The Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 4:1-18 (2 Corinthians 4:1-18)

- The Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 4:3 (2 Corinthians 4:3)

But if our gospel be hid. This is added to avoid the semblance of a contradiction. He has spoken of "manifestation of the truth," and yet has spoken of all Jews as unable to see it because they will not remove from their hearts the veil which hides it from them. How can "a veiled gospel" be a "manifested truth"? The answer is that the gospel is bright, but the eyes that should gaze on it are wilfully closed. Similarly in 2 Corinthians 2:16 , he has compared the gospel to a fragrance of life, yet to the doomed captives—"to the perishing"—it comes "like a waft from the charnel house." A better rendering would be, But even if our gospel ( 1 Corinthians 15:1 ; Romans 2:16 ) is a veiled one . it is veiled only among the perishing . Be hid; rather, has been veiled . To them that are lost; rather, to the perishing (see note on 2 Corinthians 2:15 ).

- The Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

The condition of unregenerated men.

"But if our gospel be hid," etc. These words give an appalling view of ungodly men.

I. They are BLIND TO THE GOSPEL . "If our gospel be hid [or, 'veiled']." Men have different organs of vision. There is the bodily eye: the gospel is not "hid" from that—they can see the volume that contains it, they can see the print, and perhaps read its chapters. There is the intellectual eye to discover its sense and discern its meaning. There is the spiritual eye, the conscience which discerns the moral significance of things; this is the eye which alone can see the gospel, its real essence. And this is the veiled eye, the eye of conscience is closed, so that the gospel is no more discerned than the bright heavens are observed by the man who is horn blind.

II. They are PERISHING IN SIN . "It is hid to them that are lost," or veiled from them that are perishing. Soul ruin is a gradual process. Souls are neither ruined nor saved at once. The wicked are " going into everlasting punishment;" they are not hurled there at once; step by step they proceed. With every sin their sensibility of conscience is perishing, their power of will is perishing, all the better tendencies of their nature are perishing. It matters not how strong in body, how prosperous in wealth, how elevated in society, they are perishing. Startlingly solemn this!

III. They are VICTIMIZED BY SATAN . "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." Observe:

1 . Satan is not a principle, but a personality.

2 . Satan has immense dominions. "The god of this world." Satan is a personality that has access to human souls. He enters men, acts on their springs of thought and fountains of feeling.

3 . Satan is a personality whose action on the soul is essentially pernicious. "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." He closes the moral eye of the soul, "lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God, should shine unto them."

2 Corinthians 4:5 - Preaching.

"For we preach not ourselves," etc. Here is—

I. A SAD POSSIBILITY in preaching. What is that? To "preach ourselves." To preach ourselves is to propound our own notions, to exhibit our own talents, genius, and learning, to parade our own productions. It is to put self, not Christ, in the front. In these days the egotism of the pulpit has become all but intolerable.

II. A GLORIOUS THEME for preaching. "Christ Jesus the Lord."

1 . Preach him as the Mediator between God and man. He whose grand mission it is to reconcile man to his Maker.

2 . Preach him as the great Example for man's imitation. He who embodies the ideal of human perfection and blessedness.

III. The RIGHT SERVICE in preaching. "Ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." The true preacher is:

1 . The servant of souls.

2 . The servant of souls inspired by love for Christ. "Servants for Jesus' sake."

2 Corinthians 4:6 - True soul light.

"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." There are two lights in the soul. There is the light of nature . This light consists of those moral intuitions which Heaven implanted within us at first. These intuitions are good enough for angels, did for Adam before he fell; but now, through sin, they are so blunt and dim that the soul is in moral darkness: "The light that is in thee is darkness." The other light is that of the light of the gospel . This comes because the light of nature is all but gone out, and comes as essential to our spiritual well being. This is the light to which the passage refers, the new soul light. The words call attention to three facts concerning it.

I. IT EMANATES FROM THE HIGHEST SOURCE . "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." The reference is here to the creation ( Genesis 1:3 ). It reminds us:

1 . Of antecedent darkness . The state of the soul before this light enters it is analogous to the state of the earth before God kindled the lights of the firmament. It was cold, chaotic, dead. In what a sad condition is the unregenerate soul!

2 . Of almighty sovereignty . "Let there be light"—"Let light be, and light was." The luminaries of the firmament were kindled by the free, uncontrolled, almighty power of God. So it is with real spiritual light. It comes because God wills it. Everywhere he "worketh according to the counsel of his own will."

II. IT REVEALS THE GRANDEST SUBJECT . Light is a revealer. All the hues and forms, beauties and sublimities of the earth would be hid from us without the light. What does this soul light reveal? "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God." Gospel light entering the soul makes God visible as the eternal Reality, the Fountain of being, and the Source of all blessedness. Where this gospel light is not, the soul either ignores or denies him; or, at most, speculates about him, and at best has now and then flitting visions. But under the radiance of the gospel, God is the Reality of all realities, the Fountain of all existences, the Root of all the sciences. In this light they see God, and through him they see and interpret his universe.

III. IT STREAMS THROUGH THE SUBLIMEST MEDIUM . "In the face of Jesus Christ." There is undoubted allusion here to what is said of Moses ( 2 Corinthians 3:13 ) when the Divine glory was reflected on his face, and produced such a splendour and magnificence that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look upon it. The sense here is that, in the face or the person of Jesus Christ, the glory of God shone clearly, and the Divinity appeared without a veil. This light coming through Christ, "who is the image of the invisible God," is:

1 . True light. He is the Truth.

