2 Corinthians 2:1-11
But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.…
The most copious writer in the New Testament is the man whose inward constitution and life are most fully brought into view. If the fact itself is noteworthy, the art of its management is even more significant. Didactic treatises would have excluded this method of blending the abstract and the concrete, and therefore the epistolary form which St. Paul adopted. What do we mean by this form? Much more, indeed, than a facile and graceful way of communicating facts and truths. In the Epistle we have the personality of the writer interblended with doctrine, duty, experience; so that in St. Paul's case we have not merely the gospel as a body of facts and truths, but the gospel in the consciousness of a leading exponent, and, in some respects, the most prominent representative of certain phases of that gospel. Gentile Christianity, as distinguished from the earlier Judaic Christianity, could never have been understood except for this intermingling of Christianity as a system and Christianity as a life in the history of our apostle. Both the conditions met in him as they met in no other apostle. The two things must not be confounded. Many in our day fall into this error and speak of Christianity as if it were only "a life." It is a life, but it is something else besides and something antecedent to life. Now, the epistolary style, and still more its method of thought, allow full play to the wholeness of Christianity. Its dogmas are preserved. Its experimental and practical forces are maintained. Its individuation is provided for. And thus, while seeing the system, we see also its life in the soul. If the psalmist, King David, is the signal representative of formal and spiritual Judaism in the Old Testament, St. Paul is the corresponding figure in the New Testament. At this point we are able to estimate the very great and specific value of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Beyond any of his writings, this unfolds the author, and does it with such masterly skill and on so comprehensive a scale as to give a twofold insight into his system and life. What an extension of the "Acts"! No St. Luke could have done this. It was the "Acts" in their secret headsprings in the man, and the man only could record what they were. The account of his personal feelings is resumed in this chapter. Not only for their sakes, but for his own, the visit had been postponed, since he was unwilling to come in sorrow. The "rod" would have been painful to him; they were to exercise discipline under the directions of his letter and thus forestall an occasion of grief to him. If he had made them sorry, who but they could give him joy? This was the reason for his writing, the reason too of deferring his visit; and thus the two things had been designed to cooperate in one result. A controversy is like a disease; the mode of treatment must be varied to suit its stages. No doubt personal presence, conversations, direct appeals, are best at some times for adjusting difficulties; at other times, letters are preferable. The discernment of the apostle prompted him to write and then to await the effect; and it was all in the interest of peace and for his and their consolation. Inspired by this confidence, he had written them a severe rebuke. It was a most painful duty; it was a duty, however, of love; and because of this coincidence, conscience and affection being at work in his soul, he had suffered most keenly. "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears." The great soul was not afraid of words nor of the critics of words. He had a rare kind of courage. It was the boldness to say how much he thought and how much he felt, and to send forth his words laden with the meanings they had for him, that they might convey exactly those meanings to others. The love was not overstated, for it was a father's love towards the children of his heart: "More abundantly unto you." Evidently his paramount aim is to assure the Corinthians of his warm affection for them. Other feelings are held in abeyance; no mention now of suspicions, jealousies, backbitings, and other wrongs, by which he had been tortured; only the love, the impassioned love, he cherished for those whose sorrow and joy were his sorrow and joy. How naturally the way is prepared for what follows! "If any have caused grief [referring to the incestuous person], he hath not grieved me, but in part, that I may not overcharge you all." The Revised Version," If any hath caused sorrow, he hath caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I press not too heavily) to you all." Conybeare and Howson, "As concerns him who has caused the pain, it is not me that he has pained, but some of you (some, I say), that I may not press too harshly upon all." Many commentators read it thus: "If any have caused grief, he hath grieved not me, but more or less (that I be not too heavy on him) all of you." What is the point of interest is the light in which St. Paul now regarded the offender and the punishment inflicted upon him. Punishment had been punishment; it had expressed righteous indignation, upheld official order, vindicated the holy authority of law. It had been effectual in bringing the flagrant sinner to repentance and had proved a warning to others. But were the effects to stop here? A great work had been done and yet other results were possible - were most desirable. Precisely here the farsighted wisdom of St. Paul attracts our admiration. Discipline of a mechanical or of a military kind is cheap enough. True reformatory and saving discipline is a costly thing, requiring forethought and afterthought, the looking "before and after," which has won its place among the aphorisms of statesmanship. Much fruit falls and rots just as the ripening season approaches, Special care was needed, so the apostle argued, lest Satan should spoil the wholesome act in the sequel. "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many." "Sufficient" leads the sentence. And the "many" has its weight, since in nothing is the power of the many so much felt as in condemnation.
"There is no creature loves me,
And if I die, no soul shall pity me." This is Gloster perfected in King Richard. St. Paul urges the forgiveness of this gross offender. On the contrary, "Ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." Make evident your love to him; so he beseeches them. If he is restored to their affection, this would prove that the Church was "obedient in all things." All through he keeps the dignity and authority of the Church in commanding view, and, as he had laid a most solemn duty on its conscience, so now he recognizes its high relationship in the matter of reconciliation. Would the brethren forgive him? So would be, and that too in the most impressive manner - "in the sight of Christ." The reasoning of the apostle at this point ought to make a most profound and lasting impression on Christian thinkers. Sincere motives and upright intentions do not always preserve good men from terrible blunders in administering Church discipline. All unawares, the imagination exaggerates, right feeling becomes jealous of itself, motives are looked at askance, a spurious consistency sets up its tyrannical claims, and, in no long time, law parts company with authority, and equity is crushed by justice. No attitude in which St. Paul appears before us is so finely characteristic of high manhood as when he pleads for extreme thoughtfulness and tender consideration in the use of legitimate power. Who ever suffered from the numberless forms of injustice as he did? Who died daily as he did? The "beasts" at Ephesus were not merely such as do physical violence, but in their utter want of all moral sensibility to truth and right. Yet this was not the worst. Ask a man who has had a large experience in public life what has occasioned him the greatest amount of vexation, and he will tell you that it was the misrepresentation and carping criticism and wilful littleness of spirit pursuing him continually which had most embittered his career. St. Paul was subjected to these annoyances through all the middle period of his apostolic life. And what did he learn from them? To be distrustful of his own heart, to keep an open and vigilant eye on his infirmities, to be specially guarded as to the ambitious uses of power, and to foreclose every avenue to his soul through which an entrance might be effected of a fanatical temper in rebuke, in the management of Church troubles, and in the relation sustained to the other apostles. In the case of the Corinthian offender we see his lofty bearing. Ready to forgive, glad to forgive, yet he waits till he can say to the Church, "If ye forgive anything, I forgive also." And hear his reason, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." Never could he have been St. Paul, apostle of the Gentiles, without this intense conception intensely realized of Satan as an infernal agent of prodigious power and unceasing activity. In his theology, in his way of looking at men and things, in his calculation of the forces to be met in the great conflict, it would have been inexplicably strange had he ignored or depreciated this gigantic spirit of evil. Elsewhere we have his allusions to Satan in other aspects of his character. Here he is the schemer, the wily plotter, the adroit strategist, observant of every movement, and on the alert forevery opportunity. St. Paul was not afraid to acknowledge that in this matter at Corinth Satan might even yet turn things to his advantage. Recall the words (1 Corinthians 5:5), "To deliver such a one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh;" and yet they were to labour and intercede "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." And now, this repentant and forgiven man, should they not save him from the snares of Satan? - save themselves, too, from being overreached by the arch-enemy of Christ and all goodness? - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.