Pulpit Commentary - 2 Corinthians 5:1 - 5:21

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Pulpit Commentary - 2 Corinthians 5:1 - 5:21

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


Continuation of the topic that hope is the chief support of the preacher of the gospel (2Co_5:1-10). Their self-sacrifice in preaching the gospel of reconciliation (2Co_5:11-21).


The hope of the future rife is the great support of our efforts.


. A further explanation of the hope expressed in 2Co_4:17
. We know. This accent of certainty is found only in the Christian writers. Our earthly house. Not the "house of clay" (Job_4:19), but the house which serves us as the home of our souls on earth; as in 1Co_15:40. Of this tabernacle; literally, the house of the tent; i.e. the tent of our mortality, the mortal body. In 2Pe_1:13, 2Pe_1:14 it is called skenoma, and the expression, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,"is literally, "he tabernacled among us"—he wore "a tent like ours and of the same material." The figure would be specially natural to one whose occupation was that of a tentmaker. Compare—

"Here in the body pent,

Afar from him I roam,

But nightly pitch my wandering tent

A day's march nearer home."

A very, similar expression occurs in Wis. 9:15, "The earthly tabernacle ( γεῶδες σκῆνος ) weigheth down the mind." Be dissolved; rather, be taken to pieces. A building. Something more substantial than that moving tenement. Of God; literally, from God; namely, not one of the "many mansions" spoken of in Joh_14:2, but the resurrection body furnished to us by him. We have this building from God, for it exists now, and shall be ours at the same time that our tent home is done away with. Not made with hands. Not like those tent dwellings at which St. Paul was daily toiling with the hands which ministered to his own necessities. In the heavens. To be joined with "we have." Heaven is our general home and country (Heb_11:16), but the present allusion is to the glorified bodies in which our souls shall live in heaven.


In this we groan.
Since we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, who assures us of that future building from God, we, in this earthly tent, "groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of our body" (Rom_8:23
). To be clothed upon; rather, to further clothe ourselves with. Here the metaphors of a tent and a garment—the "wandering tent" and the "mortal vesture of decay"—are interfused in a manner on which only the greatest writers can venture The corruptible yearns to clothe itself with the incorruptible, the mortal with immortality (1Co_15:53). The glorified body is compared to an over garment, House; rather, habitation (oiketerion).


If so be that.
The verse may be rendered, "If, that is, being clothed, we shall not be found naked." The word "naked" must then mean "bodiless," and the reference will be to those whom, at his coming, Christ shall find clothed in these mortal bodies, and not separated from them, i.e. quick and not dead (1Th_4:17
; 1Co_15:51). This seems to be the simplest and most natural of the multitude of strange interpretations with which the pages of commentators are filled. It is true that the aorist endusamenoi, means literally, "having clothed ourselves," and that, in taking this meaning, we should have expected the perfect participle endedumenoi, having been clothed. If this be thought an insuperable difficulty, we must suppose the verse to mean "If, that is, in reality we shall be found [at Christ's coming] after having put on some intermediate body, and therefore not as mere disembodied spirits." But there is no allusion in Scripture to any intermediate body, nor is any gleam of light shed on the mode of life among the dead between death and resurrection, though the Church rejects the dream of Psychopannychia, or an interval of unconscious sleep. The uncertainty of the meaning is increased by two various readings, ei per instead of ei ge, which latter expresses greater doubt about the matter; and ekdusamenoi (D, F, G), which would mean "if in reality, after unclothing ourselves [i.e. after 'shuffling off this mortal coil'], we shall not be found naked." This seems to be the conjecture of some puzzled copyists, who did not see that a contrast, and not a coincidence, between the two expressions is intended. If this reading were correct, it would mean, as Chrysostom says, "Even if we would lay aside the body. we shall not there be presented without a body, but with the same body which has then become incorruptible." It is quite untenable to make "clothed" mean "clothed with righteousness," as Olshausen does. In the Talmud, 'Shabbath', the righteous are compared to men who keep from stain the robes given them by a king (i.e. their bodies), which robes the king deposits in his treasury and sends the wearers away (bodiless) in peace; but foolish servants stain these robes, and the king sends the robes to the wash, and the wearers in prison.


For we that are,
etc.; literally, for indeed we who are in the tent; i.e. in the transitory mortal body. Do groan. "Oh wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom_7:24
). Being burdened. "The corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things" (Wis. 9:15). Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon; more literally, since we do not wish to strip off (our bodily garment) but to put another garment over it. St. Paul here repudiates the Manichean notion that the body is a disgrace, or in itself the source of evil. He was not like Plotinus, who "blushed that he had a body;" or like St. Francis of Assist, who called his body "my brother the ass;" or like the Cure d'Ars, who (as we have said) spoke of his body as "ce cadavre." He does not, therefore, desire to get rid of his body, but to "clothe it over" with the garment of immortality. Incidentally this implies the wish that he may be alive and not dead when the Lord returns (1Co_15:35-54). Mortality; rather, the mortal; that which is mortal. Might be swallowed up of life. As in the ease of Enoch (Gen_5:24) and Elijah (2Ki_2:11), who entered into life otherwise than through "the grave and gate of death." St. Paul wishes to enter the "building from God" without having been first buried in the collapse of the "soul's dark cottage battered and decayed." He desires to put on the robe of immortality without stripping off the rent garb of the body.


He who hath wrought us for the selfsame thing.
God prepared and perfected us for this very result, namely, to put on the robe of immortality. The earnest (see 2Co_1:22
) The quickening life imparted by the Spirit of life is a pledge and part payment of the incorruptible eternal life. The Spirit is "the Earnest of our inheritance" (Eph_1:14; Eph_4:30).


