2 Corinthians 2
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The most copious writer in the New Testament is the man whose inward constitution and life are most fully brought into view. If the fact itself is noteworthy, the art of its management is even more significant. Didactic treatises would have excluded this method of blending the abstract and the concrete, and therefore the epistolary form which St. Paul adopted. What do we mean by this form? Much more, indeed, than a facile and graceful way of communicating facts and truths. In the Epistle we have the personality of the writer interblended with doctrine, duty, experience; so that in St. Paul's case we have not merely the gospel as a body of facts and truths, but the gospel in the consciousness of a leading exponent, and, in some respects, the most prominent representative of certain phases of that gospel. Gentile Christianity, as distinguished from the earlier Judaic Christianity, could never have been understood except for this intermingling of Christianity as a system and Christianity as a life in the history of our apostle. Both the conditions met in him as they met in no other apostle. The two things must not be confounded. Many in our day fall into this error and speak of Christianity as if it were only "a life." It is a life, but it is something else besides and something antecedent to life. Now, the epistolary style, and still more its method of thought, allow full play to the wholeness of Christianity. Its dogmas are preserved. Its experimental and practical forces are maintained. Its individuation is provided for. And thus, while seeing the system, we see also its life in the soul. If the psalmist, King David, is the signal representative of formal and spiritual Judaism in the Old Testament, St. Paul is the corresponding figure in the New Testament. At this point we are able to estimate the very great and specific value of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Beyond any of his writings, this unfolds the author, and does it with such masterly skill and on so comprehensive a scale as to give a twofold insight into his system and life. What an extension of the "Acts"! No St. Luke could have done this. It was the "Acts" in their secret headsprings in the man, and the man only could record what they were. The account of his personal feelings is resumed in this chapter. Not only for their sakes, but for his own, the visit had been postponed, since he was unwilling to come in sorrow. The "rod" would have been painful to him; they were to exercise discipline under the directions of his letter and thus forestall an occasion of grief to him. If he had made them sorry, who but they could give him joy? This was the reason for his writing, the reason too of deferring his visit; and thus the two things had been designed to cooperate in one result. A controversy is like a disease; the mode of treatment must be varied to suit its stages. No doubt personal presence, conversations, direct appeals, are best at some times for adjusting difficulties; at other times, letters are preferable. The discernment of the apostle prompted him to write and then to await the effect; and it was all in the interest of peace and for his and their consolation. Inspired by this confidence, he had written them a severe rebuke. It was a most painful duty; it was a duty, however, of love; and because of this coincidence, conscience and affection being at work in his soul, he had suffered most keenly. "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears." The great soul was not afraid of words nor of the critics of words. He had a rare kind of courage. It was the boldness to say how much he thought and how much he felt, and to send forth his words laden with the meanings they had for him, that they might convey exactly those meanings to others. The love was not overstated, for it was a father's love towards the children of his heart: "More abundantly unto you." Evidently his paramount aim is to assure the Corinthians of his warm affection for them. Other feelings are held in abeyance; no mention now of suspicions, jealousies, backbitings, and other wrongs, by which he had been tortured; only the love, the impassioned love, he cherished for those whose sorrow and joy were his sorrow and joy. How naturally the way is prepared for what follows! "If any have caused grief [referring to the incestuous person], he hath not grieved me, but in part, that I may not overcharge you all." The Revised Version," If any hath caused sorrow, he hath caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I press not too heavily) to you all." Conybeare and Howson, "As concerns him who has caused the pain, it is not me that he has pained, but some of you (some, I say), that I may not press too harshly upon all." Many commentators read it thus: "If any have caused grief, he hath grieved not me, but more or less (that I be not too heavy on him) all of you." What is the point of interest is the light in which St. Paul now regarded the offender and the punishment inflicted upon him. Punishment had been punishment; it had expressed righteous indignation, upheld official order, vindicated the holy authority of law. It had been effectual in bringing the flagrant sinner to repentance and had proved a warning to others. But were the effects to stop here? A great work had been done and yet other results were possible - were most desirable. Precisely here the farsighted wisdom of St. Paul attracts our admiration. Discipline of a mechanical or of a military kind is cheap enough. True reformatory and saving discipline is a costly thing, requiring forethought and afterthought, the looking "before and after," which has won its place among the aphorisms of statesmanship. Much fruit falls and rots just as the ripening season approaches, Special care was needed, so the apostle argued, lest Satan should spoil the wholesome act in the sequel. "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many." "Sufficient" leads the sentence. And the "many" has its weight, since in nothing is the power of the many so much felt as in condemnation.

"There is no creature loves me,
And if I die, no soul shall pity me." This is Gloster perfected in King Richard. St. Paul urges the forgiveness of this gross offender. On the contrary, "Ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." Make evident your love to him; so he beseeches them. If he is restored to their affection, this would prove that the Church was "obedient in all things." All through he keeps the dignity and authority of the Church in commanding view, and, as he had laid a most solemn duty on its conscience, so now he recognizes its high relationship in the matter of reconciliation. Would the brethren forgive him? So would be, and that too in the most impressive manner - "in the sight of Christ." The reasoning of the apostle at this point ought to make a most profound and lasting impression on Christian thinkers. Sincere motives and upright intentions do not always preserve good men from terrible blunders in administering Church discipline. All unawares, the imagination exaggerates, right feeling becomes jealous of itself, motives are looked at askance, a spurious consistency sets up its tyrannical claims, and, in no long time, law parts company with authority, and equity is crushed by justice. No attitude in which St. Paul appears before us is so finely characteristic of high manhood as when he pleads for extreme thoughtfulness and tender consideration in the use of legitimate power. Who ever suffered from the numberless forms of injustice as he did? Who died daily as he did? The "beasts" at Ephesus were not merely such as do physical violence, but in their utter want of all moral sensibility to truth and right. Yet this was not the worst. Ask a man who has had a large experience in public life what has occasioned him the greatest amount of vexation, and he will tell you that it was the misrepresentation and carping criticism and wilful littleness of spirit pursuing him continually which had most embittered his career. St. Paul was subjected to these annoyances through all the middle period of his apostolic life. And what did he learn from them? To be distrustful of his own heart, to keep an open and vigilant eye on his infirmities, to be specially guarded as to the ambitious uses of power, and to foreclose every avenue to his soul through which an entrance might be effected of a fanatical temper in rebuke, in the management of Church troubles, and in the relation sustained to the other apostles. In the case of the Corinthian offender we see his lofty bearing. Ready to forgive, glad to forgive, yet he waits till he can say to the Church, "If ye forgive anything, I forgive also." And hear his reason, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." Never could he have been St. Paul, apostle of the Gentiles, without this intense conception intensely realized of Satan as an infernal agent of prodigious power and unceasing activity. In his theology, in his way of looking at men and things, in his calculation of the forces to be met in the great conflict, it would have been inexplicably strange had he ignored or depreciated this gigantic spirit of evil. Elsewhere we have his allusions to Satan in other aspects of his character. Here he is the schemer, the wily plotter, the adroit strategist, observant of every movement, and on the alert forevery opportunity. St. Paul was not afraid to acknowledge that in this matter at Corinth Satan might even yet turn things to his advantage. Recall the words (1 Corinthians 5:5), "To deliver such a one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh;" and yet they were to labour and intercede "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." And now, this repentant and forgiven man, should they not save him from the snares of Satan? - save themselves, too, from being overreached by the arch-enemy of Christ and all goodness? - L.

