2 Corinthians 4:2
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully…
1. Truth may either derive its authority from the teacher, or reflect on him its authority. As the receiver of money may argue either that the money is good because it is an honest man who pays it, or that the man is honest because he pays good money, so in the communication and reception of truth. It is the latter mode of inference which is employed in the text. The message Paul had spoken was so completely in accordance with reason and conscience that he needed no other credentials in proclaiming it.
2. That there is an order of truth such us that to which the apostle refers, every thoughtful mind must be aware. At the root of all knowledge there are first principles which are independent of proof, which to state is to prove to every mind that apprehends them — they commend themselves at once to my consciousness in the sight of God. Now to this class belong many of the truths of revelation. As it needs no outward attestation to prove to the tasteful eye the beauty of fair scenes, as sweet sounds need no authentication of their harmony to the sensitive ear, so, between the spirit of man and that infinite world of moral beauty and harmony which revelation discloses, there is a correspondence so deep and real that the inner eye and ear, if undiseased, discern at once in Divine things their own best witness and authority. By the statement that the truths of revelation commend themselves to the conscience or consciousness of man —
I. IT IS NOT IMPLIED —
1. That man, by the unaided exercise of his consciousness, could have discovered them. If there be an internal revelation already imprinted on the human spirit, what need, it might be asked, for any other? In asserting that Divine revelation is self-evidencing, do we not virtually assert that it is superfluous?
(1) The answer is that the power to recognise truth does not imply the power to original it. We may apprehend what we could not invent. To discover some great law of nature, to evolve some grand principle of science, implies in the discoverer the possession of mental powers of the very rarest order; but when that law or principle has once been pointed out, multitudes who could never have discovered it for themselves may be quite able to verify it. All abstract science or philosophy, in fact, is but the bringing to light of those truths which implicitly are possessed by all; but these truths would never become really ours but for the aid which the discoveries of high and philosophic minds afford them. So, again, to what is it that the great poet owes the power to charm the minds of men but this — that he gives expression to thoughts and feelings which, though none but men of rarest genius could articulate them, the common heart and soul of humanity recognises as its own?
(2) Apply this principle to the case before us. There are inscribed on the mind and conscience of man the characters of an unknown language, to which revelation alone supplies the key, and which, read by its aid, become the truest verification of that which interprets them. In that world of invisible realities to which, as spiritual beings, we belong, there are mysteries too profound for fallen humanity, of itself, to penetrate. But though by no unaided "searching" could we "find out God"; though, again, the conception of a pure and holy moral law, or the vision of a glorious immortality, be unattainable by any spontaneous effort of human reason, yet there is wrought into the very structure of man's nature so much of a Divine element, there is a moral standard so ineffaceably inscribed on the conscience, there slumbers in the universal heart a desire and yearning after immortality so deep and strong, that that Bible which contains in it the revelation of God and holiness and heaven finds in the awakened soul an instant response and authentication of its teachings.
2. That the consciousness in its unrenewed and imperfect state is qualified fully to recognise and verify these truths when discovered to it.
(1) It might be admitted that the mind of man, in its perfect state, is so in harmony with the mind of God as at once to echo and respond to the utterance of that mind in His revealed Word. But the moral reason has become dimmed and distorted. How, then, any longer can the soul be regarded as the criterion of truth? How can it be asserted that the truth commends itself to every man's consciousness? Is not such a statement at variance with 1 Corinthians 2:14? How can light be perceived by blind eyes, harmony by dull or deaf ears?
(2) The solution of this difficulty will perhaps be found in the consideration that Divine truth exerts on the mind of man at once a restorative and a self-manifesting power. It creates in the mind the capacity by which it is discerned. As light opens the close-shut flower-bud to receive light, or as the sunbeam, playing on a sleeper's eyes, by its gentle irritation opens them to see its own brightness, so the truth of God, shining on the soul, quickens and stirs into activity the faculty by which that very truth is perceived. It is in this case as in secular studies — each advance in knowledge disciplines the knowing faculty. With each new problem mastered, each difficult step in science or philosophy overcome, the mental habits are strengthened, and thus a wider range of knowledge, a larger, clearer, more comprehensive view of truth, becomes possible to the mind.
II. IN WHAT WAY MAY WE CONCEIVE OF DIVINE TRUTH AS COMMENDING ITSELF TO THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF MAN?
1. By revealing to man the lost ideal of his nature.
(1) Whilst man, fallen and degraded, could never have found out that ideal for himself, yet, when it is presented to him in Scripture, there is that within him which is capable of recognising it as his own. You cannot blot out from his mind the latent reminiscence of a nobler and better self which he might have been, and which to have lost is guilt and wretchedness. Confront the fallen moral intelligence with its own perfect type, and in the instinctive shame and humiliation arising therefrom there is elicited an involuntary recognition of the truthfulness of the portraiture.
