2 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who always leads us triumphantly as captives in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.
Sermons
The TriumphJ.R. Thomson 2 Corinthians 2:14
The Triumphal ProcessionAlexander Maclaren2 Corinthians 2:14
Coming to Troas; Disquietude; Defence of His ApostleshipC. Lipscomb 2 Corinthians 2:12-17
The Effect of the Gospel MinistryT. Moir, M. A.2 Corinthians 2:12-17
God's Triumph and Paul'sJ. Denney, B. D.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
Gratitude PresentedT. B. Baker.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Course of TruthF. W. Brown.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Minister's ManifestoA. J. Parry.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Ministry of the GospelW. Pulsford, D. D.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Savour of Divine KnowledgeJ. Denney, B. D.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Solemnity of the MinistryJ.R. Thomson 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Triumph of the Christian MinisterD. Wilson, M. A.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Triumph of the GospelR. Watson.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Triumph of the GospelD. Moore, M. A.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Triumphal Procession of the ChristA. Maclaren, D. D.2 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Constant Triumph of the Faithful MinisterE. Hurndall 2 Corinthians 2:14-17
A Roman triumph, to which the apostle refers in this passage, was the most magnificent of earthly pageants. The conqueror, in whose honour it was given, was an illustrious commander, who had defeated an enemy or gained a province. The route traversed by the triumphal procession lay through Rome to the Capitol itself. The spectators who feasted their eyes upon the sight were the vast population of the city. Before, the victor passed onwards the captives taken in the campaign, and the spoil which had been wrested from the foe. Behind, followed the army, flushed with victory and rejoicing in the insolence and pride of military might. The conqueror himself, mounted aloft upon his car, was the centre of observation and attraction. Every mark of honour was paid to him. Sacrifices were offered by the priests to the gods to whose favour victory was ascribed. Incense bearers marched in the procession, and fragrant clouds ascended, floating in the air and mingling with the shouts and with the strains of martial music. And in the temples sacrificial offerings were accompanied by the presentation of the odorous incense.

I. THE TRIUMPHS OF THE GOSPEL. The warfare of the Word is against the sins of the rebels who have defied the authority of the Most High. In apostolic times the progress of the gospel, though often opposed and often checked, appealed to the view of Paul as a triumphal progress. God, who had triumphed over the enemies whom he converted into his friends and companions, made them, as his representatives, triumph in their turn, and admitted them to share his triumph over the enemies of truth and righteousness.

II. THE INCENSE BEARERS IN THE TRIUMPHAL TRAIN. There is a prodigality of wealth in the imagery here employed. Paul and his fellow ministers were themselves both captives and also incense bearers - "unto God a sweet savour of Christ." As the Son of the Eternal is infinitely acceptable to his Father, so those who share his mission and purpose, and faithfully publish his gospel, are well pleasing to him, as the odour of the fragrant incense to the nostril.

III. THE ACCOMPANIMENTS AND RESULTS OF THE GOSPEL TRIUMPH. These are twofold and opposed.

1. To the perishing the ministry is a sentence of death. Some captives were taken aside and put to death in cold blood as the procession approached the Capitoline hill. The incense to such was deadly - an odour premonitory of a violent and miserable death. Thus the proclamation of the gospel, in itself an unspeakable blessing, is actually the occasion of the condemnation of unbelievers, who reject and despise it.

2. To those in course of salvation the ministry is a message of life. Welcome and pleasant alike to God and man, the glad tidings of redemption tell of life to those whose desert is death. A welcome and delightful fragrance to the saved, it promises participation in the glorious victory and the eternal reign of the Divine Redeemer. - T.







