Great Texts of the Bible
The Apostolic Benediction
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.—2 Corinthians 13:14.
1. Such is the blessing with which the Apostle concludes his Second Epistle to the Church at Corinth. It is the longest and fullest of all the salutations which he was accustomed to use, each of which was by his own appointment to be the token that the letter in which it occurred came from him. This we have expressly stated to us in one of the earliest of the Epistles of St. Paul. It was the custom for the author to employ a clerk, or writing servant, who copied down the words as they were uttered, and who at times was permitted himself to send a message in the letter of his master. Such a servant was Tertius, who, in the sixteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans and the twenty-second verse, tells us that he wrote the letter: “I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.” But though St. Paul dictated his Epistles to secretaries, yet he always added the salutation with his own hand. Hear his own words as given in his earliest Epistle but one (the second to the Thessalonians): “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.” And upon examination of the thirteen Epistles to which the name of St. Paul is prefixed—as well as that to the Hebrews (which has in it many characteristic Pauline phrases)—we find that they all contain near their conclusion—with some slight verbal variations—the expression, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” During St. Paul’s lifetime this blessing appears to have been considered pre-eminently his. After his death we find it employed by St. John to conclude the Revelation—as the final salutation and blessing which the Holy Spirit inspired him to give to the Church of Christ through all ages.
2. St. Paul sets before us in these words the substance of God’s salvation, as it may be enjoyed upon the earth by saved men. All salvation, as it is progressively experienced on this earth, is comprehended in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost. All this the Apostle solemnly sought of God for the Corinthian Church, and solemnly commended to their faith by way of benediction. He takes us to a greater rock than that of Horeb, and, touching it with his rod, calls on the water to pour itself out, not in one channel, but in a threefold course and with a threefold fulness. All heaven is in this wondrous blessing; all Godhead is here, with the infinite and everlasting stores of Father, Son, and Spirit.
The Benediction of the New Covenant marks a great advance upon that of the Old. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel; ye shall say unto them, The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” In that Name put upon the children of Israel everything is omitted that makes the Name of God distinctively Christian. There is no mention of the Divine Fatherhood, the Divine Son, or the Divine Spirit. Neither is there any mention of the love of God, the grace of Christ, or the communion of the Holy Ghost. It conveys no sense of nearness, but gives the impression that God is remote, transcendental, and majestic, who graciously condescends to bless Israel His people. The Christian Benediction brings God near in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.1 [Note: S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, 337.]
3. The Christian revelation comes to us through Jesus Christ. The communication of the truth concerning God is no longer confined to the prompting of men’s minds, but is revealed in the Person of the Son of God. He came to reveal the Father, and declared that only He could reveal Him. At the close of His ministry He claimed to have accomplished His Mission. He said to Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”; and to God He said, “I glorified thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do … I manifested thy name … and I made known unto them thy name.” That manifestation involves a Trinity of Persons in the one God. The word Trinity is not found in the Scriptures, nor is the doctrine of the Trinity formally stated. The Scriptures do not systematize doctrine; they furnish data and leave the work of systematizing to others. But the Trinity lies at the foundation of all New Testament teaching. Jesus claimed to be equal with God, and spoke of the Spirit as Personal and Divine, and yet there are not three Gods, but one. The Apostles everywhere proclaim this doctrine, and recognize the threefold distinction in the Persons of the one God. The equal Deity of the Son and Spirit with the Father is the mystery and the glory of the Gospel they preach.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” In these words St. Paul has completely transcended the fundamental conception of his nation. He has given utterance to a thought which he never could have derived from any mythical imagination suggested by his Jewish nationality. The fundamental idea of Judaism, while it remained untouched by Gentile influences, was the unity of God; He was the self-existent, incommunicable Jehovah. It is true that, as Judaism came into contact with the Hellenic spirit, there began to appear a break in its rigid conception of the Divine unity; and the ideas of the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God came to stand for separate manifestations of the life of God. Men began to see distinctions in that essence which they had hitherto believed to be an inseparable unity. But even in its later stages, Judaism was true to itself. It never would have occurred to the Jewish mind that an individual man, who had lived an actual life in history, could be made partaker of the essential nature of the Deity. We may admit, though it is very questionable, that the Logos of Philo was a personal being, dwelling in the heart of the Divine life; but, however personal he may have been, he was not a man who had ever lived in history. Philo himself did not offer him to the world as an actual historical personage, but, at best, only as an ideal personality who had dwelt for ever behind the veil of history.
