2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(7) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.—The imagery here begins to change. The treasure is “the knowledge of the glory of God” as possessed by the Apostle. It was the practice of Eastern kings, who stored up their treasures of gold and silver, to fill jars of earthenware with coin or bullion (Herod. iii. 103. Comp. also Jeremiah 32:14). “So,” St. Paul says, in a tone of profound humility, “it is with us. In these frail bodies of ours—’earthen vessels’—we have that priceless treasure.” The passage is instructive, as showing that the “vessels of wood and of earth” in 2Timothy 2:20 are not necessarily identical with those made for dishonour. The words have probably a side glance at the taunts that had been thrown out as to his bodily infirmities. “Be it so,” he says; “we admit all that can be said on that score, and it is that men may see that the excellence of the power which we exercise comes from God, and not from ourselves.” The words that follow, contrasting sufferings and infirmities in their manifold variety with the way in which they were borne through God’s strengthening grace, show this to be the true underlying sequence of thought.

2 Corinthians 4:7. But we — The apostles, and all other ministers of Christ, yea, and all true believers; have this treasure — Of the gospel, or of the truth and grace of God; in earthen vessels — In frail, feeble, perishing bodies, formed out of the dust of the earth, and, because of sin, returning to it; mean, vile, compassed about with infirmity, and liable to be broken in pieces daily. Even the whole man, the soul as well as body, is but a vessel, in which the treasure is lodged, and upon which it confers a value and dignity, but from which it receives none, but is rather disgraced and injured, by being deposited in such a mean and impure vessel. The gospel is properly termed a treasure, 1st, Because of its great excellence, manifested in the truth and importance of its doctrine; the equity, purity, goodness, and clearness of its precepts; the suitableness, value, and certainty of its promises, the awfulness and terror of its threatenings, revealed for our warning and caution. 2d, Because it is the means of enriching us, even in this world, with the truest and most valuable treasure; a treasure, of all others, the most suited to our rational and immortal nature, and which as far exceeds the riches of this world, as the soul exceeds the body, as heaven exceeds earth, or eternity time, namely, divine knowledge, — rendering us wise unto eternal salvation; true holiness, conforming us to the image of him that created us; and solid happiness, giving us, in communion with God, an earnest of our future inheritance. 3d, Because it offers to us, and shows us how to attain, the greatest and most valuable treasure in the life to come, even all the joys and glories of the heavenly state. That the excellency of the power may be of God — This power is three-fold: 1st, The inherent virtue of the gospel doctrine, whereby, when understood, believed, and laid to heart, it shows itself to be quick and powerful, spirit and life; becoming a seed of genuine repentance, of justifying faith, of immortal hope, of sincere love, and new obedience. 2d, Those miraculous operations, whereby God bore witness to, sealed, and confirmed the truth and importance of the doctrine of his first messengers. 3d, Those ordinary influences of his Spirit as a Spirit of truth and grace; of light, life, purity, and comfort, which fails not to accompany the faithful preaching of it in every age. By this three-fold energy, the gospel overcame of old, and still overcomes, the obstacles in the way of its progress: 1st, From within, through the corruption of nature, the prejudice of education, the love of false religion, unbelief, the love of sin, and of the world. 2d, From without, as the contradiction of philosophers, of heathen, Jewish, or Christian priests and magistrates; of sinners of all descriptions; persecutions from Jews and Gentiles, and the carnal part of mankind in every age; reproaches, spoiling of goods, imprisonments, racks, tortures, and martyrdoms. 3d, From the gospel itself, exhibiting, as an object of confidence, love, obedience, and worship, one who was crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. For, as Macknight observes, “the greatness of this power can only be estimated by the greatness of the obstacles which it had to remove, and by the greatness of the effects which it then produced. No sooner was the gospel preached in any country, whether barbarous or civilized, than great numbers forsook idolatry, and devoted themselves to the worship of the true God. Moreover, instead of wallowing, as formerly, in sensuality, and practising all manner of wickedness, they became remarkably holy. But it is evident, that before such an entire change in the faith [and practice] of any heathen could take place, the prejudices of education were to be overcome; the example of parents, relations, and teachers, was to be set aside; the reproaches, calumnies, and hatred of persons most dear to the convert, were to be disregarded; the resentment of magistrates, priests, and all whose interests were any way connected with the established religion, was to be borne; in short, the ties of blood and friendship were to be broken, considerations of ease and interest were to be silenced; nay, the love of life itself was to be cast out; all which were obstacles to the heathen changing their faith and practice, next to insurmountable;” and such as could not have been overcome by any natural power, which the first preachers of the gospel can be supposed to have possessed. The beautiful and strong expression here used by the apostle, ινα η υπερβολη της δυναμεως η του Θεου, evidently contains an ellipsis, which Grotius supplies thus, That the excellency, &c., may appear to be of God. Men, it must be observed, are always inclined to ascribe to second causes effects which belong only to the first cause. Whenever we see any effects which astonish us, instead of elevating our thoughts to God, and giving him the glory, we meanly sink into creature admiration, and creature attachments, as if the events were to be ascribed to instruments. Thus the heathen beholding the sun, and the astonishing effects produced by it in the world, took it for a god; not considering that it was only a servant, and an image of God, the invisible Sun. The Lycaonians, seeing Paul and Barnabas work a miracle, would have sacrificed to them, not considering that they were only instruments of the divine power. Nay, and the Jews, although instructed in the knowledge of the true God, yet when they saw Peter and John restore a cripple, crowded about them, greatly wondering, as though the miracle was to be ascribed to their power or holiness. And even the Apostle John, illuminated as he was by the Spirit of truth, suffered himself to be surprised at two different times by this imprudent inclination, (so natural is it to all mankind!) for, being dazzled with the glory of the angel who talked with him, he fell prostrate before him, and would have adored him, had not the angel corrected his folly. Now to prevent every thing of this kind, which would have entirely frustrated the design of the gospel, (which is to draw people from the creature to the Creator,) the power intended to convert the nations is put into earthen vessels, that a sight of the meanness of the instruments might prevent men from ascribing any thing to them. And the weaker the instruments are, the more is the divine power manifested and known to be of God, because there is no proportion between the instruments and the work. How glorious was the power which triumphed over the proud and mighty Pharaoh by the simple rod of Moses; that overthrew the walls of Jericho by the sounding of rams’ horns! And how illustrious the power which triumphed over principalities and powers, by the doctrine of the cross preached by mortals — sinners — men, mean and despised — by tax-gatherers, fishermen, and tent-makers; men without letters — arms — power — intrigue; men, poor, persecuted, forsaken! Yet idols fell: temples were demolished: oracles struck dumb: the reign of the devil abolished: the strongest inclinations of nature conquered: ancient habits and customs changed: superstitions annihilated: people flocking in crowds to adore the Crucified! The great and the small, the learned and the ignorant; kings and their subjects; yea, whole provinces and kingdoms, presenting themselves at the foot of the cross! Surely this is the finger of God, or rather it is the outstretched arm of Jehovah!4:1-7 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.But we have this treasure - The treasure of the gospel; the rich and invaluable truths which they were called to preach to others. The word "treasure" is applied to those truths on account of their inestimable worth. Paul in the previous verses had spoken of the gospel, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as full of glory, and infinitely precious. This rich blessing had been committed to him and his fellow-laborers, to dispense it to others, and to diffuse it abroad. His purpose in this and the following verses is, to show that it had been so entrusted to them as to secure all the glory of its propagation to God, and so also as to show its unspeakable value. For this purpose, he not only affirms that it is a treasure, but says that it had been so entrusted to them as to show the power of God in its propagation; that it had showed its value in sustaining them in their many trials; and "they" had showed their sense of its worth by being willing to endure all kinds of trial in order to make it everywhere known, 2 Corinthians 4:8-11. The expression here is similar to that which the Saviour uses when he calls the gospel "the pearl of great price," Matthew 13:46.