2 . Softened light. The soul could not stand the light coming directly from the infinite Source; it is too dazzling. Through the medium of Christ it comes so softened as to suit our weakness.

3 . Quickening light. It falls on the soul like the sunbeam on the seed quickening into life.

2 Corinthians 4:7 - The true gospel ministry.

"But we have this treasure , " etc. The words lead us to consider the true gospel ministry in various aspects.

I. AS CONTAINING AN INESTIMABLE TREASURE . The gospel is a system of incalculable worth. The most valuable things in nature are employed to represent it—water, light, life, etc. There are four criteria that determine the worth of a thing— rarity, utility, duration, the appreciation of the highest authorities . All these applied to the gospel demonstrate its surpassing value.

II. AS THE SERVICE OF FRAGILE MEN . "In earthen vessels." To whom have the inestimable truths of the gospel been entrusted for exposition, enforcement, and distribution? Not to angels, but to frail and dying men.

1 . They have frail bodies . They are subject to infirmity, exhaustion, decay, etc.

2 . They have frail minds . The most vigorous in intellect is weak, the most lofty in genius is feeble, the most enlightened is ignorant.

III. AS DEVELOPING A DIVINE PURPOSE . "That the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." The grand reason why frail men are employed to preach the gospel is that the glorious renovating and soul-saving effects may evidently appear as the work of God, and not of man. When sermons prove effective in converting souls, it is not because of the originality of their thought, the force of their logic, the splendour of their rhetoric, or the majesty of their eloquence, but because of the Divine power that accompanies them. "Not by might, nor by power," etc.

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 - Trials in the cause of Christ.

"We are troubled on every side," etc. Three remarks are suggested.

I. That THE TRIALS ENCOUNTERED IS THE CAUSE OF CHRIST ARE SOMETIMES VERY GREAT . Hear what Paul says about his trials: "We are troubled on every side." He speaks of himself as hemmed in by enemies, pursued by enemies, stricken down by enemies, and dragging about with him, as it were, a living corpse. It may be laid down as a principle, that the man who is earnestly engaged in any righteous cause in this world will have to encounter trials. The old prophets bad their trials, some of them were insulted, some incarcerated, some martyred. So with John the Baptist, and so with the apostles, so with the confessors, reformers, and genuine revivalists.

II. That, HOWEVER GREAT THE TRIALS ENCOUNTERED , THEY ARE NOT BEYOND BEARING . The apostle says that although "troubled on every side, yet not distressed," or straitened; though "perplexed , " or bewildered, yet not benighted; though "persecuted," or pursued, yet not "forsaken," or abandoned; though "cast down," or stricken down with a blow, yet not perishing. The idea is that he had support under his trials; they did not entirely crush him. The true labourer in the cause of Christ, however great his trials, is always supported:

1 . By the approbation of his own conscience .

2 . By the encouraging results of his own labours .

3 . By the sustaining strength of God . "As thy days, so thy strength shall be."

III. THAT THE RIGHT BEARING OF THESE TRIALS SUBSERVES THE GOOD OF SOULS .

1 . In the right bearing of these sufferings the sufferer reveals the life of Christ to others. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." Rightly endured sufferings bring the sufferer so near to the sufferings of Christ that he is in a sense a sharer of those sufferings, and hence in them the life of Jesus is made manifest. Who that has witnessed the true Christian languishing on the bed of suffering and death has not seen the spirit of the life of Christ revealed?

2 . In the right hearing of these sufferings the sufferer promotes in himself and others the Christian life. "For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you." "God," says Dean Alford, "exhibits death in the living, that he may also exhibit life in the dying."

2 Corinthians 4:13 - The speech of true faith.

"We having the same spirit of faith," etc. The world is full of speech. Human words load the atmosphere. All the speeches may be divided into three classes.

1 . Speech without faith. Vapid and volatile talk.

2 . Speech with wrong faith. Wrong faith is of two descriptions.

3 . Speech with true faith. Take the true faith as faith in Christ. In him, not in propositions concerning him, propositions either including doctrines or facts. I offer three remarks concerning the speech of this faith.

I. IT IS INEVITABLE . The man who truly believes in Christ feels that "necessity is laid upon him," that he "cannot but speak the things seen and heard." Such is the influence of faith on man's social sympathies that his emotions become irrepressible.

II. IT IS RATIONAL . How much speech there is in connection even with the religion of Christ that clashes with the dictates of human reason, and is an insult to common sense! But he who really has faith in Christ can give reasons for his convictions in language clear as the day. It is the lack of true faith that makes our sermons hazy.

III. IT IS STRONG . True faith in Christ is the strongest of all convictions, and a strong conviction will always have a strong utterance. The words will be free and full.

2 Corinthians 4:14 , 2 Corinthians 4:15 - Soul-inspiring facts.

"Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus," etc. There are four glorious facts here.

I. THAT CHRIST WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD . "Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus." "No fact in history," says Dr. Arnold, "is more firmly established by argument than this."

II. THAT THE GENUINE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST WILL ALSO BE RAISED . "Shall raise up us also by [with] Jesus, and shall present us with you." Raised as he was raised, and all be presented together.

