The apostles laboured with much diligence, sincerity, and faithfulness. (1-7) Their sufferings for the gospel were great, yet with rich supports. (8-12) Prospects of eternal glory keep believers from fainting under troubles. (13-18)
Verses 1-7 The best of men would faint, if they did not receive mercy from God. And that mercy which has helped us out, and helped us on, hitherto, we may rely upon to help us even to the end. The apostles had no base and wicked designs, covered with fair and specious pretences. They did not try to make their ministry serve a turn. Sincerity or uprightness will keep the favourable opinion of wise and good men. Christ by his gospel makes a glorious discovery to the minds of men. But the design of the devil is, to keep men in ignorance; and when he cannot keep the light of the gospel of Christ out of the world, he spares no pains to keep men from the gospel, or to set them against it. The rejection of the gospel is here traced to the wilful blindness and wickedness of the human heart. Self was not the matter or the end of the apostles' preaching; they preached Christ as Jesus, the Saviour and Deliverer, who saves to the uttermost all that come to God through him. Ministers are servants to the souls of men; they must avoid becoming servants to the humours or the lusts of men. It is pleasant to behold the sun in the firmament; but it is more pleasant and profitable for the gospel to shine in the heart. As light was the beginning of the first creation; so, in the new creation, the light of the Spirit is his first work upon the soul. The treasure of gospel light and grace is put into earthen vessels. The ministers of the gospel are subject to the same passions and weaknesses as other men. God could have sent angels to make known the glorious doctrine of the gospel, or could have sent the most admired sons of men to teach the nations, but he chose humbler, weaker vessels, that his power might be more glorified in upholding them, and in the blessed change wrought by their ministry.
Verses 8-12 The apostles were great sufferers, yet they met with wonderful support. Believers may be forsaken of their friends, as well as persecuted by enemies; but their God will never leave them nor forsake them. There may be fears within, as well as fightings without; yet we are not destroyed. The apostle speaks of their sufferings as a counterpart of the sufferings of Christ, that people might see the power of Christ's resurrection, and of grace in and from the living Jesus. In comparison with them, other Christians were, even at that time, in prosperous circumstances.
Verses 13-18 The grace of faith is an effectual remedy against fainting in times of trouble. They knew that Christ was raised, and that his resurrection was an earnest and assurance of theirs. The hope of this resurrection will encourage in a suffering day, and set us above the fear of death. Also, their sufferings were for the advantage of the church, and to God's glory. The sufferings of Christ's ministers, as well as their preaching and conversation, are for the good of the church and the glory of God. The prospect of eternal life and happiness was their support and comfort. What sense was ready to pronounce heavy and long, grievous and tedious, faith perceived to be light and short, and but for a moment. The weight of all temporal afflictions was lightness itself, while the glory to come was a substance, weighty, and lasting beyond description. If the apostle could call his heavy and long-continued trials light, and but for a moment, what must our trifling difficulties be! Faith enables to make this right judgment of things. There are unseen things, as well as things that are seen. And there is this vast difference between them; unseen things are eternal, seen things but temporal, or temporary only. Let us then look off from the things which are seen; let us cease to seek for worldly advantages, or to fear present distresses. Let us give diligence to make our future happiness sure.
2 Corinthians 4:1-18 . HIS PREACHING IS OPEN AND SINCERE, THOUGH TO MANY THE GOSPEL IS HIDDEN.
For he preaches Christ, not himself: the human vessel is frail that God may have the glory; yet, though frail, faith and the hope of future glory sustain him amidst the decay of the outward man.
1. Therefore--Greek, "For this cause": Because we have the liberty-giving Spirit of the Lord, and with unveiled face behold His glory ( 2 Corinthians 3:17 2 Corinthians 3:18 ).
seeing we have this ministry--"The ministration of the Spirit" ( 2 Corinthians 3:8 2 Corinthians 3:9 ): the ministry of such a spiritual, liberty-giving Gospel: resuming 2 Corinthians 3:6 2 Corinthians 3:8 .
received mercy--from God, in having had this ministry conferred on us ( 2 Corinthians 3:5 ). The sense of "mercy" received from God, makes men active for God ( 1 Timothy 1:11-13 ).
we faint not--in boldness of speech and action, and patience in suffering ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 2 Corinthians 4:8-16 , &c.).