Here, however, is a conception of St. Paul which he evidently shares with the Christian community, and in which we see an essential revolt from Judaism in all its forms. It is not simply that the unity has become a trinity; that might be accounted for on principles of historical development. But the new point in relation to Judaism consists in this: one of the persons of the Trinity is a man who had actually lived on earth, a son of Adam, a member of that Jewish race which had always emphasized the immeasurable nature of the distance which separates the creature from the Creator. Beside the great Jehovah whom Judaism had feared to name, and beside that Divine Spirit whose workings had been mysterious even to the prophets whom it inspired, St. Paul is not afraid to place the name of the historical Jesus; he is not even afraid to mention His name first of the three. We have grown so familiar with the rhythm of the formula that we are apt to forget the paradox it must have involved to every Jewish mind. Before the burning blaze of the Divine purity even the Lawgiver had been commanded to put the shoes from off his feet, and remember his unworthiness to stand on holy ground. Here is a man who five-and-twenty years before had been seen going in and out amongst his fellow-beings, sharing in their common toil, wearing their human frailty, walking their daily course of suffering and duty; yet this man, at the close of these five-and-twenty years, is spoken of by one of the leading Apostles of the primitive Church in the same breath with the eternal Jehovah and the life of the Divine Spirit; and spoken of in a way which shows the belief of that Apostle to have been an article of faith in the community amongst whom he laboured. The paradox is only another proof how boundless must have been the impression produced by the life of the Christian Founder, and how impossible it is to account for the construction of that life on any mythical principle of New Testament interpretation.1 [Note: G. Matheson.]
4. In this threefold benediction the Apostle places the grace of Christ before the love of God. Why does he do this? The explanation is found in the fact that this is not a doxology, not primarily a confession of faith, but a benediction. A doxology is an ascription of praise; a benediction is a word of blessing. One ascends from the heart of man to God, the other descends from God to man. Consequently the benediction approaches the subject not from the standpoint of theology, but from that of experience. It is not concerned with definition, nor does it contemplate the glory of God in the absoluteness of His Deity, but it sets Him forth as He is realized in the soul. The process is in this order. We come to the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, and the Spirit is the gift of both the Father and the Son. It is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we come to the knowledge of the love of God, and it is by grace and love that we enter into the life of communion with the Holy Ghost. No other order is possible. To sinful men there can be no love apart from grace, and fellowship is impossible without love. God is always revealed as He is involved in His relation to the world and the human race, and here He is revealed as He becomes known to the soul in the process of salvation through faith in His name.
Which is first, the door or the house—first, that is, when we enter into the house? If God has a great mansion of love, He must provide a door to it, or we shall never get in. Now grace is the door into love. If God has a heart of love in the midst of all His immense activity, He must show it to our hearts, or else we should never be able to trust Him in the view of all His actions; and therefore though a “natural” man, which commonly means a rough, unthinking fellow, may have come without sense of his sins and wants, to talk a little of the love of God, in a poor way it is true, and might wish the love of God to be placed first; the spiritual man, as a thoughtful man, can see that grace must be placed first, because a special favour is in its effect upon our character like a door which admits us into the great common, permanent, public favour of God; he will see that, unless God reveal to us His heart in His intimate kindness to our own, we shall never be able to feel quiet confidence when we look forth into the immensity of His universe.1 [Note: T. T. Lynch, Three Months’ Ministry, 319.]
5. The first Christians had a threefold experience of God, and they needed three Names to give it adequate expression. They knew that God had come to them in the perfect life of their Master; that Jesus Christ had lifted them up into a measure of the same consciousness of God as Father in which He Himself had always lived; and that God was reproducing His own life in their regenerate hearts. So they spoke of God as Son and Father and Holy Spirit. Nothing less would fully express what He had become to them.
What they used was the language of religion, and not the language of metaphysical speculation about the mystery of the Divine nature. They never attempted to define in accurate and systematic terms things that have abounding reality for the loving heart, the surrendered will, and the illumined eye, but which cannot be adequately presented to the logical intellect. It was not the words they cared about, but the meaning that lay behind the words; and this meaning could, even by very imperfect speech, be conveyed to others who had been brought into the same experience as themselves. They could express the nature of God in terms of their own heart’s experience and in no other; and speaking in terms of experience they could not do justice to that which God was for them with fewer than these three Names. All of them would have responded with full hearts to St. Paul’s threefold benediction; “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.”
