Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
weakness. The weakness was assumed voluntarily by him because it was necessary to the work of redemption. "Yet he liveth by the power of God." Even in the grave his body was treated as though men had it under mastery. Roman procurator and Jewish Sanhedrim held it as their own, and stationed a military guard at the sepulchre where his corpse, still their prisoner, lay till the third day ended the mystery of his weakness. Then came the triumph "of the power of God." Authority felt it and was abased. To its degradation it added the infamy of a lie, and to the lie the infamy of a money bribe. Guilt felt it and acknowledged its impending curse in the return of innocent blood as vengeance on its head. Sad as this hour was to St. Paul, his faith was never firmer. Had he not said just before, that if he should have to "bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented," he should accept the humiliation as a holy discipline? "My God will humble me among you." One had gone before him in weakness. But his Leader in trial would be his Leader in triumph. "For we also are weak in him." It is not our weakness. It wears a human look, speaks human words, trembles with human sensibility, sighs with human pathos, yearns for relief with human desires. Nevertheless it is a fact, "we also are weak in him. The weakness we share is that of the God-Man, the weakness of the Divine incarnation, so that we walk according to our small measure in the footsteps of him who himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses." "But we shall live," not in the resurrection, but in the day when we come to Corinth and vindicate our authority, "we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Then, indeed, you who have taunted us as weak and contemptible," shall see and know that this risen and exalted Christ is Christ in us," the power of God toward you." Do you then "seek a proof of Christ speaking in me"? 1 shall come with "the power of God" and the "proof" shall be given. - L.
I. THE WEAKNESS OF CHRIST IS SHARED EVEN BY HIS SINCEREST AND MOST FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS.
1. In the Lord Jesus were, both in his person and in his ministerial career, many circumstances of humiliation. His helpless childhood; his subjection to hunger, thirst, and weariness; his liability to pain; his endurance of death, are instances of the former. His submission to calumny and insult, to betrayal and desertion, to hatred and rejection, are proofs of the latter.
2. Now, our Lord himself forewarned his disciples that they should share their Master's lot. Paul certainly took up the cross. The thorn or stake in the flesh, the feeble body, the scourgings and imprisonments which he was called upon to endure, were not regarded by him as accidents and misfortunes, but rather as proofs of true discipleship, as participations in the sufferings of the Lord. And this is the light in which all followers of the Lord Jesus are justified in regarding the endurances and calamities which befall them in treading in his steps and in executing his commission. It is the moral glory of Christianity that it dignifies the sufferings of those who partake their Leader's spirit in self-denying endeavours for the salvation of their fellow men. Such servants of the Divine Master may well "glory in infirmity." Their wounds are the honourable scars telling of the severity of the conflict in which they have been engaged.
II. THE POWER OF GOD WHICH WAS UPON CHRIST SHALL BE DISPLAYED IN THOSE WHO, SHARING THE MASTER'S SERVICE, SHARE ALSO HIS WEAKNESS. Paul was content that men should perceive the weakness manifest in the crucifixion of the Redeemer but he preached to them a risen, reigning, and glorified King. The resurrection and ascension of Christ were both proofs of the acceptance of the Son by the Father, and they were an inspiriting omen of the approaching victory of the cause for which Jesus deigned to die. From the throne of might and dominion, possessed of all authority, the victorious Lord governs his Church on earth, and secures its safety and well being. St. Paul felt himself entrusted with abundant means of maintaining his spiritual authority as the "ambassador of Christ." He might possess marks of the dying of the Lord Jesus; but he wielded a might which no foe could resist. Let all faithful servants of Jesus and true soldiers of the cross be encouraged by the reflection that their Commander is omnipotent, and that he must reign until every foe is beneath his feet. - T.
I. THE FORMER WAS THROUGH WEAKNESS.
1. Christ assumed a nature which was capable of crucifixion. Who could crucify God? But the God-Man might walk in weariness and weakness to Golgotha. What a pathetic consideration that Christ voluntarily chose a nature which was subject to suffering and death!
2. Christ repressed his innate power.
(1) His Divine power. Thus he laid down his life; no man took it from him. But a flash of that power, and the cross would never have been reared. But a word from his lips, and his persecutors would have been dead men. But then the gospel would never have been told to man; so for man omnipotence became impotence.
(2) His human power. Man power as well as God power was discarded. There was no resistance. He became "as a sheep before her shearers." He voluntarily became the weakest of the weak that he might be strong to redeem. Learn here that repression is often a triumph. Not always does the putting forth of power mean success. It is sometimes our wisdom to sit still, to submit, to be silent.
II. THE LATTER WAS IN POWER.
1. A marvellous event. What a contrast between the first day and the third! How mighty men seem on the former! how unutterably impotent on the latter! How weak Christ seems on the one! how omnipotent on the other!
2. Demanding Divine energy. This power was not of man. Man stands completely helpless at the grave. Here his boastings are silenced. But the Author of life can restore life. The Divine power manifested in our Lord's resurrection we find sometimes ascribed to God the Father (Ephesians 1:20), sometimes to the Son (Mark 14:58). "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30).
