Very different in tone from the first Epistle, yet not less distinctly from the same mind and heart, is the second Epistle to the Corinthians. No writing of the apostle bears more unequivocally the marks of all which characterised him; none more corresponding with the state of those whom he addressed; but this in rich restorative grace and deep triumphant feeling before God. Of all the epistles none abounds in more rapid transitions; as indeed it flowed from profound exercises of soul. The circumstances through which he had passed evidently fitted him for the work in hand, which forbids any division of orderly treatment of subjects. This however is just what should be; nor does any epistle afford a finer example of what is suitable to the case in every point of view.
Personal experience, and this used for the help of others in their trials; the work of the Lord in all its varieties, with the action of the Holy Ghost answering to it; the truth of God in its distinctive shape and highest forms, or the glory of Christ contrasted with the spirit, in former days hidden under the letter; the walk and service which befit such revelations of grace; the affections called into action by all this in the midst of sorrow and suffering, with evil abounding and grace much more abounding; the trials and wants of saints, calling out the loving remembrance of others; the opposition of self-seeking men, employed of the enemy to hinder the blessing of saints and to lower the glory of Christ, to distract the weak and give scope for unscrupulous activity; but on the other hand the energy of the Holy Ghost working not only to vouchsafe heavenly visions, and so give faith its. object, but to manifest Christ in weakness and suffering where the power of Christ may rest, are all brought out with remarkable force and fulness.
Hence the expression of feeling is far more frequent and pronounced in the second Epistle than the first. Not that the first fails in showing that the apostle loved the Corinthians, and still hoped all things. But the second brings out still more manifestly how he bore all, believed all, endured all. Here therefore he speaks with far more confidence of his sure reward, in a love which sought not his own things but theirs. Here he explains his motives with much greater openness. Their subjection to the rebukes of his first epistle, their obedience to the word of the Lord which he had charged on their consciences, left him free now to explain himself. But even so he speaks with the greatest delicacy, lest he might seem careful to vindicate himself instead of cherishing jealousy for the Lord alone. Their edification was the nearest object of his heart, next to the glory of the Lord, if indeed we may even thus far sever what faith knows to be inseparable. More than once he takes up the case of the soul under discipline (as in the first epistle he had urged them to act in holy jealousy for Christ), first to show grace in restoring him who was surcharged with grief; and secondly to own how they in every way had proved themselves pure in the matter.
We may in a general way regard the epistle as consisting of the following divisions. The first seven chapters present a sketch of his ministry in its trials and dangers and the conflicts of soul which the state of the saints, of the Corinthian saints themselves above all, occasioned, in the mighty power, glorious character and blessed result of the service of Christ, triumphing over all opposition, up to death itself, in love to its objects; and this not only in those ministering but also in those ministered to, as being the working of the Holy Ghost in the life of Christ; and hence superior to all that could oppose, even to death and judgment; but exercised in suffering and in holiness; yet having to do with the judgment of unholiness which grace turns to a deeper repentance on the part, not only of the guilty, but of all who have to do with them, so as to bring glory to the Lord in Satan's defeat, as well as in quickened and strengthened divine affections.
Next, in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 we have an admirable exposition of the divine principle in giving and receiving among Christians, combined with his call to the Corinthian saints, whom he could now freely exhort, as brought back by grace, to abound in grace towards the poor saints in Judea: a constant and most grave duty, and a blessed privilege of the church towards the poor saints at all times, when they take it up in faith of the Lord's grace, and in love towards His own, as the apostle bore lays down.
Lastly, from 2 Corinthians 10 we have an apologetic discourse, in which the truest humility goes hand in hand with burning indignation against those whom Satan employs to oppose the glory of Christ and destroy the blessing of the saints under cover of exposing the imaginary faults of His servants. Nothing can exceed the propriety, as well as profound feeling with which the apostle handles this difficult and delicate theme; nothing more withering to the adversaries of grace, whatever their pretension to light and righteousness. To a spirit so disinterested, loving, and lowly as Paul's it was a very great pain to speak of himself; and he calls it his folly, as he calls on them to bear with it. Vanity loves to speak of itself and its little doings; true greatness, while it delights in that which is its own source - the all-surpassing One in whom it loses thoughts of self, can for the sake of others afford to speak of labours and sufferings for that loved object and for all that He loves, so as to refute these heartless detractions and calumnies. And as the unworthy insinuation of levity of purpose was dispelled by the first chapter, so in the last those who had undermined his apostleship he warns of the just severity which must befall them if they persevere in a course as dishonouring to the Lord as it was destructive of their own souls.