2 Corinthians 1Observe here, 1. The writer of this epistle described by his name, Paul; by his office, an apostle of Jesus Christ; with the manner how he obtained this office of an apostle, namely, by the will of God; it was not man, but God, that called him to the apostleship. It is of great concern and consequence both to ministers and people to be fully informed, and thoroughly satisfied, of that divine call which our spiritual guides have to come amongst them; that the ministers may be able to say, "We receive you as ambassadors from the Lord unto us." Paul, an apostle by the will of God.
Observe, 2. A person conjoined with St. Paul in the writing of this epistle, and he is also described two ways; by his name, Timothy; by his relation, our brother.
Where note, The great humility and condescension of St. Paul, that though far superior to Timothy in years, and more transcendent in office, and more eminent in grace, yet he doth not assume and arrogate all to himself, but makes another sit, as it were, upon the throne with him; so humble and condescending was this holy man to one so far inferior to him, both in office and grace.
Note also, The happy advantage of Timothy in being with St. Paul, and having the happy privilege of being instructed and directed by so great an apostle; happy was it for young Timothy that ever he came into old Paul's family.
Learn thence, That it is an happy advantage to such who in their younger years are dedicated to, and designed to be set apart for, the work of the ministry, to be under the inspection and care, the guidance and conduct, of those who are more aged, and better experienced than themselves: Paul an apostle, and Timothy our brother.
Observe, 2. The persons to whom this epistle is written and directed; To the church of God which is at Corinth. Corinth was a city famous for wealth and riches, but most infamous for lewdness and uncleanness: here was a temple dedicated to Venus, where were a thousand virgins set apart to be prostituted to the lusts of men; so that Korinthiadzein, to Corinthize, is as much as to be lascivious and unchaste; and after many of them were converted to Christianity, yet did the sin of uncleanness so much abound amongst them, that the apostle doth industriously set himself against it, and warns them of the sin and danger of it, in both his epistles wrote unto them.
However, as bad as Corinth was, God told Paul, Acts 17:1 that he had much people in that city; and accordingly he spent a year and a half anmongst them, in preaching to them, in converting and confirming them.
Learn thence, That even amongst the most profane and unlikeliest people upon earth, God may, and sometimes doth, gather a church unto himself. See what monsters of men these Corinthians were, 1Chr 6:11 Whoremongers, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind; and he tells them, not only such persons, but tanta such things, were some of them: but now washed, &c.
O the sovereignty and wonderful efficacy of the grace of God, in cleansing souls more black than ever was Ethiopian's face! Though man cannot, yet God can, and sometimes does, cause figs to grow on thorns, and grapes on thistles.
Observe, 4. Our apostle's salutation of, and prayer for, this church at Corinth: Grace be to you, and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whence note, 1. The mercies and blessings prayed for: grace and peace; spiritual blessings.
Note, 2. The original cause and spring from whence those blessings flow, from God our Father, and from Jesus Christ; from the Father as the fontal cause, and from Christ as the procuring cause, the dispenser of these blessings. A good argument to prove the divinity of Christ: he that can dispense grace and peace, of and from himself, is God; but Christ doth this, therefore he is God: Grace be to you, and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Observe here, 1. The several gracious and comfortable titles which the apostle gives to Almighty God; he styles him,
1. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; so he is by nature; and Christ his Son by eternal and ineffable generation: for as the words, our Lord, ascribed here to Christ, do not exclude the Father from being Lord; so the word God, ascribed here to God the Father, excludes not Christ from being our God; and as God is the Father of Christ, so he is a Father in him to all that have union with him.
2. The Father of mercies; a most amiable and comfortable relation; not the Father of mercy, or a merciful Father, barely, but the Father of mercies in the plural number to denote the greatness and multitude of his mercies, and that all mercy flows from him only and freely, as streams from an overflowing and never-failing fountain.
3. The God of all comfort; because by giving his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, he is the author of all that consolation which is conferred upon us.
Observe, 2. The duty here performed by the apostle, that of blessing God, or thanksgiving, Blessed be God, &c.
Learn, That blessing and praising God for all mercies, but especially for spiritual mercies, is a duty which all the people of God ought especially to be careful of, and abounding in: the more you shall have cause to bless him, he will multiply blessings upon you for your thankfulness to him.