III. THAT ALL THINGS ARE FOR GOOD TO THE GOOD . "All things are for your sakes." "We know that all things shall work together for good," etc. "All things are yours."

IV. THAT ALL THINGS IN LIFE SHOULD RESULT IN THE TRUE WORSHIP OF GOD . "That the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God." It is only in Worship that the soul can find the free and harmonious development of all its spiritual powers. Worship is heaven. It is not the means to an end; it is the sublimest end of being.

2 Corinthians 4:16 - Soul-growth.

"For which cause we faint not," etc. Observe at the outset:

1 . Man has a duality of nature—the outward and the inward; the latter the man of the man.

2 . The decayableness of one of the natures. "Our outward man perisheth." This is constantly going on.

3 . The constant growth of the tuner nature. "The reward man is renewed day by day. "Soul growth implies three things.

I. SOUL LIFE . Dead plants and dead animals can no more grow than stones. The inner man uurenewed is morally dead; its life consists in supreme sympathy with the supremely good .

II. SOUL NOURISHMENT . No life can live upon itself. The appropriation of outward elements is essential to sustentation and growth. Moral and spiritual truths are the nutriment of souls.

III. SOUL EXERCISE . All life seems to require exercise. Even the productions of the vegetable world cannot grow without it; though they cannot move themselves, they are moved by the breezes of heaven. Animal life requires it, and the soul must have it in order to grow. It must "exercise itself unto godliness." "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."

2 Corinthians 4:17 , 2 Corinthians 4:18 - The afflictions of Christly men.

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." These words suggest a few thoughts concerning the afflictions of Christly men.

I. They are COMPARATIVELEY "light" and "momentary." They are " light :"

1 . Compared with what they deserve.

2 . Compared with what others have endured.

3 . Compared, with the blessedness that is to follow. They are momentary, "but for a moment. Momentary compared

II. That, though light and momentary, they WORK OUT GLORIOUS RESULTS . They issue in what? "A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." What is the affliction to the glory?

1 . The one is "light;" the other is weighty. Put all the afflictions of the whole Church against the everlasting glory of one Christly soul, and how light!

2 . The one is momentary; the other is eternal. "Eternal weight of glory." But the result is not only an eternal weight of glory, but "far more exceeding." No expression could be stronger than this. The apostle here seems to struggle after the strongest language to express his idea of the transcendent blessedness that awaits the Christly man.

III. That they work out these glorious results BY THE REALIZATION OF SPIRITUAL AND ETERNAL REALITIES . "While we look not at the things which are seen… for the things which are seen are temporal." Observe:

1 . That there are things invisible to the bodily eye that can be seen by the soul . There are two classes of invisible things:

2 . That the things that can be seen only by the soul are not temporal, but eternal . We talk about the everlasting mountains, eternal sun, etc.; but there is nothing that is seen is lasting—all is passing away. Moral truths are imperishable; spiritual existences are immortal; God is eternal; these are things belonging to a kingdom that cannot be moved.

3 . That the things that are seen only by the soul are the things that, if realized, will make this mortal life issue in transcendent good .

