This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
2 Corinthians 13:1
The Gospel Witnesses.
Consider some points of agreement between St. Paul and St. James.
I. Take the New Testament as we have received it. Admitting that there were two principles at work in the development of the Christian Church, they are inextricably united as regards the documents of faith. Consider the Epistle to the Hebrews, which would be sufficient evidence, if there were no other, of the identity of St. Paul's doctrine with St. James's. Be as disputatious as you like about its author; still it comes at least from the school of St. Paul, if not from that Apostle himself. Now look through it from beginning to end, observe well its exhortations to obedience, its warnings against apostasy, its solemn announcement of the terrors of the Gospel, and further its honourable treatment of the Jewish law, which it sets forth as fulfilled, not disrespectfully superseded, by the Gospel, and then say whether this Epistle alone be not a wonderful monument of the essential unity of the Gospel creed among all its original disseminators.
II. In the case of the original Apostles the intention of delivering and explaining their Divine Master's teaching cannot be mistaken. Now of course St. Paul, professing to preach Christ's Gospel, could not but avow such an intention also; but it should be noticed, considering that he was not with our Lord on earth, how he devotes himself to the sole thought of Him; that is, it would be remarkable were not St. Paul Divinely chosen and called, as we believe him to have been. The thought of Christ is the one thought in which he lives; it is the fervent love, the devoted attachment, the zeal and reverence, of one who had heard, and seen, and looked upon, and handled the word of life.
III. The doctrine of the Incarnation, or the Gospel economy, as embracing the two great truths of the Divinity of Christ and the Atonement, was not (as far as we know) clearly revealed during our Lord's ministry. Yet how close is St. Paul's agreement with St. John. I consider the exact accordance between these two men (to all appearance as unlike each other by nature as men could be) to be little short of a demonstration of the reality of the Divine doctrines to which they witness. "The testimony of two men is true," and still more clearly so in this case supposing (what unbelievers may maintain, but they alone) that any rivalry of schools existed between these holy Apostles.
IV. St. John and St. Paul both put forward—(1)the doctrine of regeneration; (2) the praise of charity as the fulfilling of the law and the characteristic precept of the Gospel; (3) the duty of almsgiving; (4) self-denial; (5) the Holy Eucharist. Beyond controversy the agreement is in essentials: the nature and office of the Mediator, the gifts which He vouchsafes to us, and the temper of mind and the duties required of a Christian; whereas the difference of doctrine between them, even admitting there is a difference, relates only at the utmost to the Divine counsels, the sense in which the Jewish law is abolished, and the condition of justification, whether faith or good works. A difference of opinion as to the latter subjects cannot detract from that real and substantial agreement of system visible in the course of doctrine which the two witnesses respectively deliver.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 175.
References: 2 Corinthians 13:1-10.—C. Short, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 235. 2 Corinthians 13:3-5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1788.
2 Corinthians 13:5I. All Jewish history, the Apostle had told the Corinthians, was an ensample to them, upon whom the ends of the world had come. They were as liable to forget the new and better covenant as their forefathers were to forget the inferior one. They were as likely to think that they were not the children of God as those who were under the Law that they were not His servants. The consequences would be the same in kind, worse in degree: heartlessness, idolatry, division, self-exaltation, alternating with despondency. It was most needful for them to examine themselves, whether they were getting into this state of indifference and forgetfulness, to see whether outward as well as inward tokens did not show that it was creeping upon them, whether they were not conscious of a continual and growing degeneracy, whether the loss of brotherly feelings towards men did not accompany the loss of filial feeling towards God.
II. St. Paul goes on, "Know ye not your own selves, that Christ is in you?" The Apostle has been speaking of self-examination; now he speaks of the self-knowledge which justifies that examination, which makes it a reasonable, a possible, exercise. He speaks out the name of the invisible Lord and Teacher of his own spirit; he says to each man, "He is the Lord and Teacher of my spirit." He says that He has come into the world, and taken the nature of men upon Him, and died the death of men, and risen from the dead as man, and ascended on high as man, and is ever living as man at the right hand of God.