(1) Christ arose in perfect power. The cross and the grave left no marks of weakness upon him. His omnipotence was untainted.
(2) He has reigned since in power above.
(3) He works in power today on earth through his Word and Spirit.
III. THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST, THOUGH IN CONTRAST, ARE IN CLOSE ASSOCIATION. They are in point of time. A few hours only separated the weakness of the cross from the power of the restoration. But there is real dependence also. In a certain sense the one was the natural result of the other. Without so perfect a crucifixion there could not have been so triumphant a resurrection. Christ was perfect alike when he was in weakness and when he was in power. Had there been any less "weakness" in the death, there had been less "power" in the resurrection. The humiliation was, in its order, as truly glorious as the exaltation. So with us - if we are abased with Christ here we shall be glorified with him hereafter. We have the cross - must have the cross - if we would have the crown. - H.
For even he was crucified. St. Paul seems to see in Christ the highest representative instance of the axiomatic law by which he himself had been ccmforted, that strength is perfected in infirmities. For he too lived encom passed with the infirmities of man's nature, and the possibility of the Crucifixion flowed from that fact as a natural sequel." Professor Lias says, "Our Lord assumed our human nature with all its infirmities (Hebrews 2:10-18; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:2, 3), and although they were the result of sin. He bore all those infirmities, death itself included. And then he shook them all off forever when he rose again 'by the power of God.'"
I. CHRIST WAS BODILY WEAK. We may fairly assume that our Lord had a healthy body; but it was subject to ordinary human infirmities. He felt fatigue, hunger, thirst, need of sleep; and spiritual work exhausted his nervous system as it does ours. We may even assume that his must have been a nervously sensitive body, since this is found to be the characteristic of all highly intellectual and all highly spiritual men and women. It will be easy to show how St. Paul would feel a special sympathy with the Lord Jesus in all this, since his too was a frail, sensitively organized body. Those who are easily depressed, readily affected by outward circumstances, and conscious of physical frailty, seldom realize how near to them in sympathetic experience comes the Lord Jesus Christ, and, after him, the great apostle of the Gentiles.
II. CHRIST WAS SOUL STRONG. And therefore he could go through all the lot which God appointed for him, even though that included the bitter and terrible experiences of the Crucifixion. The soul strength St. Paul thought of as Christ living in the very midst of his weakness and suffering. His idea may be thus expressed: "We too are weak; we have our share in infirmities and sufferings, which are ennobled by the thought that they are ours because they are his; but we know that we shall live in the highest sense, in the activities of the spiritual life, which also we share with him, and which comes to us by the power of God; and this life will be manifested in the exercise of our spiritual power towards you and for your good." Reference is to the present ministry and not to the hereafter time. If Christ's weakness was, like St. Paul's, frailty of belly, he might rejoice that Christ's strength was soul strength, and, like his, the strength of God made perfect in weakness. - R.T.
i.e. not tested as to the display of his power. Welcome such unapproval! It would be in exact conformity to the spirit and end of his apostolic administration, which was in accordance with the truth of the gospel and designed to show forth that truth. What is the test of a great and wise ruler? The test is the uselessness of a punishing power (except in extreme cases and as an ultimate resort), because his subjects govern themselves. Such was the apostle's argument. Nothing against the truth, all for the truth, Christ the Truth; this was the beautiful summation in which he rested. If this should apparently exhibit his weakness, what a glorious weakness it would be! Apostolic judgment made needless by self-government; what could be a grander testimony to the truth and excellence of his work among them? Then, verily, they would be strong. "Perfection" in the order and unity of the Church, "perfection" of individual character, was the object of his prayer, and hence this Epistle. Whoever teaches Christianity as God's truth cannot fail to teach much else besides. These verses are maxims of infinite wisdom. What man in authority, what statesman in the affairs of a nation, what father at the head of a family, what office holder in the Church, if he would bear his faculties so meekly and be thus "clear in his great office," would not be a providence of instruction and helpfulness in the world] Decay of reverence for law begins in decay of reverence for men who administer the law. Unhappily enough, this decline in reverence for law is one of the growing perils of the age. It is peculiar to no form of government. It is spreading everywhere as an atmospheric evil, and threatening like an epidemic to travel roared the globe. Power to build up, not to destroy; this is St. Paul's idea of power divinely bestowed. And accordingly we see what a blessed discipline it was to him personally and officially; and having accomplished this result in his own soul, it is not remarkable that it achieved its ends in this distracted and corrupted Church at Corinth. - L.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-PROOF. This appears from the unquestionable fact that men generally are disposed to take too favourable a view of themselves, their own character, their own services, their own importance to the Church or the world. Illusion often becomes delusion. That which is nearest at hand, and which might be supposed, because most accessible, to he best known, is often judged with the least fairness and justice. Yet if we form a false estimate of ourselves, how disastrous the consequences may be!
II. THE METHOD AND SPIRIT OF SELF-PROOF.
1. There should be perfect candour.
2. The examination should be carried on as under the eye of the omniscient and all-searching God.
3. The standard by which we judge ourselves should be the high and infallible standard of God's own Word.
4. There should be no attempt to exalt self by depreciating others.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF SELF-PROOF.
