William Kelly Major Works Commentary
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.2 Corinthians Chapter 6
The apostle now follows up the striking specimen he had given of the ministry of reconciliation toward the close of 2 Corinthians 5 by an appeal to the Corinthians themselves. There we saw how erroneous it is to treat verse 20 as a call to the saints; for he is illustrating the word they had to preach to the world. Here the opposite error is common through fear of compromising the security of the believer; and the more so, as men like Olshausen say, It is undeniable that the apostle assumes that grace when once received may be lost: the scriptures know nothing of the dangerous error of the advocates of predestination, that grace cannot be lost; and experience stamps it as a lie. This the more orthodox Calvinist, like Hodge, attempts to meet by saying that the apostle is only exhorting men not to let God's grace be to no purpose in making His Son sin, as it regarded them; that is, that a satisfaction for sin sufficient for all and appropriate to all had been made and offered to all in the gospel. But this is incorrect. It is a direct exhortation to the Corinthians, and not a declaration of the method in which the apostle preached, like the concluding verses of the preceding chapter. He is not exhorting all men, but the Corinthians who bore the Lord's name not to receive the grace of God in vain. Were there no ὑμᾶς, "you," expressed, it might be so argued; but there it stands, not in 2 Corinthians 5:20 but here, a distinct and effectual disproof of those who would assimilate the two; and its reserve to the last place gives such an emphasis to the pronoun that the only wonder is how grave and godly men should have ignored its force. The aorist inf. δέξεσθαι does not necessarily imply, as Meyer alleges in at least an early edition, a past reception of His grace, but may mean the act complete and decisive irrespective of time, which is thoroughly if not more consistent with the application to the Corinthians. What the apostle has in view is the danger of easy-going self-satisfaction in those who already called on the name of the Lord. So He Himself in the parabolic marriage of the king's son had warned, first, of despising or maltreating the messengers of the gospel; secondly, of indifference to what alone suits those who come, of wearing one's own garments instead of having put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism would aggravate, not hinder, the most condign judgment.
"And working together we also beseech that ye receive not in vain the grace of God (for he saith, In an acceptable season I listened to thee, and in a day of salvation I helped thee: behold, now aright acceptable season; behold, now a day of salvation), giving none offence in anything that the ministry be not blamed." (Vers. 1-3.)
There is no authority for inserting "with him" as in the italics of the Authorised Version, though supported by many commentators.* It is an unscriptural familiarity, if not irreverent. 1 Corinthians 3:9 gives it no real countenance; for the messengers are said to be, not fellow-workers with God, but His fellow-workmen, or journeymen together doing His work. So here, but by and on behalf of Him they work together, and exhort not men only to believe the gospel, but those who already professed faith not to receive His grace in vain. And "beseeching," while just applied to those without in token of the incomparable goodness of God to His enemies, is not less suitable in urging on His professing saints to beware of all inconsistent with His grace. The security of His children is unquestionable, not so much through their perseverance as men say, but by His power through faith: but the Corinthians needed and received faithful entreaty, for their ways were not such as became the gospel. They were compromising His glory who Lad called them to the fellowship of His Son; and the apostle, instead of comforting them with the blessed assurances at the close of Romans 8, would here exercise conscience as well as affection in presence of God's grace.
* The old interpretation is particularly objectionable, Dei enim sumus adjutores. Bengel on 1 Corinthians 3:9 put the true thought neatly: Sumus operarii Dei et co-operarii invicem.
Nor is this enfeebled but strengthened by the following verse in which Isaiah 49:8 is applied. It is a quotation from that section of the prophecy in which Jehovah arraigns the Jews not for idolatry but for rejecting the Messiah; and it is affirmed to be a light thing in consequence to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel. Jehovah would also give Him, thus cast off by His own people, for a light to the Gentiles, that He might be His salvation unto the end of the earth. If man despised and the nation [Israel] abhorred, His glory as on earth should be secured among kings and princes, whereon follows the word here cited. It is the principle, not the mere fact, which is taken up.