III. Self-examination involves no wretched poring over our own motives. It leads us at once to turn from the accusing spirit, which tells us that we are yielding to some vile motive that will lead to some vile act, and to ask for the inspiration of Him in whom are the springs of all right action. This examination involves no neglect of plain work for the sake of morbid contemplation. It is in work we learn what we are liable to become if we have no helper, if we are left to ourselves. The temptation to be fretful and cowardly, to utter keen and bitter words, to feed upon flattery, to feed upon thoughts of malice or lust, to palter with dishonesty in common acts, to lie for the sake of a worldly end or of a godly end, the temptations of each particular craft and calling, the temptations of domestic life, of national life, of ecclesiastical life—these are the schools in which men have learnt to examine themselves, in which they have learnt the feebleness of mere rule, the necessity of a present living Teacher, in which they have found what this old nature is, which has to be mortified and crucified, what that new and true man whom Christ would renew in us day by day.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 207.
The Necessity and Right Method of Self-examination.
I. Consider the necessity of self-examination. Every one stands placed against a standard unseen, but real, that by which God judges and marks the spiritual state of every one, the eternal law, the rule of Christian character. Every one stands in some certain, precise, discriminated relation to this grand rule of judgment. That is his true and exact condition. There is a manifestation of the Divine rule, and there is himself to bring, with all his consciousness, into comparison with it. And the state he is in, by the decision of that rule, is the state of his relations with all that is the most solemn in heaven and earth, in time and eternity. Therefore "know your own selves."
II. Notice the objects of self-examination. The earnest force of this examination should fix on the points named by the Apostle: "whether ye be in the faith, whether Jesus Christ be in you." It should not expend itself on the mere external conduct, for if that alone, in its simple gross sense, were to be taken account of, a well-regulated formalist or Pharisee, nay, possibly a hypocrite, might go off to considerable self-complacency. And you can imagine how often man has been frightened out of his soul to take refuge in the apparently better quality of his conduct. Any impulse the examiner feels to do so should warn him to stay a while longer there, in the interior. Doubt and uncertainty ought to be a powerful incentive to self-examination. For surely the chief questions in the concern cannot be decided too soon. Indeed, to be content to remain in doubt would itself be one of the most ominous signs. If the true state of the case be unhappy and unsafe, it should be distinctly seen, that the soul may be instantly in action. If the state be, on the whole, such as the supreme Judge approves, and safe for time and eternity, who would not in this evil world desire to possess the joy of knowing it to be so?
J. Foster, Lectures, 1st series, p. 337.
References: 2 Corinthians 13:5.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 409; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 253; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 218. 2 Corinthians 13:7.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 253.
2 Corinthians 13:8The Sceptic's Unconscious Ministry to the Truth.
I. Two things are terribly fruitful of scepticism, nay, are its chief parents in all ages: (1) the folly, vice, and passion which are mixed up with the life of all the Churches; (2) the narrowness and selfishness of their dogmatic conceptions of Divine truth. Scepticism of a very bitter kind is always generated when the Churches are very worldly. Men take the truth and the error, the good and the evil, together; and if the error and the evil seem to predominate, they say, and set themselves to prove, that the root must be bad which bears such fruits. Christ bears in all ages, as of old, the shame of the sins of His servants, and the sceptics arm themselves with scourges to chastise the vices and follies of the Church. But the main point of importance is the other. Scepticism is generated when Churches grow arrogant and oppressive, and frown on all attempts otherwise than by preaching their dogmas to widen the realm of truth.
II. It seems as if just now a rebellion had risen in every direction against the authority of the Church, not against truth, but against truth on Church authority. The Christ of authority, as the Church believes in Him, men will not have. They say, No; we will build up a new, more natural, more human, image of Christ for ourselves and for the world. Let them build. It is with an honest heart in the main that they make the effort; they have only to search deeply enough and to see far enough to discover for themselves that the only simple Christ, the only natural Christ, the only human Christ, the only Christ who can supply man's need and satisfy man's longings, and fill the throne which is waiting the advent of Emmanuel in every human breast, is the Christ whom prophets foretold, whom Evangelists portrayed, whom Apostles proclaimed, whom the Church of God in every age adores.
J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 145.
References: 2 Corinthians 13:8.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ii., pp. 121, 181; J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 138.
2 Corinthians 13:10The Christian View of the Perfectibility of Man.
I. One of the general ideas naturally arising at the repetition of such words would be that in futurity is the greatness of man, and that hereafter is the grand scene for the attainment of the fulness of his existence.
