« Prev XXIII. Comparisons. Next »

300

XXIII

COMPARISONS

"Ye look at the things that are before your face. If any man trusteth in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again with himself, that, even as he is Christ's, so also are we. For though I should glory somewhat abundantly concerning our authority (which the Lord gave for building you up, and not for casting you down), I shall not be put to shame: that I may not seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. For, His letters, they say, are weighty and strong; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account. Let such a one reckon this, that, what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such are we also in deed when we are present. For we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves: but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding. But we will not glory beyond our measure, but according to the measure of the province which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves overmuch, as though we reached not unto you: for we came even as far as unto you in the Gospel of Christ: not glorying beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labours; but having hope that, as your faith groweth, we shall be magnified in you according to our province unto further abundance, so as to preach the Gospel even unto the parts beyond you, and not to glory in another's province in regard of things ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth."—2 Cor. x. 7-18 (R.V.).

This passage abounds with grammatical and textual difficulties, but the general import and the purpose of it are plain. The self-assertion of αὐτὸς ἐγὼ Παῦλος (ver. 1) receives its first interpretation and expansion301 here: we see what it is that Paul claims, and we begin to see the nature of the opposition against which his claim has to be made good. Leaving questions of grammatical construction aside, vv. 7 and 8 define the situation; and it is convenient to take them as if they stood alone.

There was a person in Corinth—more than one indeed, but one in particular, as the τις in ver. 7 and the singular φησὶν8383   This is the reading adopted by Westcott and Hort with most MSS. except B. in ver. 10 suggest—who claimed to be Christ's, or of Christ, in a sense which disparaged and was meant to disparage Paul. If we use the plural, to include them all, we must not suppose that they are identical with the party in the Church who are censured in the First Epistle for saying, "I am of Christ," just as others said, "I am of Paul," "I am of Apollos," "I am of Cephas." That party may have been dependent upon them, but the individuals here referred to are taxed with an exclusiveness and arrogance, and in the close of the chapter with a wanton trespassing on Paul's province, which show that they were not native to the Church, but intruders into it. They were confident that they were Christ's in a sense which discredited Paul's apostleship, and entitled them, so to speak, to legitimate a Church which his labours had called into being. Everything compels us to recognise in them Jewish Christians, who had been connected with Christ in a way in which Paul had not; who had known Him in the flesh, or had brought recommendatory letters from the Mother Church at Jerusalem; and who, on the strength of these accidents, gave themselves airs of superiority in Pauline Churches, and corrupted the simplicity of the Pauline Gospel.

302

The first words in ver. 7—τὰ κατὰ πρόσωπον βλέπετε—are no doubt directed to this situation, but they have been very variously rendered. Our Authorised Version has, "Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?" That is, "Are you really imposed upon by the pretensions of these men, by their national and carnal distinctions, as if these had anything to do with the Gospel?" This is a good Pauline idea, but it is doubtful whether τὰ κατὰ πρόσωπον can yield it. The natural sense of these words is, "What is before your face." The Revised Version accordingly renders, "Ye look at the things that are before your face": meaning, apparently, "You allow yourselves to be carried away by whatever is nearest to you—at present, by these interloping Jews, and the claims they flaunt before your eyes." It seems to me more natural, with many good scholars, to take βλέπετε, in spite of its unemphatic position, as imperative: "Look at the things which are before your faces! The most obvious and palpable facts discredit these Judaists and accredit me. A claim to be Christ's is not to be made out à priori by any carnal prerogatives, or any human recommendations; it is only made out by this—that Christ Himself attests it by giving him who makes it success as an evangelist. Look at what confronts you! There is not a single Christian thing you see which is not Christ's own testimony that I am His; unless you are senseless and blind, my position and authority as an apostle can never be impugned among you." The argument is thus the same as that which he uses in chap. iii. 1-3, and in the First Epistle, chap. ix. 2.