The apostle has still in mind the unfaithful member who had brought so sad a disgrace upon the whole Church. His conduct in the matter, especially in changing his mind when he was fully expected at Corinth, had been misrepresented, and made the occasion of accusations against him as a fickle-minded, self-willed man. He therefore here explains why he did not visit Corinth while it remained uncertain how the offending member would be treated. He had no thought but for the truest well being of the Corinthian Church. He could not leave them to go on in sin. He could not bear to think that those whom he had instructed in Christ were indifferent to sin. Love, feeling sorrow for the sinning member and for the dishonoured Church, cannot be satisfied without earnest warnings about the sin and efforts to remove it. Such efforts carry and express both the sorrow and the love. Illustrate by the patient, gracious pleadings of God with sinning and backsliding Israel, as given in the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea.

I. SUCH SORROWING LOVE CAN PERSONALLY SUFFER. Here it led the apostle to act in a way which brought to him the bitterest form of suffering, even the suspicion and mistrust of his very friends. Even that he would bear, if but his desire for the spiritual welfare of the Corinthian Church could be realized. "Men might think that it had cost him little to write sharp words like those which he has in his mind. He remembers well what he felt as he dictated them - the intensity of his feelings, pain that such words should be needed, anxiety as to their issue, the very tears which then, as at other times, were the outflow of strong emotion. Those who were indignant at his stem words should remember, or at least learn to believe this, and so to see in them the strongest proof of his abounding love for them." The heart of St. Paul was in this matter as the heart of him who said, "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Illustrate what a pressure on personal feeling it is for the parent or teacher to chasten. They often suffer much more than do those whom they feel called to smite. Even the misunderstanding, and even the temporary hatred, of those whom we would benefit, must be borne, in our earnest endeavours to deliver them from the dominion and defilement of their sins.

II. SUCH SORROWING LOVE CAN DEAL SEVERELY WITH THE SINNER. It is never love to pass by sin. It is no true love that touches the sin too lightly and gives inefficient and unworthy apprehensions of it. St. Paul seemed to be too severe. He could not be. The case called for an extreme of severity. It was not merely that the offence was an open and scandalous one, but, what was even worse, the Church seemed to be pervaded by a false sentiment concerning it, and manifested no distress in having the guilty member among them. In some way, St. Paul felt, he must arouse them to a sense of their shame. Strong language, refusal to give them a personal visit, anything that would waken a sense of sin, were necessary. It had been the time for sternest rebuke. And still love needs to use severity. For some forms of sin the gentler persuasions are inefficient; men must be roughly shaken out of their self-confidences, and their pride must be humbled and broken. The Church of modern days so gravely fails of her witness and her duty because she has no "discipline," no severe dealings for her grave offenders: She has no love to burn against transgressors.

III. SUCH SORROWING LOVE CAN SHOW FINE CONSIDERATION FOR THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS. Paul did not wish to make his second visit to Corinth in grief, and if he had carried out his first plan that would have been the almost inevitable result. He would wait, delaying his visit, so that he might have the chance of seeing them with a smile on his face, after receiving the tidings of their heeding his warning and putting away the sin. "The second reason St. Paul alleges for not coming to Corinth is apparently a selfish one - to spare himself pain. And he distinctly says he had written to pain them, in order that he might have joy. Very selfish, as at first it sounds; but if we look closely into it it only sheds a brighter and fresher light upon the exquisite unselfishness and delicacy of St. Paul's character. He desired to save himself pain because it gave them pain. He desired joy for himself because his joy was theirs. He will not separate himself from them for a moment; he will not be the master and they the school; it is not I and you, but we; 'my joy is your joy, as your grief was my grief.'" Do we love enough to rebuke and punish those whom we love? - R.T.

How far from a formal or mechanical ministry was that of the apostle! He entered into the circumstances and the feelings of those for whom he had laboured. Nothing which affected their interests was indifferent to him. Some in his position would have said, "We have done our duty; it is no affair of ours how they act; why should we trouble ourselves regarding them?" Not so St. Paul. When the Corinthians acted unworthily, his sensitive heart was distressed; when they repented, that heart bounded with joy. This was not altogether the effect of natural temperament; it was the fruit of true fellowship of spirit with his Lord.

I. THE SPIRIT OF SYMPATHY IS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST AND OF CHRISTIANITY. In the earthly life of our Saviour we behold evidences of this spirit. He rejoiced in men's joys; he wept by the grave of his friend; he sighed and groaned when he met with instances of unspirituality and unbelief. It was pity which brought him first to earth and then to the cross of Calvary. Similarly with the precepts of the New Testament. The lesson is often virtually repeated, "Rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with those who weep."


1. The spectacle of a professing Christian falling into sin awakens commiseration and distress in the mind of every true follower of Christ.

2. The spectacle of a Christian conniving at sin, or regarding it with comparative unconcern, is painful in the extreme to one solicitous for Christian purity.