1. The process may reveal what is altogether unsatisfactory and lamentable. He who tests himself thoroughly may come to the conclusion that his life is all wrong from the very foundation. If this is so, it is well that it should be known, that a new basis for the moral life may be laid in the truth and righteousness of God himself.
2. The process may yield results partly gratifying and partly regrettable. If so, while there will be reason for gratitude and encouragement, there will be a call to repentance, reformation, and improvement. For a man to know his faults and errors is the first step towards what is better and nobler. - T.
I. MANY ARE FOND OF TESTING OTHERS WHEN IT IS MORE NEEDFUL FOR THEM TO TEST THEMSELVES. "Beginning at Jerusalem" is beginning at the right place. "Know thyself" was a very wise exhortation. To ascertain the shortcomings of others is more pleasant, but not so profitable, as to ascertain our own. The matter of first importance to us is, not whether our neighbour's scales are true, but whether ours are. Men are singularly unselfish in some directions - in the directions of giving advice and passing condemnatory judgments.
II. THE TEST WHICH WE APPLY TO OTHERS WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO STAND OURSELVES. Paul was not what the Corinthians thought he ought to be, because they were not what they ought to have been. A blind man is a poor judge of colours. The beam must be taken out of our eyes before we shall be able to see clearly. An unclean man denouncing uncleanness is no very edifying spectacle. If we warn men against getting into the mire, they will expect us to come out of it. If we would be leaders, we must lead. "Come" is much more potent than "go."
III. THERE IS ONE POINT UPON WHICH WE SHOULD BE MOST DESIROUS OF TESTING OURSELVES. This is - whether we are "in the faith." Men test themselves frequently, but generally upon points of secondary importance. This is the question of questions.
1. Do we truly repent of sin? Do we grieve over evil as that which has been done against God? Do we hate it, loathe it, desire to be freed from it?
2. Have we a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we gratefully receive him as our Redeemer, and believe that his blood cleanses us from all sin? Have we come to God by Christ and obtained his forgiveness?
3. Is the vitality of our faith demonstrated by the fruits of holy living? If our faith is not accompanied by works, it is no faith - we are "reprobates" still, and hypocritical reprobates into the bargain. If we are "in the faith," we shall be subject to God, striving daily to do his will, living and labouring to please him and to extend his glory in the earth. We may still be very imperfect, but, having been "born again," we shall walk in "newness of life."
IV. HOW WE MAY TEST OURSELVES UPON THIS VITAL POINT.
1. By prayerful self-examination. Prayer must come into this examination of ourselves because God must come. We need Divine help to aid us in knowing ourselves.
2. By comparing head, heart, and life with God's Word. In the Scriptures we have declared what those "in the faith" believe, feel, do.
3. By pressing home the question - Is Christ in me? "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9). We are in the faith if the Lord of the faith is in us. How earnestly should we examine ourselves! How restless should we be until we enter into the rest which comes from knowing that we are truly in the faith! - H.
I. POINTS ON WHICH SELF-EXAMINATION IS REQUIRED. They relate to your connection with Jesus Christ - whether he is in you and you are in the faith. It is assumed that the word of faith has been preached; then follows the question - How does this Word affect or influence you? It is easy to hear it and give it a formal assent - but this is not enough. Are you really in the faith? Does the truth compass you about and impress itself on all your views, motives, and principles of action? If so, Christ is certainly in you. He dwells in your heart by faith, and by his Spirit vitalizes and purifies your spirit.
II. THE KIND OF EVIDENCE NEEDED. The thing is not to be assumed, but proved. There is a mode of proof which onlookers may read and estimate. It is that which appears in your temper, demeanour, and actions. If men see good fruit in you, they infer that you are a good tree. But self-scrutiny must go into the matter more deeply; Onlookers see actions, but not the motives from which they spring. Some of your words and deeds they know, but not all of them, and not your actuating dispositions. Examine yourselves by the double test of the inward and the outward life. Review your motives and secret desires, as well as the current of your tempers and the tenor of your lives.
III. THE DIFFICULTY OF CONDUCTING THIS EXAMINATION.
1. In the nature of the case. Genuine self-knowledge is perhaps a rare attainment. The moment we go beneath the surface and try to probe the hidden things of the heart, we find ourselves among intricacies hard to unravel - a review of motives, the detection of half motives, and the analysis of transient thoughts and feelings as respects their moral complexion and significance. We are in a labyrinth of plans, wishes, imaginations, passions, caprices, and principles. One motive lurks behind another, one current of desire flows beneath another. And feeling, when subjected to analysis, ceases to be feeling, and it is only the recollection or the shadow of it which you can examine.
2. Through the delusions of self-esteem. Men shrink from a severe self-examination, lest the result should be mortifying, if not alarming. And even so far as they go, they are influenced by a desire to think hopefully of their own state, and to apply to themselves easy and partial tests. Like a teacher who is partial to a particular scholar and asks him only those questions which he is sure to answer, or an unjust judge who gives ear only to the side that he favours, every man is apt in self-examination to be biased in his own favour and to dwell on his best points as though they formed the whole staple of his character.