At first Paul asserts only a bare equivalence to his Jewish opponent: "Let him consider this with himself, that, even as he is Christ's, so also are we." The303 historical, outward connexion with Christ, whatever it may have been, amounted in this relation to exactly nothing at all. Not what Christ was, but what He is, is the life and reality of the Christian religion. Not an accidental acquaintance with Him as He lived in Galilee or Jerusalem, but a spiritual fellowship with Him as He reigns in the heavenly places, makes a Christian. Not a letter written by human hands—though they should be the hands of Peter or James or John—legitimates a man in the apostolic career; but only the sovereign voice which says, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name." Neither as Christian nor as apostle can one establish a monopoly by making his appeal to "the flesh." The application of this Christian truth has constantly to be made anew, for human nature loves a monopoly; it does not seem really to have a thing, unless its possession of it is exclusive. We are all too ready to unchurch, or unchristianise, others; to say, "We are Christ's," with an emphasis which means that others are not. Churches with a strong organisation are especially tempted to this unchristian narrowness and pride. Their members think almost instinctively of other Christians as outsiders and inferiors; they would like to take them in, to reordain their ministers, to reform their constitution, to give validity to their sacraments—in one word, to legitimate them as Christians and as Christian societies. All this is mere unintelligence and arrogance. Legitimacy is a convenient and respectable political fiction; but to make the constitution of any Christian body, which has developed under the pressure of historical exigences, the law for the legitimation of Christian life, ministry, and worship everywhere, is to deny the essential character of the Christian religion. It is to play toward304 men whom Christ has legitimated by His Spirit, and by His blessing on their work, precisely the part which the Judaisers played toward Paul; and to compromise with it is to betray Christ, and to renounce the freedom of the Spirit.

But the Apostle does not stop short with claiming a bare equality with his rivals. "For though8484   The difficult τε in ἐάν τε γὰρ is most easily explained by the ellipse of a corresponding καί: of several reasons he might adduce, Paul adduces only one (Schmiedel). I should boast somewhat more abundantly concerning our authority ... I shall not be put to shame"—i.e., "The facts I have invited you to look at will bear me out." The key to this passage is to be found in 1 Cor. xv. 15, where he boasts that, though the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle, he had, through the grace of God given to him, laboured more abundantly than all the rest. If it came to comparison, then, of the attestation which Christ gave to their several labours, and so to their authority, by success in evangelising, it would not be Paul who would have to hide his head. But he does not choose to boast any more of his authority at this point. He has no desire to clothe himself in terrors; on the contrary, he wishes to avoid8585   The ninth verse, Ἵνα μὴ δόξω κ.τ.λ. is most naturally taken with what precedes, and most simply explained by supplying something like, "but I say no more about it, i.e. about my authority, that I may not seem," etc. To say more would look like trying to frighten them. Others make it protasis to ver. 11, ver. 10 being then a parenthesis. the very appearance of scaring them out of their wits by his letters (for ἐκφοβεῖν compare Mark ix. 6; Heb. xii. 21). His authority has been given him, not for the pulling down, but for the building up, of the Church; it is not lordly (chap. i. 24), but ministerial; and he would305 wish, not only to show it in kindly service, but also in a kindly aspect. "Not for casting down," in ver. 8, is no contradiction of "mighty for casting down" in ver. 4: the object in the two cases is quite different. Many things in man must be cast down—many high thoughts, much pride, much wilfulness, much presumption and sufficiency—but the casting down of these is the building up of souls.

At this point comes what is logically a parenthesis, and we hear in it the criticisms passed at Corinth on Paul, and his own reply to them. "His letters," they say (or, he says), "are weighty and strong; but his bodily presence weak, and his speech of no account." The last part of this criticism has been much misunderstood; it is really of moral import, but has been read in a physical sense. It does not say anything at all about the Apostle's physique, or about his eloquence or want of eloquence; it tells us that (according to these critics), when he was actually present at Corinth, he was somehow or other ineffective; and when he spoke there, people simply disregarded him. An uncertain tradition no doubt represents Paul as an infirm and meagre person, and it is easy to believe that to Greeks he must sometimes have seemed embarrassed and incoherent in speech to the last degree (what, for instance, could have seemed more formless to a Greek than vv. 12-18 of this chapter?): nevertheless, it is nothing like this which is in view here. The criticism is not of his physique, nor of his style, but of his personality—what is described is not his appearance nor his eloquence, but the effect which the man produced when he went to Corinth and spoke. It was nothing. As a man, bodily present, he could get nothing done: he talked, and nobody listened. It is306 implied that this criticism is false; and Paul bids any one who makes it consider that what he is in word by letters when he is absent, that he will also be in deed when he is present. The double rôle of potent pamphleteer and ineffective pastor is not for him.

