he was humble enough;8181   This is the only place in the New Testament where ταπεινὸς ("lowly") is used in a bad (contemptuous) sense: in Christian lips it is a term of praise (Matt. xi. 29); the speakers here had not learned its Christian meaning. it was only when he left them he became so brave. This mean slander must have stung the proud soul of the Apostle—the mere quotation of it shows this; but the meekness and gentleness of Christ have entered into him, and instead of resenting it he continues in a still milder tone. He descends from urging or entreating (παρακαλῶ) to beseeching (δέομαι). The thought of Christ has told already on his heart and on his pen. He begs them so to order their conduct that he may be spared the pain of demonstrating the falsehood of that charge. He counts on taking daring action against some at Corinth who count of him as though he walked after the flesh; but they can make this face-to-face hardihood needless, and in the name, not of his own cowardice, but of his Lord's meekness and considerateness, he appeals to them to do so. Δυσφημούμενοι παρακαλοῦμεν.

The charge of walking after the flesh is one that needs interpretation. In a general way it means that Paul was a worldly, and not a spiritual, man; and that the key to his character and conduct—even in his relations with Churches—was to be sought in his private and personal interests. What this would mean in any particular case would depend upon the circumstances. It might mean that he was actuated by avarice, and, in spite of pretences to be disinterested, was ruled at bottom by the idea of what would pay; or it might293 mean—and in this place probably does mean—that he had an undue regard for the opinion of others, and acted with feeble inconsistency in his efforts to please them. A man of whom either of these things could be truly said would be without spiritual authority, and it was to discredit the Apostle in the Church that the vague and damaging charge was made.

He certainly shows no want of courage in meeting it. That he walks in the flesh, he cannot deny. He is a human being, wearing the weak nature, and all its maladies are incident to him. As far as that nature goes, it is as possible that he, as that any man, should be ruled by its love of ease or popularity; or, on the other hand, should be overcome by timidity, and shrink from difficult duties. But he denies that this is his case. He spends his life in this nature, with all its capacity for unworthy conduct; but in his Christian warfare he is not ruled by it—he has conquered it, and it has no power over him at all. "I was with you," he wrote in the First Epistle, "with weakness and fear and much trembling"; but "my speech and my preaching were ... with demonstration of the Spirit and of power." This is practically what he says here, and what must be said by every man who undertakes to do anything for God. No one can be half so well aware as he, if he is sincere at all, of the immense contrast between the nature in which he lives and the service to which he is called. None of his enemies can know so well as he the utter earthenness of the vessel in which the heavenly treasure is deposited. But the very meaning of a divine call is that a man is made master of this weakness, and through whatever pain and self-repression can disregard it for his work's sake. With some men timidity is the great trial: for them,294 it is the flesh. They are afraid to declare the whole counsel of God; or they are afraid of some class, or of some particular person: they are brave with a pen perhaps, or in a pulpit, or surrounded by sympathising spectators; but it is not in them to be brave alone, and to find in the Spirit a courage and authority which overbear the weakness of the flesh. From all such timidity, as an influence affecting his apostolic work, Paul can pronounce himself free. Like Jeremiah (Jer. i. 6-8) and Ezekiel (Ezek. ii. 6-8), he is naturally capable, but spiritually incapable of it. He is full of might by the Spirit of the Lord: and when he takes the field in the Lord's service, the flesh is as though it were not. Since the expression ἐν σαρκὶ περιπατοῦντες refers to the whole of the Apostle's life, it seems natural to take στρατευόμεθα as referring to the whole of his ministry, and not solely to his present campaign against the Corinthians. It is of his apostolic labours in general—of course including that which lay immediately before him—that he says: "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God8282   The dative in δυνατὰ τῷ Θεῷ is the same as in Jonah iii. 3, Acts vii. 20. A vague rendering like "divinely powerful" is probably nearest the meaning. to the casting down of strong holds."

Nobody but an evangelist could have written this sentence. Paul knew from experience that men fortify themselves against God: they try to find impregnable positions in which they may defy Him, and live their own life. Human nature, when God is announced to speak, instinctively puts itself on its guard; and you cannot pass that guard, as Paul was well aware, with weapons furnished by the flesh. The weapons need to be divinely strong; mighty in God's sight, for God's295 service, with God's own might. There is an answer in this to many of the questions that are being asked at present about methods of evangelising; where the divinely powerful weapons are found, such questions give no trouble. No man who has ever had a direct and unmistakable blessing on his work as an evangelist has ever enlisted "the flesh" in God's service. No such man has ever seen, or said, that learning, eloquence, or art in the preacher; or bribes of any sort to the hearer; or approaches to the "strong holds," constructed of amusements, lectures, concerts, and so forth, were of the very slightest value. He who knows anything about the matter knows that it is a life-and-death interest which is at stake when the soul comes face to face with the claims and the mercy of God; and that the preacher who has not the hardihood to represent it as such will not be listened to, and should not be. Paul was armed with this tremendous sense of what the Gospel was—the immensity of grace in it, the awfulness of judgment; and it was this which gave him his power, and lifted him above the arts, the wisdom, and the timidity of the flesh. A man will hold his own against anything but this. He will parley with any weapon flesh can fashion or wield; this is the only one to which he surrenders.