In earthen vessels - This refers to the apostles and ministers of religion, as weak and feeble; as having bodies decaying and dying; as fragile, and liable to various accidents, and as being altogether unworthy to hold a treasure so invaluable; as if valuable diamonds and gold were placed in vessels of earth of coarse composition, easily broken, and liable to decay. The word "vessel" (σκεῦος skeuos) means properly any utensil or instrument; and is applied usually to utensils of household furniture, or hollow vessels for containing things, Luke 8:16; John 19:29. It is applied to the human body, as made of clay, and therefore frail and feeble, with reference to its "containing" anything, as, e. g., treasure; compare note on Romans 9:22-23. The word rendered "earthen," (ὀστρακίνοις ostrakinois) means that which is made of shells (from ὄστρακινον ostrakinon), and then burnt clay, probably because vessels were at first made of burnt shells. It is suited well to represent the human body; frail, fragile, and easily reduced again to dust. The purpose of Paul here is, to show that it was by no excellency of his nature that the gospel was originated; it was in virtue of no vigor and strength which he possessed that it was propagated; but that it had been, of design, committed by God to weak, decaying, and crumbling instruments, in order that it might "be seen" that it was by the power of God that such instruments were sustained in the trials to which they were exposed, and in order that it might be manifest to all that it was not originated and diffused by the power of those to whom it was entrusted. The idea is, that they were altogether insufficient of their own strength to accomplish what was accomplished by the gospel. Paul uses a metaphor similar to this in 2 Timothy 2:20.

