2 Corinthians 13The apostle having throughout both his epistles blamed the Corinthians for several gross enormities found amongst them, and hearing there were some who had not repented of them, he gives them plainly to understand, that he had a full purpose to come unto them with his rod of ecclesiastical discipline and church censures, and would not spare a man of them, but execute that power on the impenitent, which Christ had given him, by excluding such unreclaimable offenders from church communion.
Note here, With what wisdom and caution the holy apostle proceeds in the executing and inflicting the severe censures of the church; he uses admonition a first, a second, and third time, before he proceeds to the awful sentence of excommunication, I told you before, I foretell you now, and being absent, I write to you, that when I come I will not spare.
He tells them farther, that they had tempted him hereunto, in that they had required a proof from him whether Christ had owned him as an apostle or not, and would ratify his censures by judgments following them. He shows that Christ had owned him, and manifested his power in his ministry among them, by converting many of them to the Christian faith, by bestowing the gifts of his Spirit upon them, and by many signs and miracles which he enabled him to do in the midst of them.
When God calls his servants to the work of the ministry, he leaves not either himself or them without witness; he bears testimony to their sincerity, by giving them, in some degree, the seal of their ministry, in the conversion or edification of those they are sent unto: Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, to you ward he is not weak, but is mighty in and amongst you.
Next, the holy apostle draws a parallel, and makes a comparison between his blessed Lord and Master and himself. As Christ, in his state of humiliation, appeared to be a weak and frail man, by being crucified; but was evidenced to be the great and mighty God, by his rising from the dead: so the apostle, considered in himself, and in respect of his afflictions, appears a weak and contemptible man; but yet they had found, and should farther find, a resemblance of the power and strength of Christ in his life and ministry; and particularly, they should find him armed with authority from Christ, to execute censures upon the contumacious and impenitent.
Though the ministers of Christ, like their Master, when here on earth, are in a state of weakness, poverty, and contempt, yet they are clothed with divine power in the execution of their office, and their ministry is a living, powerful, and efficacious ministry, in the vigorous effects of it upon the hearts of their people; We are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.
Here the apostle advises the Corinthians, instead of inquiring after the proof of Christ in him, to examine whether they were in Christ themselves; intimating to us, that such are usually most backward to examine the state of their own souls, who are forward to enquire into the spiritual state and condition of others. "You seek a proof of Christ in me, says the apostle: Oh, rather prove and examine yourselves."
Where note, 1. A duty expressed; Examine yourselves; prove yourselves: The word is a metaphor taken from goldsmiths, who with great exactness try their gold; the truth of it by the touchstone, the weight of it by the scale, and the purity of it by the fire. And the repetition of the command, Examine yourselves; prove yourselves; implies the great backwardness that is in men's natures to perform this duty, the great necessity of the duty, and the great diligence and frequency to be used in performing of the duty.
Learn hence, That self-examination is an excellent, a necessary and important duty, belonging to every one in the church, and requires great diligence and faithfulness in the performing of it. 'Tis necessary, in regard of our comforts, and also in regard of our graces; for there are counterfeit graces, as well as real; and common graces, as well as saving; and 'tis a duty that requires diligence and frequency, because the work is difficult, because the heart is backward, because we are apt to be deceived, and willing to be deceived; because many have miscarried without is, and many perish by a negligent performance of it: Therefore examine yourselves; prove yourselves.
Note, 2. The subject-matter of our examination, whether ye be in the faith; that is, whether ye be converted to the Christian faith, whether the faith of Christ be in you, whether the pinciple of faith be in your consciences, whether the practice of faith be in your lives, whether your faith be the parent and principle of obedience, working love, and working by love.
Note, 3. The enforcement or motive to this duty, Except ye be reprobates; that is, counterfeit, adulterate, unsound, and insincere Christians, unaccepted of God, and not owned by him. As reprobate silver has no worth or fitness in it for trading, so such Christians as, upon examination are not found to have the grace of faith in them, more precious than gold, are unapproved of God, and rejected by him.