- The Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

It is still "this ministry." The question, "Who is sufficient for these things?" has been answered in part by a statement of his "sincerity" and "plainness of speech," and he now proceeds to Speak of his courage and steady zeal. "We faint not," allowing no difficulties or dangers to dishearten us. But what was the nature or spirit of this resolute energy? Energetic men, brave men, who are bent on their purpose, are not always choice or chary of the means employed to gain their ends. "Hidden things of dishonesty," plots, schemes concocted in secret, were renounced, nor did he in any way adulterate the gospel. Not only did he preach the Word, but he delivered it as received from the Lord Jesus. The mirror was kept clean and bright, so as to reflect the image. Of course, he contrasted himself with his opponents, who used intrigues to acquire influence. If certain men handled the Word of God deceitfully, he was not one of that number, for his single aim was; "by manifestation of the truth," to commend himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Divine truth, such as the gospel contained, was a manifestation, a showing of its real and intrinsic character, to the only faculty competent to receive it as a self-evidencing system; and that faculty was the conscience. Reason lies back of all our reasoning, and is greater and truer than our formal logic. Instinct antedates experience, and is the condition precedent to experience. And these instincts with their intuitions constitute their own evidence and form the basis of all knowledge. St. Paul argued that the spiritual doctrines of the gospel, if faithfully presented to the conscience, would be recognized and accepted by conscience as the truth of God. History is history; testimony is testimony; judgment is judgment; conscience is conscience; and he will not disparage any one of these to exalt another, but will keep each in its place according to the constitution of our nature. Yet the human mind, made in God's image, must be master of its impressions, sovereign over its motives, lord of itself when most obedient to God; and, accordingly, it must have a conscience to witness "magisterially," as Bishop Butler puts it, for the authority of God. It was not to worldly taste and selfish intellect St. Paul appealed in preaching the gospel, nor to low and mercenary feelings of any kind, but to the conscience as the supreme sense of right in man. And was this all? Nay; they commended themselves, their persons, their private and public lives, their experience and conduct, to the consciences of others. Witness what we are, what we do, how we live, as well as what we preach, was St. Paul's argument. No man enjoyed true appreciation and love more than he; but, most of all, he sought the testimony of their conscience that he was their servant for Christ's sake, and was in no respect crafty and dishonest in his relations to the brethren. Private character and public character are, alas! too often disjoined, and not seldom are opposites; but St. Paul thought that gifts and graces should go together. What he professed as an apostle be would practise as a man, and in each respect he would commend himself to conscience. On no account would he have the confidence and regard of the Church except so far as he impressed this purest and safest kind of human judgment. And he did this most solemnly, "in the sight of God." Observe, then, it was not to their consciousness but conscience, to which his ministry, character, and life appealed. Nor was this limited to the Church. It was exhibited before all, believers and unbelievers, a savour of life, a savour of death. The manifestation of the truth would commend itself to every man's conscience; and yet the general verdict of conscience would be accepted and acted on by some, while it would be opposed and disobeyed by many. But who were the rejecters? "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (who are now perishing), not finally lost, but at present unsaved, their day of grace not over, salvation yet possible. The state spoken of is one of mental blindness, which includes the want of spiritual perceptions and the darkness of the understanding. Conscience is instructed, but the intellect overpowers conscience. Conscience is on the side of truth; intellect on the side of the senses. Conscience entreats, warns, condemns, in the name of God; intellect is sophistical and imperious in behalf of the carnal man. And the intellect is thus alienated from its rational subordination to a ruling conscience by a usurper who is Satan, "the god of this world." Men have allowed him to assert sovereignty over them, have made him "a god," and have yielded to his wicked agency what belongs to the one God. They hays robbed God to give him power over their bodies and souls. Without this clear and vivid recognition of the personality, the activity, the prodigious energy of Satan, the theology of St. Paul would have no consistency, no logical coherence, no adaptiveness to the convicting and renewing work with which he associates it. With him, human depravity is not an abstract thing, an isolated thing, but part and parcel of a vast system of evil, an immense empire of untruth, deception, fraud, cruelty, of which Satan is head and front. Is unbelief powerful? Satan is behind it. Are the lusts and appetites of the flesh tyrannic? Satan is the tyrant. Are men blinded to their interest and well being? By him, "god of this world," are they blinded. One who estimates human depravity solely by what it is in itself will have a very different view of its actual character in experience and outworking from one who looks at it as an instrumentality in such hands as Satan's. In the former case it is the man indulging in depravity for his own gratification—he personally and individually and directly is its motive, impulse, and end; in the latter there is a kingdom and a despotic ruler, whose objects are furthered by widening his dominion and enhancing his sway. St. Paul is explicit. Satan is the blinder, and he is the blinder as "the god of this world." And he blinds the minds of men, "lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God, should shine unto them." Turn to the close of the previous chapter and read of the "open face," of the reflected "glory of the Lord," of the assimilating power of the "image," of its transforming wonder in changing "from glory to glory." And now take this awful contrast—a fallen angel, a dethroned principality and power the "god" among his hierarchies, the "god" of a world where men are on probation for an immortality of good or evil, and thin "god" of darkness busy everywhere to hide the only light that reveals Christ as the Image of God. Here is this light in the history of Christ's life, death, resurrection, exaltation. It is glorious. It is preached as a "glorious gospel;" it is preached by men. who have "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty," and who themselves, by their candour, integrity, purity, commend themselves to every man's conscience under the eye of God, But Satan exerts all his skill and influence, controls myriad agencies, works continually and works so successfully that the minds of many are blinded by unbelief. Destroy belief and you destroy the soul. And this is the Satanic might of evil, the climax of all his influence, that the blindness with which he shrouds the soul is the blindness of unbelief. Can he think of "the glorious gospel of Christ" and not be humbled? "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." And now the idea which has occupied so much of his attention—the veiled face of Moses, the open vision of Christ, the image of the Father in him, the glory that excelleth, the ministry as a manifestation of glory, Christian growth as an expansion from one degree of resplendency to another till it reaches "the perfect day," and the contrasted blindness of unbelievers who are under Satan's power,—this idea, so suggestive, attains its final expression in the sixth verse. God had once said, "Let there be light, and there was light." It was the opening grandeur of creation; but was this all? This was to be the permanent symbol of God, the source and centre of more associations and suggestions than any other object in the material universe, a creative force to the imagination of metaphor, image, and illustration that cannot be measured. And, as such, St. Paul uses it when he says that "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." What fuller embodiment could the thought take than "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"? "Light," "knowledge," "glory of God," "face of Jesus Christ,"—what a collocation of sublime ideas!—L.

2 Corinthians 4:7-18 - Ministers in their weakness and strength; present affliction and future issues.

There is the ever-recurring contrast. It is now the ministry as a "treasure," and this treasure is "in earthen vessels." We understand the apostle to refer to the body when speaking of the "clay vessel," the contrasted elements being the glory of the ministry as a Divine illumination and the fragile human form in which it was contained. It was thus that "the excellency of the power" was seen to be "of God, and not of us." Not only was it the power of God, but of "exceeding greatness" (Kling), and while the "surpassing might" demonstrated itself in the gracious and widespread effects of the ministry, it was also obvious in the physical support given in the midst of such unprecedented labours and trials. To illustrate this "surpassing might" (Conybeare and Howson), St. Paul adduces his own experience. As it respects the "earthen vessel:"

1 . Troubled on every side.

2 . Perplexed.

3 . Persecuted.

4 . Cast down.

5 . Always dying; bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.

As it respects the "excellency of the power:"

1 . Not stressed.

