2 Corinthians 4:16-18
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.…
That there is an inward invisible man who makes himself visible -by the body and uses it as his instrument, is admitted in some form by all. The inward and outward man are felt occasionally to have different interests, and there is a necessity laid on man to choose between these. The outward man is doomed to perish, and often is seen rapidly decaying, while the mental and moral powers are as visibly increasing in elevation and intensity. Why should the course of the one be upward, while that of the other is downward? Why should men have experience at the same time of two opposite processes? Let us fix our attention, in considering this subject, on —
I. THE TWO CONTRASTED BUT CLOSELY RELATED PROCESSES. These illustrate the law of compensation which runs through all things.
1. Often the most painful and humiliating losses have the highest kind of compensation.
(1) When a man first loses his sight how irreparable the loss appears. But from the very moment of the loss a principle of compensation is at work. His hearing, by the increased strain upon it, becomes acute; his sense of touch grows keen and discriminating. But more; how often does the blind man, shut out from the visible world, retire into the world of reflection. The objects of thought grow real to him; he acquires a command over his faculties, and a power of working on without external aid.
(2) When wealth is lost, life seems emptied out. But even in the first shock there is a stirring up of the man, a groping about for something to take the place of the lost wealth. And thus gradually higher qualities are called out, a determined energy to recover, if possible, what has been lost, or a falling back on the higher wealth of the soul. Have we not here an approach to the compensation of the text, as if the inward man were becoming younger, while the outer man was growing old. And this is in very truth what the compensation comes to. The renewal of the Holy Spirit is the rising and widening of the being towards its true nature, its immortal ideal.
2. This compensation is the solidest and greatest of all realities in the present. To become like God, this alone is greatness and blessedness, and this carries eternity in it. I watched once a series of dissolving views. One especially riveted my attention — a beautiful scene in Italy. On the verge stood a ruin, which lent to the scene pathos and romance; but while it faded there rose, dim at first, but ever clearer, the outline of another picture, till at last, when the old had wholly gone, there stood forth in majesty, a picture of the sea, the mountains, and the stars overhead. The eternal had taken the place of the transient. The same lesson is read to us every evening. The bright day departs; but when earth is hidden, heaven begins to unfold its treasures; when we lose this little world we gain innumerable worlds. So in the renewal of the inner man we have both a transcendent compensation in the present, and the pledge of a glorious and eternal future, which also enriches and glorifies the present.
3. Look at the special form of compensation seen in successive coverings and materials which perish and leave gain behind them. The warrior's armour is his most outward man inspired and guided by the inward man of his courage and skill. The armour is broken, but the warrior may survive many helmets and suits of armour. Dress is the ordinary outward man. It is that by which he is known to his fellows. His life is preserved and even dignified by it. But in thus adorning man apparel decays, yet the benefit it has conferred remains. The child has been growing all the while that the raiment that sheltered him has been decaying. The ship that carries the emigrant to the land of his hopes may be sorely battered on its course, and at last shivered on the rock-bound coast, but it has borne its passengers across the ocean. They escape and thrive in that new land; it perishes and sinks beneath the waves. Every book and pen which the child uses and wears out adds to his knowledge and facility. The paint and brush of the artist are used and expended by him in giving birth to that which endures, while his own faculty also is increased.
4. Human life thus yields innumerable examples of the gain remaining from materials that disappear. Shall not decay of the body, the decisive and the saddest decay, afford the highest example? If the body in its labour and decay does not work out permanent results of the best kind on the soul it accomplishes no result. It is only that which enters into the spirit that can survive death. If there is no compensation for the loss of the outward man, what an illusion are all the examples of the principle in the constitution of things. If the law fails here, what can it bring to us but sadness, however bright its manifestations elsewhere? And if there is compensation, it must be in the sphere of the inward man. When the temple falls, the priest will rise to the temple made without hands, eternal in the heavens.
II. THE POINTS OF CORRESPONDENCE THAT SHOULD EXIST BETWEEN THE TWO PROCESSES.
1. Decay is constant. Each of us may say, "I die daily." Our motion is ever onward to death. We ought then to have in this a constant stimulus to renewal of inward life. Let renewal day by day be our conviction, our task, and our. joy.
2. Decay has times of special impulse when more progress is made toward dissolution in a few days than in many years. But this has its counterbalance in floods of grace, bursts of light, accesses of love and enthusiasm, that lift up and strengthen and gladden the inward man.
3. There is a waste caused by toil and a decay that goes on in rest; so, on the other hand, renewal is furthered by exertion and by quiescence. To labour and to rest in God are both necessary. We must contend against evil, and labour earnestly to be filled with the fruits of righteousness; but often renewal comes more from keeping the soul in a right attitude toward God.
4. Extremes and sudden changes hasten the decay of the outward man, so extremes and sudden changes of condition may hasten the renewal of the inward man. Some of these extreme and sudden changes you remember well; is it not true that they shook and roused you in an altogether peculiar way, and opened up for you unknown reaches of thought and aspiration?
5. The outward man decays both by pain and pleasure; the inward man should be renewed both by sorrow and joy. Have you known the power of physical pain in bringing down the outward man, and shall you not welcome the pains of the spirit which elevate and emancipate the inward man? Are there any that have known the weakening influence of unhallowed pleasures and joy? Will not they of all others pursue the joys that strengthen the soul and heart?
6. Decay sometimes proceeds from without inwards, as in the case of external injury; sometimes it proceeds from the very heart, and slowly makes itself felt in the outer activity. Is there not a similar twofold process m the renewal of the inner man?
7. The whole outward man perishes. But the renewal of the inward man often bears a most imperfect correspondence in this respect. A man cannot exempt any particular portion of his body from decay, but he can shut out whole regions of his inward nature from renewal. How often it seems as if some parts of a man are like desert, while others are like Eden, as if a portion of a man were inhabited by Satan, and another portion by Christ. But should not men who know their whole outward nature to be decaying, and doomed to perish, be constantly reminded of the need of the whole inward nature being permeated by life?
8. Decay is sometimes accelerated by materials and means which usually strengthen or heal; so in the inward man renewal may be promoted by things whose natural influence and effect is to corrupt and destroy. Often the debilitated frame is injured by the most healthful influences. The bracing air pierces it, the genial heat of the sun oppresses it. Food turns to poison. Healing medicine kills. But over against this is the great and cheering fact in the spiritual world — that temptations to evil may be the most potent means for good; that a wholly corrupt social atmosphere may disgust a man with evil, and throw him with intensity into a spiritual sphere; that doubts may conduct straight to the clearest faith; that there is no difficulty that threatens to swallow a man which may not issue in high and lasting gain. All poisons are changed into food and medicine to him who keeps near to Christ.
9. Decay sometimes proceeds at a constantly increasing rate. But if there is a downward gravitation there is also an upward. We call it natural that a stone should fall faster and faster as it approaches the earth, it is equally natural that a soul should be renewed increasingly, should rise faster and faster as it approaches heaven.
(J. Leckie, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.