There is no need of supposing in this case that a promise to the Messiah included at the same time His people, though we see how strikingly this appears in the use made of Isaiah 50 by the apostle in Romans 8. Here the blessing to the Gentiles is expressly mentioned, so that it seems more akin to James's use of Amos 9:11-12, in Acts 15. And this is confirmed, it would appear, by the fact that the apostle breaks forth into a strong expression of the grace God is now showing, surpassing as it does the actual fulfilment in the days of the kingdom, when the earth shall be raised and the desolate heritage is enjoyed; when the prisoners shall go forth and those in darkness show themselves; when hunger and thirst shall be no more, and heat and sun shall not smite, but the merciful Jehovah shall guide even by the springs of waters; when the mountains shall be made a way, and the scattered return from every quarter under heaven; when the heavens themselves shall sing and the earth be joyful in Jehovah's mercy and comfort for His afflicted people. Yet in presence of such an anticipation, bright as it was in the apostle's heart, there shone a light brighter by far in Him who is exalted into a new and higher glory at God's right hand, which leads him to say, "Behold now a right acceptable season, behold now a day of salvation:" words suggested by the prophecy, but designedly rising above them in strength as expressive of God's present display of grace in the gospel.
Then, resuming the thread of his exhortation to the Corinthians, the apostle shows how far he was from refusing to measure himself and his service by that which he meted to others, "Giving none offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed." Who knew better that inconsistency above all things undermines preaching or teaching? Christianity is real and living, not dogmatic only, still less official: else it becomes of all things the most contemptible; just as when genuine it is heavenly and of the Holy Spirit, as the moral expression of Christ in those that are His. In Moses' chair sat the scribes and the Pharisees: it was a duty to do and keep all things whatever they might bid, whilst not doing according to their works; for they said and did not. But unreality, as it is a lie against Christ, destroys the weight of christian teaching, which derives its power from the Spirit of God. And no more eminent witness of his own words ever lived than the apostle, not more to endure the heaviest burdens for Christ's sake than to bear those of any or of all others. His life, not only as a whole but in every detail, was a comment on his ministry; and who so vigilant to out off occasion from those who sought it?
It is a right and needed thing to begin with giving no offence in anything which might occasion blame to the ministry. How often there is unguardedness of which the enemy takes advantage, against not merely the servant but the objects of his work and above all the Master whom He serves! The apostle however would go much farther: -
"But in everything as ministers of God commending ourselves, in much patience, in affliction, in necessities, in straits, in stripes, in prisons, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in [the] Holy Ghost, in love unfeigned, in [the] word of truth, in [the] power of God." (Vers. 4-7.)
Earlier in the Epistle (2 Cor. 3) we have seen the character of the ministry. In contrast with the ministry of death and condemnation, as set out in the law graven on stone, it is of the Spirit and of righteousness, the Spirit given and righteousness revealed to the believer in virtue of Christ's redemption. Later (2 Cor. 5) we saw its source in the God who reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ and gave to suited instruments, called and qualified by sovereign grace, the ministry of the reconciliation: how that it was God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their offences, and having put in us the word of the reconciliation. And as all the thoughts and feelings of men fall immeasurably short of the simple but deep truth of God here made known, so does the apostolic statement of the spirit and manner of its exercise rise above all the practices and theories of Christendom, never so alien, never so low, as when it indulges in the haughtiest pride. And no wonder, for it is then most remote from Christ; and Christ here as everywhere alone gives us the truth. Under law priesthood was the characteristic, the intervention of a representative class charged with maintaining before God the interests of His people who could not draw near into His holy presence for their own wants or His blessing. Under the gospel ministry is no less characteristic, as being the instrument of God's active love, both in reconciling His enemies as it goes out to the whole creation under heaven, and in building up the faithful who in one Spirit were all baptized into one body and were all given to drink into one Spirit. Christ is the fullest expression of this love in its activity both, to the world and to the saints; and those who desire the will and the glory of God have Him before their eyes as the test of all.
So we know it was with the apostle; and such is the revelation here of the spirit in which God would have His ministry exercised. He never meant it only for the pulpit, as men say, nor for set occasions, nor in a little or a larger sphere of one's own, nor as a matter of vested rights or of personal authority. Conversion did not of itself correct the tendency even in the apostles toward a direction the most opposed to Christ. "There was also a strife among them which should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so; but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth." (Luke 22) So here the first quality set before us is "in everything as ministers of God commending ourselves;" if not as His ministers, what are we? Worse than useless. And that as a fixed purpose of the soul, not now and then, nor in specified duties only, but in everything as God's ministers commending ourselves.