3. From exaggerated self-distrust. Some minds are morbidly sensitive, and do not so much examine as torment themselves. They cannot own what Christ has done for them, through fear of presumption. And their self-judgment is hindered by over caution and a dejection mistaken for humility.
IV. THE WAY TO REACH THE TRUTH ABOUT YOURSELVES. The Lord must be asked to preside over and direct the examination. It is he who looks upon the heart, and so it is he who can give you an insight into your real selves. Begin with the prayer in Psalm 139:23, 24. The Spirit of the Lord then shows you what you are by means of the lamp of the Word. And with such guidance you ought to know whether you are the Lord's or no. But you must yourselves watch as well as read and pray. It is a good rule to note the significance of little things, in which the mind is less on its guard and so more freely reveals its bent. A physician watches slight symptoms in order to detect and cure disease. A judge takes note of small incidents in a case, and shows the jury how, on the combination of these, the verdict of guilt or innocence must turn. So also should he act who would diagnose or judge himself; though, on the other hand, one must not lay all the stress on minor points, but should rest the main conclusion on broad and comprehensive grounds.
V. THE CONDITION OF THOSE WHO CANNOT BEAR THE TRIAL, "Disapproved." There is no verdict of "not proven." Those who name the Name of Christ are approved or disapproved. Leave not your relation to Jesus Christ in doubt. Repair to him who can solve your doubt and give you the good part that shall not be taken away. - F.
I. WHAT IT MAY PROPERLY CONCERN.
1. Conduct. This may include
(1) our mode of performing our ordinary life duties;
(2) the character of our relationship with others;
(3) the wise use of our opportunities of usefulness;
(4) the helpful occupation of our leisure hours;
(5) and the worthy meeting of our life responsibilities.
2. Opinion. St. Paul here enjoins a proving or testing of opinion, so that a man may know whether he is "holding fast the profession of his faith without wavering;" "holding fast the form of sound words."
3. Feeling. So far as this is related to the motive of conduct, and gives inspiration and character to the expressions of Christian life. Self-examination of feeling with a view to confidence of our state and satisfaction in our progress and attainment is always perilous and often ruinous. Watching frames and feelings is the most enervating thing a Christian can do. It never can culture humility; it often, in a very subtle way, nourishes spiritual pride and severs the soul from the simplicity of its dependence on Christ. It brings a false satisfaction in feeling right, or a needless distress in feeling wrong. It clouds the Christian life with hindering and weakening depressions, or it brings an extravagant joy which is really joy in self, not joy in God.
II. WHEN SHOULD IT BE UNDERTAKEN? Only occasionally, and under special pressure, such as comes with times of conscious weakness and failure; or times when error is being freely taught; or times when the Christian morality is imperilled; or times when the changes of life are bringing to us fresh responsibilities. St. Paul commends the duty in a special form in relation to the Communion of the Lord's Supper. And many Christian people have found special times of self-examination useful - at the New Year, at birthdays, etc. Where there is a natural tendency to morbid introspection the seasons should be very infrequent. Where the active side of Christian life is overdeveloped, the times for self-examination may safely be multiplied.
III. IN WHAT SPIRIT SHOULD IT BE CONDUCTED? There should be
(1) great seriousness;
(2) earnest prayer for a spirit of sincerity and faithfulness;
(3) careful avoidance of any desire to test themselves by any human standards;
(4) anxiously cherished dependence on the leadings and teachings of God the Holy Ghost; and
(5) firm resolve to turn the conclusions of our self-examination into principles and directions for the guidance and the improvement of our practical life of godliness. Compare the psalmist, who prays, "Search me, O God," before attempting to search himself.
IV. HOW MAY THE POSSIBLE EVILS OF IT BE COUNTERACTED?
1. By making Holy Scripture the standard according to which we test ourselves.
2. By making conduct rather than feeling the subject of our review.
3. By turning the results of the examination into prayer for more grace.
4. By persisting in seeing the things that we may have to rejoice in, as well as those which we may have to groan over.
5. And by regarding the Lord Jesus Christ - and none but he - as our Model of the interior, as well as of the exterior, Christian life. - R.T.
not sufficient to prove the indwelling presence and sanctifying power of the living Christ. The word "reprobate" signifies those who have been tried and found wanting. Illustrations of the use of the term may be found in Romans 1:28; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:16; Hebrews 6:8. The subject may be effectively introduced by a description of the scene in Belshazzar's palace, with the mystic handwriting on the wall. Then it may be shown how the term may gain its application to -
I. INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS. Some such St. Paul refers to by name, as Alexander, Hermogenes, Demas, etc. Compare Peter's finding Simon the Sorcerer wanting. Individuals may be reprobate
(1) intellectually, by accepting false and dishonouring doctrine;
(2) morally, by yielding to temptations of self-indulgence, vice, or crime.