2. renounced--literally, "bid farewell to."
of dishonesty--rather, "of shame." "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" ( Romans 1:16 ). Shame would lead to hiding ( 2 Corinthians 4:3 ); whereas "we use great plainness of speech" ( 2 Corinthians 3:12 ); "by manifestation of the truth." Compare 2 Corinthians 3:3 , "manifestly declared." He refers to the disingenuous artifices of "many" teachers at Corinth ( 2 Corinthians 2:17 , 3:1 , 11:13-15 ).
handling . . . deceitfully--so "corrupt" or adulterate "the word of God" ( 2 Corinthians 2:17 ; compare 1 Thessalonians 2:3 1 Thessalonians 2:4 ).
commending--recommending ourselves: recurring to 2 Corinthians 3:1 .
to--to the verdict of.
every man's conscience--( 2 Corinthians 5:11 ). Not to men's carnal judgment, as those alluded to ( 2 Corinthians 3:1 ).
in the sight of God--( 2 Corinthians 2:17 , Galatians 1:10 ).
3. But if--Yea, even if (as I grant is the case).
hid--rather (in reference to 2 Corinthians 3:13-18 ), "veiled." "Hid" (Greek, Colossians 3:3 ) is said of that withdrawn from view altogether. "Veiled," of a thing within reach of the eye, but covered over so as not to be seen. So it was in the case of Moses' face.
to them--in the case only of them: for in itself the Gospel is quite plain.
that are lost--rather, "that are perishing" ( 1 Corinthians 1:18 ). So the same cloud that was "light" to the people of God, was "darkness" to the Egyptian foes of God ( Exodus 14:20 ).
4. In whom--Translate, "In whose case."
god of this world--The worldly make him their God ( Philippians 3:19 ). He is, in fact, "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that ruleth in the children of disobedience" ( Ephesians 2:2 ).
minds--"understandings": "mental perceptions," as in 2 Corinthians 3:14 .
them which believe not--the same as "them that are lost" (or "are perishing"). Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 . SOUTH quaintly says, "when the malefactor's eyes are covered, he is not far from his execution" ( Esther 7:8 ). Those perishing unbelievers are not merely veiled, but blinded ( 2 Corinthians 3:14 2 Corinthians 3:15 ): Greek, not "blinded," but "hardened."
light of the glorious gospel of Christ--Translate, "The illumination (enlightening: the propagation from those already enlightened, to others of the light) of the Gospel of the glory of Christ." "The glory of Christ" is not a mere quality (as "glorious" would express) of the Gospel; it is its very essence and subject matter.
image of God--implying identity of nature and essence ( John 1:18 , Colossians 1:15 , Hebrews 1:3 ). He who desires to see "the glory of God," may see it "in the face of Jesus Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 4:6 , 1 Timothy 6:14-16 ). Paul here recurs to 2 Corinthians 3:18 . Christ is "the image of God," into which "same image" we, looking on it in the mirror of the Gospel, are changed by the Spirit; but this image is not visible to those blinded by Satan [ALFORD].
5. For--Their blindness is not our fault, as if we had self-seeking aims in our preaching.
preach . . . Christ . . . the Lord--rather, "Christ as Lord," and ourselves as your servants, &c. "Lord," or "Master," is the correlative term to "servants."
6. For--proof that we are true servants of Jesus unto you.
commanded the light--Greek, "By speaking the word, commanded light" ( Genesis 1:3 ).
hath shined--rather, as Greek, "is He who shined." (It is God) who commanded light, &c., that shined, &c., ( Job 37:15 ): Himself our Light and Sun, as well as the Creator of light ( Malachi 4:2 , John 8:12 ). The physical world answers to the spiritual.
in our hearts--in themselves dark.
to give the light--that is, to propagate to others the light, &c., which is in us (compare Note,
the glory of God--answering to "the glory of Christ"
in the face of Jesus Christ--Some of the oldest manuscripts retain "Jesus." Others omit it. Christ is the manifestation of the glory of God, as His image ( John 14:9 ). The allusion is still to the brightness on Moses' "face." The only true and full manifestation of God's brightness and glory is "in the face of Jesus" ( Hebrews 1:3 ).