Therefore we are always confident;
literally, being of good courage. The sentence in the Greek is unfinished (an anacoluthon), but is resumed after the parenthesis by the repetition, "we are of good courage." Always (2Co_4:8
). We are at home in the body. The tent is pitched in the desert, and even the pillar of fire can only shine through its folds. Yet the tent may become brighter and brighter as life goes on.

"To me the thought of death is terrible,

Having such hold on life. To you it is not

More than a step into the open air

Out of a tent already luminous

With light which shines through its transparent folds."


Absent from the Lord (Joh_14:2, Joh_14:3). Christ is indeed with us here and always; but the nearness of presence and the clearness of vision in that future life will be so much closer and brighter, that here, by comparison, we are absent from him altogether.


For we walk by faith
; Heb_11:1; Rom_8:25). Not by sight; rather, not by appearance; not by anything actually seen. We do not yet see "face to face" (1Co_13:12), but are guided by things which "eye hath not seen."


To be absent,
etc.; literally, to be away from the home of the body, but to be at home with the Lord. To be present with the Lord. The hope expressed is exactly the same as in Php_1:23, except that here (as in Php_1:4) he expresses a desire not "to depart," but to be quit of the body without the necessity for death.


We labour;
literally, we are emulous. This, says Bengel, is "the sole legitimate ambition." The same word occurs in Rom_15:20
. Whether present or absent; literally, whether at home or away from home; i.e. whether with Christ or separated from him (as in Rom_15:8); or, "whether in the body or out of the body" (as in Rom_15:6). The latter would resemble 1Th_5:10, "That whether we wake or sleep we may live with him." We may be accepted of him; literally, to be well pleasing to him.


We must all appear;
rather, for it is necessary that we must all be made manifest; that we must be shown in our real nature and character. The verb is not the same as in Rom_14:10
, which occurs in 2Co_4:14. Before the judgment seat of Christ. The special final judgment is represented as taking place before the bema of Christ, although in Rom_14:10 the best reading is "of God" (Mat_25:31, Mat_25:32). St. Paul might naturally use this Roman and Greek idea of the bema, being too familiar with it in his own experience (comp. Act_12:21; Act_18:12; Act_25:6; Rom_14:10). The things done in the body; literally, the things (done) by the instrumentality of the body. Another reading (which only differs by a single letter from this) is, "the proper things of the body" ( τὰ ἴδια τοῦ σώματος ); i.e. the things which belong to it, which it has made its own. St. Paul, always intent on one subject at a time, does not stop to coordinate this law of natural retribution and inexorable Nemesis with that of the "forgiveness of sins" (1Co_5:11; Rom_3:25), or with the apparently universal hopes which he seems sometimes to express (Rom_5:17, Rom_5:18; Rom_11:32). Omnia exeunt in mysterium. According to that he hath done; rather, with reference to the things he did. The aorist shows that all life will be as it were concentrated to one point. The Pelagians raised questions on this verse about the sinlessness of infants, etc., all of which may be left on one side, as probably nothing was more absolutely distant from the thoughts of St. Paul. Observe that each is to receive the natural issues of what he has done. There is to be an analogy between the sin and the retribution. The latter is but the ripe fruit of the former. We shall be punished by the action of natural laws, not of arbitrary inflictions. We shall reap what we have sown, not harvests of other grain (Rom_2:5-11; Rev_22:12; Gal_6:7). Whether it be good or bad. St. Paul, who always confines himself to one topic at a time, does not here enter on the question of the cutting off of the entailed curse by repentance and forgiveness. He leaves unsolved the antinomy between normal inevitable consequence and free remission.


Self-devotion of the ministry of reconciliation.


Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.
Multitudes of texts have been torn from their context and grossly abused and misinterpreted, but few more so than this. It is the text usually chosen by those who wish to excuse a setting forth of God under the attributes of Moloch. With any such views it has not the remotest connection. It simply means, "Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men," either "to keep in view the same fear of the Lord as ourselves," or (reverting to his last assertion of his own sincerity and integrity in 2Co_5:9
), "that our sole ambition is to please God." The rendering, "the terror of the Lord," for the every day expression, "the fear of the Lord," was wantonly intruded into modem versions by Beza, and has not a single word to be said in its favour. The phrase means (as always) not the dread which God inspires, but the holy fear which mingles with our love of him. To teach men to regard God with terror is to undo the best teaching of all Scripture, which indeed has too often been the main end of human systems of theology. We persuade men. Not in a bad sense (Gal_1:10). The attacks and calumnies of enemies make it necessary to vindicate our integrity is men; but we have no need to do so to God, because he already knows us (comp. "persuading Blastus," Act_12:20). We are made manifest unto God; rather, but to God we have been (and are) manifested. He needs no self defence from us. Are made manifest in your consciences; but I hope that I have been, and am now, made manifest in your consciences. In other words, I trust that this apology into which you have driven me has achieved its ends; and that, whatever may be your prejudices and innuendoes, before the bar of the individual conscience of each of you we now stand clear.


For we commend not ourselves again unto you.
Still reverting to the charge that he was guilty of self praise, he says that his object is not this, for it was needless (2Co_3:2
, 2Co_3:3). But give you occasion to glory on our behalf. But we speak as we have done to give you a starling-point for something to boast of on our behalf. He has already said (2Co_1:4) that the teachers and the taught in their mutual affection ought to have some ground for "boasting" (i.e. for speaking with some praise and exultation) of each other. The Corinthians were being robbed of this by the interested lies of St. Paul's opponents, who thought only about outward appearances. This is why no has set forth to them the aim and glory of his ministry. Nothing could be more gentle and forbearing than such a mode of stating his object. Yet for those who were sufficiently finely strung to understand it, there was an almost pathetic irony involved in it. Which glory in appearance, and not in heart; literally, in face. The grounds of their boasting, whatever they were, were superficial and external (2Co_10:7), not deep and sincere. But those who would judge of Paul aright must look into his very heart, and not on his face.