It maybe noticed that in this version "as God's ministers" is placed before the participle, whereas in Greek it follows. The reason is that our idiom does not admit of the order which is correct in the original because of its definite case-ending. The Authorised Version really expresses ὡς θεοῦ διακόνους which is the reading of the Clermont manuscript, and the more extraordinary, because the corresponding Latin is "sicut Di [ Dei] ministri." The Vulgate falls into the error of translating ὡς θ. διάκονοι "sicut Dei ministros." If the same order were sought in English as in Greek, it would necessitate, I think, the addition of "should;" for there is a difference of sense attaching to the difference of construction, and the apostolic phrase expresses precisely what the context requires. Were it the accusative, διακόνους, the meaning would be commending ourselves* as competent to be God's ministers, whereas with the nominative διάκονοι, as it is, the force is that in everything we in the capacity of His ministers commend ourselves, etc.
* In this case the order would also differ, probably by placing ἑαυτούς before σ. so as to give the former the more emphasis.
What then is the prime quality which is looked for? "In much patience" or "endurance." So the apostle in 2 Corinthians 12:12, where he sets "all endurance," or patience, before signs and wonders and works of power as apostolic vouchers. God Himself is called the God of patience no less than of comfort or encouragement, and this with a view to grant the saints to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; nor is there a happier proof of moral power in His servants than such constancy in the face of suffering, opposition, trial and temptation. When impatient, one is overcome of evil instead of overcoming it with good in the lowliest form.
Then follows a threefold cord of the several ways in which endurance is put to the proof: "in afflictions, in necessities, in straits." "Afflictions" or tribulations (θλίψεις) are cases of pressure which every saint has in the world. We are set for this, and must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God. Necessities (ἀνάγκαι) express distresses which take the shape of need or constraint, and so, as the early Greek writers noticed, indicate an advance in suffering; as straits (στενοχώριαι) point to such troubles as shut a man up without space to move or turn.*
* "In pressuris, complures patent viae, sed difficiles; in necessitatibis, una, difficilis; in angustiis, nulla." Beng. Gn. in l.
Next come specific inflictions, "in stripes, in prisons, in tumults." As to the first of these three, the apostle further gives us the fact that from the Jews he five times had received forty stripes save one, and been scourged thrice. As to "prisons," we know of but one, recorded minutely in Acts 16, doubtless for its momentous connection with the first planting of the gospel in Philippi; but 2 Corinthians 11:23 speaks of the apostle's being "in prisons more frequent," so that we know such shame to have been abundantly his lot. There remains in tumults" (ἀκαταστασίαις), which some apply to the forced changes of the apostle's unsettled life, comparing 1 Corinthians 4:11 with Isaiah 54:11, Isaiah 70. And so not moderns only, but apparently Chrysostom. Nevertheless New Testament usage does not support such a meaning, but either a "riot" in the world or "confusion" among saints; and here the context confirms the former: a trial shocking to one of well-ordered habits. But we see in the Acts how often it befell the apostle in his preachings; and doubtless very much more frequently than that history records.
Then we pass on from inflicted to voluntary trials, "in labours, in watchings, in fastings," which are not the least witness to sustained devotedness. The language so clearly intimates one's own agency here that it might have seemed needless to say a word more. But scripture fares as no other book; and this at the hands of friends as well as foes. Dr. Bloomfield will have it that this application to voluntary sufferings is, not only unfounded, but devised to afford countenance to monkish austerities; and that κ. may very well refer to his corporal labours at his trade, ἀγρ. to the abridgment of rest to make up by over-hours at night for evangelising by day, and ν. to the scanty fare that must follow such a trade. But 2 Corinthians "is the true parallel, and not merely 1 Corinthians 4; and in the former we have "fasting" distinguished expressly from "hunger and thirst," clearly as voluntary from involuntary suffering. No! the apostle's "labours, watchings, fastings," had to do with the gospel and the church, as well as individual souls, and were quite above the circumstances of trade good or bad.