The kind of criticism which was here passed on St. Paul is one to which every preacher is obnoxious. An epistle is, so to speak, the man's words without the man; and such is human weakness, that they are often stronger than the man speaking in bodily presence, that is, than the man and his words together. The character of the speaker, as it were, discounts all he says; and when he is there, and delivers his message in person, the message itself suffers an immense depreciation. This ought not so to be, and with a man who cultivates sincerity will not so be. He will be, himself, as good as his words; his effectiveness will be the same whether he writes or speaks. Nothing ultimately counts in the work of a Christian minister but what he can say and do and get done when in direct contact, with living men. In many cases the modern sermon really answers to the epistle as it is referred to in this sarcastic comment; in the pulpit, people say, the minister is impressive and memorable; but in the ordinary intercourse of life, and even in the pastoral relation, where he has to meet people on an equal footing, his power quite disappears. He is an ineffective person, and his words have no weight. Where this is true, there is something very far wrong; and though it was not true in the case of Paul, there are cases in which it is. To bring the pastoral up to the level of the pulpit work—the care of individual souls and characters to the intensity and earnestness of study307 and preaching—would be the saving of many a minister and many a congregation.8686   The following sentence from a letter of H. E. M. (a sister of James Mozley's) is an interesting illustration of this truth: "I consider Mr. Rickards as the type and model of a country parish and domestic priest. All his powers and energies are expended on and exerted for teaching, preaching, and talking. Bodily presence is his vocation: unlike some, writers and others, he must be seen to be felt; and unlike others again, writers and others, the more he is seen, the more he is felt."

But to return to the text. The Apostle is disinclined to pursue this line further: in defending himself against these obscure detractors, he can hardly avoid the appearance of self-commendation, which of all things he abhors. An acute observer has remarked that when war lasts long the opposing combatants borrow each other's weapons and tactics: and it was this uninviting weapon that the policy of his opponents laid to the Apostle's hand. With ironical recognition of their hardihood, he declines it: "We are not bold—have not the courage—to number ourselves among, or compare ourselves with, certain of them that commend themselves"—i.e., the Judaists who had introduced themselves to the Church. "Far be it from me," says the Apostle grimly, "to claim a place among, or near, such a distinguished company." But he is too much in earnest to prolong the ironical strain, and in the verses which follow, from 12 to 16, he states in good set terms the differences between himself and them. (1) They measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves, and in so doing are without understanding.8787   See note, p. 311. They constitute a religious coterie, a sort of clique or ring in the Church, ignoring all but themselves, making themselves the only standard308 of what is Christian, and betraying, by that very proceeding, their want of sense. There is a fine liberality about this sharp saying, and it is as necessary now as in the first century. Men coalesce, within the limits of the Christian community, from affinities of various kinds—sympathy for a type or an aspect of doctrine, or liking for a form of polity; and as it is easy, so is it common, for those who have united like to like, to set up their own associations and preferences as the only law and model for all. They take the air of superior persons, and the penalty of the superior person is to be unintelligent. They are without understanding. The standard of the coterie—be it "evangelical," "high church," "broad church," or what you please—is not the standard of God; and to measure all things by it is not only sinful but stupid. In contrast to this Judaistic clique, who saw no Christianity except under their own colours, Paul's standard is to be found in the actual working of God through the Gospel. He would have said with Ignatius, only with a deeper insight into every word, "Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (2) Another point of difference is this: Paul works independently as an evangelist; it has always been his rule to break new ground. God has assigned him a province to labour in, large enough to gratify the highest ambition; he is not going beyond it, nor exaggerating his authority, when he asserts his apostolic dignity in Corinth; the Corinthians know as well as he that he came all the way to them, and was the first to come, ministering the Gospel of Christ. Nay, it is only the weakness of their faith that keeps him from going farther: and he has hope that as their faith grows it will set him free to carry the Gospel beyond them to Italy and Spain; this would be the crown309 of his greatness as an evangelist, and it depends on them (ἐν ὑμῖν μεγαλυνθῆναι) whether he is to win it; in any case, the winning of it would be in harmony with his vocation, the carrying of it out in glorious fulness (κατὰ τὸν κανόνα εἰς περισσείαν); for, like John Wesley, he could say the whole world was his parish. If he boasts at all, it is not immeasurably; it is on the basis of the gift and calling of God, within the limits of what God has wrought by him and by no other; he never intrudes into another's province and boasts of what he finds done to his hand. But this was what the Jews did. They did not propagate the Gospel with apostolic enthusiasm among the heathen; they waited till Paul had done the hard preliminary work, and formed Christian congregations everywhere, and then they slunk into them—in Galatia, in Macedonia, in Achaia—talking as if these Churches were their work, disparaging their real father in Christ, and claiming to complete and legitimate—which meant, in effect, to subvert—-his work. No wonder Paul was scornful, and did not venture to put himself in a line with such heroes.