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you.” Now I do not know precisely what sense is attached in the English public mind to those expressions. But what I have to tell you positively is that the three things do actually exist, and can be known if you care to know them, and possessed if you care to possess them. First, by simply obeying the orders of the Founder of your religion, all grace, graciousness, or beauty and favour of gentle life, will be given to you in mind and body, in work and in rest. The Grace of Christ exists and can be had if you will. Secondly, as you know more and more of the created world, you will find that the true will of its Maker is that its creatures should be happy;—that He has made everything beautiful in its time and its place, and that it is chiefly by the fault of men, when they are allowed the liberty of thwarting His laws, that Creation groans or travails in pain. The Love of God exists, and you may see it, and live in it if you will. Lastly, a Spirit does actually exist which teaches the ant her path, the bird her building, and men, in an instinctive and marvellous way, whatever lovely arts and noble deeds are possible to them. Without it you can do no good thing. To the grief of it you can do many bad ones. In the possession of it is your peace and your power.1 [Note: Ruskin, Lectures on Art, § 125 (Works, xx. 115).]
The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
What is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? St. Paul said to the Corinthians that they knew it. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.” The grace of Christ, that which was supreme in Him, which was His distinction and has made Him the type of perfect life, the example of salvation, to all mankind, was His complete devotion to the welfare of those with whom He came into contact. His grace was a devotion to the good of man which knew no thought for self, which counted no sacrifice too great to attain it, not even the death of the cross.
1. Grace, then, is first an attribute of God seen in Jesus Christ. “God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Redemption originated in that disposition of the Divine mind. It was by the grace of God that Jesus Christ tasted death for every man, and it is to the same grace that every man owes his salvation. It begins in grace, is continued in grace, and is perfected in grace. At no stage is it of works; it is a gift of God, the outflowing of His grace.
Dr. Pierson, when a young man, was never spoiled with an oversupply of spending money, for while his parents were thrifty they had a large family and his father was not in a position to supply all his boy’s needs, much less his luxuries. He had, however, a wealthy uncle who one day asked Arthur if he was in need of money. When the young man candidly admitted that he was, the uncle took out a blank card and wrote an order to his cashier: “Give the bearer, Arthur T. Pierson, as much money as he wants and charge to my account. John Gray.” The boy took his uncle at his word, drew as much money as he needed and repaid it to the cashier as soon as he was able. The uncle never asked how much he drew nor when he returned it. In commenting on this incident in later years Dr. Pierson said: “How like God’s unbounded grace is the promise ‘Ask what thou wilt.’ How rich we are when God is our banker! It is not our name or account that makes our request honoured, but the name of Him who endorses it—‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name.’ ”1 [Note: Delavan L. Pierson, Arthur T. Pierson, 37.]
2. But grace passes from an attribute of the Divine character to an active energy in the soul. At the throne of grace we “find grace to help us in time of need.” The heart is “stablished by grace,” and by grace “we may offer service well-pleasing to God.” It is in “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” that we find our strength, and we are assured of its sufficiency for endurance as well as for service, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” We are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” These passages all speak of the Divine influence in the soul as the operation of grace, and regard that which has its source in the grace of God as the working power of salvation. Grace pardons the guilty, restores the fallen, delivers the captive, sanctifies the sinner, sustains and perfects the believer.
Lord, with what courage and delight
I doe each thing,
When Thy least breath sustaines my wing!
I shine and move
Like those above,
And with much gladnesse
Make me faire days of every night.1 [Note: Henry Vaughan.]