Note, 4. When the apostle expostulates with them, and says, Know ye not your ownselves? it implies both the folly and unreasonableness of the neglect of the duty, and also the possibility and easiness of knowing whether Christ be in us, or not, upon a due and diligent inquiry, whether we have experienced the quickening and transforming power of Christ in our hearts and lives.
Finally, So great is the benefit, and so sweet the comfort, which flows to us by examinations and self-acquaintance, that it will abundantly recompence our care and diligence, in the frequent and faithful discharge of it.
As if the apostle had said, "Whatever you, upon examination, shall be found to be, I trust you shall know, and be convinced, that we have not dishonoured Christ, nor shall be disowned of him: But whenever I come to you, you shall find that I am not destitute of the grace and power of Christ; whether for advancing your faith, improving your holiness, or correcting your miscarriages." The ministers of Christ, who are faithful to him, in contending with the errors and vices of men, in reproving sin, in censuring sin, shall be owned and approved of God, when the reprobate world shall be condemned by him: I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.
The apostle, drawing towards the conclusion of his epistle, shuts it up with prayer, earnestly imploring Almighty God, that the Corinthians might be found doing no evil, which might expose them to his censure, and force him to exercise his apostolical power, in punishing such offenders and offences as he should find among them. And he prayed thus for them, because he had rather have them good, than by punishing their evil manners, have an occasion to testify himself an approved and faithful apostle: For he did not so much regard his own reputation, as their salvation.
The apostle having prayed that the Corinthians might be found doing no evil, in the former verse, and assuring them thereupon, that they would then be secure from his censures and chastisements, he assigns a reason here for that assurance given them; because, says he, We can do nothing against the truth; but for the truth: having our power given us only for edification, and not for destruction.
Considering the words, without respect to the coherence, observe, 1. A negative proposition, We can do nothing against the truth. Oh blessed impotency!
2. An affirmation, or positive assertion, but for the truth. Oh blessed ability? He was as strong as a giant for the truth, but as weak as an infant against it.
Learn, That sincere Christians in general, and the ministers of Christ in particular, cannot, dare not, will not do any thing against the truth, but for the truth:
They cannot, that is, they may not, they are restrained by an outward command from God, who is truth itself:
They cannot, that is, they will not, there is a restraint of an inward principle; neither the conviction of their understanding, the clearness of their judgments, nor the holiness of their hearts, will suffer them to oppose the truth.
Again, they cannot attempt it; or if they did, they can never effect it; they cannot do it safely, they cannot do it successfully. We can do nothing against the truth in a way of discouragement; nor nothing against it in a way of disparagement: But all our endeavours are for the truth; we embrace it in our judgment, we hide it in our hearts, and practise it in our lives. Whatever talent God entrusts any of his ministers with, whether of parts, power, or estate, it is an opportunity put into their hands of doing service for the truth, and, as such, to be accepted and improved.
The apostle may be understood two ways:
1. We are glad when we are weak; that is, when I have no occasion to manifest my apostolical power, in censuring any of you as offenders: But ye are strong; strong in faith, and fruitful in good works.
Or, 2. We are glad when we are weak, that is, when we are weakened by never so many sufferings and infirmities, provided you are made strong thereby:
For this is what we principally wish and endeavour, even your utmost perfection in knowledge, faith and holiness. Nothing is more desired by the zealous and faithful ministers of Jesus Christ, than to see their people strong in faith, fruitful in good works, persevering in well doing, yea, perfect in holiness and obedience: This we wish, nothing like it, even your perfection.
As if the apostle had said, "Verily I write thus to you, being absent, purposely, to reclaim you, lest being present, I should be forced to use some sharpness towards you, according to the power which the Lord hath given me, tending to your edification always, and not at any time to your destruction."