II. CHURCHES. This may be illustrated by the searching addresses sent by the glorified Christ to some of the seven Churches of Asia. The principles of the search may be effectively applied to modern Churches.
III. PASTORS. These fail from the pastoral ideal generally after they have failed from the private Christian ideal. Shepherds are reprobates when they neglect their duty to their flock; when they feed themselves and not the flock; when they see the wolf coming, and flee; and when they fail duly to honour the chief Shepherd before the flock, Illustration may be taken from the experiences of the City of Mansoul as figured by John Bunyan, in his 'Holy War.' Reprobates, such as are here dealt with, are recoverable by penitence, humiliation, and heart-return to Christ. - R.T.
i.e. through Christ who strengthened him. Let his adversaries rage and threaten, he had no fear. He would assert his authority, exercise his power, and reduce the proudest opponent to helplessness. For the truth's sake, for the gospel, there was nothing which he was not able to achieve. But if those whom he chided should submit, should return to their fidelity, not to him only, but to the gospel, then he was powerless to harm them. Nay, in such a case he was with them, on their side. Such appears to be the explanation of this grand utterance occurring in this connection.
I. THE POWERLESSNESS OF MAN WHEN IN OPPOSITION TO THE TRUTH OF GOD.
1. The avowed enemies of the truth have failed in their attacks upon it, whatever have been the resources upon which they have drawn, the arms upon which they have relied. Persecution has raged first against Christianity itself, and then against its purer representation in days of reformation. With what result? The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church. "Truth, like a torch, the more it's shook it shines."
2. The false, hypocritical friends of the truth have never succeeded in exterminating it. Their efforts have often been insidious, and have often corrupted and ensnared individuals and even societies. But the pure truth of God has survived, whilst these attempts have again and again been foiled.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THOSE WHO WORK WITH AND FOR THE TRUTH OF GOD.
1. Their natural feebleness does not hinder the victory of the cause which they embrace. The ignorant, the poor, the young, the feeble, have done and are still doing great things for the gospel. As at first, so now, God chooses "the weak things of the world to confound the mighty,"
2. The efficiency of the truth depends upon its Divine origin and source. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Wherever God's truth is proclaimed, there God's Spirit works and God's power is felt.
3. The efficiency of the truth lies in its harmony with the nature and constitution of man. With the use of this divinely tempered implement the divinely prepared soil of humanity may be rendered fruitful in great results. Magna est veritas, et prevalebit. - T.
"Whose high endeavours are an inward light,
I. CHRISTIAN PEACE IS IN CONTRAST TO THE ENMITY WHICH IS NATURAL TO SINFUL MEN. "Whence come," asks the inspired writer - "whence come wars and fightings among you?" And the answer is that they may be traced to the lusts which are inherent in depraved human nature. In a more primitive state of society, mankind are actually and almost normally at war. In more civilized society, hatred, malice, envy, etc., prevail, and produce disastrous results, although the worst outward manifestations may be restrained.
II. CHRISTIAN PEACE IS OFTEN VIOLATED IN THE SOCIETIES WHICH ARE NAMED AFTER THE PRINCE OF PEACE. How signally this was the case with the Church at Corinth these Epistles make abundantly manifest. It was distracted by party spirit, by schism, by factions. Christ was "divided" in his body and members. And in this respect the example set at Corinth has, alas! too often been followed. The abode intended for peace has too often been converted into a scene of strife.
III. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST IS THE ONLY MEANS FOR RESTORING OR PRESERVING CHRISTIAN PEACE. Interest is not sufficient; external authority and advice continually fail. But if Christ be enthroned in each heart and in the society at large, then conflicts will be hushed and the peace of God prevail. Hence the need for all those exercises of prayer and meditation by which this truly Christian grace may be promoted.
IV. CHRISTIAN PEACE IS A CONDITION OF CHURCH PROSPERITY. Work and warfare are inimical. If there be strife, the vitality must needs be low, the witness must needs be marred, the work must needs suffer in all finer quality. On the other hand, harmony conduces to cooperation as well as to devotion. The world cannot fail to feel the effects of the presence and the testimony of a united and harmonious Church. - T.
I. RECOGNITION OF BROTHERHOOD. In his letter the writer had been compelled to insist much upon his apostleship, but he now wisely and graciously stands upon common ground. He was compelled to magnify his office, but he was too good and too great to magnify himself. Amongst men there is a natural craving for equality; we resent a fellow creature attempting to lord it over us. And in the realm of religion we have ever need to remember "all ye are brethren." What a poor fool a great man seems when he swells and struts in his miserable is pomposity and conceit! he is not great - no one can persuade us that he is great - be extremely little. How much greater our great men would be if they would not be so great! One might imagine, sometimes, that our Lord had commanded those who would be chief to imitate turkey cocks; but he said they must become as little children.
II. GOOD WISHES. "Farewell," or "Rejoice." All joy to you, all prosperity, all happy and profitable experience. Not a few of them had ill wishes for him; he had nothing but good wishes for friends and foes. This was a very real farewell. Upon our lips it often means too little - in fact, it has become but the barest signal for separation; but coming from Paul's heart it was full of earnest meaning. Possibly in his thought it took the form of "Rejoice in the Lord," as in Philippians 3:1. Everything of value in the eyes of Paul was "in the Lord." And there is no real faring well unless we are in Christ.