For whether we be beside ourselves;
rather, for whether we were mad. Evidently some person or some faction had said of St. Paul, "He is beside himself," just as Festus said afterwards, "Paul, thou art mad," and as the Jews said of Paul's Lord and Master (Joh_10:20
). The fervour of the apostle, his absorption in his work, his visions and ecstasies, his "speaking with tongues more than they all," his indifference to externals, his bursts of emotion, might all have given colour to this charge, which he here ironically accepts. "Mad or self controlled -all was for your sakes." It is to God; rather for God. My "enthusiasm," "exaltation," or, if you will, my "madness," was but a phase of my work for him. We be sober. The word "sober" (sophron) is derived from two words which mean" to save the mind." It indicates wise self control, such as was represented also by the many-sided Latin word frugi. It is the exact antithesis to madness (Act_26:25). What you call my "madness" belongs to the relation between my own soul and God; my practical sense and tact are for you. For your sakes; literally, for you.


The love of Christ.
It matters little whether this be interpreted as a subjective genitive, "Christ's love to man," or as an objective genitive, our love to Christ;" for the two suppose and interfuse each other. St. Paul's usage, however, favours the former interpretation (2Co_13:14
; 1Co_16:24). Constraineth. The word means that it compresses us, and therefore keeps us irresistibly to one object (Luk_12:50). That if one died for all, then were all dead. This is an unfortunate mistranslation and wrong reading for that one died for all, therefore all died. What compels Paul to sacrifice himself to the work of God for his converts is the conviction, which he formed once for all at his conversion, that One, even Christ, died on behalf of all men (Rom_5:15-19) a redeeming death (2Co_5:21); and that, consequently, in that death, all potentially died with him—died to their life of sin, and rose to the life of righteousness. The best comments on this bold and concentrated phrase are—"I died to the Law that I might live to Christ;" "I have been crucified with Christ" (Gal_2:19, Gal_2:20); and, "Ye died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God" (Col_3:3). When Christ died, all humanity, of which he was the federal Head, died potentially with him to sin and selfishness, as he further shows in the next verse.


Unto themselves.
That they should live no longer the psychic, i.e. the animal, selfish, egotistic life, but to their risen Saviour (Rom_14:7-9
; 1Co_6:19).


Know no man after the flesh.
It is a consequence of my death with Christ that I have done with carnal, superficial, earthly, external judgments according to the appearance, and not according to the heart. Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh. The word for "know" is different from the one just used ( οἷδα , scio; ἔγνωκα , cognovi), and may be rendered, "though we have taken note of." The whole phrase, which has been interpreted in multitudes of different ways, and has led to many different hypotheses, must be understood in accordance with the context. St. Paul is saying that he has now renounced all mere earthly and human judgments; and he here implies that the day has been when he knew Christ only in this fleshly way; but henceforth he will know him so no more. Probably this "knowing Christ after the flesh" is a rebuke to those members of the Christ party at Corinth who may have boasted that they were superior to all others because they had personally seen or known Christ—a spirit which Christ himself not only discouraged (Joh_16:7
) but even rebuked (Mat_12:50). To St. Paul Christ is now regarded as far above all local, national, personal, and Jewish limitations, and as the principle of spiritual life in the heart of every Christian. In the view which he took of his Lord St. Paul henceforth has banished all Jewish particularism for gospel catholicity. He regards Christ, not in the light of earthly relationships and conditions, but as the risen, glorified, eternal, universal Saviour.


. If even a human, personal, external knowledge of Christ is henceforth of no significance, it follows that there must have been a total change in all relations towards him. The historic fact of such a changed relationship is indicated clearly in Joh_20:17
. Mary Magdalene was there lovingly taught that a "recognition of Christ after the flesh," i.e. as merely a human friend, was to be a thing of the past. In Christ; i.e. a Christian. For perfect faith attains to mystic union with Christ. A new creature; rather, a new creation (Gal_6:15). The phrase is borrowed from the rabbis who used it to express the condition of a proselyte. But the meaning is not mere Jewish arrogance and exclusiveness, but the deep truth of spiritual regeneration and the new birth (Joh_3:3; Eph_2:10; Eph_4:23, Eph_4:24; Col_3:3, etc.). Old things; literally, the ancient things, all that belongs to the old Adam. Behold. The word expresses the writer's vivid realization of the truth he is uttering. All things. The whole sphere of being, and therewith the whole aim and character of life. The clause illustrates the "new creation."


And all things are of God;
literally, but all things (in this "new creation") are from God. Who hath reconciled us; rather, who (by Christ's one offering of himself) reconciled us to himself. We were his enemies (Rom_5:10
; Rom_11:28), but, because he was still our Friend and Father, he brought us back to himself by Christ. The ministry of reconciliation. The ministry which teaches the reconciliation which he has effected for us.


God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.
This and the many other passages of Scripture which always represent the atonement as the work of the blessed Trinity, and as being the result of the love, not of the wrath, of God, ought to have been a sufficient warning against the hideous extravagance of those forensic statements of the atonement which have disgraced almost a thousand years of theology (Rom_5:10
; 1Jn_4:10). That God's purpose of mercy embraced all mankind, and not an elect few, is again and again stated in Scripture (see Col_1:20). Not imputing their trespasses unto them. See this developed in Rom_15:5-8. Hath entrusted unto us; literally, who also deposited in us, as though it were some sacred treasure.


