2 Corinthians 6Here note, 1. The nature of the ministerial function: The ministry is a work, an arduous and laborious work; neither angels nor men are of themselves sufficient for it, without proportionable assistance from God. Ministers are workers.
Note, 2. They are workers together; they join together with one voice, with one cry, beseeching sinners to be reconciled unto God. All the ministers of Christ are fellow-labourers, workers together in God's harvest-field; that which is the work of one, is the work of all; they should all join in it, and rejoice together in the success of it; not only labour with, but bless God for the services and success of, each other.
Lord! how sad it is to see the ministers of God divided in their work and way, when one rejoiceth in that which to another is cause of mourning!
Note, 3. Ministers are workers together with God, as well as with one another; they are subordinate instruments working by him, but not co-ordinate causes producing with him the work of conversion in the souls of men; not as if they could communicate any power of strength to the working of grace by the preaching of the word, 1Cor 3:5 Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?
Observe, 4. The exhortation, or cautionary direction, given; We beseech you, receive not the grace of God in vain; where by the grace of God, is meant the grace of the gopsel; because it is graciously and freely bestowed upon a people, and because the matter and message which it brings is grace.
The law discovers God's will, the gospel discovers his good will: and by receiving this grace in vain, is meant the receiving the gospel unfruitfully, unprofitably, and ineffectually; when we do not receive it with a due estimation, with fervency of affection, with a fiducial application; when it doth not purify the heart, reform the life, and save the soul. It is not the receiving of the gospel into our houses, into our heads, into our mouths, but into our hearts, that will bring us to heaven.
These words are taken from the prophet Isaiah, Isa 49:8. They are a promise which God the Father made to Christ as Mediator, That in the great work of saving his church, the Father would accept and succour him as the Head of the church: I have heard thee in an accepted time, in the day of salvation.
Here note, There is a two-fold day of salvation: the one was Christ's day for the purchase of salvation; the other is our duty, for the application.
1. Christ had a season assigned him for the impetration or purchase of salvation; and he set in, and complies with that season, and it became an acceptable time with respect to him.
2. We have also our season alloted us by God, for the application of Christ and his benefits to our souls.
Behold, now is our accepted time, now is our day of salvation: let us prize it highly, and improve it faithfully. 'Tis a day, and that is but a short space of time; 'tis a day, and therefore continually spending: 'tis a day, therefore when once gone is irrecoverably gone. Our working day is a wasting day; 'tis a day, and that will be followed with a night, in which none can work, but only lament their folly in not working: Behold then, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
Observe here, 1. The nature and quality of the work which the ambassadors of Christ are called to and do labour in; a ministry.
Observe, 2. What was the desire and aim, the care and endeavour of the apostles then, ought to be the study of every minister now; namely, to avoid offence, and that universally, both as to persons and things, giving no offence in any thing.
Observe, 3. What was the ground and reason of this care and endeavour to give no offence; namely, that the ministry be not blamed.
Learn, That it is the standing duty of all the ministers of Christ so to perform their ministerial office, that they give no just offence in any thing to any person, that so the ministry committed to them may not be blamed. We must give no offence by our words and speeches in common conversation, no offence by unsound doctrine, by personal reflections, no offence by gross, careless, and negligent omissions, or by rude and irreverent indecencies, or by any affected singularities in our administrations; but especially give no offence by a bad life and scandalous conversation.
Observe here, 1. The great care which the holy apostle took to approve himself unto God, in the exercise of his ministry: In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God.
Observe, 2. What an approved minister must do and endure, in order to the obtaining the ends of his ministry: if he be called to it, he must bear up against all discouragements, and encounter all oppositions; let the way be what it will, fair or foul, a green carpet way, or dirty, poachy way, he must stick at nothing, but go through thick and thin, patiently enduring afflictions of all sorts, and cheerfully undergoing sufferings of all kinds, and exercising all manner of self-denial, for the gospel's sake.
Behold here, how the ministers of Christ, that will approve themselves unto God, must run all hazards, and venture through all extremities: they must work in heat and cold, in fire and frost, in all sorts of providences from God, in all sorts of aspects from men, fearing neither the face nor frowns of any. For though every gospel minister attains not to St. Paul's zeal, and holy fortitude and courage, yet he has a truth of zeal, and such a firmness of resolution, as will, according to his measure, carry him through a world of evils and incumbrances, in the doing of that good, which duty and conscience doth oblige him to, and call for: In much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in labours, in watchings, in fastings.