That the excellency of the power - An elegant expression, denoting the exceeding great power. The great power referred to here was that which was manifested in connection with the labors of the apostles - the power of healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out devils; the power of bearing persecution and trial, and the power of carrying the gospel over sea and land, in the midst of danger, and in spite of all the opposition which people could make, whether as individuals or as combined; and especially the power of converting the hearts of sin ners, of humbling the proud, and leading the guilty to the knowledge of God, and the hope of heaven. The idea is, that all this was manifestly beyond human strength; and that God had of design chosen weak and feeble instruments "in order" that it might be everywhere seen that it was done not by human power but by his own. The instrumentality employed was altogether "disproportionate" in its nature to the effect produced.

May be of God - May evidently appear to be of God; that it may be manifest to all that it is God's power and not ours. It was one great purpose of God that this should be kept clearly in view. And it is still done. God takes care that this shall be apparent. For:

(1) It is "always" true, whoever is employed, and however great may be the talents, learning, or zeal of those who preach, that it is by the power of God that people are converted. Such a work cannot be accomplished by man. It is not by might or by strength; and between the conversion of a proud, haughty, and abandoned sinner, and the power of him who is made the instrument, there is such a manifest disproportion, that it is evident it is the work of God. The conversion of the human heart is not to be accomplished by man.

(2) ministers are frail, imperfect, and Sinful, as they were in the time of Paul. When the imperfections of ministers are considered; when their frequent errors, and their not unfrequent moral obliquities are contemplated; when it is remembered how far many of them live from what they ought to do, and how few of them live in any considerable degree as becometh the followers of the Redeemer, it is wonderful that God blesses their labor as he does; and the matter of amazement is not that no more are converted under their ministry, but it is that so many are converted, or that any are converted; and it is manifest tidal it is the mere power of God.

(3) he often makes use of the most feeble, and unlearned, and weak of his servants to accomplish the greatest effects. It is not splendid talents, or profound learning, or distinguished eloquence, that is always or even commonly most successful. Often the ministry of such is entirely barren; while some humble and obscure man shall have constant success, and revivals shall attend him wherever he goes. It is the man of faith, and prayer, and self-denial, that is blessed; and the purpose of God in the ministry, as in everything else, is to "stain the pride of all human glory," and to show that he is all in all.

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" (2Co 4:16; compare 2Co 4:10), liable to afflictions and death. So the light in Gideon's pitchers, the type (Jud 7:16-20, 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 (1Co 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 (2Co 4:10, 11; Joh 3:30).

may be of God … not of us—rather, as Greek, "may be God's (may be seen and be thankfully [2Co 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.

By the treasure here mentioned, the apostle meaneth either his ministration, or apostolical office, which he before had proved glorious, more glorious than that of the law; or else, that light of the knowledge of the glory of God, which (as he had before said) God had made to shine into their hearts in the face of Jesus Christ. This treasure (saith he) we, even we that are the apostles of the Lord, have in our souls, which are clothed with bodies; and these not made of iron, or stone, or any other matter not capable of impressions of violence, but made of earth, like earthen pots or shells, that easily receive impressions of violence, and are presently broken in pieces.

That the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us; that the world may see, that whatsoever powerful effects are wrought by us, they are the work of the excellent power of God; not done by us, but by him; that he, not we, might have all the glory. But we have, this treasure in earthen vessels,.... This is a further commendation of the Gospel; and by which the apostle removes an objection against it, taken from the cross and persecutions that attend it, and the outward meanness of the ministers of it. The Gospel is called a "treasure", for not grace, nor Christ, but the Gospel is here meant; which is so styled, because it contains rich truths, and an abundance of them; comparable to gold, silver, and precious stones, for the price of them, their antiquity, distance of place from whence they come, and their duration; because it has in it rich blessings, spiritual ones, the blessings of the new covenant, solid, substantial, and irreversible ones, and a fulness of them; and because it consists of exceeding great and precious promises, of more worth than thousands of gold and silver; free, absolute, and unconditional ones, which are yea and amen in Christ, and relate both to this, and the other world; and also because it exhibits and shows forth to us the riches of God and of Christ, of grace and of glory; which are unsearchable, substantial, satisfying, and durable: the repository, or cabinet, in which this treasure is, are "earthen vessels"; by which are meant, ministers of the word, who are so in themselves, in their own esteem, and in the esteem of others; probably the apostle might have in view Lamentations 3:2. The doctors and scholars among the Jews are compared hereunto;