But now we turn from circumstances and sufferings to quite another class, to qualities which God looks for in His service: "in pureness, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in kindness, in love unfeigned, in [the] Holy Ghost, in [the] word of truth, in [the] power of God." There is thus not only perseverance in the face of antagonism and enmity, but the exercise of all that is holy and wise, long-suffering and gracious, and all this, not in mere amiability but in love unfeigned, yea in the Holy Spirit, and hence in the word of truth and in God's power, not more human wisdom and ability, that its excellency might be of Him, and not from the man though by him.
There is a slight change in the middle of verse 7 indicated by a difference in the preposition and beginning with the needed arms of the christian servant. We have ἐν ("in" or "by") no longer, but διά. Even the latter cannot here, or elsewhere, be restricted to the sense of "by means of;" for though this might suit the first occurrence, it does not fit in with the two which follow, but rather "through," or "with" as with the genitive it sometimes means (as in 2 Corinthians 2:4).
"Through [or, with] the arms of righteousness on the right and left, through glory and dishonour, through ill report and good report, as deceivers and true, as unknown and well-known, as dying and behold we live, as chastened and not put to death, as grieved but always rejoicing, as poor but enriching many, as having nothing and possessing all things." (Vers. 7-10.)
As the Holy Ghost naturally precedes love unfeigned, and the word of truth is accompanied by the "power of God," so "the arms of righteousness" in full equipment follow. Some here as elsewhere take "righteousness" as that which is secured by justification before God. But this is to mistake both the figure and the context. As a figure it is a mistake, inasmuch as armour is used to protect one against the assaults of an enemy, which God assuredly is not to the believer. Hence, where we have details as in Ephesians 6, we see beyond controversy that we are told to put on the armour in order to withstand the powers and wiles of evil; not to stand before God, in which case we hear of a robe, not of arms. Clearly then righteousness in the practical sense is in question, rather than the righteousness of God. And the context equally requires it; because the apostle is insisting here, not on the standing of the believer, but on the avoidance of all which could expose the ministry to reproach, and on the cultivation of all that should approve it to universal conscience, representing God aright in a world where everything is opposed, and spite of a nature which is enmity against Him, and this in an earthen vessel as weak as the pressure of circumstances was great and varied and constant, so as to test the workman in every conceivable way.
Next we have a series of contrasts, not more paradoxical in appearance than strictly true. "Through glory and dishonour, through ill report and good report." Who among mankind ever touched the extremes of both as he who thus portrays the path of service according to God? Who over served the Lord Jesus so superior to circumstances? Who less elated? Who farther from depression? Revered as a divine being and afterwards stoned, now suspected of murder and immediately after regarded as a god, he experienced vicissitudes only loss wild and rapid among the saints themselves, and among none more remarkably than at Corinth and in Galatia, where he had to vindicate even his apostleship among his own children in the faith, ready enough to bow down to arrogance and pretension.
Then by a simple transition we come to instances of ill or good report: "as deceivers and true, as unknown and well-known." Never was it true of Paul, never can it be with a thoroughly devoted and unworldly servant of God, that all speak well of him. So did the Jews of old to the false prophets, not to the true. Faith loves not, but refuses, the chief place in feasts, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. The servant cleaves to His name whom the world know not, and so is unknown; yet as with the Master grace in service cannot but make itself felt in a world of need and misery - it cannot be hid.
The clauses which follow have a rather distinct character, sliding from matters of report into actual fact: "as dying and behold we live, as chastened and not put to death, as grieved but always rejoicing, as poor but enriching many, as having nothing and possessing all things." If the Lord alone, when challenged as to who He was, could say of Himself as man here below, Absolutely that which I also say to you, the Truth in word and in deed, in everything and in every way; Paul inspired of God could speak with so much the more freedom as his heart entered into the spirit of seeing God according to Christ with largeness and with humility, with tenderness and with courage, with unwearied patience and unflagging energy, with a purity and a love, with a jealousy for Christ's glory and an exercised conscience before God, never seen so combined in another. Out of all this he exhorts, feeling all acutely yet moved by nothing, and making no account of life itself, that he might finish his course with joy and the ministry which he had received of the Lord Jesus, not only testifying the gospel both to Jews and Greeks, and preaching the kingdom of God, but also announcing to the saints all the counsel of God. What suffering did it not involve! What faith and perseverance under discipline and sorrow! Yea, surely, joy in the Holy Ghost was there if in any, and triumph by grace over all seeming disadvantages. He knew, if any servant did, the force of the Lord's word in Mark 10:29-31, as poor but enriching many, as having nothing but possessing all things.