Now thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.
The authorised translation at first sight strikes us as most suitable. Practically Paul had been engaged in a conflict with the Corinthians, and for a time it seemed not improbable that he might be beaten; but God caused him to triumph in Christ — i.e., acting in Christ's interests, in matters in which Christ's name and honour were at stake, the victory, as always, had remained with him. But there can be little doubt that the Revisers were right in translating "leadeth us in triumph." The triumph is God's, not the apostle's. Paul is not the soldier who wins the battle and shouts for victory as he marches in the triumphal procession; he is the captive who is led in the conqueror's train, and in whom men see the trophy of the conqueror's power. When he says that God always leads him in triumph in Christ, the meaning is not perfectly obvious. He may intend to define, as it were, the area over which God's victory extends. In everything which is covered by the name and authority of Christ, God triumphantly asserts His power over the apostle. Or he may mean that it is through Christ that God's victorious power is put forth. These two meanings, of course, are not inconsistent, and practically they coincide. It cannot be denied, I think, if this is taken rigorously, that there is a certain air of irrelevance about it. It does not seem to be the purpose of the passage to say that God always triumphs over Paul and those for whom he speaks, or even that He always leads them in triumph. It is this feeling which mainly influences those who keep to A.V., and regard Paul as the victor. But the meaning of the original is not really open to doubt, and the semblance of the irrelevance disappears if we remember that we are dealing with a figure, and a figure which the apostle himself does not press. Of course, in an ordinary triumph, such as that of Claudius over Caractacus, of which Paul may easily have heard, the captives had no share in the victory; it was not only a victory over them, but against them. But when God wins a victory over man, and leads his captive in triumph, the captive too has an interest in what happens; it is the beginning of all triumphs, in any true sense, for him. If we apply this to the case before us, we shall see that the true meaning is not irrelevant. Paul had once been the enemy of God in Christ; he had fought against Him in his own soul, and in the Church which he persecuted and wasted. The battle had been long and strong, but not far from Damascus it had terminated in a mighty victory for God. There the mighty man fell, and the weapons of his warfare perished. His pride, his self-righteousness, his sense of superiority to others and of competence to attain to the righteousness of God, collapsed for ever, and he rose from the earth to be the slave of Jesus Christ. That was the beginning of God's triumph over him; from that hour God led him in triumph in Christ. But it was the beginning also of all that made the apostle's life itself a triumph — not a career of hopeless internal strife, such as it had been, but of unbroken Christian victory. So the only triumphs we can ever have, deserving the name, must begin with Christ's triumph over us. This is the one possible source of joy untroubled. We may be as selfish as we please, and as successful in our selfishness; we may distance all our rivals in the race for the world's prizes; we may appropriate and engross pleasure, wealth, knowledge, influence; and after all there will be one thing we must do without — the power and happiness of thanking God. No one will ever be able to thank God because he has succeeded in pleasing himself, be the mode of his self-pleasing as respectable as you will; and he who has not thanked God with a whole heart, without misgiving or reserve, does not know what joy is. Such thanksgiving and its joy have one condition: they rise up spontaneously in the soul when it allows God to triumph over it. When God appears in Christ, when, in the omnipotence of His love and purity and truth, He makes war on our pride and falsehood and lusts, and prevails against them, and brings us low, then we are admitted to the secret of this apparently perplexing passage; we know how natural it is to cry, "Thanks be unto God, who in His victory over us giveth us the victory! Thanks be to Him who always leadeth us in triumph!" It is out of an experience like this that Paul speaks; it is the key to his whole life, and it has been illustrated anew by what has just happened at Corinth.

(J. Denney, B. D.)

The immediate occasion of St. Paul's expressing this sentiment was the glad tidings which he had received of the Church at Corinth, together with the door opened to him of the Lord at Troas.

I. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER'S TRIUMPH.

1. The idea of a triumph implies that there has been a conquest achieved; surely the success of the gospel of Christ has now, as well as in the days of St. Paul, the best title to this distinction. We have not now, indeed, like the apostles, to resist the authority of learning and rank, but we have still the ignorant and obdurate heart of man to conquer; we have still to cope with the love of the world, the dominion of passion, and the force of evil customs; we have still to subdue the pride and presumption of men, and to induce them to be saved by faith in the death and sacrifice of Christ. The drunkard is to be made sober, the unjust righteous. And is there no triumph in accomplishing this?

2. We admit, indeed, that to the eye of sense there appears no splendour in achieving these victories.

3. But still, to the eye of piety and faith, there was, amidst all, a triumph. The very external ignominy, sufferings, and infirmities of the apostle, contrasted with the effects of his preaching on the hearts and lives of men, would only the more illustrate the surprising victory of the grace of God.

4. And in cases of remarkable revivals of religion, when the Word of God runs more rapidly and is glorified, may not the language of the text be applied in a still more full and appropriate sense? Is not this a magnificent triumph?

5. This triumph is described in the text to be in Christ, and that because it is gained entirely by His grace. It is not natural reason or the power or skill of the minister which can change a single heart.

6. It is also in Him because it is gained by His doctrine, and by that only. It is not by enticing words of man's wisdom, but by plainly exhibiting the simple truths of redemption, that men are converted unto God.