3. Sorrow, from whatever cause, awakens sorrow in a mind sensitive as was that of Paul.

III. THE SPIRIT OF SYMPATHY IS SOMETIMES THE OCCASION OF JOY. Even amidst personal difficulties and opposition encountered in his ministry Paul was not indifferent to the joys of his converts. And when those whose conduct had pained him came to a better mind and afforded him satisfaction, he rejoiced with them in their happiness. If there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, surely he most resembles the Father of spirits and his immediate attendants whose heart is lifted up with exhilaration and delight by anything that manifests the growth and victory of the Divine kingdom upon earth. - T.

I. THESE ARE VERY REAL TO GRACIOUS NATURES. Some delight to castigate; but they are not gracious or noble - they are rather fitted to feel the rod than to wield it. An affectionate parent often suffers more than his chastened child; a faithful pastor than the rebuked Church member. Paul said that if he came to Corinth he would not spare; before he came, he did not spare himself. There was grief at Corinth, but as much or more in Macedonia. Joy in causing suffering is a mark f degradation. We condemn pleasure obtained from cruel sports; pleasure obtained from wounding minds is even more barbaric and revolting. We may feel compelled to rebuke, and that sharply. We can never be justified in extracting joy from the suffering occasioned.


1. There is evidence of qualification to rebuke. The rebuke does not spring from personal feeling.

2. Undue harshness will be avoided.

3. A gracious tenderness is likely to permeate the severest rebuke.

4. If known to the rebuked, a salutary influence will be exercised. Nothing is more irritating or hardening than to be rebuked by one who evidently enjoys his office. But if the one who points out our fault is evidently deeply pained himself, we must be very obdurate if we are insensible to such an appeal. The wayward child is conquered, not by the rod in his mother's hand, but by the tears in her eyes.

III. THE OBJECT OF RIGHT REBUKING IS NOT THE PAIN OF THE REBUKED. This should ever be kept in mind. We are not judges to pass sentences of mere punishment. We may grieve our fellows, but only for their good. We may cause pain, but only as a means to something else. Castigation is a beginning, not an end. We have effected nothing except failure if we have merely caused sorrow. It is a thankless task indeed merely to make men sad. It is a noble one to make them sad that we may make them holier.

IV. RIGHT REBUKING IS EVIDENCE OF MUCH LOVE. Not to suffer sin upon our neighbour is a great duty; but the best natures are apt to shrink from reproving. Great love will compel them, as it did Paul. We often cannot show our love more conclusively. It may not at once be apparent to men, but it will to God - and to men by and by. The strongest evidence of Paul's love for the Corinthian Church was exhibited in the rod which he held over it. So of God himself: those whom he loves he chastens. (Hebrews 12:6). - H.

I. CHURCH DISCIPLINE SHOULD BE ADMINISTERED BY THE CHURCH. "This punishment which was inflicted by the many" (ver. 6). Not by an individual, be he the pope himself, nor by priests or clergy, but by the whole body of the individual Church or a majority of its members. A Christian has a right to be judged by his peers.

II. CHURCH DISCIPLINE SHOULD EVER HAVE IN VIEW RESTORATION. Its object is not to punish the offender so much as to do him good, and at the same time to preserve the Church's purity. Church discipline should not be regarded as a final act towards the backslider, but with it should ever be associated prayers and hope that the severance may be brief. The Church rejects that she may accept; she casts out that she may receive back again. So Church discipline should never be of a character to hinder repentance or to render restoration impossible.


1. On the one hand, it may be too slight and not produce suitable effects.

2. On the other, it may be so excessive as to drive the offender to despair.

3. In either case Satan will gain an advantage (ver. 11), which he is ever seeking and has often found when the Church or its leaders have attempted the delicate task of discipline. The Church's discipline of persecution and intolerance has served the devil's purposes admirably in many a dark century. And the Church's discipline of indifference and false charity has done similar service in many a century boasting of its light and breadth of thought and liberty.

IV. PENITENCE ON THE PART OF AN OFFENDER IS A STRONG ARGUMENT FOR PROMPT RESTORATION TO FELLOWSHIP. The duty of restoration is not so fully recognized as it might be. Often it is the predilection of the powers that be, rather than the condition of the offender, which determines whether he shall be restored or not. But when the honour of the Church has been vindicated, and the offender is undoubtedly contrite, the way of duty is clear. A Church which will not restore then, deserves to be excommunicated itself,

V. RESTORATION IS NOT TO BE TO TOLERATION, BUT TO LOVE. The love is to exist whilst the discipline is being inflicted. It is to manifest itself' unreservedly when discipline is removed. Many are restored to suspicion, coldness, contempt - a restoration which paves the way for a more fatal fall. If God forgives some professing Christians as they forgive others (and this is their frequent prayer), their share of the Divine forgiveness is likely to be a very slender one. - H.

The main defence of the apostle against the charge of fickleness in the nonfulfilment of his promise was that he had abstained from going to Corinth in order to spare them the sharp rebuke lag must have administered had he gone thither. A great crime had been committed; the Church had been compromised, more especially as some of the Corinthians had defended the iniquity on the ground of liberty, and St. Paul had stayed away after giving his advice, that not he, but they themselves, might do the work of punishment. He gave sentence that the wicked person should be put away, but he wished them to execute the sentence. For it was a matter of greater importance to St. Paul that the Corinthians should feel rightly the necessity of punishment, than merely that the offender should be punished. We notice -

I. THE SINNER WITHIN THE CHURCH GRIEVES THE WHOLE CHURCH. If one member suffer, all the members suffer with him; and if one member sin, the whole Church ought to, feel grieved and distressed by the sin. St. Paul argues that, if a Church fails to clear itself of complicity with the wrong of its members, the guilt of such wrong attaches to it as well as to him. No man within Christ's Church can be alone in his sin, for we are "members one of another." The judgment of the Church may be the means of winning the penitence of the erring member.

II. THE SINNER WHEN PENITENT SHOULD FIND THE LOVE AND FORGIVENESS OF THE WHOLE CHURCH. In relation to him there should be harmonious and united Church action. Yet, in actual fact, the wrong doing of individuals too often creates party feeling. Some take the side of the wrong doer and prevent the full exercise of Church discipline.