3. Finally, grace is always associated with our Lord Jesus Christ. For it comes to us only “by Jesus Christ,” being manifested in His work for us and then in His treatment of us. Grace—seen in that unspeakable renunciation when He laid aside all that was to be prized, and esteemed it but as something to be surrendered for man’s redemption. Grace—seen in His descent, in His life, in His teaching, and in His death. Grace—singing its sweetest strain in the words, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Grace—abounding where sin abounded, and seen at its loveliest in His treatment of poor sinners. “By grace ye are saved.” But not only does the Apostle pray that such experience of grace might be theirs and ours; there is deeper depth in his desire than that. These words make clear the fact that we may know not only the grace which came by Jesus Christ, but the very “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not only the grace which imputes His righteousness to us, so that we stand uncondemned before a holy God, but the grace which imparts His very life, so that we walk undefiled before an unholy world. The salvation of God is not merely human life carried up to the highest possible height of development; it is rather the Divine life carried down to the lowest possible level of condescension. For He Himself who is all grace dwells with him that is of a humble and contrite spirit. “May this wonderful grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, sufficient for every need, be with you,” prays the Apostle, “and may it lead you into a knowledge of the love of God.”
It was at this convention at Indianapolis that he uttered those pithy sayings: “The law says, Do, grace says, Done; the law says, Do and live, grace says, Live and do; the Gospel says to the sinner, Come, it says to the Christian, Go.” These sayings soon found an echo in every Association hall in the land. They could readily be expanded into volumes; and they formed a large part of the basis of what in after years was Mr. Moody’s working theology.1 [Note: W. R. Moody, The Life of Dwight L. Moody, 407.]
Had I the grace to win the grace
Of some old man in lore complete,
My face would worship at his face,
And I sit lowly at his feet.
Had I the grace to win the grace
Of childhood, loving, shy, apart,
The child should find a nearer place,
And teach me resting on my heart.
Had I the grace to win the grace
Of maiden living all above,
My soul would trample down the base,
That she might have a man to love.
A grace I had no grace to win
Knocks now at my half open door:
Ah, Lord of glory, come thou in!—
Thy grace divine is all, and more.2 [Note: George MacDonald, Organ Songs (Poetical Works, i. 312).]
The Love of God
1. However wide the scope of the grace of Christ, and however precious the blessings which it comprehends, the Apostle, as we see, does not rest in this alone, but proceeds from it to the love of God. And indeed this is, doctrinally and practically, the constant issue of the grace of Christ—it leads on to the love of the Father. There is an erroneous tendency in some men’s minds to go no further in their thoughts of salvation than the person of Christ and the grace of Christ. All but this is to them vague and, one might say, almost unreal. But such views are not only defective, and dangerously so; they are also necessarily erroneous. Neither Christ’s Person nor His grace can be understood aright unless He be viewed as sent by the Father, and as the way to the Father. Accordingly, in the text the Apostle immediately reaches out from the grace of Christ to the love of God.
The first clause of the Lord’s Prayer, of course rightly explained, gives us the ground of what is surely a mighty part of the Gospel—its “first and great commandment,” namely, that we have a Father whom we can love, and are required to love, and to desire to be with Him in Heaven, wherever that may be. And to declare that we have such a loving Father, whose mercy is over all His works, and whose will and law is so lovely and lovable that it is sweeter than honey, and more precious than gold, to those who can “taste” and “see” that the Lord is Good—this, surely, is a most pleasant and glorious good message and spell to bring to men. Supposing this first article of the true Gospel agreed to, how would the blessing that closes the epistles of that Gospel become intelligible and living, instead of dark and dead: “The grace of Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost,” the most tender word being that used of the Father!1 [Note: Ruskin, The Lord’s Prayer and the Church (Works, xxxiv. 196).]
2. The Apostle invokes the love, not of the Father but of God. He is contemplated in the completeness of His Being, and the Name is used which includes all relationships. The Christian revelation concerning Him is that He is Love. From everlasting to everlasting God is Love. Does not the fact of Eternal Love involve personal subjects and objects of love within the Godhead? Is it possible to conceive of love absolutely unrelated? It was Eternal Love that gave the gift of the Eternal Son. Love was behind grace, and grace made way for love. Christ brings us to the Father, and makes known to us the love of God. Love could not flow to us save through the grace of atonement; and the grace of atonement could not flow to us save through the love of God. Realization of the love of God in the redeeming work of grace brings the conscious experience of the love of God to the soul. The love of God is shed abroad in the heart through the Holy Ghost. The general love of God for the world becomes through faith a personal and conscious possession. The barriers of the soul disappear, all sense of distance and alienation is lost, every shrinking fear and haunting dread is cast out, and the heart finds its rest and home in God.
