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"And working together with Him we intreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain (for He saith,

At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee,

And in a day of salvation did I succour thee:

behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation): giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Ghost, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

"Our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as unto my children), be ye also enlarged."—2 Cor. vi. 1-13 (R.V.).

The ministry of the Gospel is a ministry of reconciliation; the preacher of the Gospel is primarily an evangelist. He has to proclaim that wonderful grace of God which made peace between heaven and earth through the blood of the Cross, and he has to urge men to receive it. Until this is done, there is225 nothing else that he can do. But when sinful men have welcomed the glad tidings, when they have consented to accept the peace bought for them with so great a price, when they have endured to be forgiven and restored to God's favour, not for what they are, nor for what they are going to be, but solely for what Christ did for them on the cross, then a new situation is created, and the minister of the Gospel has a new task. It is to that situation St. Paul addresses himself here. Recognising the Corinthians as people reconciled to God by the death of His Son, he entreats them not to receive the grace of God in vain. He does so, according to our Bibles, as a fellow-worker with God. This is probably right, though some would take the word as in chap. i. 24, and make it mean "as fellow-workers with you." But it is more natural, when we look to what precedes, to think that St. Paul is here identifying himself with God's interest in the world, and that he speaks out of the proud consciousness of doing so. "All is of God," in the great work of redemption; but God does not disdain the sympathetic co-operation of men whose hearts He has touched.

But what is meant by receiving the grace of God in vain, or to no purpose? That might be done in an infinite variety of ways, and in reading the words for edification we naturally grasp at any clue suggested by our circumstances. An expositor is bound to seek his clue rather in the circumstances of the Corinthians; and if we have regard to the general tenor of this Epistle, and especially to such a passage as chap. xi. 4, we shall find the true interpretation without difficulty. Paul has explained his Gospel—his proclamation of Jesus as Universal Redeemer in virtue of His dying the sinner's death, and as Universal Lord in virtue of226 His resurrection from the dead—so explicitly, because he fears lest through the influence of some false teacher the minds of the Corinthians should be corrupted from the simplicity that is toward Christ. It would be receiving the grace of God in vain, if, after receiving those truths concerning Christ which he had taught them, they were to give up his Gospel for another in which these truths had no place. This is what he dreads and deprecates, both in Corinth and Galatia: the precipitate removal from the grace of Christ to another Gospel which is no Gospel at all, but a subversion of the truth. This is what he means by receiving the grace of God in vain.

There are some minds to which this will not be impressive, some to which it will only be provoking. It will seem irrelevant and pithless to those who take for granted the finality of the distinction between religion and theology, or between the theory, as it is called, and the fact of the Atonement. But for St. Paul, as for all sufficiently earnest and vigorous minds, there is a point at which these distinctions disappear. A certain theory is seen to be essential to the fact, a certain theology to be the constitutive force in the religion. The death of Christ was what it was to him only because it was capable of a certain interpretation: his theory of it, if we choose to put it so, gave it its power over him. The love of Christ constrained him "because he thus judged"—i.e., because he construed it to his intelligence in a way which showed it to be irresistible. If these interpretations and constructions are rejected, it must not be in the name of "fact" as opposed to "theory," but in the name of other interpretations more adequate and constraining. A fact of which there is absolutely no theory is a fact which is227 without relation to anything in the universe—a mere irrelevance in man's mind—a blank incredibility—a rock in the sky. Paul's "theory" about Christ's death for sin was not to him an excrescence on the Gospel, or a superfluous appendage to it: it was itself the Gospel; it was the thing in which the very soul of God's redeeming love was brought to light; it was the condition under which the love of Christ became to him a constraining power; to receive it and then reject it was to receive the grace of God in vain.