Observe, 3. The particular favour which the apostle blesses and praises God for; namely, for comforting his children in all their tribulations.
Learn hence, That as God is the only comforter of his people at all times, so he is their best comforter in the worst of times. There is no tribulation or affliction that the people of God can fall into, but God can and will comfort them therein: Blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulations.
Observe, 4. The gracious end and merciful design of God in comforting his saints and servants, in and under all their pressures, tribulations, and afflictions; it is, That they may be able to comfort them which are in trouble, by the comfort wherewith they themselves have been comforted of God.
Learn hence, That God doth often exercise many of his ministers, and some of his particular saints and servants, in a very exemplary manner, with trials and afflictions; for this great end amongst others, that they may be experimentally able to instruct and comfort such, who either are or may hereafter fall into the same disconsolate condition with themselves; none so fit to advise and counsel, to instruct and comfort, a suffering saint, as an afflicted minister or Christian, who have, together with their afflictions, experienced the favour of divine consolations. That we may comfort others, as we ouselves have been comforted of God.
Note here, 1. That the saint's sufferings are called the sufferings of Christ. The head suffers in the members, because the members suffer for the sake of the head.
Note, 2. That the saint's sufferings in the cause, and for the sake of Christ, are sometimes overflowing and excessive sufferings: The sufferings of Christ abound in us.
Note, 3. That as a Christian's sufferings are for Christ, so are their comforts and consolations from him; yea, their comforts do bear some proportion to their sufferings; as our sufferings abound, so our consolation abounds by Christ.
As if the apostle had said, "What sufferings soever I have met with in my ministerial office, you have the benefit of them, and special advantage by them; and therefore you ought not to despise me upon the account of my sufferings, (as do the false prophets, and would have you do,) byt you ought the more to honour me for them, and be encouraged yourselves by them; and when I am comforted, it is beneficial for your consolation, inasmuch as you may confidently expect the same relief."
Learn hence, That the sufferings and afflictions which we endure for Christ, do not only turn to our own good, but redound greatly to the good and benefit of the church of God, and consequently should not disanimate or dishearten our fellow-Christians, but rather be matter of comfort or consolation to them. If we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation: he adds, If we be comforted, it is for your consolation also; thereby plainly intimating to us, that Almighty God doth by all his dispensations, both of mercy and correction, promote and carry on the salvation of his own children and people.
Here St. Paul tells the body of the Corinthians, that he had a good hope concerning them, that as they had endured sufferings for Christ, so they would still endure them; assuring them, that they should share no less in consolation than they did in affliction.
Learn hence, That such as suffer for Christ, or own those that suffer for him, shall be interested in all that joy and consolation which such sufferings and sufferers shall receive from God: As you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be of the consolation also.
Observe here, 1. That it is of no small benefit and advantage, but of excellent use to us, to know what are the troubles and afflictions which do befall the servants of God for righteousness' sake: We would not have you ignorant of our trouble.
Observe, 2. How pressing the troubles and afflictions were which this apostle underwent: they were out of measure, above strength, and even to the despairing of life.
Thence note, That God may, and sometimes does, exercise his servants with such extreme and pressing trials, that all their own natural strength is unable to support them under them, or carry them through them: We were pressed above strength, and despaired even of life.
Observe here, The great and imminent danger which the apostle was in: his very life was in a hazard, nay, even despaired of; he looked upon himself as a dead man: but when he had thus sentenced himself, a divine power, which wrought above all his thoughts and rational conjectures, reprieved him, and revived him.
Hence learn, that the almighty power of God sometimes works beyond all creature expectations, beyond all human probabilities, beyond all rational conjectures, to help and deliver his people in hopeless and helpless trouble.
Observe here, The deliverer, God; the delivered, St. Paul, and the saints that were in Asia with him; the deliverance itself, or the imminent and impending evil delivered from, death, great death, so great a death.
Learn, 1. That in times of great and imminent danger, God, and God alone, is the immediate deliverer of his children and people.
Learn, 2. That it is the property of a gracious heart to magnify and enhance the deliverance of a gracious God: He hath delivered us from so great a death, &c.