Observe here, With what tenderness the apostle treats these offenders; he tells them, the sharpness and severity in his letters (if they accounted it such) was upon a kind design, to prevent sharpness and severity in his dealings with them, when he came amongst them; yet withal, he assures them, that if matters should come to an extremity, that he must be forced to exercise his apostolical power, in cutting the contumacious off from the church's communion; he would exercise it with a tender regard to their good, not their hurt; for their edification, and not willingly to their destruction.
Learn we, from the apostle's practice, to execute the censures of the church with great tenderness and affection, with great pity and compassion, with extraordinary dread and caution; not with rashness and indiscretion, or upon every light and trivial occasion, but like a tender-hearted father, with a rod in our hands, and tears in our eyes.
Here our apostle shuts up his epistle with a pathetical option and affectionate wish of all perfection, consolation, concord and communion, to his beloved Corinthians.-
Where note, 1. What a fervent and unfeigned love there is in all the faithful ministers of Christ to the people committed to their charge, and how desirous they are, when they are taking their leave of them, to leave God with them; The God of love and peace be with you. Now God's being with a people, implies and imports these things; namely, the heart of God with them, the help of God with them, and the presence of God with them, and that they shall shortly be with God.
Note, 2. What are the particular graces and blessings which the apostle wishes his beloved Corinthians: he doth not wish them earthly honours, worldly riches, sensual pleasures; but perfection of grace, spiritual consolation, mutual love, sweet communion with God, unanimity and concord amongst themselves: Sanctifying gifts and saving graces are the best legacies that can be left by the ministers of God unto their people.
Be perfect, be knit together: let the schisms and breaches which have been amongst you, be healed: Be of good comfort, rejoice in and under all your sufferings for Christ, and the profession of his holy religion.
Be of one mind, of the same judgment, if possible, in all things; or if otherwise, let no difference in judgment cause disunion in affection; if in some lesser things your heads be different, yet let your hearts be one.
Live in peace; for the Lord's sake, live no longer in division and strife, in contention and wrath; let me hear no more of those debates, envyings, backbitings, whisperings and swellings, which I have reproved you for; but especially, live in peace with your teachers and spiritual guides; cause not them to complain to God of you, nor to groan to God against you, for your factious prefering one minister before another; one crying, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos.
Thus doing, The God of peace and love shall be with you: That is, he who is the author and enjoiner of love and peace will be with you, and dwell among you with his gracious and favourable presence.
He exhorts them, according to the custom of those eastern countries, to salute one another with a kiss, as a token of mutual and sincere love: And since it was become a practice in sacred meetings and church assemblies, particularly before their receiving the holy communion, to kiss each other, he advises them to use it innocently, chastely; let it not be a wanton, but an holy kiss.
However, afterwards, the piety and purity of the church degenerating and declining, it was laid aside. That which is innocent in itself, and pious in its first intendment, may in time, fall under such abuse, as to cause it wholly to be laid aside.
Here are the highest blessings and benefits wished to, and prayed for, in behalf of the Corinthians, which they could possibly be made partakers of; namely, all that love which doth or can flow from the Father; all that grace which was purchased by the Son, and all that fellowship and communion with, and communication from the Holy Spirit, which might render them meet for the service of Christ on earth, and for the full fruition and final enjoyment of him in heaven.
Observe here, A full text for the holy Trinity: the names of the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are here distinctly mentioned, as in the commission for, and in the form of baptism, Matt 28:19
Here the apostle calls the Father God, the Son Lord, and the Spirit the Holy Ghost, and he attributes love to the Father, grace to the Son, so fellowship to the Holy Ghost; so that we have no reason to doubt of the personality of either, or any of them. But when we consider how many at this day, with impudence and impunity, deny the divinity of the second, and the personality of the third person in the blessed Trinity, we have reason to pray, as our church has taught us for our own establishment, in the collect for Trinity-Sunday;
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us they servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine Majesty, to worship the Unity; we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest one God, world without end. Amen.
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