Susanna Wesley, this mother of nineteen children—who had to be their teacher and almost their bread-winner, as well as their mother—yet resolutely spent one hour every morning and another every evening in prayer and meditation. In addition she generally stole another hour at noon for wholesome privacy, and was in the habit of writing down at such times her thoughts on great subjects. Many of these are still preserved, marked “Morning,” “Noon,” or “Evening”; and they have a certain loftiness of tone, a detachment from secular interests nothing less than amazing. Airs from other worlds seem to stir in them. Here is one example:—
“Evening.—If to esteem and to have the highest reverence for Thee; if constantly and sincerely to acknowledge Thee, the supreme, the only desirable good, be to love Thee, I do love Thee. If comparatively to despise and undervalue all the world contains, which is esteemed great, or fair, or good; if earnestly and constantly to desire Thee, Thy favour, Thy acceptance, Thyself, rather than any or all things Thou hast created, be to love Thee, I do love Thee!… If to rejoice in Thy essential majesty and glory; if to feel a vital joy o’erspread and cheer the heart at each perception of Thy blessedness, at every thought that Thou art God; that all things are in Thy power; that there is none superior or equal to Thee, be to love Thee, I do love Thee!”1 [Note: W. H. Fitchett, Wesley and his Century, 57.]
My eyes for beauty pine,
My soul for Goddës grace:
No other care nor hope is mine,
To heaven I turn my face.
One splendour thence is shed
From all the stars above:
’Tis named when God’s name is said,
’Tis Love, ’tis heavenly Love.
And every gentle heart,
That burns with true desire,
Is lit from eyes that mirror part
Of that celestial fire.1 [Note: Robert Bridges.]
When I was in India, mine was the terrible experience of living through a famine. I do not know what the loss of life was in that famine, but I daresay a million human beings died directly or indirectly of hunger. If I take the deaths which were consequent upon it directly or indirectly, and not in British India only but in native states, it will not, I think, be an exaggeration to assert that the famine cost India a million of human lives. What is the thought which such a visitation suggests to a Christian? Is it not this? How can God, if He be All-loving, as He is, and All-powerful, suffer His children in such multitude to perish of hunger? But a Mohammedan will not, I think, entertain that cruel doubt. To him the famine appears solely as an imperious reason for bowing his head before the throne of God. And why? Because his God is a God of power and not of love; He is like some gigantic shadow of an earthly Sultan; and His power becomes only more awful and more admirable, when it asserts itself in vengeance against human sin. No Mohammedan would be staggered in his faith by such a calamity as the earthquake of Lisbon or the volcanic eruption in the island of Martinique. For the God of Islam is a God of power; but the God of Christianity is a God of love.2 [Note: Bishop Welldon, The School of Faith, 57.]
3. How then is God’s love made known?
(1) There is first of all the love we have spoken of already, the love that gave Jesus. Even that is the outcome and expression of another love, electing love. And then there is the love that draws the soul to Jesus Christ. All these are manifestations of the Father’s love, but it is not to these that the text alludes. These also are past and gone, they are historical. The Corinthians had already the love, and the knowledge and memory of it drew them one by one to Christ.
(2) Something more, therefore, must be meant when it is said “The love of God be with you.” What is it? There is no better explanation than that given by the Master Himself, speaking to His disciples. It is given in St. John’s Gospel. He says: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends.” You know the distinction between the servant and the friend: the servant is one thing and the master another. The servant is not taken into the master’s confidence as the friend is supposed to be. The servant does not stand upon the same level as the master; the servant is supposed to be doing his work for his wages. “Now,” says Christ, “that is not your relation to Me; I call you friends, I put you in a sense on a level with Myself; I give you My confidence; we stand or fall together, and you are not bound to Me simply by the prospect of the wages you will get. I love you and you love Me back again, and because you love Me you will keep My commandments; if you keep My commandments I will love you, and My Father will love you.” That is a love of complacency, a love of delight and confidence.
Two or three years ago it was my duty to go to an elder of the church I serve, a most godly and faithful aged servant. An operation upon his eyes had been necessary, and the surgeon who performed it said to him: “I want you to remember this: until these wounds are healed do not get into circumstances where a tear would be likely to come; it would spoil all my work.” A few days after a telegram came to me: “Kindly break the news to Mr. Walker that his son James is dead.” It was a hard task under the circumstances, but I never saw grace come out more beautifully. He said: “No one can judge what a great loss this is to me. James was not only my son, but he had become my friend. I talked with him about everything; he managed things for me; I had the fullest confidence in him. I have not merely lost a child; I have lost my best earthly friend.” And to the credit of God’s grace I want to say that he did speak these words, and the tears were kept away.1 [Note: John Hall.]