III. SUCH FORGIVENESS OF THE CHURCH MAY EXPRESS GOD'S FORGIVENESS. It is only becoming, and only efficient, as following upon God's forgiveness. And it has its special use in being the earthly assurance of the Divine forgiveness and acceptance. The Church can give no absolution; it can only find expression for the absolution which God has already granted to the penitent, and add its forgiveness of the wrong so far as it disturbed Church relations. In the proper expression of Church feeling towards moral offenders, the Apostle Paul, as a recognized Church leader, herein sets an efficient example. He is as jealous for the Church's honour and mercifulness as he is for the restoration of the penitent offender. - R.T.

The course of St. Paul with regard to the Christian Church at Corinth was one of great difficulty. A flagrant case of immorality demanded his decided interference. Yet he wished to deal, both with the offender and with those who made too light of his offence, in such a way as not to endanger his personal influence over the Corinthian Christians generally. If he were too lax or too severe, in either case he would give his enemies an opportunity to malign him. And he knew that there were Judaizing teachers who were ready to attribute the immorality to Paul's doctrines of grace. So that the apostle trod a very difficult path, which Satan had set with snares on either hand. He needed to be on his guard against the insidious machinations of the enemy, and he gave the Corinthians to understand that such was his attitude.

I. SATAN'S DEVICES ARE MANY AND VARIED. The resources of an earthly foe ought not to be underestimated by a general who would gain the victory; and if the tactics vary with circumstances, vigilance and self-possession, courage and care, are all needed. Satan besets Christians with many temptations; if he cannot tempt them into conscious sin, he will endeavour to entrap them into some error of judgment and conduct which may give him an advantage over them.

II. SATAN'S DEVICES ARE SKILFUL AND CRAFTY. In the temptation of our Lord this was abundantly manifest, and the Saviour gave his disciples to understand that they would be called upon to endure the assaults of the same unsleeping foe. Against his ever varying tactics, against his all but inexhaustible resources, it becomes, therefore, every Christian soldier to be upon his guard.

III. SATAN'S DEVICES ARE THE MEANS OF SNARING MANY OF THE UNWARY. Some who once ran well have been hindered. Some who have resisted one enemy have fallen beneath the attack of another. The annals of every Church, however pure, tell of those against whom the adversary has directed his blows only too successfully. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

IV. SATAN'S DEVICES NEED TO BE WITHSTOOD WITH WATCHFULNESS AND PRAYER. It is something not to be ignorant of them. The unwary and unthinking are entrapped through very ignorance. Yet knowledge is no sufficient protection. A distrust of our own ability and a reliance upon superior power and wisdom are indispensably necessary in order to safety and deliverance. Well may the inspired counsel be received with gratitude and acted upon with diligence, "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." - T.

The reference here made to Satan must be regarded as figurative. It should not be used as an argument for the existence of a supreme evil spirit, however the existence of such a spirit may be assumed. St. Paul has elsewhere used the figure of "delivering unto Satan" (1 Timothy 1:20). By this we are to understand a solemn excommunication or expulsion from the Church, possibly with the infliction also of some bodily disease. The offender was to be left to feel all the physical and social consequences of his wrong doing, in the hope that, through suffering, he might be brought to a sense of his sin. Satan is thought of as the power which leads men into vice and then torments them when they have followed the leadings. The apostle conceives of God as overruling the very sin, and consequent suffering, for good, through them bringing the sinner to a hopeful penitence and humility of heart. There was, however, this danger to be recognized and guarded against. Satan might, as it were, outwit the Church, in its dealing with erring members, and make the suffering following on sin produce remorse rather than repentance. "Penitence works life, remorse works death. The latter is more destructive even than self-righteousness, for it crushes, paralyzes, and kills the soul." There must consequently be a judicious limitation of the punishment, and a watchfulness for the first opportunity of showing mercy and granting restoration. "Not to release the offender from the bondage when he was truly penitent would be to afford the enemy of souls an opportunity of which he would not be slow to avail himself. Nothing is so likely to plunge a man into every kind of crime as despair." For St. Paul's experience of Satanic schemes, devices, and strategy, comp. 2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Ephesians 6:12. We may treat the subject in its wider and more general applications if we illustrate the following and other ways in which Satan may be said to get advantage within a Church: -

I. BY OVERMASTERING INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS. Failure does not come to the Church as a whole, but to individuals in it. All are exposed to temptation and evil. We must be in the world, and Christian men may yield themselves to the power of the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." Some of the gravest of our Church anxieties arise from the moral failure of individual members. Illustrate cases occurring in youth time; but especially cases in men's middle life, when the passions for wealth, sensuality, or drink often gain an overmastering energy. Show also the force that may be gained by the suddenness of the temptation, and by the condition of spiritual unwatchfulness in which the man may be found. The forms of failure which we usually find are dishonesty, immorality, or self-indulgence in meat or drink. But, by the law that those in the Church are members one of another, the failure of one is the shame, and should be the distress and grief, of all. Satan disturbs and injures a whole Church if he can gain influence over one member; and to do this is ever "one of his devices."

II. BY SECURING THE HARSH AND UNLOVING TREATMENT OF THOSE WHO FAIL. Perhaps it would be true to say that Satan never more certainly gets the advantage over Churches than when he makes them exaggerate punishment, overpress discipline, and fail to temper judgment with mercy. The action of a Church must be exactly in harmony with the action, when he was with us on earth, of the Church's Lord. He was quick and keen to discern sin. He was swift and severe to punish sin. But he was watchful for signs of gracious influence effected by the punishment, and ready at once to restore and forgive the penitent. He never "breaks the bruised reed or quenches the smoking flax." Man's punishments are always in danger of running to excess. Man cannot judge motives or read hearts, and so he too often fails to recognize soon enough when discipline has accomplished its work. Explain the evil influence exerted by unwillingness to forgive members of a family or of a Church; and show that a most mischievous conception of God himself, and wrong relations with him, would follow if we were not quite sure that he is "ready to forgive."