The apostle, in the foregoing verses, had declared how many difficulties and dangers must be encountered by him that will attain the ends of his ministry, and approve himself unto God in integrity and uprightness; here he shows by how many ways and means the work of the ministry is promoted, and how the ministers of the gospel must be qualified for it: namely, by pureness of conversation, by knowlege of divine mysteries and study of the holy scriptures, by long-suffering under all provocations, by kindness towards all men, by the gifts and assistances of the Holy Ghost, by the word of truth clearly preached, and by the power of God confirming it; by the armour of righteousness, which completely covers and protects us on the right hand and on the left, both in prosperity and adversity; by passing through honour and dishonour, by going through evil report and good report.
Here note, That the ministers of God do approve themselves, and trial is made of them, as well by the things on the right hand as on the left. A minister of Christ is tried as well by honour as disgrace, as well by praise as by disparagement. The good report which we meet with in the world, is certaianly as great, yea, a more dangerous temptation, than the ill reports we pass under. 'Tis a great trial to a minister to be dispraised and despised, to have dirt thrown undeservedly in his face; but verily it is as great a trial to be praised, commended, and applauded, to be lifted up in the thoughts and upon the tongues of men.
Solomon has an excellent proverb to this purpose, Prov 27:21 As the fining-pot for silver, and the furnace for gold, so is a man to his praise; that is, a man is tried by his praise, as really as silver is tried in the fining-pot, or gold in the furnace. Whenever a minister is praised, he is tried; his humility is tried, his self-denial is tried; when he is praised by men, he is tried whether he can give the entire praise to God. When people cry up such and such a preacher, they put him into the fining-pot; and he that is but dross, consumes. Let ministers remember there are trials on the right hand, as well as on the left; that passing through honour, and going through good reports, are great trails, as well as passing through dishonour and evil reports. God prepare us for both!
As if the apostle had said, Verily our life is made up of seeming, but not real contradictions. The wise men of the world look upon us as deceivers, but we are the true dispensers of the word of life unto them; we are looked upon by the world as unknown, obscure persons; but we are well known to God and good men by our doctrine and miracles; we are as dying persons daily, by our passing through so many perils, and by being exposed to continual persecutions, and yet you see we are still alive; and we are sometimes chastened by God, as well as persecuted by men, but we are not killed, nor given over unto death.
Outwardly we are sorrowful, but inwardly always rejoicing in God, and in the testimony of a good conscience; in worldly goods and outward circumstances we are very poor, yet making many spiritually rich in grace and good works. We have nothing we can call our own, yet in Christ all things are ours.
Hence observe, What has been the lot and portion of the faithful ambassadors and ministers of Christ from the first beginning of Christianity; the dirt of a thousand scandals have been thrown upon their faces, which in the day of Christ's appearance will be as crowns upon their heads.
Observe, 2. That all outward evils are to be received by the ministers and members of Christ, in the same manner, and with the same mind, that good things are received with. Honour and dishonour, good report and evil report, must be entertained with the same evenness and constancy of mind, because God is the same in all variety of estates. Though men change their opinions of us, yet God changes not his judgment concerning us: he loves his ministers and members when poor, as well as when rich; when the world smites us, as well as when it smiles upon us; therefore if God be the same to us at all times, it is our wisdom and duty to keep the temper of our minds, and to be always the same to him, and to ourselves. Whatever we meet with from the world, we have no reason to be dissatisfied if our integrity be safe.
Observe, 3. How rich the apostle was without earthly riches, and how abounding in wealth, when he had nothing of worldly treasure to rejoice in: Having nothing, yet he possessed all things.
But how? and in what sense?
Answer, He and they possessed all things,
1. In Christ, by whom they had a title to all things.
2. They had all things in the covenant, favour, and grace of God; he hath all things, who hath him that hath all things.
3. They had all things virtually in that contentment of mind which they did enjoy: they possessed all things in possessing themselves; and wanted nothing which they could deny themselves. The contented man is only rich; he is not rich that has much, but he that has enough; that man is poor that covets more.
4. They possessed all things eventually; they had the good of all things, when they had not the actual possession of all things; their poverty was a blessing, and their very wants, in the event, worked for good.
5. They possessed all things in future expectation: they looked and longed for heaven and everlasting happiness, which would swallow up their desires with fruition; for he that overcometh shall inherit all things, Rev 21:7. Thus is this apostolical paradox unriddled, As having nothing, and yet possessing all things. True faith apprehends and enjoys all things in God, which it wanteth in the creature.
These words are very pathetic and expressive of St. Paul's most affectionate and ardent love towards the Corinthians, whom he had been an happy instrument to convert unto Christianity. He tells them, his mouth was opened to them, not to receive, but to bestow; his mouth was open to fill them with the treasures of gospel knowledge, not to be filled by them; and his heart, as well as his mouth, was open unto them, and at their service.