III. LOFTY AND GRACIOUS DESIRES.
1. For spiritual growth. "Be perfected." Correct the evils which I have painted out. Reform yourselves. Seek to become more like your Lord. Strive to get rid of the "old things," and to become new in Christ. Rest not as long as any sin abides within you. This was desiring for them the very highest good. This was a practical suggestion of the way in which they might "fare well."
2. For comfort. "Be comforted." Paul's heart was tender towards them. They had caused him great, discomfort; he desires their consolation. He had, indeed, wounded them himself in administering stern but necessary rebuke - but faithful were the wounds of such a friend; and now he desires that these wounds may be healed, trusting that the lancet has done its work. Note: he does not say, "Be comforted, be perfected," but "Be perfected, be comforted;" true comfort comes only as we strive for true holiness. The quickest way to bring comfort to men is to seek to make them better. To comfort men in sin is devil like; to comfort men by bringing them out of sin is God-like.
3. For unity. "Be of the same mind." Disunited, they would be miserable and weak; united, they would be happy and strong. When we are drawn nearer to Christ we shall be drawn nearer to the brethren; if we quarrel with the members we shall soon quarrel with the Head. The Church has to fight united foes; union should not be the monopoly of the servants of the devil.
4. For peace. "Live in peace." Let peace be continuous, uninterrupted. Disunion will lead to civil war, and how can Christians fight the devil if they are fighting one another? If we have peace with God we should live in peace with his children, and be at war only with Satan and sin.
5. For love. Conveyed by the exhortation to "salute one another with a holy kiss." Union is not enough; peace is not enough; there must be heartfelt affection between the people of God. This is the only true basis of union and peace. An armed truce is sometimes worse than open battle. We must not "tolerate" the brethren - we must love them. A "Toleration Act" is a blasphemy against Christ.
IV. A STRENGTHENING PROMISE. "The God of love and peace shall be with you." What Wesley said in death is true for all life, "The best of all is - God is with us." "If thy presence go not with me, carry me not up hence" (Exodus 33:15). If we have God with us, what can we lack? Perhaps we may regard this promise as conditional. If you sincerely strive to be holy, united, loving, God will abide with you; otherwise, he will depart. Like Israel of old, you may become desolate through carnality and hardness of heart. But if you desire to live in love and peace, the God of love and peace will presence himself with you. You must be workers together with him; from him you get desires for love and peace; but you must cultivate these, and be true and earnest in your religious life. It has been well said, "God's presence produces love and peace, and we must have love and peace in order to have his presence; God gives what he commands; God gives, but we must cherish his gifts." - H.
I. THE INITIAL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. You become in your heart acquainted with God through the faith of the gospel. You hear and believe that he loves, and is so far from desirous that any should perish, that he has made provision in Jesus Christ for eternal life to all who confide in his Name. So you repent of your enmity to him and turn to the God of love. Not only so. The gospel, while a revelation of love, is also a message of peace. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." Hearing this, you perceive that God is not pursuing you with an angry countenance and a terrible dart, but regards you with a face of sublime compassion and good will, and bids you fight against him no more, but become his friend. So you repent of your alienation and turn to the God of peace. And all is changed in you. You also love. You also are in peace.
II. PROGRESSIVE FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD. In order to abide with God, you must grow in those moral qualities which in their perfection make up his character. Thus you are to dwell in love, and to make peace.
1. Dwell in love. What notion can a hard-hearted, uncharitable man form of God? Faith needs love in order to the higher attainments of holy knowledge and holy fellowship. Only be who dwells in love dwells in God. The Divine Word is sweet to him. The Divine purposes are all good in his eyes; for love enters into the secret of love, and by a touch of sympathy recognizes its presence and strength.
2. Cherish and make peace. A quarrelsome Christian, a former of party, a fomenter of strife, - how can he know the God of peace? St. Paul by no means shrank from controversy, and made no truce with error or evil; but what a peacemaker he was in the Church! How impressive his appeals to the Corinthians to be of the same mind and at peace among themselves! It brings God into the heart to arrange disputes, to forgive offences, to bury prejudices, and to exhibit and foster brotherly kindness in the Church. It is the dove that was made a symbol of the Spirit of God; and that is a bird which flees away from noise and tempest. So it is in the quiet heart, and in those Churches where the brethren are at peace with one another, that the Spirit of the God of peace, the Comforter, will dwell.
III. DEFEAT OF THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL.
1. Hatred is a work of the flesh. Love is part of the fruit of the Spirit; and he who is born of the Spirit ought to smile at provocation and forgive injury and even love his enemies, because the God whom he serves is love, the Father of whom he is begotten is merciful.
2. Discord is a work of the devil. And in breathing a spirit of mutual consideration and concord over his people, the God of peace bruises Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). He brings order out of confusion, and crushes the hissing serpents of dissension and malignity under the feet of his saints. - F.