The Communion of the Holy Ghost
Grace leads to love, and love opens the way to communion. As grace is through Jesus Christ and love is of God, so communion is with the Holy Ghost. The Spirit is the gift of both the Father and the Son, and is Himself the Giver of each. “No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit”; and if “the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts,” it is “through the Holy Ghost which was given unto us.” The Spirit is always revealed as the immediate Agent in the communication of God to the soul. It is He who convicts and converts, assures and inspires, equips and strengthens. In the Christian kingdom He is the Paraclete, who abides with us for ever. His abiding presence in the soul is the result of accepted grace and realized love. The end of redemption is realized in conscious communion with God through the Holy Ghost.
It was St. Paul’s invariable habit to take the pen from his amanuensis at the close and write a parting salutation as his sign-manual. This was always a prayer that “grace” might be with his readers; the word was characteristic of his teaching, and it always occurs, even in the briefest form of the closing salutation. To understand the enlarged form of this salutation in 2 Corinthians we must recall the circumstances of the Corinthian Church. Party divisions were distracting it: all its manifold troubles St. Paul traces to this root. Unity must be restored: this is the first injunction of the first epistle (1 Corinthians 1:10), and the last injunction of the second (2 Corinthians 13:11). His remedy for disunion was his doctrine of the One Body, which he brought to bear on their sin of fornication, their difficulty about idol-meats, their jealousy as to spiritual gifts, their profanation of the Lord’s Supper. The second epistle opens with an outburst of relief at their return to obedience. Yet at the close he shows that his fears are still alive. What will he find when he comes? “Strife, jealousy, wraths, factions, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults?” If so, he warns them that he will not spare. He closes with exhortations to unity and peace, and promises the presence of “the God of love and peace.” Then his final salutation runs at first in its accustomed form, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”; but it is expanded to meet the occasion and its needs; “the God of love” suggests the addition “the love of God,” and the true sense of membership which the One Spirit gives to the One body is prayed for in the words “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” It is clear, then, that the genitive here is subjective and not objective; and this is confirmed by the parallel clauses. “The grace” which is “of the Lord Jesus,” and “the love” which is “of God,” are parallel with “the fellowship” which is “of the Holy Spirit.” The meaning in this place seems to decide the otherwise doubtful sense of Php 2:1, “if there be any fellowship of the Spirit.” Here, again, the context speaks of love and unity. So that it is most natural to interpret the phrase in both places of the sense of unity, membership or fellowship, which it is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit to preserve in the Christian Church.1 [Note: J. Armitage Robinson, in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, i. 460.]
1. What is Communion? It is partnership, the having something in common with another. It may be chiefly an outward thing, the sharing of a common business, or a common position, or a common home. But it may be chiefly an inward thing, the sharing of common tastes and sympathies, common joys and sorrows, common aims and aspirations, common feelings and hopes of any kind. In both cases there is the idea of a perfect oneness between two, so that what the one has the other has; what the one is the other is; what the one feels the other feels. It is not one giving and the other receiving; it is both giving and both receiving. It is not one speaking and the other listening; it is both speaking and both listening. It is not one loving and the other loved; it is both equally loving and both equally beloved. It is standing face to face, walking hand in hand, feeling that heart answers heart, seeing eye to eye.
One of the deepest facts of human life is man’s perpetual need of intercourse and fellowship. A life of solitude is never satisfactory to a truly healthy man. He needs some fellowship. And for his whole satisfaction he needs various fellowship—with those above him, on whom he depends; with those beside him, who are his equals; and with those below him, whom he helps. All three of these relationships furnish the life of a completely furnished man. And the essence of all these fellowships is something internal; it is not external. It is in spirit and sympathy, not in outward occupations. It is communion and not merely contact. This goes so far that where communion is perfect, where men are in real sympathy with one another, contact or outward intercourse may sometimes be absent.
Only goodness can see goodness, only spiritual minds can read spiritual, only faith can detect faith. Barnabas saw himself mirrored in Saul: only—and this is the sign and sacrament of friendship—it was himself with “self” lost sight of. So long as we fear another, or so long as we look askance on him, we can have no communion with him. That only comes to friendliness, to love.2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 41.]