If therefore they were straitened in affection towards him, who was thus enlarged in heart and mouth, by tongue and pen, towards them, it must be through mistakes and misapprehensions on their part; therefore in a way of recompence he challenges it as just and fit, that the same reciprocal love be bestowed upon him their spiritual father, as he had manifested towards them his beloved children.
Learn hence, That there is no stronger love, nor more endeared affection, between any relations upon earth, than between such ministers of Christ and their beloved people, whom they have been happily instrumental to convert to God: O ye Corinthians, our heart is enlarged towards you.
The holy apostle closes this chapter with an exhortation to avoid all intimacy with idolators, either in civil affairs, in marriages, or in religious worship, lest they be brought into communion with their idolatry; there being no more agreement between a believer and an idolater, than betwixt light and darkness, betwixt Christ and Satan.
And, as we must not join with idolaters in spiritual communion or religious worship, so should we have no communion with them in marriages; that having proved a dangerous snare to the souls of many, our divines have justly pronounced such marriages sinful.
Nay, it is both wise and safe to have as little civil communion with idolaters as we can; and when we are necessitated to have civil communion with them, we must utterly avoid all sinful communion with them, that is, all communion with them in their sins.
Learn, That to associate with idolaters, or join in affinity with them, but especially to communicate with them in their idolatrous worship, is a God-provoking and a wrath-procuring sin: Be ye not unequally and unsuitiably yoked with unbelievers.
This form of questions evidently implies the absolute inconsistency between believers and idolaters, and the danger from communion with them. And the apostle's calling believers the temple of the living God, represents both their dignity and duty; their dignity, in having the Spirit of God to dwell in them, and walk in them; their duty, to be purified and adorned for his habitation.
Observe, believers are a spiritual temple, in which the Holy Ghost dwells. This dwelling implies propriety, familiarity, authority, residency, and fixedness of abode.
Observe, 2. That the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in good men, as in a temple, being the highest honour and most perfect felicity of the reasonable nature, should oblige them to universal holiness, and to avoid all communion with idolaters.
As if the apostle had said "Go not then to the idol's temples, join not with idolaters in communion to avoid persecution; but come out from amongst them, as an holy people separated to the Lord, and defile not yourselves with any unclean thing; and while you are pure, and cleave to God, he wil own you for his sons and daughters."
Observe here, 1. A pressing exhortation to make a full separation from unclean persons and things, particularly from all idolatry and idolatrous worship; Come out from among them. The words are taken out of Isa 52:11 where the prophet exhorts the remnant of Israel to come fully out of unclean Babylon.
Learn hence, That God expects and requires his saints should make a separation from all uncleanness, but especially from the uncleanness of idolatry. God expects a separation from us, from all unclean courses, from all unclean company, from the presence and appearance of all uncleanness, from communion with idolatrous churches, and from communicating with what is sinful in the truest churches of Christ upon earth.
Observe, 2. A quickening encouragement to back this exhortaion: I will receive you, and be a Father to you.
Here is a twofold promise,
1. Of reception, I will receive you.
2. Of adoption, I will be a father to you.
God will receive them both into his house and heart.
Learn hence, That Almighty God will, as a Father, undoubtedly receive all those into his family and favour who renounce communion with all impurity. As he is Almighty, he is abundantly able, and as he is a Father, he is graciously willing, to recompense all the services and sufferings of his children, for the honour and interest of his name and truth.
It is sufficiently known how this text hath been mispplied by separatists to very bad purposes:
1. To justify their schismatical separation from the best and purest of the reformed churches, under pretence of finding greater purity among themselves: whereas nothig will justify a separation from a church, but that which makes a separation between God and that church. If the church's way of worship (in their opinion) be faulty, they presently pronounce it false, and they must not join in false worship, if all that is faulty be false worship: if Christ doth not disown his church for that faultiness, we ought not to desert her for it.
2. Others would seek occasion from these words, to justify their practice, in refusing to come to the Lord's table where some vicious persons are apprehended to be, lest they should pollute the ordinance, and there touch the unclean thing; whereas the presence of a bad man at the sacrament pollutes the ordinance only to himself; for unto the pure all things are pure; and who will neglect a certain duty, to escape an uncertain danger? True, we must not own such worship, as we know God rejecteth. But as God pardoneth the faulty imperfections of other men's worship, and of our own also, thus must we bear with our own and one another's failings that are tolerable, so far as we cannot cure them.
Woe unto us, had Almighty God no more charity for us than we have for one another! A defective worship is not a false worship; sinful defects in the administration of ordinances, do not hinder the saving effects of ordinances; a wise and good man is certainly as great an enemy to separation, as he is to superstition: doctrines crying up purity, to the ruin of unity, reject; for the gospel calls for unity, as well as for purity.
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