7. It is likewise a triumph in Christ because it is effected by the means of God's appointment; not by force or persecution, but by a holy example and continual efforts and affectionate warnings and invitations addressed to the heart.

8. How superior is this triumph to every other!

II. THE SPECIAL BLESSINGS WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER COMMUNICATES. "And maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place." There is always a proportion in the Holy Scripture between the description and the importance of the thing described. No triumph, no glorying is spoken of, except the occasion justly demands it. Thus, wherever the spiritual triumph of the apostle advanced, the knowledge of Christ, like a reviving odour, was diffused around, and men were refreshed and invigorated.

1. The knowledge of Christ is the leading blessing which the gospel confers. Other truths may be necessary as introductory to it or consequent upon it, but Christ, as the Saviour of sinners, is the basis and the substance of Christian doctrine.

2. The knowledge of Christ, strictly taken, more immediately regards the Divine person and grace of Jesus Christ, His glory as the eternal, incommunicable Word, His incarnation for our redemption, His obedience, sufferings, and death.

3. But who can describe fitly the savour of this knowledge? The mystery of redemption is not a cold abstract truth, like a subtle question in metaphysics, an obscure point in chronology, or a probable fact in history. It is something infinitely greater and more interesting than all these. There is, therefore, a savour, a fragrance, an unction, so to speak, in the knowledge of Christ. These expressions imply something of delight and refreshment in the doctrine of the Saviour which it is difficult adequately to describe. As a proof of this, ask only the guilty and self-condemned penitent. He will tell you there was a savour in the knowledge of Christ which no words can express. Inquire, again, of the afflicted, tempted, and perplexed Christian. He will rejoice to acknowledge, because he will have deeply felt, its unspeakable blessedness. Or ask the expiring Christian, as he lies on the bed of death. The name of Christ is to such persons as a reviving fragrance to the faint. This language may be regarded as tinctured with enthusiasm. We admit that the corrupt moral taste of men who have never so repented of sin as to abhor it, and therefore have never comprehended this doctrine aright, can find no sweetness or refreshment in it; but the holy and enlightened mind is not to be measured by the low, defective standard which is adapted to the sensual and immoral. Thus, in natural things, disease, it is true, may vitiate the organs, and the most exquisite perfumes may become in such cases offensive.

III. THE GRATITUDE WHICH THE APOSTLE OFFERS TO GOD FOR THIS TRIUMPH. The language of the text is that of impassioned transport — "Now thanks be unto God," etc. God, in the dispensation of His grace, uses such instruments as may best illustrate His own glory. And, indeed, if the Roman conqueror in his triumph is said to have deposited his golden crown in the lap of Jupiter when he arrived at the Capitol, and to have dedicated to him a part of the spoils which he had won, much more should the apostle of Christ cast his crown at the feet of his gracious Saviour, and devote all his acquisitions to His honour. The moment the minister of Christ, unfaithful to his trust, begins to glory in himself, and to ascribe his success to the might of his own power, he may expect to be deserted by his Lord. In comparison with such a triumph he will think nothing of his labours and anxieties.

1. Let us inquire, in the first place, whether we have indeed for ourselves obeyed the gospel of Christ. Have we considered the gospel in the manner in which the text represents it? Have we understood the triumph connected with it? Have we received the knowledge of Christ which it exhibits?

2. But, further, if, as I trust is the case with many of us, we have obeyed the gospel, let us inquire whether we are habitually acting agreeably to it. Are the effects of the victory evident?

(D. Wilson, M. A.)

"Now thanks be to God." These thanksgivings should be —

1. Ardent.

2. Constant.

3. Practical.

4. Indispensable to our happiness.

5. These thanksgivings will be eternal.Hence these thanksgivings are —

1. Spiritual.

2. Public.

3. Private.

4. Costly.

5. Fiducial.

6. And Scriptural and holy.

(T. B. Baker.)

The Revised Version correctly alters the translation into "Thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ." Paul thinks of himself and of his coadjutors in Christian work as being conquered captives, made to follow their Conqueror and to swell His triumph. He is thankful to be so overcome. What was deepest degradation is to him supreme honour. "He maketh manifest" — that is, visible — the savour of His knowledge. From a heart kindled by the flame of the Divine love there will go up the odour of a holy life.