III. BY MAKING A CHURCH INDIFFERENT TO THE MORALITY OF ITS MEMBERS. Laxity, carelessness about purity of life, uprightness of relations, and consistency of conduct, often do creep into Churches, and they are among the most grievous of "Satan's devices." Illustrate from the evil work done by Carnal Security, in the town of Mansoul, as described in John Bunyan's 'Holy War.' The evil influence is felt, not only by the erring brethren, who come under no kind of correction, but are left to go on in sin, until "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death;" but also by the Church, which is defiled before God by the taint on its good name, and which fails to be duly sensitive to the Divine honour. Illustrate by the lesson that was taught in the failure of Israel at the siege of Ai, when the "accursed thing" was in their camp.

IV. BY PERSUADING A CHURCH TO MAKE ITS FORGIVENESS A FORMALITY, NOT A FULL RESTORATION. Too often tills grave mistake is made: the offender is formally restored to membership, but he is not really taken back into the love and trust of the brethren, and he receives no signs of restored confidence and no help back to goodness. He is a blighted man, and it seems to him that his slip or fall can never really be forgotten, never really be wiped out, and therefore he must hang down his head among the brethren to his dying day. The Church's forgiveness and restoration must be like God's, a help to the erring one towards realizing the glorious completeness of God's forgivings, forgettings, and restorings. For he casts our sins behind his back, and into the depths of the sea. "As the punishment of man is representative of the punishment and wrath of God, so the absolution of man is representative of the forgiveness of God." Impress, in conclusion, the extreme painfulness of the possibility that, in regard to her discipline, the Christian Church may be out-manoeuvred by Satan, and come really to do his work. - R.T.

Quite abruptly St. Paul mentions that he came to Troas. Why he left Ephesus he does not say, but we infer it was because of his anxiety to see Titus, and hear from him how his letter to the Corinthians had been received. There was a fine opening at Troas to preach the gospel, and yet he was greatly disquieted as Titus did not meet him. "Taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia." Here he met Titus, though, in the excitement of joy, he fails to state it. The sudden outburst of gratitude, "Thanks be unto God," expresses his exultation over the good tidings Titus had brought from Corinth, so that here, as is frequently the case, we get the outward history of events from the biography of the apostle's heart. All he had expected, and even more, had been realized, and he breaks forth in thanksgiving.

"Ye that in waters glide, and ye that walk
The earth, and stately tread or lowly creep,
Witness if I be silent, morn or ev'n,
To hill or valley, fountain or fresh shade,
Made vocal by my song, and taught his praise." St. Paul was not a silent man in his happiness. No depth of emotion satisfied him unless it could be imparted to others. On this occasion his soul found utterance in thanking God, "which always causeth us to triumph in Christ." A military triumph rises before him; the victorious general is returning to the capital; the long procession moves before his eye; and, in the train, the captives brought homo are conspicuous. Such a captive is the apostle following the chariot of his Lord. "Yet (at the same time, by a characteristic change of metaphor) an incense bearer, scattering incense (which was always done on these occasions), as the procession moves on" (Conybeare and Howson). Christ is the fragrance; "we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ." Whether men are saved or lost, Christ is Christ, and the fragrance cannot perish. There will be a "savour of death unto death" and a "savour of life unto life;" but, in either issue, the glory of God's government is maintained. For, so far as we can see into the relations of Christ to man and of man to Christ, the fundamental fact in each aspect of the subject is human freedom. Of his own freewill Christ took upon himself our flesh and blood, suffered, and died; and of our own free will, made such by him and acted on as such by the Holy Spirit, we accept his atonement. If we reject the offered mercy, the act of our rejection testifies to the infinitude of the mercy, and the "savour of Christ" is none the less "sweet" in itself, "And who is sufficient for these things?" Here is no one-sided gospel, that accommodates conscience to taste, and allows a compromise between duty and inclination. Here is a gospel that is the "savour of death unto death" and of "life unto life." Who is competent to maintain its stern truthfulness by preaching both these doctrines? The test of a faithful minister lies in the wise and earnest use of each class of facts. Is anything so difficult? Take the natural intellect; take the natural affections; take language as the vehicle of expression; and by what power of culture can a preacher be found who can set forth the gospel in its twofoldness of "death unto death" and "life unto life"? St. Paul, in the seventeenth verse, answers the question as to sufficiency. Now, as always, it is not simply the gospel which is the power and wisdom of God, but his way of preaching it. He declares that "many corrupt the Word of God;" not of this number is he. And where does the danger of corruption exist? In not holding with a balanced mind the "death" and the "life," so as to shun overstatements and understatements in each instance. To preach after St. Paul's manner, one must have sincerity - the truth unmixed with human speculations; he must preach what God has revealed as to his Law and its righteousness, no more, no less; and he must preach it in Christ, himself in Christ, his gospel in Christ, and so preach as to spirit and temper and manner that the fragrance shall breathe in all his words. - L.

Men are prone to think what doors are open to them to enter, through which they may pass to their own profit, or advancement, or pleasure. Paul's was an unselfish and benevolent nature. He was a true follower of Christ, who came, not to do his own will, and not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Again and again, in the course of his life, his heart was gladdened by the spectacle of a door of holy service set open before him by God's providence, inviting him to enter in and in the name of the Lord to take possession.

I. THE OPEN DOOR LEADS TO OPPORTUNITIES OF WORK FOR CHRIST. To the true Christian this is more desirable than aught beside. Paul went nowhere but some door opened before him. A synagogue was open; he entered it, and reasoned out of the Law or the prophets. A marketplace thronged with citizens afforded him opportunity for preaching the true God and the eternal life. Even a prison door, when it closed upon him, did not shut him off from human souls. It is well that Christians should think, not so much of their own interests, as of the service of their Master.

II. THE OPEN DOOR IS SET OPEN BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE. "Opened of the Lord" is the apostle's expression. We may not see the hand, but we should not ignore it. When God himself makes a way, his doing so is a command to his people to adopt and to follow it. When he opens, "no man can shut."

III. THE OPEN DOOR IS A DOOR OF PROMISE TO THOSE WHO WILL ENTER IN. Why is the door set open? Is there no purpose in this? Surely it is a want of faith to hold back when the Lord himself so manifestly encourages his servants to "go in and possess the land."