Now then.
It is, then, on Christ's behalf that we are ambassadors. This excludes all secondary aims. St. Paul uses the same expression in Eph_6:20
, adding with fine contrast that he is "an ambassador in fetters." As though God did beseech you by us; rather, as if God were exhorting you by our means. In Christ's stead; rather, we, on Christ's behalf, beseech you. Be ye reconciled to God. This is the sense of the embassy. The aorist implies an immediate acceptance of the offer of reconciliation.


He hath made him to be sin for us;
rather, he made; he speaks with definite reference to the cross. The expression is closely analogous to that in Gal_3:13
, where it is said that Christ has been "made a curse for us." He was, as St. Augustine says, "delictorum susceptor, non commissor." He knew no sin; nay, he was the very righteousness, holiness itself (Jer_23:6), and yet, for our benefit, God made him to be "sin" for us, in that he "sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin" (Rom_8:3). Many have understood the word "sin" in the sense of sin offering (Le Gal_5:9, LXX.); but that is a precarious application of the word, which is not justified by any other passage in the New Testament. We cannot, as Dean Plumptre says, get beyond the simple statement, which St. Paul is content to leave in its unexplicable mystery, "Christ identified with man's sin; man identified with Christ's righteousness." And thus, in Christ, God becomes Jehovah-Tsidkenu, "the Lord our Righteousness" (Jer_23:6). That we might be made the righteousness of God in him; rather, that we might become. The best comment on the pregnant significance of this verse is Rom_1:16, Rom_1:17, which is developed and explained in so large a section of that great Epistle (see Rom_3:22-25; Rom_4:5-8; Rom_5:19, etc.). In him In his blood is a means of propitiation by which the righteousness of God becomes the righteousness of man (1Co_1:30), so that man is justified. The truth which St. Paul thus develops and expresses is stated by St. Peter and St. John in a simpler and less theological form (1Pe_2:22-24; 1Jn_3:5).


2Co_5:1-7 - Christian knowledge concerning the future body of the good.

"For we know that if our earthly house," etc. Two things are to be noticed at the outset.

1. Metaphorical representations of the body. The body is here spoken of under the figure of a "tabernacle" or a tent, and of a vestment or clothing. These two things would not be so distinct in the mind of the apostle as they are in ours, for both had the same qualities of movableness and protection. The "house" to which the apostle refers was not a building of bricks or stone, a superstructure that would be stationary, but a mere tent to be carried about.

2. The implied necessity of the body. Paul's language implies that the body is a clothing or protection. As a clothing, or protection, for the soul it is necessary, both here and in the other world. The soul must have an organ wherever it is. Now what does the Christian know concerning the future body?

I. He knows it will be BETTER THAN THE PRESENT.

1. It will be directly Divine. "A building of God." The present body is from God, but it comes from him through secondary instrumentalities. The future body will come direct, it will not be transmitted from sire to son.

2. It will be fitted for a higher sphere. "In the heavens." The present body is fitted for the earthly sphere, it is of the "earth, earthy." The future will be fitted for the more ethereal, and celestial.

3. It will be more enduring. "Eternal." This body is like the tent, temporary; it has no firm foundation; it is shaken by every gust. We "perish before the moth." The future body will be eternal, free from the elements of decay.

4. It will be more enjoyable. "For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven," etc. In this body we "groan, being burdened." To what pains and diseases is the present body subject! By implication the apostle states the future body will be free from all this, for all that is mortal will be "swallowed up of life." In that body there will be no groaning, no sighs or sorrows, no burden, no weight to depress the energies or to impede progress. The future body will be more fitted to receive the high things of God, and more fitted to communicate them also.

II. He knows he is now BEING DIVINELY FITTED FOR THE BETTER BODY OF THE FUTURE. "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit." Every seed has its own body; it is the seed that makes the body; the organization does not produce the life, but the life the organization. And this spiritual life in man God is now preparing to pass into a higher body. Just as the chrysalis is being fitted to struggle into an organization with higher appetencies, more exquisite in form, and with faculties that shall bear it into mid-heaven. When will you have this body? When your soul has the life energy to produce it.

2Co_5:8-10 - The philosophy of courage.

"We are confident, I say," etc. Paul says we are courageous, or of good courage. Courage is often confounded with recklessness of life, a brutal insensibility to danger. True course always implies two things.

1. The existence of unavoidable dangers. He who rushes into danger is not courageous, but reckless. Paul had unavoidable dangers: "We are troubled on every side."

2. True convictions of being. Ignorance of existence may make men reckless, but never courageous. What was Paul's view of life?

(1) He regarded the body as the organ of himself. He speaks of it as a "house," a "tabernacle," etc.

(2) The soul he regards as the personality of his being. "We that are in this tabernacle," etc. The soul, not the body, is the "I," or self.

(3) He regarded death as a mere change in the mode of his being. Death changes the house and the garment; it is not the extinction of the tenant or the wearer.

(4) He regarded heaven as the perfection of his being. "The house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." The courage of which the apostle here speaks seems to have been based on three things.

I. A consciousness that his death would not ENDANGER THE INTERESTS of his being. Notice:

1. His view of the interests of being. It was being "present with the Lord."

2. His view of the bearing of death upon the interests of being. He regarded it as the flight of the spirit into the presence of the Lord. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." A view of death this antagonistic to the ideas of purgatory, annihilation, soul sleep.

3. His state of mind under the influence of these thoughts. "Willing rather to be absent from the body."

II. A consciousness that death would not DESTROY THE GREAT PURPOSES of being. It is the characteristic of a rational being that he has some purpose in life—the purpose is that in which he lives, it makes life valuable to him. To a man who has no purpose in life or has lost his purpose, life is deemed of little worth. What was Paul's purpose in life? "Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him." Is not this purpose sublimely reasonable? If there be a God, does not reason teach that to please him should be the supreme purpose of all intelligent creatures? Now, Paul felt that death would not destroy this purpose. It destroys the purpose of the voluptuous, avaricious, etc.; and hence to them it is terrible. But it does not destroy the chief purpose of the Christian. In all worlds and times his chief purpose will be to be "accepted of him."