I. FIRST, THEN, LET US LOOK AT THAT THOUGHT OF ALL CHRISTIANS BEING IN THE TRUEST SENSE CONQUERED CAPTIVES, BOUND TO THE CHARIOT WHEELS OF ONE WHO HAS OVERCOME THEM. The image implies prior state of hostility and alienation. Paul is speaking about himself here; he says, "I was an enemy, and I have been conquered." What sort of an enemy was he? Well, he says that before he became a Christian he lived a pure, virtuous, respectable life. He was a man, "as touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." His conscience acquitted him of wrong, and yet he says, "Notwithstanding all that, I was an enemy." Why? Because the retrospect let him see that his life was barren of the deepest faith and the purest love. That is the basis of the representation of my text. It suggests the wonderful struggle and victory of weaponless love. As was said about the first Christian emperor, so it may be said about the great Emperor in the heavens, "In hoc signo vinces (By this sign thou shalt conquer!"). For His only weapon is the Cross of His Son, and He fights only by the manifestation of infinite love, sacrifice, suffering, and pity. He conquers as the sun conquers the thick-ribbed ice by raying down its heat upon it, and melting it into sweet water. And what more does this first part of my text say to us? It tells us, too, of the true submission of the conquered captive. This picture of the triumph comes with a solemn appeal to every professing Christian. Think of these men, dragged at the conqueror's chariot-wheels, abject, with their weapons broken, with their resistance quelled, chained, haled away from their own land, dependent for life or death on the caprice of the general that rode before them there. It is a picture of what you Christian men and women are bound to be if you believe that God in Christ has loved you. If we are thus won by infinite love, and not our own, but bought with a price, no conquered king, dragged at an emperor's chariot-wheels, was ever half as absolutely bound to be his slave, and to live or die by his breath, as you are bound to your Master.

II. Now we have here, as part of the ideal of the Christian life, THE CONQUERED CAPTIVES PARTAKING IN THE TRIUMPH OF THEIR GENERAL. Two groups made up the triumphal procession — the one that of the soldiers who had fought for, the other that of the prisoners who had fought against, the leader. And some commentators are inclined to believe that the apostle is here thinking of himself and his fellows as belonging to the conquering army, and not to the conquered enemy. But be that as it may, it suggests to us this thought — that they who are conquered foes become conquering allies. Or, to put it into other words, to be triumphed over by Christ is to triumph with Christ. We may illustrate that thought — that to be triumphed over by Christ is to triumph with Christ — by such considerations as these. This submission, abject and unconditional, extending to life and death, is but another name for liberty. The man who is absolutely dependent upon Jesus Christ is absolutely independent of everything and everybody besides, himself included. If you give yourselves up to Jesus Christ, in the measure in which you give yourselves up to Him you will be set at liberty from the worst of all slaveries — that is, the slavery of your own will and your own weakness, and your own tastes and fancies. You will be set at liberty from the dependence upon men, from thinking about their opinion. You will be set at liberty from your dependence upon externals, from feeling as if you could not live unless you had this, that, or the other person or thing. If you have Christ for your Master you will be the masters of the world, and of time and sense and men and all besides; and so, being triumphed over by Him, you will share in His triumph. And, again, we may illustrate the same principle in yet another way. Such absolute submission of will and love is the highest honour of a man. It was a degradation to be dragged at the chariot-wheels of conquering general. But it is the highest ennobling of humanity that it shall lay itself down at Christ's feet, and let Him put His foot upon its neck. And the same thought may be yet further illustrated. That submission so unites us to our Lord that we share in all that belongs to Him, and thus partake in His triumph.

III. Lastly, a further picture of the ideal of the Christian life is set before us here in the thought of THESE CONQUERED CAPTIVES BEING LED AS THE TROPHIES AND THE WITNESSES OF HIS OVERCOMING POWER. That idea is suggested by both halves of our verse. Both the emblem of the apostle as marching in the triumphal procession, and the emblem of the apostle as yielding from his burning heart the fragrant visible odour of the ascending incense, convey the same idea — viz., that one great purpose which Jesus Christ has in conquering men for Himself is that from them may go forth the witness of His power and the knowledge of His name. First, the fact that Jesus Christ, by His Cross and Passion, is able to conquer men's will, and to bind men's hearts to Him, is the highest proof of His power. It is an entirely unique thing in the history of the world. It stands as an unique fact in the history of the world that from Christ of Nazareth there rays out through all the ages the spiritual power which absolutely takes possession of men, dominates them, and turns them into His organs and instruments. Christ leads through the world the train of His captives, the evidence of His conquests. And then, further, let me remind you that out of this representation there comes a very solemn suggestion of duty for us Christian people. We are bound to live, setting forth whose we are, and what He has done for us. Still further, Paul's thanksgiving teaches us that we should be thankful for all opportunities of doing such work. So it comes to be a very solemn question for us — What part are we playing in that great triumphal procession? We are all of us marching at His chariot-wheels, whether we know it or not. But there were two sets of people in the old triumph. There were those who were conquered by force and unconquered in heart, and out of their eyes gleamed unquenchable malice and hatred, though their weapons were broken and their arms fettered. And there were those who, having yielded to become His soldiers, shared in His triumph and rejoiced in His rule. Which of the two parts of the procession do you belong to? The one live, the other perish.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