Learn, 3. That past and present experience of God's power and goodness towards his people may and ought to encourage them to trust in him for time to come: former experience ought to encourage us to future dependence; when we can say, God hath delivered, and doth deliver, let our faith add, In him we trust that he will yet deliver.
Our apostle having commemorated the goodness and power of God in former deliverances, and expressed his assurance of present and future deliverances, doth in this verse excite and exhort the faithful at Corinth to help and further him with their prayers. You also helping together by prayer for us.
Where observe, The humility of the apostle in desiring the people's prayers for himself. Such as are most eminent in gifts and office, yea, and in grace too, do really want, and heartily desire, the help and benefits of their prayers who are far inferior to them in the church of God. And verily the people do owe unto their spiritual guides, as a debt of service, their earnest prayers for them; herein they are not only serviceable to them, but kind to themselves.
Observe farther, The great reason why St. Paul was so desirous of the Corinthians prayers; that deliverance and mercy being obtained by us, it is our duty by praise and thanksgiving to acknowledge the same to God. What is obtained by prayer, should be owned by thankfulness; God forbid we should be clamorous in asking favours, and dumb and tongue-tied in returning thanks.
Observe here, 1. That though St. Paul did not put confidence and trust in his sincerity and Christian grace, yet he did rejoice, and holily glory, in the evidence of his grace, and in the testimony of a sincere and upright conscience: Our rejoicing is this.
Learn hence, That an holy glorying and rejoicing in the grace of God, which upon good and sufficient grounds we find evident in ourselves, is lawful and allowable. A Christian may and ought to rejoice not only in the confidence of Christ's merits, but also in the conscience of his own sincerity.
Observe, 2. The particular grace evidence, which the apostle took comfort in: his sincerity and godly simplicity; that is, his uprightness both of heart and life, his freedom from guile and hypocrisy.
Thence note, That the conscience of sincerity is such a crown of rejoicing, as will support a Christian's spirit under and against the greatest difficulties which may arise in any condition. This sincerity discovers itself in its acting by a right rule, from a right principle, and to a right end; and it supports a man's spirit in the duty of prayer under the burden of slander and reproach, in the dark night of affliction, in the disconsolate hour of death, and at the dreadful day of judgment.
Observe, 3. That it is not a single act of sincerity, but a constant course of upright walking, that our apostle rejoiced and took comfort in: We have had our conversation in the world in all simplicity and godly sincerity. It is not a single action, but a series of good actions, that administers comfort: as God doth not judge of our state and condition by a particular action, no more should we, but by the general bent of our resolutions, and the constant course and tenor of our conversations: Our rejoicing is this, that by the grace of God we have had our conversation in the world.
The apostle having asserted his own sincerity and upright conversation in the former verse, he doth in this verse make his appeal to the consciences of the Corinthians for his justification. It is a good demonstration of our uprightness, when we can not only appeal to God as touching our sincerity, but dare appeal to the consciences of men; for if through prejudice they will not with their mouths vouch for our integrity, yet secretly with their conscience they cannot but bear witness to it.
Observe, 2. The apostle's having declared that he had his testimonials not only from his own conscience, but from theirs also; he adds, that he trusted this would hold and continue even to the end, that is, to the end both of his and their lives.
As if the apostle had said, "My conversation hath hitherto been acknowledged by you to be sincere and upright; and I hope, as you shall never see it otherwise by me, so you will persevere and continue in your good opinion and right judgment concerning me to the end of your and my life."
Observe here, 1. The great trial which St. Paul met with from the Corinthians, whose spiritual father he was: though he had served them with great faithfulness, yet they did acknowledge him but in part. There was a time when he was high in their esteem. Who but Paul! None but he! but now a great part leave him, and admire others.
Learn hence, What great levity, fickleness, and inconstancy, may be found in good men in general; and what great mutability and changeableness of affection in particular to their ministers and spiritual guides, though never so sincere and faithful.
Although St. Paul, with a laborious diligence, and divine success, had planted and propagated the Christian faith amongst them; yet now not only his person, but his very office, falls under contempt by many of them. None more than ministers do experience this truth, that nothing is so mutable as the mind of man.