Having closed the blessed sketch of christian service from its source and power to its moral characteristics and effects, the apostle now turns to the saints with the expression of unhindered affection. There had been a barrier to that expression in their state; but God had wrought in grace, and they had in a great measure judged themselves, and faith working by love looked for all that is worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing. Hence he could say
"Our mouth is open unto you, Corinthians, our heart is expanded: ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels; now for the same requital be expanded also yourselves." (Vers. 11-18.)
Love was no longer driven back, for God was at work; and joy and thankfulness open the lips, as sorrow isolates where sympathy fails. So he can and does speak freely. "Our mouth is open unto you, Corinthians." He similarly names the Galatians (Galatians 3:1), and the Philippians (Php 4:15); but each with a characteristic difference. The Galatians he blames severely, as senseless and bewitched, for turning aside from faith and the Spirit to law and flesh. To the Philippians he mentions that they alone had the privilege of communicating with him at the beginning of the gospel as now when the apostle was drawing near his close. The personal address to the Corinthians lies between those two. He could not accord to them that token of confidence in their spiritual simplicity and unworldliness which the Philippians had enjoyed first and last; whilst he is pouring out the fulness of his heart on the restored condition of the Corinthians instead of the stern censure on the Galatians. "Our heart is expanded," he says. There can be no doubt that this is the word and sense intended. But it is an instructive fact that the two oldest and best uncials unite in a positive and evident error. The Vatican and the Sinaitic uncials give your, not "our." Such facts should correct the exaggerated confidence of some in a few very ancient copies. The context has its grave importance where the external authorities differ. Here there can be no doubt that the mass of other and later authorities is right. The argument requires "our" imperatively, if ever so many voices had pronounced differently.
There was no narrowness in the apostle. His heart was ever large; and now he could show them so. It was in their own affections the Corinthians were contracted. (Ver. 12.) There was free and full room in his heart for them, but not in theirs for him. They had been lax, and he is about to warn them solemnly on this head; they were still narrow. How great an error to count narrowness fidelity, whereas it may well go as here with laxity! In the apostle we see large-heartedness with real holiness; and they too go together. But the apostle counts yet more on grace, and as he had declared how his heart was expanded, instead of being shut up, he adds, "and for the same requital* (or, for requital in the same), I speak as to children, be expanded also yourselves." (Ver. 13.) Love never fails; and that their affections should answer his was the only recompense he sought at their hands.
*Here we may notice the strange misconception of the Vulgate, followed as usual by Wiclif and the Rhemish. "eandem remunerationem habentes," "ye that have the same reward," "having the same reward." This inverts the meaning: he wanted the reward in the same kind, not that they had it. Tyndale understood the phrase as "I promyse you lyke rewarde with me as to my children;" and Cranmer follows in the same wake. "I promyse unto you lyke reward, as unto children," taking the accusative as the complement or direct regimen of the verb. The Geneva Version exhibits another variety, nearer the true sense, "Now I require of you the same recompense," etc. The Authorised Version seems best, not applying any fresh verb, but taking the accusative absolutely, or rather as in apposition with a cognate accusative supposed in the verb following.
The Corinthians were not only straitened in their affections. They were lax in their associations. Had Christ been the object, the new life had not been hindered in either way; for as He creates, directs, and sustains the affections according to God, so does He guide and guard the feet in the narrow way, His own path outside and above the world. Where He is not before the heart, the world in one form or another fails not to ensnare, fair excuses which cover unholy alliances escape detection, and His honour somehow is ere long compromised.
The apostle's jealousy was alive to this danger in a love that bound together Christ and the church. Love speaks and acts freely, though with tender consideration. The apostle comprehends in his wide warning not only idolatry, but every kind of worldly association as defiling and unworthy of the Christian, because it suits not Christ nor the presence of God. If blessed with Christ for eternity, you cannot without sin have relations with the enemy in time.