III. A consciousness that death would not PREVENT THE REWARDS of being. "We must all appear [or, 'be made manifest'] before the judgment seat of Christ." Success, while it should never be regarded either as a rule of conduct or a test of character, must ever have an influence on the mind of man in every department of labour. Non-success discourages. Paul felt that his labour hero would appear and be recognized hereafter. "We must all appear," etc.

1. Every one shall receive the recompense of labour after death. "Must all appear." None absent.

2. Every one shall receive a reward forevery deed. "That every one may receive the things done in his body." No lost labour. With this consciousness we may well be courageous amidst all the dangers here and in view of the great hereafter. Dread of death is a disgrace to the Christian. "If," says Cicero, "I were now disengaged from my cumbrous body, and on my way to Elysium; and some superior being should meet me in my flight and make me the offer of returning and remaining in my body, I should, without hesitation, reject the offer; so much should I prefer going into Elysium to be with Socrates and Plato and all the ancient worthies, and to spend my time in converse with them." How much more should the Christian desire to be "absent from the body, and present with the Lord"!

2Co_5:11-18 - Man in Christ a new man.

"For whether we be beside ourselves," etc. To be "in Christ" is to be in his Spirit, in his character, to live in his ideas, principles, etc. Such a man is "a new creature."

I. The man in Christ has a new IMPERIAL IMPULSE. "The love of Christ constraineth us," Whether the "love of Christ" here means his love to us or our love for him is of no practical import, The latter implies the former; his love is the flame that kindles ours. Now, this love was Paul's dominant passion; it "constrained" him; it carried him on like a resistless torrent; it was the regnant impulse. Two thoughts in relation to this new imperial impulse.

1. It is incomprehensible to those who possess it not. "Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God," etc. Probably Paul appeared as mad to his contemporaries. They saw him brave the greatest perils, oppose the greatest powers, make the greatest sacrifices. What was the principle that moved him to all? This they could not understand. Had it been ambition or avarice, they could have understood it. But "the love of Christ" they knew nothing of; it was a new thing in the world. Only the man who has it can understand it; love alone can interpret love.

2. It arises from reflection on the death of Christ. It is not an inbred passion, not a blind impulse, not something divinely transferred into the heart. No; it comes "because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." Paul assumes as an undoubted fact that Christ died for all. Because of this fact he concludes:

(1) That the whole world were in a ruined condition: "Then were all dead."

(2) That this fact should inspire all to act with the same sacrificing spirit as Christ. "He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him."

II. The man in Christ has a new SOCIAL STANDARD. "Henceforth we know no man after the flesh." The world has numerous standards by which it judges men, birth, wealth, office, etc. To a man filled and fired with love to Christ these are nothing. He estimates man by his rectitude, not by his rank; by his spirit, not by his station; by his principles, not by his property. Paul might have said—I once knew men after the flesh, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, learned or ignorant; but now I know them so no more; I see them now in the light of the cross, sinners dead in trespasses and sins; "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh," etc., I think no more of his body, but of his mind, not of his station, but of his Spirit. The fact that this is the true standard serves:

1. As a test by which to try our own religion.

2. As a guide for us in the promotion of Christianity.

3. As a principle on which to form our friendships with men,

4. As a rule to regulate our social conduct.

III. The man in Christ has a new SPIRITUAL HISTORY. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." In what sense can this change be called a creation?

1. It is the production of a new thing. This passion for Christ is a new thing in the universe.

2. It is the production of a new thing by the agency of God. Creation is the work of God.

3. It is the production of a new thing according to a Divine plan. The almighty Maker works by plan in all.

IV. The man in Christ has a sew STANDING. "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us," etc. That is, all things pertaining to this new creation. The great want of man is reconciliation to God. Man's alienation or apostasy from his Maker is the sin of all his sins, and the source of all his miseries. His reconciliation is not the means to his salvation; it is his salvation. Friendship with him is heaven. On the other hand, alienation is hell. A river cut from the fountain dries up; a branch cut from the tree withers and dies; a planet cut from the sun rushes into ruin. Separate a soul from God its Fountain, its Root, its Centre, and it dies—dies to all that makes existence tolerable. Such, then, is what Christianity does for us.

2Co_5:19, 2Co_5:20 - God's work in Christ.

"To wit, that God was in Christ," etc. God is a great Worker. He is the eternal Fountain of life in unremitting flow. He is essentially active, the mainspring of all activity in the universe but that of sin. There are at least four organs through which he works—material laws, animal instincts, moral mind, and Jesus Christ. By the first he leads on the great revolutions of inanimate nature in all its departments; by the second he preserves, guides, and controls all the sentient tribes that populate the earth, the air, and the sea; by the third, through the laws of reason and the dictates of conscience, he governs the vast empire of mind; and by the fourth viz Christ, he works out the redemption of sinners in our world. There is no more difficulty in regarding him in the one Person, Christ, for a certain work than there is in regarding him as being in material nature, animal instinct, or moral mind, The words lead us to make three remarks concerning God's work in Christ.

I. It is a work of RECONCILING HUMANITY TO GOD. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself," The work of reconciling implies two things—enmity on the side of one of the parties, and a change of mind in one of the parties. The enmity here is not on God's part—he is love; but on man's. The "carnal mind is enmity with God." Nor is the change on God's part. He cannot change, he need not change. He could never become more loving and merciful. The change needed is on man's part, and on man's exclusively. Paul speaks of the world being reconciled to God, not of God to the world. The "world;" not a section of the race, but all mankind.