IV. THE OPEN DOOR WILL BE SHUT AGAINST THOSE WHOSE NEGLIGENCE OR DISOBEDIENCE HINDERS THEM FROM ENTERING IT. As the door of salvation will be closed against those who fail to enter in, so the door of service will be shut to exclude those who turn aside when the hand of God has opened it and has beckoned them to enter, but has beckoned them in vain. - T.

Introduce by describing the leading instances of providential deliverance, care, and guidance in the life of the Apostle Paul. Especially dwell on the cases in which his life was preserved from peril and from the plots of his enemies. The reference made in our text is rather to the gracious way in which his missionary journeyings and missionary spheres had been opened before him; and the illustration may be taken from the singular way in which doors were opened and shut, when the Divine will was for the apostle to preach the gospel in Europe (see Acts 16:6-9). For the figure of a "door" for an "opportunity," see Corinthians 16:9; Revelation 3:8. The truth of the Divine providence ordering our lives is not one that is so familiar to us as it was to our fathers. Possibly our warmer thought of God's fatherly care has taken the place of the colder conception of an impersonal providence. Still, it may be well to revive the older notion and make it glow with Christian sentiment and feeling.

I. THE ORDERING OF PROVIDENCE FOR EVERYBODY. Irrespective of religious state and relations. Illustrations of this are found in all times of danger, disease, or calamity. Some are taken and some are left. We constantly read of remarkable providential escapes.

II. THE SPECIALTY OF PROVIDENCE FOR CHRISTIANS. It may in part be that Christians more readily recognize the hand of God in their rescuings and guidances, but we may also believe that God gives a special protection to his own. Such a belief may be a great comfort to us, but it must be kept from becoming exaggerated and extravagant. The Christian cannot always be preserved, because his suffering may be for the good of the whole.


(1) earnest watchings;

(2) patient waitings;

(3) prompt actings;

(4) full and unhesitating obediences; and

(5) thankful rejoicings. - R.T.

A Roman triumph, to which the apostle refers in this passage, was the most magnificent of earthly pageants. The conqueror, in whose honour it was given, was an illustrious commander, who had defeated an enemy or gained a province. The route traversed by the triumphal procession lay through Rome to the Capitol itself. The spectators who feasted their eyes upon the sight were the vast population of the city. Before, the victor passed onwards the captives taken in the campaign, and the spoil which had been wrested from the foe. Behind, followed the army, flushed with victory and rejoicing in the insolence and pride of military might. The conqueror himself, mounted aloft upon his car, was the centre of observation and attraction. Every mark of honour was paid to him. Sacrifices were offered by the priests to the gods to whose favour victory was ascribed. Incense bearers marched in the procession, and fragrant clouds ascended, floating in the air and mingling with the shouts and with the strains of martial music. And in the temples sacrificial offerings were accompanied by the presentation of the odorous incense.

I. THE TRIUMPHS OF THE GOSPEL. The warfare of the Word is against the sins of the rebels who have defied the authority of the Most High. In apostolic times the progress of the gospel, though often opposed and often checked, appealed to the view of Paul as a triumphal progress. God, who had triumphed over the enemies whom he converted into his friends and companions, made them, as his representatives, triumph in their turn, and admitted them to share his triumph over the enemies of truth and righteousness.

II. THE INCENSE BEARERS IN THE TRIUMPHAL TRAIN. There is a prodigality of wealth in the imagery here employed. Paul and his fellow ministers were themselves both captives and also incense bearers - "unto God a sweet savour of Christ." As the Son of the Eternal is infinitely acceptable to his Father, so those who share his mission and purpose, and faithfully publish his gospel, are well pleasing to him, as the odour of the fragrant incense to the nostril.


1. To the perishing the ministry is a sentence of death. Some captives were taken aside and put to death in cold blood as the procession approached the Capitoline hill. The incense to such was deadly - an odour premonitory of a violent and miserable death. Thus the proclamation of the gospel, in itself an unspeakable blessing, is actually the occasion of the condemnation of unbelievers, who reject and despise it.

2. To those in course of salvation the ministry is a message of life. Welcome and pleasant alike to God and man, the glad tidings of redemption tell of life to those whose desert is death. A welcome and delightful fragrance to the saved, it promises participation in the glorious victory and the eternal reign of the Divine Redeemer. - T.

The emotional and susceptible nature of the Apostle Paul was quick to recognize either opposition or success. And when it occurred to him, in the providence of God, to meet with instances in which his message was gratefully welcomed and he himself was cordially appreciated, his heart was filled with joy, and he was eager to utter forth gratitude and praise. When elated with prosperity in his evangelistic work, he felt that God was always making him to triumph. His spiritual successes were to him more glorious than the triumph which the victorious general enjoyed upon his return to Rome, when he ascended the Capitoline hill, with his fellow-warriors in the procession and his captives in his train. What an inspiration do these words of the apostle afford to those who are engaged in the service of the Saviour, and are experiencing the vicissitudes of earthly ministry!

I. IF THERE IS WARFARE, THERE WILL BE VICTORY. The Christian life is a warfare, involving effort, danger, and resistance. Much more manifestly does this figure apply to those who preach the gospel, especially as evangelists among the heathen, the degraded, the unbelieving. Such stand in need both of spiritual courage and el spiritual weapons. And in the stress of the conflict, in the noise and tumult of warfare, it is well for them to remember that the issue is not uncertain, that conquest is close at hand.

II. IF THERE ARE ENEMIES, THEY WILL BECOME EITHER CAPTIVES OR, BETTER STILL, ALLIES AND FELLOW SOLDIERS. When spiritual opponents are many and daring, and when their onset is sore and perhaps alarming, the heart of the soldier of Christ may sometimes sink within him. But he is required to estimate the fortunes of the war, not by human probabilities, but by Divine predictions. Of those who oppose themselves none shall prevail. Some shall be vanquished and put to shame. Others shall confess the justice and the grace of Christ, shall lay down the arms of rebellion, shall enlist in the spiritual host, shall take to them the armour of God.

III. IF THERE IS DISAPPOINTMENT, THERE WILL BE RECOMPENSE. Paul knew often enough what it is to be cast down. The higher the hope, the bitterer the sorrow when that hope is frustrated. It sometimes happens that, where the Christian warrior spends all his strength, and attacks the enemy with courage and perseverance, there he experiences the most humiliating rebuff. Then let him be assured that different experience is in store for him. Foes shall yield, whose stubbornness, it seemed to him, no power could subdue. Victory shall be to the faithful and to the brave.