(2) Now, such is the response which the spirit of man, in the hour of contrition, renders to the perfect type of moral excellence which the gospel brings before it. For the sorrow and self-abasement which the "manifestation of the truth" calls forth derive their peculiar poignancy from the fact that it is a sorrow not so much of discovery as of reminiscence. In the contemplation of God's holy law, and especially of that perfect reflection of it which is presented in Jesus, the attitude of the penitent mind is that not simply of observation, but of painful and humiliating recollection. The mental process is analogous to that in which the mind goes in search of some word, or name, or thought which we cannot at once recall, yet of which we have the certainty that once we knew it. Or it is still more closely parallel to the feeling of one who revisits, in reverse of fortune, and after long years of absence, a spot with which, in other and happier days, he was familiar. At first such an one might move for a while amidst old scenes and objects unconscious of any past and personal connection with them, until at last something occurs to touch the spring of association, when instantly, with a rush of recollection, old sights, impressions, incidents, come thick and crowding on the spirit, and the outward scene becomes clothed with a new vividness, and is perceived with a new sense of identity. Now, if the life of Christ were an ideal of excellence altogether foreign to us, the shame of the convicted conscience would lose half its bitterness. But the latent element that lends sharpness to the stings of self-accusation in the mind aroused by the manifestation of the truth is the involuntary recognition in Christ of a dignity we have lost, an inheritance we have wasted, a perfection for which the spirit of man was formed, but which it has basely disowned. Repentance is the recognition by the fallen self of its true self in Christ.
2. By discovering to man the mode of regaining it. The Scriptures claim from the conscience, not only a response to their description of the disease, but also a recognition of the suitability and sufficiency of the remedy they prescribe. No state of mind can be conceived more distressing than that of a man who, voluntarily or involuntarily, is falling below his own ideal. For a man's own comfort, he must either forget his ideal or strive to realise it. The great obstacles to the soul's recovery of its lost ideal are the sense of guilt and the consciousness of moral weakness.
(1) The soul aspiring after holiness craves deliverance from guilt; and to that deep-felt want the gospel responds in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.
(a) In some respects the analogous case of the debtor's embarrassments may help us to conceive of the needs of the guilty soul. Debt acts as a dead-weight on a man's energies. What this man wants in order to rouse him to effort is to cut off his connection with the past, to sweep away its obligations, and let him have a fair start in life again. Or reflect, again, on the depressing influence often produced by loss of character and reputation in the world. A man who has lost caste in society has lost with it one of the most powerful incentives to effort. If he could begin life anew it might be different with him.
(b) But all such analogies are but partial and inadequate representations of the moral hindrance of guilt. An insolvent man may, by redoubled exertions, or by the intervention of a friend, be freed from the depressing responsibility for the past. But in sin the aroused conscience feels that there is a strange indelibleness. The man, again, who has compromised himself with human society may, by lapse of time or removal from the scene, escape from the depressing influence of social suspicion and mistrust. But from the ban of Omniscience there is no such escape. Infinite justice is independent of space and time. Nay, even if God, by a simple act of oblivion, could pass over the awakened sinner's guilt, his own conscience would not suffer him to forget it. He would be "the wrath of God unto himself." The aroused conscience does not want a mere act of amnesty. Nothing will satisfy it, unless the sin be branded with the mark of the law's offended majesty — unless the culprit sin be, as it were, led out to execution and slain before it.
(c) Now, it is this deep necessity of the awakened spirit which the gospel meets — a revelation in the person, life, and death of Jesus, which includes at once the most complete condemnation of sin and the most ample forgiveness of the sinner. Surely the trembling heart may cease to despair of itself, or regard the past with hopeless despondency, when that very Being in whom all law and right are centred condescends to wed the nature of guilty man into closest affinity with Himself. But more than this, the gospel brings relief to the self-condemned spirit by exhibiting infinite purity passing through a history which brings it into ceaseless contact with sin in all its undisguised hatefulness and hostility to God. And, finally, the gospel permits us to think of Christ as one who, in conveying pardon to guilt, instead of relaxing the strictness or bringing slight on the unbending rectitude of God's law, offers up the grandest possible tribute to its majesty and the most awful atonement for the sins that infringed it.
(2) The other great obstacle is the conscious inertness and impotence of the soul in its endeavours after holiness.
(a) It is in the attempt to reach its lost ideal that the soul becomes aware of its own moral weakness. It is not when the sick man lies prostrated by disease that he feels most his own feebleness, but when he begins to rally, and attempts to rise and walk. When despotism has so quelled a nation's spirit that it cares not to put forth the feeblest resistance to its thraldom, it is not then that it is in a condition to discover the hopelessness of its bondage; but when, the spirit of insurrection roused, the attempt has been made to throw off the hateful yoke, and made in vain — it is then that it learns the terribleness of that power which keeps it down. So it is not when sin holds undisturbed dominion in the soul, but when the new ideal of holiness dawns upon its vision, that, in the feebleness of its resolutions and the miserable ineffectiveness of its attempts to be good, there is forced upon it the painful conviction of its own moral weakness. And then, too, rises the intense longing for spiritual help.
(b) Now, the gospel commends itself to the consciousness by responding to this. For it reveals to the soul Christ as not only outwardly the ideal, but inwardly the hope and strength of humanity. It would go no little way towards meeting our needs if, in our loneliness and weakness, there should be granted the perpetual presence and guardianship of some lofty angelic nature. Or, better, let any contrite soul, longing for the goodness it cannot reach, perturbed by the evil from which it cannot escape, think what it would be to have Jesus of Nazareth dwelling for a single year with it as a familiar companion and friend. But how much more are the soul's needs met in that which is the great crowning blessing of the gospel — the dispensation of the Spirit. A Spirit, would we but realise His presence, is ever with us to prompt each holy thought and nerve each pure resolve. If Christ, as an outward visitant, would be eagerly welcomed in the dispensation of His grace, we are told of a blessing greater still — of a presence of Jesus within the heart. To every soul that will receive Him, that very Jesus who departed as a visible presence from this earth comes back as an inward and invisible comforter — "Christ in you the hope of glory."
(J. Caird, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
WEB: But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.