2 . Not in despair.

3 . Not forsaken.

4 . Not destroyed.

5 . Life of Jesus made manifest in our mortal body.

These ideas of suffering are taken from the body.

1 . Pressed or hemmed in on every side.

2 . Benighted on our path.

3 . Pursued in a conflict.

4 . Thrown down and expecting to be killed.

5 . The dying of the Lord Jesus never absent as a bodily impression.

This is the second of those vivid pictures St. Paul has given of his personal life, the first being found in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 . There is a marked difference between the two representations, the former referring to the contrast between himself and the self-sufficient Corinthians, while the latter sets forth the contrast between "the glorious gospel" and the weakness of its ministration by means of men. Here the prominence is given to the similarity of his own life to that of Christ," that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." Had he spoken in the previous Epistle of self-denials and voluntary sufferings over and above "other apostles," going on a warfare "at his own charges," planting a vineyard and eating not "of the fruit thereof," a shepherd who "eateth not of the milk of the flock"? No such allusions (except in the reference made in the twelfth verse) are found in this chapter. Before him, in full view, is the career of Jesus of Nazareth, his resignation of the comforts of earth, the homelessness and other privations he endured, and he, the apostle of the Gentiles, is conformed in outward or physical aspects to the sufferings of Christ. Still more, the life of Christ's resurrection and exalted glory appears in him, and this life, so manifested in "our mortal flesh" and the more signally exhibited because of infirmities and afflictions, is for their benefit. "Death worketh in us, but life in you." But is death a shadow, a discouragement, a paralyzing terror? Nay; the life imparted to the Corinthians through him returned from them to his own soul. He believed and spoke; they heard and believed. Furthermore, he had another consolation, the hope of a resurrection, when he and they should be presented by Christ to the Father for final acceptance. Yes; the fellowship would be immortal as well as glorious. "All things are for your sakes," whatever had befallen him, and this "abundant grace," extended to an ever-enlarging number, would swell the volume of thanksgiving to God. In his mind "the glory of God" is never associated with narrow bounds, never with a few, always with the "many"—"through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God." This is his manhood; largeness in everything; breadth of thought and sentiment for this world and the future! a manhood that could breathe in nothing smaller than a universe. How much he is worth to us in this particular! On this account "we faint not." Nothing had power to dishearten his spirit or depress his efforts. The burden rallied the strength; the heavier the weight the more energetic the resistance. Another contrast— outward man, inward man: man in each. St. Paul, who is the theologian of the Bible on the subject of the body no less than of the soul, is here in one of his favourite moods, and, as usual, his philosophy (if we choose so to regard his discernment) is as profound as his piety. "Though our outward man perish." It cannot but perish. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return." The body exists for no independent purpose, it is for the soul, and the ideal of the soul determines the ideal of the body's history. It eats, sleeps, works, for the soul. It decays for the sake of the soul. Now, this decay which the apostle is considering, we may look at in the light of modern physiology. St. Paul is no teacher of physiology or of science in any form, but he mentions facts, which we can interpret by aid of recent science. What, then, do we know of decay as a bodily law? We know it is a law coexistent and cooperative with our physical life. It sets in early, goes on continuously, and ends only when the body dies. It is a succession of decays . Viewed in this light, decay is a function of activity or a sequel to activity, and, accordingly, a condition of renewal . Exercise the arm like a blacksmith, and it rapidly wastes matter. Exercise the brain as a student, and certain constituents are constantly thrown off and expelled from the system. Yet, in all this, there is reproduction and even growth. The decay has an order; it proceeds from the less serviceable to the more useful functions. Early in life, animal sensations are in excess. The outer world floods the young senses, and no image is painted on the brain that is not a copy of something external. But this abates. It lessens by providential law. The spirits decline in boisterousness; perceptions are not so vivid; reflectiveness increases; and the pulse is more of a pulse of thought, will, emotion. What we can spare best is the first to decay. Long before eye and ear show signs of failing other organs begin to advertise their decline. And hence the decay proceeds as to time and method in such a form as to answer the ends of the body in its relation to the soul . Seldom are there violent changes, No great revolutions occur. Little by little the alterations go on, so that the mind is insensibly accommodated to them. Agreeably to this law, decay contributes till late in life to the development of the mind. Not until decay has accomplished higher ends does it tend towards dissolution. Gently, indeed, the hand of the Father touches the frail tenement, here a nerve and there a muscle, so as to make it less a body for the earth and more a body for the soul. Physiologically, therefore, there is a basis for St. Paul's theology of the body . Now, physiologists may say, as some of them have said, that their science has nothing to do with religion, and, forsooth, this in one sense may be true. But it is certain that Christianity has a good deal to do with their science. Nor, indeed, have we to look further than the text for proof of the fact that, while St. Paul was doing nothing more than unfolding the glory of the gospel, one or more of the rays of that splendour shone on facts which science is only just now beginning to understand. But the inner man, what of him? " Renewed day by day ." We have seen that Providence uses decay for restoration and even enhancement of power, and moreover, not until physical development has attained its maximum in respect to mind, does it happen that decay operates towards dissolution. Outward and inward—both the man, as we have said—and yet the differencing adjectives are very expressive. Look at the outside of a tree, the rough bark adapted to the hard usages of wind and weather, and fitted to enclose and protect the fibre and circulating sap. So of the body. It is a sheath to the soul, preserving its freedom from being overpowered by the outward world and guaranteeing self-direction to its activity. More than this, body is a developing instrumentality of mind, and, in this respect, fulfils the special purpose of Providence. Nevertheless, the soul has its own prerogatives. It is God's image, and, as such, witnesses to its own nature as infinitely different from matter. We call it soul because it is perfectly unlike body. We call it spirit because "God is a Spirit." Such words as body, soul, spirit, stand alone and contain the truth of all truths. Now, the apostle urges this contrast; body decays and dies, spirit under the influence of the Holy Ghost is renewed daily. Spirit has a capacity for interminable growth. Day by day, a clearer knowledge of itself, a keener penetration of consciousness, a deeper sense of sinfulness in its nature, and, anomalously enough, while gaining a victory more and more over particular sins, having an acuter conviction of inbred sin. Day by day, the world falling away from its senses, and yet, amid the decay of sensuousness, a continual ascension of delight and gladness as the spirit loses its hold on merely aesthetic beauty and enters more fully into moral beauty, so that, while the body becomes more and more the "temple of the Holy Ghost," the earth grows into a sanctuary of God, where the hours fail not to observe their ritual of worship and the air is never so hushed as not to breathe praise to God. Day by day? Ah! are there not idle days, apparently useless days, even days when prayer and holy service seem a burden? Doubtless; but we must not conclude that these seasons are altogether unprofitable. If we are learning nothing else, we are learning how weak and impotent we are, and how unreliable are our constitution and habits except we have daily renewing grace. God leaves us to ourselves sometimes, that we may find out what company we keep when he is absent. Day by day, the most precious of all is a growing nearness to the Lord Jesus Christ. We can recall the time when he was mainly to our young souls a traditional Christ. We knew him by the hearing of the ear and by the sight of the eye. Voices there were that spoke of him and commanded our listening. Faces there were that shone with unearthly light and touched our eyes to a reverent gaze. They are gone now. Sorrow has done its work, and, if that be done, all other work is made effective for spiritual progress. How real he becomes when we suffer as Christians! In the loneliness that comes with all profound grief, what a personal Christ is he to our hearts! Hearts, we say, for the revelations of sorrow, the fullest and grandest ever made to the soul, are all revelations of the blessed Jesus to the affections. Once we could not have thought it possible, but, in later years, the secret of the Lord is with us, and we commune with him as friend with friend. The wonder now is, how we could ever live an hour without this sense of sonship possessing the soul. "Out of the depths" we have learned to say, "Abba, Father," and then we can rejoice with "joy unspeakable and full of glory." The outward man perishing, the inward man renewed day by day, how would such a man as St. Paul look upon trial and adversity? We know more of the nature, variety, and depth of his sufferings than of any one among the saints of the New Testament, and yet he calls his affliction light . It is also "but for a moment? Why he spoke in this way is made clear at once, for the light and momentary affliction is working for his benefit, fulfilling a purpose, executing a design, and this is a "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." These words are best left to private meditation. "Glory" in contrast with "affliction," "weight" with "light," "eternal" with "moment," and then the "exceeding," the "more exceeding,'' the "far more exceeding;" we honour the sublimity most by thoughtful silence. And this winking, which is now going on by means of Christ's presence in affliction and derives no merit from him, is so far realized by the apostle that he cannot look upon the things about him other than as transient. It is not the mere decay of the outward man nor the evanescence of the world's glory that produces in him this exalted state of mind. The point of view is altogether different. From the height of spiritual life as essentially eternal life, he glances at the panorama of the world as it passes by, but his look—the fixed eye, the earnest gaze—is on the things which are eternal. For him this eternity has already begun; and while every new grief and every repetition of an old sorrow "worketh" a deeper feeling of the spiritual and eternal life within, he is equally well assured that each one adds something to the accumulated glory of the heaven awaiting him as an apostle of the Lord Jesus.—L.