Though ministers are the same, and their message the same; though they continue burning and shining lights, though they burn out, and consume life, health, and estate, among and for their people; yet it is only for a season, for an hour, for a short time, at their first coming amongst them, that they rejoice in their light: You have acknowledged us in part.
Observe, 2. That notwithstanding the contempt cast upon St. Paul by some in the church of Corinth, yet there were others among them who did greatly rejoice in him, and bless God for him, and he for them: We are your rejoicing, and ye are ours, as being converted by us; and I trust we shall be a farther joy and mutual rejoicing each to other in the day of our Lord Jesus.
Learn hence, What unspeakable rejoicings and joyful congratulations there will be in the day of Christ, between laborious faithful ministers and their believing obedient hearers.
"Lord! will the Christian say, this was the blessed instrument, under God, of my happy illumination and conversion; by the blessing of the Spirit upon his ministry, my soul was begotten unto Christ." But on the other hand, if we be ignornat or lazy, unskillful or unfaithful, in our office, our people will come in against us as swift witnesses in the day of Christ: and, Lord, what an intolerable aggravation will it be of our misery in hell, to have any of our people thus upbraiding us!
"O cruel man! that sawest my soul in danger, but never dealt faithfully and plainly with me; the same time that we spent together in sin and vanity, in sensual mirth and jollity, might have been instrumental to save us both from this place of torment." Let ministers consider themselves as witnesses for God, and their people as witnesses for or against them; and under that consideration, so study, preach, and pray; so live, walk, and act, that they may, with this great apostle, take God to record, that they are free from the blood of all men.
Observe here, 1. The apostle's steady purpose, and fixed resolution, to come and spend some time amongst the Corinthians: I was minded to come unto you. Where a faithful minister has good hopes and confidence of doing good amongst a people, there is great encouragement for coming to them, and abiding with them. When the ministers of Christ find that God has farther converting work, or edifying work, for them to do in a particular place amongst his people, they will not, they must not, yea, they dare not, forsake them for outward advantages.
Observe, 2. the end of St. Paul's purpose and resolution to come unto them: That they might have a second benefit. The first benefit was their conversion, the second benefit was their confirmation; confirmation in the faith, and reformation both in life and manners.
It is not sufficient that by our ministry we plant a church, and gather a people out of the world, by external and visible profession; but there is farther need of daily industry, and continual care to water what we have planted, to cultivate and dress that corner of our Lord's vineyard which is under our particular inspection and care.
O that our people had hearts to cry out, and say, Lord! not the first time only, but the second, yea, all my life, make me partaker of this benefit.
Observe here, 1. How the heart of this holy apostle was carried forth in the service of God and souls, and how accordingly he orders all his journeys from one place to another, and determines his continuance and stay, longer in one place than another, as the glory of God, the advantage of the gospel, and the church's necessities, did require: I design to pass by you into Macedonia, &c. It is the duty of the ministers of Christ not only to lay out themselves for the glory of God, and the good of souls, but to project, forecast, and contrive how they may do it in the best and most advantageous manner, for the furtherance of the gospel.
Yet, 2. Observe the difference between this extraordinary apostle then, and ordinary pastor of the church now. The apostles had an universal commission to plant churches in all places; they were to be in constant travels up and down the world, itinerary preachers from place to place; but the office of an ordinary pastor now is, to watch over a particular flock, and to keep constant residence amongst them.
Yet though by actual relation he is tied and bound to a particular flock, he is by habitual and aptitudinal disposition a minister of the universal church, and a debtor to the public good thereof. He is first made a minister in the universal church, and then a pastor of a particular congregation; and accordingly, though he seeks to serve the interest of his own flock first, yet it is his duty, by prayer, by study, by preaching, by writing, by all other edifying ways and methods, to promote the universal good and benefit of the whole church of Christ according to his power, both far and near.
Here our apostle begins to make his apology and defence for himself, for changing his purpose in coming to Corinth according to promise, and to free himself from the imputation of levity, inconstancy, and falsehood, cast upon him by his back friends, the false apostles, for promising to come to Corinth, and not performing it; for they aggravated the matter so far, as if he were one that said and unsaid, one that took no care about keeping his word; and thence inferred, that no regard was to be had to anything that he delivered. "He that is not to be relied upon, say the false apostles, in his ordinary promises, how can you depend upon what he says to you in his preaching?"