"says R. Eleazar (p), to what is a disciple of a wise man like, in the esteem of a man of the world? at first he is like to a golden cup; when he has conversed with him, he is like to a silver cup; and when he has received any profit by him, he is like , "to an earthen cup", which, when broken, cannot be repaired again: the law (say they) is not confirmed but by him, who makes himself , "as an earthen vessel" (q): R. Joshua (r) was a great man in the king's palace, and he was deformed; wherefore Caesar's daughter said, wisdom is beautiful , "in an ugly vessel"; and he brought her a simile in proof of it from wine, which is not kept in a silver vessel.''

The allusion is either to the earth itself, in which treasure lies, or is hid, and out of which it is dug; or to pots and vessels made of earth, into which treasure has been used to be put; or to earthen pitchers, in which lights or lamps were formerly carried; see Judges 7:16 where Gideon's three hundred men, are said to have empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers; they carried lamps with them to give them light, it being night when they went into the camp of Midian; and those they put into pitchers, that the Midianites might not perceive them afar off, as a Jewish commentator well observes (s); in like manner the Gospel put into earthen vessels is a glorious light to some, whilst it is hidden to others: yea, even lamps themselves were no other than earthen vessels, in which light was put; for so says Maimonides (t), a lamp, a burning light, is , "an earthen vessel", like a reed; and on the top of it is a little ear, which joins to it; and when it is made, a piece of old cloth is put upon the burning oil, and it continues in it; also an earthen vessel is made, in which there is a hollow place for to set the light in, and in it is gathered all that flows from the oil out of the light; and it is strengthened about the head of the candlestick, that the brass might not be hurt by the oil; and this vessel is called the house in which the light subsides, or the receptacle of the light; and which receptacle, another of the Misnic commentators says (u), is an earthen vessel, made to put the light in; and the lamp, he also says, is like an earthen platter, sharp pointed below, &c. and this allusion well agrees with the context, in which the Gospel is represented as a glorious light, shining in darkness, 2 Corinthians 4:4. The Greek word the apostle uses, signifies also "shells of fishes"; and in like manner does Philo the Jew (w) compare the human body;

"I am (says he) very little concerned for this mortal body which is about me, and cleaves to me , "like the shell of a fish"; though it is hurt by everyone.''

And the reference may be to pearls, which are said to have been found in such shells, particularly in oysters; and is designed to express, either the frail mortal bodies of the ministers of the Gospel, comparable to brittle shells; or baked earth; or rather the outward mean despicable condition of the apostles, and preachers of the word; being men of no figure in the world, for birth, learning, or outward grandeur; and being attended with sinful infirmities also, as other men; and more especially as they were labouring under reproaches, afflictions, and persecutions, for the sake of the Gospel; see Jeremiah 32:14. The reason why it pleased God to put such a rich and valuable treasure into the hands of persons so mean and contemptible was,

that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us: that is, that it might appear that the making of such persons ministers of the word was not of themselves, was not owing to their natural abilities, or to any diligence and industry, and acquirements of their own, or to any instructions they had received from others, but to the grace of God, and the effectual working of his power; and that the success which attended their ministrations in the conversion of sinners, and building up of saints, could only be ascribed to the exceeding greatness of divine power; and that the supporting of them in their work, under all the persecutions raised against them, and opposition made unto them, could be attributed to nothing else; of which power, instances are given in the following verses.

(p) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 52. 2.((q) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 4. 2.((r) Juchasin, fol. 33. 2.((s) Laniado in Judges 7, 16. (t) In Misn. Celim, c. 2. sect. 8. (u) Bartenora in ib. (w) De Joseph. p. 536.

{4} But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, {5} that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

(4) He takes away a stumbling block, which darkened among some, the bright shining of the ministry of the Gospel, that is, because the apostles were the most miserable of all men. Paul answers that he and his associates are as it were, earthen vessels, but yet there is in them a most precious treasure.