IV. IF THERE BE A SHARING OF CHRIST'S CROSS, THERE SHALL BE ALSO A SHARING OF HIS THRONE. Our Lord, the Captain of our salvation, knew by experience the power of the enemy. And can it be expected that with us all will be prosperous? Shall we not be followers of him, and know the likeness of his death? Thus shall it be given to him that overcometh to sit down with him upon his throne. - T.

I. HE TRIUMPHS BECAUSE WHEREVER HE GOES HE MAKES KNOWN GOD AND CHRIST. This is a true triumph. If he succeeds in doing this he has a great success - the success of performance of duty and of fulfilment of the Divine will. Moreover, the kingdom of God is almost certain to be extended. Apparent failure, when more closely examined and tried by the test of time, will often be found to be success.


1. To some his word is a savour from death unto death. The Christ proclaimed is to them a dead Christ, and his gospel lifeless and powerless, leading them only to denser spiritual death. This is very disheartening when viewed under one aspect. But Christ is preached, the work is acceptable to God, the Divine mercy is vindicated, and the responsibility of the disastrous issue rests solely on the rejecters. The excellence of the truth is demonstrated by its rejection on the part of the vile and sin-loving.

2. To others his word is a savour from life unto life. Here the triumph is unquestioned by all. A tiring Christ is recognized, and one who has life-giving power.

III. HE TRIUMPHS ONLY AS HE IS FAITHFUL. For only so does he honour God and set forth the truth as it is in Jesus. The faithful minister:

1. Does not corrupt the Word of God (ver. 17). Many do

(1) by false interpretation,

(2) bias,

(3) insinuation,

(4) omission,

(5) addition.

Prompted by

(1) gain,

(2) applause,

(3) carnal, preferences.

2. But

(1) distrusts himself, crying, "Who is sufficient for these things?

(2) uses utmost sincerity;

(3) gets his message from God - "of God" (ver. 17);

(4) speaks as in the sight of God;

(5) speaks in Christ, in communion with him as the Head.

IV. His TRIUMPH IS OF GOD. He is led in triumph by God (ver. 14). God has triumphed over him, and now God triumphs through him. His sufficiency is of God (2 Corinthians 3:5). He has no power when he only has his own; he has all power when he has God's. - H.

Heroes, in the older days of the apostle, were usually great generals, leaders of mighty armies, conquerors of other nations - men whose "glory" came from desolated cities, down-trodden races, wasted harvests, and crushed and bleeding hearts. And such heroes were permitted to have a "triumph," as it was called. A triumphal procession was arranged in their honour, and to this event the Roman generals looked as to the very goal of their ambition. Magnificent and thrilling scenes they must have been. The general was received, at the gates of the imperial city, by all that was noble and grave and venerable among the officials, and he was led from the gate through the crowded and shouting streets to the Capitol. First marched the ancient men, the grave senators of the Roman council, headed by a body of magistrates. Then came the trumpeters, making the air ring again with their prolonged and joyous blasts. Then followed a long train of carriages and frames laden with the spoils brought from battlefields or plundered from conquered cities, the articles which were most remarkable for their value, or rarity, or beauty being fully exposed to view. There might be seen models of the forts or cities which had been captured; gold and silver statues, pictures, handsome vases, and embroidered stuffs. Then came a band of players on the flute, and then white bulls and oxen destined for sacrifice; and incense bearer, waving to and fro their censers, and sending forth their sweet savour. Then were seen caged lions and tigers, or monstrous elephants, or other strange creatures, brought as specimens from the captive lands. And then the procession filled with pathos, for there followed the leaders of the conquered foe, and the long train of inferior captives, all bound and fettered, and altogether a sad and humiliating sight. At last came the great conqueror, standing in a splendid chariot, drawn by four milk-white horses, magnificently adorned, the conqueror bearing a royal sceptre, and having his brow encircled with a laurel crown. After him marched his great officers, the horse soldiers, and the vast army of foot soldiers, each one holding aloft a spear adorned with laurel boughs. And so the procession moved on through the crowded, shouting streets until it reached the Capitoline hill. There they halted, dragged some of those poor captives aside to be killed, and then offered their sacrifices and began their triumphal feast. St. Paul's mind was evidently full of such a scene as this, and he took his figures from it. He says that God permits us, as apostles and ministers, always to triumph with Christ. We are, through grace, always conquering generals. But St. Paul fixed his thoughts chiefly on those miserable, naked, fettered captives, who were going on to death. He could not help thinking - What was the sound of the clanging trumpet and the piping flute to them - poor hopeless ones? What was the savour of sweet incense in the air to them - poor agitated ones? Some among them may indeed have had the promise of life, and to them the savour of the incense would be sweet; it would be "life unto life." But so many of them knew what their fate must be; they dreaded the worst; they trembled as they came nearer to the ascent of the hill; and as the wind wafted the savour of the incense to them they could but sadly feel that it was a savour of "death unto death." And the apostle thought of his life work of preaching the gospel. It was even thus with the savour of the gospel triumph. To some it was death, to others it was life. Not, indeed, at the arbitrary will of some proud general, but as the necessary issue of the relations in which men stand to a preached gospel; for "he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth on him."

I. THE PROPER RESULT OF A PREACHED GOSPEL IS LIFE. It was God's gracious purpose that men, "dead in trespasses and sins," should have life, and have. it more abundantly. In his Son Jesus Christ life and immortality are brought to light. In the early days God set before men life and death, and, with all holy persuasions, urged them to choose life and good. This was the one absorbing purpose and endeavour of the Lord Jesus. While he was here he was ever doing one thing - quickening life, restoring life, renewing life: the life of health to those afflicted, of reason to those possessed with devils, of knowledge to ignorant disciples, and even of the body to those smitten and dead. And the apostles carried his gospel forth into all the world as the light and life of men. Dwell upon the significance and interest of the word "life," and explain the new life in Christ Jesus, which the Christian enjoys.