Hence learn, That lightness and inconstancy is a great sin and reproach in any, but especially in the ministers of the gospel, who yet are often charged with it, when they are in no degree guilty of it.
Observe, 2. As our apostle frees himself from the charge of inconstancy, so from the suspicion of acting for worldly advantage: The things which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh? that is, for carnal ends or secular interest, that with me there should be now. Yea, Yea, and anon, Nay, Nay?
Behold here what truth and steadiness was found in and with our holy apostle; how his words and intentions, his tongue and his heart, his pen and his purpose, were one, namely, in reality to come unto them, though he was providentially hindered and obstructed.
Here let us remark and note, what little things the men of the world will rake advantage from, to vilify and lessen the reputation of God's faithful servants, especially his ministers. How many persons might have promised to be in such a place at such a time, and have failed without being reproached for breach of promise!
The world would have been so charitable to another person, as to have excused it, by saying, "The man spake according to his present intention and resolution, but was hindered by the providence of God;" but if Paul fails in a tittle, he must be loaded presently, upbraided for his inconstancy, or which is worse, charged with playing fast and loose for sinister ends, and worldly advantages.
Lord! give thy servants, especially thy ministers, wisdom to walk with exactness and circumspection before the men of the world, who are their watchful observers, and bold censurers, that they may cut off all occasion from them that seek occasion against them.
By the word here, some understand St. Paul's promise to come to Corinth, that he did very seriously intend to come unto them; as if he had said, "As God is true to his promise, so has he taught me to be true to mine." Others understand by the word, St. Paul's preaching, that his doctrine was not mutable and changeable, but always the same.
Here note, How ready and forward the adversaries of religion are from any real or supposed imperfections in the ministers of God, presently to blame and burden their ministry, to charge their private errors and mistakes upon their doctrine. There is a mighty propensity and great forwardness in bad men, to cast all the imperfections of the ministers of the gospel upon their ministry and doctrine.
The devil is glad of an opportunity, by the failings of preachers, to bring the doctrines they preach either into doubt or disesteem. But though it be a great reproach for a minister to be mutable and contradictory in his doctrine, yet the wicked world do often accuse them of it, and charge them with it, when there is not the least occasion of it: Verily, as God is true, our word was not yea and nay.
This verse contains a new argument for the constancy and immutability of St. Paul's doctrine, drawn from the subject matter of his preaching; namely, Jesus Christ. As Christ is always one and the same, whom himself and other ministers did preach, so is our doctrine one and the same also.
Note here, 1. The subject matter of St. Paul's preaching, what was the sum of his own and his companion's sermons, (Sylvanus and Timotheus,) it was not his own imagination, or the Jewish rites and ceremonies, but Christ in his nature and offices; The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was preached among you by us.
Note, 2. The happy unity and accord which was found among all these ministers, St. Paul, Sylvanus, and Timotheus, in preaching Christ.
O blessed agreement! when all the ministers of God with one consent conspire and agree to advance and extol our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note, 3. That the course of St. Paul's and his assistants' preaching; Christ Jesus, fixedly and unchangeably the same; not yea at one time, and nay at another.
Learn hence, That it is a proper note of God's truth, and the true preachers thereof, that they are always one and the same, always yea, and not nay; there is no change or contrariety in their doctrines.
Our apostle had proved in the foregoing verse the constancy of his own doctrine which he preached from the immutabilithy and constancy of Christ, the subject of it. Here he proveth Christ to be unchangeable, in that all the promises which God hath made to us are fulfilled both in him and by him. All the promises of God in him are yea, and amen; that is, verified and fulfilled in him, and confirmed by him to us.
Learn, 1. That God has made promises, many promises to his people.
2. That all the promises which God has made to his people, are made in Christ, and ratified by him. Christ acts the part and office of a surety; he undertakes and engages for God, that all which he hath promised shall be made good to us.
Learn, 3. That the promises made by God, and ratified and confirmed in Christ, do all tend to the glory of God. They show the sovereignty of his grace, in making promises to his creatures of mercy, who deserved nothing but flaming vengeance and implacable fury. They show the amplitude of his grace; for if grace did not flow abundantly from the heart of God towards us, we could never have received so large a stock of promises from him. Let us then glorify God, by setting a just value upon his promises, as the unchangeable assurance of his love and grace.