Some have narrowed, if not perverted, the passage, by restricting it to an exhortation against the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever. But while the principle undoubtedly condemns the contracting of any such union, it is clear on the face of it that, strictly speaking, this cannot be the direct intent; for the corrective insisted on is exactly what one ought not to follow, even in so sad a case. Thus a Christian woman who had sinned in marrying a worldly man ought not to come out or be separate from her husband; and she might expect the strongest censure from God and His children, not promised blessing, were she to act thus rashly, whatever the purity of her motives. In fact, 1 Corinthians 7 is the true and direct weapon for the question of marriage; our passage has a far larger bearing. It is the prohibition of every evil connection for a Christian, and it calls for thorough clearance from all; and no wonder, since the Christian has Christ for his life, righteousness, and hope, even now by the Spirit able to behold His glory without veil. It is incongruous, it is treason, if one has taken Christ's yoke, to accept also that of the world which rejected and crucified Him.
"Be not diversely yoked* with unbelievers; for what partnership [is there] for righteousness and lawlessness? or what fellowship [hath] light with darkness? and what consent of Christ with Beliar†? or what part for a believer with an unbeliever? and what agreement for God's temple with idols? for ye are‡ [the] living God's temple, even as God said, I will dwell and walk among them, and will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Vers. 14-16.)
* This opening phrase is very compressed, being a kind of pregnant construction, and to be resolved either with Winer as μὴ γίν. ἑτεροζυγ. καὶ οὕτως ὁμοζ. ἀπ., or more simply perhaps μὴγίν. δμοζ. ἀπ. καὶ οὕτως ἑτεροζυγ. The sense is plainly a heterogeneous yoke, not another part of it as Grotius, nor a beam with diverse weights as Theophylact.
† The MSS fluctuate as to the form of the word, βελίαλ being the nearest to the Hebrew original, corrupted through Syriac to βελίαρ which is best supported (m B C P, more than fifty cursives, and other excellent authorities). Some give βελίαν and βελίαβ.
‡ Good witnesses ( B D L P, etc.), followed by a few eminent critics, read ἡμεῖς . . . . ἐμέν, "we are," for ὑμεῖς . . . . ἐστέ with C Dcorr. E F G K, the mass of cursives, and most of the versions and commentators.
The figure with which the paragraph opens is obviously taken from the law which forbade yoking together heterogeneous animals, as the ox and the ass in ploughing. (Deuteronomy 22:10.) It is not now the Jew severed from the Gentile, but the Christian separate from the world in every shape and degree. Principles, motives, interests, ways, are not only different but opposed; what common ground is possible? But this is not all. Faith is the life-breath of the Christian, and his only avowed power the Holy Ghost, whom the world cannot receive as neither seeing nor knowing Him; and He works to reduce every thought to the obedience of Christ in absolute judgment of the world and its prince.
In detail what can be stronger than the clenching blows of every clause? First the apostle points to the radical difference of principles, low or high, righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness. Next he points to their characteristic heads, Christ and Belial. Then he contrasts the partisans or followers, believers and unbelievers. Lastly he closes with their joint place as God's temple, contrasted with idols. Thus all that forms the life outward and inward is embraced so as to exclude alliance with the world and claim the saints wholly for Christ apart from the world. This in no way bars doing good to all, or especially seeking the salvation of any. On the contrary, the truer the separateness to Christ, the more forcibly can grace be preached to the world as a lost thing, and Christ the only Saviour. For righteousness was ever looked for in a saint; light, now that Christ was revealed, is characteristic of a Christian.
It is not here said that the body of the saint is the temple of God, as we see in 1 Corinthians 6, but that the saints are His temple; and it is added that accordingly God said, I will dwell among them and will walk among [them], and will be their God, and they shall be my people: an Old Testament promise and privilege (Ex. 29; Lev. 26; Ezekiel 37:7), but better enjoyed now, when His presence is given, not in a merely sensible sign as then, but in the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven since Pentecost. Redemption in figure or in reality, as often observed. laid the ground for God's dwelling thus.
With this great privilege is ever bound up the imperative obligation of separation to God from all evil. Holiness becomes, and must be in, the dwelling-place of God. No doubt the heathen then as ever are characterised by all sorts of corruption morally: but it is not from heathenism only but from every evil that God calls out the believer and insists on habitual avoidance and judgment of it.
"Wherefore come out from the midst of them and be separated, saith [the] Lord, and touch not an unclean thing; and I will receive you and will be to you for Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters, saith [the] Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God's fear." (Vers. 17, 18; 2 Cor. 7: l.)