- The Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

I. WITH FAITH . Many preach with despair and prepare the way for failure. We should reflect that the preaching of the gospel is the divinely appointed way for saving men. We are likely to have success if we lay hold of God when we seek to lay hold of men. Our own salvation furnishes abundant evidence of the Divine power to save. "God shined in our hearts" ( 2 Corinthians 4:6 ); "We obtained mercy" ( 2 Corinthians 4:1 ). What God has done for us he can do for others. And we have the Divine promise that the Word shall not return unto God void. "Light shall shine out of darkness" ( 2 Corinthians 4:6 ). We must seek a faith which will prevent us from fainting even when the outlook is darkest ( 2 Corinthians 4:1 ). If we have not faith, how can we expect our hearers to have it?

II. WITH COURAGE . We must not faint because of foes. Many an assault upon strongholds has failed because of half-heartedness and cowardice. Preachers should be very bold and very brave. We have nothing to be ashamed of in our message. Shall the devil's work be done more bravely than Christ's? Shall the highest service on earth be marked by vacillation and timidity? "But that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death" ( Philippians 1:20 ). The Church would be more aggressive if she were more courageous. Preachers should have stout hearts as well as tender ones.

III. WITH PERSEVERANCE . We must not faint because of difficulties. Discouragements are many, but persistency will bury them all. The preacher's motto must be, "On! on! on!" He must spend and be spent in the service. After the manner ascribed to British soldiers, Christ's soldiers must never know when they are worsted. "Line upon line, precept upon precept." Many things come to the preacher who can wait and work.