II. It is a work involving the REMISSION OF SINS. "Not imputing [reckoning] their trespasses unto them." The reconciled man is no longer reckoned guilty. Three facts will throw light on this. The state of enmity towards God is:

1. A state of sin. There is a virtue in disliking some characters, but it is evermore a sin to dislike God, for he is the All-good.

2. A state of sin liable to punishment. Indeed, sin is its own punishment.

3. In reconciliation, the enmity being removed, the punishment is obviated. What is pardon? A separating of man from his sins and their consequences. This God does in Christ.

III. It is a work in which GENUINE MINISTERS ARE ENGAGED. "He hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." Observe:

1. The position, of the true minister, he acts on behalf of Christ, and stands in "Christ's stead."

2. The earnestness of the true minister. "We pray you."

From the whole we observe concerning this work:

1. That it is a work of unbounded mercy. Whoever heard the offended party seeking the friendship of the offender?

2. It is a work essential to human happiness. In the nature of the case there is no happiness without this reconciliation.

3. It is a work exclusively of moral influence. No coercion on the one hand, no angry denunciations on the other, can do it; it can only be effected by the logic of love.

4. It is a work that must be gradual. Mind cannot be forced; there must be reflection, repentance, resolution.

2Co_5:21 - Christ made sin.

"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (Revised Version). From this passage we gather three wonderful truths.

I. That Christ was ABSOLUTELY SINLESS. "Who knew no sin." Intellectually, of course, he knew all the sin in the world; but he never experienced it, he was absolutely free from it.

1. He was "without sin," although he lived in a sinful world. Of all the millions who have been here he alone moved amongst the world and received no taint of moral contamination.

2. He was "without sin," although he was powerfully tempted. Had he been untemptable there would have been no virtue in his freedom from sin, and had there been no tempter there would have been nothing praiseworthy in his sinlessness. "He was tempted like as we are, yet without sin."

II. That, though sinless, Christ was in some sense MADE SIN BY GOD. "He hath made him to be sin for us." What meaneth this?

1. It cannot mean that God made the sinless One a sinner. This would be impossible. No one can create a moral character for another.

2. It cannot mean that God imputed to him the sin of the world, and punished him for the world's sin. The idea of literal substitution is repugnant to reason and unsustained by any honest interpretation of God's Holy Word. The atonement of Christ consists, not in what he said, did, or suffered, but in what he was. He himself is the Atonement, the Reconciler. What, then, does it mean? Two facts may throw some light.

(1) That God sent Christ into a world of sinners to become closely identified with them. He was related to sinners, mingled with them, ate and drank with them, and was in the community, counted as one of them. "He was numbered with the transgressors."

(2) That God permitted this world of sinners to treat Christ as a sinner. He was calumniated, persecuted, insulted, murdered. God permitted all this, and what he permits is, in Scripture language, often ascribed to him.

III. That the sinless One was thus made sin in order that men MIGHT PARTICIPATE IN GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. "That we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Never did Divine moral excellence or the righteousness of God shine out with such glory to man as in the sufferings which Christ endured in consequence of this connection with sinners. As the stars can only show themselves at night, and as aromatic plants can only emit their precious odour by pressure, so the highest moral virtues can only come out by suffering and battling with the wrong. What self-sacrificing love, what unconquerable attachment to truth, what loyalty to the infinite Father, what sublime heroism of love, was here exhibited in the incarnation, the beneficent deeds, and overwhelming sufferings of Jesus!


2Co_5:1-10 - Assurance of eternal life; faith and its effects.