I. THE TRIUMPHS OF THE GOSPEL BY THE APOSTLES. They were triumphs —

1. Of truth over error.

2. Over persecution.

3. Over principles which dissocialised and oppressed society.I select one — selfishness.(1) See how this fatal principle operated among the heathen. Look at —

(a)Their poor. They had no almshouses or asylums.

(b)Their slaves, whose number was almost incredible. No laws were enacted for their protection, for they were hardly considered human beings.

(c)Their religion — no precepts of forgiveness or charity.(2) Now took at the triumphs of Christianity over selfishness.

(a)The first general collection among the Gentile churches was for the relief of poor strangers. And I need not dwell upon the many affectionate precepts of our religion.

(b)As to slavery, Christianity teaches, "As ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." And so, when Onesimus was converted, the apostle exhorted Philemon to receive him, "not now as a slave, but as a brother beloved."

(c)Look at Christian charity. "If thy brother sin against thee seven times," etc.; "In malice be ye children,"

4. In the salvation of men. This was its noblest triumph; and in this it triumphed "in every place."(1) Over the ignorance and obduracy of men (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25).(2) Over their gloomy apprehensions of futurity. Christ came to "deliver" those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.(3) Over their vices (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).(4) Over death itself.

II. THE AGENCY BY WHICH THEY WERE EFFECTED. All is ascribed to a Divine agency, which was marked —

1. In the selection of the instruments. It belongs to God to send forth His labourers, and this supposes selection. There was the bold simplicity of Peter, the soft persuasiveness of John, the fire of Stephen, the pointed, searching, epigrammatic turn of James, the ardour, learning, and strength of Paul. "I clear the ground," says Luther, "and Melancthon scatters the seed." The learning and moderation of Cranmer, the judgment of Ridley, and the popular eloquence, the searching wit, and the downright honesty of Latimer, admirably qualified them to co-operate. The ordinary ministry. There are sons of thunder and sons of consolation, etc,

2. In their personal experience. The gospel triumphed over the early ministers of Christ before they triumphed over the world. So necessary is personal experience that neither preacher nor people can understand the gospel efficiently without it. Who can know what true repentance is but by his own brokenness of heart? Who can know what faith is but by the personal possession and exercise of that principle? In the same manner only can any man understand the nature of a holy walk with God, of spiritual conflicts, and the renewal of the heart. Here, then, was the agency of God. "He hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation."

3. In the effects produced — the salvation of men; and we need only fix upon the salvation of one individual to prove the direct agency of God.

III. THE INSTRUMENT BY WHICH ALL THIS IS EFFECTED: the preaching of the gospel; the manifestation of the odour of the knowledge of Christ. Odours, much used in the east, revived the languid and refreshed the weary in those hot climates, and hence they afforded a natural and elegant figure to express whatever was grateful and reviving to the mind. What, then, was there in the knowledge of Christ to warrant this representation of it?

1. Its authority. That which has no authority from God is not religion, properly speaking; but here comes a religion from God, stamped and sealed as such, visibly, and in sight of all. Behold, then, the reason of its reviving and grateful odour to "the saved." Want they truth? It is here assured to them; for what is from God is light, and no darkness at all. Inquire they for the will of their Maker? Here He had prescribed it Himself. Feel they the need of an atonement? Here God Himself had provided the Lamb for a burnt-offering. Need they the comfort of promises? Here they were found proceeding from lips which could not lie. Inquire they after future being? The resurrection and ascension of Christ had deprived death of its sting, and brought life and immortality to light.

2. Its adaptation. There was nothing here but what the case of man required, and there was everything that it did require.

(R. Watson.)

I. GOSPEL SUCCESSES SET FORTH UNDER THE IMAGE OF A TRIUMPH. Paul's eye was resting upon a great future of moral conquest; truth making victorious way against all the powers that could oppose its progress. In this light let us investigate the fitness of the apostle's allusion.