II. Another thing we may observe upon the words is that it is most gratifying to see the Divine revelation concerning the attribute, the condition, of perfection on any terms, in any sense, at any future period, with human nature. It would be gratifying if this were but intimated as a mere possibility; it is most emphatically so to see it expressed as an assurance, a promise. Looking at man, we seem to see a vast collection of little beginnings, attempts, failures, like a plantation on a bleak and blasted heath; and the progress in whatever is valuable and noble, whether in individuals or communities, is so miserably difficult and slow. Then how delightful it is to see revelation itself pronouncing as possible and predicting as to come something perfect in the condition of man.
III. Next, observe that this prediction of something perfect to come relates to knowledge. This is somewhat surprising. It seems more easy to conceive of perfection in another state attained or conferred in any of what may be called the moral attributes than in knowledge, even in any moderate and comparative sense. Such knowledge would imply (1) the exclusion of error, or, in other words, that all opinion will be truth. (2) It will be perfectly adequate to the infallible direction of all the activities of the superior state. (3) Those who have it will possess as much as is indispensable to their happiness, and will be sensible that they do so.
IV. Lastly, if there will be, as none can doubt, in the heavenly state, different degrees in the felicity of the redeemed spirits, and if knowledge will be one great means of felicity there, who may be expected to possess the highest attainments of it? Not necessarily those, even good men, who possessed the most of it here, but rather those who have excelled the most in piety, in devotion to God and Christ and the cause of Heaven in this world. God can, by one great act of His rewarding power, make them the highest in intelligence, and it is reasonable to believe He will.
J. Foster, Lectures, 1st series, p. 402.
References: 2 Corinthians 13:11.—J. Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 353; M. G. Pearse, Ibid., vol. xxx., p. 401; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 206; F. W. Farrar, In the Days of thy Youth, p. 389; J. Leckie, Sermons Preached at Ibrox, p. 338.
2 Corinthians 13:14The Covenant of Redemption.
I. Consider the character of this covenant, for this is a point of the highest importance as regards our thoughts, and our hopes, and our actions. The character of God's covenant of redemption is love. The will of the Father is to gather the Christian into Christ with an everlasting salvation. All adverse appearances, all interruptions to the consciousness of this, arising from himself or from the world, must not for a moment outweigh the great central truth that God loveth him. In holding this fact in full acknowledgment of his position in Christ, consist his safety and his life. "Thy will be done" is the expression of a soul which knows and feels this. We must be tried: we must be purified; the dethronement of self and the setting up of God in our hearts cannot take place without a struggle, a war, within. This conflict may be fierce and long-continued; it may seem like the rending asunder of soul and spirit; it may bring us down into the depths of dispiritedness, and almost extinguish our hope; but let not any intensity of conflict, or any self-loathing, or any forebodings for the future ever cause us to forget that the mind of God to us is love.
II. Other points to be considered regard the covenant itself. And one is that Holy Scripture uniformly sets it forth to us as a covenant made and ratified before the foundation of the world. Another important thing for us to regard who receive and acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity is the intelligent and clear appreciation in our spiritual life of the parts and offices of the Divine Persons in our redemption. In the purpose of the Father, it had its ground, and has its continuance. It is His will that we should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. In the finished work of the Son on earth and His high-priesthood in heaven, it had, and has, its actuality as it now exists. And God the Holy Spirit begets and carries on in our souls this spiritual life, dwelling in us, purifying our hearts and motives, making us holy and gradually more and more like God. Let this important fact be ever borne in mind: that our recognition of the wonderful love of God in redemption may be no barren acquiescence in an orthodox doctrine, but a quickening reality in our own hearts and lives, full of seeds of love, and peace, and joy, and increase in holiness.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv., p. 290.
References: 2 Corinthians 13:14.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 285; R. Maguire, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 465; J. T. Stannard, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 260; E. Hatch, Ibid., vol. xxxiii., p. 353; J. Hall, Ibid., vol. xxxiv., p. 56; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 294; J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, p. 243; T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons, p. 318; T. T. Lynch, Three Months' Ministry, p. 313.
I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare:
Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.
For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.
Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.
For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection.
Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.
Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
Greet one another with an holy kiss.
All the saints salute you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.