Death intervenes between the present state of affliction and the glory of heaven, but death is only the destruction of the body now existing. It is not an end to bodily form and life. This is no speculation of the apostle's; it is an assurance, "for we know" that if this earthly tent be destroyed, it will be followed by an enduring habitation—a mansion, not a tabernacle. In the earthly body he groans, not because it is a body, but because it is flesh and blood suffering under the effects of sin, and hence he longs for the "house which is from heaven." It is a heaven for body as well as soul that he so ardently desires. To be bodiless even in glory is repulsive to his nature, since it would be nakedness. Death is repugnant. The separation of soul and body, however, is only temporary; it is not for unclothing, but for a better clothing, one suited to the capacities of spirit. If the fourth verse repeats the second verse, it enlarges the idea and qualifies it by stating the reason why he would be "clothed upon," viz. "that mortality might be swallowed up of life." And this longing is no mere instinct or natural desire, but a feeling inspired of God, who "hath wrought us for the selfsame thing." A Divine preparation was going on in this provisional tabernacle—a training of the spirit for the vision of Christ and a training of the body for the immortal companionship of the spirit. An "earnest" or pledge of this was already in possession. The sufferings sanctified by the Spirit, the longing, the animation of hope, were so many proofs and tokens of awaiting blessedness. How could he be otherwise than confident? Yea; he is "always confident." Though now confined to the body, yet it is a home that admits of affections and loving fellowships; and though it necessitates absence from the Lord and the house of "many mansions," nevertheless it is a home illumined by faith. "For we walk by faith, not by sight." The home is in the midst of visible objects that exercise our sense of sight, but our Christian walk, or movement from one world to another, is not directed by the eye, but by faith, the sense of the invisible. We know what are the functions of the eye. If we did not, the antithesis would convey no meaning. The eye receives impressions from external things, communicates them to the soul, is a main organ in developing thought and feeling, acts on the imagination and the will, and is continually adding something to the contents of the inward nature. Faith is like it as a medium of reception, unlike it in all else. Faith is not conversant with appearances. We do not see Christ in his glory; we see him (using the term figuratively) in his Word by means of the Spirit; and this seeing is faith. How do we know when we have faith? It attests itself in our capacity to see the path leading to eternal glory, and it enables us to walk therein. The path is from one home to another—from the home on the footstool to the home by the throne of Christ, and faith has the reality and vigour of a home sentiment. So strong and assuring is St. Paul's confidence that he prefers to depart and be with Christ. "At home in the body;" yes, but it is a sad home at best, and trial and affliction had begun to make it dreary to him. To die is to be with the Lord, and he was "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Whether absent or present, at home or away from home, we labour that we "may be accepted of him." To make himself and his life acceptable to Christ was paramount to every other desire; to labour was his absorbing thought. Such an energetic soul as his must have felt that its energies were immortal. There was no selfishness in his hope of heaven, no longing to be freed from work, no yearning for the luxury of mere rest. It was to be with Christ, for Christ was his heaven. If this was his confidence, if he was labouring untiringly to be acceptable to the Lord Jesus, was he understood and appreciated as Christ's apostle and servant among men? The burden of life was not the work he did, but the obstacles thrown in his way—the slanders he had to bear, the persecutions open and secret that followed him everywhere. He thinks of the "judgment seat of Christ." It will be a judicial inquiry into works done and "every one" shall "receive ['receive back'] the things done in his body." Measure for measure, whatsoever has been done hero shall return to every one. The individuality of the judgment, the complete unveiling of personal character, the correspondence between the reward and the good done on earth and between the retribution and the evil done here, he brings out distinctly. This was with him a fixed habit of thought. "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." How near the two worlds are—the growing field here, the harvest in another existence hereafter! But observe another idea. "We must all appear," we must be made manifest, every one shown in his true character. Not only will there be recompense as a judicial procedure, but a revelation "in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." St. Paul had vindicated himself again and again from the charges made against him; but the battle was now going on, nor was there any sign of its speedy abatement. It was natural that he should have the idea of manifestation prominent in his mind, since we all think of the future world very much according to some peculiarity in our experience on earth. How engrossed, heart and soul, in his apostleship is beautifully indicated by the fact that heaven itself was the heaven of St. Paul as the apostle of Christ. The sufferings of the man are never mentioned. First and last, we have the autobiography of an apostle, and hence, looking forward to the glory to be revealed, the supreme felicity is that he will appear in his true character as the Lord's servant.—L.

2Co_5:11-21 - Person and ministry of the apostle further considered; his work as an ambassador.