In these two verses we have four very great and noble privileges, which the apostle declares God had conferred upon the Corinthians: namely, his establishing, anointing, and sealing of them, and giving the earnest of his Holy Spirit to them.
First, their establishment: He which stablisheth us with you is God.
Learn thence, That a people's establishment in the doctrine of the gospel, and in the faith of the promise, is alone the gracious work of God. We are naturally like reeds shaken with every wind: it is the establishing grace of God that makes us pillars in the church.
Again, secondly their anointing, this is from God; the sanctifying grace of God is often in scripture compared to oil, in regard of its effects. It refresheth the weary, it healeth the wounded, it comforts the heart, it beautifies the face, it strengthens the limbs. Such internal virtues and excellences hath the sanctifying grace of God in the hearts of the people.
Thirdly, their sealing: Who hath also sealed us. God's sealing of his children doth imply his high valuation and esteem of them. What is sealed is esteemed very precious: it implies their safety and security; what is under seal, is not in danger of being lost.
Again, sealing doth imply secrecy and privacy; that which is sealed is secret and hidden; it is the new name which none know but he that receiveth it.
Finally, sealing is for confirmation; contracts and bargains among men are confirmed by hand and seal. Thus the graces of the Spirit which sanctify us, do also witness and seal to us the assurance of God's love and special favour in Jesus Christ.
The fourth privilege here conferred by God upon the Corinthians, is his giving the earnest of his Spirit in their hearts: grace wrought in the heart here is a sure earnest of glory hereafter; there is a great deal of difference between a shilling, a single piece of money, and a shilling that is an earnest of a greater sum. It is joy to find grace in the soul, as grace mortifying our corruptions; but it rejoices much more to look upon grace as an earnest of glory, as the first- fruits which insure the full crop.
In these words, our apostle doth assure the Corinthians in a very solemn manner, that it was not any inconstancy or carnal respect in himself that made him delay his coming to them, but it was purely to spare them, as being unwilling to come with his rod among them, and to use severity upon them.
Here observe the apostle's manner of speech, it is by way of adjuration: I call God to record upon my soul, &c. The words are an assertory and execratory oath, wherein God is called to witness the truth of what he said.
Learn hence, That it is lawful for Christians under the gospel to swear upon a necessary and great occasion.
But what great occasion was here for St. Paul to do it?
Ans. Very great; the false apostles did accuse him for a vain-glorious and inconstant man. This accusation did redound to the discredit of his ministry, the dishour of the gospel, the destruction of the church; therefore he solemnly protests, that no inconstancy or worldly motives did cause him to delay his promise; but a wise and spiritual consideration of their good, a willingness to spare them, and an unwillingness to use severity upon them.
Hence learn, That the ministerial power which God giveth the officers of the church, ought to be managed with much holy prudence and Christian commiseration: the end of their power should always be in their mind, which is edification, and not destruction.
As if the apostle had said, "Though we have a ministerial power, yet we have not a magisterial dominion over you, to treat as we please the professors of the gospel, or to punish those that walk not according thereunto."
Learn hence, That though Christ has invested the officers of the church with a ministerial power, yet they have not thereby any dominion over the faith of believers; Not that we have dominion over your faith; he adds, But are helpers of your joy. He doth not say, We are helpers of your grace, helpers of your faith, helpers of your holiness, though this is necessarily implied; but helpers of your joy and comfort.
Note thence, That a special part of the minister's work consists in administering to the comfort and consolation of such as stand in need of it, and are qualified for it. Our first work is to help the graces, our next to help the comforts, of our people. The Spirit of God is a sanctifier, and then a comforter: joy is not the first stone in God's building; grace and holiness are first, comfort and consolation next.
For by faith ye stand; ye have stood and do stand, steadfast in the faith; that is, the generality and body of you; though some among you deny the resurrection, yet the best and greatest part of you are sound in the faith, and stedfast in the faith. Our apostle doth not unchurch them, because of some disorders among them, nor because of some heretical doctrines found with them, but endeavors to reform their disorders, that so when he came unto them he might not come with his rod, but in the spirit of meekness.
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