This does not preclude us from the edifying application of these words which a modern reader almost instinctively makes. Peace with God is the first and deepest need of the sinful soul, but it is not the sum-total of salvation. It would, indeed, be received in vain, if the soul did not on the basis of it proceed to build up the new life in new purity and power. The failure to do this is, unhappily, only too common. There is no mechanical guarantee for the fruits of the Spirit; no assurance, such as would make this appeal unnecessary, that every man who has received the word of reconciliation will also walk in newness of life. But if an evangelical profession, and an immoral life, are the ugliest combination of which human nature is capable, the force of this appeal ought to be felt by the weakest and the worst. "The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me": can any of us hide that word in his heart, and live on as if it meant nothing at all?

Paul emphasises his appeal to the Corinthians by a striking quotation from an ancient prophet (Isa. xlix. 8): "At an acceptable time did I hearken unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succour thee"; and he points it by the joyful exclamation:228 "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." The passage in Isaiah refers to the servant of Jehovah, and some scholars would insist that even in the quotation a primary application must be made to Christ. The ambassadors of the Gospel represent His interest (chap. v. 20); this verse is, as it were, the answer to His prayer: "Father, the hour is come: glorify Thy Son." In answering the Son, the Father introduces the era of grace for all who are, or shall be, Christ's: behold, now is the time in which God shows us favour; now is the day on which He saves us. This is rather scholastic than apostolic, and it is far more probable that St. Paul borrows the prophet's words, as he often does, because they suit him, without thinking of their original application. What is striking in the passage, and characteristic both of the writer and of the New Testament, is the union of urgency and triumph in the tone. "Now" does certainly mean "now or never"; but more prominently still it means "in a time so favoured as this: in a time so graced with opportunity." The best illustration of it is the saying of Jesus to the Apostles: "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." Now, that we live under the reign of grace; now, when God's redeeming love, omnipotent to save, shines on us from the Cross; now, that the last days have come, and the Judge is at the door, let us with all seriousness, and all joy, work out our own salvation, lest we make the grace of God of no effect.

St. Paul is as careful himself as he would have the229 Corinthians to be. He does not wish them to receive the Gospel in vain, and he takes pains that it shall not be frustrated through any fault of his: "working together with God we intreat you ... giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed." It is almost implied in a sentence like this that there are people who will be glad of an excuse not to listen to the Gospel, or not to take it seriously, and that they will look for such an excuse in the conduct of its ministers. Anything in the minister to which objection can be raised will be used as a shield against the Gospel. It does not matter that in nine cases out of ten this plea for declining the grace of God is impudent hypocrisy; it is one which the non-Christian should never have. If it is not the chief end of the evangelist to give no occasion of stumbling, it is one of his chief rules. This is a matter on which Jesus lays great stress. The severest words He ever spoke were spoken against those whose conduct made faith hard and unbelief easy. Of course they were spoken to all, but they have special application to those who are so directly identified with the Gospel as its ministers. It is to them men naturally look for the proof of what grace does. If its reception has been in vain in them; if they have not learned the spirit of their message; if their pride, or indolence, or avarice, or ill-nature, provoke the anger or contempt of those to whom they preach,—then their ministration is blamed, and the shadow of that censure falls upon their message. The grace of God which has to be proclaimed through human lips, and to attest itself by its power over human lives, might seem to be put in this way to too great hazard in the world; but it has God behind it, or rather it is itself God at work in His ministers as230 their humility and fidelity allow Him; and in spite of the occasions of stumbling for which there is no excuse, God is always able to make grace prevail. Through the faults of its ministers, nay, sometimes even with those faults as a foil, men see how good and how strong that grace is.

It is not easy to comment on the glowing passage (vv. 4-10) in which St. Paul expands this sober habit of giving no occasion of stumbling in anything into a description of his apostolic ministry. Logically, its value is obvious enough. He means the Corinthians to feel that if they turn away from the Gospel which he has preached to them they are passing censure lightly on a life of unparalleled devotion and power. He commends himself to them, as God's servants ought always to do,5555   Observe that it is ὡς Θεοῦ διάκονοι, not διακόνους. by the life which he leads in the exercise of his ministry; and to reject his Gospel is to condemn his life as worthless or misspent. Will they venture to do that when they are reminded of what it is, and when they feel that it is all this for them? No right-minded man will, without provocation, speak about himself, but Paul is doubly protected. He is challenged, by the threatened desertion from the Gospel of some, at least, of the Corinthians; and it is not so much of himself he speaks, as of the ministers of Christ; not so much on his own behalf, as on behalf of the Gospel. The fountains of the great deep are broken up within him as he thinks of what is at issue; he is in all straits, as he begins, and can speak only in unconnected words, one at a time; but before he stops he has won his liberty, and pours out his soul without restraint.