(1) party feeling,
(2) false teachings,
(3) immoral members.
As this subject has been so often taken as a theme for sermons preached at the close of ministries in particular places, we only give an outline from the point of view which regards unity as the central idea of the passage.
I. PERFECT. That is, exactly fitted together; a whole.
II. OF GOOD COMFORT. This would only come by the removal of the jealousies and envyings, which spoiled the unity and the brotherhood.
III. OF ONE MIND. Giving up individual preferences and peculiarities, so that they might agree together, think and plan the same things.
IV. LIVE IN PEACE. Or show that thoughtfulness for others which is the great secret of the peaceful life. Upon such unity as the apostle thus commends the Divine benediction is sure to rest. - R.T.
I. UPON WHAT CHRISTIAN GREETINGS ARE BASED. They differ from common everyday salutations in this, that they are not mere forms, and are not exchanged as a matter of course. They presume a common relation to, a common interest in, the Divine Saviour. The vital union of Christ's people to himself involves an intercommunion of sympathy amongst themselves.
II. IN WHAT CHRISTIAN SALUTATION FINDS EXPRESSION,
1. In words and in messages of spiritual friendship, in the case of those who are absent from one another. It is thus proved that distance does not sunder hearts, that the spiritual family, dispersed through many places, is nevertheless but one.
2. In the primitive Churches the Christian greeting took the form of the "holy kiss." In this a common social usage was sanctified by a new and higher meaning. The custom was one which in some Churches was retained for centuries. The kiss of peace, brotherhood, and love was felt to be the appropriate symbol of the new and all-pervading sentiment of Christian kindness.
III. WHAT PURPOSES CHRISTIAN GREETINGS SUBSERVE. We may trace several very useful practical ends secured by them.
1. They are evident tokens of the wide diffusion of the Saviour's spiritual presence. It is because Christ is with and in his Church that the living members of this Church, pervaded by one Spirit, show true unity and love.
2. They remove the distressing feeling of isolation from which Christ's people may in many circumstances grievously suffer.
3. They are an anticipation of the confidential and affectionate fellowship which is (next to the presence of the Redeemer) to be expected as the highest joy of the heavenly state. - T.
all. And what fulness and richness of blessing is this which the apostle here implores!
I. TRUE BLESSING DOES NOT CONSIST IN EARTHLY ENJOYMENTS OR EVEN IN HUMAN FELLOWSHIP. Men's good wishes usually relate to these advantages, and as far as they go they are good, and may be very good. But the apostle took a higher view of the possibilities of human nature and life.
II. TRUE BLESSING CONSISTS IN THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF a DIVINE RELATIONSHIP. The three Persons of the Trinity are all concerned in the best and happiest experiences of the pious soul. It is a lofty view, it must be admitted, this which the apostle takes of religion, but not therefore unreasonable. It is all the worthier as evincing the interest of the Creator in the spiritual well being of mankind.
III. TRUE BLESSING ASSUMES A DISTINCTIVELY CHRISTIAN FORM. This is apparent from the remarkable fact that in this solemn formal language the Lord Jesus occupies the foremost place. Harmonious this with. the Saviour's saying, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." The Mediator brings us into relation of sonship towards the Father and of participation in and with the Divine Spirit.
IV. TRUE BLESSING RESIDES IN THE REVELATION TO CHRISTIANS OF THE EMPHATICALLY BENIGNANT ASPECTS OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER. Observe that "favour," "love;" and "communion" are here put forward as those attributes and relations in which it is chiefly desirable that the Eternal should manifest himself to his finite and dependent creatures.
V. TRUE BLESSING IS THE SUBJECT OF MUTUAL CHRISTIAN INTERCESSION. It is noticeable that, not only is this incomparable boon to be sought by each devout soul for itself; we have the example and the authority of the apostle for including it among the objects sought in intercessory supplications. Hence the appropriateness of this language for use at the close of devotional services. - T.
I. THE MATTER OF THE BENEDICTION.
1. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) Remark the title. Lord - the Divine One and the Master. Jesus - the Saviour and the Man. Christ - the Anointed of God, the long promised Messiah. A trinity of qualification.
(2) The grace. The favour, and all that the favour of such a Being involves. The blessings of Christ's rule as Master, of his redemption as Saviour, of his boundless resources as the Divine Messiah. If we are the objects of his favour, how inestimably rich we are!
2. The love of God. The apostle has just spoken of God as the God of love (ver. 11); now he desires for the Corinthians the love of this God of love. The riches of Divine love are the Christian's portion. Here is specially referred to the love of God as our Father. It was through the Father's love that the Saviour was given, but it is through the Saviour's work, and our participation in it, that we enter into the enjoyment of the love of God as the love of our Father. This is the covenanted love of God; his special fatherly affection for those who have become, through Christ, his sons and daughters. Thus the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" is made to precede "the love of God."