2. In partaking, then, of the Communion of the Holy Ghost, we share a common life bestowed upon us by the supreme Giver; we have fellowship one with another in love, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and the Son in their mutual love. God, through Christ, breathes into us His Spirit; this we receive, not alone, but conjointly one with another. God, through Christ, begins by imparting to our heart faith in His grace, and hope through His grace in all His goodness: and knowing and hoping in that, we abide in His love; together keep ourselves by the “communion of the spirit” in the love of God.
3. To those who seek so to walk there comes a constant fresh revelation of self, for the light is ever becoming brighter, and the clearer light of to-day shows up the small spots which yesterday were not discernible. Thus the communion of the Spirit leads inevitably to an increased self-loathing and distrust, and a more emphatic meaning each day in the testimony “that in me dwelleth no good thing.” But not only does the clearer light bring clearer self-knowledge. While it shows the sin, it also shines upon the blood, and in this blessed life of communion the light is not more powerful to reveal sin than the Blood is to cleanse it. Hence we must lay this fact to heart, that “the communion of the Spirit” is maintained only by our continual appropriation of the cleansing power of the precious blood. If we would walk with God, it must be in white raiment cleansed and kept clean by the Blood of the Lamb.
We cannot escape the dangers which abound in life, without the actual and continual help of God; let us then pray to Him for it continually. How can we pray to Him, without being with Him? How can we be with Him, but in thinking of Him often? And how can we have Him often in our thoughts, unless by a holy habit of thought which we should form? You will tell me that I am always saying the same thing: it is true, for this is the best and easiest method that I know: and as I use no other, I advise the whole world to it. We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him we shall also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure! Ponder over this often, ponder it well.1 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 57.]
4. Moreover, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be hid. The fellowship of the Divine Spirit is a sharing in His Divine activity, in an unresting and untiring life, always moving, because motion and not rest is the essence of His nature—always moving with a blessing.
Is it not a great thing to know that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost cry to us for help from Heaven as they look down upon the masses in London? “Whom shall We send, and who will go for Us?” And then the great cry of humanity is: “Whom wilt Thou send, and who will come to us?” It is an awful thing to think that the Holy Trinity have bound themselves—at any rate, they have planned; God forbid I should say that God limits Himself to anything—to work through men’s ministry and through women’s ministry, on other men, women and children—that He uses in other words, human ministry in His work. And therefore to-day, among these thousands of people, if you listen, you hear the great cry come from the heart of the Godhead: “Whom shall We send, and who will go for Us?” And we are bound, if we believe in it, to answer in our little way: “Here am I; send me.” We cannot help it when we believe in it.1 [Note: A. F. W. Ingram, The Love of the Trinity, 54.]
East the forefront of habitations holy
Gleamed to Engedi, shone to Eneglaim:
Softly thereout and from thereunder slowly
Wandered the waters, and delayed, and came.
Then the great stream, which having seen he showeth,
Hid from the wise but manifest to him,
Flowed and arose, as when Euphrates floweth,
Rose from the ankles till a man might swim.
Even with so soft a surge and an increasing,
Drunk of the sand and thwarted of the clod,
Stilled and astir and checked and never-ceasing
Spreadeth the great wave of the grace of God;
Bears to the marishes and bitter places
Healing for hurt and for their poisons balm,
Isle after isle in infinite embraces
Floods and enfolds and fringes with the palm.2 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]
I often think I see as it were, the Lord, sitting up in Heaven, looking on our sanctuaries with their mock performances and sham religion, saying, “Where are the tithes?” The people pray, in some sort of way I suppose, for God to pour out His Spirit and save men; and yet I think I can see the Lord Jesus almost weeping over them, and in an agony saying, “Why do you cry to Me to do what you ought to be doing yourself? Why don’t you arise and do as I have told you? Why don’t you send the gospel to every creature?” What the Lord wants is that you shall go about the business to which He sets you, not asking for an easy post, nor grumbling at a hard one. Not saying, “Lord, I never engaged to do this.” Like the servant we sometimes get into our houses, all goes smoothly till the child gets the whooping-cough or the measles, then she comes to you and says, “I didn’t bargain for this.” She is not a servant for sickness. She is only a servant for fine weather. Are there not multitudes who act just the same towards the Lord Jesus? All goes smoothly till persecution arises, then they say, “Lord, this is too much.” They say, “good-bye,” or, if they don’t say good-bye, they pocket their profession, and betray Him in their hearts. The Lord is tired of this mockery, this farce, and He says, “I will provoke you to jealousy by a people who are not a people, and will anger you with a foolish nation, seeing that you will not be My servants in truth, and that the great mass of you will not follow Me in holiness; I will raise up a people from the gutters and slums, gin-palaces and public-houses. I will make a people for Myself, who will follow Me all lengths.” I want you to determine to be such a servant as this.1 [Note: The Life of Catherine Booth, ii. 417.]