It is needless to comment on each of the eight-and-twenty231 separate phrases in which St. Paul characterises his life as a minister of the Gospel. But there are what might be called breathing-places, if not logical pauses, in the outburst of feeling, and these, as it happens, coincide with the introduction of new aspects of his work. (1) At first he depicts exclusively, and in single words, its passive side. Christ had shown him at his conversion how great things he must suffer for His name's sake (Acts ix. 16), and here is his own confirmation of the Lord's word: he has ministered "in much patience—in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses; in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults"—where the enmity of men was conspicuous; "in labours, in watchings, in fastings"—freely exacted by his own devotion. These nine words are all, in a manner, subordinated to "much patience"; his brave endurance was abundantly shown in every variety of pain and distress. (2) At ver. 6 he makes a new start, and now it is not the passive and physical aspect of his work that is in view, but the active and spiritual. All that weight of suffering did not extinguish in him the virtues of the new life, or the special gifts of the Christian minister. He wrought, he reminds them, "in purity, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God." The precise import of some of these expressions may be doubtful, but this is of less consequence than the general tenor of the whole, which is unmistakable. Probably some of the terms, strictly taken, would cross each other. Thus the Holy Spirit and the power of God, if we compare such passages as 1 Cor. ii. 4, 1 Thess. i. 5, are very nearly akin. The same remark would apply to "knowledge," and to "the word of truth," if the latter232 refers, as I cannot but think it does,5656   Some, because of the want of the article, make it equivalent to "veracity." to the Gospel. "Purity" is naturally taken in the widest sense, and "undissembled love" is peculiarly appropriate when we think of the feelings with which some of the Corinthians regarded Paul. But the main thing to notice is how the "much endurance," which, to a superficial observer, is the most conspicuous characteristic of the Apostle's ministry, is balanced by a great manifestation of spiritual force from within. Of all men in the world he was the weakest to look at, the most battered, burdened, and depressed, yet no one else had in him such a fountain as he of the most powerful and gracious life. And then (3) after another pause, marked this time by a slight change in the construction (from ἐν to διὰ), he goes on to enlarge upon the whole conditions under which his ministry is fulfilled, and especially on the extraordinary contrasts which are reconciled in it. We commend ourselves in our work he says, "by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet coming to be well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowing, yet ever rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Here again it is not the details that are important, but the whole, and yet the details require notice. The armour of righteousness is that which righteousness supplies, or it may even be that which righteousness is: Paul's character equips him right and left; it is both spear and shield, and makes him competent either for attack or defence. Without233 righteousness, in this sense of integrity, he could not commend himself in his work as a minister of God.5757   Beet, however, takes it in the technical sense: justification by faith is the preacher's sword and shield. But not only does his real character commend him; his reputation does the same service, however various that reputation may be. Through honour and dishonour, through evil report and good report—through the truth that is told about him, and through the lies—through the esteem of his friends, the malignity of his enemies, the contempt of strangers—the same man comes out, in the same character, devoted always in the same spirit to the same calling. It is indeed his very devotion which produces these opposite estimates, and hence, inconsistent as they are, they agree in recommending him as a servant of God. Some said "He is beside himself," and others would have plucked out their eyes for his sake, yet both these extremely opposite attitudes were produced by the very same thing—the passionate earnestness with which he served Christ in the Gospel. There are good scholars who think that the clauses beginning "as deceivers, and true," are the Apostle's own commentary on "through evil report and good report"; in other words, that in these clauses he is giving samples of the way in which he was spoken of, to his honour or dishonour, and glorying that honour and dishonour alike only guaranteed more thoroughly his claim to be a minister of God. This might suit the first two pairs of contrasts ("as deceivers, and true; as unknown, and gaining recognition"), but it does not suit the next ("as dying, and behold we live"), in which, as in those that follow, the Apostle is not repeating what was said by others, but speaking for himself, and stating truth equally on both sides of the account.234 After the first pair, there is no "dishonour," or "evil report," in any of the states which he contrasts with each other: though opposites, they have each their truth, and the power and beauty of the passage, and of the life which it describes, lie simply in this, that both are true, and that through all such contrasts St. Paul can prove himself the same loyal minister of the reconciliation.