(5) He brings marvellous reasons why the Lord does so afflict his principal servants, to the end, he says, that all men may perceive that they do not stand by any man's power, but by the singular power of God, in that they die a thousand times, but never perish.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2 Corinthians 4:7 ff. The apostle now (on to 2 Corinthians 4:10) turns to the relation which the outward position, seemingly quite incongruous, bears to so glorious a calling. This pertained to the completeness of his Apologia, and to him—even without special attacks of opponents on this side—it thus most naturally suggested itself! We must put aside the supposition that his opponents had reproached him with his bodily weakness and persecutions (see, especially, Calvin, Estius, Mosheim, Flatt, Emmerling) as testimonies against genuine apostleship, since such a reproach, which must have affected not him only, but the apostolic teachers in general, is in itself quite improbable, and no trace of it is found in the whole of the following section. Still this section also is certainly not without indirect polemic bearing; for Paul, owing to the peculiarity of his apostolic character, had borne and suffered far more than the rival Judaistic teachers; and hence there was in the relation of his afflictions to his working quite a peculiar holy triumph for him over his foes. Compare the noble effusion in 2 Corinthians 12:21.

2 Corinthians 4:7. Δέ] merely carrying on the train of thought: Now to compare our outward position with this high vocation, we have, et.

τὸν θησαυρὸν τοῦτον] is referred either, in accordance with 2 Corinthians 4:6, to the light kindled by God in the heart (Grotius, Flatt, Rückert, and others), or to the ministerium evangelii (Calvin, Estius, Bengel, Emmerling, and others). According to 2 Corinthians 4:6, the inward divine enlightening (πρὸς φωτισμὸν κ.τ.λ.) is meant, and this definition of aim (πρὸς φωτ.) embraces in itself the ministerium evang.

ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν] in vessels of clay. Contrast with θησαυρόν, because, for such a treasure, some more costly and lasting vessel seems suitable. Comp. the opposite in Arrian, Epict. iii. 9 : χρυσᾶ σκεύη, ὀστράκινον δὲ λόγον. We may add that Paul, who, in fact, speaks here not of himself alone (observe the plur. σκεύεσιν, and 2 Corinthians 4:6, κσρδίαις), wishes not to affirm some special weakness of himself, but to say generally: Though we have so glorious a trust, yet is our body, the outward organ of our working, subject to the lot of being easily destructible. Following Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Theodoret, most commentators have rightly found in σκεύεσιν a figurative designation of the body; while Billroth and Rückert, following Estius, Calovius, Wolf, and others, understand the whole personality. Against the latter view we may urge as well the characteristic ὀστρακίνοις, which can refer only to the corporeal part (comp. Genesis 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:47), as also 2 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 5:1 ff. For examples of the use of ὀστράκινον σκεῦος[196] for the easily destructible corporeality (as Artemidorus, vi 25: θάνατον μὲν γὰρ εἰκότως ἐσήμαινε τῇ γυναικὶ τὸ εἶναι ἐν ὀστρακίνῳ σκεύει), see Wetstei.

ἵνα ἡ ὑπερβολὴ κ.τ.λ.] The design of God in this, namely, in order that the abundant fulness of power, which comes to be applied, namely, in our ministry working πρὸς φωτισμὸν κ.τ.λ., 2 Corinthians 4:6, in spite of all sufferings and persecutions (see what follows), may appear as the property of God, and not as proceeding from us. The context furnishes that special reference of the ὑπερβολὴ τῆς δυνάμ. The opposite of the conception of ὑπερβολή is ἔλλειψις (Plato, Protag. 356 A, Def. p. 415 A, al.).

καὶ μὴ ἐξ ἡμῶν] καὶ μὴ ἡμεῖς νομιζώμεθα κατορθοῦν ἐξ ἑαυτῶν τι, ἀλλὰ πάντες οἱ ὁρῶντες τοῦ θεοῦ λέγωσιν εἶναι τὸ πᾶν, Theophylact.

The is to be taken logice of the being, which presents itself to cognition; as often with Paul (Romans 3:26; Romans 3:4; Romans 3:19; Romans 7:13). Rückert denies this, but comes back himself to the same view by giving the meaning thus: God wishes to be the One, and to be recognised as such, who alone, etc. The explanation of Tertullian, the Vulgate, Estius, according to which τῆς δυνάμ. is connected with τοῦ θεοῦ, is against the order of the word.