1. Was not the first planting of Christianity a great triumph? The religion which Christianity had to overthrow was sanctioned by antiquity, supported by power, defended by talent, nourished by rank and influence, and loved by its votaries, by reason of the sanction it gave to their crimes. Yet all this magnificent system crumbled into dust before the mighty power of the gospel.

2. The gospel triumphed over bigotry and persecution and pride. Ten persecutions wasted the infant Church, yet it spread further and wider for the mighty desolation.

3. The gospel was victorious over the selfishness, oppression, and all the social miseries of the heathen. The heathen lived only to themselves; of blessing and benefiting others they had not the slightest notion.

4. The gospel won its victories over the spiritual wretchedness of the heathen, over their gloomy apprehensions of futurity, over the wretched feeling of moral alienation.

II. THE AGENCY BY WHICH THESE TRIUMPHS WERE ACHIEVED.

1. The originating cause is manifestly God Himself. Not "thanks" to ministers, that they preach so zealously; to the people, that they hear so willingly; but unto God, which hath put such a victorious energy into His Word. In nothing does the apostle's humility shine more beautifully than in this. And if we look at the nature of conversion we must see in it a Divine agency. We need not take the case of a continent or of a city; enough that we take the instance of one solitary soul. For what is the condition of that soul by nature? What are the moral requirements to be found in us before the gospel can triumph over our natural reluctance, and the savour of the knowledge of Christ be made manifest to our souls? Is it intellectual light only that a man wants? If it be, then Paul or Apollos were of themselves adequate to the task. But the unconverted soul wants changed affections; it wants to have its carnal enmity destroyed; it wants to have all its inborn antipathies transformed into the love of God; and all this is to be accomplished, "not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

2. Though God is the sole and efficient cause of all missionary triumphs, He disdains not to employ under Him secondary and subordinate agencies.

III. THE OUTWARD MEANS BY WHICH THESE GOSPEL TRIUMPHS ARE TO BE ACHIEVED. The image suggests how grateful it is to men once fainting under the apprehension of deserved condemnation, and weary with attempts to make a righteousness for themselves, to have their eyes opened to a knowledge of Christ and all the abounding consolation of His gospel. Once they were blind, now they see; once they were under bondage and fear, now they have a good conscience; once they were "children of the wicked one," now are they "the sons of God."

(D. Moore, M. A.)

I. THE GLORIOUS PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL IN APOSTOLIC TIMES.

1. It was triumphant. The apostle did not find the hearts of men easy of access, so that he had but to enter and take possession.

2. It was intelligent. The apostles did not go forth demanding a blind and unquestioning acquiescence. The progress of the gospel was victory over darkness and ignorance; the victory, not of the secular sword, but of the sacred pen and the tongue of fire.

3. It was constant. "Always causeth us to triumph," "in every place." Sometimes it seemed doubtful which would win, truth or error; but it soon became decided that faith was the stronger, that more was with it than all that could be against it.

4. It was beneficent. The march of the army of King Jesus was not like the march of the conquering armies of Greece and Rome.

II. THE GLORIOUS SECRET OF THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL IN APOSTOLIC TIMES. "Now thanks be unto God," etc.

1. The apostle acknowledged that God was the author of the progress. He felt it was with God that he had to do.

2. The apostle acknowledged that Christ was the agent of the progress. "Triumph in Christ." Jesus had been the agent in the great work of human redemption.

3. The apostle acknowledged that man was the instrument of the progress. "Causeth us to triumph"; "By us in every place." What a wonderful blending of workers — "God," "Christ," "us" — the union of Divine power and human instrumentality! Apostles did not originate the gospel, they received it. Let every Christian worker learn from this the source and secret of success in the work of the Lord.

(F. W. Brown.)

I. THE ABSOLUTE OR REAL CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL.

1. What anything is, is determined by what it is to God. Things are to us what we are to them. Light is most pleasant to the healthful eye, but nothing is more pernicious when it is diseased; food, in certain conditions of the body, will be as prejudicial as poison, and poison as beneficial as food. And there are who "call evil good and good evil," etc. And, similarly, God is to us what we are to Him.

2. In itself the gospel is God's spell, a message from God possessed of a charm. He that hath ears to hear it will be won by it; but "the wicked, who are like the deaf adder, will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely." In the gospel God appears in all the attractive attributes of His grace, that He may regain the alienated affections of His rebellious children.