7. "Lest any should say, How then is it that we continue to enjoy such unspeakable glory in a mortal body? Paul replies, this very fact is one of the most marvellous proofs of God's power, that an earthen vessel could bear such splendor and keep such a treasure" [CHRYSOSTOM, Homilies, 8.496, A]. The treasure or "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God." The fragile "earthen vessel" is the body, the "outward man" ( 2 Corinthians 4:16 ; compare 2 Corinthians 4:10 ), liable to afflictions and death. So the light in Gideon's pitchers, the type ( Judges 7:16-20 Judges 7:22 ). The ancients often kept their treasures in jars or vessels of earthenware. "There are earthen vessels which yet may be clean; whereas a golden vessel may be filthy" [BENGEL].
that the excellency of the power, &c.--that the power of the ministry (the Holy Spirit), in respect to its surpassing "excellency," exhibited in winning souls ( 1 Corinthians 2:4 ) and in sustaining us ministers, might be ascribed solely to God, we being weak as earthen vessels. God often allows the vessel to be chipped and broken, that the excellency of the treasure contained, and of the power which that treasure has, may be all His ( 2 Corinthians 4:10 2 Corinthians 4:11 , John 3:30 ).
may be of God . . . not of us--rather, as Greek, "may be God's (may be seen and be thankfully [ 2 Corinthians 4:15 ] acknowledged to belong to God), and not (to come) from us." The power not merely comes from God, but belongs to Him continually, and is to be ascribed to him.
8. Greek, "BEING hard pressed, yet not inextricably straitened; reduced to inextricable straits" (nominative to "we have," 2 Corinthians 4:7 ).
on every side--Greek, "in every respect" (compare 2 Corinthians 4:10 , "always"; 2 Corinthians 7:5 ). This verse expresses inward distresses; 2 Corinthians 4:9 , outward distresses ( 2 Corinthians 7:5 ). "Without were fightings; within were fears." The first clause in each member of the series of contrasted participles, implies the earthiness of the vessels; the second clause, the excellency of the power.
perplexed, but not in despair--Greek, "not utterly perplexed." As perplexity refers to the future, so "troubled" or "hard pressed" refers to the present.
9. not forsaken--by God and man. Jesus was forsaken by both; so much do His sufferings exceed those of His people ( Matthew 27:46 ).
cast down--or "struck down"; not only "persecuted," that is, chased as a deer or bird ( 1 Samuel 26:20 ), but actually struck down as with a dart in the chase ( Hebrews 11:35-38 ). The Greek "always" in this verse means, "throughout the whole time"; in 2 Corinthians 4:11 the Greek is different, and means, "at every time," "in every case when the occasion occurs."
10. bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus--that is, having my body exposed to being put to death in the cause of Jesus (the oldest manuscripts omit "the Lord"), and having in it the marks of such sufferings, I thus bear about wheresoever I go, an image of the suffering Saviour in my own person ( 2 Corinthians 4:11 , 2 Corinthians 1:5 ; compare 1 Corinthians 15:31 ). Doubtless, Paul was exposed to more dangers than are recorded in Acts (compare 2 Corinthians 7:5 , 11:26 ). The Greek for "the dying" is literally, "the being made a corpse," such Paul regarded his body, yet a corpse which shares in the life-giving power of Christ's resurrection, as it has shared in His dying and death.
that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body--rather, "may be." The name "Jesus," by itself is often repeated here as Paul seems, amidst sufferings, peculiarly to have felt its sweetness. In 2 Corinthians 4:11 the same words occur with the variation, "in our mortal flesh. The fact of a dying, corpse-like body being sustained amidst such trials, manifests that "the (resurrection) life also," as well as the dying, "of Jesus," exerts its power in us. I thus bear about in my own person an image of the risen and living, as well as of the suffering, Saviour. The "our" is added here to "body," though not in the beginning of the verse. "For the body is ours not so much in death, as in life" [BENGEL].
11. we which live--in the power of Christ's "life" manifested in us, in our whole man body as well as spirit ( Romans 8:10 Romans 8:11 ; 2 Corinthians 5:15 ). Paul regards his preservation amidst so many exposures to "death," by which Stephen and James were cut off, as a standing miracle ( 2 Corinthians 11:23 ).
delivered unto--not by chance; by the ordering of Providence, who shows "the excellency of His power" ( 2 Corinthians 4:7 ), in delivering unto DEATH His living saints, that He may manifest LIFE also in their dying flesh. "Flesh," the very element of decay (not merely their "body"), is by Him made to manifest life.