If privilege abide and be deepened since redemption, more obviously moral truth is seen with increasing clearness and force. The conscience is purged by blood, the heart by faith. God must have His own holy, for He is holy; and this not only in an inward way, without which all would be hypocrisy, but in outward ways also to His own glory, unless He would be a partner with us to His own dishonour. He will have us clear from associations which are worldly and defiling; He will exercise our souls in order to freedom from all that denies or despises His will. He would not force others, nay He refuses not things only but persons also that are of the world; He commands those that believe to come out from those that believe not, and to be separated. Indeed the union of the two is so monstrous that it never could be defended for a moment by a true heart; it is only when selfish interests or strong prejudices work that men gradually accustom and harden themselves to disobedience so flagrant and in every way disastrous. For as the man of the world cannot rise to the level of Christ to be together with His own, the Christian must descend to the level of fallen Adam and the world. God is thus and ever more and more put to shame in what claims to be His house, with a loudness proportioned to its departure from His word.
Here again the Holy Spirit led the apostle to borrow words from various parts of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34, 2 Samuel 7:8; 2Sa 7:14, Isaiah 43:6. Apostolic gift only enforced divine authority, and expressed itself in terms drawn freely from various parts of scripture. Nor could any other way have been chosen so wise or pertinent if the aim was to show the will of God and His promises. It is here to encourage individual submission to His word, as before for the enjoyment of His presence in common. There they were His temple in virtue of His dwelling and walking about among them; here He says, "I will receive you and will be to you for Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters." It is our new relationship in positive blessing and supposes the divine nature given to us.
But there is another thing of much moment as well as interest to observe. Jehovah as such is introduced under the Septuagintal form of "Lord" (κύριος) and so without the article; and still more "Lord Almighty." That is, in Old Testament form Jehovah Shaddai now brings out His New Testament relationship to those who in the obedience of faith come out from among the men of the world to be His sons and daughters. For these are the great relations into which God Elohim enters, as revealing Himself, first to the fathers as Almighty (Genesis 17:1, Genesis 27:8, Genesis 35:11, Genesis 48:3), then as Jehovah to the children of Israel (Exodus 6:3, etc.), lastly as Father, which was reserved for the Son to declare, not only out of the fulness of enjoyment and in testimony, but bringing us into it in virtue of His death and resurrection (John 20:17, etc.) And to our souls what more instructive than the fact everywhere patent, that those saints who cling to the world, which is enmity against God and involves in what is unclean at every turn, never seem to rise into the liberty of God's sons, especially in their public worship, but habitually drop into language more befitting the days when God was dealing with a nation and dwelt in the thick darkness, instead of being revealed as He now is in and by His Son, according to His true nature and that relationship which is so sweet to the believer as led by the Holy Ghost, the relationship proper to us now, though of course He be evermore Jehovah Shaddai?
Clearly too the possession of these promises is the great incentive to personal purification in practice. Nor is anything more hateful than the position of separateness from the world along with indifference to holiness. There are those who inculcate what is personal only and apologise for ecclesiastical evil as if it did not compromise them in the Lord's dishonour; there are others whose zeal is solely for ecclesiastical purity and whose personal ways are light and loose and far below those of many a saint in humanly formed and ordered societies. Both classes are condemned by the solemn words before us: the first by 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, the second by 2 Corinthians 7:1. May we, as having proved the truth and blessing of the former, have grace to find the constant value of the latter also, and to cultivate purity outward and inward, perfecting holiness in God's fear! We have thus a double relationship in His grace. God dwells and walks in us as His temple, plainly a collective blessing; and besides, He is to us for Father, as we are to Him for sons and daughters, which is no less surely individual. But both are founded on coming out in separateness to God from among the worldly, with responsibility to touch no unclean thing. The apologist for ecclesiastical antinomianism argues that the apostle is actually speaking of heathen impurity. Granted: it was the unclean thing there and then; but he was led by the Spirit to write with such breadth and depth as to cover everything that defiles. Is it meant that uncleanness is now consecrated or ignored? Is it denied that evil is most of all evil when coupled with the name of the Lord Jesus? Is not such an association the deceit, power, and triumph of the wicked one? To cleanse ourselves from every pollution is our clear and habitual duty as God's temple and family.
(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.
Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.
Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.