3. "The communion of the Holy Ghost. The participation in the Holy Ghost. This we enjoy through Christ (Galatians 3:13, 14). Who can estimate the value of this? The great work of sanctification, the constant effective teaching of the truth, preservation in times of spiritual peril, comfort in sorrow, ability to carry on Christian work, - all these depend upon our participating in the Holy Ghost. Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If in aught we hinder the Divine Spirit's working within us, in that measure we become spiritual suicides.
II. THE EXTENT OF THE BENEDICTION. It is for all Christians; it is not for any special order or class, but forevery individual. Some privileges were associated with the apostleship, some with certain of mark and power in the early Church, but the privileges which are of supreme value have ever been the common heritage of God's people. Some smaller favours may be for the few, the greatest are for the many.
III. HOW MAY WE COME UNDER THIS BENEDICTION? A very important question. To be beyond its reach must be to be in peril and misery. As it is for all the people of the Lord, those must become the people of the Lord who would share in its blessings. If we are willing to be blessed, God is willing to let this benediction rest upon us. By the way of repentance and faith and sincere striving to do the Divine will we pass from under the curse and abide under the benediction. - H.
I. THE MEANING OF THE TERM "GRACE." It must be distinguished from the word "graces," as meaning the special gifts and endowments granted to the early Church As used in the singular number, it sometimes means the free favour and love of God as shown to us in our salvation by Christ. Then the full expression is, "the grace of God, and the gift by grace" (Romans 5:15). A characteristic instance of this use of the word may be found in Titus 2:11, 12. St. Paul, however, uses the term in quite another sense. He often means by it what we should call the state of grace, that condition of privilege and relation, that favour and acceptance with God, into which we are brought by Christ and in which we stand - a state of justification and acceptance; a state of rightness with God through faith. This state of favour he calls "grace." Illustrative references may be made to Romans 5:1, 2; Galatians 1:6; Philippians 1:7, and also to a striking passage in 1 Peter 5:12. It seems that the Lord Jesus Christ is regarded as the model or representative of this state or standing of acceptance and favour with God The Father himself testified to it, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Christ declares it to be his abiding state, "I do always the things that please him." He was the perfect, obedient Son, in his trust, and love, and devotion, and obedience, and freeness of communion with the Father, giving us the very model and illustration of the state of rightness, of grace and favour, into which he brings us. St. Paul's burden of benediction is "grace," and he sometimes means by it the state of favour and acceptance with God into which we are brought by faith. Now, this state of grace is so thoroughly that in which Christ himself stands, and it is so manifestly the state into which we can only be brought by him, that it may properly be called the "grace of the Lord Jesus," or the "state of grace of the Lord Jesus." Sometimes this state is viewed on the side of the Spirit that brings us into it, and then it is called the state of faith; at other times it is viewed on the side of the privilege that belongs to it, and then it is called the state of grace. Reading St. Paul's benediction in the light of these explanations, it may run thus: "May you enjoy and enter yet more fully into that state of grace and favour with God which Christ has, by his sonship, and which you have, in measure also by yours: that state of grace, I mean, which consists in these things - an ever-deepening sense of the love of God, and feeling of the impulse of that love; and an abiding consciousness of the communion of the Holy Ghost, whereby ye are sealed."
II. THE CHRISTIAN STATE OF GRACE OR FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. Surely no fact could be presented that is more calculated to fill our hearts with the "joy unspeakable" than this. No principle of Christian steadfastness can be of more practical value than this. If any one thing more than another is the burden of the Epistles, it is the right of the believer in Christ. In multiplied ways the apostle seems to say - Realize your sonship; enter into your privilege; use your right of access; live as restored and accepted ones; seek to know the spirit of your new state; lift yourselves up to meet the responsibilities resting on your privilege. Ye receive "now the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." "Now are ye the sons of God." Yet surely this is not the thought which, as Christians, we most readily cherish. Too often we encourage uncertainty as to our spiritual status; we hope that all will be well at last, we walk under clouds of doubt, and very feebly welcome even the salvation which God grants. The higher Christian life takes in simple trust, not only Christ, but all the status, rights, and privileges that come to us in Christ. It loses its fears, buries its questioning, and rejoices in having "passed from death unto life." If any longing for a more earnest religious life has been started in any of our hearts; if for our own cold lifeless souls we have been led to pray, "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years!" - then let us be assured that the beginning of better things is this - Enter into, possess, and enjoy your full rights in Christ; not your own rights, but Christ's, which are made yours on believing. Believe that you have been brought into, and do now stand in, a state of grace and favour with God, accepted by him in the Beloved. For assurances of present salvation and privilege, see Romans 8:1, 14-17; Ephesians 2:12, 13, 18-22; 1 Peter 2:5, 9, 10; 1 John 3:1, 2, etc. But how is such a sense of our standing in Christ to be won? Faith - trust - is the answer. Trust is the attitude of our souls which God demands. Trust in his Son Jesus Christ, who "of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption." Simple, entire, perfect trust. Taking Christ as he is offered - as our "all in all," not for deliverance only, but also for standing and sanctification. United with Christ, his rights become ours. We are sons with God. We stand in the state of favour with God in which Jesus, the perfect Son, who is our life, stands. - R.T.