How was he conducting this ministry, of which he had spoken so much and had yet more to say? It was in full view of accountability to the day of judgment. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men," adding motives to affect them, and not remaining content with arguments to convince their understandings. And in this work he now felt God's approval; before he had declared, "we are confident," and he reaffirms it in the words, "we are made manifest unto God." Every hour he stood at the bar of his conscience an acquitted man, and this conscience was a manifestation of God. Honestly was he striving to please God, as honestly labouring to save them, and in this spirit he was ever seeking to manifest himself to their consciences. If he were a temporizer, a man pleaser, he might adopt worldly arts and captivate them. No; he would address their consciences; the best in them should come to his side or he must lose them. "Savour of life unto life" or "savour of death unto death;" no other alternative. But do not misunderstand us. Commendation is not our object. If we have, as we trust, manifested ourselves to your consciences, then let your consciences speak in our behalf, and let their voices boast in this—that we are truthful in the sight of God and man. This is the way to answer our enemies who "glory in appearance and not in heart." Suffer he would rather than be wrongly vindicated. Do it in the highest way or not at all. "Your cause" is the great interest. No doubt we seem "beside ourselves," or we may appear "sober," but you may boast of this—"it is for your cause." And in this devotion to your well being what motive presses with weight enough to make us endure all things for your sakes? "The love of Christ constraineth us." And wherein is this love so signally demonstrated as to embody and set forth all else that he did? It is love in death. Looking at this Divine death, we form this judgment or reach this conclusion, that he "died for all" because "all were dead—" dead under the Law of God, dead in trespasses and sins, dead legally, morally, spiritually. Nothing less than such an atoning death for all men—so it seems to us the apostle meant—could exert on him this constraining influence. And how should this influence operate? "They which live should not henceforth live unto themselves." The very self had been redeemed by Christ's vicarious death; body, soul, and spirit had been bought with a price, and the price was Christ's blood; and with such a constraining motive, the most potent that the Holy Ghost could bring to bear on the human mind, how could men live unto themselves? If, indeed, the constraining power had its legitimate effect, only one life could result, a life consecrated to "him which died for them and rose again." If, therefore, all being dead, one died for all, that all might live in freedom from selfishness and be the servants of him who had redeemed them from sin and death, we can know henceforth no man after the flesh. The very purpose of Christ's death was that the fleshly life of sin might pass out of view (might be covered over and thus disappear from sight), and another life be entered on, a life in the redeeming Christ. Admitting that this passage presents the moral aspects of Christ's death and the obligations consequent thereupon as they act on moral sentiment, yet the fundamental idea of the apostle is that Christ stood in the stead of sinners, took their guilt upon himself, and made an offering of his life for their rescue. To strengthen this doctrine, he says that, though he once knew Christ after the flesh (as a mere man), he knew him now in a very different way. We are not to suppose that he had seen him in his earthly life, but merely that he knew of him. St. Paul, after his conversion, had an experimental knowledge of Christ as his Redeemer through the sacrificial death of the cross; nor was there any room in his heart for moral sentiment, nor any spiritual force in Christ's teaching and example, nor ground for any trust or hope, till he as "chief of sinners" had realized the righteousness of God in the atoning blood of Calvary. Such a change was a creation. He was "a new creature," and whoever experienced this power of the Lord's death was a new creature. Old things had passed away—the old self in taste and habit, the old unbelief rooted in the fleshly mind, the old worldliness—and all things had become new. No wonder that "all things" had become "new;" for "all things" pertaining to this change in its cause, agency, instrumentalities, "are of God." Strong language this, which sounds even yet to many as the rhetoric of excited fancy; but not stronger than the blessed reality it represents. Nay; words cannot equal the fact. A man may overstate his own experience of Divine grace; never can he exaggerate the grace itself. "All things are of God;" and how is this fact manifested? In the method of reconciliation which is God's act through Christ. "Who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ." To understand what is implied in reconciliation, we must remember that much more is involved in it than the moral state of a sinner's mind toward God. The enmity of the carnal man has to be subdued, and in this sense he is "a new creature," but the possibility of this creation rests upon an antecedent fact, viz. a changed relation to the violated Law of God. What has been done for him must take precedence, as to time, of what is done in him. We must know how God as Sovereign stands to us, and by what means the sovereignty cooperates with the fatherhood of God, before we can accept the offered boon of mercy. There must be a reason why God should pardon in advance of a reason why we should seek pardon. A principle of righteousness must be established as preliminary and essential to the sentiment of Christianity, since it is impossible for us by the laws of the mind to appreciate the power of any great sentiment unless we have previously felt it as connected with a great principle. "Whom God set forth to be a Propitiation, through faith, by his blood, to show his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the Justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (Rom_3:25
, Rom_3:26, Revised Version). There is a "ministry of reconciliation" because "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing [reckoning] their trespasses unto them." Forgiveness through Christ, the Propitiation, is free to all who believe in him. Nor are we left in doubt as to the substance of our belief. It is faith in Christ, God in Christ, the Reconciler, who pardons our sins and makes us new creatures in him. To make this reconciliation known, to demonstrate its infinite excellence as the method of grace, to show its Divine results in the very men who proclaimed the gospel, Christ had instituted the ministry, and its title was, "ministry of reconciliation." Recall, O Corinthians, what I have said in defence of my apostleship. Recall my sufferings in your behalf. See the reason of it all. Whom are these factious Judaizers fighting? Whom did those beasts at Ephesus try to destroy? Who is this man, troubled on every side, perplexed, persecuted, cast down, dying everywhere, dying always? This is the character he sustains, the office he fills—an "ambassador for Christ." Has he manifested himself to your consciences? Does he look forward to the day of judgment as a day of revelation as well as a day of reward and punishment? Know we not a man, not even Christ, after the flesh! Behold your minister, your servant, as an "ambassador," commissioned to offer you the terms of reconciliation. "We pray you in Christ's stead [on behalf of Christ], be ye reconciled to God." Nothing remains to be done but tot you to accept the offered reconciliation. And he enforces this idea by stating that he who "died for all," since "all were dead," had been made "sin for us, who knew no sin." "Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;" yet he was "made to be sin for us," made a substitute or ransom, an offering, whereby the wrath of God was turned away. Reconciliation is accomplished not by our repentance and confession of sin, nor by any suffering on our part, nor by any merit of our work, but altogether by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in our behalf. God's righteousness is thus set forth. The plan of salvation changed nothing in the character of Almighty God. Neither his righteousness nor his love was modified integrally by Christ's atonement. "God is righteous," "God is love," are no truer facts now than they eternally were. What the gospel teaches is that the righteousness and the love of God have assumed special forms of manifestation and operative activity through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is righteousness, not in the normal relation of Law to the original transgressor, but in an instituted relation of Law to one who took the place of the transgressor. It is love as grace, the form of love that provided for the righteousness on which St. Paul lays such an emphasis. It is not a change in the Law, but in the administration of Law, and the glory of it lies in the fact that the Divine government presents in this higher form the resplendent spectacle of that progression from the "natural" to the "spiritual," which St. Paul discusses in his argument on the resurrection. Whatever obstacles existed in the way of this sublime advance have been removed by Christ. "Mercy and truth" have their existence as attributes of the Divine nature; they have "met together." "Righteousness and peace" are not to be confounded, but they have "kissed each other."L.


2Co_5:6 - "Absent from the Lord."

To those disciples and apostles who were with the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry, the separation which commenced upon his ascension must have been painful indeed. In the case of Paul, however, the language employed in this passage scarcely seems so natural. But we learn from the record of his sentiments what ought to be to all Christians their first thought, their governing principle, viz. their relation to Jesus Christ. The earthly state of all such is a state of absence from the Lord—a fact not to be grieved over, but to be recognized and felt.

I. THIS ABSENCE IS NOT SPIRITUAL, BUT BODILY. His own word is fulfilled, "A little while, and ye shall not see me." The exclamation of his people is verified, "Him, not having seen, we love."

II. THIS ABSENCE IS APPOINTED BY DIVINE WISDOM AND LOVE. It cannot be regarded as a matter of chance or of fate. It. is the will of him who most loves us and who most cares for us, which is apparent in this provision.

III. THERE IS A BENEFICENT PURPOSE IN THIS ABSENCE. Such was the obvious intention of our Saviour himself. "It is good for you," he said, "that I go away." His aim was to lead his people into a life of faith, and to excite our confidence in himself who has gone to prepare a place for us.

IV. THERE ARE CERTAIN DANGERS INVOLVED IN THIS ABSENCE, There is danger lest, separated from our Lord, we should grow worldly and carnal, lest our love to Jesus should wax cold, lest we should magnify ourselves, lest we should be ashamed of a religion whose Head is not visibly among us.

V. YET THERE ARE COMPENSATIONS IN THIS ABSENCE. It is intended to fortify and perfect the truly Christian character. It will make the meeting, when it takes place, more delightful and welcome.


1. Remembrance of Christ.

2. Faith in Christ.

3. Communion with Christ.

4. Fidelity to Christ in his absence.

5. Anticipati