3. It was not only declared by, but embodied in, Jesus, who was "set forth" to reveal the Father in His relations to a sinful world. Apart from Christ, man has no true knowledge of God, and is "without hope." In Christ God is personally manifested and personally present. His message in the gospel is embodied in His messenger. Christ not only proclaims, but is the gospel. "His name is as perfume poured forth" — the diffusion of "the sweet savour of the knowledge of God."

4. He is this because He is the manifestation of that which is the very soul of personality — Love. In the wide circumference of things God has gone forth in the division of His powers, but in Christ His deep central unity appears — His love. He who possesses the love of another possesses that other. "God is Love," and the gospel is its complete display.

5. The gospel also reveals the depth of love in its wisdom. There is nothing so wise as love. God is "the only wise God," because He is Love. The restoration of alienated man is the problem in the solution of which the love of God displays the marvellous resources of its wisdom. In the gospel the practical intelligence of the Divine love makes such a display of the Divine character that it appeals to all the influential motives operative on man's nature, so that, if he is not won by it, he is left "without excuse," and God is left to lament, "What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?" etc. "O Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered," etc.

6. The gospel also taxes to the utmost the resources of the Divine love and wisdom combined. Love takes counsel of wisdom how to make the most effective appeal to the sinner's heart, and wisdom calls upon love for that winning display of the Divine goodness which looks upon the sinner with mercy whilst it exercises vengeance on his sin. It was with tears Christ pronounced the doom of Jerusalem. Mercy is that look of wisdom and love which pities where righteousness blames.

7. But the gospel is also the display of mercy in its deepest agony of effort! It is the Divine tragedy in which "the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep," in which sin is judged, condemned, and slain, and the sinner justified, liberated, and restored.(1) No wonder Paul felt the proclamation of its glad tidings to be the celebration of a triumph of God. The angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest," as the preface to their song of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men."(2) And no wonder that preachers of this gospel "were unto God a sweet savour of Christ." What can be so pleasant to love as that of being made known? What so fragrant to God as the diffusion of the sweet mystery of the Cross, "to the intent that now unto principalities and powers," etc. And just as the scattered flowers, fragrant shrubs, and sweet incense breathed forth a perfume of sweet savour before the advancing ranks in the triumphal procession, irrespective of its effects on victor and vanquished, so, irrespective of its consequences with respect to those who hear the gospel, the ministry of its glad tidings is unto God the diffusion of a sweet savour.

II. ITS CRITICAL INFLUENCE AS SEEN IN ITS OPPOSITE EFFECTS ON THOSE TO WHOM IT IS PREACHED. The gospel embodies the wisdom and power of the Divine love in their endeavour to meet the requirements of man's sin, and is in itself perfectly adapted as the chosen body of truth to radiate the influence of the Holy Spirit, to awaken the mind, arouse the conscience, subdue the heart, and reform the whole nature. In it God appeals to us by motives which He knows to be influential, which exercise a constraining power on the thoughts, affections, and will, and in which "He is mighty to save."

2. The effect, therefore, on those who listen to it must be great. We cannot come under the ministry of the gospel and remain-the same as we were before we heard it. It either subdues or hardens, alienates or reconciles, kills or cures. What it may be to us is dependent on the disposition we exercise towards it. We bring to it what determines its effect. The gospel changes not; it is always, in itself considered, "the power of God unto salvation"; but its effects on us vary with our varying dispositions. To those who seek peace God is a "God of peace," but to those who strive with Him "He is a man of war."

3. "To the one we are the savour of life unto life." The ministry of the grace of God in Christ is the breathing forth of a spiritual essence fragrant with life. It has the power of life; of the sweetness, joy, beauty of life.

4. To the other the "savour of death unto death." Paul felt acutely that he could not be the minister of the word of life to men without increasing their responsibility. For in proportion to its quickening power of life in those who receive it does it work death in those who refuse to accept it. Just as the balmy, life-giving breezes of spring bring life to the constitutionally sound, but death to those radically diseased, so is it with the gospel. To some it is life to hear it, to others "death unto death" — the death of indifference to the death of obduracy; the death of ignorance and darkness to that of light and knowledge having become darkness; the death of hopelessness to that of despair. The height of privilege bestowed upon man in the offer of the gospel is antithetic to the depth of ignominy which its rejection involves.

(W. Pulsford, D. D.)