IV. WITH GREAT HONESTY AND SINCERITY , "Not walking in craftiness" ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 ). The preacher who wants his hearers to walk in holy ways must not walk in devious ways himself. He must not be a trickster. Some seem willing to do anything to please; but the object of the ministry is not to please. Meat cut with a dirty knife is likely to become unsavoury, and the gospel administered with knavish arts will lose its beauty and power.

V. WITH PURE DOCTRINE . "Not handling the Word of God deceitfully" ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 ). "Manifestation of the truth" ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 ). Christ gives us pure doctrine to preach, find woe unto us if we adulterate it! We must not season it to the tastes of the carnal, or keep back portions likely to offend influential sinners.

1 . We preach in the sight of God. How, then, dare we tamper with his troth!

2 . We are to commend ourselves to every man's conscience . Nothing but preaching the truth will do this. We may commend ourselves to men's fancies by preaching our own, and to their predilections by trimming doctrines according to their demands; but only by preaching pure doctrine shall we reach the consciences of men. Theological juggling may please men not a little; gospel doctrine will convict them. To our own Master we stand or fall. 'Tis a poor thing to please men if we displease him. Let Luther's caustic saying, "Counterfeits of money are burned, but falsifiers of God's Word are canonized," be never so true, the preacher must adhere to the doctrine delivered to him, though he lose all earthly things by doing so. In a heterodox world nothing is so likely to be so popular as heterodoxy.

VI. WITH PURITY OF LIFE . "We have renounced the hidden things of shame" ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 ). If we preach we should practise, Christianity is often weak because Christians are inconsistent. Men want to see the gospel as well as hear it. A preacher must live as well as talk. A man cannot preach without himself . There is always more in the pulpit than the sermon—there is the man . We inevitably wonder what the gospel has done for the gospel preacher when he so earnestly recommends it to us. And life has a strange power of revealing itself in preaching . It peeps out . If the preacher has a Judas-life it will betray him sooner or later. But when the man speaks as well as his sermon, a mighty influence is exerted. The light must shine in our own hearts and lives ( 2 Corinthians 4:6 ).

VII. WITH DISCERNMENT AS TO CAUSES OF NON - SUCCESS . The apostle teaches that those who reject the gospel when faithfully proclaimed are those whose minds are blinded by the god of this world ( 2 Corinthians 4:4 ). They have yielded themselves so utterly to evil influences that the gracious message of God through Christ fails to interest or arouse them. They are "perishing." Their rejection of the gospel says nought against the gospel or against the manner of its promulgation. The fault is not in it or in the preacher, but in themselves. It is well for a preacher to realize the possibility of such cases, so that undue discouragement may be avoided when they are met with.

VIII. WITH HUMILITY AND SELF - SUBORDINATION .

1 . Preachers are not to preach themselves ( 2 Corinthians 4:5 ). A man may very easily preach himself even when he takes his text out of the Bible. There is not a little temptation sometimes to ministers to preach themselves. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

2 . Preachers are to be servants for Jesus' sake ( 2 Corinthians 4:5 ); servants of those to whom they preach. Not only servants of Christ, but servants of men— " your servants"—for Christ's sake. The preacher who would win souls must sacrifice self. For acoustics it is well for the pulpit to be above the people, but not otherwise. He who would catch fish must not be seen.

IX. WITH LOYALTY TO CHRIST . ( 2 Corinthians 4:5 .) Preachers must be true in all things to him from whom they have received their commission. They must believe in him, love him, follow him, preach him, live him, obey him, and in all things seek to glorify him.—H.

2 Corinthians 4:7 - "Earthen vessels."

I. GOD HAS CHOSEN AS MINISTERS OF HIS GOSPEL " EARTHEN VESSELS ,"

1 . Not angels or other celestial beings . Not heavenly vessels, but earthly.

2 . Men .

II. THESE EARTHEN VESSELS ARE HELD IN THE DIVINE HAND .

1 . They are thus preserved . "He had in his right hand seven stars" ( Revelation 1:16 ). Often they seem in peril. "Pressed on every side… perplexed… pursued… smitten down" ( 2 Corinthians 4:8 , 2 Corinthians 4:9 ); but the vessel is not allowed to be broken until it has done its work.

2 . They are thus useful .

III. A GREAT TREASURE IS COMMITTED TO THE EARTHEN VESSELS . The treasure is the truth as it is in Jesus—the great gospel message. Christ's ministers are vessels to hold this treasure and to dispense it to those to whom they minister.

1 . Ministers have not to originate what they convey. It is given to them by their Master. The vessel is filled by a Divine hand from a Divine source.

2 . Ministers have not to convey themselves to their people. The people do not want the vessel, but its contents. "We preach not ourselves" ( 2 Corinthians 4:5 ). An earthen vessel is poor food for folks to live upon, and poor medicine for a sin-sick soul to be cured with. The "vessel" must be "the servant" ( 2 Corinthians 4:5 ). Even an alabaster box may well be broken that the precious ointment may be poured forth.

3 . The contents are apt to taste of the vessel. This must be avoided as much as possible. The less of ourselves and the more of Christ that we convey to men the better. The contents must change the vessel, not the vessel the contents. The preacher must be Christ's as well as his message. "We also believe, and therefore speak" ( 2 Corinthians 4:13 ).