Be With You All
1. In what sense and to what end may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be said to be with us? It cannot mean less than a conscious personal Presence. The invocation cannot seek grace, love, and communion as gifts apart from the Persons, in whom alone they are to be found. Neither grace, love, nor communion can have any reality apart from personality. We cannot give love and withhold ourselves; there cannot be communion without mutual exchange. The prayer cannot be for anything less than for the conscious presence of God in the soul. Jesus teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all equally present in the soul of the believer. Speaking of the Spirit He says, “He abideth with you, and shall be in you”; of Himself and the Father He saith, “If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The Personality is neither lost nor confused. They come distinctly as Father, Son, and Spirit, but One Lord. Jesus dwells in man the source of all grace, God abides in him the spring and perfection of all love, and the Holy Spirit communes with him and energizes for all the will of God. Man is indwelt of the Triune God and dwells in Him. So, when we speak of the grace being with any, in the sense of the text, we mean that they are so the objects of it that it is continually working its effects in their person and history, and that the sense and assurance of it abides in their hearts.
The smile which ever beams from the face of Christ, the eternal love which fills the heart of God, and the Holy Spirit who fills the hearts of the children of God with consciousness of His eternal love, are to be our companions along the pilgrimage of life. And, if so, the sunshine of Christ’s smile, the unchanging love of God, and the guidance and strengthening of the Holy Spirit, will make our path, be it ever so rough, a path of peace and joy.1 [Note: J. A. Beet, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians, 479.]
2 And the great glory of this benediction is its unrestricted comprehensiveness—grace, love, fellowship “be with you all.” For this assures our hearts in spite of past failure and shame, in spite of broken ideals and unfulfilled vows. No sin-created disability can stand before the victorious flow of God’s grace and love, and the one who has failed hitherto may yet realize the promise. Just as through the smallest and feeblest members of our bodies there flows the same life which animates the brain, so the life of our great Head flows through all His members. And we may well take heart afresh to appropriate anew this triad of blessings which is possible of realization by us all.
It is a broad and blessed prayer. It comes to any. It reaches all. It knows no limitation or barrier. It needs no title or merit or worth on the part of those it would benefit and bless. That glorious, shining sun in the heavens flings its splendour lavishly and freely away on every side. It is as welcome to a beggar as to a king. A miserable wretch may shiver in rags, and his fellows may grudge him the very ground he stands on, or the grave he shall soon lie down in; but he has only to lift his head and look upward, that he may have lighting on him the glory of God’s shining sun, as if it were all his own, and none had any right to share with him its benignity and blessedness. Even so, a sinner—any sinner in all this weary world—with nothing but his sin and misery and awful need—may come, and welcome, to the grace and love and fellowship so sweetly and generously prayed for here.1 [Note: John Morgan, The Ministry of the, Holy Ghost, 321.]
The “favour,” the “benediction” of Christ, with which the Apostle always parts from his readers is, he now finally assures them, the nearest approach of God to man, the nearest approach of man to God. It is no less, on the one hand, than the expression of the Creator’s affection for His creatures; it is no less, on the other hand, than the union of the hearts and spirits of men with the Heart and Spirit of God. And this blessing he invokes, not on a few individuals, or on any one section of the Corinthian Church, but expressly on every portion and every individual of those with whom, throughout these two Epistles, he had so earnestly and so variously argued and contended. As in the First, so in the Second Epistle, but still more emphatically, as being here his very last words, his prayer was, that this happiness might be with them all.”2 [Note: A. P. Stanley, The Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 583.]
The Apostolic Benediction
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