I. THE MINISTRY IN ITS RELATION TO GOD.

1. It is "of God."

(1)As having been instituted by Him.

(2)Because He called men specially to occupy it.

2. It is under the special inspection of God. "In the sight of God speak we in Christ," Feeling this, Paul was particularly careful —(1) Not to corrupt or adulterate the Word of God, to "make merchandise" of it — i.e., to make it more marketable by a little politic admixture of things more to the taste of the people.(2) To be himself actuated in his work by the purest motives. "But as of sincerity." This sincerity applies to the preacher just as the incorruptibility applies to the gospel. Here, then, we have a pure preacher and a pure gospel.

3. It will be approved of God, whatever be its effects upon men (ver. 15). "Sweet savour" always indicates approval. This is the expression generally used to denote the acceptableness of an offering.

II. THE DIFFERENT EFFECTS OF THIS MINISTRY UPON MEN (ver. 16).

1. To the saved — life. The savour of life means that which produces life and nurtures it.

2. To the lost or perishing — death (2 Corinthians 4:3; 1 Peter 3:7, 8). There are certain conditions pertaining to certain men which convert the means of life into an instrument of death. The sun, which converts the generous soil into a fruitful garden, reduces the clay to the hardness of a stone. So is it morally, only with a great difference. The clay is not responsible, but men are responsible. One thing, then, is clear — no one will escape Without some effects from the ministry. What is there more beautiful than the sunbeams? Yet there are some objects which can convert them into a consuming fire. So there are moral characters which transform the loving, life-giving gospel into an instrument of destruction; in short, cause the God of love to become to them a consuming fire.

III. THE DEMAND OF THE MINISTRY UPON THE MINISTER.

1. The unspeakably solemn character of the results of the ministry demands the gravest and most prayerful thought, and the greatest anxiety for the salvation of souls. Note, for example, the surgeon when performing some critical surgical operation that might be for life or death to the patient. So careful and deeply anxious is he that he will not operate except in association with others. The preaching of the gospel is an inexpressibly solemn operation that may affect men for weal or for woe to eternity. And, knowing this, how natural to ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?"

2. But this sense of insufficiency ought not to be confounded with helplessness; on the contrary, it makes a minister all the more strenuous and unsparing in applying his entire energies to the work (Colossians 1:29).

IV. THE MINISTRY'S ENCOURAGEMENTS AND SOURCE OF CONFIDENCE. (ver. 14). Whatever be the difficulties of the work, however great our fears and deep our sense of insufficiency, over against them we have God assuring us the victory. Through God the gospel is always having the victory. Much as it has been opposed and persecuted, yet God has always caused it to triumph.

(A. J. Parry.)

And maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place
The expression was suggested by the figure of the triumph which was present to his mind in all its details. Incense smoked on every altar as the victors passed through the streets of Rome; the fragrant steam floated over the procession, a silent proclamation of victory and joy. So the knowledge of Christ, the apostle tells us, was a fragrant thing. True, he was not a free man, but Christ's captive. Necessity was laid upon him, but what a gracious necessity it was! "The love of Christ constraineth us." The Roman captives made manifest the knowledge of their conqueror; they declared to all his power; there was nothing in that knowledge to suggest the idea of fragrance. But as Paul moved through the world, all who had eyes to see saw in him, not only the power, but the sweetness of God's redeeming love. The mighty Victor made manifest through him, not only His might, but His charm; not only His greatness, but His grace. It was a good thing men felt to be subdued and led in triumph like Paul; it was to move in an atmosphere perfumed by the love of Christ, as the air around the Roman conqueror was perfumed with incense. "Savour," in connection with the "knowledge" of God in Christ, has its most direct application, of course, to preaching. When we proclaim the gospel, do we always succeed in manifesting it as a savour? Or is not the savour — the sweetness and charm of it — the very thing that is left out? We miss what is most characteristic in the knowledge of God if we miss this. We leave out the very element which makes the gospel evangelic, and gives it its power to subdue and enchain the souls of men. But, wherever Christ is leading a single soul in triumph, the fragrance of the gospel goes forth in proportion as His triumph is complete. There is sure to be that in the life which will reveal the graciousness, as well as the omnipotence, of the Saviour. And it is this virtue which God uses as His main witness, His chief instrument, to evangelise the world. In every relation of life it should tell. Nothing is so insuppressible, so pervasive, as fragrance. The lowliest life which Christ is really leading in triumph will speak infallibly and pervasively for Him.

(J. Denney, B. D.)

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