12. The "death" of Christ manifested in the continual "perishing of our outward man" ( 2 Corinthians 4:16 ), works peculiarly in us, and is the means of working spiritual "life" in you. The life whereof we witness in our bodily dying, extends beyond ourselves, and is brought by our very dying to you.
13. Translate as Greek, "BUT having," &c. that is, not withstanding the trials just mentioned, we having, &c.
the same spirit of faith, according as it, &c.--Compare Romans 8:15 , on the usage of "spirit of faith." The Holy Spirit acting on our spirit. Though "death worketh in us, and life in you" ( 2 Corinthians 4:12 ), yet as we have the same spirit of faith as you, we therefore [believingly] look for the same immortal life as you [ESTIUS], and speak as we believe. ALFORD not so well translates, "The same . . . faith with that described in the Scriptures" ( Psalms 116:10 ). The balance of the sentence requires the parallelism to be this, "According to that which is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak," namely, without fear, amidst "afflictions" and "deaths" ( 2 Corinthians 4:17 ).
14. Knowing--by faith ( 2 Corinthians 5:1 ).
shall raise up us also--at the resurrection ( 1 Corinthians 6:13 1 Corinthians 6:14 ).
by Jesus--The oldest manuscripts have "with Jesus."
present us--vividly picturing the scene before the eyes ( Jude 1:24 ).
with you--( 2 Corinthians 1:14 , 1 Thessalonians 2:19 1 Thessalonians 2:20 , 3:13 ).
15. For--Confirming his assertion "with you" ( 2 Corinthians 4:14 ), and "life . . . worketh in you" ( 2 Corinthians 4:12 ).
all things--whether the afflictions and labors of us ministers ( 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 ), or your prosperity ( 2 Corinthians 4:12 , 1 Corinthians 3:21 1 Corinthians 3:22 , 4:8-13 ).
for your sakes--( 2 Timothy 2:10 ).
abundant grace, &c.--rather, "That grace (the grace which preserves us in trials and works life in you), being made the greater (multiplied), by means of the greater number (of its recipients), may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." [CHRYSOSTOM] ( 2 Corinthians 1:11 , 2 Corinthians 9:11 2 Corinthians 9:12 ). The Greek is susceptible also of this translation, "That grace, being made the greater (multiplied) on account of the thanksgiving of the greater number (for grace already received), may abound (abundantly redound) to," &c. Thus the Greek for "abound" has not to be taken in an active sense, but in its ordinary neuter sense, and so the other Greek words. Thanksgiving invites more abundant grace ( 2 Chronicles 20:19-22 , Psalms 18:3 , 50:23 ).
16. we faint not--notwithstanding our sufferings. Resuming 2 Corinthians 4:1 .
outward man--the body, the flesh.
perish--"is wearing away"; "is wasted away" by afflictions.
inward man--our spiritual and true being, the "life" which even in our mortal bodies ( 2 Corinthians 4:11 ) "manifests the life of Jesus."
is renewed--"is being renewed," namely, with fresh "grace" ( 2 Corinthians 4:15 ), and "faith" ( 2 Corinthians 4:13 ), and hope ( 2 Corinthians 4:17 2 Corinthians 4:18 ).
17. which is but for a moment--"Our PRESENT light (burden of) affliction" (so the Greek; compare Matthew 11:30 ), [ALFORD]. Compare "now for a season . . . in heaviness" ( 1 Peter 1:6 ). The contrast, however, between this and the "ETERNAL weight of glory" requires, I think, the translation, "Which is but for the present passing moment." So WAHL. "The lightness of affliction" (he does not express "burden" after "light"; the Greek is "the light of affliction") contrasts beautifully with the "weight of the glory."
worketh--rather, "worketh out."
a far more exceeding and--rather, "in a surpassing and still more surpassing manner" [ALFORD]; "more and more exceedingly" [ELLICOTT, TRENCH, and others]. Greek, "in excess and to excess." The glory exceeds beyond all measure the affliction.
18. look not at--as our aim.
things . . . seen--"earthly things" ( Philippians 3:19 ). We mind not the things seen, whether affliction or refreshment come, so as to be seduced by the latter, or deterred by the former [CHRYSOSTOM].
things . . . not seen--not "the invisible things" of Romans 1:20 , but the things which, though not seen now, shall be so hereafter.
temporal--rather, "for a time"; in contrast to eternal. English Version uses "temporal" for temporary. The Greek is rightly translated in the similar passage, "the pleasures of sin for a season."