Two feelings are compounded all through this passage: an intense sympathy with the purpose of God that the Gospel should be preached to every creature—Paul's very soul melts into that; and an intense scorn for the spirit that sneaks and poaches on another's ground, and is more anxious that some men should be good sectarians than that all men should be good disciples. This evil spirit Paul loathes, just as Christ loathed it; the temper of these verses is that in which the Master cried, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more310 a son of hell than yourselves." Of course the evil spirit must always be disguised, both from others and from itself: the proselytiser assumes the garb of the evangelist; but the proselytiser turned evangelist is the purest example in the world of Satan disguised as an angel of light. The show is divine, but the reality is diabolical. It does not matter what the special sectarianism is: the proselytising of a hierarchical Church, and the proselytising of the Plymouth Brethren, are alike dishonourable and alike condemned. And the safeguard of the soul against this base spirit is an interest like Paul's in the Christianising of those who do not know Christ at all. Why should Churches compete? why should their agencies overlap? why should they steal from each other's folds? why should they be anxious to seal all believers with their private seal, when the whole world lies in wickedness? That field is large enough for all the efforts of all evangelists, and till it has been sown with the good seed from end to end there can be nothing but reprobation for those who trespass on the province of others, and boast that they have made their own what they certainly did not make Christ's.

At the close, to borrow Bengel's expression, Paul sounds a retreat. He has liberated his mind about his adversaries—always a more or less dangerous process; and after the excitement and self-assertion are over, he composes it again in the presence of God. He checks himself, we feel, with that Old Testament word, "Now he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. I have always broken new ground; I have come as far as you, and wish to go farther, evangelising; I never have boasted of another man's labours as if they were mine, or claimed the credit of what he had done; but311 all this is mine only as God's gift. It is His grace bestowed on me, and not in vain. I would not boast except in Him; for not he who commends himself is approved, but only he whom the Lord commends." No character which is only self-certificated can stand the test: no claim to apostolic dignity and authority can be maintained which the Lord does not attest by granting apostolic success.

Note on vv. 12 and 13.—In some MSS. (D*, F, G, 109, It., and some Latins) the last two words of ver. 12 and the first two of ver. 13 (οὐ συνιᾶσιν· ἡμεῖς δέ) are omitted. Most editors of the text (Tischdf. vii., Tregelles, Westcott and Hort) seem to think the omission accidental; among exegetes, the fact that it yields an easy and natural, though of course a quite different, sense, has caused some hesitation. Thus Bengel, and recently Schmiedel, reject the words. The latter renders the whole passage: "We do not venture to put ourselves on a level, or to compare ourselves, with certain of those who commend themselves; but in measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves with ourselves, we shall not boast beyond measure, but according to the measure of the rule," etc. This is no doubt intelligible and appropriate enough, and certainly one's first impression is that ἀλλ' αὐτοί in ver. 12 ought to refer to Paul; but as the meaning yielded by the passage with the four words included is equally appropriate, and their insertion immeasurably harder to understand than their omission, it seems preferable to let them stand, in the sense explained above. They are found (with the variation of συνίσασιν for συνιᾶσιν in א*) in א**, B, minusc. Theodoret: in E, K, L, P, the form is συνιοῦσιν. Apparently it is only by an accident that their omission leaves good sense.


« Prev XXIII. Comparisons. Next »



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |