Observe here, 1. The title given to the gospel, and to the preachers and dispensers of it; they are a savour, an illusion, probably, to the ointment of sweet perfume, which the high-priests under the law were anointed with. The breath of the gospel is a sweet odour or smell, and God's faithful ministers are they that carry it, and blow it abroad to perfume sinners that lie stinking in their sins.
Observe,2. The contrary effects which the preaching of the gospel has upon those that sit under it; it is the savour of life unto some, of death unto others. Here it was so: the apostle's ministry was a savour of life to the believing Gentiles, of death to the unbelieving Jews; all men are to be reckoned in a state of life or death, of perishing or being saved, according as they do or do not receive the savour, and relish the doctrine, of the gospel.
But how comes the preaching of the gospel to be the savour of death unto some?
Ans. Partly through pride, in not enduring to be reproved by the gospel; partly through prejudice against the ministers of the gospel; partly through slothfulness, neglecting to come under the sound of the gospel; and partly through cursed infidelity, in not believing the message which the gospel brings. Thus is the gospel, which was ordained for life, the savour of death unto death.
Observe, 3. The sweet support which God gives his faithful ministers in the discharge of their duty, though their doctrine fails of desired success; they are a sweet savour unto God, as well in them that perish, as in them that are saved;
Lord! how would thy ministers be of all men miserable, shouldst thou require the success of their labours at their hands; shouldst thou say, "Either reconcile my people unto me, or I will never be reconciled unto you:" but we shall be rewarded by thee according to our faithfulness, not according to our people's fruitfulness. The faithful ministers of Christ are a sweet-smelling savour in the nostrils of God, as well in them that perish as in them that are saved. Though Israel (their people) be not gathered, yet shall they be glorious: God will reward them, secundum laborem, non fructum; the nurse shall be paid for her care and pains, though the child dies at the breast.
As if the apostle had said, "So great and weighty is the work of preaching the everlasting gospel to a lost world, that neither myself, nor any of my fellow-apostles, are sufficient for it of ourselves. Who is sufficient?
That is, none are sufficient, without proportionable strength and help from God, neither man nor angel; to preach the gospel, as it ought, is a mighty work, a weighty work. If any thing otherwise, it is either their ignorance or inadvertency that makes them think so.
What! is it an easy matter to search into the deep things of God, the great mysteries of the gospel, which have an unfathomable depth! Is it easy to instruct the ignorant, to convince the obstinate, to resolve the doubting, to reduce the wandering, to know the state of our flock, to visit the sick as we ought, to speak to them, and pray for them, as persons upon the confines of eternity! What! is all this, and much more, a trivial work and common performance?
No, verily, as there is no service more honourable than that of the ministry, so there is none more arduous and laborious; and therefore the greatest men that ever God employed in and about this work, have been ready to sink under the apprehension of the insuperable difficulties that do attend it.
If we consider how a gospel minister ought to excel in knowledge, in utterance, in prudence and conduct, in exemplary piety, in patience contending with a people's frowardness and perverseness, we need not wonder at our apostle's exclamation or expostulatory question in the words before us: Who is sufficient for these things?