[196] To this category does not belong Plato, Phaedr. p. 250 C, which passage is compared by Osiander, but there the body is figuratively presented as mussel (ὄστρεον).2 Corinthians 4:7-15. HIS BODILY WEAKNESS DOES NOT ANNUL THE EFFECTS OF HIS MINISTRY.7. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels] ‘I grant you that the exterior of the ministers of the Gospel is by no means in accordance with the description I have just given of the Gospel they preach. But why is this? but because, as I have said before, they desire not, they are not intended, to claim the glory and power as their own. It is stamped in their character, appearance, demeanour, sufferings, that they seek nothing for themselves, but are simply the servants of God, while the extraordinary results of their labours prove that it is He Whose messengers they are.’ The metaphor of the glory is dropped, and the Apostles represented as the earthenware vessels in which treasures were frequently in those days kept, and often (see Wordsworth in loc.) carried in triumphal processions. Cf. ch. 2 Corinthians 2:14. The treasure is Christ Himself, ministered by His disciples. See ch. 2 Corinthians 3:3, and cf. Matthew 13:44.

excellency] This word has somewhat lost its force in modern English, its place has been taken by the word superiority. See 2 Corinthians 4:17, where the Greek is the same as here.

of us] The Greek implies from ourselves as a source.2 Corinthians 4:7. Τὸν θησαυρὸν τοῦτον, this treasure) described from [beginning with] 2 Corinthians 2:14. He now shows, that affliction and death itself, so far from obstructing the ministry of the Spirit, even aid it, and sharpen ministers and increase their fruit.—ὀστρακίνοις, earthen) The ancients kept their treasure in jars, or vessels. There are earthen vessels, which yet may be clean; on the contrary a golden vessel may be filthy.—σκεύεσιν, vessels) It is thus he calls the body, or the flesh, which is subject to affliction and death; see the following verses.—ἡ ὑπερβολὴ τῆς δυνάμεως, the excellency of the power) which, consisting as it does in the treasure, exerts itself in us, while we are being saved, and in you, while you are being enriched; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11.—, may be) may be acknowledged to be, with thanksgiving, 2 Corinthians 4:15.—τοῦ Θεοῦ, of God) not merely from God. God not only bestows power once for all, but He is always maintaining it [making it good, ensuring it to His people].Verses 7-15. - Glory of the ministry in the midst of its weakness and suffering. Verse 7. - In earthen vessels. The glorious light which we have to show to the world is, like Gideon's torches, carried in earthen pitchers. The word skenos, vessel, is used in Mark 11:16, and "vessels of earthenware" in Revelation 2:27. St. Paul, in Acts 9:15, is called "a vessel of election," whence Dante calls him lo vas d elezione. Man can never be more than an earthen vessel, being frail and humble, and the metaphor specially suits an apostle of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:20). But when he takes the Word of life from the earthen pitcher and waves it in the air, it illuminates all on whom the light shines. No commentator seems to have seen the probable allusion to Gideon's pitchers. It is the "light," of which he has been speaking exclusively in the last verses, which constitutes the "treasure." Those who suppose that the "treasure" is gold or silver or something else of value, refer to Jeremiah 32:14, and Herod., 3:103; Pers., 'Sat.,' 2:10. The excellency; literally, the excess or abundance. Of God, and not of us; rather, of God, and not from us. This treasure

The divine light which is the guide and inspiration of the apostolic ministry.

In earthen vessels (ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν)

The adjective occurs only here and 2 Timothy 2:10. Herodotus says of the king of Persia: "The great king stores away the tribute which he receives after this fashion: he melts it down, and, while it is in a liquid state, runs it into earthen vessels, which are afterward removed, leaving the metal in a solid mass" (iii., 96). Stanley cites the story of a Rabbi who was taunted with his mean appearance by the emperor's daughter, and who replied by referring to the earthen vessels in which her father kept his wines. At her request the wine was shifted to silver vessels, whereupon it turned sour. Then the Rabbi observed that the humblest vessels contained the highest wisdom. The idea of light in earthen vessels is, however, best illustrated in the story of the lamps and pitchers of Gideon, Judges 7:16. In the very breaking of the vessel the light is revealed.

Excellency (ὑπερβολὴ)

Lit., a throwing beyond. Hence preeminence, excellence. See on exceeding, Romans 7:13. Rev. renders exceeding greatness. The reference is to the fullness of power apparent in the apostolic ministry.

Of God - of us (τοῦ Θεοῦ - ἐξ ἡμῶν)

The A.V. misses the difference between the two expressions. Of God is belonging to God; God's property: from (ἐξ) is proceeding from ourselves. Rev., of God - from ourselves.

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