II. THE MOURNFUL RESULT OF A PREACHED GOSPEL OFTEN IS DEATH. Our Lord used forcible but painful figures to express the death of the impenitent and unbelieving: "outer darkness;" "wailing and gnashing of teeth;" "worm that never dies;" "fire that none may quench." We must feel the force of these things, for no man can worthily explain them. This "death" was the mournful issue of a preached gospel when the Son of man was himself the Preacher. Foolish Gadarenes besought him to depart out of their coasts, and leave them to their night and death. Hardened Capernaum, exalted even to heaven in privilege, must be thrust down to hell. St. Paul must turn from bigoted and prejudiced Jews, and go to the Gentiles, leaving the very children of the covenant in a darkness that might be felt. He who came to give life is practically found to be a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offence. Five foolish virgins put their hands about their flickering lamps as they cry against the closed door; and this is the simple, awful ending of their story, "The darkness took them." We do see men hardened under a preached gospel now. Illustrate by the dropping well at Knaresborough. Water ought to soften and melt, but these waters, falling upon things, encrust them with stone, and even turn them into stone. Such may have been the droppings of the "water of life" upon us. There are only these two issues. The gospel must either take us by the hand and lead us up into the sunlight or it must bid us away down into the dark. Only two issues, but what issues they are! Life! As we think of that word, all joy, light, and heaven come into our view. Death! As we speak that word, all darkness, woe, and hell come into our thoughts. "Who indeed is sufficient for these things?" - even for the preaching of a gospel which must prove to be a "savour of life unto life or of death unto death." - R.T.

Those to whom the ministry of the gospel of Christ is merely a profession, who regard the offices of religion as a routine, who consider chiefly such emoluments and advantages as may be connected with it, read these words with astonishment and without sympathy, But those who think as Paul thought of the ministry, with a wondering amazement at the grace of God and at the provision made in Christ for the passage of that grace to man, those who realize the preciousness of the soul and the solemnity alike of life and of eternity, cannot but cherish a conviction that, for a service so high and holy as the ministry of God's Word, no human qualification can suffice.

I. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF HUMAN POWER. To understand this we must regard:

1. The deficiencies of the human agent. No minister has an adequate view of the Saviour he preaches; none has a sufficiently keen sympathy with the souls of his fellowmen; none has a power of persuasion commensurate with the necessities of the case; none has the burning zeal for God which was perfectly displayed by Christ alone.

2. The peculiar difficulties of the work to be accomplished. The ignorance, the levity, the prejudices, the wilfulness, the gross sinfulness of men, - all must be taken into account if we would have a just conception of the magnitude of the great task which is entrusted to the Christian minister.


1. This is revealed to those, and to those alone, who are sincerely conscious of their own powerlessness and the inadequacy of all human aid.

2. God's own commission is an assurance that he will not withhold the assistance needed. The work is his; his is the call and his the authority.

3. God, by his Spirit, assists all lowly and faithful agents in his service, strengthening the feeble, so that by their means, however seemingly inadequate, great results are accomplished.

4. By the same invisible but marvellous agency God overcomes the obstacles encountered in the sinner's heart, and makes the word of man effectual because the vehicle of the power and grace of Heaven. - T.

The word for 'corrupt,' formed from a word which signifies 'huckster,' or ' tavern keeper,' implies an adulteration like that which such people commonly practised. We, says St. Paul, play no such tricks of trade with what we preach; we do not meet the tastes of our hearers by prophesying deceits. The very fact that we know the tremendous issues of our work would hinder that. God's gospel word, the message of eternal life in Christ Jesus, may be adulterated or corrupted in three ways.

1. By mixing up with it foreign, inharmonious, merely human, teachings.

2. Or by making the gospel revelation into a stiffened, formal creed, over the precise terms of which we may wrangle and dispute.

3. Or by displacing the true motive in preaching it, and giving place to low aims, and purposes of merely selfish ambition, and longing for the praise of men. The appeal of the text has its special force when we remember of what things the Judaizing party accused the apostle. St. Paul's enemies forced this appeal from him. Usually it is enough that the sincere and true man should keep on his faithful way, little heeding the opinions or accusations of others, trusting the care of his reputation to God. But occasions do arise when something like public vindication becomes necessary, and a man is called to assert his conscious integrity. Of this we have two very striking instances recorded in Scripture. Samuel, when set aside by the mistaken longing for a visible king, felt deeply hurt, though more for the insult thus offered to Jehovah, the ever-present but invisible King, than for his own sake. He pleaded thus with the people: "I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day. Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you" (1 Samuel 12:2, 3). And David, misunderstood and slandered, turns to speak to God in the bearing of the people, and says, "Judge me... according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me" (Psalm 7:8). Consider -


1. On the one side, the trust of Divine revelation and message. Illustrate by the direct communications of the Divine will made to the ancient prophets. These they were expected to deliver with all simplicity and completeness, and without making any additions of their own to them.

2. On the other side, the trust of men's souls. The world was given to the apostles as the sphere in which their gospel message was to be delivered. Such a trust demanded seriousness, sincerity, and holy zeal. It should ever call out the best that is in a man.

II. THE PERIL OF ITS INJURY THROUGH THE GUILE OF THE SELF SEEKER. Men will surely take their impressions of it from the character of the men who preach it. If we get a soiled idea of the gospel preacher, as an insincere, self-seeking man, it is only too likely that we shall have a soiled and stained image of the gospel that he preaches in our minds. Men can make golden glowings or deep shadows rest on the gospel that they declare, the message which they have in trust.

III. THE FORCE OF IT AS PRESERVED WHEN THE AGENT IS GUILELESS AND SINCERE. The stream gets no foulness as it flows through him. Illustrate how men of transparent character and beautiful piety put honour on religion. The commendation of Christ's gospel to men is

(1) the pure and stainless Christ himself, and then

(2) the graciousness and charm of his servants who are like him.

The force behind gospel preaching is the life of the men who preach. The simple-minded, sincere, uncorrupted man may positively make additions to the practical power of the gospel upon men. Distinguish, however, between simplicity and moral weakness, and also between guilelessness and ignorance. The simplicity required is "unity" as opposed to "double mindedness;" it is being wholly for God. ? R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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