IV. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE EARTHEN VESSELS AND THEIR CONTENTS . A treasure; and what a treasure! For it how long the world has been waiting! What marvels it has to work! What wonders it has wrought! And committed to "earthen vessels"! No royal vessels for this royal gift. What honour to the vessels chosen! A minister of Jesus Christ!—how poor all other titles are compared with this!

V. THE OBJECT OF THE DIVINE CHOICE .

1 . The uninterrupted working of the Divine power . An "earthen vessel" can do nothing but receive and pour forth. What egregious folly for a minister of Christ to seek to enter into partnership with his Lord for the production of a theology! The earthen vessel cannot do anything, and should not attempt to.

2 . The glory of the Divine Being . No glory can attach to the mere earthen vessel. God is "all in all." This should be the desire of every servant of God. Many, it is to be feared, are robbers of God in this matter. They snatch at the glory to which they have not the smallest claim.

VI. THE FUTURE OF THE EARTHEN VESSELS . They will be raised up ( 2 Corinthians 4:14 ).

1 . Made glorious . "This mortal must put on immortality." "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" ( 1 Corinthians 15:49 ). The "vile body" will be exchanged for a "glorious body." We shall be made like Christ. The earthen vessels will be transformed into the likeness of him who filled them. The change is taking place whilst the earthen vessels are in the earthly service. "Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day" ( 2 Corinthians 4:16 ). But when we see him as he is we shall be like him.

2 . Fitted for higher service . Heavenly activities. We know not how closely associated the earthly service is with the heavenly, how much the one may depend upon the other, how much the one will influence and shape the other. Let us make the earthly service as true and perfect as we may.—H.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 - Heavy affliction made light.

Paul's troubles were exceedingly heavy. So the troubles of many believers have been and are. The sufferings of saints often seem severer than those of sinners. For them the furnace is made seven times hotter. But Paul with his heavy sorrows speaks of them as light, and speaks of them as they really seemed to him to be under the conditions to which he refers. No affliction could well be heavier than his, and yet it was light. So is the believer's—

I. WHEN HE CONSIDERS DURING HOW SMALL A PORTION OF HIS LIFE IT HAS TO BE BORNE . It is but "for a moment." Not so long as a second contrasted with a thousand years. Eternity makes time short. Our troubles are like Pharaoh's horsemen—they cannot pass the Red Sea of death. In this flash of our existence we may weep, but in the ever-continuing life of heaven we shall rejoice.

"There shall I bathe my weary soul

In seas of heavenly rest,

And not a wave of trouble roll

Across my peaceful breast."

Our cross is borne but for a moment, our crown forever.

II. WHEN HE CONTRASTS THE PRESENT BRIEF TROUBLE WITH THE ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY . True thoughts of heaven prevent exaggerated views of earthly, sorrows. When the future is shut out we can easily sit down and lament, but when faith sees the "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away" ( 1 Peter 1:4 ), our present griefs dwindle into insignificance. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed" ( Romans 8:18 ). Why should we be disquieted so much by these things when those are so near? Shadows hang heavily over us until the sunshine of the coming glory breaks through the clouds, and then the shadows flee away. Why should we concentrate thought upon the short present when the long future is so fair? If we think much of the home, the journey homewards will seem short, and the troubles of the way of little account. Every hour of sorrow brings us an hour nearer the land that is sorrowless. And what shall we possess there? The apostle strives in vain to find language sufficiently strong to describe even what he on earth could perceive of heaven—"more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" ( 2 Corinthians 4:17 ).

III. WHEN THE MEANING OF PRESENT TROUBLE IS REALIZED . To the true child of God:

1 . It may mean the destruction of the outward man, but it assuredly means the renewal and development of the inward. It is not even present injury—it is present good. It is medicine, not poison.

2 . It prepares us for the coming glory. The fire consumes the dross, the knife cuts away the diseased part, the chisel strikes off that which would impair the beauty of the statue. The apprenticeship of sorrow fits us for the long service of glory. Through much tribulation we enter the kingdom and are prepared top its duties. The joys of heaven are dependent on the sorrows of earth; without the latter we should not be ready for the former. "Tribulation worketh patience , " etc. ( Romans 5:3 ).

3 . Whilst suffering cannot in any way merit salvation, affliction rightly endured shall not be without reward. If we fight the fight of faith, and endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we shall receive a crown of righteousness which fadeth not away. "If we suffer we shall also reign with him" ( 2 Timothy 2:12 ).

PRACTICAL .

1 . Faint not . Many faint because they see no reason why they should not faint. Yet all reasons point the Christian to patient endurance. If we lose heart we lose strength. To despair is to charge our Master with unfaithfulness. Seek to be a good swimmer in the sea of trouble, and if the waves go over you, still faint not, for soon you will rise to the surface again, and see that the shore is nearer.

2 . Be not much concerned about the things of this life . ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 .) These are perishing. The imperishable are our better portion. Look not at the things which are seen; they are not worth looking at. "Set your affection on things above" ( Colossians 3:2 .)

3 . Look at things unseen by the carnal sense, but clear to faith ' s vision . ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 .) God, Christ, holiness, usefulness, spiritual joys, the new Paradise,—these are "eternal."—H.

- The Pulpit Commentary