Perhaps in the fifth verse, which is an expansion of "the casting down of strong holds," a special reference to the Corinthians begins to be felt: at all events they might easily apply it to themselves. "Casting down imaginations," the Apostle says, "and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God." "Imaginations" is probably a fair enough rendering of λογισμούς, though the margin has "reasonings," and the same word in Rom. ii. 15 is rendered "thoughts."296 To what it applies is not very obvious. Men do certainly fortify themselves against the Gospel in their thoughts. The proud wisdom of the Greek was familiar to the Apostle, and even the obvious fact that it had not brought the world salvation was not sufficient to lower its pride. The expression has sometimes been censured as justifying the sacrificium intellectus, or as taking away freedom of thought in religion. To think of Paul censuring the free exercise of intelligence in religion is too absurd; but there is no doubt that, with his firm hold of the great facts on which the Christian faith depends, he would have dealt very summarily with theories, ancient or modern, which serve no purpose but to fortify men against the pressure of these facts. He would not have taken excessive pains to put himself in the speculator's place, and see the world as he sees it, with the most stupendous realities left out; he would not have flattered with any affected admiration that most self-complacent of mortals—the wise of this world. He would have struck straight at the heart and conscience with the spiritual weapons of the Gospel; he would have spoken of sin and judgment, of reconciliation and life in Christ, till these great realities had asserted their greatness in the mind, and in doing so had shattered the proud intellectual structures which had been reared in ignorance or contempt of them. "Thoughts" and "imaginations" must yield to things, and make room for them: it was on this principle Paul wrought. And to "thoughts" or "imaginations" he adds "every high thing [ὕψωμα] that exalts itself against the knowledge of God." The emphasis is on "every"; the Apostle generalises the opposition which he has to encounter. It may not be so much in the "thoughts"297 of men, as in their tempers, that they fortify themselves. Pride, which by the instinct of self-preservation sees at once to the heart of the Gospel, and closes itself against it; which hates equally the thought of absolute indebtedness to God and the thought of standing on the same level with others in God's sight,—this pride raises in every part of our nature its protest against the great surrender. It is implied in the whole structure of this passage that "the knowledge of God" against which every high thing in man rises defiantly is a humbling knowledge. In other words, it is not speculative merely, but has an ethical significance, which the human heart is conscious of even at a distance, and makes ready to acknowledge or to resist. No high thing lifts itself up in us against a mere theorem—a doctrine of God which is as a doctrine in algebra; it is the practical import of knowing God which excites the rebellion of the soul. No doubt, for the Apostle, the knowledge of God was synonymous with the Gospel: it was the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ; it was concentrated in the Cross and the Throne of His Son, in the Atonement and the Sovereignty of Christ. The Apostle had to beat down all the barriers by which men closed their minds against this supreme revelation; he had to win for these stupendous facts a place in the consciousness of humanity answering to their grandeur. Their greatness made him great: he was lifted up on them; and though he walked in the flesh, in weakness and fear and much trembling, he could confront undaunted the pride and the wisdom of the world, and compel them to acknowledge his Lord.

This meaning is brought out more precisely in the words with which he continues—"bringing every298 thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." If we suppose a special reference here to the Corinthians, it will be natural to take νόημα ("thought") in a practical sense—as, e.g., in chap. ii. 11, where it is rendered "devices." The Corinthians had notions of their own, apparently, about how a Church should be regulated—wild, undisciplined, disorderly notions; and in the absence of the Apostle they were experimenting with them freely. It is part of his work to catch these runaway thoughts, and make them obedient to Christ again. It seems, however, much more natural to allow the wider reference of αἰχμαλωτίζοντες to the whole of Paul's apostolic work; and then νόημα also will be taken in a less restricted sense. Men's minds, and all that goes on in their minds (νοήματα covers both: see chaps, ii. 11, iii. 14, iv. 4), are by nature lawless: they are without the sense of responsibility to guard and consecrate the sense of freedom. When the Gospel makes them captive, this lawless liberty comes to an end. The mind, in all its operations, comes under law to Christ: in its every thought it is obedient to Him. The supremacy which Christ claims and exercises is over the whole nature: the Christian man feels that nothing—not even a thought—lies beyond the range in which obedience is due to Him. This practical conviction will not paralyse thinking in the very least, but it will extinguish many useless and bad thoughts, and give their due value to all.

The Apostle descends unmistakably from the general to the particular in ver. 6: "Being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled." Apparently what he contemplates in Corinth is a disobedience which in part at least will refuse to surrender to Christ. There is a spirit abroad there,299 in the Judaists especially, and in those whom they have influenced, which will not bend, and must be broken. How Paul means to take vengeance on it, he does not say. He is confident himself that the divinely powerful weapons which he wields will enable him to master it, and that is enough. Whatever the shape the disobedience may assume,—hostility to the Gospel of Paul, as subversive of the law; hostility to his apostolic claims, as unequal to those of the Twelve; hostility to the practical authority he asserted in Churches of his founding, and to the moral ideals he established there,—whatever the face which opposition may present, he declares himself ready to humble it. One limitation only he imposes on himself—he will do this, "when the obedience of the Corinthians is fulfilled." He expressly distinguishes the Church as a whole from those who represent or constitute the disobedient party. There have been misunderstandings between the Church and himself; but as chaps. i. to vii. show, these have been so far overcome: the body of the Church has reconciled itself to its founder; it has returned, so to speak, to its allegiance to Paul, and has busied itself in carrying out his will. When this process, at present only in course, is completed, his way will be clear. He will be able to act with severity and decision against those who have troubled the Church, without running any risk of hurting the Church itself. This leads again to the reflection that, with all his high consciousness of spiritual power, with all his sense of personal wrong, the most remarkable characteristic of Paul is love. He waits to the last moment before he resorts to severer measures; and he begs those who may suffer from them, begs them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, to spare him such pain.


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