Each pair of opposites might furnish by itself a subject for discourse, but what we are rather concerned with is the impression produced by the whole. In their variety they give us a vivid idea of the range of St. Paul's experiences; in the regularity with which he puts the higher last, and in the climax with which he concludes, they show the victorious spirit with which he confronted all that various life. An ordinary Christian—an ordinary minister of the Gospel—may well feel, as he reads, that his own life is by comparison empty and commonplace. There is not that terrible pressure on him from without; there is not that irrepressible fountain of grace within; there is not that triumphant spirit which can subdue all the world contains—honour and dishonour, evil report and good report—and make it pay tribute to the Gospel, and to himself as a Gospel minister. Yet the world has still all possible experiences ready for those who give themselves to the service of God with the wholeheartedness of Paul: it will show them its best and its worst; its reverence, affection, and praise; its hatred, its indifference, its scorn. And it is in the facing of all such experiences by God's ministers that the ministry receives its highest attestation: they are enabled to turn all to profit; in ignominy and in honour alike they are made more than conquerors through Him235 who loved them. St. Paul's plea rises involuntarily into a pæan; he begins, as we saw, with the embarrassed tone of a man who wishes to persuade others that he has taken sincere pains not to frustrate his work by faults he could have avoided—"giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that the ministry be not blamed"; but he is carried higher and higher, as the tide of feeling rises within him, till it sets him beyond the reach of blame or praise—at Christ's right hand, where all things are his. Here is a signal fulfilment of that word of the Lord: "I am come that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly." Who could have it more abundantly, more triumphantly strong through all its vicissitudes, than the man who dictated these lines?

The passage closes with an appeal in which Paul descends from this supreme height to the most direct and affectionate address. He names his readers by name: "Our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians;5858   Rara et præsentissima appellatio (Bengel). our heart is enlarged." He means that he has treated them with the utmost frankness and cordiality. With strangers we use reserve; we do not let ourselves go, nor indulge in any effusion of heart. But he has not made strangers of them; he has relieved his overcharged heart before them, and he has established a new claim on their confidence in doing so. "Ye are not straitened in us," he writes; that is, "The awkwardness and constraint of which you are conscious in your relations with me are not due to anything on my side; my heart has been made wide, and you have plenty of room in it. But you are straitened in your own affections. It is your hearts that are narrow: cramped236 and confined with unworthy suspicions, and with the feeling that you have done me a wrong which you are not quite prepared to rectify. Overcome these ungenerous thoughts at once. Give me a recompense in kind for my treatment of you. I have opened my heart wide, to you and for you; open your hearts as freely, to me and for me. I am your father in Christ, and I have a right to this from my children."

When we take this passage as a whole, in its original bearings, one thing is plain: that want of love and confidence between the minister of the Gospel and those to whom he ministers has great power to frustrate the grace of God. There may have been a real revival under the minister's preaching—a real reception of the grace which he proclaims—but all will be in vain if mutual confidence fails. If he gives occasion of stumbling in something, and the ministry is blamed; or if malice and falsehood sow the seeds of dissension between him and his brethren, the grand condition of an effective ministry is gone. "Beloved, let us love one another," if we do not wish the virtue of the Cross to be of no effect in us.

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